On the Edge of Forever

with special thanks to Hephaistos, Beta-Queen
(all error are hers - I'm kidding!!! *grin* If there's a boo-boo, it's my fault)

Blair Sandburg crossed the parking lot, heading toward his small green Volvo. As he walked beneath the soft glow of a fading street lamp, he heard the muffled sounds of a struggle. Immediately, he stopped in his tracks and turned slowly toward the sound, squinting his eyes as he scanned the dark parking lot. Oh man, tell me I did NOT hear that. His heart raced, and he tensed, holding his breath as he listened to his surroundings.

The sound had ceased, replaced by an eerie silence. He swallowed, debating whether he should shrug off the sound as imagined or move to investigate its source. He looked around the quiet parking lot, feeling suddenly much too isolated.

"No! Who are you?! Help!" A female voice.

Blair jumped, dropping his backpack to the ground, spurred into action by the desperate plea for help. He ran in the direction of the cries, past a dark Saturn wagon. Squeezing between two cars, he was just about to announce his presence, hoping he might startle whatever perpetrator occupied the parking lot, when he felt a large mass plow into him from behind. He was thrown forward, and, as his head slammed against the blacktop, he heard a high-pitched whine. An odd tingling sensation bathed his skin, sinking all the way to his bones. His vision swam as he struggled to remain conscious, but the world around him dissolved in a sparkle of light, and he closed his eyes, descending into darkness.

Jim hung up the phone, glancing one more time at the clock on the VCR, even though he knew the digits could not have changed all that much since the last time he looked at them two minutes ago. Damnit, where the hell is he? Sandburg had left a message on the answering machine saying he would be a bit late and expected to make it home around 9 p.m. Well, 9 p.m. had come and gone four hours ago. Jim had called both Blair's office and cell phone, with no response. Muttering a curse beneath his breath, he grabbed his jacket and keys and headed out of the loft.

He arrived at the University in record time, thanks to the sparse traffic on the streets. He drove the truck around the parking lot, looking for Sandburg's green Volvo. He spotted the small car a few yards from the building, but a smaller object a few feet away caught his eye, and his vision honed in on the discarded backpack on the blacktop.

A heavy weight dropped to his stomach, and he pushed down the cold dread that rose in his chest. He got out of the truck and walked over to the backpack, kneeling down to caress the worn material. Sandburg... He looked up, eyes scanning the dark parking lot for signs of his friend even though his ears told him it was empty.

Finally, he grabbed the straps of the backpack and stood up, bolting in a run toward the building. He knew the front doors would be locked, but he ran around the side of the anthropology building, stopping in front of the window to Sandburg's office. Peeking his head inside, he saw only the empty darkness. Damn.

He spun back around, flipping out his cell phone as he ran back to the truck. He hit the autodial for Simon's home, and, after a few rings, a grizzly voice answered.

"Banks here."

Jim swallowed the lump in his throat. "Simon? Jim. Sandburg's disappeared."

"What?! What do you mean he's disappeared?"

Jim gripped the phone tight, his knuckles white. "He was due home around nine, and, when he didn't show, I called his office and cell phone. No answer. I'm at the University now. His car is here and I found his backpack discarded in the parking lot, but there's no sign of him."

A familiar, nauseating scent reached his nostrils, and his head shot up as he sniffed the air, honing in on the direction. He veered to the left, following the scent, finally catching sight of a small patch of dried blood on the blacktop. He dropped to his knees, staring at the spot, his expression blank. All the implications of that small patch of blood ran through Jim's brain. The facts were somewhat evident from the clues left: a discarded backpack and dried blood. Sandburg had obviously been walking across the parking lot on his way to the car when something had happened to him... something that had caused physical injury. Jim's chest tightened as he stared at that dark stain on the blacktop. Chief, what have you gotten into this time?

"Jim... Jim! You there?"

Ellison blinked. "Get forensics out here, Simon," he said, his voice strained. "I just found some of Sandburg's blood on the pavement."

He became aware of a dull throbbing in his skull, and, as he ascended toward consciousness, the throbbing rose in intensity until it filled his head like the fierce, agonizing pounding of a jackhammer. He released a small groan and, cautiously, raised heavy eyelids. Greyness filled his vision, and he blinked several times until he realized that the greyness surrounding him existed as something tangible -- walls. He realized he was lying in a room, surrounded by grey walls and peering up at the dim fluorescent-like light panel of the ceiling. Oh man... What a headache.

Slowly, he raised his head, fighting the wave of nausea that rolled through his stomach. He pushed himself into a sitting position, immediately regretting the action when the room spun away from him. He clenched his eyes shut, waiting until his nausea and light-headedness subsided. After a couple of minutes, he felt it was safe to open his eyes. Cautiously, he lifted his eyelids, breathing a sigh of relief when the world around him remained steady.

He saw a doorway to his left, but there was no door hanging on the frame. The edges of the frame were lined with a seemingly single tube of light, and he became aware of a low buzzing noise, like the electric hum of a machine.

"Hello?" His voice was low and hoarse, and he swallowed, trying to wet his dry throat. "Hello," he repeated, a bit louder.

When he got no response, he rose to his feet, moving slowly to avoid an additional onslaught of dizziness. Well, I can't very well stay here for the rest of my life, he thought, deciding to investigate his surroundings. He walked to the doorway, intent on stepping through, but, as he reached the threshold, a bone-shaking charge bolted through his body, and he found himself being flung backward through the air. He slammed into the wall hard, hitting his head once again, and slid down to the floor, unconscious.

Jim paced Simon's office, furious at the lack of a concrete lead, his body pulsing with angry energy that demanded release. He needed to be out there, hunting down the person or persons who'd kidnapped his partner... Kidnapped. Not killed. No way. He couldn't bring himself to ponder that possibility.

"Take it easy, Jim," Simon told the Sentinel. "We're doing all we can. Forensics scoured that place with a fine-toothed comb. Not even you found anything useful."

Jim clenched his jaw. "I know, Simon, but time's running out." The longer Sandburg remained missing, the worse their chances of finding him alive.

Blair's skull felt like it would explode at any moment. Oh man, why couldn't I have just stayed asleep, he wondered as consciousness intruded upon his quiet slumber. A steady beeping echoed through his skull, and his head throbbed in sync with each beat.

He recognized the beeping sound as likely belonging to a heart monitor, which meant that he was in a hospital.... which meant that Jim was most likely near. He raised heavy eyelids, expecting to see the Sentinel's concerned face staring down at him. Instead, he found himself staring into the angry visage of a fair-skinned man with slanted eyebrows and pointed ears. The stranger was dressed in a grey, shiny material that looked like a cross between silk and metal. Blair had never seen such attire, and he knew, both from the man's odd clothes and his menacing look, that he was definitely NOT in a hospital.

"Good of you to join us," the man said, a deep sardonic tone to his voice. "I am Commander Skalas of the Romulan Battlecruiser B'aclar. You are my prisoner. Do you understand?"

Blair blinked. What the hell...? He closed his eyes, willing the darkness to return. Romulan Battlecruiser? I must be delirious.... Sorry, Jim, guess I'll be checking out of reality for a bit longer. I'm sure you're really you and not this guy with weird ears, and I'm laying in this hospital bed conjuring up some cheesy sci-fi flick out of my subconscious.

He felt a stinging slap against his cheek, and he opened his eyes, gazing in pained astonishment at the man standing over him.

"I asked you a question, human!"

A slow, sinking feeling of dread filled Blair's chest as he stared up at the angry man. Pain? Hallucinations weren't supposed to hurt, were they? And what was with that human comment?

Pulling his mind out of its shocked stupor, he realized he'd better answer the question. "Yes," he rasped, his voice soft. "Yes, I understand."

Commander Skalas smiled. "Good. Now, you will answer my questions quickly and truthfully. Understand?"

"Yes," Blair said quickly, figuring it was better to be safe than sorry, whether or not the man was a figment of his imagination.

"Very good. Now, what is your name?"

"Blair Sandburg."

Skalas' smile broadened. "Very good. I found an identification card in your clothes, but, of course, you probably figured that out, didn't you."

"Uh... I didn't think about it," Blair said. It was the truth. The throbbing in his head didn't leave much room for extensive, rational thought.

Skalas seemed satisfied with that answer. "I see. Now onto the next question. Who are you?"

"A grad student in Anthropology," Blair answered.

"Why were you coming to the aid of Janet Enquist?"

Janet Enquist? Blair searched his memory, wondering if he knew anybody by that name. He was pretty sure he didn't. "Who?"

His question was met with another hard slap, bringing tears to his eyes. Oh God, don't do that again, he pleaded silently, trying to push back the intense pain in his skull -- pain that was only aggravated by Skalas' batteries.

"I... I don't know who she is!"

"The woman in the parking lot," Skalas explained. "You intruded upon our operation."

