Prisoners Of Time

Prisoners Of Time

by David Downey

 

Captain’s log, stardate 6011.5.  The Enterprise has been sent to Tau Delta, a previously unexplored system, to investigate the disappearance of scout ship USS Crockett.  We are beginning our search at Tau Delta II, which has an atmosphere that is curiously resistant to our sensors.

“Achieved standard orbit,” announced Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu at the helm.

From his command chair at the center of the bridge of the USS Enterprise, Captain James Kirk surveyed the planet displayed on the main view screen.  Tau Delta II was an Earth-sized world, its atmosphere a thick sheen of green.  “Now that we’re closer, let’s try it again,” he said.  “Maximum power to the sensors.  Commence sensor sweep of the planet.”

“Captain, I’m detecting a faint emission of tachyons between us and the planet,” reported First Officer Spock, stooped over his science station’s scope, its glow casting his lean face blue.

“Does it pose a danger?” Kirk asked.

“No.  Its power output is equivalent to that of a tricorder.”

“Keep an eye on it.”

Lieutenant Nyota Uhuru pivoted in her chair towards Kirk, her lithe fingers pressed against her earpiece.  “Captain, we’re being hailed from the planet.”

“On screen,” said Kirk.

A gaunt humanoid head appeared on the bridge’s main screen.  The alien’s most distinctive feature was a pair of large crescent-shaped ridges on its forehead, above where a human’s eyebrows normally were.  Despite its receding salt-and-pepper hair and strong nose, Kirk suspected the humanoid was a female of the species, judging from fullness of her lips and the slight swell of her bosom.  (I do have a knack for picking out alien women, Kirk wryly admitted to himself.)

“Orbiting spaceship: Are you receiving this transmission?” the humanoid asked.

The alien’s shrill voice confirmed Kirk’s suspicions on her gender.  “Yes, we are receiving you.”

“Outstanding.  It’s exceedingly difficult to send signals through the shield.”  The silvery fabric draped below the humanoid’s loose-fitting banded collar seemed to glimmer transparent, revealing the chair back behind her.

“Uhuru, try cleaning up the signal,” Kirk muttered to his communications officer.  Then addressing the alien, he said, “A shield?  Do you mean your planet’s opaque atmosphere?”

“Yes, we call it the Forever Shield.  It has existed since this world was a molten protoplanet, and will continue to exist until its sun goes nova.  Nothing tangible can pass through it.”

“What’s the purpose of this ‘Forever Shield’, Ms….?”

“My name is unpronounceable in your tongue.  And who am I addressing?”

“I’m Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, representing the United Feder—“

“—Federation of Planets.  Yes, I am acquainted with your Federation.”

Kirk was instantly on guard.  “So you have encountered Federation ships before?”

“Sir, the communication is pristine,” said Uhuru.  “That’s the image we’re receiving from the planet.”

“Ah, my shifting appearance,” said the humanoid.  “My kind have the ability to alter spacetime with the power of our minds.”

Spock stood upright from his science station.  “Captain, the tachyon source is exponentially increasing in strength.”

“Yellow alert!” ordered Kirk.  Then to the alien, he asked “Are you the cause of the tachyons near our ship?”

“Yes, we are.”

The Enterprise shook.

“We are caught on a wave a spacetime induced by the tachyons,” said Spock.

“Red alert.  Full impulse.  Get us out of here!”  Kirk turned to the image of the humanoid.  “What do you know of the USS Crockett?”

A large smile unfurled on the alien’s face.  “I know that you will soon meet them.”

“Impulse engines are ineffective,” said Sulu.

“I suspect the alien hailed us to distract us from this phenomenon,” surmised Spock.  “The spacetime waves are forming into a whirlpool.  We are being dragged to its center.”

“Mr. Sulu, heading 321-mark-42.  Warp factor 7!”

“Helm’s not responding!”

“Captain, a warp field bubble has appeared around the Enterprise.  It’s nullifying our own warp field,” piped Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott’s voice through Kirk’s armrest controls.  “I canna’ explain it!”

“Oh, I forgot to mention: we also have the innate power to control warp fields,” the humanoid said with obvious relish.

“Chekov, fire phasers and photon torpedoes into the center of the whirlpool!”

“Weapons fired,” Ensign Pavel Chekov said over the din of the straining impulse engines and red alert klaxons.  “Captain, they just disappeared into it.  No effect!”

“And firing phasers and photon torpedoes at the ‘Forever Shield’ would likewise prove ineffective,” Spock added, as if reading his captain’s thoughts of attempting to threaten the aliens into halting the whirlpool.

“Goodbye, Captain Kirk,” was the last thing the humanoid imparted before the Enterprise was swept into the eye of the whirlpool.

***

All was suddenly calm.

“Damage report!” demanded Kirk.

