On the Edge of Forever

Part Four

 


"Okay, help me up," Blair said, holding out his hand.

Jim reached down and grabbed Blair's outstretched hand, slowly pulling the younger man to his feet. The Sentinel eyed his partner critically as the anthropologist looked down at his feet, shifting his weight from side to side.

"I think I can make it," Blair said, looking up at Doctor McCoy. "My feet feel okay, actually. Still a bit sore, but not bad."

"Good, now put the boots on," McCoy replied, holding out a pair of moccasin-style.

Blair eagerly took the boots, smiling as he gazed at them appreciatively. "These really are awesome. I mean, who would have ever thought I'd be wearing shoes made on another planet!" Sandburg waggled his eyebrows at Jim, then lowered himself back to the ground to put on the boots. "And there's no WAY I'm letting Sneaks get a hold of these."

"I don't think he's into moccasins, Chief," Jim commented.

"Sneaks?" Kirk raised his eyebrows, looking at the two men expectantly.

"An informant," Jim elaborated. "He has a thing for sneakers."

"Vhat are sneakers," Chekov asked.

Blair sighed. "Shoes. Don't tell me sneakers have gone out of style."

Chekov shrugged. "Vell, shoes are still in style," he said, grinning.

Blair groaned. "Thanks for the tip," he said, then pointed down to Jim's Nike's. "Those are sneakers."

All eyes turned downward to gaze at the Sentinel's shoes.

"Go ahead, Jim," Blair said, grinning. "Why don't you spin around and show us all."

Jim swatted the top of Blair's head. "How 'bout I spin you around?"

Blair chuckled. "Hey, man, no need for violence."

Sandburg finished tightening the leathery straps on the moccasins. He didn't actually know what materials the moccasins were made from, but it felt a lot like leather. With another smile, he looked up at Jim.

"Okay, one more time," Blair said, reaching up toward Ellison.

Once again, Jim yanked his partner to his feet. "Want a piggyback ride next?"

Blair raised his eyebrows, smiling. "Hey, man, halfway to the shuttle, I might take you up on that proposition." His smile widened. "Maybe I can even get Nagia to provide me with some make-shift spurs for these things."

Jim opened his mouth to reply when Nagia walked into the tent. She walked slowly over to Blair, her head low but her eyes bright.

"Je Tehs Heiran," she said, her voice touched with emotion.

Blair's smile faded, and his eyes reflected the sadness in Nagia's voice. "Me too," he said. "Thanks... for everything."

Nagia nodded. She reached out and placed one hand over Blair's heart. Then she grabbed Blair's left hand and placed it over her own heart.

"Yasever," she said, her voice soft.

"Good-bye," Blair replied. "I really will miss you."

"Heya teirnera yaberti."

Blair nodded. "I'm not sure how, but I'll try."

"Tiame hensal gerudna," she said.

Blair managed a small smile, nodding. Nagia stepped back, letting her hand fall to her side. Then with a final nod to the group, she turned and left the tent.

Jim cleared his throat. "What did she say, Chief?"

Blair pulled his gaze away from the exit flap and looked up at the Sentinel. "She said she'll miss us. She also said that now that I recognize my empathic abilities, I should work on developing and trusting my instincts."

"What does that mean?" Jim looked decidedly unhappy.

Blair shrugged. "I don't know. First Incacha, now Nagia. Why do I suddenly feel like Luke Skywalker after OB-Wan died," Blair lamented, his tone tinged with frustration.

Jim frowned. "What exactly are you thinking about, Chief?"

Blair raised his eyebrows. "What do you think I'm thinking about? I'm just kind of freaked out here, a bit. I mean, this telepathy thing is kind of... well... out there, you know? I mean, I know I'm not really telepathic. I can't read your mind, or anything. Still, I apparently have some kind of ability, but no one seems inclined to furnish an instruction manual. I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing."

Jim shrugged. "Just keep doing what you've been doing, Sandburg. So far, it's worked." One side of his mouth twitched upward. "Or you could just use the force."

A hint of a smile touched Blair's eyes. "I'll take that under advisement, Jim. Maybe I can even figure out that 'old Jedi Mind Trick' and get you to lighten up on the house rules."  His eyes widened with sudden glee. "Hey, imagine what fun I could have with Simon!"

Jim shook his head. "Don't let this go to your head, Chief," he said, teasing. "I mean, your instincts aren't foolproof. Need I remind you of your past romantic encounters?"

Blair narrowed his eyes. "Why you gotta hurt me, man?"

Jim chuckled, slapping Blair on the back and walking toward the tent exit. "Because you make it so easy, Chief," he replied. "Come on, let's go say good-bye to the rest of the village."

Jim ducked out of the tent, followed by Blair and the rest of the Enterprise party. Outside, Kirk, Jim, and the security guards did a quick visual scan of the area. Jim then opened up his hearing and listened for signs of trouble.

"All clear," he said.

A group of warriors crowded around the party.

"No sign of Skalas, Keptin," Chekov said, keeping an eye on his tricorder. "But the interference is still steady, so I can't be sure."

"I am," Ellison said. "If he's here, he's not close."

One of the warriors, apparently a leader, stepped forward and slammed the tip of his spear on the ground. He looked at Kirk, then Jim, then let his gaze drift over the rest of the party.

"Yahnara seimen gidin ela nariadha," he proclaimed.

"He says we are honorable men and he is happy to have crossed our paths," Blair translated.

"Eyn teifhela beirnadin ryecen."

"We are welcome here anytime."

Kirk nodded. "Thank you. Your people have been most gracious."

Blair looked suddenly uncertain. He looked back at the warrior and stared silently at him for a couple of seconds, meeting the large man's strong gaze. Finally, the warrior bowed, and Blair breathed a sigh of relief.

"I've never really tried that with anybody other than Nagia," Blair said. "I wasn't quite sure how it worked." He flashed a brief smile. "I still have no idea how to speak the language... well, other than a few basic words."

Kirk smiled. "You're doing pretty good from my perspective, Mr. Sandburg."

Sandburg beamed. "Thank you, Captain."

The warrior group parted, allowing the Enterprise party a clear path. With another thankful nod, Kirk led the way out of the village. They headed off slowly, mindful of the limping anthropologist.

"It was kind of like having shore leave, here, Jim," McCoy commented, "but I'll be happy for a nice bed back on the Enterprise."

"Me too," Kirk and Ellison responded in unison, then exchanged amused looks.

McCoy smiled. "Make that Captain."

"Not good enough," Blair said, his eyes twinkling. "Jim was a Captain, too. Maybe we should just call both of you Captain Jim."

Kirk threw the young anthropologist a lingering, casual look. "You know, Mr. Sandburg, the concept of walking the plank has not entirely dissipated."

Blair's smile dropped. "Uh... Captain Jim is a negative. Got it."

Both Ellison and Kirk chuckled.



A little over an hour later, the group arrived at the Galileo shuttlecraft. Blair was limping badly by that time, and Ellison had offered to help support the young man several times, but Blair seemed determined to complete the trip on his own.

"Oh man, finally!" Blair limped the final few feet to the shuttle craft, then leaned against the hull, closing his eyes.

"You okay, Chief," Jim asked.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, but I wanna soak my feet in something when we get back to the ship," he said.

"I have just the thing," McCoy said. "Don't worry, ten minutes in sickbay, and your feet will feel much better."

Blair opened his eyes and gazed at the doctor. "You know, you could make a killing in my time. No needles.. that's a plus."

McCoy shook his head. "Stone knives and bearskins. Amazing."

"Tell me about it," Blair mumbled.