Slowly, the events leading up to Blair's current predicament filtered into his consciousness. Oh, that woman... "I... I heard her cry out. I just wanted to help, make sure she was okay."

"I see." Skalas reached out with one hand to retrieve a familiar-looking disk from a nearby table.

Blair's heart dropped to his stomach at the sight of the Zip disk. He recognized the disk as his own, and also knew exactly what information it contained. This is NOT good... not good at all.

"Do you know what's on this disk," Skalas asked casually, inspecting the disk as though it were a foreign object.

"Yes, it contains my class notes and student grades," he lied.

He received another swift slap across the cheek. A bolt of pain shot from the base of his skull down his spine, and he bit his lower lip to stop from crying out.

"Although this disk is absurdly obsolete, we were able to break through the ridiculous security protection and retrieve the information it contains. That information is about a rather interesting project of yours... The Sentinel Project. Your main subject is one Detective James Ellison with the Cascade Police Department. You are studying Ellison for your dissertation. Correct?"

"Actually, that's a story I'm working on. Those are all notes on research and stuff," he lied. It was a pathetic lie, he knew, but it was the only thing he could think up on such short notice with that agonizing pounding in his skull.

Skalas shook his head regretfully. "You make a very poor liar, and I had hoped our relationship could be a comfortable one. Unfortunately, you require me to take more drastic measures."

The cold detachment with which Skalas uttered those words caused Blair's chest to tighten with fear. Looking up into the man's cold dark eyes, he knew Skalas was a dangerous man, one who took pleasure in hurting others.

"I don't know what you want," Blair blurted, hoping desperately to appease the man. There was virtually no information he could tell Skalas that wasn't already on the disk. "You've got the disk, what more can I tell you?"

Skalas smiled. "Aaah. Now we are getting somewhere."

Blair swallowed. Jim, I don't know where you are, but feel free to make an appearance anytime.

"How many Sentinels, as you call them, exist?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know. Not many."

Skalas sighed. "Do you insist on doing this the hard way?"

Blair shook his head, immediately regretting the action when the room began to spin. Oh man...  He closed his eyes, waiting for the queasiness to pass. "That's the truth," he said, then, a few seconds later, decided it was safe to open his eyes. "It's a rare genetic trait or combination of traits that causes Sentinel senses. Most of that is in the disk. What do you want me for?"

"We're very interested in this project of yours. Is there a way to genetically duplicate it?"

Blair's stomach churned with uneasy realization. "Duplicate it? No... No... There's... I mean, nobody knows what genes make up a Sentinel."

Skalas' eyes glittered with amusement. "Of course not. I believe we need a living Sentinel to extract genetic information from. Don't we?"

Oh no... Say this is NOT happening. God, Jim, I'm sorry... Sorry for keeping that stupid disk... Sorry for getting into trouble again.

"Unfortunately, we have one minor problem," Skalas said. "When we... ah... picked you up, we were on a very tight timetable. Unfortunately, we could not return to pick up your friend."

Blair suppressed the sigh of relief that threatened to escape. They don't have Jim... Thank God.

"So, it looks like we must either find a way to acquire your Sentinel, or find another one," Skalas explained. "You will help us."

Blair ignored the cold knot of terror in his gut and forced himself to stare at Skalas with defiant eyes. "No way," he vowed.

In the evidence room of the Cascade Police Department, the young clerk rested limply against the wall, his eyes closed. Captain James T. Kirk stood by the closed door, keeping his ears tuned for footsteps outside. He spared the young officer a brief glance before turning to his navigator.

"Mr. Chekov?"

The young Russian looked up from his tricorder. He sat in front of the archaic computer, downloading the forensic information the police had collected from Rainier University's parking lot. "Vell, Keptin, it looks like they haven't found anything other than a blood sample from Mr. Blair Sandburg."

Kirk released a small sigh of relief. "Good. Wouldn't want them picking up a discarded phaser, now would we?"

Chekov smiled. "No, Sir." The Ensign looked down at his tricorder one last time.

"So let's get out of here," Kirk said.

Ellison walked down the hallway toward the Evidence Room, intent on securing the remaining photographs the forensics team had shot of the scene. He was several feet away when his ears picked up the soft sound of hushed conversation.

"Good. Wouldn't want them picking up a discarded phaser, now would we?"

"No, Sir." A heavily accented voice.

"So let's get out of here."

Ellison reached behind his back and removed his gun, gliding swiftly and quietly toward the door of the Evidence Room.

Kirk flipped open his communicator. "Okay, Mister Scott, two to beam up on my signal."

"Aye, Captain," the Scottish voice acknowledged, blaring out of the tiny handheld device.

Chekov shut down the computer and took his position next to the Captain in preparation for transport.


Unexpectedly, the door burst open, slamming into Kirk and sending him sprawling backward. He lost his grip on the communicator, and it bounced on the floor, sliding toward the counter.

"Police! Don't move."

Chekov reacted swiftly, using an old Starfleet move to disarm the man. The moment Kirk hit the ground, Chekov reached out, grabbing the large man's hand and twisting in a round, upward motion. The detective's leg shot upward, connecting with Chekov's midsection just before the two of them disappeared in a beam of light.

Kirk released a disparaging groan as he watched the two men disappear into thin air. He lifted himself off the floor and retrieved the communicator. "Mr. Scott," he began. "It looks like we have a problem."

There was a brief pause, then, "Aye, Sir. That we do."

Ellison felt a maddening tingling sensation all over his skin. The room faded from existence, sending his senses into mayhem. His ears rang, projecting sharp spikes of pain into his skull. His eyes attempted, on their own volition, to reassert order to the crumbling world around him as they tried to focus on the ever-decaying, shifting images. Finally, the world blinked completely out of existence, then, slowly, was replaced by a different reality -- one with white walls, red panels, and men in colorful shirts...

He found himself standing on a platform, the incessant ringing still reverberating through his skull. The young man he'd kicked moments ago lay curled up on the platform, gasping for breath.

"Transporter room to sickbay," a voice said. "We need a medic here."

Jim turned his head in the direction of the echoing voice. Two men in red shirts, standing behind a small console, moved swiftly toward him, their faces etched with concern. Jim raised his gun in warning, but the room around him spun wildly, and he found himself falling downward, losing consciousness as he descended.

Skalas stood over Sandburg, his hands behind his back, eyeing the newly fastened restraints on the young man's arms and legs with obvious satisfaction. Blair pushed the rising sense of trepidation down, forcing himself to meet Skalas' dark eyes. The Romulan raised an eyebrow, apparently finding Blair's pretense at bravado amusing. A small smile touched the commander's face, and he brought one arm in front of him, holding up a small rectangular object for Blair's inspection.

"This little device is something way beyond your time, of course," Skalas began. "It's actually a Klingon invention, but very effective when it comes to extracting information... or inducing cooperation."

Blair's gaze fell to the small instrument. It didn't look all that menacing, but that didn't mean it wasn't. He had no idea what the small instrument could do, and he had no desire to find out.

"This is called the agonizer," Skalas informed him. "Its sole purpose is to inflict pain, hence the name."

Blair swallowed, wondering exactly how the little device managed to inflict pain. Little details like that were important, especially when it was his body under the spotlight.

"You, my friend, will get first-hand experience with this little device. If you're not feeling cooperative after that, well then we'll figure out something else," Skalas promised.

Blair's eyes remained locked on the agonizer. Just what was it? What would it do to him? He wasn't into pain. He was SO not into pain. How the hell had he managed to get himself into this situation? Couldn't he even walk to his car without running into trouble?

Skalas lowered the device toward Blair, and a surge of adrenaline, spawned of fear, surged through Sandburg's body. He struggled against his restraints, desperate to free himself... wanting nothing more than to put a thousand miles between himself and the madman standing over him.

Unfortunately, the restraints retained their integrity, and, a second later, he felt the cool pressure of the agonizer against his cheek. A millisecond later his entire nervous system erupted, neurons screaming to life as the pain center of his brain, thrown into chaos, amplified every sensation until nothing existed but a raging inferno of agony. His body arched in rebellion, and a strained, inhuman scream erupted from his throat, filling the small sickbay with an ear-shattering testament to the bounds of human endurance.

First Officer Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, Ensign Chekov, Doctor McCoy, and Chief Engineer Scott all sat around the briefing table, each mentally reviewing the reports they had prepared for the Captain.

"So tell us about our guest, Mr. Spock," Kirk commanded his first officer, gazing at the Vulcan expectantly.

Spock's eyes quickly scanned the faces seated around the table. With a slight nod, he reached out and activated the monitor. The screen flared to life with a picture of a severe-looking man with cropped hair and ice blue eyes.

"This is Detective James Ellison. He served in the army for several years, attaining the rank of Captain. He became a highly-respected covert operative in special forces during his later years with the army. During his last mission, he headed a unit into Peru to provide military support for an area vulnerable to hostile factions. En route, the helicopter transporting his unit went down. He was the only survivor. Eighteen months later, he was found by an army ranger unit and returned to the United States where he later joined the Cascade Police Department. Currently, he's working with a consultant to the police department, an anthropologist by the name of Blair Sandburg."

