©2016 by The Winterman Project.

A FOLD IN THE WOLF (a Star Trek fanfic)

July 4, 2019

This story was initially submitted for STRANGE NEW WORLDS VII (volume 1) and didn't make the cut. Normally, I would retool a story like this and sell it as an original piece but, as you'll see, this one is just too deeply entrenched in Star Trek mythology to be anything but. 

So, I guess, it now counts as fanfic. 

Hope you dig.  Energize!

 


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A Fold in the Wolf

by

Geoffrey Thorne

 

 

War found Murder spread in pieces across three parsecs of the western spiral arm. He wouldn't have stopped normally but he'd been sulking over his own troubles for some time.

 

His failed attempt to set the Romulan Star Empire against the Tholian Confederacy weighed heavily on him and, he felt, the distraction of helping to heal his brother might be curative to himself as well.

 

War was rarely at a loss. He didn't take to it. He'd spent, well, a long a time- even by his standards- ruminating on his failure.

 

He'd just gotten the Romulans all set to blast the Tholians into chunks of crystalline dust when the whole thing had just fizzled.

 

Shoddy materials, thought War as he drifted aimlessly through space. It's like the fire has gone out of the galaxy.

 

War was a solitary being, at least when it came to his own

family, and did not seek their company if it could be avoided. The company he avoided most scrupulously was that of his brother, Murder.

 

While most of their siblings tolerated Murder's idiosyncrasies, his moodiness and his occasional attempts to kill more than one of them more than once, War always gave his brother a wide berth.

 

Murder was trouble.

 

Still, trouble or not, he was family. Murder was one of the

last sixteen Pandorans in existence and he was in such obvious distress- so much of him spread over such a distance- that War felt compelled to assist.

 

In the manner of their kind, War counted the near infinite and nearly infinitely dispersed bits of Murder and drew them together.

 

It was tedious work, the sort which was only satisfying once done and then only barely. War was patient. His own recent difficulties had taught him to apply himself more diligently to the details of a given project and this one would not be the first exception to that rule.

 

Murder, true to his nature even in this state, was not

helpful. Each bit of him seemed not only to resist contact with War but with one another as well. War was persistent, though, and durable.

 

It took him some while, even as members of his relatively unique family reckoned time, but eventually he did manage to get most of the bits into one place.

 

"All right," he said to Murder. "What happened?"

 

Murder did nothing at first, the sparking bits of his essence merely glowing balefully at War in the interstellar dark.

 

"Murder," said War, in irritation. "I've just spent a good

little time getting you here. The least you can do is straighten up and talk to me."

 

Again the fiery crimson motes refused to bind. War began to get angry.

 

"Murder," he said thinly. "If you make me make you, I promise, it will hurt."

 

A moment passed and then, grudgingly the nearly infinite

number of glowing flecks coalesced into something that resembled a tiny red star.

 

"No one asked you to help me," said Murder eventually.

 

"That's true," said War. "But I was nearby. While I loathe you nearly as much as you loathe me, family does have obligations."

 

"Well," said Murder. "You've done your good deed. Now you can go."

 

War would have but there was something... something in Murder's demeanor...

 

"Are you sure you're all right, Murder?" he said.

 

"Stop calling me that," said Murder. "My name is Rejaq."

 

"You're Murder," said War. " I am War. This Rejaq business is meaningless to me."

 

"Just go," said Murder.

 

Again War made to depart and, again, something about his sibling made him stop. War was the younger brother by a considerable time yet he always felt that, of the two of them, he was the more mature. Murder, by contrast, had always thought War an insufferable prig. That he hadn't tried to kill his brother on sight was the surest

signal that something was seriously wrong.

 

"Are you... crying?" said War.

 

"Of course not," said Murder. "You need tear ducts to cry and you need a body for tear ducts."

 

"Normally," said War. "I'd agree. But you're obviously crying. Since you are Murder, the fact that something has brought you to tears is of potential interest."

 

"Do you have to talk that way?" said Murder bitterly. "You

sound like a Metron."

 

The Metrons, secretive little do-gooders who flitted from

world to world testing the Lesser species, sifting to see who they might elevate to higher status, were, to War, a pack of near mindless idiots who did not deserve even a tenth of the power Fate had seen fit to gift them.

 

As if any of the Lessers could be elevated and, even if

they could, who needed the competition? The rest of the Family was trouble enough.

 

"Your insults have lost their bite," said War. It was

a little bit of a lie. His brother's words had stung somewhat.

 

"So have I," said Murder.

 

He didn't speak again for some little while and War actually managed to become concerned.

 

"Tell me," he said as gently as someone named War could. "Tell me what happened."

 

Murder considered considering killing War for a moment but found even the planning of the activity beyond him. He was broken. That his sibling, once his most hated sibling and the one who hated him the most, that that sibling had been moved to compassion by his state...