Blair hopped off the sickbay exam bed. "This is incredible!" He bounced, apparently testing out his feet. "Whatever that stuff is, it's amazing."

"Trade secret," McCoy said. "But you still wanna go easy. The cuts aren't completely healed yet, so don't go running any marathons."

"And no chasing ladies, Chief," Jim admonished.

As if on cue, Nurse Chapel walked in. "Here are those reports, Doctor," she said, handing McCoy a disk.

"Thank you, Christine," McCoy said, then glanced at Sandburg. "Blair, I don't think you've ever been conscious and in my sickbay long enough for me to introduce you to Nurse Chapel."

Blair smiled broadly, extending his hand. "I'm Blair Sandburg. Nice to meet you."

Christine mirrored Blair's smile. "Yes, I know who you are, but it is finally nice to speak with you."

Blair eyes darted quickly to Christine's short skirt, then shot back up to her face. "Thank you," he said.

She winked, then turned around and headed out of sickbay.

Blair chuckled. "Oh man, are those the women's uniforms?"

McCoy raised his eyebrows admonishingly. Jim simply shook his head in consternation.

"Just take it easy, Don Juan," Jim said.

"And keep in mind that all of our officers have combat training," McCoy added.

A mischievous glint touched Blair's eyes. "Hey, I am definitely down with that."

McCoy creased his brow, looking suddenly confused. "Excuse me?"

"He approves," Jim translated.

"Ah," McCoy said. "I see."



Jim awoke to the sound of screaming. He shot out of bed, instantly alert, and, abruptly, the screaming ceased. Just as abruptly, light flooded the room, sending bolts of pain into his skull. He clamped his eyes shut, cursing inwardly. He'd forgotten to turn off the motion sensors for the lights.

"Lights off!"

Instantly, the room went dark, and Jim opened his eyes. A soft thud reached his ears, and he focused on the connecting door to Sandburg's quarters. Kirk had graciously relocated Jim to different quarters so that he could remain close to Sandburg.

Sandburg.

Jim flew toward the door, and it slid open at his approach. The lights in Sandburg's room were on, but Blair was nowhere to be seen. His bed was empty, the covers crumpled on the floor.

"Blair?"

He stretched his hearing, encountering the ragged sound of breathing accompanied by a frantic heartbeat. The bathroom. He rushed over to the closed door of the bathroom, but it did not slide open. He knocked hard on the door.

"Sandburg? You okay?"

Inside, he heard his Guide's heartrate skyrocket. After a couple of seconds, Blair's soft reply reached his hears.

"Yeah, Jim. I'm fine." A deep breath. "Go back to bed."

"Open the door, Chief."

"It's locked?"

"Apparently."

"I'm okay, really. Just go back to bed," Blair's voice insisted.

Jim sighed. "I will, just as soon as you open the door."

Several seconds passed with no response, and Jim was just about to pound again on the door when it slid open. Blair leaned against the bulkhead door frame, his face pale and etched with fatigue. The thin nightshirt he wore was soaked with perspiration. Damp curls of his hair hung limply around his shoulders.

Jim frowned, releasing a low sigh. "You wanna tell me about it?"

Blair shook his head tiredly, pushing himself off the bulkhead and walking to his rumpled bed. "I'm sorry I woke you," he mumbled, then allowed himself to fall forward onto the bed, his head hitting the pillow. "Just go to bed."

"Come on, Chief, after what happened last time..." his voice trailed off. Last time your dream almost killed you.

Blair rolled onto his back and gazed at the Sentinel. "That was different, you know that." His eyelids fluttered. "I'll tell you about it in the morning, if you want," he said, his voice heavy with fatigue.

After a brief hesitation, Jim nodded. "Okay, buddy, tomorrow morning." Or whatever passes for morning on this ship, he thought.



A strange buzzing noise woke Jim from his sleep. Damnit, Sandburg! How many times did he have to tell the kid to keep the alarm down and hit it pronto? He opened his eyes, just then realizing he wasn't in his room at the loft.

"Kirk to Ellison," came the disembodied voice of the Captain. "Kirk to Ellison."

Slowly, he got out of bed, following the voice to the small computer terminal on the table. He looked at the small array of buttons on the terminal and figured he had to press one of them. One was blinking, and he supposed that was the one he should press, so he did.

"Ellison here."

"I trust you slept well, Detective?"

"Is there something you wanted?"

"Yes, I'm sending an escort to your quarters to escort you and Sandburg to the briefing room in one hour."

Jim raised one hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What for?"

He cocked his head, listening to Sandburg's breathing in the other room. It sounded like the kid was still asleep, and Jim hated to wake him just yet.

"We need to get your accounts of what happened on the planet with Skalas. We also need to hear Sandburg's official story of his abduction... for the record."

Jim sighed. "I don't suppose this can wait a couple more hours? Sandburg's still asleep."

There was a brief pause. "Okay, I'll give you two hours, Detective."

"Thank you." His voice dripped sarcasm.  He wanted to talk to Blair about last night, but it appeared that he wouldn't get the chance to do so until later.

Kirk ignored the sarcasm. "You're welcome, Detective. We'll have breakfast for you."



Two hours later, both men were showered and dressed. On schedule, the call button buzzed, announcing the presence of their escort. Blair glanced nervously at Jim, his eyes lined with fatigue.

"So how long is this thing gonna last," the anthropologist asked.

"Don't know, Chief. It depends on how many questions they have," he said, walking to the door.

"I guess it's just like giving a statement," Blair mused, following Jim to the door.

The door slid open, revealing a large security guard with short brown hair and dark eyes. He smiled, but the gesture seemed forced. "The Captain has requested your presence in the briefing room."

"We know," Blair said, moving to stand next to Jim. He gestured into the hallway with one hand. "Lead the way."

The guard nodded and spun on his heals. Jim and Blair followed him down the corridor. Blair took the opportunity to get his first good look at the corridors of the ship and the normal duty personnel. He'd been so tired last night after his visit to sickbay that he'd practically been a walking zombie, so his trip to the dual quarters was somewhat hazy in his mind.

Now, however, the corridor was alive with activity. Men and women in various colorful uniforms - red, blue, or yellow - passed him, and he gave particular notice to several of the young women in the miniskirts. Jim wore the clothes he'd been "picked up" in. Kirk had provided them each with a few extra clothes, including pajamas, and had Jim and Blair's regular clothes laundered. Unfortunately, Blair's jeans and shirt had been torn and singed, and he still hadn't gotten them back. He wondered if there was anything the Enterprise crew could do to salvage the battered clothes. Looking around, he managed a small smile. Hell, they can apparently go faster than light and travel through time. I'm sure they can sew up the few holes in my clothes.

In the meantime, he wore a pair of black uniform pants and a blue tunic. He opted to wear the moccasins instead of the black uniform boots simply because the moccasins were more comfortable and, as Doctor McCoy had said, his feet weren't one hundred percent yet.

The three men stepped into the elevator, though it didn't look like a normal elevator. A young blonde woman in a blue skirted uniform smiled at the men as the doors closed. She moved closer to the wall, giving the three men more room in the small lift. Blair returned her smile. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, and he wondered what rank and position she held.

"Level Two," the guard said, and the lift hummed to life.

Politely, Blair extended his hand. "Hi. Blair Sandburg. You are?"

Her smile brightened. "Jane Nagoya." She shook his hand.

"Nagoya. That's an unusual name. It's very pretty."

She tilted her head in acknowledgment. "Thank you, and I do know who you are, Doctor Sandburg. Most of the ship does, by now. I looked up some of your published writings and, must say, I'm becoming a fan."

