Read Crucible: Kirk Online

Authors: David R. George III

Crucible: Kirk

“Clear the bridge!” Kirk ordered.

Korax would send a boarding party here and to engineering first, he knew. He looked around and saw Haines rising from her position at the sciences station, Uhura from communications, and Lieutenant Leslie from the primary engineering console, but Sulu and Chekov still sat at their posts. “Now!” he yelled, and the two men finally moved. Kirk waited for the young ensign to pass him, then followed him up the steps to the outer section of the bridge.

By the time Kirk arrived at the turbolift, the entire bridge crew had entered before him. As he himself stepped inside the car, he saw Sulu's eyes widen, the lieutenant peering past him, back onto the bridge. Kirk guessed in that moment that the Klingons had begun to materialize behind him. He reached for the lift's activation wand, but Leslie already had his hand on it. “Deck two,” the lieutenant said. Kirk expected a disruptor bolt to blast him in two at any moment, but then the doors squeaked closed behind him. As the turbolift started to descend, he realized that they'd actually made it.

And then an explosion rocked the lift, knocking it sideways. Kirk hurtled forward, raising his arms to protect not just himself, but his crewmates. His head struck the side of the lift, and then—

Everything went dark.

Also by David R. George III

Novels

The 34th Rule
(with Armin Shimerman)

Twilight (Mission: Gamma, Book One)

Serpents Among the Ruins (The Lost Era: 2311)

Olympus Descending
(in
Worlds of Deep Space Nine, Volume Three)

Provenance of Shadows (Crucible: McCoy)

The Fire and the Rose (Crucible: Spock)

Novellas

Iron and Sacrifice
(in
Tales from the Captain's Table)

An
Original
Publication of POCKET BOOKS

POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2007 by CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved. STAR TREK and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc.

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ISBN-10: 1-4165-3107-6

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To dear, sweet Karen,
My bright, constant star,
The light in my life,
The beat of my heart.

Love lies not beyond unapproachable frontiers,
Or else I did not write, and have loved never.
Love alters not with time's hours and days and years,
But bears out even to the edge of forever.

FOREWORD

Every Wandering
Thought

So finally, after penning the outlines for the McCoy and Spock novels of the
Crucible
trilogy, I arrive at the Kirk tale. And this one event, this crucible, that I had envisioned impacting all three of the main
Star Trek
characters, had affected the good captain in a very clear and obvious way. I readily see the story that surely must flow from the events in one of
Trek
's most popular episodes, and I know just how it will tie in with the overall themes of the other two books.

I know at once that I can't write such a novel.

Here's the thing. For good or ill, I like to defy reader expectations. I strive in my writing not only to deliver a satisfying story, but also to surprise. When it works, that can be a very good thing. But there's a risk involved there too, in that a reader who has strong expectations going into a novel might be disinclined to enjoy it if those expectations aren't met. I know this, of course, and yet I nevertheless like the challenge of attempting to deliver something new and unanticipated to readers that they will still end up appreciating.

In this case, after writing the McCoy and Spock novels of the
Crucible
trilogy—
Provenance of Shadows
and
The Fire and the Rose,
respectively—I realized that I had myself established reader expectations for the third volume. I couldn't have that. If I take readers from Point A and then to Point B, you can rest assured that I'm going to do my best to avoid following that up with a tale that brings them to Point C. Too obvious.
Way
too obvious.

So I began again. I examined Jim Kirk's life, knowing which of his characteristics and experiences I wanted to illuminate, and I searched for a different lens through which to do it. I found it in a place I hadn't expected, and I ended up putting together a tight little tale that actually surprised even me—partly for its relative brevity (I tend to write long, as many of you might have noticed), partly for its linear nature (well,
mostly
linear), and partly because of its content. I hope that means that I'll end up surprising readers too. I guess you'll find out.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand'ring barque,

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error, and upon me prov'd,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.

—William Shakespeare,
Sonnet CXVI

Kirk: Spock…I believe…I'm in love with

    Edith Keeler.

Spock: Jim, Edith Keeler must die.

—“The City on the Edge of Forever”

CRUCIBLE: KIRK

THE STAR TO EVERY WANDERING

OVERTURE
Chasms

He had all the time in the world. All the time in the
universe,
really.

The twisting, writhing ribbon of energy that had torn apart two
Whorfin
-class transports and taken three hundred sixty-eight lives, that had trapped the new
Excelsior
-class
Enterprise
and then sent a jagged tendril blasting through the starship's hull as it escaped, had deposited Captain James T. Kirk in a place where time—where reality itself—held no meaning. He could go anywhere, do anything. He could relive his past, revise it, even envision a future for himself that had never been….

Edith,
he thought, as he so often did, but this time, he watched as she gazed skyward, at the constellation of Orion to which he had just pointed. After a few seconds, she turned to him. Standing together on a sidewalk in New York City, in the year 1930, they moved closer to each other. Their lips met for the first time, the touch of her flesh warm and soft and loving.

