Captain’s log, Stardate 7425.7:
The Enterprise is performing better than imagined. Since the V’Ger incident, and our subsequent shakedown cruise, Mr. Scott has brought the ship to the top-notch condition usually associated with a man of his talent. Ironically, we are approaching an area of space that we had visited not long after I had first assumed command of this vessel.
Kirk swiveled in his chair. It felt good to sit here again. “Mr. Spock,” he called out jovially, “how are the new sensors doing.”
Spock rose an eyebrow. “They are performing as expected, Captain,” his tone was matter-of-factly, “as I supervised and assisted the completion of their installation.”
“Why, Spock,” Kirk baited, “is that ego I hear from you?”
As usual, Spock took the bait. “I am a Vulcan. As such, I have no ego. I simply state fact.”
“That’s bull and you know it,” McCoy said from behind Kirk’s chair. “Somewhere in that thick-headed, green-blooded exterior of yours is an ego that’s dying for you to head for your quarters so you can sulk about the fact that you were caught taking pleasure in something.”
“Really, doctor, your imagination should be reined in, before it causes you to have serious delusions.” As McCoy gaped at that remark, Spock’s attention was called to his console. “Captain, I’m picking up an automated distress signal, bearing 217 mark 39.”
Kirk looked concerned… he stood up and moved next to Spock. “That’s the direction of the barrier, isn’t it?”
“Correct, captain,” Spock continued gazing into his screen. “It appears to be a ship’s distress signal.”
Kirk galvanized into action. “Keep on it, Spock. Mr. DiFalco, set a course for that signal. Ahead warp five, Mr. Sulu.”
~ * ~
The ship dropped out of warp just before the barrier. Kirk felt a sense of deja vu. It was in this barrier that his best friend, Gary Mitchell, and a science officer, Elizabeth Dehner, had obtained godlike powers that drove them both insane. “Full stop just before we hit the barrier. I don’t want to have to go into that thing again.”
“Aye, sir,” was Sulu’s response.
“Scanning.” Spock was silent for a moment. “Sensors read a ship drifting just inside the barrier.” His speech was slow as he was concentrating on the readings. “Constitution-class. Her ID registers as… NCC-1705.” He looked up. “USS Excalibur.”
Kirk faced the screen. “That was Jeff Thomas’ ship. He disappeared over a year ago.”
Spock nodded, both eyebrows disappearing into his bangs. “We appear to have found him. I’m initiating a full scan.” Another moment of silence. “Minimal power readings. Severe internal damage; Captain, the bridge has been exposed to space.” Kirk gaped mournfully at the screen while Spock continued. “Unable to tell if there are any life signs from here. If there are, there are not many.”
Kirk stepped toward the screen. “Can we tow it out with our tractor beam?”
“If we still had our previous design, I would say no. However, currently, I daresay it’s possible.”
“Do it. I want a look aboard that ship. If they were in there this long, I’d hate to see if anyone was alive.”
Chekov spoke up from the tactical station. “Ve’ve managed to lock onto it, Keptin. Slowly bringing it out of the barrier.”
On the screen, the ship’s lines grew less vague as it left behind the energies of the barrier. Kirk headed toward the turbolift. “Once it clears, I want a landing party waiting for me in the transporter room.” The doors slid shut on any response he could have heard.
~ * ~
Four figures shimmered into existence in a corridor on the Excalibur wearing environmental suits. Wisps and tendrils of the barrier’s energy hung close to the floor like a fog. Spock scanned it with his tricorder. “Captain, I do not recommend that we remain for any significant length of time. The energy residue may still be detrimental to us,” he said through his suit’s communicator.
Kirk nodded acknowledgment, and motioned to everyone. “Scotty, go to Engineering… find out its condition. Bones, check the Sickbay. Spock and I will go to the Auxiliary Bridge.” They split up and headed in their respective directions.
As they ran through the corridors, they noticed the desiccated remains of several crewmen. As Kirk saw their old uniforms, he felt a sense of nostalgia. This ship was at one time identical to the Enterprise… it was like stepping into a horribly warped version of their past.
They came to a halt outside the Auxiliary Bridge doors. They looked as though someone tried to burn through them with a phaser. Spock trained his tricorder on them. “Like the rest of the ship, the atmosphere has been vented out. The doors won’t open, and there are no life signs inside.”
Without delay, Kirk opened a panel next to the doors and activated the manual override. The doors slid open. The carnage they witnessed inside was unbearable. Everything that happened a year ago had been preserved due to the lack of an atmosphere. They found Captain Thomas in his chair, locked in mortal combat with his science officer. It appeared that the last act the captain committed before his throat was torn out was to snap the neck of the other man. “Oh… my God,” Kirk whispered. Spock merely closed his eyes. Everyone on the bridge had killed either each other or themselves.
The silence was broken by Scotty’s voice coming through the commlink in Kirk’s suit. “Captain, it’s a mess down here. It’s like a bloody war zone. I dinna need a doctor to tell you that no one is alive. And the engines… och, the puir bairns.”
“I understand, Scotty, meet us as soon as you can.”
“Jim, McCoy here. You’d better get down here. I found something.”