"Sandburg?" Uhura furrowed her brow, gazing at the image of the severe-looking man on the screen. "That name sounds familiar. So does James Ellison, come to think of it."

"Doctor Sandburg was one of the leading anthropologists of his time, though most of his fame came posthumously," Spock explained.

Uhura nodded, her eyes revealing sudden realization. "Yes, that's right. I remember reading a biography on him. His research was on Sentinels, people with heightened senses, and he was studying Detective Ellison in that capacity."

Spock raised an eyebrow, gazing at Uhura as though urging her to continue. "Indeed. Please continue, Lieutenant."

"Well, if I remember correctly, Sandburg teamed with Ellison to acquire information for his dissertation on Sentinels," Uhura continued, her voice permeated with enthusiasm. "He also acted as Ellison's Guide in the field, helping the detective gain control of his senses. Unfortunately, that's all I remember. It's been years since I read it."

"Heightened senses?" Chekov shook his head, gazing at Uhura skeptically. "Vhat do you mean, heightened senses?"

Uhura shrugged. "Apparently, he could -- or rather can -- see, hear, smell, and taste things that other people can't. I believe he also has hypersensitive tactile responses."

Kirk turned his attention to McCoy. "Bones," Kirk prodded, using the common nickname for the ship's surgeon. "Any confirmation on this?"

"Well, when when I reserched his background, the Sentinel information did come up, although it wasn't very detailed," Doctor McCoy explained. "Apparently, he was seen by several physicians for sensory problems... if you can call them physicians at that time... more like butchers with knives, sewing people up with needles and threads." He shook his head. "It's a miracle anybody survived a trip to the hospital back then..... Anyway, I performed a routine physical, and he's in very good shape for a man from his time period in his line of work. There's nothing anomalous about any of his sensory organs. However, there does seem to be some differences in the brain centers processing sensory input. Unfortunately, that's all I can say right now. I'm still trying to figure out why he's unconscious."

Kirk turned his attention to Spock. "And our contact with Starfleet's agent has told us that Sandburg was captured by the B'aclar."

Spock nodded. "Indeed, though I am at a loss to understand how or why the young man was abducted. While he is of some historical importance, he would seem an unlikely target for the Romulans, if their goal is indeed to alter the course of history to prevent the formation of the Federation."

Kirk sighed. "So what we have here are two people, important to history, who need to be put back on Earth with as little disruption to their lives as possible? On top of that, we've got to figure out just what is on the Romulan's agenda and prevent their interference with Earth history."

Spock nodded. "That would be an accurate assessment, Captain."

"And getting Sandburg away from the Romulans alive is not going to be easy," Kirk finished.

"Indeed not," Spock confirmed.

"And we don't even know if Sandburg is alive," Uhura added.

Jim bolted to awareness, phantom pain echoing through his body. He opened his eyes, and his surroundings swam into focus. He was in a large room filled with empty beds. Three beds lined each wall, and above each bed hung a square panel. He sat up, examining the panel above his own bed. It beeped and blinked, and he noticed one round light on the display that pulsed to the rhythm of his heart. A heart monitor? If so, it was unlike any heartmonitor he'd ever seen.

He extended his hearing, picking up a buzzing hum of voices and machines. Shaking his head, he pushed back the myriad sounds until one, in particular, caught his attention.

"And we don't even know if Sandburg is alive," a female voice stated.

Jim bolted off the table, keeping his ears focused on the sounds of the conversation.

"Well our last contact with T'Sal indicated that Sandburg was alive but injured," a male voice responded.

Jim took off in the direction of the voices, walking through a doorway. A man seated at a table looked up, startled, and bolted from his seat.

"Sir?" The large man in the blue uniform stared at Ellison as if the detective had just grown a second head. "Uh... Mr. Ellison," the man stammered, "you should get back in bed."

Jim shot the man an angry glare. "Who the hell are you?" He flew forward, grabbing the man's collar and pushing him up against the wall. "Where's my partner?"

The young man looked at Ellison with wide eyes, and the Sentinel could hear the man's heart pounding fiercely in his chest.

"Where's my partner?!" Jim shook the man again. "I swear if you don't tell me where Sandburg is in the next three seconds, I'll get it out of you another way."

The man shook his head. "I... I don't know."

Jim listened to the man's heartbeat. While his pulse was fast, it remained steady, indicating that the man may actually be telling the truth.

Jim dropped the man and took a step back, gazing at him critically. "Okay," he said, "I believe you." Then, without warning, Ellison's fist lashed out and struck the man in the cheek, sending him spiraling backward into oblivion.

Jim spun around and walked to the doorway, keeping his ears tuned to his surroundings. The area on the other side of the door seemed quiet, so Jim took a step closer. The orange-red door slid open, and he moved silently into the hallway. He walked only a few steps when he heard footsteps a few yards ahead. Another blue-clad man emerged from an intersecting hallway, making a sharp right to continue in the direction Ellison was heading. Fortunately, the man's back faced the detective, so Ellison's position remained uncompromised.

Ellison stopped, watching the person retreat, noticing that he was dressed in the same clothes as the guy Jim had just cold-cocked. He spun around, returning to the room he'd left only moments ago. The large man was still sprawled motionless on the floor. Jim gazed at the blue shirt and black pants, realizing that the clothes were a uniform of some sort. He gauged the man's relative size in comparison to his own, and figured the uniform would fit. Quickly, he undressed the man, leaving him clothed in only knee-length underpants. Jim quickly removed his own clothes and slipped into the uniform.

As Jim moved back into the hallway, the woman's words came back to him, sending a chill down his spine. "And we don't even know if Sandburg is alive." Jim clenched his jaw. He's alive, he reassured himself. Please, let him be alive.

James Kirk felt a headache coming on. He hated dealing with temporal anomalies. There was so much that could go wrong. History was, in many ways, like a sand mound -- the removal of one strategic grain could shift all the others.

"What's the ETA on the window," Kirk asked his first officer.

"Thirty minutes, twenty-nine seconds, Captain," Spock stated flatly.

The door to the briefing room slid open with a soft woosh admitting a large, angry-looking man wielding a phaser. A hushed silence fell over the table as everyone stared at the man they all recognized as James Ellison.

"Nobody move," Ellison commanded, sliding away from his vulnerable position at the door with the smooth grace of a cat.

"Detective Ellison," Kirk acknowledged, disobeying Ellison's order as he slowly rose to his feet. "Please put the phaser away. No one here will hurt you."

Blue eyes locked with hazel ones, each filled with authority, each checking the other out.

Ellison broke the silence. "Who are you, and what have you done with my partner?"

Kirk straightened, squaring his shoulders as he answered the stern military man in front of him. "I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. You're on my ship, and I suggest you hand over the phaser, especially if you're concerned about Mr. Sandburg's welfare."

Jim narrowed his eyes, his jaw clenched. "If that's a threat...."

Kirk raised his hands. "No, not a threat. Mr. Sandburg is not on board this vessel. He has been taken by another ship, and we are in the process of trying to retrieve him. Believe me, Mr. Ellison, I'm as anxious to see him returned as you are."

"I doubt that," Jim stated coldly, waving the phaser to emphasize his next words. "Now unless you tell me where Sandburg is, I'll start pointing this little device at people and pulling the trigger. I don't know exactly what it'll do, but I imagine it won't be good."

Kirk shook his head. "NO, I don't think you want to do that, Detective," he stated. "You'd only get one shot off before one of us stopped you, and then Mr. Sandburg would still be no better off. Now, if you give me the phaser, you have my word that we'll tell you everything we know about where Mr. Sandburg is being held."

The Sentinel cocked his head, staring at the Captain, and Kirk wondered if the man were somehow using his senses to determine the sincerity of his promise. After a few seconds, Ellison relented, apparently satisfied that Kirk was telling the truth. The detective lowered the phaser, then placed it in the Captain's outstretched hand.

Well, that's one small disaster averted, Kirk thought, gesturing to an empty seat next to Spock. "Now why don't you have a seat, Mr. Ellison?" And tell me how you got out of sickbay and how many of my men you injured on your way here.

Silently, Ellison dropped into the chair, only then fixing his attention on the pointed-eared man next to him. "What exactly are you supposed to be," Ellison asked, his eyes scanning the man's bizarre features.

Spock raised an eyebrow, returning Ellison's cool gaze. "I am supposed to be Commander Spock, first officer of this vessel, and, coincidentally, I fulfill that role in actuality."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean," Ellison growled.

"It is supposed to mean exactly what it does mean," Spock responded flatly.

"Enough, Mr. Spock," Kirk ordered, sitting down in his chair. "Now, Mr. Ellison, why don't you tell me how you got this phaser," he asked, placing the instrument on his waistband.