“All decks reporting in.  No damage.  No casualties,” Uhura answered, not hiding the relief in her voice.

The ship buffeted.

“Our deflectors struck something,” Spock said from his science station.  “We’re travelling at full impulse.”

“Are we free of the whirlpool?” Kirk asked.

“The whirlpool is gone.”

“All stop.  What did we hit?”

“Wreckage,” replied Spock.  “The remains of the USS Crockett.”

“Any life signs?” Kirk asked, fearing the answer.

“None.”

Kirk sighed.  “What caused her destruction?”

“The nature of the debris points to a battle.”

“Against the Klingons?”  Tau Delta was close to Klingon space, Kirk knew.

“Inconclusive.”

“So where the devil are we?”

“I’ve been trying to calculate that, sir” Sulu said, busy with his helm controls.  “It doesn’t make sense.  All the stars are off.”

“’The stars are off?’  What exactly does that mean?”

“I share Mr. Sulu’s puzzlement.  The galaxy’s stars are not where they should be,” Spock concurred, hunched over his scope.  “We should be near Tau Delta, but we’re not.  Working on it…”

“In the meantime, Uhuru, contact Starfleet.  Update them on our status.”

“Captain, it’s strange.  I can’t hail Starfleet.  In fact, I’m not getting any Federation communication.  It’s as if it doesn’t exist.”

“For some reason, we can’t contact Starfleet.  We don’t know what destroyed the Crockett.  And we don’t even know where we are.  Can someone on this bridge please tell me something that that we do know?” groused Kirk.

“A ship has entered sensor range,” announced Spock, seemingly oblivious to Kirk’s rant.

“Klingon?”

“Negative.  It is of unknown designation and design.”

Great, another mystery, Kirk wanted to snap.

“It’s hailing us.”

“On screen.”

A sturdy human in a severe black uniform with a bright red armband materialized on the viewscreen.  I’ve seen that uniform, that symbol on the armband, before, Kirk knew.  On planet Ekos.  Worn by John Gill.  “Nazis,” he muttered.

“This is Captain Bettenhauser of the Reich battleship Dönitz,” proclaimed the man on the screen.  “What is your role in all this?”

In a subdued voice, Uhura said, “Captain, according to the universal translator, he’s speaking in an unknown dialect of archaic German.”

“I’m Captain Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise,” he addressed Bettenhauser.  “Are you responsible for the destruction of the USS Crockett?”

“Ah, another ship dispatched against us,” spat Captain Bettenhauser.  “We shall defeat you and any other ship sent against us until we are sent back.”  The screen reverted back to a sea of stars.

“The Dönitz has cut off communication with us,” said Uhuru, just as the Enterprise rocked from an impact.

“Status!”

“We’ve been struck by a phaser-like weapon, though significantly more powerful,” replied Spock.  “Fortunately, our shields were still up.  But they are down to 67%.”

“Attack pattern Beta Kirk.  Fire phasers!”

“Direct hit!” cried Chekov.

“Their shields buckled,” added Spock.  “No, they’re back up to 89%.  Their shields must’ve been damaged during their battle with the Crockett.”

At least the Crockett went down fighting, thought Kirk.

*

Kapitän Juergen Bettenhauser punched the button on his armrest connecting him to Engineering.  “Fix our erratic shields, once and for all!”

“Kapitän, right now we’re working stabilizing the graviton generators.  Plus our computer firewalls are down—”

“Engineer, here are your priorities: Weapons, shields, engines, in that order.  Everything else waits until we’re at port.”

“Yes, s—“

Bettenhauser killed the connection.  “Idiot!”  Then turning to his bridge, he ordered, “Attack vector 55.  Fire beams!”

“Missed.”

“Damn it!”  This Enterprise is far more maneuverable than us, but its weapons and shields are weak.  It should be easy prey.  Just like the Crockett was.  Might always prevails!  Bettenhauser knew.  But studying the tactical holo (projecting out of his armrest) of the Enterprise firing on the Dönitz, then darting away before the battleship could get a weapons lock, he had to grudgingly admit that his opposing captain’s tactics were inspired, even brilliant.  “Kommandant, analyze their attack and come up effective counterattack.”

“Sir, I was concentrating on figuring out why all the stars are not in their proper locations.”

“Stop wasting your time with that!”

“Sir, I believe it is the key to why the aliens sent us here.”

“Kommandant, I order you to drop all that star nonsense and devise a counterstrike.  Now!”

*

The bridge quaked.

“Our shields are down to 35%,” said Spock.

“Evasive maneuvers.  Pattern gamma four!”  Then turning to his science officer, Kirk asked, “Is that why the aliens sent us here?  To have us fight to the death in some sort of arena?  As Bettenhauser thinks?  Could it be something that simple?  That barbaric?”

Just as Spock was about to answer, the Enterprise shuddered.