Blair actually blushed, ignoring the admonishment in his partner's amused glanced. "Uh.. well, it's not 'Doctor' yet. Blair's fine... So what writings would those be?"

One hand shot to her mouth. "Oh how stupid of me," she said. "I guess I'm restricted to talking about your early works."

Blair thought back. His early works weren't very good, at least not in his view. "Well, my first paper was about a small tribe in Bali."

She nodded her head. "Yes, I read those, but when I say early works, I guess that would be contemporary for you."

Blair glanced quickly at Jim. That would be the Sentinel work, even though he hadn't yet published the material. He still wasn't used to talking openly about Jim's Sentinel abilities, but it seemed like everyone on the ship knew about Jim's senses.

The lift stopped, and the guard stepped out, followed quickly by Ellison. Blair lingered for only a second.

"Well, nice chatting. Maybe I'll see you around," he said.

She smiled. "That would be nice."

"When do you -- hey!" He felt a hand grip his arm and found himself being pulled out of the lift. As the doors closed, he heard the young woman chuckle. Blair followed the arm up to its owner. "Thanks a lot, Jim. I was in the middle of something there."

Jim put on an expression of long-suffering tolerance. "I know, but I don't want to tell the Captain we were late because you were trying to fill your little black book."

The guard chuckled, and Blair simply threw him a deadly glare before turning his gaze back to Jim. "My black book's back home. I was just trying to.. you know..." he smiled, waggling his eyebrows, "get in a few social observations. I mean, this is an entirely different culture, and as an anthropologist, I'm simply trying to learn about the, uh, natives."

Jim chuckled, pulling Blair along the corridor. "Oh, is that what you're calling it now."

They arrived at the briefing room several seconds later, walking into a room slightly larger than the first 'briefing room' Jim had visited. The table was larger, and filled with plates of what appeared to be colored cubes of food... at least, it smelled vaguely like food to Jim's sensitive nose, but he couldn't precisely identify the scent. He figured the cubes were probably unique to the twenty-third century.

Kirk, McCoy, Chekov, Uhura, Spock, and Scotty all sat around the table. Kirk rose, gesturing to the two empty seats on the far side of the table.

"Gentlemen," Kirk said, "please have a seat."

Jim and Blair walked around the table, and Jim gestured to the chair next to McCoy. "You can sit here, Doctor Sandburg."

He expected a smile from his partner, and when he didn't get it, he frowned, suddenly noticing the pallor of his friend's face. Blair didn't even look at him, and Jim followed the young man's gaze to Mr. Spock.

Oh damn. I forgot. He hadn't reminded Sandburg about Spock. So much had happened since Jim had mentioned the difference between Romulans and Vulcans, that the Detective doubted Blair even remembered -- and Sandburg obviously didn't remember his previous encounter with the Vulcan.

Spock noticed Blair's scrutiny and raised an eyebrow. "Are you all right, Mr. Sandburg?"

Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder and pushed him down into the chair. "Sandburg, that's Mr. Spock, the first officer. He's a Vulcan, not a Romulan."

That got Blair's attention, and he turned to look at the Sentinel. "Huh?"

"Remember, when I was sifting through the heart beats to find T'Sal? I had told you about the difference between Romulans and Vulcans." Jim took his seat. "Just think of China and Japan and the difference between the two. It's sort of like that."

A bit of color seemed to return to Blair's face, and he nodded, looking back at Spock. "Oh, yeah. I remember now."

"The Vulcan culture is one of peace and logic," Spock explained, his voice flat.

Blair tilted his head, obviously intrigued, his earlier apprehension apparently giving way to curiosity. "Oh?" He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "Logic? How so?"

"Emotions often lead humans to make irrational decisions. Vulcan culture has developed to the point where logic replaces emotion," Spock explained.

McCoy snorted. "In other words, he never smiles and he thinks he's always right."

Spock raised an eyebrow, turning his cool gaze to Doctor McCoy. "I do not claim to always be right. However, Doctor, I must point out that, statistically, my deductions of logic have been consistently more accurate than your leaps of emotional epiphany. As for smiling, I have found that humans smile with very little provocation. I have further discovered, that, like many other things, humans often use their facial expressions to convey deceit. Vulcans, on the other hand, do not lie. It is not logical."

Blair smiled -- he couldn't help himself, even after Spock's speech on the merits of the gesture. "Well, studies have shown that a simple smile can lower one's blood pressure and even positively affect the immune system. A genuine smile can also have a similar affect on others to whom it is directed. So, in that sense, wouldn't it be logical to smile more often?"

Spock turned to look at Blair, his face registering a certain surprise, if that was possible. "I have never heard that argument, and I am impressed by the logic of it. However, we Vulcans need not smile to affect our physiological processes, as those things are controlled by the brain and the brain can be controlled by the mind."

Blair's eyes sparked with excitement, and he leaned forward even more. "I completely agree, and I'm always telling Jim that very thing to help him control his senses," he threw an admonishing glance at the Sentinel, "but all he gives me is grief." He punctuated that last remark with a smile directed at Jim.

Jim's steely gaze was his only response, but he soon turned his attention to the cubes of food on the various plates. There was an empty plate and glass in front of each person, and Jim's stomach was making itself known. He reached out to sample the food, selecting one of the cantaloupe-colored cubes.

"Hey!" Sandburg slapped Jim's hand. "Wait up."

Jim yanked his hand back in surprise, glaring at Blair. "What the hell's the matter with you?"

Sandburg gestured at the food, his expression serious. "Need I remind you of what one imported bottle of water did to your senses?"

Jim sighed, his eyes narrow. "I'm hungry, and it's food," he growled.

Blair ignored Jim's comment, turning to the Doctor. "What is this food? Jim's senses can react adversely to chemicals and the like."

McCoy raised his eyebrows, obviously intrigued. "Well, all of it should be pretty harmless. These are synthesized nutrient cubes. They do have artificial flavors, but nothing like what you would encounter in your century. All of the ingredients have been proven safe for a wide variety of species. They should be fine for Ellison."

Jim snatched a few cubes quickly, throwing his partner a look of mock-irritation. "Happy now? Can I eat without being battered?"

Blair threw Jim a sarcastic smile. "Go ahead, stuff yourself, big guy."

Jim swung his arm toward the food, slapping Blair on the top of the head before selecting more cubes.

"Hey!" Blair rubbed the top of his head, doing his best to look genuinely hurt. "Now who's battering?"

The table erupted with laughter, and Blair grinned, ducking his head bashfully. Jim simply smiled contentedly and finished selecting his food.

"You eating, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah," Blair said, making his own selections. He wondered if the colors tasted different, so he chose one of each. Then he grabbed one of the bottles of liquid and filled his glass. "What's this," he asked, lifting his glass.

"That is water," McCoy said. "The other bottle contains Guada juice, a fruit alien to Earth."

Jim reached for the Guada juice.

"Hey, man if your ears start ringing or you start seeing little green men, don't take it out on me," Blair admonished.

Jim filled his glass. "Chief, we're in space. If I start seeing little green men, they could be real." He glanced at Spock. "No offense."

Everyone but Spock chuckled. The Vulcan simply nodded his head in acknowledgment.

Blair poked one of the cubes with a fork and popped it in his mouth. Jim stared at Sandburg expectantly, waiting for the young man to swallow his food.

Finally, he asked, "Well?"

Blair nodded. "It's good."

"Good? Can you be a bit more specific? Your definition of 'good' can be frightening."