Ellison's face remained impassive as he stared at Kirk. "I obtained it from a gentleman in a red shirt who was kind enough to let me borrow it. Don't worry, he's alive, but I imagine he'll have a headache when he wakes up."

Kirk nodded, about to hit the intercom for sickbay when a high-pitched communication signal pierced the room. Kirk noticed Ellison wince slightly, and logged that noise-sensitive reaction in his mind for possible future use.

Quickly, he pressed the call button. "Kirk here."

"Captain," came a strained male voice. "Lieutenant Baylor here. Ellison's escaped from sickbay."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. We've found him. On his way to the briefing room, he knocked out a security guard."

"Oh... Okay, Sir. I'll send a medic."

"Kirk out," The Captain said, ending the connection as he fixed the detective with a curious gaze.

"How are you feeling," Dr. McCoy asked the Sentinel, and both Jim and Kirk turned to look at the Doctor.

Jim raised his eyebrows. "What?"

"That's not a difficult question," McCoy replied. "You just spent three good hours unconscious for no apparent reason. I'm assuming it has something to do with how the transporter reacted with your heightened senses."

Ellison looked genuinely surprised. "How did you --"

"It's all a matter of public record, actually," Kirk interrupted.

Ellison's eyes snapped back to the Captain. "What the hell do you mean by that? Sandburg hasn't published anything."

Kirk sighed. "No, not yet he hasn't," Kirk said. How exactly do I explain this without giving him too much information? "This is going to be rather difficult to explain, I'm afraid."

"Try me," Jim barked. "I'm not known for my patience."

Kirk raised his eyebrows. "I was beginning to figure that out, thank you. Anyway, you are on board an Earth space ship from your future. That's all I can tell you."

Ellison's face remained etched in stone for several long seconds as he stared at the Captain, then the sides of his mouth lifted upward in a slight smile. "Really? A space ship from the future? How nice."

Kirk noted the man's irritated, condescending tone and suppressed a sigh. He did not have the time to coddle this man into believing him, not with history on the line. "Look, Mr. Ellison, I realize this is difficult to believe, but look around you. You were transported here from the evidence room of your police station. Does such technology exist in your time?"

"I don't know exactly what happened in the evidence room," Jim stated. "But I'm in no mood for whatever game it is you're playing. I want to know what's happened to Sandburg and why you were in the evidence lock-up in the first place. That's all."

"We transported into the evidence room to insure that no technology from our time was recovered by your forensics team," Kirk explained. "As for Mr. Sandburg, he has been captured by a group we call The Romulans. They are Earth's enemy. They're here in your time to change history, and, apparently, your Mr. Sandburg stumbled onto one of their operations."

Ellison did not look convinced. Kirk decided to try another tactic.

"Okay, Mr. Ellison, why don't you tell me if I'm lying?"

Jim's eyes narrowed and he stared daggers at the Captain. "You seem to know a lot about my sentinel abilities."

Kirk shrugged. "Like I said, it's a matter of record now. Besides, I noticed your reaction earlier. You were listening to my heartbeat, weren't you?"

Now the Sentinel looked genuinely impressed. "Okay, so you're a good liar," he stated, but there was a note of uncertainty in his voice.

Kirk allowed himself a small smile. It looked as though he might actually be making headway with the man. "I'm not lying, Detective."

"Then you're insane," the detective countered.

"I assure you, the Captain is perfectly sane," Mr. Spock added, "though, like all humans, he is subject to bouts of irrationality and emotion."

Jim's eyes snapped back to Mr. Spock and, as he gazed intently at the alien, the solid skepticism on his face slowly melted to uncertainty. "Your heartbeat's all wrong," he stated.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I assure you, it is within the normal range for my species."

Ellison opened his mouth, but his reply was cut-off by the sudden blaring of sirens accompanied by pulsing red light. He winced, quickly covering his ears with his hands.

"Red Alert! Red Alert! All personnel to battlestations! Captain to the bridge," a voice announced out of the air.

Kirk and the rest of the crew sprung to their feet. The ship lurched suddenly, landing Kirk and Chekov on their rears. Uhura slammed into the wall while McCoy and Scotty found themselves laying flat on the floor. Spock was the only one who didn't lose his balance, though he had to hold onto the edge of the table to remain upright. Ellison, who'd remained seated, also hung onto the table.

Just as suddenly, the ship righted itself, klaxons blaring angrily. Jim rose out of his chair while Kirk sprung to his feet and ran out the door, followed by Spock. The rest of the crew picked themselves off the deck and followed, all except McCoy, who hung back.

"You're with me," the Doctor told the Sentinel.

Jim shook his head. "I don't think so," he said, then dashed out the doors after the crew.

Jim managed to just miss the group as they bolted into the elevator. He heard Kirk utter the word "Bridge", which was promptly followed by a low mechanical hum. Ellison ran up to the lift and, to his surprise, the doors opened immediately. He stepped inside, flashing a smile at the irate Doctor trying to catch up as the doors closed.

"Bridge," he said. The elevator hummed to life, and Jim noticed the white streaks evident through the transparent wall panel. They flew by at a remarkable speed, switching direction as, apparently, the lift changed from an upward direction to a sideways direction. Remarkably, Jim felt only a slight indication of the change.

Ellison took a moment to ponder the situation, not quite sure what to believe. Aliens and futuristic spacemen? Whatever happened to normal psychos and terrorists? He shook his head. Granted, the things around him, both living and technological, seemed to defy normality. Not only did Commander Spock's heart beat much too fast for a human's, but it also appeared to be in the wrong place. The beat had sounded a bit off, as though coming from just beneath the man's ribs.

The lift stopped and the doors opened. Jim stepped out, provoking a few curious glances. Kirk spared the Sentinel a brief, irritated glare before turning his attention back to the screen on the far wall. Ellison followed Kirk's gaze, and the sight that met his eyes stole his breath. On a large viewscreen hung the image of a ship against a starry backdrop.

"Put him onscreen," Kirk said, though Jim had no idea to whom the order was directed.

The screen changed abruptly to the image of a thin, pale-faced man with upswept eyebrows and pointed ears identical to those of the cryptic Mr. Spock. Jim spared the first officer a brief glance before turning his attention back to the screen.

"I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise," The Captain stated, furnishing an icy glare at the man on the screen. "Your actions in this system are an act of war against the Federation. You are hereby ordered to cease all activities."

"I am Commander Skalas of the Romulan Battlecruiser B'aclar," the man stated, his cold eyes steady. "We have no intention of leaving, and if you insist on interfering, we will be forced to destroy you."

"You can try, Commander, but I assure you, the battle will not go in your favor," Kirk threatened.

Skalas smiled, then hit a button on the console of his command chair and said, "Security, please escort our guest to the bridge." Skalas looked back up at Kirk and said, "Captain, I don't think you'll be attacking us. I know how precious you hold your history, and I happen to have something on board you might find valuable."

Kirk's face remained impassive. "And what would that be?"

Skalas' smile remained steady. "A little souvenir from our trip to twentieth century Earth, which, I may remind you, we are orbiting right now... and which also has no defenses whatsoever to, say, photon torpedoes."

"It has us," Kirk stated. "And I can assure you that Starfleet is aware of your little operation. It doesn't take kindly to temporal manipulations. I might also remind you that two can play at your game."

Skalas raised his eyebrows. "Oh I don't think Romulus is in any danger from the Federation, especially since it won't exist in two hundred years."

"We'll see about that," Kirk stated, his voice low.

Something off-camera caught Skalas' attention, and he looked to his left. A moment later, the view widened, revealing two large Romulans holding up a smaller human with long, curly hair. Jim's breath caught in his throat, and his heart nearly dropped to his feet.

"Sandburg!" Ellison practically flew to Kirk's chair, his eyes fixed on the rough appearance of his partner. Sandburg's head hung limply against his chest, and Jim could just make out the dark purple bruises on the young man's face. "Chief? Look at me. Tell me you're okay."

Skalas looked sharply back at the screen, slow recognition filling his eyes as he stared at Jim. Slowly, Blair raised his head to look at Jim, his eyes revealing hazy disbelief.

"Jim?" Sandburg blinked as though clearing his vision. "What...?"

"Long story, Chief," Jim said. "Are you okay?"

Blair blinked again. "Uh... No... No, I'm not, Jim. I'd really like to go home," he admitted, his voice low and hoarse.

Jim frowned. Sandburg's voice sounded all wrong... flat and distant, almost as though he were drugged. The sentinel clenched his jaw, leveling a deadly glare at the Romulan seated in the chair.

"Listen to me, Skalas," Jim said. "If you hurt him, you're a dead man. That's a promise." He had no idea how he would fulfill that promise, but he'd find a way. That much was certain.

Skalas' smile widened. "You must be Jim Ellison. Your friend here has told me all about you. I'd be delighted to meet you... Say, an exchange? You for him." Skalas offered, indicating Sandburg with a tilt of his head.