 

Well, it was almost more than Murder could bear. The only

thing worse the weight of War's compassion was the memory of his recent experience.

 

Trouble shared is trouble halved, he remembered someone saying once, right before he killed them.

 

"All right," he said to War. "You remember the last time we met?"

 

War did. It had been at a family gathering, one of the few,

one at which attendance had been mandatory. All sixteen of them had assembled in the lee of some binary star and tried to work out what direction the Family might take for the foreseeable future.

 

As with all such gatherings nothing was resolved, feelings were hurt and everyone went their separate ways with the unshakable opinion that it had been a mistake ever attending at all.

 

The only sibling to come away unscathed, indeed invigorated, had been Murder, War suddenly

recalled. Murder had been positively giddy. War had noticed at the time and had broken tradition by asking why.

 

"Because," Murder had said before spinning himself off into the aether like the rest. "Unlike you and the rest of our putrid siblings, I have a plan."

 

Murder had vanished then, leaving War with a bad taste in what would have been his mouth had he been Inhabiting an appropriately evolved corporeal form.

 

"I suppose," said War, "your great plan didn't work as well as you hoped."

 

"Oh, no," said Murder. "It worked beautifully. It worked better than I could have possibly dreamed."

 

***

 

The first world had been pre-cerebral, almost pre-organic.

Murder had chosen it for its simplicity. There were three organisms on the first world; all single-celled, all just learning about Life and how to live it.

 

Murder could see the potential for cooperation the

three species shared. Already they were learning to help one another, to rely on one another's strengths. It had to stop. Murder had chosen one exemplar, nearly at random, and taken possession of it.

 

The Chosen species was smaller than the other two but faster and it had an asset that neither of the others possessed. The Chosen species had the genetic

potential for teeth.

 

Murder was a big fan of teeth.

 

While he Inhabited the members of the Chosen species, he nudged their collective potential upward a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder. In a single generation The Chosen species had given up cooperation with its cousins in favor of eating them.

 

Murder positively vibrated with the pleasure of his success. He stayed with the Chosen species, Inhabiting all of them at first and then inside selected individuals, until the Chosen developed space travel.

 

By then the Chosen were a hardy lot, their bodies having evolved to withstand and deliver all manner of violence. They were armored inside and out. Their tissue regenerated almost instantly from all but the most

destructive of intrusions.

 

They were quick and smart and completely devoid of pity. Their entire society had devoted itself to the creation of newer and more efficient means of killing. Their teeth, long, retractable and serrated were like icing on the proverbial confection.

 

Murder had loved those teeth almost more than the Chosen themselves.

 

Even the vacuum of space had proved undaunting to them. Their planet revolved three hundred more times around its star before The Chosen species consumed itself in an orgy of fiery death.

 

***

 

"That doesn't seem like success to me," said War when Murder paused. "I could have told you things would end that way."

 

"You weren't there," said Murder. "I wasn't trying for warfare; I wanted killers."

 

"You succeeded in that."

 

"No," said Murder. "Not really. I wanted killers. I got

warriors."

 

"Ah," said War.

 

"The plan was sound," said Murder. "It had worked well until I forgot I wasn't you."

 

"It took the destruction of an entire civilization for you to

realize War and Murder aren't the same thing?"

 

"You're sounding like a Metron again," said Murder.

 

"Apologies," said War. "Please continue."

 

***

 

Murder drifted for a while, Inhabiting the body of the last

surviving member of the Chosen species. He was thinking, refining his plan.

 

His Nature was not that of his siblings, he realized.

While he could Guide large numbers of the Lessers in whatever direction he chose, the experience was always too diffuse somehow, too much less than personal.

 

He wanted things personal, he realized then, floating

inside the body of the organic engine of destruction his whim had created. He wanted things red and sticky and ringing with screams.

 

He couldn't get that by millennia of genetic tampering. He could by Inhabiting the right Lessers in the right societies. Yes. The right Lesser in the right environment could provide endless pleasure.

 

It was then that Murder was discovered by the St'or.

 

An ancient race of merchants, the St'or had long been

respected by the Great Civilizations of the galaxy for their fair-mindedness and honest business dealings. They were ubiquitous, friendly and gregarious; the perfect traders.

 

They were a rugged lot for all that, not the sort that pirates would consider easy pickings. The few beings stupid enough or suicidal enough to board a St'or ship

uninvited, almost never lived to tell the tale.

 

So it was providence of a sort when a lone St'or trade ship, slightly off course, happened upon the Last of the Chosen species floating, apparently lifeless, in space. Seeing a potential for profit in the biotechnologies markets, the St'or had dragged the Last of the Chosen aboard for evaluation.

 

Murder, in the form of the Last of the Chosen, had attacked the St'or crew, killing four of the ten before they realized that even this formidable species was susceptible to plasma fire.

 

They ultimately lured Murder into their central engine core and initiated a full burn. As the storm of plasma rained down, dissolving the Last of the Chosen where it stood, Murder had jumped from that now useless

body to the youngest member of the St'or crew.

