Title: The Hands We Are DealtAuthor: Francesca Vitale
Summary: Response to the challenge to write a story with two different timelines, or two different versions of one character. Who would Kirk be if he was not in Starfleet? How much are we affected by the whims of fate?
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Paramount owns everything. (Ok, everything Star Trek related). I own a few non-Trek things, like a teddy bear and a fish tank.
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The howl of the wind drives the fear deeper.
I shiver and look across the barren plain in front of me. Where before I could just make out the roofs of our temporary base, there is now only more dust. Where before I could hear the distant murmur of equipment, and sometimes even voices, there is only the hollow howling of the wind.
I shiver again.
I am afraid to use the communicator in my hand, even though I know eventually I must. This is what I wanted. I knew the risks. Why, then, am I trembling? Why am I scared *now*, when it is too late?
I did what was right, I know it. Oh, I didn't do what was *legally* right; but a person can't always be bound by that. Sometimes you have to listen to the higher dictates of your conscience. And I just couldn't find it in myself to let a man who had done so much for me -- for all of us -- suffer as he had, not if I had it in me to stop it.
For a moment, I close my eyes, forget the howling wind, forget my fear, and remember....
Captain James Kirk fascinated me from the moment I stepped aboard the ship he commanded. Ok, I'll admit it; he fascinated me long before that, ever since I had first met him when I was ten and he was thirteen. He didn't know me then, but I knew him. Well, I knew *of* him. Everyone on Tarsus knew of him. He was the one that had managed to send the distress signal to Starfleet, and he was the one that had helped save many hundreds of colonists. I met him personally just once, in the recreation room of one of the great starships at Tarsus with the relief effort; even to my ten year old eyes, he looked weary, burdened with responsibilities too much for any man, pain too much for any soul.
I hadn't known what to do, struggling as I was with my own pain. I remember I shyly offered him the toy I had been trying to play with. It was all I had to offer. We didn't exchange any words, and I hadn't seen him again until a week ago.
The thirteen year old boy I knew originally was almost hidden behind the golden-haired man I met now, but I could still discern the same burdens of duty and pain lining his eyes. It was subtle, but you don't get to be one of Starfleet's top Special Intelligence agents by being unobservant. Plus, James Kirk has been a ... special interest of mine ever since I was ten. Even though I had only studied him from afar, I was incredibly attuned to the smallest of his emotional shifts.
Naturally, I didn't make it at all obvious what I was thinking, and I didn't have to fake my delight at seeing him in person. He was as considerate and charming as I would have expected, but quite guarded. And although his eyes were friendly, he couldn't really hide the exhaustion and pain behind them.
I wasn't really surprised to see those emotions, though. I knew he had a brother on Deneva that had been killed only a month ago. And I could read between at least *some* of the lines of his confidential report regarding the Guardian. I don't know what Kirk felt for the Edith Keeler woman, but it couldn't have been *easy* to stand by and allow a wonderful woman to die merely because of duty.
Why must the best of us always make the greatest sacrifices?
These thoughts plagued me for the entire five-day long journey from Earth orbit to the Guardian of Forever. Soon after receiving Kirk's report, Starfleet had determined that the Guardian was so exceedingly dangerous that preliminary study of it had best be carried out only under the most rigid of secrecy. In fact, rather than tell others of the presence of the Guardian, Starfleet sent Kirk and the officers who had been there, with me and three other "specialists" in tow. We were all ostensibly on indefinite shore leave, and our ship -- an about-to-be-decommissioned heavy cruiser -- had just been decommissioned "a little early." My job was to determine if the Guardian could be safely studied, or if it had to be quarantined entirely by Starfleet.
Kirk, although he was unaware of the particulars of my orders, clearly hated this mission -- though he thought I couldn't tell. He spent much of his time in his makeshift quarters alone, or playing chess with the Vulcan. When he was in public, I rarely saw glimpses of the laughter or charm for which he is famous. To be honest, I was a little disappointed, because I was looking forward to this opportunity to get to know Kirk the person, not just Kirk the hero. But mainly I was saddened.