"No good," Kirk said, throwing a warning glance at Ellison.

Sandburg's eyes seemed to clear momentarily, and he gazed at Ellison fearfully. "Jim, don't you dare! Don't you do it," he ordered, his voice tinged with panic.

"ENOUGH," Skalas exploded, waving a hand angrily toward Sandburg.

Blair flinched, cringing backward, but the two large Romulans held him firmly in place.

"It's a simple exchange," Skalas told Ellison. "You for him."

"The point is mute," Kirk interjected, "as I happen to be the one in command of this vessel. Ellison's not going anywhere." He threw a meaningful glare at the Sentinel.

Jim ignored the Captain. He didn't care what Kirk said. If Skalas would trade Blair for him, he'd take the deal. "Okay, Skalas. You want me, you can have me."

Kirk sighed, pressing a button on his command console, then he said, "Commander, no trades will be made. You either release Sandburg, or prepare to be boarded."

Skalas seemed genuinely amused by the Captain's comment. "And just how do you propose to board my vessel without risking the life of this rather historically important anthropologist here? We do have access to information about your Earth's history, after all. Though, I admit, there are some gaps in that information.... gaps I found to be delightfully illuminated earlier," he said, glancing at Sandburg.

The doors of the Enterprise bridge opened, admitting two red-clad security guards. Jim pulled his gaze away from the screen to look at the two men as they approached the Captain. Ellison felt hot anger flare in his chest and he turned ice blue eyes onto James Kirk.

"What's this," Ellison demanded.

Kirk motioned to Uhura to cut the audio on the transmission, then looked at Ellison, his eyes mildly apologetic as he gestured to the two men. "They'll be escorting you to guest quarters. You are to remain there until called for."

"And you're under arrest for unlawful entry, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, and assault and battery," Jim said, his tone dead serious.

The edges of Kirk's mouth lifted upward in a slight smile. "Well you can add resisting arrest to that," he stated, glancing at the security guards. "I'm sure you'll find your quarters more than adequate. If you need anything, just let the guard outside your door know."

Jim felt a hand on his arm, and he turned his head to glare at the young security man standing next to him. "If you don't get your hand off of me in the next two seconds, I'll break it," Jim threatened.

The security guard's grip remained firm, but he did glance uncertainly at the Captain.

"Ellison, please go peacefully. I'd hate to have to put you in the brig," Kirk said.

Ellison glanced at the tired, anxious face of his partner on the screen. Blair was looking back and forth between Jim and Kirk, obviously wondering what was going on. Skalas observed the display with what seemed like curious detachment.

Ellison inhaled a slow, deep breath, then looked calmly back at Kirk. "That's my partner there," he said. "I'm holding you personally responsible for his safety. If anything happens to him, you're a dead man."

The security guard tightened his grip on Ellison's arm. Jim fought back the urge to send a fist into the man's face, and, instead, glanced back at Sandburg.

"Let me talk to him quickly," Jim said. It wasn't a request.

Kirk nodded, gesturing at Uhura to resume the audio connection.

"Blair," Jim said, "everything's going to be okay. Just hang in there."

Slowly, Blair nodded, glancing at Skalas.

"How sweet," the Romulan commented.

"I've got to go now, but don't worry, we're not leaving you there," Jim promised, casting a meaningful glance at the Captain.

Blair managed a weak smile. "Well, at least I can add 'abducted by aliens' to my list of cosmic grievances."

That comment provoked tiny smiles from everyone on the bridge of the Enterprise except Spock. Jim gave his partner a reassuring nod, then allowed himself to be escorted off the bridge by the two security guards.

Blair watched Jim walk off-screen, and the tiny shred of courage he'd held onto seemed to leave with the Sentinel. His knees weakened, and the two Romulans tightened their grips on him as he sagged forward. He knew Jim would never leave willingly, and it was obvious that the two red-shirts had forced him away. Still, Blair realized, there wasn't much hope of Jim coming to his rescue this time. He was in space... that much he'd figured out. He didn't know how or why he ended up there, and he sure as hell didn't know who his captors were, other than their calling themselves 'Romulans'.

Blair was interrupted from his thoughts by the voice on the screen. "Commander Skalas, you have acted in a declaration of war against the Federation. I hereby order you to surrender Sandburg to our custody and cease all activities in this time continuum."

Blair stared at the man, holding his head up with a monumental act of will. Good one, he thought. Why don't you just read him his rights and ask him to surrender nicely. Blair didn't know who the man in the yellow shirt was, but it was obvious he was in command of another ship, and, apparently, possessed a somewhat elevated opinion of his control over the situation.

Skalas chuckled. "You are an interesting human, Captain, I must admit. However, you're wasting my time." Skalas glanced over his left shoulder at another Romulan, and, abruptly, the image on the screen faded to black.

Blair felt a knot of cold fear twist in his gut as his link to salvation was severed. Skalas turned cold, dark eyes on him, and waved toward the lift. "Take him back to the brig."

Wordlessly, the Romulans dragged Sandburg back to his cell.

"Captain, they're targeting photon torpedoes," the Russian announced, fingers dancing furiously over his console.

"Evasive maneuvers! Arm photons," Kirk ordered. He hated firing on the ship with Sandburg onboard, but Skalas left him no choice. Not only was his crew in danger, but now Jim Ellison's life was on the line as well.

"Incoming," Chekov yelled as the ship tilted to the side in an attempt to avoid the torpedo.

Two seconds later the ship lurched violently. Pleased to realize that everyone had remained in their seats, Kirk bolted out of his own and flew over to the helm. "Target enemy ship and fire," he ordered.

Chekov spared a glance at Sulu, the helmsman, as he worked in sync with his comrade to coordinate the attack. "Firing," he announced.

All eyes turned to the screen as the white ball of energy shot away from the Enterprise to find its mark on the upper hull of the B'aclar.

"Direct hit!" Chekov smiled triumphantly, glancing back at the Captain.

"Enemy is powering engines, Captain," Spock's calm voice announced. "Heading toward the anomaly."

Kirk clenched his fist, realizing with sudden dread what the Commander had in mind. "Target engines, Mr. Chekov," he commanded, his voice tightly controlled.

"Aye, Sir," Chekov replied, fingers once again flying over his console.

"Window has opened, Sir. B'aclar is heading in," Spock informed the Captain.

Kirk pounded one fist anxiously against his thigh. "Fire!"

A second torpedo projected away from the ship, but missed B'aclar by a narrow margin as the ship disappeared into the invisible temporal window set in the fabric of the space-time continuum.

"Damn," Kirk cursed, glancing at Spock. "Status of the anomaly?"

"Window collapsing, estimated time of closure in six seconds."

"Mr. Sulu, full impulse power into the anomaly," Kirk ordered.

He didn't like the idea of taking Ellison for a joy ride into the future, but he couldn't allow Skalas to escape with Sandburg. Overall, Kirk's chances of retrieving Sandburg and returning both men to their century would be practically non-existent if his vessel became trapped in the twentieth century until the time of the next window opening, whenever that would occur.

"Aye Captain," Sulu acknowledged.

The Enterprise sailed forward at full impulse speed, sailing into the invisible anomaly as she headed steadily toward the future.

Blair hung limply between the two large security guards, offering no resistance as they dragged him down the corridor toward his cell. Suddenly, the ship lurched, and all three men were thrown off their feet. Blair hit the wall hard and bounced off, landing on his side. He shook his head and blinked, wondering what had happened to cause the ship to buck so wildly.

One of the security guards laid directly in front of him, unconscious. Blair pushed himself to his feet, spotting the man's firearm on the waistband of the uniform and snatching it up quickly. He spun around, searching for the second guard, but his motion caused a powerful wave of dizziness to overcome him and he found himself sagging against the wall as the room spun chaotically.

"Put it down!"

The spinning room slowed, and then steadied. Blair turned his head in the direction of the voice and saw the second security guard standing to his right, weapon aimed threateningly. Blair looked down at the weapon he held in his own hand and noticed that it was pointing in the direction of the angry security guard. He didn't particularly want to fire it since he had no idea what it would do. Knowing the aggressive nature of the beings that held him captive, he figured it was most likely a deadly weapon, and he had no desire to kill.

His options were pretty much limited, anyway. Whether he lowered the weapon or fired it, he'd either end up in his cell or dead. He was on a ship in space, after all, so there wasn't much he could do by means of escape. Slowly, he lowered the weapon and dropped it to the floor.

The guard smiled and carefully aimed his own weapon. "You are a weak and cowardly human," the Romulan hissed, then pulled the trigger.

T'Sal heard the whine of the phaser and hurried her steps. She rounded the corner just in time to see the human crumple to the floor. Acting swiftly, she reached out and applied pressure to the base of the Romulan's neck, just at the crux of his shoulder. The guard stiffened momentarily, then went limp, falling like a dead weight to the floor.