“Shields down.  The next hit will breach our hull.”  Spock’s matter-of-fact tone was at odds with the direness of his words.

On the tactical display on his chair’s companel, Kirk recognized a piece of the USS Crockett’s wreckage in the Dönitz’s flight path.  “Chekov, target phasers on the remains of the Crockett’s warp core.”  He punched on the shipwide intercom on his armrest.  “All decks: brace for impact.”  Then back to his weapons officer, he ordered, “Fire!”

The last thing Kirk saw on his tactical display, before he was thrown out of his chair, was the warp core detonating just as the Dönitz neared it.

“Damage report!” Kirk demanded as he got back to his feet.

“Decks 4, 5, and 15 reporting minor damage,” replied Uhura as she returned to her own chair, her earpiece still in place.

Sulu somehow managed to remain at the helm.  “Impulse engines offline,” he answered.

“And the Dönitz?”

*

This Captain Kirk is the devil!  “Status report!” barked Bettenhauser, as he peeled himself off the deck and back into his command chair.

“The warp core detonation brought our shields down,” relayed the Kommandant.  “Major hull breach on deck four.  But sublight engines and all weapons are fully operational.”

“And the Enterprise?”

“Its shields and sublight engines are down.”

Bettenhauser smiled.  For all the cleverness of this captain and the deftness of his ship, it’s all for naught.  The Enterprise is defenseless, a lamb ripe for slaughter.  “Hard about.  All beams and missiles on the Enterprise!”

“Kapitän, I have discovered the reason why all the stars have shifted!”

“How dare you disregard my order of dropping that inquiry!” Bettenhauser raged.  “How can your petty little discovery possibly be more important than our impending victory over that enemy ship?”

“Actually sir, it is infinitely more important.”

*

Kirk watched the main viewscreen in horror, as the crippled Dönitz—a squat wedge with a pair of warp nacelles snug against its sides—turned to face the Enterprise, undoubtedly preparing to fire.

“Mr Sulu, get us out of here!  Warp factor—“

Then abruptly, the battleship looped away.

“They’re retreating?” Kirk asked in disbelief.

“Negative,” replied Spock, standing up from his science station.  “They must have just likewise realized why all the stars are displaced.  I have just deduced that the stars are located as they were 329 years ago.  The whirlpool did not send us through space.  It sent us through time.”

Three-hundred twenty nine years ago! Kirk feverishly calculated.  The Earth year of 1940 AD.  At the beginning of the Second World War!  “Where is that Nazi ship heading?” he asked, dreading the answer.

Spock extrapolated the Dönitz’s course.  “To sector 001: Earth.”

***

Captain’s log supplemental: Transported back to the ancient Earth year of 1940, the Enterprise is in pursuit of a Nazi starship of unknown origin.  If the ship reaches Earth, it can change the course of history and wipe us, and the Federation, out of existence.

“Time to intercept?” Kirk asked.

“We’ll be in weapons range just as the Dönitz reaches Earth, in 15 minutes,” Chekov replied.

“That’s not good enough.”  Kirk stabbed the button on his command chair connecting him with engineering.  “Scotty, warp factor 9.”

“Captain, from all the damage we sustained, I’m struggling to keep the Enterprise from flying apart just at warp 8.”

“Scotty, if we don’t travel faster than warp 8, there won’t be an Enterprise to fly apart.”

“Aye, captain,” Scotty sighed before cutting the connection.

“What’s the status of the Dönitz?”

“Besides matching our speed, they’re ignoring us, Captain” Spock replied.  “Obviously their warp drive is fully operational.  Their shields are down, probably to conserve power.  They’ve undoubtedly surmised that they are safely out of our weapons range.  They were venting atmosphere, but they seemed to have patched—“

“Captain, it may be because their shields are down, or maybe it’s due to the damaged they sustained, but I can access the Dönitz computer systems!”

Kirk sprung up from his chair and stood by his communications officer.  “Any way we can drop them out of warp?”

“No, I’m locked out of their critical systems.  But I have hacked into their library files.  Downloading…”

*

“Kapitän, I’m detecting a computer breach.”

“Source?”

“Apparently the Enterprise has accessed our transceiver,” the Kommandant replied.  “Since our firewalls are down—“

“Do they have access to any control systems?”

“Negative.  Just pure data.”

Bettenhauser yawned.  “It’s of no importance.”

*

“Scanning the information Lieutenant Uhura is downloading…,” Spock reported from his science station.  “Fascinating.  Apparently the Dönitz comes from a star empire that calls itself the Fifth Reich.  This Fifth Reich is an extremely militaristic and xenophobic empire.  In their reality, they have conquered Andoria, Orion…”  Spock paused.  “…Vulcan, as well as the Romulans.  And they have just surprise attacked the Klingons at the Gamma Hydra system.  After the successful battle, the Dönitz was ordered to scout the surrounding newly acquired systems for resources to aid in their war effort.  That’s when it encountered the spacetime aliens and was sent here, like us.”