"Ha. Ha." Sandburg shrugged. "Tastes kinda like a carrot, but a bit sweeter." He jerked his chin toward Jim's plate. "Go ahead, you're hungry, remember?"

Jim scowled and stabbed a yellow cube with his fork. He placed the cube in his mouth and bit down hesitantly. After only a moment, he made a distasteful face and swallowed, glaring at Blair. "Carrot? This tastes like that weird cheese you eat."

Sandburg chuckled, raising his hands in the air. "Hey man, don't go postal. You asked me what mine tasted like. My cube was orange. Yours was yellow."

Kirk chuckled. "The different colors signify different flavors. The blue one tastes a little like turkey, and the green tastes like spinach."

Jim nodded. "I can handle those," he said, pushing the two remaining yellow cubes to the side of his plate.

He decided to try the juice next, and raised the glass to his lips, taking a slow sip. Blair watched him studiously, gauging his reaction. The fruit juice tasted a bit like mango, but not as sweet.

He swallowed, smiling approvingly. "Very good."

"I thought you might like it," Kirk said. "Now I suppose I should introduce Mr. Sandburg here to the rest of the crew." He gestured to Spock on his left. "You know Mr. Spock, my first officer, next to him is Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer."

Uhura tipped her head. "It's a pleasure, Doctor Sandburg."

Blair smiled. "It's not Doctor yet. Blair's fine."

She nodded. "Okay, Blair it is."

Kirk continued. "Then there's Commander Scott, Chief Engineer."

"Nice to meet ya, laddie," Scottie said. "I trust ye feel better?"

Blair nodded. "Much. Thanks."

"And you already know Ensign Chekov, navigator," Kirk finished.

Blair nodded, taking a sip of his water. Then he looked back at Spock and put his glass back on the table. "You know, I keep thinking I know you, but I realize that's impossible." He cocked his head, gazing intently at the Vulcan.

"We did meet briefly before, but you were not exactly coherent at the time," Spock explained.

Blair furrowed his brow, trying to recall the memory. After a brief moment, his eyes widened and his face colored. "Oh man." He quickly burrowed his face in his hands and shook his head. "I am SO sorry."

Jim patted Blair on the shoulder. "You never told me you wanted to be a surgeon, Chief," Jim teased, trying to lighten the situation.

"No apology is needed, Mr. Sandburg," Spock said.

Blair looked up at the Vulcan, forcing a small smile. "Thanks, but I still feel like an idiot."

"So how much do you remember," Jim asked.

Blair looked sheepishly over at Jim. "Uh, well, just waving the scalpel in the air." He creased his forehead. "And something about the Good Guys."

Jim chuckled. "Your brain clings to the strangest facts."

"Where did I get a scalpel, anyway," Blair asked, looking at McCoy. "I thought you didn't use those?"

"Antiques," McCoy explained. "They were hanging on the wall for display."

"Oh. Sorry," Blair said, then glanced back at Jim. "I... I didn't hurt anybody did I?"

Jim shook his head. "No, Chief, you didn't hurt anybody."

"Now to change the subject," Kirk began. "I would like to get your statements for the record."

Jim and Blair both looked at Kirk. Jim's gaze was cool, his expression flat. Blair, on the other hand, looked distinctly nervous.

"Okay," Jim said. "Where do we start?"

"Computer," Kirk said.

"Working," came the mechanical, feminine voice.

"Begin recording."

"Acknowledged."

Kirk looked at Blair. "I'd like to start with you first. I know you already went over a lot of this in Sickbay, but can you tell us how you were abducted and what happened afterward up to the point of your arrival on the Enterprise?"

Blair swallowed. "Sure... I was, uh, walking to my car in the parking lot of Rainier University. It was dark out, maybe around nine p.m. at night. I heard a woman cry for help, and I dropped my backpack and went to check it out. I think something hit me from behind, but I don't really remember. Then I woke up in a small room. It had a doorway, but no door. I couldn't see anybody, so I called out, but no one answered. I was a bit dizzy, but I stood up and walked to the doorway. Something threw me backward."

"That would likely be a force field," Spock informed Blair. "A most unpleasant experience, I imagine."

Blair nodded. "Oh yeah. Anyway, I woke up in what I guess was sickbay. It looked a lot like the sickbay here, anyway. Skalas was standing over me and he started asking me questions about Sentinels. He said he had my zip disk with my notes. I protected the disk, but I guess it's not much protection against twenty-third century computers."

"That would be an accurate assessment," Spock interjected.

"What did you tell him," Kirk asked.

"Nothing much," Blair said. "Actually, I can't really remember, but I do remember refusing to give him information. That's when he put me in restraints and used the.. the agonizer." His voice cracked on that last word, and he took a long sip of his water.

"Do you remember specific questions that Skalas asked you," Kirk asked.

Blair took a deep breath. "Not really. I just remember him wanting to know about Jim and Sentinels. I can't remember specifics." He furrowed his brow, then continued. "Uh... actually, I do remember something else... Skalas asked me about a woman. He asked if I knew who Janet... uh...Janet..." He shook his head. "I can't remember her last name, but it started with an 'E.'"

Kirk nodded. "Yes, we know about her. Do you remember anything specific about Skalas' interest in your Sentinel work?"

"No," Blair replied.

"How did you get in the shuttle," Kirk asked.

"Well, uh, after I spoke with Jim on the bridge, the guards were taking me back to my cell when the ship lurched. I hit the wall and, when it stopped shaking, I saw that one of the guards was down. I grabbed his sidearm, but the other guard had me covered. He told me to drop it. I didn't really see that I had a choice. I mean, where was I gonna go? So I dropped it, and that's it. The next thing I remember is waking up in the shuttle. There was a lot of smoke, and I saw a Romulan woman at the console. I unstrapped myself from the seat and went up to her. Her forehead was cut, and she was bleeding green. Some alarm started, saying something about the engine core being unstable..." he narrowed his eyes in concentration. "I figured it didn't sound good, whatever it was, and pulled her out of the shuttle. It blew up and I was thrown to the ground. I woke up later, and that was when Jim arrived. Skalas threw me over the cliff, and... well... I guess that's it. We were beamed up here, right?"

Kirk nodded. "That's right. Anything else you want to add?"

Sandburg shook his head. "No, nothing I can remember."

Kirk nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Sandburg."

Blair looked surprised. "Is that all?"

"For now. We'll also need to get your account about what happened after Skalas beamed you and Ellison off the Enterprise, but that will be done separately, starting with Ellison."



A little over an hour later, Blair and Jim finished giving their respective statements. They sat around the briefing room table, listening to Mr. Spock's report on the anomaly.

"The next window will open in 20.4 hours," Spock informed them. "If we enter the anomaly at one quarter impulse power we should arrive at roughly the same point in time from which Sandburg and Ellison were abducted. It will, of course, be imperative that we arrive after our departure."

"So you don't run into yourselves, right," Blair asked.

Spock nodded. "Yes, and, of course, so that we can return you and Detective Ellison to Earth after the point at which you left."

Jim's head was beginning to throb, so he opted for a wisecrack. "Two of Sandburg... there's a scary thought."

Blair threw Jim a deadly look. "I'd like to see you stand five minutes in a room with your double," the anthropologist retorted. "There'd be bloodshed."

A few minutes later, the meeting finally came to a conclusion. Both Blair and Jim were eager to get back to their quarters and relax, but McCoy, apparently, had other plans. As the two men rose from the table, McCoy turned to Sandburg and glanced down at the young man's moccasins.

"How are your feet," the doctor asked.

Blair nodded. "Fine, thanks."