T'Sal moved quickly, tucking the guard's phaser in the waistband of her trousers and reaching down to heft the unconscious human over her shoulders. She would have only ten to twenty seconds to affect her escape once the ship emerged from the anomaly and the shields were reactivated. It was fortunate for her that the nature of the space-time disruption prevented the use of both warp engines and shields while the ship was traveling inside the disruption.

Unfortunately, she could not use the transporter. Not only would the distortions caused by the anomaly make transporting an unacceptably dangerous activity, but she would have little chance of making it past the guard and attendant stationed at each of the three transporter rooms, especially with the burden she carried.

She headed toward the shuttle bay. Again, her chances of securing a shuttle and making it to the planet intact would be quite small. Indeed, she estimated the odds of success at five hundred and twenty-three to one. Still, she had little choice. Skalas' removal of the human from his native century had forced her to take action. It was her duty to ensure that the Romulan's plans did not meet with fruition. It had taken years of subtle manipulations to secure her place as a Romulan on board a battleship, and now she was forced to abandon her post and, thereby, reveal her true nature as an agent for Starfleet. Fortunately, her Vulcan training served her well, allowing her to set aside emotion and deal with the situation logically; and, logic required her to save the life of one twentieth-century Earth anthropologist.

T'Sal entered the shuttlebay, grateful that it was deserted. The recent battle had no doubt drawn all active personnel to more critical posts. She broke into a run toward the shuttle, opening the door and depositing the unconscious man on the nearest seat. Quickly, she strapped him in, closed the door, and took her place at the helm.

"Mr. Sulu, the moment we emerge from the anomaly, scan the B'aclar for human life signs," Kirk ordered.

"Captain," Spock interrupted, "transporting an individual this close to the anomaly would not be wise. The distortions associated with the anomaly would make the probability of a successful transport prohibitively small."

Kirk clenched his jaw, glancing at his first officer. "How small?"

"Such odds are difficult to estimate given the unpredictable fluctuations of the subspace distortions. However, I would estimate them to be, at the very least, two hundred to one," Spock informed the Captain.

"Normal space in five... four... three... two.... one," Chekov counted. "Keptin, we are now in normal space. B'aclar directly ahead. Shields down."

"Scan for lifesigns," Kirk said.

"Picking up a shuttle craft, Captain," Spock said. "Two lifeforms, one human."

Kirk's eyes sparked with hope. "T'sal and Sandburg, no doubt," he said.

"B'aclar is locking phasers on the shuttle," Spock announced.

"Chekov, fire phasers at the B'aclar and raise shields." Kirk ordered.

"Aye, Keptin!"

A second later, a phaser beam sliced through the black backdrop of space and impacted with the forward hull of the B'aclar.

"B'aclar has sustained heavy damage across her forward section. She's raising shields," Spock announced.

"Maintain barrage, Mr. Chekov. Make sure we have their attention," Kirk instructed.

"Yes, Sir," Chekov acknowledged, his voice betraying his delight.

A second phaser beam sliced through space, hitting the B'aclar on its starboard side. "Direct hit, Sir," Chekov announced.

"B'aclar is now targeting the Enterprise," Spock said.

"Uhura, order their surrender," Kirk told the communications officer.

"Yes, Captain," she acknowledged, turning her attention back to her console.

"Incoming torpedo!" Chekov's fingers flew over his console as the navigator tried to strengthen the forward shields in preparation for impact.

The Enterprise shook under the impact, but it was obvious little damage had been done.

"Good work, Chekov," Kirk commended.

The navigator beamed brightly. "Thank you, Sir."

"No response from B'aclar," Uhura informed the Captain.

Kirk acknowledged her report with a brief nod. "Return fire. Photon torpedoes A and B," Kirk said.

"Aye, Keptin."

Two photon torpedoes flew away from the great white starship, impacting on the most forward section of the B'aclar's hull, penetrating the weakened shields and crashing completely through the ship's hull.

"Enemy ship disabled Captain," Spock announced, though that fact was obvious to every member of the bridge crew. "Self-destruct sequence initiated."

"Status of the shuttle?"

"Damage to shuttlecraft's engines, Captain," Spock said. "A section of the B'aclar's hull collided with the vessel. The shuttle is en route for a crash landing in sector G of the planet below."

"Damn," Kirk muttered. "Mr. Spock, can we use the transporters?"

"Not yet, Captain. The window is closed, but the surrounding space will remain unstable for another three-point-five minutes," the Vulcan replied.

"Odds of shuttlecraft making a viable landing," Kirk asked.

"Three to one, Captain."

"Tractor beam?"

"Shuttlecraft is too far in the atmosphere."

"Mr. Sulu," Kirk told his helmsman. "Pull back, full impulse."

"Yes, Sir."

Seconds later, the Romulan ship exploded in a brilliant, blinding display of light.

Blair awoke to the horrific sound of screaming engines, followed by a near-instantaneous deceleration. His body would have been thrown forward if not for the rigid strap holding him in place. Then, everything went silent.

At first, his brain had difficulty figuring out where he was, but slowly the images began to coalesce into a coherent order in his consciousness. He was in some sort of a vehicle, from the looks of it, strapped into a chair. A motionless figure sat hunched over a smoking console in front of him. He blinked, suddenly aware of the irritation in his eyes, nose, and lungs from the thickening smoke.

"Warning! Engine Core Unstable! Warning! Engine Core Unstable."

Blair looked around for the source of the seemingly disembodied voice, his muddled brain finally registering it as a computer-generated safety alert. Engine Core Unstable? What the hell does that mean? Whatever it meant, it didn't sound good, and he figured he had better vacate the craft as soon as possible.

It took him a few seconds to figure out how to remove the strap, and he didn't know if his difficulty resulted from the design of the restraint itself or a diminished mental capacity. He'd taken who knows how many blows to the head since that night in the parking lot... How long ago was that, anyway?  He closed his eyes briefly, pushing back the dull pain pulsing at the base of his skull, hoping the throbbing didn't get any worst. He took a deep breath, attempting to clear his head, and immediately regretted the action when his lungs flared in rebellion from the irritating smoke. He released several deep, hacking coughs that caused his eyes to water profusely. Finally getting a grip on his breathing, he wiped his eyes and made a mental note not to EVER do that again in a smoke-filled room. Must not be working with a full deck here, he thought to himself. Any idiot would have enough sense to avoid inhaling a deep lung full of smoke.

Remarkably, his legs supported him and his head felt securely attached to his shoulders, a welcome change from the dizzying nauseousness that had plagued him on-and-off since his abduction. He moved toward the unconscious figure, placing his fingers on the side of the alien woman's neck. He wasn't sure if he felt a pulse or not, because the throbbing was so faint that it may have been caused by the pulse in his own fingers. He shifted his hand to an unlikely position on the alien's neck, breathing a sigh of relief when the pulse came through stronger. Okay, not dealing with human anatomy here, Blair.

Releasing another round of coughs, he grabbed the woman's shoulder and pulled her body away from the console, taking care to make sure she didn't slip out of the chair. The smoke blurred his vision, and he could barely make out the large gash on the left side of her forehead that was bleeding thick, green blood. Blair stared at the inhuman sight, wondering just what kind of creatures he was dealing with. Her blood was green, her pulse was in a different place, and who knows what else was different... He had no idea where to even begin to administer first aid. Gazing at the wound, he amended that thought. Applying pressure to stop the bleeding should be a safe enough course of action.

But then, what if she regained consciousness? She was one of the aliens, that much was obvious, but what was she doing here with him in this small broken craft? The last thing he remembered was grabbing a weapon from one of the guards. Was this alien woman a friend or foe? Had she been trying to rescue him, or did she have some other purpose in mind? A sudden, intense fear clutched his chest as he realized that maybe this had all been part of some exchange. Oh no...  Jim had agreed to Skalas' demand, and, knowing the Sentinel's iron determination, he'd probably found a way to make it happen, despite being forced away by the guards.

"Warning! Engine Core will explode in fifteen seconds! Warning! Engine Core will explode in fifteen seconds!"

Blair's heart lurched into his throat, spawning another fit of coughs. Damn. He'd forgotten about the warning, more proof that he wasn't thinking clearly. Wasting no time, he pulled the woman out of the chair, gritting his teeth as he used all his strength to drag her toward the door. Normally, he wouldn't have had a problem moving her, but at the moment neither his body nor his brain was working at full capacity.

The door slid open and he stumbled out of the craft, landing with a hard thud on the soft terrain below as he pulled the woman out after him. He nearly lost his balance a few times as he made his rapid retreat from the box-like craft. He'd managed to travel about a hundred feet when the craft erupted in a wave of hot, fiery light.

Blair's body was catapulted through the air some indeterminate distance, and he came down face-first upon an unforgiving outcrop of rock. He released a shocked scream as an explosion of pain burst through his right shoulder, sending bolts of agony into his chest and back.

