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Storm and Strife

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Captain Una propped herself against the wall opposite ornate wooden doors emblazoned with the gold Starfleet chevron. She had a fair idea of what the subject of this meeting was to be. Her own ship was in dry dock for a refit expected to take at least a year, and she had not yet received a temporary assignment. The Enterprise remained docked at Starbase One, short its captain, first officer, and CMO after what was being dubbed a bizarre transporter accident.

She took another moment to refresh her memory of the briefing she had been sent. A planet had appeared out of nowhere just inside Klingon space. Una was less than fond of astrophysical anomalies. They tended to herald the kinds of events that caused men to disappear without a trace mid transport—and the kind of events that caused ships to be lost with all hands.

A yeoman poked her head out the door. “Come in, Captain Una.”

She entered to find Admiral Nogura at the head of the conference table, along with Admirals Lacey and Vrai. Nogura acknowledged her with a nod. “At ease, Captain. Sit.”

Una lay her padd on the table in front of her and took a seat.

“I am sure you are already aware of the tragic accident that occurred ten days ago,” Nogura said, predictably, his face serious.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “We lost three of our best.” And a good friend, she added to herself. After the number of bizarre circumstances that had befallen those three men in the past, it was impossible for Una to believe that they had been removed from existence by something so simple and final. And in fact, from the incident report she’d pulled strings to obtain, the accident had been anything but simple. “What is the status of the investigation?”

Nogura cleared his throat and ignored her question. “Circumstances compel us to return the Enterprise to service, effective immediately. She needs a captain. I like you for the position. For the moment, Lieutenant Commander Sulu will be stepping in as first officer, Pavel Chekov will serve as science officer and Dr. M’Benga will be your CMO. At the close of the current mission you may request any changes to the crew roster you see fit; however, we do not have time for any personnel changes at present.”

Una took her turn to speak. “I’ve read the mission briefing. We’re sure this planet didn’t already exist? Perhaps it was hidden by a dust cloud.”

Nogura consulted his datapad. “The planet appeared suddenly roughly three light-years inside Klingon space between six and fifteen days ago. Our long range scans, taken from outside the border, identify it as precisely the same mass and density as Earth. It has a single moon, the same size and orbiting at the exact same distance as our moon.”

A weight settled into Una’s chest. “And what are the chances of that?”

Vrai spoke next. “Astronomically low. Patrols have also detected a significant increase in subspace chatter near the border. We’re not sure what the Klingons are up to, but we need it checked out. You are to take the Enterprise to the Klingon border, investigate as much as you can without crossing into Klingon space, and be available to counter any incursions into Federation space.”

She nodded her understanding, then noted, “The Enterprise is not going to want to cut short its investigation.”

Nogura pushed aside his padd. “Captain Una. Captain Kirk, Commander Spock, and Doctor McCoy are gone. No amount of investigating the spot where they disappeared is going to change that fact.”

“Have their families been informed that we’re calling off the search?”

“Not yet. They have been informed of the accident, however, and are likely able to draw the appropriate conclusions. We will send official notice and update their status to Missing, Presumed Dead when Enterprise breaks orbit.”

Una collected the dossier. “I would like to go on record as stating that I believe that calling off the search for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is premature. Irregularities at the beam down site suggest that the men may have been kidnapped, possibly by a cloaked vessel of some kind.”

The admiral nodded curtly. “Your objections are noted. Dismissed.”

She stopped in the doorway and turned back around. “May I make one request?”

“What is it, Captain Una?”

“I would like to inform Ambassador Sarek myself. I knew both him and his son in a professional capacity, and I believe it would be best if the news came from me.”

Nogura’s mouth pinched into a frown. “Very well. But you have only until the end of the day. The official notifications will go out in the morning.”

“Understood.” Una turned on her heel and exited the room. She was not looking forward to relaying this news, then immediately taking command. It was poor personnel management to expect her to do so. The current crop of admirals seemed to have a remarkably poor grasp of personnel in general, however, much to Starfleet’s detriment over the last couple of decades.

Nevertheless, orders were orders, and a planet appearing out of nowhere was a mystery she could sink her teeth into. A planet that so precisely matched Earth in its general features made her suspect a duplication, of which there were several in known space, most of them Earths. No one had observed a planetary duplication this close to the time of occurrence. The rest had been discovered centuries or more after the initial event. It was truly unfortunate the phenomenon had occurred in Klingon space, where they were unlikely to have the chance to study it in depth.

She began making a list of types of planetary duplications and their signatures, from natural events such as cosmic string fragments to events with the hallmarks of intention, including Grantville-Alexander and rescue dislocations. She had a lot of research to do.

*

Una materialized on the transporter pad to see her old friend Montgomery Scott at the controls beside a good looking, wiry man with a shock of wild black hair. Both wore commander’s insignia. Scotty stepped out from behind the console to greet her with outstretched arms. “It’s good to see you, Number One,” he said as he pulled her into a firm embrace. “Though I wish the circumstances were better.”

“So do I, Scotty.” She broke free of their hug and caught him by the shoulders. “Our orders are to break orbit in one hour to head for the Klingon border. A planet has apparently appeared out of nowhere and we’re being sent to investigate.”

Scotty took a step backward. “Absolutely not! This ship has three missing men and we’re not about to leave them behind!”

Una had to look away to collect herself. “I know, Scotty. Starfleet has decided to change their status to presumed dead. I’m sorry.”

Scotty pulled the rest of the way out of her grasp and turned his back on her to pace the rear of the transporter room, one hand pressed to his face, half covering his eyes. Sulu stepped in to shake her hand, those his gaze strayed toward Scott. “Commander Hikaru Sulu, ma’am. I’ll be serving as your first officer, at least for now.”

“Good to meet you, Commander. Now. I know Starfleet has decided you’ve reached a point of diminishing returns on your investigation, but I’m not convinced. I want to see all the data you’ve gathered on the disappearance. We can keep working on solutions en route, and perhaps figure out who took them, and where.” She moved toward the door, expecting the two men to follow.

“You think they were taken?” Sulu asked.

“I do. Don’t you?”

Sulu walked beside her for a while, thinking. “I do, ma’am. If this were an ordinary accident, their atoms would have been detectable somewhere. There are no remains to be found, not at the molecular level and not as energy signatures. Chekov sampled the air and swabbed surfaces in the transporter room where they ought to have appeared for evidence. There were some other anomalies, pollen that doesn’t match San Francisco species, traces of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and carbon particulates.”

“As if the air inside the room was replaced?” she asked.

Scotty considered her hypothesis. “Possibly. We noted a massive chroniton field influx at the moment of the disappearance as well. In any case, I just can’t believe they’re dead.”

They passed a few crew members in the halls. All were somber. Some shied away from meeting her eyes. They stopped in front of the turbolift. Una replied once the door closed on the three of them. “If they were taken, it is likely they are no longer in the vicinity. Remaining here may not be the best way to recover them.”

“I still don’t like it. It feels like we’re abandoning them,” Scotty said.

“Keep your people on it. I want geology analyzing any dust you collected and astrophysics analyzing the chroniton residue.” She knew her orders were unlikely to produce any kind of positive result, but it was important that the crew feel that she was on their side.

When they reached the bridge, she stood behind the chair rather than seating herself in it. Her eyes tracked to a young man operating the science station. He turned. “Pavel Chekov, ma’am,” he said. “Temporary science officer.”

“Understood, Lieutenant.” She tugged her uniform straight and addressed the room. “I spent many years on this ship as her first officer before being given my first command. This is—this is not the way I would have chosen to inherit her. Starfleet in its infinite wisdom has declared your captain, first officer, and chief medical officer dead. We are therefore assigned to investigate unusual events occurring near the Klingon border.”

Faces around her fell. Her young science officer turned away abruptly, as though to hide tears. Her communications officer didn’t bother to turn away but merely dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve. Una waited for the moment to pass. “However, as long as our assigned mission is completed to Starfleet’s satisfaction, I encourage you to continue investigating the disappearance within your own departments until they are found or until we can definitively determine what became of them.”

Shoulders around her dropped in relief. “Helm.” The young man at the helm turned around. His eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. “What’s your name, son?”

“Ensign Kevin Riley, ma’am.”

“Good to meet you, Ensign. Plot a course to the Klingon border. Let’s spend the next few days productively, people.”

*

“Still reminds me of exhaust from internal combustion engines,” Lim Xin Li said, looking over the air sample data from the transporter pad from which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy vanished.

Chekov collected her padd and set it next to the one from astrophysics. “The chroniton data doesn’t make any sense, either. What we have is a huge signal extending through several layers of subspace and through the entire Earth-Moon system, with a forward spin that suggests something brought from the past to this time period, not something taken from the present into the past.”

“Could they have been moved into the future?”

“Maybe, but to cause that amount of disruption the three of them would have to be thrown forward seven hundred billion years. Either that or they’d have to have the combined mass of a planet.” Chekov smacked the work screen hard enough to rattle it, then shook his smarting fingers. “And now we’re leaving behind the only trail we’ve got to chase after rogue planets and Klingons,” he grumbled.