Why do the best of us have to make such great sacrifices?
My thoughts only turned farther a few days ago, when I overheard a conversation between him and the Vulcan Spock. I had been trying to reconfigure the on-board computer to upload the latest archives from the old-style video libraries on Memory Alpha. They are a weakness of mine, and I figured as long as I wasn't using the time to get to know Kirk, I could at least entertain myself some other way. So, anyway, I was sprawled out underneath the main console in the hole of a recreation room this ship had, when in walked Kirk and Spock. They didn't see me, and as soon as I could hear what they were saying, I could no longer reveal myself. It was a very private conversation.
" - I don't know, Spock," Kirk was saying spiritlessly. "I sometimes wonder if it's all worth it, all this, I mean."
"Explain, Jim." The Vulcan's voice was deep and concerned. Even I could tell that, and I can't read Vulcans very well at all.
There was a big sigh, but no response. Just when I had decided that Kirk was not going to reply, I heard -- barely audibly -- "Sam is dead. Edith is dead. You -- you almost died."
Huh? When did Spock almost die? Maybe my research hadn't been as good as I had thought.
"But I am not dead, Jim," the deep voice reminded him. Did I detect a note of guilt in those stentorian tones? "Thanks to you."
"I know. But for how long? This life we lead makes that a luxury, not something I can count on. I'm an old man, Spock, and I'm only 33. I've lost too much. I don't know if I can face losing more."
So much pain in that voice, so much pain.
Spock again. "You are the bravest man I know, Jim. I do not doubt that you will always find it in yourself to do what must be done and to pay whatever price is required."
A quiet choke, then. "But what if I don't *want* to pay a price anymore? What if all I want is to settle down, not risk my family and everyone I love every day by just doing what I do? What if I'm not *willing* to risk it any more?"
Spock's voice was almost inaudible. "Are you really, Jim? Do you really see yourself living that way?"
A groan, then. "I don't know. I just don't know anymore. I *do* know I don't want to see you and Bones die, too. Or have to make a decision like I had to with Edith again. And I know that eventually I *will* have to."
"I will not die."
"You're pretty damn sure of that."
"If I die it will be living the life I want to live, in the way I want to live it, next to the only people I want to live it with. I can ask for nothing more."
I could scarcely breathe. Was this a *Vulcan* saying these words? I mean, I had known Kirk and Spock were reputedly very close friends -- but Spock was damn near *passionate* when he said that. Emotive, even.
There was a long silence, then Kirk broke it again. "Thank you," he said softly. "I don't know if it persuades me -- at least not emotionally, where it counts -- but thank you. For being here."
My nose was beginning to itch. And I was *dying* to be able to see them, not just hear them. But I couldn't move without them hearing.
And I was thinking again, as I had so often these past few days ... why did he have to suffer so much? Was there nothing I could do? I thought about it all during the interminable time under the console as I waited for Kirk and Spock to finish sitting in silence and leave the room. I thought of it the whole next day as I studied, for the third time, what little we knew about the Guardian of Forever. And I thought about it in my bunk at night, unable to sleep. I thought about it continuously, and those thoughts brought me here.
Another gust of wind shook me out of my reverie. The unopened communicator glittered balefully in the feeble light of this planet's sun. /Get in control of yourself/, I told myself fiercely. /You made a decision -- now at least be strong enough to face its consequences/.
My heart in my throat, I signaled with the communicator. Nothing happened.
/Damn, oh damn/, I thought frantically. /Either it's broken, or this timeline is so different that communicator technology is radically changed/. The sinking feeling in my stomach was so severe it seemed to drop all the way to my toes.
I tried the communicator again, and the blessed sound of its twitter filled my ears. Must've been so nervous the first time that I opened it wrong. I almost didn't hear the sound of the voice welcoming me because of the wash of relief that flooded my body.
"Enterprise here," the unfamiliar voice was saying, sounding puzzled. "Please identify yourself."
The Enterprise, eh? Not the heavy cruiser we had come in? My butterflies, which had just started to subside, fluttered anew. "This is Specialist Araken," I said, trying to sound more confident than I was.