James Ellison was not a patient man, especially where the safety of his partner was concerned. He paced the moderate confines of his quarters in an attempt to expel some of the frustrated energy building up inside him. He hated feeling helpless. He hated being relegated to the backseat while "Buck Rogers" decided to play a game of "who can piss the farthest" with some alien psycho with an overblown sense of self-worth.

No, James Ellison was not a patient man, and his patience had just worn out. He walked to the door and pressed the signal button for the guard outside. Immediately, the door slid open and the guard looked at him expectantly.

"What can I do for you, Sir," the young man asked.

"How about telling that Captain of yours that I want to know what's going on with Sandburg," Jim growled. "Now."

"I am sure that Captain Kirk will inform you of your friend's status just as soon as the situation is resolved," the guard replied.

Jim resisted the urge lift the man by his shirt collar and throw him against the wall. Instead, he took a step closer to the guard, using his one-inch advantage to look down at the guard. "What part of 'now' didn't you understand?"

The guard's hand drifted to the weapon at his side as he stared warily at Ellison. "Sir, if you'll just step back into your quarters, I'll relay your request to the Captain."

Jim opened his mouth to tell the guard what he could do with that request when the Sentinel's sensitive ears picked up the sound of Kirk's voice approaching from some distance around the corner.

"So what do you make of him, Bones?"

"Well, he obviously has quite a strong attachment to the young man."

"I know. I wish I had better news for him."

Jim's heart leapt into his throat. Better news? What did that mean?

"I'd hate to be in your shoes, Jim. That man's got a glare that could make a Klingon turn tail and run."

"And ears that would rival a Vulcan's, Doctor."

"Yeah, that too. You don't think he can hear us from this distance? Do you?"

"You examined him. You tell me."

"He was unconscious at the time."

Jim offered the guard a condescending smile and then pushed passed him, rounding the corner quickly to see Kirk and the Doctor approach. The guard followed a moment later with his phaser drawn, but, when he saw the Captain, he lowered the weapon and stood stiffly at attention. Kirk acknowledged the guard with a brief nod, then turned his gaze to Ellison.

"Mr. Ellison, I trust your quarters are satisfactory," Kirk asked.

Jim scowled. He was definitely NOT in the mood for niceties. "What the hell happened?" He looked pointedly at the doctor. "Yes, I could hear you, Einstein."

McCoy glanced sheepishly at Kirk, avoiding Jim's deadly glare. Kirk, however, remained steady under the Sentinel's harsh gaze.

"We had an operative on the Romulan ship," Kirk began. "Apparently that operative escaped the vessel with your partner in a small shuttlecraft. We engaged the Romulan ship in a battle, during which the shuttle craft sustained damage and crash-landed on the planet below. Due to the unusual ionic quality of the geographical region where the shuttle descended, we are unable to get a definite reading on lifeforms. However, our scanners are registering possible human life within a radius of five kilometers. I'm sorry. Usually we can pinpoint the location of lifeforms with much greater accuracy, but, like I said, the mineral composition is interfering with our scanners, so we'll have to perform a manual search. The good news is that the reading means your partner is most likely alive."

Jim listened to the Captain's report with a mixture of cold dread and frustrated confusion, mentally translating the Captain's report into plain English. Sandburg had crashed on a planet and the Captain didn't know where he was? From the way the Captain spoke, it sounded as though Sandburg had crashed on an alien planet, but how could that be? The Enterprise had been orbiting Earth. Even if the ship had drifted, there were only eight other planets in the solar system, and none of those were capable of supporting life. He'd learned that much in his high school science class.

"So you're saying Sandburg's on an alien planet and you don't know his exact location," Jim confirmed, his voice even and measured.

Kirk nodded. "Unfortunately, yes."

"And you can't seem to use your instruments to find him because of some type of weird mineral interference?"

Again, Kirk nodded. "Correct, but we are assembling a search team."

"Good. I'll come with you."

Kirk shook his head and opened his mouth to protest when he was cut off by Jim's sudden intrusion in his personal space. The Sentinel came face-to-face with the Captain, eyes blazing. "I trusted you with Sandburg's life once, and he nearly died. I don't intend to make that mistake again. I'm going down with you. With my sensory advantage, I can find him in a fraction of the time it would take an entire search team... and that's time Sandburg may not have."

Kirk stood his ground, but he looked at the Sentinel thoughtfully, as though he were honestly considering the man's argument. Finally, he nodded. "Normally, I'd say 'no.' It's too dangerous and your life is just as important to history as Sandburg's, especially considering the nature of your relationship with him. However, right now we could use your abilities. If you can find him, I'll let you go down... on one condition."

Jim was taken aback by Kirk's quick agreement. He'd expected an argument. Still, he gazed warily at the Captain and asked, "What condition?"

"You are to do exactly as I say," Kirk explained. "You'll be surrounded by two body guards at all times, and you will go nowhere without them. You will carry a stun-only phaser at all times, and you'll be fitted with a subdermal transmitter that we can use to track you on the ground. Fortunately for you, the ionic composition of the planet makes the use of the transporter risky. It seems this planet and surrounding space is largely incompatible with our transporters. We'll have to take a shuttle down."

"Okay," Jim agreed quickly. He had no problem with exercising caution, as long as he was out there doing something to find Sandburg, but he still had questions about the planet. "Just how did Sandburg end up on an alien planet, Captain? Correct me if I'm mistaken, but weren't we orbiting Earth," he asked, a hint of irritation touching his voice.

"Yes we were, Detective. Unfortunately, during the battle, the Romulan ship escaped through a spatial anomaly that sent it, and us, traveling through space and time," Kirk told him.

Jim blinked, uncertain he had heard the Captain correctly. "Space and time?"

Kirk nodded. "Yes, we are now two hundred years in your future and approximately seventy light years away from Earth."

Blair heard distant voices and tried to move, but his body felt thick and his lungs felt like they were pumping molasses. As the voices neared, they became louder and more distinct, and Blair focused on the sounds, realizing with dull panic that the voices spoke the strange language of his abductors. He screamed at his limbs to move, but they ignored his commands. He had to get up. They were getting closer, no doubt drawn to the fire from the downed craft. It wouldn't take them long to arrive and either take him back to that ship or finish him off. He had to move, and he had to get the woman to safety. At this point, he didn't know if she was a friend or a foe, but he didn't dare take any chances with her life.

Blair jerked. All of a sudden the voices were above him. Rough hands pulled him up. Blair's head whirled. What happened?  How had they gotten there so fast? One moment they sounded yards away, and the next moment they were right there. Had he blacked out?

Blair felt the stinging slap of a palm across his cheek, and his head whipped limply to the side. Releasing a low groan, he managed to lift his eyelids to look at his attacker. To his dismay, Commander Skalas stood in front of him, murderous rage in the Romulan's dark eyes.

"You puny, insignificant human," Skalas spat. "My ship is destroyed... most of my crew gone! And you! You are just another pain in my side!"

Blair swallowed, wanting to tell Skalas that none of this was his fault. He had just been walking to his car, and the next thing he knew, he was somewhere else. He wanted to appease the man, explain that he hadn't tried to escape. He'd given the guard the phaser back, then blacked out. It wasn't his fault. Blair tried to say all of those things because, as he gazed at the deadly rage in the other man's eyes, he knew the man was intent on spending his frustration on him. Skalas wanted to kill him, and Blair was almost certain it would not be a pleasant death.

"Please..." was all he managed to mutter before Skalas' hand whipped out again and struck his face.

"Shut up!" The Romulan's glare was deadly, sending a shiver down Blair's spine.

After a brief moment during which those dark orbs seemed to peer right through Blair, the Romulan sighed and turned his attention to the unconscious woman laying face-down in the dirt.

"Get rid of her," Skalas said.

That single sentence gave Blair the strength he needed to resist. With a burst of adrenaline, he brought one knee upward, catching Skalas hard in the groin.

"No!" Blair pushed backward, trying to topple the two guards holding him, but their grips remained firm.

Skalas, hunched over in pain, raised his head to look at the anthropologist. Blair's heart went cold as he stared down into the visage of pure, murderous fury.

Jim followed Kirk out of the shuttlecraft, his hand gripping the surprisingly light phaser reassuringly. Kirk flipped open his communicator and, with a glance at Ellison, spoke into the small device.

"Scotty? Are you reading us," the Captain asked.

"Aye, Captain," came the response. "So far it seems to be working. The shuttle's boosting yerr signal well enough  to maintain a transporter lock. Ellison's signal is coming through clear as can be."

Kirk smiled. "Good work, Mr. Scott."