“The combined mass of a planet,” Xin Li said. “Exactly what planet?”

Chekov turned the work screen and punched a few keys. “It depends on the size of the displacement in time.”

“Internal combustion engines were common enough to noticeably contaminate the atmosphere between roughly 1930 and 2035, old dating system. How large would something have to be for a two to three hundred year jump to produce the chroniton pulse?” Xin Li asked.

“Right, so that gives us roughly—” this time he did the calculation in his head, “M class. Earth size to a first approximation. So we have an earth sized object being moved forward through time at the same time as an Earth sized object appears fifty-seven light-years from here.” Chekov scooped up his padd and headed for the door. “The captain needs to hear about this.”

On the way up to the bridge from the lab, Chekov considered what he was going to say. The coincidence seemed unlikely to be a matter of chance. The doors opened onto the bridge. Una, who had continued the habit of standing behind the Captain’s chair, greeted him with a smile. “What is it, Lieutenant?”

“Ensign Lim and I were going over the atmospheric data and chroniton traces from the Captain’s disappearance. The chroniton pulse that occurred when our people were lost is too large by many orders of magnitude to be accounted for by their disappearance alone. However, if the time displacement is relatively small, less than a million years—”

“That’s relatively small?”

“Compared to the age of the universe, yes,” Chekov said. “The trace is consistent with the temporal displacement of an approximately Earth sized planet within the last million years.”

“And an exactly earth sized planet just appeared, out of nowhere, in Klingon space,” Una said.

“Exactly!” Chekov shouted, then reined in his enthusiasm. “It seems unlikely that the two events are unrelated, Captain.”

Una smiled broadly. “There are no guarantees your missing men are on that planet, but it does seem we’re heading precisely where we need to be. Uhura, keep an ear open for transmissions and I’ll want to know if you have any codes worked out with your command staff in addition to the standard Starfleet ones. Chekov, I need to know what kind of trace a spatial dislocation of fifty-seven light-years might leave and I need you to pinpoint the size of the temporal displacement more precisely than just the last million years. We’ll meet in two hours to discuss what you have for me. And one more thing.”

Chekov stopped on his way back to the lift.

Una caught the attention of everyone on the bridge. “I don’t want to give anyone false hope. There will be no discussion of this with anyone who is not directly working on the problem. Understood?”

“Understood,” Chekov said, a fraction of a second after Uhura and a moment before the rest of the bridge crew.

*

The IDIC logo of the Earth to Vulcan diplomatic direct line was replaced by the stern face of a Vulcan woman. “The Ambassador will be with you in one point four minutes.”

She waited the requisite amount of time, until the woman’s face flicked off the screen, to be replaced by the Sarek’s familiar one. “Ambassador,” she said.

“Captain Una. I assume this concerns my son.”

Una nodded. Best when dealing with Vulcans to dispense with euphemisms. “Starfleet has declared him dead, along with his bondmate, James Kirk and Doctor Leonard McCoy. I am sorry.”

Sarek blinked at her, his expression barely changing. “My son is not dead,” he said.

“I know news like this can be difficult to accept—”

He cut her off with a gesture. “If my son were dead, I would know. If his bondmate were dead, I would know. I insist that you speak to the admiralty and insist that they continue the search.”

Una leaned back in her chair, pressing her hands flat to the surface of the table in front of her. “I understand your concern, Ambassador. I am unable to discuss the matter further without a secure channel.”

The screen flickered. “I have secured the channel from this end. No one will be able to access this conversation without my permission.”

Una considered the implications of switching to level one clearance from her own end. The action would be visible to the Admiralty, and she might have to answer for it, but they would have to go through an inconvenient and time consuming set of bureaucratic hoops to access its content. She keyed in the authorization. “The channel is secure from this end as well. I can tell you that we are independently following leads. May I ask why you are so sure that Spock and Jim Kirk are alive?”

Sarek regarded her for a few seconds before speaking. “At roughly the time of the reported disappearance, I had an impression through the familial bonds shared by all Vulcans that my son and his bondmate’s lives were endangered. This impression faded over the course of the next three days. Since then, I have made attempts to ascertain their status, but I am only able to determine that they yet live.”

“May I share this information with my command staff?”

“Of course. I will inform the Admiralty as well, for all the effect it is likely to have.”

“I don’t envy you that conversation.”

“Indeed. Thank you for speaking to me of this development yourself. As a courtesy, keep me updated to the extent that you can.”

“Of course. Peace and long life, Ambassador Sarek.”

“Live long and prosper, Captain Una.” The connection broke, leaving her staring at the IDIC emblem again.

It was almost time for the briefing she’d scheduled with her senior staff. Sulu arrived first, though when the door opened, the chatter she could hear suggested the others just wanted him to have a chance to speak with her alone before they entered. “Commander Sulu. Have a seat.”

Sulu sat and laced his hands in front of him, his arms and hands stiff with tension. “Captain. Thank you for not giving up on our people.”

“I have good reason to believe they are alive. And not just their habit of doing six impossible things before breakfast.”

Sulu smiled at that. “The crew and ship are ready for contact with the Klingon Empire, should it come to that.”

“Bet it will. I know the rest of the command staff are listening at the door. Get them in here.”

Sulu opened the door. Lieutenants Uhura and Chekov filed in, followed by Scotty.

“First things first. I have informed Ambassador Sarek personally of Starfleet’s decision. He insists that his son and James Kirk are alive.”

She had expected a subdued, cautious response to her statement. Instead, every tense posture in the room sagged in relief. Scotty pounded on the table with a fist. “I knew they were out there somewhere!”

Smiles blossomed on every face. Uhura must have noticed her puzzled expression. “Jim and Spock always know where the other one is. It stands to reason Spock’s father would have some kind of link with the two of them as well.”

“Unfortunately, all he can tell us is that they’re alive. I need a game plan,” she told them. “We have sufficient reason at this point to suspect that the newly appearing planet in Klingon space is related in some way to the disappearance of your commanding officers. We need more evidence to send back to the admiralty, and we need more information so we know what to do about it.”

Chekov spoke first. “We’ve been able to pinpoint the chroniton decay rate somewhat more precisely. We can now say that the pulse resulted in a forward displacement of an earth sized object by no more than fifteen thousand years.” Fifteen thousand years was better than a million, Una had to admit, but not enough to tell them what they might expect if the planet in Klingon space was a displaced Earth. “So it’s likely there’s a human population at risk.”

“If the planet we’re investigating is the result of this displacement event,” Chekov qualified.

“Granted.”

“In addition,” he added, “If we assume the anomalies in the air sample come from the displaced Earth, there is some evidence to suggest that the dislocation occurred between 1930 and 2035 Old Earth dating system.”

“Not Earth’s best century.” Sulu noted.

“Do you think they know?” Uhura asked.

“Who?”

“The people on that other Earth. Do you think they know what happened to them?”

Una frowned. “If they don’t yet they will soon. Sulu, I need you to research any precedents you can find concerning the Prime Directive as applied to duplicate worlds, worlds with evidence of prior interference, and worlds in the Organian demilitarized zone.”

“Is this Earth duplicate in the zone?”

“Not quite. It’s a little too far inside Klingon space. But these are our ancestors, people. I will not leave them to the tender mercies of the Klingon Empire without a fight.” She turned to the next order of business. “Do we have any indication who might have been responsible for this event?”

Chekov spoke next. “I take it you do not believe it to be natural.”

“Not hardly. The most likely culprit is the Grantville-Alexander entities. There are five displaced Earths in known space with G-A profiles, not to mention the eight known regional dislocations.”

“What do we know about these entities?” Lim asked.

“Not much. They’ve never communicated directly. There are some indications, particularly from analysis of the Alexander multiple displacement and the Miri’s World disaster, that they stage events for purposes of entertainment or experiment. We’ll have to keep alert in case they’re still in an interfering mood.”

“I do not like the sound of that,” Chekov said.

“Neither do I. We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it. The good news is there’s a good chance our missing people are on that planet.”

“And the bad news?”

“Our missing people are probably on that planet.”

Chapter Text

There were sixteen patients in a room meant for eight. They’d managed by pairing beds, pushing them into doubles so each soldier was accessible to the doctors and nurses on one side, but bumped up next to another soldier on the other side, and by making the aisles between the beds uncomfortably narrow. Private Stevens was plucking at his neighbor’s line again. “Leonard, I think we’re going to need to restrain this one,” Margaret called across the room.

Leonard strode up behind her. Stevens was in and out of consciousness, recovering from shrapnel injuries and an infection. When he woke, he was restless and incoherent. “I hate to do it to him, but he’s going to hurt himself or Private Holling.” He squeezed her shoulder gently. “I’ll write the order. If you need help getting them on let me know.”

She indulged the desire to lean back against him. “I shouldn’t. How is Holling?”

“Better.”

“He doesn’t look better.”

“Intracranial pressure is down, electrical activity looks good. You don’t believe this?” he tapped the scanner, “Radar agrees with me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Radar. Because he’s a doctor.”