~ * ~
Kirk and Spock came running into Sickbay, Scotty just joining them. “In here, Jim.” McCoy led them into the emergency section. Along the way, they noticed people in the same grisly conditions as the other areas they had seen. He showed them a stasis chamber. “This one’s still working.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “Fascinating. I wonder why only this one is in use.”
“Perhaps the doctor managed to use it before he went insane,” Kirk offered.
“The others were used, all right,” McCoy said somberly. “My question is how did this one alone escape damage?” He pointed further into the room. Kirk and Spock looked in the direction McCoy had indicated. The other stasis chambers were in there, but they were smashed open. One chamber had a large metal rod driven through it, obviously impaling the victim inside. Another chamber looked as though its occupants last remaining moments were of pounding on the inside of the chamber, trying to get out… the door showed numerous bulges, where the patient’s blows had dented the door outward, but it had held.
Spock scanned each chamber but indicated there were no survivors – until he scanned the last one, the one closest to their position. “Captain, I’m picking up a life sign from within this chamber.”
Kirk was puzzled. “Without an atmosphere?”
“The stasis chamber once sealed generates its own atmosphere. It prevents contamination from anything in Sickbay,” the doctor said. “It also quarantines Sickbay from anything the patient may have.”
Kirk looked to McCoy. “If we can get an atmosphere back in here, do you think you can chance opening it?”
“Sure, if you can restore the atmosphere. Otherwise, we may as well beam this person into space.”
Kirk smirked. “I don’t think we need to go that far yet.”
“I believe I may be able to rectify this.” The Vulcan made his way to a computer panel. “I shall attempt to tap into the stasis chamber’s power supply long enough to restore power to Sickbay.” He fell silent for a moment as he worked. Suddenly, the doors closed and the lights kicked on. “I have established power and atmosphere is returning. It shall not last long, but it will be sufficient for our purposes. Doctor, are you now able to access your patient?”
“Just a minute.” McCoy looked over the readouts. “I think so.” He activated the sequence to open it. The chamber opened. A human form was lying there, basking in the blue field of stasis. “Jim, I think we know this man.”
Kirk recognized the man. “My God, it’s Apollo.”
“The Lieutenant Commander we saw on Starbase 14 during our shore leave,” McCoy said in confirmation.
Kirk recalled that night. Looking stunned, he said, “Bones, get him out of there.”
“I’d like to take him straight to our sickbay.”
Kirk nodded. “Get going. We’ll see what else we can find.”
~ * ~
Later, they reappeared in the Enterprise transporter room. McCoy was waiting for them. “Jim. You’re not going to believe what I found out,” he said as the captain removed the helmet of his suit.
Kirk looked at the doctor. The expression on his face was not good. “Try me,” he said soberly. “Anything you have to tell me will be better than what I saw over there.”
They left the transporter room with McCoy explaining as they walked down the corridor. “Jim, that man I brought back has to be the most advanced human being I’ve ever examined. You know those bionic enhancements listed in his medical records? Well, he doesn’t have them anymore.” Kirk stopped short, startled at hearing this. But McCoy had more to say. “He’s gone through perhaps the most complete and amazing metamorphosis I’ve ever encountered.”
Kirk’s eyes narrowed. “Explain.”
“Well, as far as I can see it, during his time in stasis, the barrier’s energies somehow changed him. Organic and inorganic components merged together into some kind of new substance. His skeletal structure has completely evolved into a framework more durable and flexible than any normal human being has.”
Spock was intrigued. “Fascinating. Then you are saying that Racer’s biological functions have been reinforced by his inorganic parts.”
“Not exactly, Spock. What I’m saying is that he has somehow been changed at the molecular level. When we knew him on the starbase, he could be called a cyborg in every sense of the word.”
Jim nodded. “Part machine, part man. I suppose that’s true.”
McCoy was still excited. “Yes, but that’s not true anymore. You can’t tell where the man begins and the machine ends anymore. They’ve been completely integrated with each other. It’s incredible… the most advanced science known still hasn’t found a way to merge organic and inorganic material so completely.”
They resumed their walk. “How does he feel about these changes?”
“That’s just it. He hasn’t regained consciousness yet. I couldn’t find any injury on him, but he was kept in stasis for an awful long time.”
“You forget, doctor, who we are talking about. Commander Racer has been in stasis far longer than anyone we know. He is a product of the 21st century.”
Kirk nodded. “This is true. I wonder if that had anything to do with his current condition.”
“Considering he only gained his prosthetic limbs at Starfleet Academy,” Spock said, “I would find it unlikely. But when considering the properties of the galactic barrier, anything is possible.”
They entered Sickbay and walked up to where Dr. Chapel was tending a patient on the bed. “No response, yet,” she said to McCoy. “I wanted to wait until you were here before proceeding with any measures.”
“Well, now that I’m here, go right ahead.”
She took a hypospray off a tray nearby, checked it to ensure that it had the right chemical with the right dosage, then applied it to Apollo’s neck. The effect was almost immediate. Apollo groaned and started to come around. He started to sit up when McCoy stopped him. “Easy, Commander… you’ve been out of it for a while. Give yourself a chance.”