A long pause, then a new voice, tough and gravelly. I didn't recognize this one either. "Specialist Araken, what is your affiliation?"
"What do you mean?" I asked uncertainly, feeling my assumptions shifting under me like quicksand. Why didn't they recognize me? /Tell them as little as possible/. "I'm a specialist under the jurisdiction of the United Federation of Planets," I said, feeling my way cautiously. "May I speak with Captain Kirk?"
Another pause, even longer, during which the wind seemed to blow even through my bones. Then, to my great relief, the world disappeared in a haze of golden sparkles.
I re-formed on a transporter pad looking very little different from the one I had left, and for a wild second I dared hope that little had changed after all. The beings staring at me, though, quickly dispelled that thought. I recognized the Vulcan, Spock, little changed -- although his gaze was certainly colder than I remembered. But aside from him and Dr. McCoy, the room was full of strangers: a thin, wiry man wore captain's gold. His face was lined and grooved, his eyes dark and darting. Not unfriendly, but he definitely seemed to meet the world with caution and cunning. This, then, was probably the owner of the gravelly voice.
I barely spared him and the other strangers a glance, however, because my gaze was riveted on Dr. McCoy. I remembered a vibrant, gentle man with compassionate blue eyes, one who had become a tentative friend over the course of our journey. I could now barely recognize that in the crippled, disfigured man in front of me. Hideous scar tissue covered an entire half of his face, and he stood as if merely holding the posture hurt. Only his eyes were as I remembered -- brilliant blue and compassionate as ever, but now that compassion was laced with something else: fatigue, perhaps? Disillusionment? I couldn't tell.
With a start, I realized that I had been staring for unforgivably long. I drew myself up. "Sir," I nodded at the man in gold, "I... seem to be unexpected. I am Specialist Araken."
The man stood, his black eyes missing nothing, before nodding stiffly. "I am Captain Corley. This is my First Officer Spock, CMO Dr. McCoy, Engineer Koza, and Communications Officer Rawthak."
I managed to nod to each before the sheer unreality of this hit me again. What had I done? I attempted my most charming smile. "You must be wondering where I come from," I tried.
The captain's eyes didn't waver. "Frankly, yes," he said bluntly. "Our sensors just picked up your life sign a few minutes before you signaled us."
Spock spoke up, his voice as cold and unmodulated as I had ever heard it. "Evidence suggests that you emerged from the Guardian," he said, appraising my response to the word.
How much was safe to tell them? For an agonizing moment, I hesitated. /You fool/, I berated myself. /Aren't things bad enough? Will you make them worse by getting thrown into the brig and not figuring out exactly what kind of universe this is? You need their cooperation, *not* their enmity, you idiot/.
"Yes," I finally acknowledged. "I did." Bite the bullet. "I desperately need to discuss this situation with you, sirs."
Corley nodded as Spock raised an eyebrow. "Of course. Spock -- could you see that Araken is made comfortable, please? On Deck 12."
Spock nodded and I found myself being taken by one firm Vulcan hand and propelled outside of the transporter room. I cooperated, only hesitating slightly when we passed McCoy. "Leonard," I said, the familiar name falling out of my mouth. "May I speak to you as well at some point?" I desperately wanted to talk to someone who -- at least in the *other* reality -- had been a bit of a friend.
Leonard's eyes brightened with curiosity at my use of his personal name, and he glanced at Corley, who nodded after a pause. "Certainly," he said graciously. "Although I can't promise much time -- I'm pretty busy these days, you know."
I let myself be propelled stupidly the rest of the way out of the room before the strangeness of that registered. "Excuse me, Mr. Spock," I asked. "Why would the doctor be busy on this mission? It's simple research, and not medical research at that."
The Vulcan's eyebrow rose again. "Quite the contrary, Specialist," he said, a note of surprise in his controlled voice. "We are preparing for tremendous casualties soon. As is the rest of the Federation."