 

He spent the next four weeks of their journey killing off the remaining members of the crew. It was a revelation.

By the time the St'or ship rendezvoused with its brethren Murder knew what was missing from his plan and how to finally, truly remedy the situation.

 

***

 

"I think I remember the St'or," said War, almost wistful. "Blue, veiny, overly concerned with bits of shiny metal?"

 

"Yes," said Murder. "That's them."

 

"Irritating species."

 

"Well," said Murder brightly. He was warming to the story at least, seeming a little more like himself. "The St'or got me where I wanted to go."

 

"Where was that," said War.

 

"Earth," said Murder. "The planet Earth."

 

***

 

The St'or did amuse for awhile. Their innate desire to make profit made some of them particularly easy for him to Inhabit and to Guide. Ultimately, they were too dry a species for his liking, too passionless.

 

So it was that Murder, with the help of a particularly violent St'or tradeswoman, made his way to the western spiral arm of the galaxy and to the planet Earth.

 

He'd crashed the ship in a remote area, jumping from the

trader to a passing member of the local dominant species; a human being.

 

Humanity had only reached a nominal level of civilization at that time, even by Lesser standards. They had barely discovered internal combustion much less the fantastic variety of Life in the heavens above them. There was something about them, though; they were clever but vicious, inventive but myopic, loyal but avaricious enough to rival even the St'or.

 

For Murder, the period the humans called The Industrial

Revolution was the closest he had ever come to heaven.

 

He settled in a place called London by its inhabitants and cut a bloody swath there before moving on to a place the Londoners had paradoxically called The New World.

 

In actuality it was simply another continent but one that had been conquered by and was now peopled with humans who were so perfect for Murder's needs he might as well have designed them himself.

 

He stayed among the Americans, as they called themselves, killing, jumping to a new host when things got dull, killing and jumping again. He repeated this process for centuries, barely noticing the two near scorchings of the planet's surface at humanity's own

hands or the near collapse of human society.

 

He did notice, however, when the little monkeys finally hit upon Warp drive. He noticed because of the Vulcans.

 

***

 

"I know the Vulcans," said War. "Of all the Lessers they are the absolute worst."

 

"Yes," said Murder. "They fairly well ruined my lovely humans with all their Galactic Community this and Logic that."

 

"Logic," said War, his tone made it clear how little he

thought the concept.

 

"But it couldn't be helped," said Murder. "The Vulcans were there and they were going to do their best to drain all the fire from humanity. The best I could manage then was the occasional blood spree and bide my time.

 

As humanity stretched out into the larger galaxy, I went

with them. I planted myself on each new human colony, sifting, culling, moving on to the next. I did this for longer than I care to say and, for a time, I was content."

 

"Unusual for you," said War.

 

"As I said," said Murder. "The plan worked."

 

"Actually, you said that it worked more beautifully than you could have possibly imagined," said War. "So far it sounds like pretty tame fare indeed."

 

"You think so?" said Murder, expanding himself to nearly full stature. "That's because you don't know about Argelius."

 

"Argelius?" said War. "Who is Argelius?"

 

"Not who," said Murder. "Where. Argelius is a planet. A planet of soft, pleasure loving, beautifully bleating sheep."

 

"Ah," said War.

 

***

 

It was a soft world, Argelius, as soft as the silk draperies

that hung in all of its windows. It was as if the entire place had been designed and constructed to bring sensual pleasure to its inhabitants.

 

There was almost no predation on Argelius, at least none above the level of the insects who kept the planets trillion plant species pollinated. The plants secreted chemicals which mildly stimulated the pleasure centers in most mammalian brains.

 

The Argelians themselves were a gentle people; intelligent, graceful who considered politeness to be the greatest of all virtues. Their sole raison d'être

seemed to be the pursuit of pleasure in all its forms.

 

They'd been violent once, but that period was so distant that it was only spoken of in the context of legend.

Murder could scarcely believe his luck when a Rigellian

transport deposited his host, an unassuming looking human called Hengist, on Argelius.

 

Hengist, of course, was far from unassuming. Despite his

smaller-than-average stature and his genial demeanor, internally Hengist seethed with the same fires which had destroyed the Chosen and all they'd built. Even before Murder had found him, Hengist had taught

himself the pleasure of the knife.

 

When Murder had stepped inside the little man he'd been delighted to find a truly kindred spirit. He felt something similar with the Argelians. They too seemed

placid enough on the skin but, their collective protestation to the contrary, their past had been as bloody as any other mammalian species.

 

Indeed, though they'd managed to control and channel those passions for millennia, Murder was sure he could bring them out again.

 

So intoxicated was he with the Argelians and their

civilization that the planet made half a solar revolution before he started killing.

 

That is, he would have started killing. In spite of the

obvious perfection of the place and the prey, something prevented him. 