He tried to open his eyes, but only managed a slit before squeezing them shut again and slapping his hand over his eyes. “Can’t see very well…” he rasped. “Everything’s too bright.”
McCoy looked to Chapel. “Christine…” She immediately moved to a console a dimmed the lights in Sickbay.
Despite McCoy’s warnings, Apollo managed to slowly sit up and swing his legs over the side. He winced, squeezing his eyes shut. “Oh… damn… head’s swimming. That is Doctor McCoy I hear, right?”
He smiled. “That’s right. Nice of you to remember.”
Apollo smirked. “You have a distinctive accent, Doctor. How long was I out of it this time?”
They were a little confused until Spock spoke up. “You were in stasis for 1.7 years, Commander.”
Apollo groaned again. “Ah well… I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been 170 years.” This time he managed to open his eyes. The room was filled with a diffuse blue light. “Wow… Sickbay looks different. I had read about refit plans for the Constitution-class. Looks nice. I like the lighting, too.” Silence answered back to him. He looked from face to face but the only expression he could get from them was a blank stare, with him as the focus; Spock was the exception. Instead of his mouth going agape like everyone else’s, his left eyebrow buried itself in his hairline. “What? What’s wrong?” He was starting to get jumpy. “Will someone… please… tell me what’s wrong.”
“That… light… isn’t from Sickbay,” Kirk said. His reply only served to puzzle the commander.
McCoy simply beckoned to Dr. Chapel, without taking his eyes off of Apollo. “Chris, I think you’d better show Commander Racer a mirror. He’d be better off seeing this for himself, and it’ll be easier than one of us trying to explain it.”
Chapel took Apollo’s hand and led him halfway across the sickbay before he realized that she was leading him as though he were blind. He shook his hand from hers, irritated not at her but because he was anxious to find out what startled everyone. As he reached the mirror he said, “What are you people trying to show…” His voice trailed off as he discovered the reason.
Every feature of his face had somehow changed. In fact, he could sense all kinds of subtle changes all through his body. But the most pronounced change were his eyes… as in, he couldn’t see them. Instead of his normal hazel eyes staring back at him, what he saw now were bright, glowing orbs of blue… as brilliant and pure as any shade of blue could ever have been. Thoughts raced at light speed through his mind, trying to think of an answer for it. But only one word would leave his mouth. “Fascinating.”
~ * ~
After several more tests, McCoy had no choice but to label Apollo with a clean bill of health. The main thing he was worried about was Apollo’s state of mind, as it was proven that prolonged exposure to the barrier’s energies drove a person violently and murderously insane. But the commander assured him that he was fine in that aspect. In fact, thinking about it, he felt better than he did before entering the barrier. Even his stress from his past ship assignments were but a vague memory. With nothing to hold him in Sickbay, McCoy released him.
Walking through the corridors of the Enterprise, he couldn’t help but feel the eyes of the crewman follow him; he didn’t know if it was because of the uniform – he was still in the gold tunic and black pants, while everyone apparently was wearing a glorified version of grayish-blue or beige sleeper pajamas – or if it was his strange new appearance. Somehow, he was infused with… what. What have I become? Apollo shifted that thought over and over in his mind.
One thing that definitely changed was his body. McCoy had told him what happened to his enhancements. He raised his arm… it felt lighter than before, more normal. He clenched his fist and could still feel the strength he possessed. He pulled on his collar, looking at his shoulder for the fine line that had separated his artifical arm from his body, but it no longer existed. Apollo then touched the wall of the corridor, and discovered something wonderful… his artificial limbs could only register sensory input as numbers… how hot or cold something was, how much pressure he exerted. Now he could actually feel the wall.
So… my arms have changed, but I still have my strength. I wonder what else has survived through my changes. After strength, the next obvious thing to check would have been his speed. He could have checked that if the deck was deserted, but as it was, he couldn’t risk injuring crewmen, never mind exposing them to his abilities. The next best thing, he realized, would be the gym.
Apollo asked an accomodating yeoman the proper direction, then made his way to the right room. As he entered, he found it unoccupied. Apollo stood there for a moment, surveying the layout. Grinning mischieviously, he started to run.
~ * ~
Kirk was getting off his shift. He walked through the corridors, eager to start his daily workout. He entered the gym and felt a breeze. Did someone turn the recirculators on high, he wondered. He caught movement on the far wall, then as he entered, he noticed that something was traveling on the wall, moving extremely fast. Before he could respond, the figure came down the far wall and stopped on a dime just four feet in front of him. “Good afternoon, Captain.”
Kirk stared at those glowing blue eyes. “What in the devil’s name were you doing, Commander?” he said, easily masking his emotions. He didn’t hang around Spock all this time and not learn anything.
Apollo looked a bit sheepish. “I… wanted to check to see if I still had the same abilities that I had before.”
Kirk let the astonishment show this time. “You were able to do this before!?”
Apollo nodded. “I was after I fixed my enhancements.”