The shaky feeling I had been dealing with ever since emerging from the Guardian now felt like a permanent state of being, 15 hours later. I hadn't been able to sleep since arriving on this other Enterprise. Where had I gone wrong? The motives and ethics that had guided me were sound, no matter how I tried to cut it. How could something that *helped* someone have such disastrous consequences? How could the universe rely so intrinsically on the sacrifice of one man?
I sighed and rested my head on the console, feeling the faint rumble of the ship's powerful engines under my feet. As I had assumed, my quarters were a cross between VIP quarters and the brig; I was under light guard, and my computer access was restricted to those portions deemed non-essential.
Fortunately, part of my Special Intelligence training included computer hacking. I doubted anyone on board besides Spock was my equal. But I knew Spock was far too busy to be able to devote the large amount of time necessary to decode my hacking. I felt no qualms of conscience; I had the best interests of the Federation at heart.
The news I was finding was not good. I had looked up the previous three years of this Enterprise's five-year mission. Of the original 256 crewpeople, only 25 were still alive. She had gone through three captains -- one lost almost immediately, in an fight with the first officer, who had been somehow transformed into a being with nearly god-like powers. That cataclysmic battle was the one responsible for McCoy's wounds, and nearly destroyed the Enterprise. But they survived and hobbled home -- only to have their next captain die 8 months later in a skirmish with the First Federation.
Corley was the third captain, the last attempt of the Federation to continue the five-year mission before lack of funding and lack of support tabled it for good. The Klingons, seeing the weakness of the lead ship of the Federation, were posturing and threatening more than ever. But worst of all news by far was the infestation on Deneva, which now raged, unstopped, through the Federation. The casualties Spock spoke so dismissingly of had already reached into the millions, and seemed poised to grow exponentially. The Enterprise was only at the Guardian through a last-ditch attempt by Starfleet command to evaluate whether or not they could avert the disaster by stopping it in Deneva before it started.
And Kirk? Apparently he was a private citizen living in Riverside, Iowa. Happily married, by all reports, he had three children and was an enormously successful entrepreneur. He had never been to Tarsus and never entered Starfleet Academy.
/You succeeded/, I reminded myself, but the victory echoed hollowly in my chest.
I looked at my hand, startled to see that it was trembling. These past few days had certainly hurt my image of myself as a fairly unflappable Special Intelligence officer. But, then, the news I had most recently seen was enough to make anyone tremble. I -- rather, the alternate me -- was dead. Killed at ten years of age in the famine on Tarsus and Kodos' totalitarian control. Apparently without Jimmy Kirk to send a distress signal, the famine spread unchecked for three more weeks that it was supposed to, and Kodos killed thousands more people before he could be ultimately stopped.
The door chimed. It was probably Spock, again, coming to discuss the situation further with me. We hadn't covered much -- I was uncertain how much to share about my timeline, and he certainly wasn't very forthcoming. Quickly I switched off the console -- no reason to give him evidence of my hacking -- and announced "come."
But it was McCoy, his disfigured body hunched in the doorway. I stood quickly, motioning to a chair. "Leonard! Please have a seat."
He slowly entered, then let himself relax in the chair. Looking closely, I could see that although he was certainly very scarred, his hands moved in his lap as dextrously as ever, and his eyes were enormously observant. They wandered over my room carefully before coming to rest on me. "Specialist Araken," he said.
"Please... call me Pat," I said a trifle awkwardly. "Can I get you anything?"
His eyes never stopped analyzing me. "I assume you know me from whatever alternate universe you are from," he said quietly, "so you probably know what I would like."
Ah. A challenge. "Are you off-duty?"
He nodded his head.
"Mint julep, then," I suggested.
He smiled, and I couldn't help smiling back. Some things were apparently constants in every universe.
"So you guys have decided to believe me that I'm from an alternate timeline?" I asked as ordered the ingredients from the replicator and began to mix the drink.
He shrugged. "Tentatively, yes. Doesn't seem to be much better explanation of you popping out of the Guardian like that."
I smiled again, then felt an unexpected wash of loneliness... loneliness for the real McCoy, who would have said something very similar. Perhaps this showed up in my expression, for Leonard asked compassionately, "You ok?"