 

It took him the rest of the solar revolution to figure out what.

 

***

 

"Well," said War, caught up in Murder's tale in spite of himself. "What was the problem?" 

 

Murder seemed to be thinking, searching for the right words perhaps. When he got them, he continued.

"What am I?" he said.

 

"That's a broad question," said War judiciously. "You are one of the last Pandorans, as am I. You are my closest sibling in age and inclination..."

 

"No," said Murder impatiently. "You said it before. I'm

Murder, as you, brother, are War."

 

"This is self evident," said War. "The point?"

 

"But what is Murder?" said Murder. "I admit you and I are similar. Why are we both necessary?"

 

"Fate knows," said War. It was what members of the Family said when confronted with unanswerable questions.

 

"I know. I learned from the Argelians. Murder is not War," he continued. "War is about acquisition, battle, strategy. Murder is personal."

 

War was about to correct some of Murder's obvious

misconceptions about his Nature when he stopped.

 

Close enough, he thought.

 

"Murder," said Murder, "is primal, immediate. It is about rage and terror."

 

"If you say so," said War.

 

"I do," said Murder. "And that was the problem with the

Argelians. There was plenty of passion in them but no rage. Plenty of caution but no fear. I couldn't find purchase. It was maddening."

 

"I can imagine," said War.

 

"No," said Murder. "I don't think you can. I was a forest fire waiting for a spark that would never come, a hurricane waiting for the first drop of rain."

 

"Now who sounds like a Metron?" said War.

 

"In any case," said Murder as if his brother hadn't spoken. "My problem was solved when the humans arrived."

 

"Humans?" said War. "I thought you said the Vulcans had

spoiled them."

 

"Mostly, yes," said Murder. "But, indirectly, they did solve

my problem."

 

***

 

Murder, as Hengist, had taken the job of Administrator to the Argelian royal caste. All the day-to-day work of running Argelian society was handled by off-worlders imported for that task. Hengist's duties, as described, were the oversight of the Argelian law enforcement entities.

 

In practice his job amounted to following Prefect Jaris around and agreeing with his observation of a particularly beautiful sunset or of the attractive curve of a female Argelian leg.

 

He was, in fact, in the middle of just such a conversation

when Jaris informed him that a Starship from the so-called Federation of Planets would be arriving soon with a crew the Argelians were expected to entertain.

 

Hengist would be expected to handle any problems that might arise between the native population and the more

rough cast humans that would soon be beaming down.

 

"You're one of them, Hengist," said Prefect Jaris. "You'll

know how they think."

 

"Oh, I do, sir. I do," Hengist said. "Just leave everything to

me."

 

The humans, it turned out, had not been as corrupted by

contact with Vulcans as he'd remembered. At least this lot weren't.

 

Their Captain, a man who concealed his obvious talent for violence beneath a veneer of military order, was of particular interest. He'd brought two of his officers with him, nondescript things by comparison, but with just as many lovely passions.

 

Indeed the one they referred to as Scotty had an especially volatile nature. Murder had to concentrate to keep Hengist's body from salivating whenever he was in their presence.

 

After some initial and interminable diplomatic necessities, the humans were allowed out into Argelian society on their own recognizance.

 

Murder followed the trio through a night of drink and mild

debauch until they settled on a traditional eatery in District Rouge.

 

There was a girl there whose skill with the Fire Dance had gained her local fame and the humans were eager to see it performed.

 

Murder knew humans. The mixture of liquor and overt sensuality which Argelians considered light entertainment was precisely the spur which had caused humans to disembowel each other as often as not.

 

In their way humans were to Argelians as Klingons were to humans; savages. They just needed the right trigger to let their baser natures flow. Murder had followed the new arrivals- at a discreet distance, of course- hoping to see some of that old magic but had been frustrated

at every turn.

 

Whether it was the Vulcan taint or some other blemish,

these humans had near total control of themselves even when intoxicated.

 

To say Murder was frustrated was to understate the situation by light years. He fairly vibrated with hunger for the kill, for the attendant primal terror, but, without a body to Inhabit- Hengist was a good vehicle for stealthy kills but taking this dancing girl in the midst all these patrons...

 

It wasn't the first time Murder missed the body of the Last of the Chosen.

 

***

 

"All right," said War. "I understand the circumstances

frustrated you. What did you do? What left you in the state I found you?"

 

For the first time since his brother had pulled him together, Murder radiated pleasure.

 

"I killed the dancing girl," he said. "Myself."

 

War was dumbfounded. The time Murder had spent discorporate had clearly addled his mind.

 

"What do you mean you killed her yourself?"

 

"I wanted to use Hengist or one of the humans," said Murder. "I'd done it so many times before I thought it would be like slipping on a second skin. But I couldn't."

 

"But you just said," War began.

 

"I couldn't Inhabit any of the humans," said Murder with more fire. "I don't know if it was something the Vulcans did to them or some natural defense they'd evolved but I was blocked."