Kirk didn’t know what to say to that. “Yes… well… just don’t hurt anyone.” He clapped Apollo on the shoulder as the commander started to leave. “Oh, and one other thing. You might want to consider updating your uniform. I don’t think people will take you too seriously with that on.” He grinned at Apollo, who returned the smile and left Kirk to his workout.
Kirk watched the man go… once the door closed, he let the mask drop. Concerned for the commander as well as his crew as well as the commander, the captain suddenly lost any desire for exercise.
~ * ~
He woke to a beeping in his ear. “Bridge to Commander Racer.”
Was he back on the Excalibur somehow? No, that’s not right. That ship is just a derelict… left where the Enterprise had found it while a science vessel was dispatched to assess its condition. Besides, the communications officer on the Excalibur was a man, not a woman. Apollo shook his head and touched the pad. “Racer here,” he said groggily.
“Sorry to wake you, Commander, but we had to deviate from our course. We were called to a crisis on Arcadia. Hope you don’t mind.” Uhura’s voice was edged with sarcasm.
“‘S’okay.” he said, still half-asleep. He cut the link, and sat up. The room wasn’t completely dark; there was a fuzzy blue glow everywhere he looked. I’m going to have to get used to the fact that I’m now my own permanent night light, he thought with a smirk as he roused himself. The lights came on automatically upon his movement, drowning out the glow. He got dressed into a more comtemporary, bluish-gray uniform and, upon having nothing better to do, headed for the bridge.
When Apollo got there, he looked around, instantly impressed by the new bridge design. By the sight on the main viewscreen, they had already settled into orbit around Arcadia. Kirk heard the doors open and close and turned to greet him. “Greetings, Commander. Welcome to Arcadia.”
“Thanks. May I ask what brought us here, Captain?”
Kirk started to speak, but Spock gave him his answer. “Arcadia is one of twelve planets in this system, of which only three others support life. Their government recently joined the Federation, and certain factions are not pleased with the fact. We have received word of an uprising among them, and we are responding to a request for help.”
McCoy entered the bridge at that point and came up to Kirk. “Well, Jim, Sickbay’s prepared. Just don’t draw this out too long.” He looked toward Apollo. “Glad to see you’re up and around, Commander.”
“Draw what out?” Apollo asked of Kirk.
Kirk stood up. “We’re about to send a landing party down to the capital, try and diffuse the situation. Mr. Chekov, contact Security, have them send a couple of men to Transporter Room Two. Mr. Spock, Bones, you’re with me.”
As Kirk moved around him, Apollo spoke up. “Sir, permission to accompany you.” Kirk studied Apollo while thinking about the request. Apollo pushed a little further. “I was security chief on the Monitor… I think I could be of some use.”
Kirk gave him a little grin. “All right, let’s go.”
~ * ~
The landing party materialized on the planet’s surface, dressed in their dark beige field jackets. They were met by a delegation of five Arcadians. The Arcadians were reptilian in nature, with gray skin, bulbous heads, and beaks like that of a snapping turtle. “You are the Ssstarfleet?” one of them asks, fear showing clearly in its eyes.
Kirk stepped forward. “I’m Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. These are my officers…”
He was interrupted by the Arcadian. “Yesss, yesss. Introductionsss later. We mussst hurry.”
Kirk looked at him, hesitating. They stayed there long enough to see the top of a boulder next to them get vaporized. Apollo quickly fell back on his security training, helping the other security men herd everyone into a nearby cave.
The Arcadians stopped to check on their guests. “Quickly, quickly. We are not sssafe yet.”
They continued deeper into the cave. Kirk realized it wasn’t getting any darker at some point. He looked around and noticed the source of the light was Apollo’s eyes. The commander looked sheepish while giving the captain a helpless shrug. Regardless, the other security personnel pulled out flashlights to illuminate the way. Finally, they reached what appeared to be a central chamber. The Arcadian leading Kirk’s group ran over to a group of his people, calling out, “Bartozz, Bartozz! The Ssstarfleet are here!”
The one named Bartozz ambled over to the group. While their clothes looked utilitarian, his was obviously marked for authority. He looked into the faces of each landing party member, stopping at Apollo. He pointed to the human. “I cannot trusst thisss one.”
This startled Apollo, wondering how this creature could come to such a conclusion. Kirk stepped forward. “I don’t understand. You asked for our help. How could you not trust…”
“I cannot see into this one’sss eyesss.” He spoke to Kirk, but he didn’t take his eyes off of Apollo. His people started watching the commander just as warily. “With our people, we judge by what we sssee in another’sss eyesss. That way we can tell if he isss being truthful. But thisss one,” he pointed to Apollo, “thisss one’sss eyesss glow with a demonic fire. We are unable to tell if we can trussst him.”
Apollo wanted to say something, but Kirk waved him off. “I can assure you, Bartozz, that Commander Racer is under my orders. He will do nothing unless I wish him to.”
Bartozz thought about that. “Ssso you are sssaying that if we can trussst you, then we can trussst him.”
Kirk held out his hands in emphasis. “Implicitly,” he said, almost pleading.
Bartozz once again looked into Apollo’s face. Apollo smiled, thinking it would make things easier. Whether it did or not, after a moment more of study, the Arcadian leader said, “We will trussst thisss one, then, Kirk. But for hisss actionsss, you are resssponsssible.”
