Strange New Worlds II (Star Trek: All) (Bk. 2)

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9780671026936: Strange New Worlds II (Star Trek: All) (Bk. 2)

Award-quality short stories set in Star Trek universes, written by fans of the series. Culled from a second nationwide contest/author search, they represent some of the finest Star Trek writing available today.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Melissa Dickinson ("Triptych") is a 29-year-old graphic designer with degrees from the Ringling School of Art and Design. She and her husband David returned to Florida in 1996, after a two-year sabbatical in the mountains of New Hampshire. Melissa spent the time off learning multimedia design, reviving her writing skills, and rediscovering her love of Star Trek.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Triptych

Melissa Dickinson

(Second Prize)

Twilight, on the city's lower east side.

As the first stars appear in the eastern sky, a man and a woman in love cross a street. The two figures merge against the light of a streetlamp; a third watches them go, thinking of tragedy to come.

It is an old story -- perhaps the oldest story. Love binding, love wounding, the Fates watching: Clotho with her hand upon the wheel, Lachesis measuring, measuring the threads of lives inextricably woven, patient Atropos with her shining scissors poised to snip...


At the far curb, Edith Keeler turned toward the man she loved and spoke the words that would seal her fate. "If we hurry, maybe we can catch the Clark Gable movie at the Orpheum. I'd really love to see it."

Her companion gave a questioning look, as if not quite sure he'd heard correctly over the bustle of the evening traffic. "The what?"

"You know, Doctor McCoy said the same thing!"

"McCoy -- ! Leonard McCoy?" As if the name were a curse, Kirk's smile vanished, leaving a hunted look in its wake.

His intensity was frightening. She fell back a step. "Well, yes. He's in the mission -- "

At that, all the blood left his face. "Stay right here." It was an order, and for an instant she froze in simple reflex. His hands tightened painfully on her shoulders; he was already turning. "Spock!" He released her and started back across the street. "Stay right there -- Spock!"

The Vulcan had already turned and was hurrying back down the sidewalk. He reached the pool of lamplight even as Kirk did, and gripped the captain's forearms to steady him. "What is it?"

"McCoy!" A few feet away, the door of the mission opened. "He's in -- Bones!"

"Jim!"

The weeks of tense waiting broke in one joyful moment of recognition. Kirk pulled his old friend toward him, enveloping the doctor's spare frame in an awkward bear hug. Even Spock could not quite stop himself from reaching out to confirm the reality. In their stunned delight, none of the three saw the woman start across the street.

Then, one of them did.

It was the look of alarm in the doctor's face that reached Kirk first -- but he knew, even before he turned, that it was now, this moment -- that there would be no turning from his fate.

From hers.

Spock's "No, Jim!" followed the captain as he turned, as he took one reflexive step toward her. McCoy made an incoherent sound behind him, and Kirk met her eyes, and then everything began to move very slowly.

Afterward, he would remember it in too much detail. Each stop-action flash of motion seemed to take a small forever, each frame imprinting in his memory with scarring, indelible accuracy. By the time he turned, she was already halfway across. Her eyes were asking him a question, a tiny, puzzled frown gathering between her brows.

"Edith..."

She was looking at him. Right at him. He felt more than saw the truck, felt McCoy beside him and Spock at his back, the pressure nearly crushing his heart. The rumble of the oncoming vehicle came up through the pavement, the soles of his feet, rooting him in place. She was looking right at him.

She would know.

Kirk knew what he had to do. He knew it. But he had lost too many times, had made too many choices that had taken too much of his soul. Her eyes were on his, widening suddenly as at last she sensed the motion of the truck bearing down on her, perhaps seeing it out of the comer of her eye. She knew.

Beside him, McCoy started forward.

Unable to take his eyes from hers, Kirk moved. It cost something deep inside him, at the very heart of him, something that burned like acid. And still he paid the cost and moved.

But Spock was already moving, and in his blind grief, Kirk was slower.


Three men in motion -- one in fear, one in sorrow, one in love -- and it is Spock's hand on the doctor's arm, Spock's grip that tries to catch him back, and in the end it is Spock who has miscalculated, underestimating the doctor's determination and thus his inertia. A bare ripple in the flow of time, his miscalculation slows McCoy's motion for a crucial instant.

In one moment a few scant inches become an infinity; in the next McCoy has slipped past his friends, into the street.


James Kirk was not in his body. He was somewhere outside himself, somewhere far away where this could not touch him. He heard Spock breathe, "No..." from close by, and then reality came unglued.