Kirk stopped, slamming his eyes shut, knowing that he could not do this. Although the memories had always stayed with him—had always
haunted
him—he had never allowed himself to remember for very long. Even more than a quarter of a century later—or more than three hundred years later, depending on the method of reckoning—the loss remained too great for him to bear.

And so he started again, sending himself back to the moment of his entry into this impossible, timeless place. He could go anywhere, do anything. He could relive his past, even revise it….

Gary,
he thought as he peered at his old friend standing in the makeshift brig at the lithium cracking station on Delta Vega. Kirk would make certain to get the ship and crew away quickly, stranding the mutated helmsman here with enough provisions to survive until Starfleet and the Federation Council could determine how best to deal with him. Kirk didn't want to do it, but he had no choice given the circumstances, and at least Gary would live.

And he started again….

Sam,
he thought as he looked from the sedated form of Aurelan and across the room to the motionless body lying on the floor of the office. Kirk recognized his brother, even dressed in the orange lab coveralls and with his face turned away. Surely the
Enterprise
had arrived at Deneva in time, though, and Bones would be able to treat Sam, to restore him to full health.

And started again…

David,
he thought as he walked toward Carol and away from the towheaded young man. In the tunnels deep beneath the surface of the Regula planetoid, Kirk realized that he had all these years later come face-to-face with his grown son. Now, at last, he could have a relationship with David, and the disconnection of the years past would give way to a long future of kinship.

And again…

Spock,
he thought as he watched his closest friend slide down the transparent bulkhead, his body decimated by the radiation within the containment chamber. Kirk followed him down on the other side of the partition separating them. Spock had saved the
Enterprise
and its crew of trainees from being destroyed by the Genesis Wave, and now the medical staff would find a way to save Spock.

And again, and again, and again…

…
until he stood out in the crisp daylight air of the Canadian Rockies, amid the majestic snow-covered mountains, in front of his isolated and rustic vacation home. With a swing of the axe in his hands, he chopped wood for the fireplace, alive in the simplicity of the effort, in the physicality of the exertion. The day ahead, which had once been filled with ugly complications, would now be filled with joys only—he would see to that. But all of that would come later. For now, he let it all go and reveled in the fresh air and the silence surrounding him.

And then, unexpectedly, a man stood there staring at him. He wore a uniform Kirk didn't recognize, although the skewed chevron of the Starfleet emblem stood out clearly on the left side of his chest. It didn't matter. Kirk wouldn't let it matter.

“Beautiful day,” he told the stranger, then swung the axe once more, splitting another piece of wood.

“Yes, it certainly is,” the man said, walking slowly over. He cut a striking figure, with his bald pate and ramrod-straight posture. Kirk did not ignore the man, but he did continue chopping wood, even getting the stranger to set a log section in place for him. “Captain,” the man said, suggesting that he might know Kirk's identity, although it might simply have been a function of recognizing Kirk's own uniform, though he'd removed his crimson jacket. “I'm wondering, do you realize—”

“Hold on a minute,” Kirk said, not wanting to have a conversation that caused him to
realize
anything. “Do you smell something burning?” He really did detect the hint of smoke coming from the house, but he utilized it as an effective distraction. Leaving the axe buried in the stump on which he'd been hewing wood, he descended the curved stone staircase to the open front door, then hurried through the living room to the kitchen at the back of the house. There, in the middle of the long island, he saw smoke rising from a frying pan sitting atop the heating surface. “Looks like somebody was trying to cook some eggs,” he called back to the stranger, not wanting to be rude. As he rounded the island and carried the pan across to the sink, he said, “Come on in.” He turned on the faucet and washed the burning eggs down the drain, adding, “It's all right. It's my house.”

But it's not,
Kirk told himself, discerning something not quite right about the situation. “At least it used to be,” he said, remembering as he brought the cleaned pan back to the cooking surface. “I sold it years ago.”

The uniformed man had entered the house and now stood just a couple of meters in front of Kirk, on the other side of the island. “I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship…” He hesitated, and Kirk knew the name that he would say next.
“…Enterprise.”

From out past the captain, Kirk heard the gentle tolling of chimes. “The clock,” he said, moving from the kitchen and into the living room, recollecting more. He reached the wooden shelf that extended from the fireplace mantel, atop which sat an elegant, handcrafted timepiece he remembered well. “I gave this clock to Bones.”

“I'm from what you would consider the future,” Picard said. “The twenty-fourth century.”

A dog barked, a deep, throaty exclamation. Kirk turned to the still-open front door, to where a Great Dane now sat, peering inside. “Butler!” Kirk said, thrilled to see his old companion. He walked toward the dog, who got up and came into the house. Kirk dropped to his knees as he reached the canine, but while that action felt right, the sense of there being something wrong increased. “Butler,” he said. “How can you be here?” He looked to Picard in the hope that the captain might be able to provide some answers. Of Butler, Kirk said, “He's been dead seven years.”