“I understand completely,” Kirk said, exchanging looks with Apollo. Everyone seemed to let out their breath in relief.
They followed Bartozz to where he had been standing. Upon a closer look, the officers realized that the group had been studying a map on a crude stone table. “The Vertadsss have been moving sssteadily forward. They will not ssstop until they have achieved their goal.”
“And what goal would that be?” Spock asked.
“Asss far asss we know, they wish to take over our planet. They come from Verta, the ssseventh body in our plane. Already they have taken the fifth body. We are next.” He sighed. “We had thought at firssst that if they sssaw another shell around our body, they would leave usss alone.”
One of the security men was obviously confused. “Excuse me, sirs. Bodies? Planes? Shells? What does he mean?”
McCoy shook his head and grinned. He blurted out, “Leave it to Security intelligence to get easily confused.” He then remembered what Apollo had said on the Bridge. “No offense, Commander.”
Apollo slowly nodded. “The bodies he talks about are planets. Their plane must be this system. Which means they must see our ship as a shell which carries us from place to place.”
“Very astute, Commander,” Spock said with approval, while the guard who spoke nodded with understanding.
Kirk clenched his teeth. “Well, it unfortunately seems as if just seeing our ship in orbit isn’t enough to make these Vertads run.” He turned to Bartozz. “Now that we’re here, what would you have us do?”
Bartozz’s fists clenched. “You must dessstroy the invadersss!” He said with conviction. “They mussst be ssstopped at all cossstsss!” He pounded his fists on the table.
An explosion rocked the chamber. The seism was too much for the ceiling, and it caved in. People scrambled for cover as debris dropped on them. It revealed another chamber high above them… that, too, had been broken into, and Vertads descended into their room on jet packs, their weapons out and discharging.
Instantly, the landing party had their phasers out. “Be careful when firing!” Kirk yelled over the noise. “We don’t want to hit someone too high up! We’d knock them out with a stun setting, but the fall will kill them!” Everybody acknowledged his directions.
Unfortunately, the Vertads had no such restrictions. They fired freely, and judging by how rocks were blowing apart, Apollo guessed that their weapons weren’t exactly on stun. However, the hole in the ceiling wasn’t very large… they could swoop down to fire, but in order to keep from being sitting ducks, they’d have to retreat into the upper chamber. As they came down, they were easily open to a stun blast.
Apollo took in their positions and available cover. When the ceiling collapsed, a large portion of the rock had propped against the wall. Kirk and Spock were hiding under it, firing from either side. One of the Vertads, when stunned, lost control of his jet pack. It spun crazily through the air to slam against a wall. Another Vertad was getting ready to poke through when he was hit by a phaser. The invader dropped to the floor to join its comrade, whereupon the Arcadians fell upon their adversaries, kicking and clubbing them with anything at hand. “Stop that!” he yelled. In a flash, he was on them, pulling them away from the unconscious being. “You’re acting no better than they are!”
“Racer, get back under cover!” Kirk yelled from his position, Spock was there covering him.
Two more Vertads appeared from above. One of them drew a bead on where Kirk’s voice came from… they shot accurately, hitting the rock behind which Kirk was hiding. It broke in two and collapsed on top of the captain and first officer.
“No!” Apollo saw what happened, then glared up at the one who fired. This business has to stop now, he thought. He jumped up and grabbed the Vertad’s ankle. “No more!” He punched the Vertad’s jet pack, wrecking it; then he turned his phaser on the other one, stunning him to the ground. “This ends here!”
The shooting ended, and the noise died down. As the dust settled, Kirk and Spock crawled out of their collapsed hiding place… fortunately, they had managed to press themselves against the wall and avoid injury. McCoy jumped out and rushed over to one of the security men, who was injured in the firefight. He stabilized his patient and turned to inform Kirk that he would be all right. Kirk and Spock were still staring up toward the ceiling. Naturally curious, he looked up too, and found himself staring as well.
Up in the air, close to the hole in the ceiling, Apollo was holding on to a Vertad. It took McCoy a minute to realize that since there was no noise, then it meant that the creature’s jet pack wasn’t functioning. That meant that Apollo wasn’t holding on to the Vertad, he was simply holding the Vertad.
So who was holding on to Apollo?
Kirk was quick to rein in his astonishment. “Ah, Commander, you can come down now.”
Apollo did as he was told, easing down to the ground. But as he reached the surface, he yanked the Vertad up and shoved him against a rock face. The being’s feet were dangling a foot off the ground. Kirk moved to restrain Apollo, but McCoy held him back. Kirk figured if Bones had a good reason for stopping him, then he’d go along with it.
Meanwhile, the Vertad was visibly shaking. Apollo’s eyes were bright with his anger, brighter than his fellow officers had seen before. “Now, you misbegotten piece of flotsam…” Apollo’s voice was quiet, but it oozed with venom. “You will go to your superiors… you will tell them to return to their homeworld and stop bothering these people. Or I personally will return and kick your scrawny little butts out of the galaxy. Is that clear?”
The Vertad evidently had some defiance left in it. “And suppose we refuse.”