“Spock, how did this Fifth Reich come about?”

“Captain, we are approaching Earth,” announced Sulu.

Dönitz on screen,” ordered Kirk as he returned to his seat.

On the main screen, the rectangular aft of the Reich ship was just straightening itself out after clearing the craggy curve of the Moon.  With its two nacelles at its sides, the rear of the ship reminded Kirk of a light 10 Kg dumbbell.  The deep blue disk of the Earth was growing alarmingly ahead of it.

“When we are in phaser and photon torpedo range, weapons free, Chekov.”

“Captain, the Earth is directly behind the Dönitz.  If a phaser or torpedo misses…”

“Then don’t miss, Mr. Chekov.  But stop that ship!”

“In range.  Firing!”

“The Dönitz is opening fire on Earth,” Spock said emotionlessly.

Uhura brought her hand to her mouth.  “Dear Lord…”

“They’re entering Earth’s atmosphere,” said Sulu.  “They’re not slowing down!”

Kirk was leaning forward in his chair, his hands gripping its armrests.  “Stay on them.”

The entire viewscreen was covered with the arid tans and fertile greens of Earth.  And in the foreground was the Dönitz—taking the occasional phaser or photon torpedo from the Enterprise—spiraling in as it launched berserker salvos of beams and missiles on the defenseless continent below.

*

I’m so smart, thought 10-year-old Max with pride.  His mom gave him 30¢: 5¢ for the bus to the movie theater, 10¢ for the show, 5¢ for soda, 5¢ for popcorn, and 5¢ for the bus ride home.  But by walking the 2 ½ miles to the theater, he saved himself 5¢ for candy too.  (And maybe even more candy if he walked the 2 ½ miles back home.)

His buddy Jerry recognized the genius of his plan and agreed to walk with him.

And this week was the latest installment of Flash Rogers: Defender of Earth!  (All his friends liked cowboy films, but Max liked all things about space.)  He just hoped Flash Rogers was the first serial they played right after the newsreels.  (The other night after supper, he overheard his pop and uncles on the front porch talking about the recent newsreels, about all the fighting in faraway Asia and Europe.   Hearing the worry in their voices made him worry too.)

“Lookie there!” Jerry shouted, pointing to the sky.

Blocking the sun with an outstretched arm, Max saw it.  A comet!  In broad daylight!  “Oh boy!” he exclaimed.  But unlike the pictures of nighttime comets he saw in books, this one had a dark smoky tail.  Maybe that’s what they look like in the daytime…

“Stuff’s coming out of it!” said Jerry.

At first Max thought Jerry meant its billowing tail, but then he saw it.  It was spitting out tiny sparks all around, like fireworks.  “Golly!”

But the sparks didn’t die out as they neared the ground.  Strangely, some got larger.  One even flew right over them, its path cutting the sky in half.

“Look, there’s another comet right behind it!” hollered Max, proud that he spotted it before Jerry.  The second comet was smaller (or perhaps it was farther).  It too was shooting sparks, but not everywhere like the bigger one; its sparks were focused on the first comet.

“This is just like Flash Rogers!” Jerry said with glee.

“No, it’s even better!” topped Max.

One spark blossomed into a blue fireball, impacting on the horizon in the direction of the movie theater.  The ground whipped, knocking the boys off their feet.

No, this is nothing like Flash Rogers, Max realized, as he began to cry.  This is real!

Another fireball was growing in the sky, burning brighter and hotter than the sun.

Mamma… Max thought as he and his hometown was vaporized by the fireball.

*

“Once we are done strafing the United States, target Great Britain and then the Soviet expanse!” the Kapitän of the Dönitz cried rapturous.  And perhaps Japan for good measure, he thought.  It would spare my ancestors a hard fought ten year war.

The Kommandant turned to his superior, his face drained of color, his expression grim.  “Kapitän, the Enterprise has destroyed our maneuvering thrusters.  We can’t pull out of our dive.”

Bettenhauser’s spirits sank from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair.  So this is it.  Just like I was taught in history class.  Only one thing left to do.  “Unleash our entire arsenal on the American homeland,” he ordered.

He leaned back in his chair, resigned to his fate.  I regret I’ll never see my beloved Deutschwelt again.  Then gazing at the bridge’s main screen, at the rapidly approaching terrain of Earth, he realized, No wait.  There it is.  Deutschwelt, just 300 years earlier.  I’m coming home.  He actually felt himself smile.

“For my Führer,” was Kapitän Bettenhauser’s last words.

*

The Enterprise’s viewscreen flashed bright.

“They crashed!” exclaimed Sulu.

“Pull up!”  Kirk felt himself pressed into his chair, as the inertial dampers struggled to compensate for the impulse engines straining to heave the Enterprise out of its plunge.