Edith in the street. The truck. And McCoy moving, moving fast with the surge of adrenaline, very fast, too fast --

Fast enough. He plowed into Keeler full force, his momentum knocking her back, hard, carrying him with her to the pavement, out of the path of the grinning steel grille of the truck. It roared past and skidded with a screech of tires, slid sideways and slammed into a parked car not ten feet from where Kirk stood, frozen, his mouth open in what might have been a shout if there were any sound. The car rocked against the curb, squealing, struck the pavement with a screech of metal on metal. The truck shuddered to a halt, and then was still.

For an instant nobody, and nothing, moved.

That frozen moment made a snapshot in Kirk's memory. Then time itself rushed forward, tidal surge through the keyhole of the present.

The street was suddenly full of people stepping forward from the curbs to see. More brakes squealing, as cars stopped to avoid the tableau in the middle of the street. Angry drivers shouting, a rising murmur of delayed reaction from the onlookers. Someone said, "Is she okay?"

She was. McCoy rolled off her stiffly, and the two of them sat up, looking back across the street to where the truck had careened into the parked car. Kirk breathed again as he saw her move and realized that it was over, that she was all right, she was alive. McCoy had saved her.

Which meant --

"No..." The sidewalk lurched under him, and suddenly there was a hand at his elbow, steadying him. Spock. Kirk turned instinctively toward the Vulcan, as he had in so many moments of crisis. Sick realization tightened in his stomach when he saw the answering dismay on Spock's face.

McCoy, reaching the curb, saw that look and knew that his attempt to prevent tragedy had somehow gone disastrously wrong.


Kirk stood at the window of the cheerless little room, gaze fixed on the pool of yellow light cast by the streetlamp below.

McCoy knew he wasn't really seeing it. Kirk had alternated staring out into the night with bouts of viciously controlled pacing, leaving it to Spock to fill the doctor in on the havoc he'd inadvertently wreaked.

"It's not over yet," McCoy said at last, feeling as if he had to say something to break Kirk's fixed stare, his unnatural stillness. "We're still here....There's gotta be something we can do." Captain and first officer exchanged a glance, and something in it chilled McCoy. "C'mon, Jim, we're acting like we're helpless here. We can still change things. Spock said 1936. That means we've got six years before the headline you all saw about Edith and the president. So we can still change things, right?"

Spock's tone was patient. "I do not think you understand, Doctor."

"Well then, explain it to me, will you!"

"Aside from other...obstacles, there are very real practical difficulties involved in tampering with the subsequent timeline -- "

"Wait a minute, Spock. Pretend you're talking to a regular human being. You know, words of less than four syllables."

Spock blinked at him. After a moment's stare that managed to communicate the Vulcan's opinion of his language skills quite eloquently, Spock went on.

"In the flow of time, there are a billion possible futures, a billion points of decision. We have images in our tricorder of only one possible set of these divergent points -- only one possible reality. The very fact of our presence here makes my tricorder's data unreliable at best. This unreliability will increase logarithmically as time passes."

As it often did when he was stressed, McCoy's mouth got ahead of his brain. "No wonder you look so glum, Spock. All those little tubes and wires, and nothing but one poor confused tricorder to talk to!"

Kirk shot him a quelling look, and McCoy managed to control the hysteria. "Well dammit, Jim, we've got to try at least."

"Of course we've got to try! Don't you think I know that?" Kirk caught himself. McCoy looked from him to Spock, sensing something they weren't telling him.

"All right, out with it, you two."

But Kirk pressed his lips together and turned away. At last Spock gave a nearly inaudible sigh and steepled his hands together. "There is another, more serious problem." His eyes flicked briefly to McCoy's, then away. "Perhaps you should be seated, Doctor."

McCoy knew he wasn't going to like this, but he sat, on the edge of the bed that wasn't covered by Spock's homemade Frankenstein machine.

"I'm listening." Spock took a deep breath; McCoy forestalled him. "In English, if you don't mind."

Perplexed, the Vulcan looked to Kirk for help. Kirk sighed and left the window at last, straddling a chair that faced the doctor. He pursed his lips as he searched for a way to explain.

"You know the old story about the time traveler who goes back in time, meets his own grandmother, and accidentally kills her?"

McCoy nodded. "Sure. Go back in time, kill your own grandmother, thus assuring you're never born. Paradox."