“He’d make a hell of a nurse.”

She scoffed and slapped him on the thigh with her clipboard.

“Don’t be sexist. It’s beneath you,” Leonard said.

“Hmph.” Margaret couldn’t imagine that boy as a nurse, no matter what Leonard thought. She caught one of Stevens’ wandering hands and carefully wrapped a restraint around it, making sure the fabric was smooth and tight enough that it wouldn’t slip and chafe.

When she captured the other hand, Stevens closed his fingers around hers and smiled. “Sassy?” She opened her mouth to tell him she wasn’t his Sassy, but there was no purpose in saying so and it could only make him upset. She firmed her expression while precisely placing the other restraint. An upset patient took more time to manage, that was all.

She stood with a hissing breath and tried to keep the hobble out of her walk while crossing the room to check another soldier’s IV, which was dripping at the same steady rate it had been for the last twenty minutes. She tapped the bottle with a fingernail so the glass rang, out of habit rather than any real need, and turned around to walk back, straight into Leonard’s chest. “How about you sit down for a minute. Radar brought some of that shit you people call coffee.”

“I don’t call it coffee.” She nonetheless allowed him to guide her to a chair. He sat next to her and passed her a cup of steaming wakefulness.

“Take off your shoes.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, take off your shoes.” At her puzzled expression, he clarified. “You’re walking like your feet hurt. Take off your shoes.”

Margaret held her coffee under her nose, savoring the steamy warmth. “You take them off.”

“Happy to oblige, ma’am,” Leonard drawled, letting more of that Southern accent out than usual. He unlaced her boot and tugged it off her foot with the careful expertise of someone accustomed to removing the clothing of injured people. Her foot, freed of its confines, throbbed. She flexed it and wiggled her toes. Leonard took off the other boot, this time capturing the foot between his hands. “These boots are criminal,” he muttered. “You ticklish?”

“Not my feet,” she said.

His hands worked firm, practiced circles into every aching inch. Something popped back and forth uncomfortably under his fingers. “Ok if I adjust this tendon? It might hurt a bit, but it will feel better later.”

“Sure.” He grasped her whole foot tightly and pressed and bent. Margaret yelped involuntarily.

“Sorry about that.”

It did feel better. Her toes weren’t burning. She hummed her appreciation and Leonard looked up to flash her that brilliant smile. She sipped her coffee, wondering if he was only being so sweet because he was interested in her, or if it was his nature. From what she knew of men, that was unlikely, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the attention while it lasted.

He switched feet, and she forgot herself and moaned into her coffee. He chuckled. “That good, huh?”

She kicked at him and he laughed out loud. That was a good sound, one she hadn’t heard in a long while. She’d never heard it from him. “You have a nice laugh,” she told him.

“Do I?”

He collected both feet, one in each hand, and slid his hands up to her ankles, straightening her socks as he went. She giggled as he grazed a sensitive spot on the inside of one ankle. She’d take the memory of those hands to bed with her the next time the damn war let her get reacquainted with it. Maybe she’d take him to bed with her instead.

There was a throat clearing noise behind her. Leonard looked up, his expression closing, the professional mask going back up. “Radar!” he said. “What can we do for you?”

Margaret stuffed her feet back into her boots while Radar stammered behind her. Dammit, how much of that had he heard?

Radar adjusted his glasses. “I, that is, we need you two in triage in fifteen minutes. Bus coming.”

“Another one?” She looked up, hands still on the laces of her boots. “We’re out of room as it is!”

“Yes, Major.”

“Can’t the 8063rd take them?”

“Major, the 8063rd was overrun by the Chinese four hours ago.” The clerk scrubbed at his own shoulders, as if suddenly cold. “They didn’t even have time to evacuate the patients.”

Margaret stood, took Leonard’s hand and pulled him to his feet. “Radar, start boiling old sheets. Tear them into strips and roll them up. Keep them clean.”

“That’s what Klinger and me have been doing all day, ma’am. We’re out of old sheets.”

“Set up the mess tent for overflow casualties. We’re not going to have time for regular meals anyway.”

“On it, Major.” He jogged away.

“Leonard, grab your kit and meet me in triage. I need to hit the supply shed on the way.” He opened his mouth to comment. “To get supplies.”

“Do we have an inventory up to date?”

Margaret nodded. “If this keeps going like it has been for another week, we will run out of everything from sutures to morphine. But I intend to make what we have last.”

“See you there, Major.”

She ran into Able on the way to the supply shed. “Cover Post Op for me. We’re getting more wounded in.”

“More wounded?” Able shook her head. Sheet lightning flickered behind her, droplets pattered on Able’s rain poncho and Margaret’s hair, and Margaret prayed they would get that break in the weather soon.

*

Rain battered the metal roof of the bus so loudly it was hard for them to hear each other. Beside Margaret, Hawkeye flipped up the corner of a blanket and made a brief cutting gesture at his throat, lips pressed grim and flat. He kept moving down the line. “This one. Go.”

Margaret took one end of the stretcher, Hawkeye the other. Hands reached around to steady her as she stepped backward and down onto slick mud under a hastily erected canopy covering the route to the triage room door. She hunched her shoulders against chill drops that made their way down the back of her neck and under her collar.

Leonard cut away the soldier’s clothes. “Shrapnel wounds. Klinger, get me plasma, we’ve got to move this one to the front of the line.”

“The other boys need surgery as much as he does,” Margaret reminded him.

“Am I gonna die, doc?” the kid said, his voice rising with panic.

“No, no, you’re not going to die. We’re going to fix you right up.” He pulled the tissue regenerator out of his bag and checked the charge. “I’ll repair just enough to keep him stable until we can get him into surgery. Margaret, come around to my side here, would you?”

“What for?”

“Because a face like yours will remind a man what he’s living for.”

She felt her cheeks and ears heat with the compliment but moved so the young soldier could see her and took his hand. “You squeeze as hard as you need to,” she told him. He nodded. She held his gaze and his hand.

The tissue regenerator hummed. “I need to remove a piece of shrapnel here to get at the artery. It’s going to hurt.”

“Squeeze hard,” she told the soldier. He squeezed so hard the bones of her hand slid past each other. A grunt slipped out of his mouth, but no screaming. This time.

“All right, that will hold him until surgery. Give him two units of plasma.”

“On it,” Klinger said, jars clinking in his arms.

They moved onto the next kid.

*

Leonard stumbled a little on his still unreliable ankle, catching himself on the scrub sink. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”

Margaret reached around him to untie his blood soaked scrubs, then tugged them over his head and threw them into the overflowing laundry bin. “We’re all tired.”

“I’m tired of sending kids to the morgue who I ought to be sending home.” He finished pulling off his scrub pants, kicked them into a corner. Margaret left them there for him to pick up later. He thrust his hands under the spigot, wet them to the elbows, and fished for a bar of soap.

Margaret pressed in beside him and accepted the soap when he passed it. Irritation prickled in the back of her mind. “I’m getting more than a little tired of you complaining about the way medicine is practiced in this century!”

He was silent. The water ran over their hands and down the drain. He shook his over this sink first and turned away to dry them before pulling on his borrowed fatigues. She followed suit a few seconds later.

He dropped onto a bench in the scrub room to pull on his boots. “It’s not about how you practice medicine, it’s about how you practice war! You know damn well the Koreans and the Chinese know what’s coming—we can’t have kept it a secret from them--and they’re still treating this squabble over a few miles of territory like it’s worth killing kids over! And so are the Americans!”

“Of all the unpatriotic, unAmerican—!” she started.

“I’m not American!” he interrupted. “Not this America. This America was destroyed by guns and nukes and genocide and put itself back together as something you wouldn’t even recognize. My loyalty is to every kid who gets carried through these doors, not a stupid line on a map!”

Margaret finished pulling on her fatigues as quickly as she could. “It’s not about a stupid line on a map!”

“You better hope this planet you live on grows up a lot faster than mine did.”

“Grows up? You mean turns Communist like those Chinese you have so much sympathy for!”

“What? Just because we don’t let people starve in the street because they don’t have power or money or the right color skin?”

“I don’t even want to look at you right now!” Margaret flung open the screen door and stumbled out into heavy rain without a poncho, not caring that her hair was plastered to her face and she was soaked and shivering by the time she made it to the mess tent.

She stomped her way inside. Radar handed her a towel he was already holding like he’d been waiting for her to show up. “Stop that!” she snapped and he scurried away. She mopped her face and hair with the towel.

“Please miss, can you give me something for the pain? I’m dying here.” The kid lay on a corner bed, flushed and sweating even in the cool tent, a large bandage covering a belly wound.

Margaret looked around for the nearest doctor. “Dr. Pierce, this patient needs morphine.”

Hawkeye looked up from a clipboard. “Half the patients in here need morphine. We’ve had to ration what we’ve got left, keep some in reserve for when we run out of ether for surgery.”

“Right.” She sat down next to the patient to give him the bad news and see if there was anything she could do to make him more comfortable.