“We’re in low orbit around Earth,” Sulu finally said.

“No damage reported,” added Uhuru.

“And the Dönitz?  And Earth?”

“The Dönitz fired phasers and torpedoes non-stop on the North American continent up until impact,” said Spock.  “It crashed in the US state of…Iowa.  Estimated 70 million dead.”

Kirk swallowed at the image of his birth state, reduced to a glowing gash cut by the Dönitz’s impact.  As the Earth rotated under the Enterprise, it revealed a United States crisscrossed with fires and pockmarked with craters.  The oceans had already begun flooding into the seaside craters.

***

“My God.  How did this happen?” Kirk wanted to know.  “Where did that Nazi ship come from?”

“According to the library files downloaded from the Dönitz by Lt. Uhura, the United States was mysteriously wiped out in 1940,” said Spock.  “The Nazis claimed responsibility for the destruction, claiming it was due to their “super atomics” and threatened the other Allied powers to surrender or meet the same fate, which they all promptly did.  The Nazis won World War 2 in 1941.”

“But the Nazis conquering Earth doesn’t lead to a space-faring Fifth Reich.”  Kirk’s heart winced at the memory of Edith Keeler.

“Apparently, the Nazis discovering the true cause of the USA’s destruction changed that.  Learning that an extraterrestrial attack was what leveled the US fueled the Nazis’ paranoia.  After conquering all of Earth, they focused their scientific and industrial might on a Navy powered by rockets, fission, fusion, and then finally warp power.”

Kirk’s mind ached trying to make sense of temporal cause-and-effect.  “The Dönitz altering its own history brought about its own existence.”

“And condemned the Federation to non-existence.”

“Captain, a spacetime whirlpool has appeared on our starboard side,” announced Sulu.

“Full impulse, 180 degrees away from the whirlpool.  Warp factor six when we’re clear of Earth.”

“Captain, three ships have emerged from the whirlpool.  They’re on an intercept course.”

On the viewscreen, a trio of ships, each looking like an upright metallic egg perched on its narrow end, filed out of the whirlpool.  On his chair’s tactical display, Kirk witnessed the ships surround the Enterprise.

“They locked tractor beams on us,” reported Spock. “They’re wrangling us into the whirlpool.”

“Mr. Sulu, get us out of here!”

“Rerouting auxiliary power to impulse—  Aagghh!”  Feedback plasma leapt out of the helm, burning Sulu’s arm.  He crumpled to the floor.

“Bones, to the bridge!” Kirk ordered sickbay, before leaping out of his chair to Sulu’s station.  Manning the helm, Kirk saw that it was too late: the Enterprise had just been shoved into the whirlpool.

Helping Sulu up, he asked, “Where are we?  When are we?”

“We are back in our own time, in orbit around Tau Delta II,” replied Spock, turning his attention to the main screen.

Kirk followed Spock’s gaze.  Tau Delta II’s green Forever Shield was gone, revealing an arid planet, reminiscent of Mars or Vulcan.  The only respite from the intense red of its scabrous terrain was a few veiny rivers and the wisps of clouds in its thin atmosphere.  “What happened to the Forever Shield?”

“Detecting mass launches from planet,” said Spock.

“Missiles?”

“Negative.  Ships.  Thousands of them.”

“Uhuru, try hailing Starfleet.”

“Still nothing Captain.  However, I’m getting a lot of Fifth Reich and Klingon chatter on subspace.”

The Fifth Reich and no Federation? We’re in the Dönitz’s timeline, Kirk realized glumly.

Chief Medical Officer Leonard “Bones” McCoy entered the bridge.  Kirk gestured to Sulu.

“No, I’m fine,” insisted Sulu.

McCoy ignored Sulu’s protests as he whipped out his “salt shaker” medical scanner.  “You’re almost as bad of a patient as our captain,” the doctor grumbled.

“Hail the planet.”  Upon the same female alien appearing on the screen, Kirk demanded, “What have you done?!”

“I freed my people!” she replied proudly.  “We have been imprisoned here for ten millennia, behind the Forever Shield, after we failed to overthrow our misguided leaders.  They wanted our kind to be the universe’s shepherds, to use our spacetime abilities to guide the universe to a peaceful future.  Pah!  What’s the use of our powers if we don’t use it to our advantage?  And now we will show our captors on Tau Alpha C what our powers are meant do when we unleash our vengeance upon them.  And we have you to thank for that.”

Tau Alpha C?  It would take a year to travel there at maximum warp! flickered a random thought in Kirk’s mind.  “Thank us for what?” he asked.