And then, from above, came a woman's voice, instantly recognizable. “Come on, Jim, I'm starving,” she said. “How long are you going to be rattling around in that kitchen?”

Kirk turned away from the dog, who then ambled off. “Antonia,” Kirk said, understanding that this had all happened before. “What are you talking about?” he asked Picard. “The future? This is the past.” He rose back to his feet. “This is nine years ago.” He remembered it so well.

Just in front of him in the living room, on a small table, sat a wooden box, the antique piece decorated and held together with ornate metal fleurs-de-lis. Kirk stepped forward and opened it, knowing what he would find within. He pulled out a small, black velvet bag and extracted from it a golden horseshoe, a miniature red rose attached to the arch.
My going-away present to Antonia,
Kirk thought, recalling once more the events to come, recalling this very time. “The day I told her I was going back to Starfleet,” he said, and he felt now what he had felt then: relief, shame, sadness. He had hurt Antonia, he knew, and maybe he had hurt himself too.

Slowly, he padded past Picard, around the island, and back into the kitchen. From atop the rear counter he picked up a pair of objects, speckled orange. “These are Ktarian eggs, her favorite,” he said, holding them up for Picard to see. “I was preparing them to soften the blow.”

“I know how real this must seem to you,” Picard said. “But it's not.”

Kirk didn't care. He didn't
want
to care. He set the horseshoe and one of the eggs down, then turned up the heat on the cooking surface.

“We are both of us caught up in some kind of temporal nexus,” Picard continued.

Kirk tried hard to ignore the words and whatever they implied. After cracking the egg into the frying pan, he asked Picard to retrieve an herb for him from a kitchen cabinet. As the twenty-fourth-century captain did so, Kirk scrambled the egg with a whisk, holding the pan over the heating surface.

“How long have you been here?” Picard asked.

“I don't know,” Kirk answered honestly, taking the herb and adding a dash to the pan. He remembered starting to chop the wood, but before that…he didn't know. Evanescent images flitted through his mind, elusive as a long-ago dream. “I was aboard the
Enterprise-
B in the deflector control room and—” He suddenly thought about seeing Antonia again, and he recalled the tray he had prepared…this morning, whenever that had actually been. He asked Picard to continue whisking the eggs, and then, as he went to retrieve the tray from the far counter, he resumed his story. “The bulkhead in front of me disappeared and then I found myself out there just now chopping wood, right before you walked up.” Not entirely true, but close enough. Whatever had come between the
Enterprise-
B and now had emerged from within his mind and then faded away.

He thanked Picard and took the pan from him, dishing the egg out onto the plate on the tray. “Look,” Picard said with some hesitation, “history records that you died saving the
Enterprise-
B from an energy ribbon eighty years ago.”

“You say this is the twenty-fourth century?” Kirk asked.

“Uh huh.”

“And I'm dead?” Kirk said.

“Not exactly,” Picard told him. “As I said, this is some kind of—”

“Temporal nexus,” Kirk said along with Picard. “Yes, I heard you.” He'd heard, but he'd disregarded the information. He wanted to focus on this re-created day, on this last time—and maybe
not
the last time—with Antonia. He mentioned completing the preparation of her meal just before a toaster finished heating three pieces of bread. Kirk squeezed past Picard to get them, then set the toast on the plate.

“Captain, look, I need your help,” Picard said, his voice suddenly forceful. “I want you to leave the nexus with me.” Kirk tried to ignore him, picking up the tray and heading out of the kitchen and toward the stairs that led up to the second floor. Picard followed. “We have to go to a planet, Veridian Three,” he insisted. “We have to stop a man called Soran from destroying a star. Millions of lives are at stake.”

Millions of lives,
Kirk thought as he mounted the first steps, and then he pressed himself to let it go. Still, he stopped partway up the stairs. “You say history considers me dead,” he said. “Who am I to argue with history?”

“You're a Starfleet officer,” Picard said sternly. “You have a duty.”

“I don't need to be lectured by you,” he snapped back, Picard's words uncomfortably close to the ones Kirk had repeated to himself all the long years of his life. “I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers.” He paused for an instant, deciding to change the tenor of his response. “Besides which,” he said lightly, “I think the galaxy owes me one.”

Picard regarded him for a moment, then turned away. Before he did, though, Kirk took note of the expression on his face, one he had seen many times before—most often in a mirror. “Oh, yeah,” he said beneath his breath. He walked back down the steps and over to stand beside Picard. “I was like you once,” he said. “So worried about duty and obligation I couldn't see past my own uniform.” Once, he had saved three and a third centuries of human history, possibly Earth itself, maybe even the Federation, and all it had cost him had been the love of his life. “And what did it get me?” he said. “An empty house.” He had lived too long with the pain.

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