Apollo was enraged that despite the danger facing this being, it still dared to call him on what it thought was a bluff. He looked around the room, searching for something to use as an example. When he spotted the section of ceiling Kirk and Spock had hid behind, his eyes suddenly felt hot. The commander focused on the stone and twin cobalt beams shot from his eyes, striking the rock and vaporizing it in a shower of dust.
The Vertad must have gotten the message… convinced he was being held by a demon, he began convulsing with fear, and excreted all over himself and down. Apollo had been as surprised with this display as anyone else, but he masked it well. Disgust replaced his emotion, and he let the Vertad go to drop into his own offal. “Let him go. He has a message to deliver.” He had a feeling that the terrorist wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Apollo held a sleeve up to his mouth and nose until he was away from the scene. He approached the astonished captain and waited.
Kirk didn’t know what to say, let alone what to think. He looked toward Bartozz.
The Arcadian was also afraid of what just took place… he had enough of his act together to speak, however, but his eyes never left Apollo. “We… we can now control thisss matter from now on. Th-thank you, Captain.”
Receiving his confirmation, Kirk opened his communicator. “Kirk to Enterprise.”
“Scott here. Captain, are ye all right? We just read phaser fire, followed by a massive energy discharge.”
Kirk’s head jerked back to the commander, who for his part was just as shocked. “The situation here is under control. I… I have a feeling that after the messenger for the Vertads return to his people, the fighting will end shortly. We’ll be returning to the ship. And make sure a medical team is standing by… one of our people was injured.” He closed his communicator. Before the transporter yanked them away, he said to Bartozz, “May your rule be prosperous from here on.”
As the beams took them away, they heard the Arcadian ruler say, “It will. I can trussst that. It will.”
~ * ~
As soon as they coalesced on the transporter pads, McCoy went with the team standing by to take their fallen man to Sickbay. Kirk turned on Apollo. “What the hell did you do down there, mister?”
Apollo was still trying to sort it out himself. “I… I’m not exactly sure.”
“Not exactly sure?”
“I honestly didn’t know what was happening, right up until I…” He broke off, any description of his action lost on his lips. “I’m sorry if I acted out of line down there, sir. I did resolve the situation, though.”
Kirk was shocked. “‘Resolved the situation?’ Is that all you have to say? You took off like a god-damned bird, grabbed a terrorist, brought him down, and literally scared the shit out of him by shooting a boulder to pieces by just glaring at it!” He paced through the short room for a moment. “What the hell are you? What the hell did you become?”
Apollo thought about it as hard as he could. Finally, he answered, “I honestly don’t know, sir.”
Kirk glared at the commander a moment longer before he turned and stormed out of the room. Spock stared after his friend, then looked at Apollo. He simply said, “Fascinating,” then followed his captain out.
Apollo stood there for a moment, still trying to sort things out. He looked up and noticed the transporter officer, Janice Rand, staring at him. He suddenly didn’t like the attention. Glaring at her, he spat, “What are you looking at?” before leaving the room. Rand was left dazed, wondering just what the hell had happened.
~ * ~
Apollo wandered aimlessly through the ship. At first, he was sorting out how he managed to do what he did. Then, when he was satisfied with his conclusions, he began to worry about what was going to happen to him. Ever since his accident at the Academy, he considered himself a freak. This… this was decidely worse than that. The one person who had given him support at the time he needed it the most seemed repulsed at what he’d become.
Up ahead, a crewman had emerged from a room. Before the door closed, Apollo realized his olfactory senses must have been enhanced, too; he smelled fresh oxygen and an earthy aroma, as that produced by a forest. Realizing the room for what it was, he allowed his feet to carry him inside.
The arboretum was a fascinating place. It was where crewmembers brought species of compatible plant life from worlds all over the Federation. The atmosphere was balanced enough to support them all. In contrast with this greenery, huge transparent aluminum windows spanned an entire wall, from floor to ceiling, to provide an unobstructed view of space.
Apollo strolled through the many examples of flora, its idyllic appearance almost enough to stave off his feeling of dread. Finally, when he didn’t have the desire to move his legs anymore, he simply stood in front of one of the panoramic windows. Though they were treated to reduce glare as much as possible, the commander saw a faint reflection of his eyes, a constant reminder to what he just did today, of what he became. He brought his hand up, gently placing his fingertips to the viewport… the metal almost felt cool to his touch.
There had been few people enjoying the arboretum when he entered, but they had given him his space… ironically, it was more because they felt he wanted to be left alone than because of his slightly odd appearance. So it surprised him a little when he sensed someone standing behind him. “Am I intruding?”
He turned to face the source of the voice, and bit off a retort. It wouldn’t have affected this man, anyway. “No… no, you’re not intruding.” He returned his gaze to the outside of the ship.
Spock stood at his side, facing him, his expression asking a silent question. It seemed as if this man never needed to say anything. He could probably get you to talk just by a look. Apollo realized just how much Spock was like his father in that regard.
Apollo stood there until he couldn’t take the silence anymore. “Are you going to tell me that what I did down there was wrong?”