“For removing the Forever Shield, of course.  Existing from the birth of this planet to its fiery death, that cursed barrier was designed specifically to confine us—beings that could manipulate spacetime—on Tau Delta II in your Federation-tainted universe.  But by sending you and the Dönitz back in time, we have a spawned a new universe, one with another Tau Delta II where the Forever Shield doesn’t exist.  Even as we speak, millions of my people are bridging between your timeline and this one, to a Tau Delta II without a Forever Shield, and boarding transports to flee our prison planet.  And don’t you think of interfering with our exodus, Captain.  The three sentry ships have orders to destroy you if you dare approach our world.”

“And what of our history?  What of the 70 million people you helped murder on Earth 300 years ago?!”

“I do not care about your past.  All I care about is our future.”  The alien sighed.  “I grow tired of limiting myself to this tiny window of time to continue this insipid conversation.  The only reason you are still alive is that we are indebted to you for freeing us.  So likewise, you are free to go, Captain.”

The viewscreen reverted to the hemisphere of Tau Delta II against a backdrop of stars.  Kirk could make out the first flecks of ships fleeing the planet, behind the menacing picket of the three sentry ships.  We’re free to go, he morosely thought.  Go where?  We’re a ship without a past.  Without a future.

“Bull!”

“Bones?”

“That alien is lying.  They need us alive for some reason.  And if history has been altered so that the Federation no longer exists, how is it that we’re still here?”

“Yes,” said Kirk, his despair washing away.  “Our reality must somehow still exist.  She said it herself, that her people were escaping from our Federation timeline to this one.”

“Indeed,” Spock said with a raised Vulcan eyebrow. “The aliens did make an effort to transport the Enterprise from 1940 back to this present time and reality.  Perhaps the Enterprise serves as sort of a button that fastens the two fabrics of reality together.”

“Until they’re done fleeing from the Federation fabric to this Reich fabric.  Then they’ll have no need for the button.  No need for us…” said McCoy.

“Spock, according to the Dönitz’s logs, what stardate does it encounter the spacetime aliens at Tau Delta II?”

“Checking…”  Spock stood up from his station.  “Three days from now.”  Kirk could swear there was excitement in his science officer’s voice.

“That’s why we’re still here, why we haven’t been erased from existence: the Dönitz hasn’t arrived here yet.  The possibility of our reality still exists because the Dönitz hasn’t been hurled back in time to alter history yet.”  Kirk turned back to his first officer.  “Spock, according the Dönitz’s logs, where are they now?”

“Checking…  They are currently taking part in the Reich surprise attack on the Klingons at Gamma Hydra.”

“That’s only five light years from here.  Mr. Sulu, plot a course of Gamma Hydra, warp factor 6.”

“Jim, please tell me you’re not planning to attack the Dönitz in the middle of pitched battle between the Klingons and these—these space Nazis!”

“Bones, that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

***

“This is the captain.  We are about to engage the battleship Dönitz, in the midst of a battle between Reich and Klingon forces.  We have all pledged our lives to defend the Federation.  Well today, in just a few minutes, we will be doing just that.  Trillions of Federation lives that have been wiped out from existence will depend on the actions of our 430 lives.  We must not fail.  We will not fail.  For we are the finest crew in Starfleet.  Kirk out.”

The Captain punched a button on his command chair’s companel, shutting off the shipwide intercom.

“Not only are we the finest crew in Starfleet, in this nightmare universe, we are the only crew in Starfleet,” muttered McCoy.

“Uhura, have you located the Dönitz?”

“Trying to pinpoint it amid all the transponders and comms.”

“I count 39 Klingon and 81 Reich ships,” said Spock.

“What a hairball,” McCoy said under his breath.

“Located the Dönitz!  Patching coordinates to the helm.”

“Got it!” acknowledged Sulu.  “Laying in a course to intercept.”

“Red alert!  Shields up.”  Then leaning towards his navigation and weapon officers, Kirk added, “Once we’re in weapons range, drop out of warp and fire at will.”

“Aye aye, sir,” both Sulu and Chekov replied.

“Bones, report to sickbay,” the captain ordered grimly.  “Prepare for casualties.”

“Aye aye, captain.”  McCoy put a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder before leaving the bridge.

“Out of warp,” announced Sulu.  “Looks like we caught them completely by surprise.”

“Firing phasers and photon torpedoes,” said Chekov.

*

The bridge of the Dönitz quaked.

“What was that?” demanded Bettenhauser.

“Kapitän, a ship has just appeared out of warp and opened fire on us!”

“Destroy the Klingon swine!”

“Sir, it’s not Klingon.  It’s—  I don’t know what it is.  This ship does not match any known design in the Kriegsmarine data banks.”

“I don’t care if it’s a hospital ship.  Lock quantum missiles on it!”

*

“Direct hits!” cried Chekov.  “However, their shields are only down to 87%.”

“Press attack! Pattern alpha 4.  Spock, how are the other Reich ships reacting?”