"Sleeping okay?"

"Like a baby," Blair lied.

McCoy did not look convinced. "Is that why your eyes are red and you have bags beneath them?"

Jim cleared his throat. "No he didn't sleep much last night."

Blair threw Jim an irritated glance. "I would like to get some sleep now, if you two don't mind."

McCoy nodded. "Good idea, but why don't you come down to sickbay and let me do a follow-up first?"

Blair shook his head. "I'd really just like to go back to my quarters. It's been a long morning."

"I'm sure you would, but sickbay first young man," McCoy insisted. "Are you forgetting that your heart almost stopped the night before last?"

Jim clenched his jaw. Blair stared at the floor.

"Come on, son," McCoy prodded, steering the young man toward the door. "No needles, and I'll make it fast."



Blair put his shirt on and gazed quizzically at the doctor. "See, I told you. I'm fine."

McCoy scowled at the young man, then threw an exasperated look at Ellison, who simply shrugged.

"You need sleep, young man, so I'm giving you these pills to help--"

Blair raised his hands. "No sleeping pills, Doctor. I don't need them."

McCoy thrust the bottle in Blair's hand. "If I lived in your time, I'd stay far away from the supposedly medicinal drugs as well. Fortunately, medicine has advanced significantly in the past two hundred years. Take the damn pills. They'll help you sleep."

Blair managed a small smile. "Man, between you and Jim I can't get a moment's peace."

McCoy returned the smile, then his eyes grew serious. "I also suggest you speak with Mr. Chekov. He's had experience with the agonizer, and he can help you get through the after-effects."

Blair's face fell, and he looked away. "No really, I'm okay."

McCoy sighed. "Listen son, you've got about twenty hours before we return you to your century. You're not going to have access to the medical help you need, and, believe me, with the level of exposure you suffered to the agonizer, you're going to need some help. Your nervous system is still recovering, and you'll likely experience nightmares for some time. Take the help while you can, son. Okay?" He gently patted Blair's shoulder, then turned to Ellison. "And make sure he takes one before going to bed."

Jim nodded. "If I have to force it down his throat," he said, then his voice took on a more serious tone. "What you said about him not having the proper medical care in our century, what do you mean? How serious is it?"

"Don't worry," he said, glancing back and forth between the two men. "He's not in any danger, but his recovery would be faster and easier if he had the proper care. You have to understand that Mr. Sandburg was repeatedly subjected to intense neural stimulation and it will take time for his system to return to normal. The dose of diethylnaprosene I gave him is alleviating the symptoms, but once he's off that his sensitivity may increase."

Blair swallowed. "How?"

McCoy looked at the young man. "Well, your nervous system may react by increasing the amount of neural stimulation in response to pain. On the other hand, your neural pathways could be exhausted to the point where your reactions to pain decrease. In that case, you need to be extra careful. You could burn your hand and not feel it. Right now, your nervous system is in a hypersensitive state, but the drug is acting as a damper. However, that may change. As your nervous system readjusts, it could overcompensate. In time, it will return to normal, but, since your century does not possess the medical sophistication to aid the recovery, you'll have to tough it out, I'm afraid."

Blair appeared to digest the news calmly, but Jim heard the tell-tale increase in the young man's heartrate.

"You okay, Chief?"

Blair nodded a little too quickly. "Yeah, fine."

"However," McCoy continued, "I am going to talk to the Captain about allowing you to take some medication back with you to help with the recovery."

"You are," Blair replied. "Do you think he'll agree to it?"

Jim frowned, not liking the desperate tone in his partner's voice. McCoy's prognosis had obviously disturbed Sandburg, and Blair's sudden eagerness to submit to medication gave testament to the intensity of his distress.

McCoy sighed. "I honestly don't know, son. Jim's a reasonable man, but sending twenty-third century medications back to the twentieth century is not a decision the Captain will entertain lightly."

Blair's face fell. "Oh."

Jim cocked his head as if listening to some faint sound.

"But I intent to make the argument that Skalas' abduction and subsequent treatment affected you so adversely that to put you back in your native century without compensating for those affects would effectively act to alter your normal performance and, potentially, lead to changes in your timeline," McCoy said.

"Good argument," Kirk's voice replied.

Jim smiled at McCoy's expression of surprise.

"Captain, next time walk louder," McCoy complained.

Kirk smiled, his eyes drifting over the three men and finally settling on Mr. Sandburg. "If Doctor McCoy thinks it's best to send medication back with you, I'll approve it," he said. "But I must insist that you keep the medication in a secure location at all times. We can't have it getting into the wrong hands. Having someone develop the drug before its time would be a significant alteration to the timeline."

 "Okay," Blair said. "I can do that. No problem."



After having taken a two-hour nap, Blair decided he'd had enough of his quarters and decided to do a bit of exploring. Jim, on the other hand, was perfectly content in his quarters, saying he enjoyed the peace and quiet. Of course, Blair was on a military ship, which meant he couldn't just walk anywhere.  So, he stopped by Sickbay and hit the Doctor up for suggestions.

Fifteen minutes later Blair found himself in one of the Enterprise's rec rooms, escorted by Ensign Chekov.

"Ve have coffee, but I vouldn't recommend it," the Russian said with a smile.

"That's okay," Blair said, "I don't want anything."

Blair saw Spock and Kirk at a far table playing a board game he had never seen before. Curious, he walked over to the two men, standing silently behind the Captain to inspect the pieces of the various platforms.

Spock looked up from his game, fixing dark eyes on the anthropologist. "Would you like to sit with us?"

Blair smiled. "Just curious about the game. I've never seen anything like it, though the pieces look a bit like chess."

Kirk nodded. "Tri-dimensional chess. It's a bit more complicated than traditional chess."

Intrigued, Blair grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table and dragged it over, plopping himself down. Chekov apparently decided that Blair was taken care of and wandered off to a separate table where a group of off-duty officers were engaged in conversation.

"The basic principles are the same," Spock said. "The ultimate goal is to capture the enemy King."

Blair nodded. "I've played chess before, but how do the three levels fit in?"

As Spock explained the principles of tri-dimensional chess, Blair listened with silent fascination. Finally, Spock finished, and, at Blair's insistence, continued the game with the Captain.

Blair sat in rapt fascination, watching the game unfold in front of him. Spock was a shrewd player -- calculating and logical. However, Kirk gained the upper hand, apparently thwarting the Vulcan's strategies with leaps of unpredictability. An hour later, the game ended with Kirk as the victor. Blair had to suppress a smile at the look of consternation on the Vulcan's face. It was obvious to the young anthropologist that Vulcan's did indeed possess emotions, though they did a very good job of keeping them in check.

Resisting the urge to chuckle as he watched Spock study the fallen King, Blair said, "Um... I think I see your problem."

Kirk threw the young man a warning glare. "Shhh! This is just about the only thing I'm better than him at, and I'd like to hold onto it," he said, obviously suppressing a smile.

Spock simply raised an eyebrow in response to his Captain's teasing.

Blair laughed. "Okay! Okay! Far be it for me to upset the balance of power."

Kirk rose from the table, smiling good-naturedly. "Well, Mr. Spock and I have to get back to the bridge. However, I'm sure Mr. Chekov will be happy to play a game with you, if you like."

At the sound of his name, Chekov's head shot up and the Ensign looked over at the Captain.

"Uh, sure... but only if he wants to. I'm perfectly capable of entertaining myself," Blair said, not wanting to impose on Chekov.

Spock stood up, raising an eyebrow. "From the information I have been able to gather, leaving you to entertain yourself may prove a hazardous venture."