Spock shook his head. “The mission was a success. Shortly after we returned to the ship, the Vertads had returned to their planet without any further bloodshed. The Arcadians were very impressed with our performance. I would say that your demonstration, while somewhat… emotional, was quite effective.” He paused. “Is there some reason you would wish me to tell you that what you did was wrong?”
Apollo moved away, pacing along the stone walkway that wound its way through the room. He shrugged, slowly returning to his spot. “Yes… no… hell, I don’t know. Spock, you saw what I did. What do you think? Of all the species you’ve met in your career, have you ever seen one who could just look at a boulder and vaporize it?” He didn’t wait for Spock’s answer. “I felt so much power through that blast. Y-you heard Mr. Scott yourself… he said the Enterprise registered a massive power discharge. The Enterprise!”
“They also registered the phaser fire in the area as well,” the Vulcan said calmly. “The ship carries highly sensitive instruments. Much more sensitive than the ones we used on the type of ship with which you are familiar.”
“Yes, but he also said it was much more powerful than phasers. Let me tell you… just before I let off that blast, my eyes felt hot. Really hot. I only concentrated on the rock because it instinctively felt like what I needed to do.” He paused, recalling a memory. “I remember… back at the Academy. It took a lot to rile me, but when something did, one of my friends would say, ‘You know, Racer, if looks could kill, he’d be wiped out by now.’” He chuckled. “If they only knew how right they were.”
His face went ashen. “But it scared the hell out of me. I mean… what if that’s not all I can do? What if that wasn’t the strongest blast I could produce?” He moved to a nearby bench and placed his head in his hands. “How am I supposed to handle this power?”
Spock analyzed the situation in his head. “So you were not aware you could perform such a feat until now?”
“That’s right. Just like I… I… was I flying down there?” Spock remained silent. Apollo stared out at the stars. “I was flying. I don’t know how, but I was.”
Spock continued to coolly regard the commander, his demeanor imperturbable. “It seems that you have a decision to make.”
“You’re damn right I have a decision to make.” Apollo sighed. “The question is, what type of decision does it have to be?” He buried his face in his hands again.
The doors opened and closed again. “Somehow I knew that I’d find you here.” It was Kirk’s voice, but with his face hidden, he couldn’t tell if the captain were speaking to him or to Spock.
“I believe Mr. Racer is having trouble accepting what he did on the planet’s surface,” Spock offered.
“Spock, trust me, I’m having a hard time believing what just happened. Do you realize how this will look in a report? What the hell am I going to tell Starfleet?”
“You’ve never seemed to be concerned about reports before.” This was from McCoy, who apparently accompanied Kirk. “Why start now?”
“Bones,” Kirk admonished.
Apollo was a little puzzled. “You can’t lie to Starfleet, Captain,” he said in a defeated tone.
“Why not?” McCoy chimed in. “He’s done it dozens of times.”
Kirk fixed his CMO with a glare. “What I meant,” he started turning back to Apollo, “was that it will sound a little farfetched, even coming from me. And we’ve seen some strange things. Not… saying that you’re strange, Commander.” He smirked, trying to lighten the mood. When it failed, he returned to a serious tone. “I can’t write a report with those details. I won’t.” Something about how he ended his statement piqued Apollo’s interest, almost like there was something left unsaid.
Spock spoke for him again. “Mr. Racer has informed me of something even more potentially disturbing. It seems he has concerns that his demonstration on the planet’s surface may not have been an example of the full extent of his power.”
McCoy’s eyes grew wide. “Good God, man! You vaporized a boulder four times our size to dust by just blinking at it! Now you’re saying you can do more!?”
Apollo slid his hands slowly down his face. “I don’t know,” He said helplessly as he stood up. “This much power scares me, Captain. With power comes responsibility… isn’t that what they say?”
“They also say that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Kirk said. “Will your sense of duty and responsibility be enough to override the possibility of corruption?” He thought of his friend, Gary Mitchell, who had been in the same situation, but the power went to his head, bringing with it delusions of godhood.
The thought was so strong that Apollo couldn’t help but pick it up. “Who is Gary?” he said. All their heads shot up in astonishment.
“How did you…” McCoy sputtered.
“Fascinating,” Spock stated.
“You read my mind,” Kirk said simply, quietly. Dangerously. He stepped closer to Apollo, anger burning in his eyes. He was about to say something or do something, but he stopped himself. The shock and the horror on Apollo’s face was double their own.
“Honestly, I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry… it’s just… when surface thoughts are that strong, I can’t help but pick them up.”
Spock put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder. “He is correct, Jim. When you are in an emotional state, you tend to… broadcast… quite strongly.” This was an indirect way of telling him that he, too, picked up Kirk’s thought about his friend, and has no doubt done so before. He looked to Apollo. “Another ability you received from the barrier?”
Apollo blushed. “Actually, no. I’ve had a high psi factor since before entering the Academy. It’s documented in my records.”
“That would definitely account for how the barrier changed you,” McCoy said.
Kirk still had a haunted look on his face, which worried Apollo. He looked over his shoulder at Spock… the Vulcan had an expression of understanding on his face. Kirk then sat down beside Apollo, staring at the floor for a moment.