"Right. Logic says that killing your own grandmother is a paradox. It can't happen. Unfortunately, when it comes to time travel, logic doesn't apply." Putting the problem into words seemed to provide Kirk with a focus he sorely needed, and he warmed to his task. "In the early days of speculation about time travel, scientists suspected that traveling into your own past might be impossible. Or that if you did travel into your own past, you'd find yourself unable to change anything of importance. But as it turns out, the universe has no problem at all with you killing your own grandmother."

"Grandma might have a problem with it."

Kirk didn't smile. "The real problem comes further down the line, when you find out that by killing her, by changing history, you've in effect put yourself into another timeline -- with no way to get back to your own."

"This stuff makes my head hurt."

"Look, try thinking of time as a river. Each time a decision is made, another little stream splits off and goes its own way." Kirk used his hands to illustrate. "The water itself keeps flowing, always in the same direction, and you can't swim upstream, see. But you can climb out of the river, walk back up the bank, and jump in again. If you change something -- say, if you knock off your own grandmother -- you'll find yourself swimming down a different branch of the river, with no way to get back into the first branch except to get out and walk back upstream to a spot before the split occurred. Time travel."

Kirk and Spock were watching him with identical expressions of sober intensity. Understanding began to gel, and a chill made McCoy's short hairs stand up. "But we don't have a Guardian here. We can't get out of the river."

Spock nodded. "Essentially correct, Doctor. It is still theoretically possible to divert this timestream back toward its original course. If we are very, very fortunate, we might yet succeed in creating a distant future where the Enterprise exists once more -- for some other Spock, some other McCoy, some other James Kirk."

McCoy instinctively looked to his captain, but all he saw in Jim's face was the same bulldog resoluteness the man always showed when the going got toughest. Kirk put a hand on McCoy's arm, the grip strong and sure. "The Guardian gave us one chance, and we failed." Spock started to say something, but Kirk shook his head sharply, cutting him off. "We. Both of us, Mister Spock." His tone gentled. "I'm sorry, Bones. We're trapped here, in this time, this place. We can try all we want to change our own future, but we'll never know if we succeeded, and we'll never get back to the Enterprise."


Across a gray plain scattered with the ruins of a dead world, a steady wind mourned the lost millennia.

Uhura ran through the frequencies, as carefully as she had the first two times. She was excruciatingly aware of the three men's eyes on her. At last, as she reached the top of the band again, one of them broke the tense silence.

"Anything?"

She looked up, trying not to let her despair get the better of her. "I'm sorry, Mister Scott. No response on any frequency."

He met her eyes for a long moment. At last, straightening his shoulders as if to bear an unexpected weight, he nodded. "That's it, then. We have to assume that the captain and Mister Spock have failed."

Michael Jameson, security officer and ensign of only two months, had the look of a young man who was scared to death and trying not to show it. "How do we know if we've waited long enough? Maybe -- "

Scott shook his head sharply. "No maybe about it, lad. When McCoy went through, the change was instantaneous. If they'd succeeded, the Enterprise would be up there right now." He met their eyes in turn, weighing responsibility and choosing in the space of a few seconds. "The captain's orders were very clear." His gaze settled at last on Uhura, whose courage was contagious. "I'll go next, and I'll take Ensign Jameson with me. Lieutenant Uhura, you're to continue monitoring for fifteen minutes. If we don't reappear in that time, then you and Ensign Worsley will try."

Her gaze met his steadily, and Scott wished for a moment that he could take her with him. If they were to be exiles, then at least it might be exile shared with a friend. But she must know as well as he that splitting up the officers in the party would increase their chances if he, too, should fail.

She nodded, showing nothing but confidence. "Yes, sir. I understand." She wanted to wish him luck, but it stuck in her throat, an unwelcome reminder of his words to Kirk only a few minutes before. "When you're ready," she said instead.

He turned to the youngest member of the landing party. "Ensign?"

"Ready, sir." The young man's voice betrayed him, but he stepped forward and locked his hand around Scott's wrist. As the captain had not, they said no farewells.

"Time it for us, lass?"

She did, counting down for them, her eyes on the tiny display screen of her tricorder. In another moment, the four Enterprise crewmen were only two.


II

Kirk squinted at his handiwork. The leaky pipe seemed to have stopped dripping, so he put the tools away, dusted himself off, and went to find Edith.

As he climbed the steps to the second floor, he tried to make himself believe that tonight would be the night Spock would finish, the night they would know for certain what to do. He tried to hope that they still had a chance. But they had been in the city almost a mon...

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