Blair was about to chuckle, then realized he'd been insulted and narrowed his gaze. "You know man, you get any funnier and you'll have to start selling tickets."

Kirk laughed, waving Mr. Chekov over. "I'll be sure to put security on alert," Kirk quipped.

Blair sighed, shaking his head. "I'm going to have some words with that partner of mine," he muttered. "He's obviously been talking behind my back."

Chekov approached, slipping into Kirk's now-vacant chair. "Actually, he mostly just growled before you got here."

That brought a smile to Blair's face. "Yeah, he can be a bit intense at times, but he's a good guy."

"So I've discovered," Kirk said, walking toward the door with Mr. Spock. "If you need anything, Mr. Sandburg," Kirk said, turning to look at the anthropologist before exiting the rec room, "just let Chekov or Doctor McCoy know. They'll take care of you."



Jim walked the corridors of the Enterprise, following McCoy's instructions to the rec room where Sandburg had gone. After nearly an hour alone, Jim had decided to check up on his partner. Besides, the detective was beginning to get a little bored and decided a change of scenery was in order.

The sound of music touched his ears, and, as he rounded a corner, he nearly bumped into Kirk and Spock.

"Captain," Ellison said, offering a curt nod. "Have you seen Sandburg?"

Kirk nodded, jabbing a finger behind him. "In the rec room playing chess."

Ellison cocked his head. "Chess? I hear rock and roll."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Rock and roll?"

Ellison sighed. "Music."

Kirk shook his head. "Well we only left him five minutes ago, he couldn't have gotten into that much trouble," he said, smiling. "Here, I'll escort you the rest of the way, then, unfortunately, Spock and I have to return to the bridge."

Ellison nodded. "Thank you, Captain," he said, following the two officers down the corridor.

They rounded another corner and Spock looked back at Ellison. "Ah yes, I hear the music now. Most intriguing."

"I don't," Kirk said, but, several seconds later he tilted his head and said, "Now I hear it."

Jim automatically turned down his hearing as he approached the closed rec room door. The lively rhythm of "Old time Rock and Roll" drifted through the corridor of the Enterprise. "That kinda music ain't got the same soul. I like that old time a rock and roll!" With a quizzical glance at Ellison, Kirk strode through the doors, followed closely by Ellison and Spock.

The three men stood in stunned silence as a room full of Starfleet officers and one twentieth-century anthropologist danced to the beat of music over two-hundred years old.  Jim's face broke into a smile as he watched his partner -- dressed absurdly in a blue uniform with moccasin boots -- dancing with a young blonde woman in a red uniform. Blair spun around and spotted Jim, who exercised a monumental force of will to muster a serious expression.

"Sandburg," he said, speaking above the music as he walked over to the young man. "What do you think you're doing?" He looked pointedly down at Blair's feet. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Chief, but didn't Doctor McCoy tell you to take it easy on your feet? I don't think dancing is taking it easy."

Blair smiled brilliantly, but continued to dance. "You're such a wet blanket, Jim. Chill out. Have some fun. Go dance with someone."

Jim did his best to glare at his Guide. "I don't dance, and that's not the point."

Finally, Sandburg stopped dancing, as did the young woman. With an exasperated sigh, Blair turned to Jim and said, "Man, you've really got to relax. I mean, come ON, Jim, stop hovering. Next you'll be telling me to wash behind my ears and tucking me into bed."

Jim raised his eyebrows, tilting his head to look at the side of Blair's head. "Speaking of which," he began, reaching a hand out toward Blair's left ear, "Looks like you missed--"

Blair slapped Jim's hand away. "You're psycho, man," he said, chuckling.

Jim finally let go of the facade and smiled, his eyes twinkling with amusement. With a glance at the young woman, he shook his head and said, "And you're incorrigible, Chief."

Blair winked, then bowed slightly as he gestured toward his female companion. "Jim, this is Janice."

Jim nodded. "A pleasure."

"It's good to finally meet you," Janice said.

"Well, it looks like everything is under control here," Kirk said, smiling. "Mr. Spock and I will be on the bridge." He headed toward the door, followed by his first officer.



Almost twenty hours later, Jim and Blair found themselves back in sickbay. McCoy insisted on giving Blair one final examination before the Enterprise deposited the two men back in the twentieth century. The temporal window, according to Mr. Spock, would open in less than an hour, and, hopefully, the Enterprise would enter the anomaly and emerge somewhere in twentieth century space -- hopefully somewhere near Earth. Unfortunately, Spock explained, the anomaly's unstable nature made travel through both time and space subject to unpredictable factors, and there was no guarantee the ship would emerge at the correct point in time and space. However, the vulcan had assured them that, according to his calculations, if the Enterprise entered the anomaly at one quarter impulse power approximately 2.12 minutes after the window opened, the ship should be deposited at approximately the same point at which it had left.

Now Blair sat on the examination table, fidgeting subtly as Doctor McCoy ran the medical scanner over him. Jim leaned against the far wall, observing the two men silently.

"Well, do I get a clean bill of health," Sandburg asked.

McCoy lowered the scanner, placing it on the table next to the bed. "Everything looks okay. Your feet and shoulder have healed nicely. As for your nervous system, your levels of neurotransmitters are pretty much back to normal, but your system's still a little sensitive to stimulus. I'll give you one more dose of diethylnaprosene before you go, then I'll send you back with a small bottle of pills. Take one pill in the morning and one at night for two days, then reduce it to one just before bed for another two days. Okay?"

Blair nodded. "If you say so, but I really feel fine."

McCoy looked up in exasperation. "Of course you feel fine," he grumbled. "Medication's a wonderful thing. I assure you, without the diethylnaprosene every sensation of pain would be amplified ten times."

Blair nodded, looking a shade whiter. "I'll take the pills. Thank you," he said, his voice suddenly hushed.

McCoy smiled gently, patting the young man on the shoulder. "Don't worry, son. Just follow your kindly Doctor's orders and you'll be back to normal in no time."

The intercom whistled, pulling McCoy's attention away from Sandburg, and, a moment later, Kirk's voice spilled out from the speaker. "Kirk to sickbay."

McCoy walked over to the intercom and hit the button. "Yes, Captain?"

"Are Ellison and Sandburg ready? The window will open in a little over thirty minutes," Kirk said.

"Yes, Captain, they're ready," he said, glancing back at Blair. "Sandburg's just about to change into his own clothes, and I've given him medication for the road."

"Very good, Doctor. Have someone escort them to the transporter room," Kirk ordered.

"I'll do it myself," McCoy said.



McCoy, Ellison, and Sandburg headed down the Enterprise's corridors toward the transporter room. The three men had just rounded a corner when the ship lurched violently, sending Blair and Jim careening into the wall and causing McCoy to stumble to the floor. Klaxons blared and red lights flashed angrily as Kirk's voice emanated from the ship-wide intercom.

"Battlestations! All personnel on alert! Ellison and Sandburg, report to the transporter room," the Captain's voice ordered.



"Report," Kirk barked, standing over Mr. Chekov.

The Russian glanced briefly up from his console and said, "Shields at eighty-two percent, Sir."

"Aim and fire phasers, Mr. Chekov," Kirk ordered, glancing at the Romulan battleship hanging against the backdrop of space on the forward viewscreen.

"Aye, Sir."

"Ship cloaking," Spock reported.

"Fire!"

On the viewscreen, the Romulan ship shimmered and then disappeared just as twin phaser beams lashed out from the Enterprise. The beams impacted, and the cloaked ship blinked into existence for a fraction of second, then promptly disappeared.