 

War truly hated the Vulcans. He'd nearly wiped them out in their distant, angry past but that damned saint of theirs, the Logic Bringer, had salted their mental soil against all things Pandoran. It was so disgusting the entire species might as well have been transformed into - ugh- machines.

 

"And, of course," Murder continued. "The Argelians were still useless. I was frustrated, disgusted, enraged- all of it. So I struck at the girl myself."

 

"But," said War, incredulous. "But, how?"

 

"Hengist kept a ceremonial knife for his killing which I liked as well," said Murder. "It was always with me, so..."

 

War's mind recoiled from what Murder was saying. They were Pandorans; as immortal as the Organians, as powerful in their way as the mysterious Q, as ephemeral as a lighting flash.

 

Entire Lesser species worshipped them as gods. They could do many things which Lessers might consider miraculous but the direct manipulation of Matter was not among them. The Pandorans could transmute but they

couldn't touch. To do something as simple as lifting a stone, even War needed a host to Inhabit.

 

It was the one true weakness shared by all the members of the Pandoran Family. Yet it was a weakness that Murder, if he could be believed, had gotten around.

 

"I don't understand," War managed eventually.

 

"Neither did I," said Murder. "But it was glorious. I killed

the first girl and implicated one of the humans. I killed Prefect Jaris' wife right in front of him. I even Inhabited the starship which had brought the humans."

No, this was too much. Murder had taken a Machine as his host? The very idea of such an abomination sent chill ripples right to War's core. Still...

 

"Glorious," said Murder, remembering. "Glorious."

 

War watched his brother relive the experience and a little

pang of envy shot through what would have been his soul. If Murder had discovered a way to influence Matter directly...

 

"I know what you're thinking," said Murder, coming back to himself. "Forget it. I can't do it anymore."

 

The fire, rekindled briefly by his tale, was gone again.

 

"How do you know?" said War.

 

"I know," said Murder somberly.

 

In an uncharacteristic display of mercy, War allowed his

brother to gloss over the details of his humiliation at the hands of the human captain, Kirk. What was important was that the defeat had left him discorporate and had stripped him somehow of his power over Matter.

 

Machines were disgusting, abominable facsimiles of Life but Matter? To be able to move it? to control it without the use of an Inhabited shell? The possibilities were endless. To have them stripped away before they could be explored? No.

 

"This must be answered," said War. "These humans must be punished."

 

"Leave it alone," said Murder, weary, so weary.

 

"No," said War. "No. This is bigger than your humiliation,

brother. This affects the whole Family. This human- this Kirk- has taken from something from us."

 

"War," said Murder. "I'm telling you, it's useless."

 

"No," said War, his mind clearly set on the new course before it was even formed. "With power to move Matter we could have challenged even the Q. We could have been supreme."

 

"War..."

 

"No," said War in what could only be described as a growl. "Kirk will pay."

 

*

 

Murder found War huddled in the event horizon of a black hole.

 

It was an unlikely place to find any Pandoran, being devoid of even the most rudimentary forms of organic life. War obviously wished to be left alone.

 

Murder set up beside him.

 

"So," he said and his tone was almost gentle. "How did it go?"

 

"Shut up," said War. He was looking pretty peaked and feeling worse. It was clear that he was in no mood to see his brother.

 

"You went after him, didn't you," said Murder. "You went after Kirk."

 

War ignored him. The ring of crimson light that made up his body shrank even further into itself.

"

I told you," said Murder. "That Lesser has a real talent for

violence."

 

"If only it were only that," said War, to himself more than to Murder.

 

Murder waited. War could have spun off at first sight of his approach but had not. Despite War's diffident aspect, he obviously wanted to talk. Eventually he did, though not in the meticulous detail he had extracted from Murder.

 

He'd laid a trap for the Hated Kirk with Klingons as both lure and hammer. Kirk and his crew had clashed with the Klingons for a time, as predicted. Each side took heavy casualties and their hatred for each other had fed War's power exponentially. He had suspended time for them, repaired even fatal injuries, warped the psyches of the

weak minded to serve his ends.

 

He had planned to keep the two groups at each other's throats, hacking at each other with the most primitive of weapons, until Time's End. He would have done so but for Kirk.

 

"He laughed at me," said War with what would have been a sob. "They all laughed at me."

 

"Even the Klingons?" said Murder. Klingons weren't known for their sense of humor. Not unless the joke involved a fight and the punch line was a cut throat.

 

"Especially the Klingons," said War. "They actually managed to Diminish me."

 

"No," said Murder in horror. But it was true. There was less of War than Murder had ever seen. The resistance of these damned Lessers had eroded him almost to his Primary Essence.

 

This was too much. Murder had been content to carry his own disgrace, even the loss of the use of Matter. But this...

 

Other Pandorans had been defeated by Lessers on occasion. They were too long-lived a race not to have random chance take the Lesser side once-in-awhile. Usually such a "victory" left the Lesser species

worse off than the Pandoran.