Leonard didn’t follow her to the mess tent, which was just fine as far as she was concerned. She could have used another pair of hands, sure, but as far as that went, Klinger was just as good at changing bandages. He wanted to sulk in Post Op or sneak off to the swamp and drink Hawkeye’s poisonous homebrew that was no business of hers.

She gave the smiles she’d saved up for him to the soldiers gritting their teeth on the makeshift cots. She didn’t think about his bright eyes or his deft hands. He was some kind of Communist from the future and she bet his Earth wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. The arrogant, self-righteous—whatever had she seen in him anyway?

She didn’t see Leonard come in. There was a heavy thump and the creak of a chair across the room that she noticed without connecting it to anything. She continued changing Private Nicoletti’s dressing and passed him on her way to the garbage can. He had his face in his hands and his shoulders were shaking, though he didn’t make a sound.

She wasn’t good at this. Patients were one thing. She could be tough with them if she needed to, soft when it was warranted, but grown men crying when they weren’t at death’s door scared her. Her father would have been appalled at the show of weakness. Soldiers don’t cry, he told her from the time she was a little girl. She pulled up another chair. “Dr. McCoy?”

He didn’t answer.

“Leonard?”

There was still plenty to be done, so she made another circuit of the room, and by the time she returned he was staring off into space, his eyes dry but still red, his hands dangling loose between his knees.

“Nobody gets more than four units of blood,” he said, his voice soft and a little raspy.

She sat down.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“You’re still a Commie,” she said, but the malice had left her.

He shook his head. “Lines on maps matter when one side means life, and the other means death, or worse. This whole damn planet is on the wrong side and I hope to God my own people find a way to move that line.”

She scooted her chair closer and leaned into his back to rest the point of her chin in the hollow of his shoulder. “And what if they do?” She asked. “Move the line, I mean. Let’s just say a miracle happens and somehow Earth, this Earth, isn’t overrun. What happens next?”

“To the planet?”

“And to you.”

“The three of us, Jim and Spock and I, if we survive this whole mess, will be recalled to Earth where a bunch of bureaucrats will put every decision we’ve made under a microscope. This Earth—if it ends up not part of the Klingon Empire—I’m not sure. There aren’t a lot of precedents. The Captain might be able to make a guess.”

“So. Seven days. That’s what we’ve got.” Seven days they’d spend most of patching together boys who were unlikely to survive long enough to go home.

“Give or take.”

“Then let’s make the most of them. When’s the last time you had a break?”

“No idea. Sky’s been so dark all day I can’t tell what time it is.”

Margaret stood, got a hand under Leonard’s elbow and hauled him to his feet. “Kellye, I’m relieving this idiot for four hours.”

Leonard muttered, “You don’t outrank me.”

“You don’t outrank me, either, Doctor.” She stood up and pulled him to his feet, then whispered in his ear, “I’ve got chocolates from Tokyo in my tent.”

“Let me put my tools in the charging dock,” he said, defeated by her charms or possibly his own exhaustion.

The run through driving rain energized them both enough that Margaret no longer feared that Leonard would fall asleep the moment he was given the opportunity to lie down. They tiptoed into the swamp so as not to wake BJ, who was also catching a precious few hours of sleep. Leonard placed the three devices into their dock, checked the connection to the generator, and slipped out the door, carefully keeping it from slamming behind them. The mad dash back to Margaret’s tent gave them ample reason to remove their sodden clothing.

Once they had their clothes hung up and dripping all over Margaret’s tent, they found themselves standing inches from each other in clinging underclothes rendered semitransparent from the rain. They were close enough she could feel his breath on her face, expecting he’d kiss her already and he didn’t. He just stood there, dripping on her floor. She wrapped her arms around him, lacing her fingers together behind his neck. “Well, kiss me already,” she said.

“Don’t mind if I do.” He kissed her like he thought she would break, or like she might break him. She took the initiative, leaned in and tilted her head. His mouth opened, the timidity of the first moments vanishing as he pulled her closer. Kisses like a surgeon, all right, she thought, all intense focus and precision. His tongue roved her mouth, drawing moans from her throat while his hands pushed up her dripping undershirt to grip her waist. They were too chilled to feel each other, the sensations from everywhere but their mouths muted by the cold. Margaret pulled away first.

Leonard looked away as if he had something to be ashamed of.

“We ought to get out of these wet clothes,” she told him, peeling the clammy things off her body. She crossed the room to collect a couple of towels and handed one to Leonard, who stripped off his shirt and undershorts with the efficiency and lack of embarrassment born of long military service and began to briskly towel himself try. Margaret followed suit, unable to suppress a shiver.

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” Leonard’s smile was gentle, almost grateful. “I could look at you all day. But I think we’re going to need to get under the covers before we catch our deaths.”

Margaret flipped back the covers and slid into bed. “Well, get over here. Wait. There are a couple of spare blankets on top of my wardrobe. Bring them.”

She admired the view while he was turned away reaching over his head to pull down the neatly folded blankets, the muscles of his arms and back lit softly by the dim lamplight. He spread the blankets over her first, tucking them into the bottom of the bed, then slid in beside her. She turned to face him, legs tangled with his, arms and hands pressed between their chests to warm them. He chafed her fingers and blew on them. “You deserve better than this,” he mused. “A hotel room with an ocean view. Soft, warm blankets and fancy desserts. Someone you can count on to be there for more than a few days.”

Margaret sat up long enough to collect her tin of hoarded cognac cordials. “Fancy dessert.” She collected one gold foil wrapped morsel for each of them. “I did promise chocolate.”

“So you did.” His next kiss tasted of liqueur and dark chocolate and making today enough, and she gave herself to their shared attempt to make that lie into truth enough to sustain them.

Chapter Text

A map printed in grays, greens, and browns lay spread over Spock and Jim’s table, the corners hanging off the edges and held down with weights. On one corner, a small tin bucket caught drips from the ceiling before they could damage the map. Colonel Potter and General Clayton sat with Spock and Jim at the table, maneuvering small metal markers into place. It was a far cry from holographic maps that updated in real time, but Potter and Clayton seemed expert at making sense of it.

Jim pointed to the main road leading from Uijeongbu to Seoul. “If you bring these men down to cover our route, you’re likely to lose even more of your territory to the Chinese.”

General Clayton nodded. “We’re willing to make that sacrifice under the circumstances. Now, what are our best strategies when engaging these Klingons directly?”

“Don’t,” Jim replied grimly, haunted by the image of twentieth-century soldiers armed with projectile weapons and wearing only heavy clothing to protect them from twenty-third century weapons. “Klingon ground forces will be much better armored than your people, and they’re substantially stronger and more resilient than humans as a species. They will also be carrying disruptors.”

Spock caught the puzzled looks on the Army officers’ faces and explained. “A disruptor is an antipersonnel hand weapon that interferes with molecular integrity, causing matter to rapidly disintegrate. Direct hits are immediately fatal. Even a graze is life-threatening, as tissue damage spreads well beyond the immediate site of injury.”

Potter whistled at the description. “So we’re badly outgunned on the ground, which makes it all the more important that they don’t know where the two of you and Bones are.”

“We will be high value targets as soon as our presence is suspected,” Spock confirmed.

“And we desperately need your knowledge and experience. None of you is expendable.” Clayton drummed his fingers on the table. “How long will it take for these Klingons to detect your distress signal?”

“Unless we are implausibly fortunate, the signal will be detected immediately. It will take one to four minutes to triangulate its source. The time required to assemble ground forces to investigate will depend on the Klingon vessel’s state of readiness and her commander’s decisions. No less than five minutes, and no more than one hour.”

“Which means you three cannot be near the transmitter when you send that message.” Potter turned around to pace the few steps possible in the VIP tent.

“I’ll stay behind,” Jim volunteered.

“No you won’t,” Potter said.

Spock paused for a moment, as though gathering his thoughts. “Your knowledge of Klingon strategy and tactics is crucial, you are still recovering from a serious injury, and,” he paused for emphasis, “You can’t drive.”

“I can drive!”

Spock kept his eyes on Jim. “I can set a delay such that the message is sent after we have departed the area.”

“Good plan,” Jim said, glad that Spock hadn’t offered to stay behind himself.

Clayton nodded. “Do that. But we need a man on the ground to make sure nothing happens to the transmitter before it sends its message and to troubleshoot any problems. I’m sorry, Colonel Potter, the best man for that task is Corporal O’Reilly.”

Potter grimaced around his cigar, which he had been chewing on, unlit, for several minutes. “I wish you were wrong.” He took a seat to stare at the map as if it would provide some great insight. “We’ll leave him with a jeep and hope your estimate is closer to an hour than five minutes.”

“I don’t like leaving the kid alone out there,” Jim said.

Spock corrected, “He is as capable as any Academy cadet, Captain. More so, I would argue, given that he has served for two years in a war zone.”

Much as Jim appreciated Spock standing up for Radar, he hadn’t been trying to suggest he wasn’t up to the job. “I wouldn’t want to leave anyone under my command alone under those circumstances.”