"Direct hit!" Chekov's hands flew over the console in preparation for another attack.

"Enemy ship no longer on our sensors, Captain. Impossible to gauge the level of damage," Spock reported.

"Shields at maximum. Mr. Chekov, the moment that ship de-cloaks, fire a wide spread of photon torpedoes. We'll only get one chance at this." Kirk turned to Mr. Spock. "How much time do we have before we miss our window?"

"Twelve-point-two minutes, Captain," Spock reported flatly.



Blair grabbed McCoy's hand, helping the Doctor to his feet. "What was that?"

"Probably an attack," McCoy said. "You two okay?"

Both men nodded.

"Okay then, let's get you to the transporter room. The Captain will need us ready on a moment's notice," McCoy said, walking quickly down the corridor as the two men followed.

A few seconds later, the ship bucked violently. The three men were thrown off their feet mid-stride, and McCoy and Blair hit the wall hard. Ellison rolled with the motion of the deck, landing unharmed as he pushed himself to his feet.

Jim whipped his head around, looking for McCoy and Blair. He found them both sprawled on the floor, Blair on his back and McCoy on his side. McCoy remained still, apparently unconscious, but Blair moaned, shifting carefully as he turned onto his side.

Jim knelt beside Doctor McCoy, using both his hearing and sight to inspect the Doctor for injuries. "You okay, Blair," he said, but kept his senses focused on the Doctor.

"Yeah," Blair mumbled, pushing himself over to the Doctor. "Oh no. How is he?"

Jim looked at the small gash on McCoy's forehead and said, "He's okay, just knocked out. Maybe a concussion."

He looked up at Blair, then tilted his head to listen to his surroundings. "We've got to get him help, but we've also got to get to the transporter room," Jim said, rising to his feet.

The ship lurched again, and this time Jim was thrown from his feet. His back hit the wall, but the ship bucked again, throwing him forward.

Jim's head spun, his ears ringing. "Damnit!" What the hell was going on up on the bridge?

"JIM!"

Blair's cry pierced through the ringing in Jim's ears, and his head shot up just in time to see a whir of motion as something slammed into him. He found himself being thrown back, and a loud crash sounded as the corridor erupted with fire and smoke.



"Captain, explosion in the engine room," Spock reported.

"What?" Kirk spun around to glare incredulously at the Vulcan. "What kind of an explosion?"

Spock remained hunched over as he studied the display readings. "It appears to be--"

"Engine room to bridge," Scotty's frantic voice sounded.

Kirk punched the button on his command chair. "Kirk here. What's going on, Scotty?"

"I dinna know for sure, Sir," Scotty replied, "but it looks like the Romulan impostor managed to set a charge before she left."

Kirk clenched one fist, glaring at the now-blank viewscreen. "I ordered a search, Mr. Scott, how the hell was the bomb missed?"

"I'm not sure, Captain."

Kirk sighed. "Status." His stomach clenched in a knot.

"We've got impulse engines only, Sir. No shields. Ye probably still got phasers, but no torpedoes."

"Enemy ship decloaking," Spock announced.

"Uhura open hailing frequencies," Kirk barked.

"Aye, Captain," the communications officer responded. "Open, Sir."

Kirk took a deep breath. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise to the Romulan cruiser. Respond."

After a brief moment, Uhura said, "They've hailed us, Sir."

"On screen," Kirk ordered.

The image of starry space on the viewscreen was replaced by the bridge of the Romulan ship. A greying Romulan commander sat in the chair, and, next to him, stood Skalas, his mouth twisted in a grin.

Kirk clenched his jaw. "Skalas."

"Captain," Skalas replied. "I am happy to be able to return the favor you bestowed upon my ship and crew."

Kirk stood rigidly next to his command chair. "We have advised Starfleet of your activities. I assure you, ships are on the way."

The commander in the chair raised his eyebrows. "I am Commander Ra'as, Captain, and, as you are well aware, this planet is on the border of the neutral zone."

"Just inside Federation space," Kirk amended. "You've committed an act of war, Ra'as."

"Oh I have?" He offered a polite smile. "Then I do hope you'll accept my apologies when I blow your ship out of space, Captain... Of course, if you surrender, I might be persuaded to spare your lives."

Kirk offered a deadly smile. "Not a chance."



Jim coughed as his lungs struggled for air. Smoke surrounded him, making his eyes sting.

"Sandburg," he croaked, suddenly acutely aware of the motionless weight on his chest.

A soft groan reached the Sentinel's ears, and he brought his hands up to feel along Sandburg's back, seeking out signs of injury.

"Sandburg, answer me," Ellison said, not daring to move for fear of aggravating any injuries his partner might have sustained.

"Jim?" Blair's voice was low and weak, and his voice raspy. "You okay?" He coughed, rolling carefully off of Jim.

"Yeah, fine," Jim said, pushing himself quickly off the deck so he could get a good look at Blair. "You?" He squinted, his vision penetrating the smoke to take in Blair's anxious face.

"Yeah," Blair croaked, succumbing to another coughing fit.

"Come on, let's get out of here," Jim said. "I don't know when that window is supposed to open or even if we're going to get the chance to take advantage of it." He grabbed Sandburg's arm and gently pulled him to his feet.

"McCoy," Blair rasped, pulling out of Jim's grasp and dashing deeper into the smoke.

Jim shook his head. How the hell had he forgotten about McCoy? "Sandburg!" Ellison rushed after Blair, navigating his way into the heart of the fire and smoke. "Sandburg!" His face stung with heat and his eyes watered profusely, forcing him to clench his eyelids shut against the biting smoke.

"Here, Jim!"

He followed Blair's voice, coughing violently as he made his way slowly down the corridor.

"I'm right here, Jim."

Something bumped into Jim, and he stopped, reaching out blindly. He felt a curly mop of hair and tightened his grip on Blair's shoulder.

"Let's go," Blair insisted, and Jim could hear the strain in his partner's voice.

Reaching down, Jim felt the limp figure in Sandburg's arms. Ellison grabbed the dead weight with his free hand and ran backward, his lungs screaming in protest as the smoke threatened to overwhelm him.



"Shut down engines and lower shields. Life support only," Kirk ordered. "Let us drift, but keep phasers ready."

Spock raised an eyebrow, familiar with his Captain's tactic, though he entertained doubts as to whether it would work in this situation. Fortunately, Kirk had only used the tactic once before, and, most importantly, not on the Romulans.

"Aye, Keptin," Chekov said.

The bridge lights flickered, then were replaced with the low back-up lights. Silence reigned on the bridge for several seconds, then Spock said, "Enemy ship is decloaking and arming photons."

"Target engines and fire," Kirk ordered. "Evasive maneuvers!"

Chekov's fingers danced over the console, and a fraction of a second later, the phasers ripped out, striking the Romulan ship directly on-target. The Enterprise careened to Starboard as one photon torpedo sailed passed its hull.

Chekov smiled, breathing a sigh of relief as he glanced at Sulu.

"Fire again and raise shields!"

"Enemy ship raising shields," Spock announced.

The phasers lanced out, striking the Romulan ship mercilessly across her bow.

"Romulan shields at forty percent. Engine damage. She can still out-run and out-gun us, Captain," Spock reported. "And we now have three minutes until the window expires."



Ellison carried Doctor McCoy over his shoulders as he ran toward the transporter room. There was no way to get the Doctor back to sickbay without going through the smoke and fire -- at least no way that Jim knew of -- so the Sentinel opted to kill two birds with one stone by taking McCoy to the transporter room with them.