I closed my eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine." Except I may have destroyed the universe as I knew it. "Just... it's catching up with me, is all."
His blue eyes narrowed. "If you don't mind my asking, what *were* you trying to do with the Guardian? That's powerful stuff to be playing with."
"I know." Now, more than ever, I realized that. Then I sighed. I needed to start trusting someone. "I was trying to help .. a friend."
He gave a low whistle. "Must be quite a person if you would do *that* to help them."
I sighed again. "He was. Is."
"Who is he? Were you ordered to do it?"
I looked down, not able to bear seeing his quiet eyes on me. "No," I said painfully. "No, I didn't, and now I really doubt that I did the right thing."
"What did you do?" Quietly, with no trace of judgement. Suddenly I was incredibly grateful for that. I motioned toward the computer. "Let me show you."
Three hours later, the brightness in Dr. MoCoy's eyes had dulled somewhat, and my exhaustion was catching up with me. "Good God," he breathed for the thousandth time. "I don't know whether to believe the cockamamie fish story you told us, but I can't see what possible reason you would have for lying."
I closed my eyes, feeling a wash of tiredness and depression settle into me. "I have no reason to lie, believe me, Leonard."
He paused. "We should probably get that cold-blooded excuse for a computer up here, since this involves him," he pointed out. I almost smiled at the familiar name-calling, but it faded. The insult had sounded a bit more pointed than I remembered it.
"Are you two friends in this universe?" I asked casually after paging the first officer.
He seemed surprised. "What - me and Spock?" At my nod, he continued. "Lord, no. I suppose we have a bit in common -- we've both been here since the beginning, after all, and I know I can trust him if it comes down to that. But friends? No one's friends with that computer. He won't let anyone close."
Recalling his cold exterior in the transporter room, I nodded. It was sad -- especially compared to the Spock I remembered conversing with Kirk -- but not unexpected.
"Why do you ask?"
"Oh, nothing," I said as off-handedly as I could. "Just that where I'm from, he's very close friends with Kirk, and pretty good friends with you, too, from what I hear."
McCoy gave a low whistle. "Never would have believed it possible," he said. "This Kirk must have been somebody."
The depression deepened. "Yeah," I said. "He sure was."
The door chimed, and I let Spock in. His stood stiffly, his look glacial. I felt another pang of sorrow as I contrasted him with the Spock I had been getting to know in my universe. "Please sit, sir," I suggested. "I have a lot to tell you."
When I was done, he paused. "What you have done is unethical in the extreme," he suggested hollowly.
I couldn't help but take umbrage. It must have been tiredness catching up with me. "Excuse me, sir? I acted morally -- by trying to do what was in my power to remove some of the pain from a man who, his entire life, had done nothing but sacrifice himself for others." I paused, then said hotly, "Damn it, I couldn't just stand by and do nothing, *knowing* I could help him."
Spock sat unmoved. "Where did you get the right to decide that for him? Even if the consequences had been as you intended -- and I gather that they are not -- you would still be in the wrong. We Vulcans have a saying: Kaiidth -- what is, is. You would do well to remember it."
"Easy for you to say," I snapped. "That sort of philosophy is responsible for every time someone good stands aside and lets something evil happen. I refuse to do that."
An eyebrow raised. "I see. Then why did you not prevent *yourself* from falling victim to the famine on Tarsus as well?"
The stress of the past few days made me angrier than I should have been. "My family *lived* on Tarsus, dammit! It was a lot easier to go back and prevent Kirk from catching the last flight out there, than to make my parents relocate!"
McCoy jumped in. "Quit arguing, both of you," he snapped. "It's getting us nowhere. The question is what Pat is going to do now."
Spock suggested icily, "I do not comprehend the dilemma. If Specialist Araken had no difficulty tampering with the past before, why is this time any different?"
My control cracked. "Because I don't know if I acted right in the first place," I said softly. "Because I don't know if I would just make things worse. Because the timestream is a fragile thing for me to be mucking around in it, again."
Silence fell, and in the silence Spock suggested, "Why don't we ask Kirk?"