 

The Venori took seventy generations to recover from their

defeat of Bedlam. The K'u'Lys had never come back from contact with Envy. Envy barely remembered the K'u'Lys.

 

The idea that a single Lesser, this human Kirk, had defeated two of the Family in relatively short order was chilling.

 

"You know what we have to do," said Murder to his brother. Despite his obvious trepidation, War did know. It was the only thing they could do now.

 

*

 

She was the oldest of the family, the first to become

sentient, the most powerful. She had worked her will on the Lessers of this galaxy and others for longer than even the other Pandorans could remember.

 

She had spurred them to Build, to Conquer, to Achieve and she had twisted them into Depravities that defied imagination.

 

She had seen and done it all and now she had withdrawn to a tiny stellar nursery in an untravelled section of what the human race had dubbed The Milky Way.

 

The nursery was special to her for reasons she kept close. When she'd tired of participation in Lesser affairs she had furled herself up inside to keep watch over the protostars that huddled there.

 

The other members of the Family, so much younger than she that they might better be considered descendants rather than siblings, had forgotten her true name. They called her Eldest when they called her anything which itself, Pandoran nature being what it was, was seldom.

 

Light years before they could even perceive her nursery, she was aware of her brothers' approach. She wasn't sure which two they were at first. It didn't matter. All the other Pandorans were alike to her mind.

 

"Murder," she said when they came near. "And War, is it?"

 

"It is as you say, Eldest," said Murder deferentially.

 

"What has happened to you, War?" she said. Her brother looked as if he'd been spit out the wrong end of a singularity.

 

War didn't answer. He was busy quaking before her majesty. Murder, older than War and slightly less awed by her presence, spoke up. He told the tales, both his and War's. He told of his discovery of the power over Matter and of its loss. He told of War's humiliation and Diminishment at the hands of a Lesser.

 

"Yes, yes," said the Eldest, irritated. "This has all happened before. Why do you come to me?"

 

"It was the same Lesser," said Murder.

 

That gave the Eldest pause. A single Lesser had laid two of her brothers low? Unthinkable. Yet, if Murder could be believed, it was so.

 

"That is interesting," she said. "The same one, you say?

Well."

 

The two younger Pandorans watched as the Eldest coalesced herself into a single tight ball of roiling energy.

 

They didn't know what she was doing and wouldn't have understood had she tried to tell them. There were avenues open to her of which the other Pandorans knew

nothing.

 

The Laws of space-time were little more than guidelines to her, rather than the box in which her siblings and the Lessers lived.

 

It took a little concentration but, with effort, she could be anywhere or anywhen she wished.

 

She quickly located the Lesser in question, this Kirk. Just as quickly she unrolled the skein of his life as if it were little more than sheet of woven fiber. The lives of Lessers were such simple, linear things, made of delicate strings of moments.

 

Some of these were like jewels; bright, resistant to tampering, but others...

 

Yes. Yes, she thought to herself. That one will do quite

nicely.

 

*

 

Carol found him sleeping in the hammock he'd slung on the front porch. She liked to watch him sleep. It pleased her to see all that potential motion held so still and quiet.

 

Watching him lie there she could almost see the Iowa farm boy in him, the one she'd never met but knew must exist somewhere inside. Somewhere deep down.

 

She had to caution herself not to get too swept up in him too quickly. There was something attractive about him in the way that black holes were attractive. She might, she knew, get drawn into those piercing, intense eyes and never find her way back.

 

Not such a bad thing, a part of her thought.

 

 

 

"You're too big for me, Jim," she said some weeks into their relationship. "I'm just a biologist."

 

"Planetary biologist."

 

"All right," she grinned. "Fair. But still, scratch me and what am I but DNA simulations, holo labs and..."

 

"And I'm just a ship's captain," he'd said with the hint of a

chuckle. "And why's anybody scratching anybody?"

 

They'd been eating crab in some little dive on Fisherman's Wharf- his suggestion. A ferry of sightseers drifted lazily past the outside window. She gestured toward it with the last of the leg she was holding.

 

"The person who runs that boat is just a ship's captain," she said. "You're... something else."

 

"What?"

 

"I don't know," she said, smiling and not knowing why. "But it's definitely bigger than me."

 

"What are you doing for the next few days," he said.

 

She wasn't doing anything that couldn't be put down in favor of more time with him.

 

"Why?" she said.

 

"I'd like to take you somewhere."

 

*

 

Somewhere turned out to be a cabin in the woods of the

southern tip of the Rocky Mountain range. It was a four room thing made of sheets of cut wood and held together with pegs and moss.

 

It was simply furnished; a couch and chairs cut from the same wood as the cabin itself, some rugs, a few books and the table on which they sat.

 

There was a strange object, made of iron apparently, which squatted in the corner of the first, largest room.