Potter interrupted, possibly believing them to be on the verge of an argument. “We’ll leave Klinger with him. He and Radar work well together and he knows the radio, so getting him up to speed on your transmitter thing shouldn’t be a problem.”

Clayton continued the briefing. “Weather forecast says we might get a break in four days. We’ll plan to move two hours after dawn on the eighth of May. Radar should send the message in the afternoon, once we’re safely in Seoul and then the two of them can get on the road.”

“Speaking of which, you need to get back to Seoul before dark yourself,” Potter noted.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got anything in here to fortify me for my trip?”

Jim got up to rummage through the wardrobe. “I know I saw something in here.” He pulled out a square bottle with a black label and four shot glasses. The glasses thumped dully onto the table. Jim poured a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels into each glass. There would be plenty left to have a glass with Bones when and if he ever got a moment away. Spock eyed his drink suspiciously, but took a polite sip. Clayton tossed his back quickly, leaving Jim and Potter to nurse theirs while Clayton gathered his coat and left to find his driver.

Potter regarded the door after it swung shut on Clayton. “Hasn’t been all that long since I thought I was staring the end of the world I knew in the face. Didn’t think I’d ever have to do it again.”

Jim could do nothing for it. Spock, too, was growing more distressed, his posture stiffening, his fingers positioning and repositioning themselves on the whiskey glass. He took another sip of Jack, taking a moment to appreciate the smoky flavor and the burn on the way down. He had no honest comfort to offer the older man, nothing but his own commitment to do whatever was in his power until the inevitable moment he was ordered not to and beyond that, in all likelihood.

Potter took the extended silence between them as a cue. “If you have that letter for me I’ll have Clayton hand carry it.”

Spock produced a sheaf of pages. Jim added his signature and passed them on to Potter, who tucked them inside his jacket. “Mess tent and supply are both holding wounded. I’ll make sure someone brings lunch by when they’re making the rounds.”

Jim offered thanks for both of them. When Potter closed the door behind him, he sat down on his cot and patted the spot beside him. Spock sat stiffly. Jim leaned over just enough that their bodies touched from knees to shoulders. “I don’t like it either.”

“They will acquit themselves admirably, I am certain.”

Jim nodded. Of that he was certain enough. Klinger played the coward, but despite all his posturing, he would do what was necessary to protect the people he cared about. “There’s a very good chance they’ll be killed or captured by the Klingons.”

“Eighty-eight percent, though there are variables that cannot yet be accounted for.”

Jim suspected that last was intended to provide some comfort. He stood to pour himself a second glass and was stayed by a firm hand grasping his wrist. He allowed himself to be drawn back to his bondmate’s side. “I hope someone friendly hears the message. I hate to put those men at that kind of risk for nothing.”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Finally, Spock said, “We may be rescued and ordered to allow matters to take their natural course here. Are you prepared for that eventuality?”

Jim found he could not yet answer that question, and he had less time to grow close to any of the local people. None of these people deserved to fall under the iron rule of the Klingon Empire. Spock, though, had spent much more time working closely with people like Potter and Klinger and especially young O’Reilly. “Are you?” he asked.

Spock was silent.

“I know I’m not,” Jim said for both of them.

*

From: J. T. Kirk, Captain, USS Enterprise, Starfleet, United Federation of Planets
To: President Harry S Truman, Commander in Chief, United States Military Forces
Date: May 4, 1951

Subject: Introduction and preparation for potential extraplanetary invasion

Cont: 1) Temporary introduction of temporally dislocated officers into US Naval Chain of Command
2) Evidence for imminent invasion by extraplanetary political entity “Klingon Empire”
3) Recommended Actions to mitigate imminent threat
4) Actions to be commenced at the 4077th
5) Text of the United Federation of Planets Charter, abridged.
6) Text of the Organian Peace Treaty of 2268
7) Transcripts of intercepted subspace communications, Starfleet and Klingon, April 20, 1951 - May 3, 1951.

1) It is an unexpected privilege to speak to you directly at this crucial time. First, thank you for your kind inquiry into my health and that of my first officer and chief medical officer. We have all recovered sufficiently to travel, though Dr. Hunnicutt and my own CMO agree that I am not to be allowed to walk long distances or become chilled due to concerns that I might develop pneumonia. In addition, the three of us, Lieutenant Commander L. H. McCoy, M.D., Commander S. T. Spock, and I, agree to be placed under the command of Admiral Arleigh Burke until we are contacted with further orders from our own chain of command.

2) The star around which Earth is now orbiting is three point two light-years within Klingon space as negotiated in the Organian treaty of 2268. Legally, this means that the planet is rightfully part of the Klingon Empire. Intercepted messages indicate that at least one Klingon house plans to announce your annexation on or about the tenth of May. Historically, the Empire has presented an ultimatum and allowed one planetary day for response before taking action. However, it is uncertain how they will go about conquering a planet with Earth’s current level of development and large population size, as those prior conquests for which we have detailed records were either small colonies or preindustrial civilizations. There are indications that orbital bombardment via disruptor, photon torpedoes or mass drivers will be used to target multiple cities, among them New York City, Washington D.C., Tokyo, and San Francisco. Ground forces will be well armored and armed, but likely few in number, as there has not been time to organize a large scale ground offensive.

3) It is recommended the United States base of operations be moved to a secure location far from population centers. Copies of the Federation Charter and the Organian Peace Treaty have been attached to this document in order that plausible arguments to sue for Federation protection may be sought. These have been hand copied by Commander Spock. I suggest you avail yourselves of his assistance in crafting your suit. In addition, I place myself at your disposal for intelligence on Klingon strategy and tactics.

4) We intend to send a distress signal to the Federation requesting assistance as soon as weather conditions permit. It is likely the signal will be detected by Klingon forces as soon as it is sent, though it is extremely unlikely they will be able to decipher the content. At that time Uijeongbu will become a high priority target. Colonel Sherman Potter and I recommend that the MASH unit be relocated and a small contingent be left behind to send the signal once the rest of the personnel have cleared the area.

Items 5, 6, and 7 are appended to this document.

Very respectfully,

J. T. Kirk
Captain, Starfleet

*

Harry Truman stood beside the table in the Cabinet Room, a loop of his phone cord wrapped around his wrist while he spoke. His voice was deliberately calm and measured, a contrast to the intense frustration he felt. “No, General, we have no need of your services at this time, nor do I intend to discuss classified matters with you, as you have proven yourself of late incapable of respecting the chain of command. Good day.” He replaced the phone in its cradle with exaggerated delicacy and turned to George Marshall. “We need to get that man under control before he causes an even greater panic.”

Marshall shook his head. “Like it or not, Douglas MacArthur is the public’s darling right now. We can’t get him out of the public eye, so maybe we need to consider using him to disseminate the information we need the public to hear.”

“I wish we could trust him.” There was a knock at the door. “Come in.”

Dean Acheson entered accompanied by General Ridgway in his dress blues. “Mr. President, General Ridgway,” Acheson said. The president extended his hand for the general to take.

“How was your flight?” Truman asked.

“We had no trouble, Mr. President,” Ridgway said. “I have Generals Smith and Clayton outside. They’re my contacts on the ground in Uijeongbu.”

“General Smith? Isn’t he in the hospital?” Truman hoped the man wasn’t out AMA, though it would be in character for the stubborn mule.

“Released yesterday with a full-time nurse to keep him from running himself into the ground.”

“Good. Bring them in so we can get down to business.”

Smith and Clayton could not look more different from each other. Clayton was heavy, pink faced and smiling, though his face grew serious as his eyes met the president’s. Smith was taller, gaunt and pale, with angular features and the slow movements of a man recovering from serious illness.

Truman took a seat and gestured for the other three men to follow suit. “So what’s this I hear about an alien invasion?”

Smith spoke first. “Mr. President. Thirteen days ago I received a report from an operative claiming an alien was being harbored at the 4077th Mobile Army Hospital in Uijeongbu. While assessing the potential veracity of this report, among others, I was asked to accompany General Clayton to the same MASH unit at the request of its CO. I observed advanced technology in use and met three men claiming to be time travelers, one of whom appeared not to be human. I have included documentary materials in the dossier.”

“I have read it,” Truman noted, “As well as a letter from a Captain James Kirk delivered to me via courier yesterday, the gist of which appears to be that there is an alien invasion force amassing somewhere above us that intends to attack on or about the tenth of May. Gentlemen, what on Earth do you suggest we do about a threat like that, if such a threat actually exists?”

Ridgway interjected, “I think we need to speak to these men in person. They claim to be naval officers, let’s have them brought to Washington for debriefing.”

“The situation on the ground may delay our operations. We’re looking at both Chinese advances and severe storms, both of which make travel hazardous.”

“We do not want to risk the assets with an untimely extraction,” Smith noted.

Ridgway added, “At present Admiral Burke and I have prioritized protecting the 4077th over other operations. We have lost ground in the eastern part of the country. The Chinese are pressing the advantage.”