“Gary Mitchell… was a good friend of mine. Like you, he had a high psi rating, though I doubt it was as high as you claim yours is. It was great having him aboard… just like old times.” Apollo nodded in understanding, thinking about the friend he had left behind on the Excalibur. “When we went into the barrier, some of my crew went insane. But two people… a parapsychologist we had on board, Elizabeth Dehner, and Gary… started exhibiting these heightened telepathic and telekinetic skills.”
When Kirk was too wrapped up in his memory, McCoy took a seat on teh other side of Apollo and continued. “The more time that went by, the stronger these two people got. Gary’s eyes were glowing… almost like yours. His mental abilities were off the charts.”
“This is almost sounding like a campfire horror story,” Apollo commented.
“I almost wish it was,” Kirk replied, picking up the story again. “Gary’s ego got too big for him to handle. He started thinking that he was becoming a god… frankly, it was scaring the hell out of us.”
Apollo’s mood grew darker. “Much like it’s doing now.”
“With reason,” Spock added.
“I admit, we probably acted a little rash… in our fear, we tried to restrain him. But by this point, he grew so powerful, he considered the rest of his crewmates as little more than insects. To prove his point, he killed one of them when we thought we had him under control.”
“We finally found an abandoned mining colony on an uninhabited planet. Our original intent was to just exile him there, but… but he wasn’t too thrilled about the idea.”
“I can’t blame him. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to be left behind on a big rock.”
The pain Kirk felt at recalling the memory wouldn’t allow him to continue. McCoy simply bowed his head in silence. Spock finished the story. “Commander Mitchell would not allow the captain to leave. With Dr. Dehner’s help, Captain Kirk was forced to kill Mr. Mitchell. The doctor wasn’t powerful enough to stop him on her own, and she succumbed to his power.”
Apollo remained silent for a few minutes. He got up and paced, then he faced the window. Finally, when his thoughts were collected, he turned back toward Kirk. “So your fear is that I’ll wind up like him; I’ll go insane from this power, and you’ll have to stop me before I go too far.”
Kirk hesitated. “The thought had crossed my mind.”
Apollo stood there, staring at the officers, wondering what else was going through their heads. But now that they knew he could read surface thoughts, they kept theirs guarded. He didn’t want to become a Gary Mitchell… he didn’t want them to feel threatened by him. With this firmly in mind, his shoulders slumped and his head hung down. “Do it.”
The utterance was so quiet, they almost didn’t hear it. “What?”
He looked up, sadness evident on his face. “God… I don’t want to die. But… but if it means sacrificing myself now, before it gets out of control… I don’t want to die, Captain, but I don’t want to go crazy and turn against you, either.” He looked to the Vulcan. “You know all too well the axiom, ‘The good of the many outweighs the good of the one.’ If I have to choose between giving up my life and becoming a threat to this ship, I’ll choose the former.” He dropped to his knees with the resignation of a condemned man.
After a couple of minutes, when nothing happened, he looked up. The humans were staring at him with astonishment, the Vulcan with fascination. “Perhaps…” Spock said, “there is another alternative.”
After a moment, Kirk made his decision. He held out his hand to Apollo. “I don’t think it will come to this. Please… get up.”
McCoy gave him a smile. “It takes a lot of guts to offer your life the way you did. Shows you’ve got a pretty good head on your shoulders.”
The commander was confused. “Then… then I’ll go into exile… or you can take me to…”
The captain held up his hand to stop him. “You don’t need to be so quick to lock yourself away. I’m beginning to think you can be trusted.”
Apollo was bewildered, but accepted the help up. “But… aren’t you concerned I’ll lose it?”
“Sure, we’re concerned,” McCoy said. “But you’re a good man. I think you’ll be able to deal with this.”
Spock inclined his head. “For once, I would tend to agree with Dr. McCoy. You recognize the danger, both to yourself and others, and as such you can be prepare yourself against it.” He paused. “You have been bestowed with some remarkable and fascinating abilities. How you use those abilities is entirely up to you, but I am confident that you will use them wisely.”
Kirk smiled. He couldn’t have said it better. “You seem to have a good sense of duty and honor… that alone should be good enough to keep you in check. I think you’ll do just fine. Just go with your gut feeling. Isn’t that what you told me at one time?” He winked, then grew serious. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Apollo asked.
“I have to admit, after what I saw down there, I had my doubts. For a while, I thought you were going to turn out like Gary. But you’ve shown me that not everyone is like him. Power can breed responsibility.”
Apollo felt as though his faith in himself was restored. “Thank you, sir. You don’t know how much it means to me to hear you say that. I promise you, I won’t let you down.”
Kirk found himself smiling. “Of that I have no doubt. But it still leaves me with a problem… I still don’t know what to say in my report.”
Apollo shrugged. “Why not just give Starfleet the bare bones? You know… ‘Went to Arcadia. Quelled an uprising. Situation resolved.’” He grinned hopefully.
“That might be stretching it a bit.” As they walked out of the arboretum, Kirk told him, “I know… how about you write the report. If I like it, I’ll forward it to Starfleet.” Apollo could be heard gulping audibly.