“Besides the Dönitz, we are largely being ignored, probably because the Reich doesn’t recognize our ship designation.  Same holding true for the Klingons.”

The Enterprise shuddered.

“Our shields are at 64%.  The Dönitz hit us with a torpedo with a quantum zero-point energy warhead that’s far more powerful—”

“Not now, Spock!”

*

Bettenhauser turned to his communications officer.  “Broadcast the following message to the fleet: To all Reich ships…”

*

“To all Reich ships: The battleship Dönitz is under attack by a ship of unknown origin.  Request support.”

Klingon Captain Kor turned to the face of his comrade on his bridge’s main screen.  “Did you hear that?”

“I did.”

“’A ship of unknown origin’.  We have an unexpected ally in the Reich’s cowardly surprise attack on our fleet at Gamma Hydra.  Instead of rushing to the aid of our fleet, I propose we join the attack on the Dönitz!”

“My tactical officer informs me that the Dönitz is deep in the Reich’s ranks,” Captain Koloth pointed out.

“So you’re saying it’s too difficult?”

“Do not insult me!”

“The distress call from our fleet claims the first wave of the Reich attack mostly consists of frigates and destroyers.  Unworthy opponents.  But a Reich battleship…” said Kor, stroking his thin beard.

“Agreed!  Changing course to the Dönitz.”

“As am I,” said Kor, gesturing to his helmsman.  “Qapla’, brother!

Qapla’!”

*

“Sulu, what’s our status?”

“Other Reich ships are noticing our attack on the Dönitz.  They’re locking weapons on us.”

“Ignore them.  Concentrate all firepower on the Dönitz!”

The Enterprise shook.

“Shields down to 32%,” reported Spock.

The Enterprise shook again.

“Down to %4.”

*

So that is the ‘ship of unknown origin’… Kor thought, watching it soar about the Reich battleship on his viewscreen.

The mystery ship was thoroughly alien in appearance: a saucer perched atop a stout tube, with what Kor assumed were a pair of warp coils splayed away from its hull.  Its gawky configuration was a sharp contrast to the sturdy designs of Klingon and Reich ships.

Yet, Kor couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen the ship before.  Impossible, he dismissed.  It doesn’t appear in the Klingon Imperial Navy data banks.  Perhaps I glimpsed it in a bloodwine-fueled dream…

Awkward design or not, the alien ship was literally flying circles around the Reich battleship, firing at the Dönitz’s vulnerable sides and then swooping away when the battleship tried getting a weapons lock.  That ship is blessed with an outstanding helmsman.  And a formidable captain.

Though it was expertly dodging most of the salvos hurled at it, the alien ship was still getting pounded.  Outgunned and outnumbered, the ship was doomed.  An honorable battle…and eventual death, admired Kor.

“Captain, the alien ship’s hull markings are a variant of the Reich language,” reported his communications officer.  “It reads ‘Enterprise’.”

An irrational fury swelled in Kor’s chest.  Where did that rage come from? he asked himself, trying to tamp it down.

“We will be in disruptor range in 2 tups,” said his weapons officer.

*

“Captain, two Klingon ships are on an intercept course to us,” said Sulu.

We’re barley holding our own against the Reich, Kirk knew.  But against both the Reich and the Klingons?  We don’t stand a chance…

“The IKS Klothos and IKS Gr’oth are engaging the Dönitz,” announced Spock.

Kor and Koloth fighting at my side? thought Kirk. This universe is truly mad!

The Enterprise rocked.

“Shields are down.”

“Casualties reported on all decks!” exclaimed Uhura.

The Enterprise flailed starboard.

“Captain, we lost the port nacelle!  Warp core breach imminent!” Scotty’s voice yelled from Engineering.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk felt every bead of sweat under his tunic.  He could make out every blinking button on the bridge, every spark sputtering out of its damaged consoles, every swirl of acrid smoke glowing red in the alert lights.  His thoughts crystallized into a single realization: To save trillions of Federation lives, the Dönitz must be destroyed.

“Sulu, plot a collision course with the Dönitz.  Full impulse,” Kirk ordered with eerie calm.  “Chekov, all weapons free.”

They responded without hesitation.  “Aye aye, sir,”

On the main screen, the ever-growing Dönitz was whipping about, as if jerked on marionette strings, as weapons hammered it from three sides.

“The Dönitz’s shields are down!” was the last thing Kirk heard before a pure white light overtook him.

*

“Shields down!” yelled the Kommandant.  “Hull breaches on decks 1,2,3—“

An explosion erupted on the side of the bridge, sending the Kommandant flying.  His body thudded against the bulkhead like a rag doll.  The Kapitän didn’t need to be a medic to know that his first officer was dead.

“Warp core breach!” screamed his Chief Engineer’s voice from his armrest.

On the main screen, the Kapitän could see that the Enterprise was on a collision course at sub-light, all weapons blazing.