“If we make the wrong call, and this invasion from the skies,” his lips twisted around the phrase as though he had difficulty believing he had spoken it aloud, “if this invasion from the skies turns out to be a hoax, we will have thrown Korea to the Chinese. We can’t afford to give the Communists a victory.”

Truman felt the need to sit down and think the situation through on paper. He opened a yellow pad and corralled a Cross pen that had rolled toward the middle of the table. “Give me a rundown on the concrete evidence we have of this invasion.”

Ridgway consulted his own bundle of paper. “The tech. Medical devices that are so advanced that they cannot plausibly be Russian or Chinese. Even the theory is so far beyond what we know now that they might as well be magic wands. We have several reports from reliable personnel, including Major Charles Winchester, a medical doctor we sent in to investigate, that one of the three naval officers is not human. As far as the intercepted messages, we have only these men’s word. The messages are decrypted on a device they brought with them.”

“Their word and the psychic kid,” Smith said.

Ridgway glared at the head of the CIA. “I am less inclined than you are to take the word of fortune tellers. We have been put in a difficult position. The Chinese are a known threat. These Klingons present a greater, but only if they actually exist.”

“I’m not sure the Federation those “Starfleet” men come from doesn’t pose as great a threat as the Chinese,” Smith said grimly.

Truman finished outlining on his pad of paper. “For the moment, I’m not prepared to abandon the Korean Peninsula on this amount of evidence. I want the 4077th to pull up stakes when the weather clears, head back toward Seoul and until then, you and General Clayton keep the Chinese from advancing on their position. I don’t want a repeat of the 8063rd, especially not with potential assets on the ground. We’ll pull those Navy men out when they reach Seoul, have them in Washington within 24 hours of that time.”

“I believe we should consider moving the executive branch to a secure location,” Marshall said.

“If you leave Washington, that will be another piece of ammunition MacArthur will use against you. This country cannot afford to be destabilized further by his antics.” Dean Acheson planted his hands on the table and leaned toward Truman.

Marshall countered, “This country cannot afford him taking the role of heir apparent if an attack beheads the government.”

Truman silenced them both with a look. He pushed his glasses back up onto his nose and said, with the finality his office allowed him, “I’m not going to hide in a bunker because of rumors. I’m staying right here.”

Chapter Text

There was something comforting about the work of turning over rain softened earth with a spade, feeling the ache settle into shoulders and knees while grassy earth was transformed into dark, turned clods. Edna O’Reilly followed behind Peg and her spade, carefully pressing sectioned potatoes into the disturbed ground and gently covering them. Over the course of the afternoon, the pinched lines around her mouth and eyes had softened with the therapy of repetitive work.

The sun was growing low in the sky. Peg propped herself on the handle of the spade. Her arms ached in a way that was not entirely unpleasant. “We should call it an afternoon, put supper in.”

Edna hauled herself to her feet, brushing her dirty hands onto her nearly as dirty apron. “We’ll put more in tomorrow.”

Peg returned the spade to the shed before walking back to the house. Erin lay in the playpen in the front room, still fast asleep. She washed up just enough to chop carrots and put them on to boil before Edna shooed her upstairs to shower the dirt and sweat off before supper. She stood under the not quite hot enough spray for a spare five minutes, letting the sound of the water fill her ears so she couldn’t hear her own thoughts so loudly, then pulled on a skirt and blouse and headed back downstairs to set the table.

Ed padded in the kitchen door in sock feet, his boots left in the mudroom. “Need to keep an eye on Pickles, she looks like she might drop her calf in the next couple of days.”

“Chickens tucked in for the night?” Edna asked.

“Yeah. Saw fox sign again out by the woodpile. We’ll keep an eye.”

“Fine, fine, go wash up.”

Ed nodded a greeting to Peg as he passed. Erin started to fuss just as Peg finished setting the table. “Go on,” Edna said. “I’ll start a bottle.”

Erin greeted her with the exaggerated frown of a baby who had been left alone in a playpen for almost an entire waking minute, but her nascent wail quieted as soon as she was pressed to Peg’s shoulder. Peg sway-walked her back to the kitchen and tucked her into one arm to finish setting the table while the bottle warmed, then pulled up a chair and accepted the bottle from Edna while she finished laying out the meal. Ed settled into the seat across from Peg. It hadn’t taken long for them to make her a seamless part of the slow dance of their lives.

They’d waited for her return to say grace, which Ed approached with his usual rough brevity. “Lord, thank you for safety and friends. And the good weather. Amen.”

They ate in silence for the first few minutes, Edna reaching to take Erin so that Peg could eat. Erin jammed a fist in her mouth and craned her neck to look up at Edna, while Edna bent her neck to smile at the baby. Ed gestured toward the mudroom door with his fork. “I saw the kitchen garden. We growing for an army?”

“Maybe so. Feels like a Victory Garden kind of time, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” Ed conceded. “Any word from the boy?”

“Walter hasn’t called today, no,” Edna said. “We just have to trust the Lord to keep him safe.” She caught Peg’s eye. “And BJ.”

“And BJ,” Peg echoed.

Edna shifted Erin on her lap. “Oh, I think she needs a diaper.”

“I’ll take her.” Peg caught Erin up into her own arms. She took Erin into the guest bedroom, lay her on the bed, and cleaned her up. Erin chewed on the hem of her shirt. Peg leaned in to bump noses with her until she squealed and kicked her chubby legs. Moments like this, she thought she could just see the shadow of BJ’s face in hers, in the set of her eyes and the curve of her chin. When she returned, Ed and the neighbor from down the road were sitting in front of the television watching the six-thirty news, while Edna stood in the doorway absently wringing a dishtowel, her eyes also fixed on the screen.

“Good evening everyone, coast to coast,” Douglas Edwards said from his place behind the news desk. The reception wasn’t as good as she was used to at home, but the familiarity of the news anchor’s face, static blurred or not, was comforting. His words, though, weren’t. “Chinese and North Korean forces continue to pressure American forces in Korea in heavy fighting this week, while retired General Douglas MacArthur criticizes President Truman’s commitment to a limited war. Rumors that MacArthur is planning a presidential run in 1952 are spreading as more and more people question the President’s resolve.”

Their neighbor, a tall, skinny fellow about ten years younger than Ed, said, “MacArthur is just the man we need to get the country back on track.”

“Shhh,” Ed hissed back. “Talk after.”

“Stay tuned this evening for a one hour special report on how the unexplained events of last month have impacted relations between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Communist China. In other news, the United Nations, in an effort to foster international unity in these troubling times, is inviting children around the world to name the new constellations. Check your newspaper for instructions and a mailing address.”

The news paused for a commercial.

The neighbor, Joe, started up again. “We’re wasting our time. The Commies are using this whole stars moving around business as a distraction so they can gobble up more territory. You’ll see.”

“MacArthur would set the world on fire and call himself a hero,” Peg said.

“And what would you know about it, little lady?”

Peg opened her mouth to respond to the implication that she had less grasp of politics than the old farmer, but recognized a blowhard when she saw one and didn’t want raised voices to scare Erin.

Joe took her pause to consider her response as victory and hmphed in understated triumph. Edna, invisible to him from her location, caught Peg’s eye and then cast her own heavenward. Peg choked on a laugh. Douglas Edwards came back on again to report on the stock market (volatile) and commodities prices (sharply increasing) and Ed’s withering look brought silence from Joe.

When news gave way to another commercial Ed hauled himself to his feet. “I’ll see you back to your place,” he told Joe, who settled his hat back on his head and headed for the back door.

When the men were gone, Peg gingerly lowered herself into a chair, Erin still in her arms. Edna settled into the other overstuffed chair. “Ought to get his own television,” Edna muttered uncharitably. Peg didn’t blame her.

Perry Como was on next, the music a little tinny and backed with static. They watched in silence, too tired out from planting all day to talk. Erin grabbed at Peg’s fingers and Peg made a little game of keeping them out of reach and bringing them close for her to snatch at until she chortled.

“Store’s low on seed. Lot of folks planting big gardens this year,” Edna noted.

Not for the first time that week, Peg considered the Russians’ nuclear arsenal, rumored to be much smaller than the United States’, and calculated that there were no nearby cities worth wasting a bomb on. She hoped. “You think we’ll see war here? With the Russians?”

“I think there’s something coming. Walter wouldn’t have sent you here otherwise. Ed feels it too, like the smell of a storm in the air, but he can’t say what it is. Only that it’s soon.”

Peg held Erin close. Perry Como crooned on the television as though everything was fine, but BJ was across an ocean with less and less chance she’d ever see him again. The terrible, lonely bigness of it felt as though it might swallow her whole and not even take notice.

*

The viewscreen distorted the location of distant stars enough that it was not possible to determine their position just by looking at the simulated view off the bow of the ship. Nevertheless, Una found the feeling of forward motion it provided comforting. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock at least lived, and if they lived, it was likely Dr. McCoy did as well. She wanted them to be on the planet they were investigating so badly that she suspected wishful thinking was clouding her judgment.