 

"Stove," said Jim when she asked about it. "It gets pretty

cold up here at night. Even in the summer."

 

There were a couple of modern conveniences- a small matter transporter and some pretty sophisticated communication equipment but, on the whole, the place was like something out of the distant past. It actually managed to be quaint.

 

"What is this?" she said as she helped him carry their luggage inside.

 

"It's mine," he said simply. "I built it and I'm thinking

about moving in someday."

 

"Moving in? "

 

"Yes," he said with that same boyish grin. "Gallivanting

around space is a job for the young. Sooner or later I'll end up here."

 

"Years from now," she said.

 

"Still," he said.

 

While he prepared their first meal- steaks cooked over a wood flame and vegetables beamed in fresh from somewhere closer to sea level- Carol explored.

 

A little trail, barely used, wound up away from the cabin into the surrounding woods. She was a city girl, used to clean urban lines, frantic urban sounds. This place of his was like a slice of Eden.

 

The pines rose around her like a verdant cathedral, straining upward into the brilliant crystal blue sky. Some sort of predator birds - hawks or, maybe, eagles- soured and called above.

 

To a woman who'd spent the bulk of her life surrounded by test tubes and biosensors it was almost Terra Incognita.

 

Like Jim, she thought.

 

She pictured him there, working alone, measuring, cutting the wood, laying the foundation of the little house. A smile crept across her face. A week previous she'd have found the image laughably incongruous. Now she knew it fit him, perhaps better than the dress gold's he'd worn at their first meeting.

 

"Hey, Holo Lab," he yelled up from the cabin. "Dinner!"

 

It was then, strolling back down through the smell of pine and the taste of chilled air, that she knew she loved him and what she would have to do about it.

 

**

 

"Wake up," she said softly into his ear.

 

The hammock had been both a good and bad idea. Good because it let him relax, bad because he often drifted off completely. As much as she loved to see him so peaceful she loved his waking company more.

 

He stirred at her words, coming to himself instantly.

Is that 'fleet training, she thought, or something he's always done?

 

She didn't know but felt she might take a few years finding out, maybe the rest of her life.

 

"Been there long?" he said.

 

"Never long enough."

 

"Care to join me?" he said reaching for her. She retreated

playfully, just out of reach.

 

"That thing won't hold both of us, you idiot," she said and

disappeared into the house.

 

"Let's see if we can find something that will," he said,

following.

 

*

 

Carol was right. She was, he was learning, mostly right most of the time.

 

"Why not start now," she'd said.

 

Why not start now?

 

He'd done plenty during his tenure as Captain of the starship Enterprise. He and his crew had saved worlds, even the whole galaxy, more than once. Maybe plenty had become enough without him noticing.

 

Maybe it was time to try something new.

 

Mentally he had already constructed his stable and corral, already identified the horses he hoped to house there. Maybe he wouldn't have been thinking about it if, subconsciously, he hadn't felt it was time to set the tiller down.

 

He had fallen in love with her. It was that simple. After all

the time he'd spent moving in and out of pleasant but intentionally superficial relationships he found the realization oddly satisfying.

 

He'd never envisioned himself with a woman like her, someone stable and sure and yet burning for life the way he did. He never imagined there was anyone like her in existence.

 

Beneath their titles and job descriptions they were very much the same sort of person. The conference at which they'd met had been oriented around her and her work. The Great Carol Marcus, they'd called her and he'd

gone to see. That and the upper brass had ordered the captain of the Federation's flagship to make an appearance.

 

Her ideas had been audacious, groundbreaking, revolutionary but she'd spoken them as if they were the most obvious and fundamental notions ever constructed.

 

She flitted like a sparkbird from Physics to Biology to Politics and to all points between. He found himself rapt

not only by her words but the beautiful convictions that curled beneath them like enormous but benign dragons.

 

"Much of what makes us fight each other," she'd said from the podium, "has been competition for materials. For living space, for food. I think that this is foolish. We already have the technology to fabricate much of what we need from ambient elements. With a nudge we could do so much more."

 

He hadn't understood a single word she'd said after that– something about quantum reconstruction and proto-matrixes– but he'd understood her fire.

 

Later, at the reception, it was clear she understood his.

Now it was nearly a month into what he'd planned as an

overnight visit to an Obligatory Fleet Function and he was giving serious thought to not going back at all.

 

**

 

"Jim?" she said from somewhere inside. He was outside,

chopping wood for the fire. "There's a call for you."

 

He set down the ax, scooped up the bits of the logs he'd just split and went in. She was just exiting the shower as he crossed the first room. He caught the flap of some fuzzy white cloth- her towel disappearing into the bedroom before setting down his load and going

to the kitchen.

 

The comm station wasn't much to look at, just a small view screen and touchpad. He'd only included the thing at all because 'fleet regs were quite explicit about Captains being reachable at all times. The face on the screen was a familiar one as was the expression it wore.