Jim turned away from the Captain, absently watching as Mr. Chekov peered down into his whirring tricorder. The Sentinel's gaze then drifted upward, taking note of the alien sky that boasted odd hues of purple. Part of him still wondered if all this was a dream. This is something I'd never thought I'd be doing... not in a million years... stepping foot on an alien planet. Slowly, he turned around, taking in the rocky, barren landscape. Instinctively, he stretched his senses outward. His ears picked up the unfamiliar sound of what could have been the buzzing wings of an insect. Usually, he could distinguish the type of insect by the specific sound associated with the movement of the creature through the air. Mosquitoes sounded lighter and higher pitched. Bees sounded deeper, heavier. This time, however, he head no idea what type of creature made such a deep buzzing noise, but, to his ears, it sounded like a large one.... maybe about the size of a dragonfly. He focused on the sound, getting drawn into it before he even realized what was happening.

Kirk snapped his communicator closed and returned it to his uniform trousers. He turned around to see Chekov scanning the terrain. Ellison stood a few feet away from the shuttle's entrance, his back rigid and his body motionless as he gazed at some indistinct point far away. A moment later, Dr. McCoy emerged from the shuttle, his medical pouch slung over his chest.

Kirk frowned, catching Doctor McCoy's eye as he and the Doctor approached the Sentinel.

"Mr. Ellison," Kirk said. "Are you all right?"

Two security guards exited the craft, immediately taking up position next to Ellison. When the detective gave no response, all five men began to look worriedly at one another.

"Bones?" Kirk looked at his Chief Medical Officer for an explanation.

Dr. McCoy, however, had needed no prodding. He stood next to Ellison and focused the tricorder on the large man. "Vitals stable. Heart rate 46 beats per minute. Respiration shallow." He shook his head, looking back up at the large man. Slowly, he extended a hand and placed it gently on Ellison's shoulder. "Ellison? Are you okay?" He gave the larger man a shake, his face growing even more concerned when the detective remained unresponsive.

"What's wrong with him," Kirk asked, his voice frustrated and impatient. "You cleared him for this, did you not, Doctor?"

McCoy nodded quickly. "Yes, Captain. I ran a complete physical. Nothing anomalous showed up."

Kirk grabbed one Ellison's other shoulder and shook the man hard. "Ellison! Come on, snap out of it!"

Suddenly Jim blinked, then inhaled sharply, looking around uncertainly. "What...?" He seemed to notice the members of the landing party staring at him, and stiffened infinitesimally, his grip tightening on the phaser as he took a few steps away from the Captain and Dr. McCoy. "Sorry," he mumbled. "That happens sometimes," he said, his eyes scanning the terrain, barely registering the men surrounding him.

"Exactly what was that," McCoy asked.

Jim glanced only briefly at the Doctor. "Sandburg calls it 'zoning out'. It happens when I concentrate too much on one sense. Usually he's there to catch me, though," he said, his voice taking on a suddenly sad and distant quality.

"I see," Kirk said, irritated. "It might have been prudent of you to mention this tendency of yours before coming down here."

Jim's eyes flashed with momentary anger. "I'll be fine," he said, his face set in stone.

Kirk opened his mouth to voice a reply when Ellison suddenly cocked his head and lifted a hand in the air to shush the Captain. Kirk raised his eyebrows in a mixed expression of irritation and amusement as he observed Ellison's curious demeanor. Suddenly, Ellison stiffened, then bolted into a frantic run toward a rocky hill in the distance.

"Ellison!" Kirk and the four men took off after the Sentinel.

Jim pumped his legs furiously, hoping desperately that he didn't arrive too late. He had heard Sandburg's panicked cry, and he stretched his senses outward, trying to hone in on his partner's location. He knew he was heading in Sandburg's general direction, but, once his partner's brief cry ended, Ellison found himself suddenly unsure where it had originated from. He knew he wouldn't have such trouble if Sandburg were with him, guiding him. He clenched his jaw at that thought and forced his legs to carry him faster.

He almost released a cry of victory when he heard Sandburg's voice again, but that unexpressed joy quickly turned to horror when he noted the sheer terror in his Guide's voice.

"No! Please! No!"

Ellison saw a group of people about one hundred yards in the distance standing near the edge of a cliff. He focused his sight ahead, watching in dull horror as Sandburg struggled against a group of Romulans. Two of the aliens held his arms while two more secured the younger man's legs, pinning Sandburg securely to the ground. Skalas stood over Sandburg, holding a small instrument above Blair's face. The Romulan brought the instrument down, pressing it against the side of Blair's face. A horrendous, ear-shattering scream pierced the air, and Sandburg bucked wildly.

His Guide's scream slammed into the Sentinel like a brick wall, sending a bolt of agony into his skull. Hot, murderous rage exploded within him, and a deep, angry roar erupted from his throat as he flew over the jagged terrain.


Abruptly, Skalas straightened, removing the instrument from Blair's face. Sandburg's body went limp, and Skalas, now aware of Ellison's approach, lifted Sandburg up. Ellison heard the alien bark something incomprehensible to a thin female to his right. The woman looked momentarily uncertain, then glanced at Ellison. Quickly, she reached out to Sandburg, attempting to pull him away from Skalas. Skalas pushed her away, yelling something the Sentinel couldn't understand.

Jim skidded to a halt in front of the Romulan commander, panting so fiercely he could barely form words. As he struggled for breath, he kept his gaze on Sandburg's limp, moaning figure. His ears picked up the rapid, erratic beat of his partner's heart.

"Put him down, Commander," Kirk's voice commanded.

Jim turned around to see Kirk and the landing team standing behind him, phasers drawn. The two security guards walked forward, placing themselves in front of Ellison.

"No, Captain," Skalas countered, taking a step closer to the edge. A phaser appeared in the Romulan's right hand, and he pointed it at Kirk, keeping his other arm wrapped firmly around Sandburg's chest. "Tell your men to lower their weapons."

Jim pushed the security guards aside and leveled a steely glare at the Romulan commander. "You hurt him, you're a dead man," he said.

The Romulan commander smiled, looking at Ellison with amused eyes. "It's good to meet you, Sentinel. That trade offer is still good, should you choose to accept it." Skalas took another step closer to the edge.

Sandburg moaned softly, and his eyes fluttered open, revealing unfocused blue eyes tinged with pain. He looked at Jim, squinting as though trying to focus his vision. Then his gaze drifted to the edge of the cliff. Jim heard Sandburg's heart jump suddenly as the kid's fear of heights flared to life.

There was no way Jim was going to stand by and watch Skalas toy with his partner's life. "Deal," he said quickly.

"No deal, Skalas," Kirk interjected, stepping in front of the Sentinel. "Release Sandburg and surrender. Your ship's been destroyed and the Enterprise remains in orbit. You have nowhere to go."

Skalas' eyes flashed with angry determination. "But the mission has not yet been defeated," he said, dragging Sandburg closer to the edge. "We came to change your history. Unfortunately, Mr. Sandburg here interrupted the assassination of our target, but I am a determined man. I guess we'll just have to see what happens to history with one less anthropologist." He smiled, taking another step closer to the edge. "Ripples, Captain... I wonder what tides will shift."

Skalas shifted, flinging Sandburg over the edge in one swift motion. Sandburg screamed, his cry waning as gravity pulled him farther away.

"NO!" Jim lunged forward, his brain registering a thousand facts in the span of a millisecond.

Ellison threw himself over the edge of the cliff, his army training kicking in as he maneuvered his body into a nose-dive. He had a bird's eye view of the spectacular drop as he sailed downward, and the sight only augmented the queasy sensation of free-fall that gripped his stomach. Fortunately, the ground appeared to be nowhere in site, leaving Jim to wonder briefly just exactly what kind of terrain this planet sported.

Jim sliced through the air like a bullet, catching up with Sandburg within a matter of seconds. The Sentinel reached out and grabbed Blair's arm, but he doubted his terrified partner was even aware of the contact. Sandburg's fear of heights was well-known, and while the kid had faced his fears on several occasions, being tossed from a cliff and free-falling hundreds of feet through the air no doubt stretched the limits of the young man's courage.

All this flashed through Jim's mind in the span of a few seconds. Come on... Come on... He saw the ground up ahead, approaching with sickening haste. He had jumped off the cliff banking on one hope: the subdermal microchip. Jim had been briefed before departing the space vessel, and he knew that the shuttle had been rigged to boost the communicator signals of the landing party to aid in the Enterprise's transporter lock. However, the signal only worked with Jim's microchip and the hand-held communicators... neither of which Sandburg possessed. Supposedly, though, Mr. Scott was maintaining a transporter lock on Jim, so the Sentinel hoped that Kirk would act swiftly in calling for an emergency "beam up". If Jim had a hold of Sandburg at that time, his partner would be safely transported to the ship with him... in theory. Right now, it was a theory Jim was more than willing to bet his life on. If it proved faulty, well, then at least he'd go down with Sandburg.  Life for him without his Guide wouldn't be worth much, anyway.

It was with a cry of ecstatic relief that he registered the now-familiar tingling sensation of the transporter. Hoping to avoid another blackout, he quickly turned down his sensory dials and closed his eyes as the beam engulfed him.