Her musings were interrupted by Ensign Riley. “Coming up on the Klingon border, Sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Riley,” Captain Una acknowledged. “Standard patrol pattern for now, sensor sweep first for warp signatures, then as much as you can get on long range sensors of the new planet. Mr. Sulu, is the probe ready for launch?”

“On your order, Captain.” There was a brief pause, then Riley said, “Three Klingon vessels approaching the border.”

“Shields up full. Square off with them, but do not engage.”

The comm system activated on a Klingon frequency. “We’re being hailed,” Uhura announced.

“On screen,” Una said, moving to stand in front of the Captain’s chair she still hadn’t sat down in. It felt wrong to take his place visibly in front of his crew.

A face appeared on screen, the markings consistent with House Arok. Una’s heart sank. House Arok was a large, wealthy house, known to be hotheads even among Klingons, given to treachery and violent abuses of power. “You are trespassing in Klingon space. Leave now before we blow you out of the sky.”

Una quirked a wry smile. “We’re on our side of the treaty line.”

“Your sensor sweeps are violating our space,” the Klingon captain snarled.

“That’s ridiculous. We have as much right to patrol this side of the line, including sweeping for hazards, as you do yours.”

The Klingon vessel broke the connection. In truth, the Organian enforced treaty meant there was very little they could do to each other. While their weapons would function against other targets outside the five light-year bubble enclosing the Organian system, they were not able to attack each other directly anywhere along the border.

“Klingon vessel is powering up weapons,” Riley noted. “They have fired.”

Harmless blue light washed over the Enterprise’s bow. “Take us to port, eighty-five mark 2, half impulse. Keep patrolling like they’re not even there,” Una ordered. “Chekov, Sulu, my office.”

Once they were off the bridge, Una turned to them. “I know you’ve all had a number of encounters with the Klingon Empire since the Organian treaty. If we cross into their space here, is there anything they can do to stop us?”

“I know what I would do if I had three ships and my enemy had only one,” Chekov said.

“What would you do?”

“I would maneuver my ships so that they surrounded the other ship, to keep it from being able to move without fear of being rammed. Then I’d just herd the other ship out of my territory. Unless I was feeling aggressive. Then I’d herd it into the gravity well of a planet and keep it from holding a stable orbit.”

“Mr. Sulu, what do you think?”

“I think we can outmaneuver three Birds of Prey, if it comes to that. I don’t see any way around entering Klingon space if we’re to investigate the new planet. Any long range scans we take will make our objective clear if it isn’t already.”

“Can we get enough data from a long range scan to determine whether this planet, whether or not it’s an Earth duplicate, supports a civilization?”

Chekov responded, “We can detect atmospheric composition and albedo differences that indicate large population centers. That should allow us to make an estimate.”

“Do that first. I want to know what we’re walking into.”

“Of course, sir.”

The two of them left, their steps slipping into unison, and Una followed to stand behind the empty Captain’s chair. The Klingon vessels matched speed with them, aligning themselves so that they blocked the sensors’ access to the bright star and its planetary visitor. Given the planet had only been there for a few weeks, its light would not have even reached their position for another three years. Chekov had to align a subspace energy pulse at the star and its surroundings and read the reflected subspace energy signature to obtain information about the planet. It was a tricky endeavor even when the ship wasn’t dodging Klingons.

They played this game for over an hour, Enterprise maneuvering and the Klingon vessels interposing themselves until one of the Klingons made a brief mistake. “Got it!” Chekov shouted from the science station.

“Sulu, continue to dodge the Klingon vessels. We don’t want them to know we’ve been successful.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Sulu continued to maneuver the Enterprise as though they were still trying for a clear sightline on HR7783. Una waited, pointedly not pacing or tapping her fingers on the back of the Captain’s chair.

“I have the analysis, Captain,” Chekov said.

“Well, out with it.”

“Atmospheric spectroscopy indicates carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to be between 308 and 313 parts per million. Earth’s carbon dioxide concentration matches this value between 1930 and 1955 old Earth dating system. The same time as the residual atmospheric components found in the transporter room.”

“We’re looking at an extremely unstable period in Earth’s history,” Una noted. “Development of nuclear weapons capability, a global war, at least three separate genocides. Assume that we will, at some point, be going down to the planet’s surface. Sulu, you know this crew better than I do. Assume we’ll be putting down a team of four. Have your team bone up on mid-twentieth century Earth history.”

“Will do, Captain.” He looked down at his panel, then back up at the viewscreen. “Captain, the Klingon vessels are crossing the border.”

The ships approached in an arc, moving as though to surround the Enterprise. “Evasive action, Mr. Sulu,” Una said.

True to his reputation, Sulu’s calculation took less than a second, and Enterprise shot out from between the three ships. Una watched the Klingon vessels struggle to catch up and said, “They’ve violated our space now. Take us to HR7783b.”

Chapter Text

Enterprise made its way toward HR 7783 at, on average, warp four. The Klingon vessels kept tight on its tail and took turns dodging in front, crossing its T in a way calculated to make the crew play chicken. Sulu wove expertly around the obstacles they presented. Two hours into the flight a fourth ship joined the other three, slowing their progress even further. One of the Klingon ships launched a probe directly into Enterprise’s path such that it could not be avoided. The probe caused minimal damage but briefly reduced power to the forward shields. Sulu swore quietly and slowed further.

By the end of the fourth hour of fancy flying, Sulu was exhausted and had to pass the helm to Riley. Una remained behind the captain’s chair, one hand tucked in the small of her back, the other gripping the seat back for balance. The Klingon vessels flew in a tight formation around the Enterprise, making an equilateral triangle around the ship with less than their own diameter’s clearance between their hulls, two of them drafting on the Enterprise’s warp fields and one stationed above the saucer, with the fourth ship sometimes behind, sometimes jumping ahead to drop down directly in front of them and slow abruptly. It was hard on the engines, the helm, and their nerves. All it would take was one moment of inattention to cause a collision.

The lead ship cut them off again, abruptly enough that the inertial feedback system pitched her into the back of the command chair. “Dammit,” she said, finally losing her temper. “Is there anything we can do to lose these guys?”

“Not as long as they know exactly where we’re going,” Chekov said.

“Options?”

“We can turn around, head back out of Klingon space,” Sulu said, clearly offering the option for it to be rejected.

Una shook her head. “Not before we get some solid short range scans of the planet.”

Uhura set down her earpiece. “I believe I have broken their most recent encryption. The longer we can keep them in range and talking to each other, the more intelligence we will have when we arrive.”

“Good point, Lieutenant. Riley, do you need someone to relieve you?”

Riley took a moment before answering. Una noted that he was executing a tricky corkscrew maneuver to try to force the two ships in their draft to break off. He returned the ship to a level heading and said, “At our current average speed, we will arrive in the HR7783 system in five hours. I can handle another two, sir.”

“Thank you for your candor. I’ll keep you at the helm for two more hours and then we’ll hand back off to Sulu.”

“Acknowledged.”

“Uhura, send the decrypted transcripts to station four. I’d like to have a look at them.”

“Aye, sir.”

Una slid into the nearest seat to Riley’s position at the helm and pulled up the decrypted files. Working backward, she waded through dozens of course corrections, insults directed at herself, her ship, and among the Klingon comm officers themselves, searching for mentions of HR 7783, the planet, or additional ships. There. The fourth ship harrying them had given a report on its arrival.

Captain Wakod of house Arok was apparently in charge. Among the communications they had intercepted were scientific reports on the potential for agricultural development of the planet. Given that the Federation intelligence indicated that the Empire struggled to feed itself it was no surprise that would be a priority. She continued reading through the file. Estimated population two point six billion—she stopped there to look up historical population figures. Again, assuming this Earth shared history with the Earth of the Federation, the time period could be further narrowed to between 1949 and 1954 old Earth dating system. The population possessed fission weapons but no way of launching them into space, further corroborating the time period.

There was a brief exchange in which two junior officers discussed using the human inhabitants as target practice…

Further on, speculation on the part of others on how to maintain control of treacherous, honorless, barbaric humans in such large numbers, quashed by the captain of the lead ship…

A complaint about being required to read a history of twentieth-century Earth, a poor translation with not enough details of the battles…

So. They knew they were dealing with an Earth alternate and were confident enough of the historical parallels to study them in detail. They also clearly intended to conquer the planet and subjugate its population. Una summarized her findings into a report but debated sending it to Starfleet Command, knowing that it was likely that the Admiralty would order her to abandon the place. She couldn’t disobey orders her superiors didn’t know to issue.

She took a moment to check on Riley, who was holding his own with Chekov in the copilot’s seat. Sulu stepped up behind her. “There’s nothing more you can do here. We’re still five hours out at this speed. I can handle the con.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but after a pause, nodded assent. “You have the con.”

“Get some rest, Captain.”

“I’ll take that under advisement, Commander.”

Una strode off the bridge and onto the turbolift just as another sudden deceleration threw her into its forward wall. Inertial feedback was an ergonomic feature she could really do without, useful as it might be for helm officers and engineers. She fully intended to force herself to sleep, or at least to clear her head, before they reached the system, but if the ship was going to keep lurching around like this, she didn’t hold out much hope. Dutifully, she returned to her quarters, where at least she wouldn’t have everyone’s eyes on her.