 

"Spock," he said brightly. "How are things?"

 

He knew something must be up. Not by the cast of Spock's face, of course. Spock was a Vulcan which meant, while his general appearance was not very different from a human's, his expression never

varied much from one of placid contemplation. That Spock had contacted him at all was what rang his internal alarms.

 

His time with Carol had fallen well within his accrued vacation allotment. He could stay dirtside for another three months without causing a ripple.

 

Yet here Spock was- his face anyway- not boding well.

 

"Things," said his first officer somberly. "Are essentially as you left them. However- "

 

"However?" said Jim, partially dreading the response.

 

"Starfleet Command," said the Vulcan, "has lost contact with Deep Space Station 4."

 

"Elaborate."

 

"Yes, Captain," said Spock. "The station managed to report the approach of something they described as a spatial anomaly before communications were lost."

 

Well, isn't that oddly non-specific, thought Jim.

 

"Long range scans are currently being blocked," the Vulcan continued impassively. "By the anomaly itself, it seems. Enterprise has been ordered to investigate."

 

"There are two thousand people on D.S. Four," said Jim. 

 

"Seventeen hundred fifty-six," said Spock flatly. "I am aware of your present off-duty status, Captain, but regulations require notification of the commanding-"

 

Jim cut him off with a perfunctory wave of his hand. He knew the regs. "When are you scheduled to head out?" he said.

 

"Two hours and fifty-three minutes, Captain," said Spock. "With or without you."

 

"All right, Spock," said Jim. "I'll be in touch."

 

The screen went dark.

 

They didn't need him. Spock was capable. The crew was the best, most seasoned in Starfleet. There was nothing they couldn't handle. He'd had his adventures, saved the day, even Time itself on more than one occasion. He was more than entitled to sit this one out.

 

He was entitled to sit out the next hundred ones if he liked. He'd just resolved to call Spock back and wish him Bon Voyage when he felt the strangest tingling, like a mild electric shock, at the base of his skull.

"

Jim," said Carol, emerging from the bedroom in a robe of the same fuzzy white as the towel. "I have something to tell-"

 

She stopped at the sight of him, still standing, motionles, in front of the little comm station. There was a look on his face she hadn't seen before, one she didn't like.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

It took him some time to respond, just long enough to really worry her, then, "I'm going," he said.

 

His voice sounded odd, mechanical, not exactly his own.

 

"Going?" she said. "Where?"

 

 

 

Their departure was quick which was best. A few exchanged words, a brief outline of the situation- dire- and of the need for him to go set things right. He wasn't thrilled to leave her but some things were just more important than a few days or weeks of happy

diversion.

 

They packed in the same silence they maintained on the drive to the nearest transporter station. They said stiff good-byes, promising to reconnect when he'd shut down this latest catastrophe.

 

Both of them knew it wouldn't happen. As soon as he shimmered into nothingness and Warped off to Wherever, that would be it. No more Carol Marcus for him and no more Jim Kirk for her.

 

"Good bye, Jim," she said as the transporter deconstructed him, sending him up to his magnificent orbiting ship.

 

She marveled at how calm she'd sounded, how adult. Inside she was breaking into pieces. It wouldn't have soothed her much to know that, inside, so was he.

 

**

 

"Is that all?" said Murder in disgust. "You think interrupting some Lesser mating ritual is good payment for what Kirk took from us?"

 

The Eldest regarded him the way a cobra regards a field mouse, weighing her options.

 

"I have destroyed him," she said.

 

"He looks fine to me," said Murder.

 

She resisted the urged to fatally punish him for his

thickwittedness.

 

"Kirk bested you," she said. "He did this because he was like you; a being of purpose, of singular vision. I have corrupted that vision."

 

"Hmmm," said Murder in that same insipid tone. "No. I still don't see it."

 

"Now," she went on. "He will forever question his place in the Scheme of Things. He will long for adventure when he should be resting, for rest when he should be marveling at the wonders he will see. I have Unmade him as surely as I will you, Murder, if you interrupt me again."

 

Murder, never a subtle creature, would have preferred to see Kirk twitching at the bottom of some ravine or at the end of a particularly jagged blade.

 

It was clear to him that his sister considered the matter resolved. That ended things.

 

He bid her a terse but civil good-bye and lit out for riper

pastures. If nothing else his anger made him feel like himself again. Perhaps he might drop in on the Klingons for a while.

 

War and the Eldest watched Murder's bright crimson star as it dwindled to nothing in the inky distance. After a time War said, "I think I understand."

 

"Good," she said. "You're never too old to learn something new."

 

War thanked her for her help and made ready to go. He was forming a plan of his own. There was a race of shape shifters on the far side of the galaxy. They were a liquid life form, communal, possibly unique. They were peaceful enough now but, with a bit of help...

 

"Good-bye, War," said the Eldest as she turned back to her clutch of protostars.

"Good-bye, Hope," he said.

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