“For my —“ was the last thing Bettenhauser said before a pure white light overtook him.

***

A pristine Enterprise bridge surrounded Kirk.

“Oh my,” he heard himself say.  Am I dead?  Is this the afterlife?  Being on the bridge of a starship—of the USS Enterprise—would be my definition of heaven, after all…

“All stations report status,” he unsteadily ordered.

“Helm reports full impulse and warp capability.”

“All weapons online.  Full complement of photon torpedoes onboard.”

“Engines purring like a wee kitten.”

“No patients in my sickbay.”

“Picking up Federation communications,” Uhura said with a beautiful smile.

“We must have destroyed the Dönitz,” Kirk realized.

“And restored our timeline,” said Spock.

“Captain, I’m picking up a distress call from the USS Crockett at—“

“At Tau Delta II,” Kirk finished for Uhura.  “Sulu, plot a course at warp factor 8.  Engage.”

*

Crockett’s in visual range,” said Spock.

On the main screen, above Tau Delta II, the single nacelle USS Crockett was being dragged into a region of distorted space.

“Get a tractor beam on the Crockett!  But keep our distance from that whirl—”

“Tractor beam locked on the Crockett.  It’s safely away from the spacetime whirlpool.  As are we,” reported Sulu.

“That was too easy,” muttered Kirk.

“This spacetime whirlpool is eight times less powerful than the one that first dragged us in,” Spock offered as an explanation.

“Captain, we’re being hailed from the planet.”

“On screen.”

“—you murderers!” a male alien was screaming.

We’re murderers?” Kirk replied incredulously.  “You tried sending the Crockett to her death.  You tried wiping out trillions of Federation lives—“

“A billion of us were fleeing this prison.  They bridged over to the Tau Delta II in the other timeline, free of the Forever Shield.  My wife—“  The alien broke down, sobbing.  “You erased that reality.  They are gone!”

“That must be why this whirlpool was weaker than the others.  There were a lot less spacetime aliens to generate it,” commented Spock.

“We did not do this.  You orchestrated—“

“Mark my words, Captain Kirk.  When we eventually escape from here, we will unleash a time war on the Federation that will make our previous civil war look like—“

“Uhura, cut him off.  Sulu, get us the hell out of here.”

“Captain, we are being hailed by the Crockett.”

“On screen.”

A scruffy youngish officer appeared on the viewscreen.  “Captain Kirk, this Commander Chen, commanding officer of the USS Crockett.  I monitored your communications with the planet.  They tried sending us to our deaths?  They tried wiping out trillions of Federation lives?  What was that all about?”

“It’s a long story, Commander.  I’ll transmit my log to you.  But in the meantime, I recommend that you get as far away as possible.  I’m going to recommend to Starfleet that they issue a General Order forbidding contact with Tau Delta II.”

“A system worthy of General Order quarantine?  I’m looking forward to reading that log, sir.  Chen out.”

“Good to have you back, Crockett,” Kirk said to the star strewn screen.

McCoy appeared from the turbo lift.  “Here to check up on my patient,” he explained.

“Doctor, I’m fine,” said Sulu.  “It’s as if the plasma accident never occurred.”

“Yeah, I’m hearing the same thing from all the other crewmembers who were injured during our clash with the space-Nazis,” McCoy said, scrutinizing his medical tricorder.

Stepping away from his science station, Spock stood to his captain’s right.  Staring at the main screen, hands clasped behind him, he said, “The idea of entirely new universes spawning from forks in history is fascinating.”

“Yes, it’s not the first time the Enterprise has encountered time travelers and changes in the timestream during this five year mission.  It probably won’t be the last.”  Perhaps Starfleet should create a special department to investigate these ever increasing temporal incursions, Kirk noted to himself.

“Indeed.  As we know from encountering our mirror counterparts, there exists at least one alternate version of the Enterprise.  There’s a high probability that others exist—“

McCoy looked up from his tricorder.  “Wait.  You mean there may be a more Spocks out there too?”

“Precisely, Doctor.”

“One Spock is enough.  But a reality with two Spocks?  Lord have mercy on that universe…”

Spock’s raised eyebrow was met with Kirk’s amused grin.

“We’re out of the Delta Tau system,” announced Sulu.

“Lay in a course to Starbase 10.  Warp factor two.”

*

Exhausted from watching two showings in a row (each consisting of a news reel, two serials, and the main feature) plus the long walk to and from the theater, Max asked if he could go to bed right after supper, much to his momma’s surprise.

Now rolling to his side, covers tucked under his chin, he could hear his pop and uncles, still sitting around the dinner table, talking about the war in Europe.

In the twilight of wakefulness, their conversation mixed with the day’s events in his head.  Young Max began dreaming of heroic Flash Rogers, defending the Earth from evil space-Nazis…

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