She found a hypospray on her bed with a note from the acting CMO. “Get some sleep. You need to be fresh when we arrive.” She set it aside, not wanting to be impaired in the event that they failed to dodge one of the Klingon vessels. Instead, she arranged herself cross-legged on the firm mattress, let her focus drift to a spot of air half a meter in front of her, and narrowed her awareness to her breath.

*

Half of the sky was blue. Impossibly, brilliantly blue. The other half was still filled with dark gray, rain soaked clouds, but those were rapidly receding to the horizon.

Potter turned away from the window and poked his head through the swinging doors to where Spock and Radar were manning the subspace radio receiver. “Radar, the weather report says we should be in the clear for two to three days. What do you think?”

Radar chewed his lip. “Yeah.”

“Close the camp to patients—”

“Too late,” Radar interrupted. “Sorry, sir.”

“How many?”

“One bird in the air. Three patients.”

Potter sighed into his palm. “All right, those are the last ones we take, though. We break camp at 0700 tomorrow. Get Seoul on the line, have them send buses to clear Post Op.”

“Yes, sir, of course, sir.”

“With me, Commander,” Potter said to Spock, then held the door open for the two of them to leave Radar to his work. Once they were outside, Potter turned to him. “He ready to send that message on his own?”

“He knows what to do. We have rehearsed the procedure several times.”

“Good,” Potter said without meaning it. There was nothing good about leaving Radar and Klinger alone with nothing but a jeep between them, just so they could send a signal that was sure to bring down hell from the sky. If it weren’t the only way they might get help from that same sky, he’d never allow it. “We’ll get the three of you to Seoul, and that’s where we part ways. I don’t know where they’re taking you and I don’t want to, just in case.”

“Understood, Colonel. You have my gratitude, for my life and that of my captain, and for all the assistance you have provided us.”

Potter chuckled. “I thought one didn’t thank logic.”

“Perhaps not,” Spock allowed, swinging along beside him on his crutches. Potter kept an eye out in case the taller man foundered in the mud. “Nevertheless, I am grateful.”

They arrived at the tent that held the transmitter. “I have some final tests to perform. Send Corporal O’Reilly as soon as he is available.”

“Will do.” Potter slowed his steps. He was not on duty for this last batch of wounded, given that he needed to supervise the evacuation of the camp. It had gone from rainy and almost unpleasantly cool to warm and muggy in a few hours. The rapidly clearing clouds left behind a bright blue sky. The tents flapped in the stiff, warm breeze. He’d been here less than three months, long enough for the place to begin to grow on him, for all that he missed Mildred and Hannibal. If they were lucky, they’d wait out this crisis in Seoul and be back to work in a week or two.

He carefully chose not to think about all the ways in which they might be unlucky.

His foot slid when he put it down, threatening his balance so he had to throw out his arms and wobble like a slapstick comic. When he recovered himself, he planted his feet into the inches deep mud and his hands on his hips and surveyed the camp. It was going to be a messy bug out. They’d need to run planks under the jeeps to keep them from getting stuck. The door to triage swung open. Hawkeye stomped over to him. “We’ve got a problem.”

“What’s up?”

“Kid hit in the back with shrapnel. Bones and I think we can stabilize the injury, keep him from being permanently paralyzed, but he’s not going to be movable for 24 hours.”

“Four o’clock tomorrow.”

“At the earliest.”

Potter pursed his lips in thought. “We can’t start for Seoul so late in the day.”

“We’ll stay with him. Bones and me.”

Potter shook his head. “I’m sorry, Hawkeye, Dr. McCoy has to go. On orders from General Ridgway himself. And Admiral Burke.”

Hawkeye scrubbed his hand over his hair, then looked out across the camp and toward the hills beyond. “Then I’ll stay with him.”

“You do what you can for the kid. I’ll take a look after you’re done with the surgery, give you my decision then.”

Hawkeye looked as though he was about to protest, but turned on his heel and disappeared back into the building.

*

Captain Wakod maintained position directly above the Federation invader’s saucer. The game was growing tiresome. He debated ordering one of the other ships to ram the Enterprise directly but expected to need all of his ships in prime condition when it was time to take the planet he had claimed for House Arok.

Taking the planet itself was a more challenging problem than it seemed at first glance, which was all his subordinates deigned to give the problem. Their ships were at no risk from a civilization that had yet to put a satellite in orbit, but the fact remained that at present he had only five ships and a little over a thousand warriors to subdue a population of two point six billion. And humans might be physically unimpressive and lacking in honor, but they were tenacious and clever. He could not delude himself into believing that they would surrender easily.

He intended to behead the snake before it could strike. But first, he needed to neutralize the Federation threat. No doubt they had figured out that this planet was a clone of Earth, and the family resemblance had led them to try to claim the world and its vital resources for their own.

“Captain, I have the analysis on the photon torpedo strikes that you ordered.”

“Report.”

“The effect of ground burst photon torpedo strikes in the ten to twenty kiloton range will begin to affect insolation enough to reduce the current northern hemisphere growing season’s crop yields after ten to twelve hits on urban targets. The planet will be recoverable for agricultural use one full year after as many as two hundred such hits. Radioactivity will be minimal and confined to the blast regions.”

“Prepare a list of high value targets. We will give these humans the standard option to surrender, then make our superiority clear. I want a complete surrender to House Arok before we allow other houses in on the spoils.”

“Yes, sir.”

Wakod glanced at the young warrior at astrometrics. Had he imagined the brief flash of disgust—horror perhaps—on his face before he turned away to study his instruments? “Have you something to say, Gesh?”

“No, sir,” Gesh said, too fast in Wakod’s opinion for truthfulness. This one bore watching.

The Federation ship thwarted all efforts to direct it off its course to the new and as yet unnamed planet. The meddlesome Organians’ interdict against using weapons against the Federation extended into Klingon territory, so he couldn’t simply blow Enterprise out of the sky, satisfying as that might be. The honorless ghosts had not, as yet, seen fit to interfere in Klingon governance of planets within their own territory, so weapons could be directed against the planet even if not against the Enterprise.

They passed the heliopause, officially entering the system. “Get me Enterprise,” Wakod barked.

There was a brief pause, then the blue tinged and too spacious interior of the Enterprise appeared on screen. Humans, slight and smooth like overgrown infants, looked up from their work as though it were any of their business what their captain would say. “Enterprise. You will turn around and return to your territory.”

The dark haired female captain stuck her chin out in a human parody of confidence. “The Federation has an interest in this system.”

“The planet is none of your concern. It is in Klingon space and therefore Klingon property.”

“It is the property of its indigenous population, and we intend to ensure it remains so. A phenomenon this unusual warrants renegotiation with the Organians, don’t you think?”

Wakod slammed a fist onto the console in front of him. “If you care what happens to the indigenous population, leave now and do not return.” He cut off the comm.

The Federation ship hailed them again. Kraik reached to open the channel and Wakod cut him off with a gesture. “Where is Kirk?” he mused aloud. “Show me the recorded image of the Enterprise bridge.”

A still image appeared on the viewscreen. “His Vulcan lackey is missing as well.” Wakod wasn’t sure what that development boded, but he was sure he could turn the situation to his advantage. The human on the bridge was likely inexperienced, and the chances she possessed Kirk’s combination of almost Klingon audacity and incredible luck were small. “Find out who is acting as captain, Kraik.”

The cluster of ships came up on the new planet, Wakod’s fifth ship swinging around to settle in front of Enterprise. All six ships settled into a stationary orbit on the far side of the planet’s solitary moon. Wakod ignored two further hails from Enterprise.

“Kraik, is the landing party prepared?”

“Yes, sir. I have identified three major centers of power, but the planetary governance is highly fragmented.”

“I am aware of the concentrations of power on this world. I will take a small force, twelve warriors, first to the Americans, then to the Soviets, and finally to the Chinese. Each will be given one planetary day to surrender. When they do not, we will demonstrate our superiority. Hail the Enterprise.”

“You can save your breath, we’re not going anywhere,” its captain said as soon as she appeared on screen.

“The planet’s location is of strategic importance. Its population is not. Leave now, or I will demonstrate the effect a fully loaded photon torpedo has on a city.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“This will be your only warning.” Wakod cut the connection. “Gesh, target San Francisco.”

The pause was far too long for Wakod’s liking. He pulled a dagger from his belt and brought it to Gesh’s throat, stopping himself from killing his navigator only because the boy was unusually skilled. “Target acquired,” Gesh said.

Enterprise turned around. “Make room,” Wakod ordered his ships. The space was cleared ahead of Enterprise so it could accelerate away from the system. “Gleaming Sword, escort them to the heliopause.” He stomped off the bridge in a foul mood. Gesh would need to be eliminated as soon as a suitable replacement could be found. The President of the United States was, according to the news reports coming from the planet, a weak figure, unable to commit to a fight. It would be a pleasure to grind this Truman under his boot.