Blair followed closely on Ellison's heals, and the Sentinel kept his ear tuned to his Guide. As a result, he knew the exact moment Blair stopped dead in his tracks, and heard the faint gasp behind him. Jim turned around, grunting with the effort of supporting McCoy's weight.

"Chief?"

Blair stood rigidly still, his eyes fixed on some distant point past Ellison's shoulder.

"Blair? What's wrong?!" Time was running out. If Kirk managed to get the situation under control, Jim and Blair needed to be ready and waiting in the transporter room.

When Sandburg didn't respond, Jim gently lowered McCoy to the deck and approached his Guide. He grabbed Blair's shoulder and gave the young man a gentle shake. "Sandburg! Snap out of it! What's wrong?"



Blair ran less than a foot behind Jim, his lungs still protesting the inhalation of smoke only moments before. Then, suddenly, he heard the call in his mind. So unexpected and intense was the message that it pushed all other thoughts aside, filling his mind with a sense of urgency. He stopped, frozen, focusing on the voice in his head.

'They are here, the bad ones.'

Images of decapitated bodies and the stench of burned flesh assaulted Blair's senses as the ghost of his dream returned in vivid detail.

'They prepare. They will destroy us.'

Blair stopped breathing.

"Have they hurt you?"

'No. They do not yet see us, but they will. They have the gift, barely, and they do not know it.'

Blair saw a group of Romulans emerging from a shuttlecraft several yards away. He counted three of them, each carrying sidearms.

'You are in danger,' the voice said. 'I sense it in your mind.'

Instantly, the events of the past few days flew through Blair's mind - his abduction, his torture, his time with the natives, and his return to the Enterprise. Blair's need to get back home shone clearly through the chaos of his mind, though he didn't will the thoughts into existence. Rather, they flashed involuntarily to the forefront of his consciousness.

'We will help you,' the voice said.

"No." He had a vague sense of what she planned to do, and he could not allow her to place herself and her tribe in such danger. If the Romulans found out...

'It is our way,' she said. 'Be ready. They have the ability, but it is very weak. They cannot hear our thoughts, and we cannot hear theirs, but it is in their nature, waiting. You are stronger than you think.'

Blair's lungs screamed, but his mind was only vaguely aware of the sensation.

"What--?"

The connection ended, but was instantaneously replaced with a stronger one. A flood of consciousness filled his mind, sending his sense of reality reeling chaotically. He found himself falling, but he did not hit the deck.



"Sandburg!" Jim shook Blair harder, panic clutching his chest as Blair continued to stare ahead, not breathing.

Without warning, Blair went limp, slipping out of the Sentinel's grasp and falling forward against Jim's chest. Ellison's arms wrapped around the young man, lowering him gently to the floor.

"Come on, Chief," Jim pleaded, giving Blair a gentle slap on the cheek. "Breath!"

A burst of air rushed out of Blair's lungs, and, suddenly, he started to breath again. Jim released his own sigh of relief as he listened to the wonderful sound of Blair's breathing. Sandburg's eyes opened, but his gaze was empty and fixed on the deck above.



Blair knew what to target, even if he didn't know exactly what needed to be done. His own consciousness seemed to drift among a river of alien thought and emotion, and he felt the distinct presence of a collective consciousness. One mind, in particular, stood out in that sea of awareness: Nagia.

The river flowed outward, seeking a source. It found that source on the alien ship, seated at the helm. Blair felt the man's emotions, but could not read his thoughts. A vague sensation of infinity skirted the edge of his consciousness, and he knew he existed as part of a larger whole. Nagia and her tribe were with him, using their mental talents collectively to offer a single suggestion to one telepathically-dormant alien



"Captain--" Spock stiffened at his post, then suddenly faltered, falling to his knees.

In an instant, Kirk was at the Vulcan's side. "What is it, Mr. Spock?"

Spock shook his head, allowing the Captain to help him into the chair. "I... I believe I felt a telepathic assault."

Kirk furrowed his brow, "An assault."

Before Spock could respond, Chekov said, "Enemy shields down, Sir!"

Kirk spun around, practically flying toward his command chair. "Fire phasers!"

The beams from the Enterprise struck the Romulan ship on her starboard side.

"Again," Kirk ordered.

Once again the phasers lashed out toward the Romulan ship.

"Enemy ship disabled, Captain," Spock said.

Kirk looked back in concern at his first officer. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, Captain," Spock said, sparing only a brief glance at his Captain before turning his attention back to his station.

"Time window, Mr. Spock?"

"Thirty-two seconds, Captain."

Kirk turned to Chekov. "Take us in, Ensign on Spock's mark. One quarter impulse power."

"Aye Captain."

Kirk punched the intercom on his command chair. "Kirk to McCoy. Come in McCoy... Doctor McCoy, please respond." Kirk waited several seconds, then punched the arm of his chair in frustration. "Kirk to Ellison. Come--"

"Ellison here. McCoy was injured in an explosion. He's unconscious, but out of danger."

Kirk raised one hand to rub his eyes. "Where are you?"

"Somewhere between Sickbay and the transporter room," Ellison replied.

"Do you know how to get to the transporter room?"

"Yes, Captain, but Sandburg collapsed."

Kirk closed his eyes briefly. Was there any more bad news? "Damn. Looks like we'll miss our window. Stay there and wait for the medics."

"No, he's coming around, and his breathing and heartrate are normal. I don't think he needs immediate medical attention."

"Are you sure?"

A brief pause, then, "Yes. Just get ready, we'll be at the transporter room."

"Okay. Leave McCoy, I'll send medics for him."

"Acknowledged. Ellison out."

Kirk hit another button on the intercom. "Kirk to transporter room. Prepare for transport. Ellison and Sandburg should be arriving momentarily."



Blair groaned as Jim lowered him onto the transporter platform. He blinked, then shifted his eyes to meet Jim's anxious gaze.

"Jim?" He struggled to sit up, and Jim supported his back with one arm. "What happened?"

Ellison studied his partner critically. "You collapsed. I don't exactly know what happened.... Are you okay?"

Blair nodded, his brow furrowed. Suddenly his eyes went wide and he grabbed Ellison's arm. "Jim, it was Nagia. She contacted me. The whole tribe... I... I felt them. We made the helmsman lower the shields."

"You what?"

Blair's reply was cut off by the transporter technician. "Transport in ten seconds, gentlemen."

Jim and Blair both looked at the man. "What do we do," Sandburg asked.

"You can stay there or stand," the man said. "It'll work either way, just make sure you're on one of the circular pads."

Blair pushed himself to his feet and took his position on the pad next to Jim.

"You sure you're okay, Chief," Jim asked, studying his partner.

Blair nodded. "Don't worry about me, Jim. We'll talk once we're back home."

"Energizing," the officer said, then the two figures dissolved in a shimmer of light on the platform.



Jim and Blair materialized in the living room of the loft. Blair immediately looked at Jim, needing to reassure himself that the Sentinel arrived intact. He still wasn't too keen on this disassembling-reassembling thing. Sure, it was an awesome feat of technology, but having his atoms scattered across space and put back together at the mercy of some machine didn't exactly instill him with confidence.

"What the hell?"

Jim and Sandburg whirled around in surprise, seeing Simon standing frozen and wide-eyed in the kitchen.



The three men sat in the living room, with Jim and Blair on the couch and Simon in the armchair. Ellison had filled Simon in on their strange adventure, leaving out the details of Blair's torture and the discovery of his empathic abilities. Jim didn't know exactly what the discovery meant for Blair, especially since his abilities seemed to work only with other empaths... or telepaths... whatever. He didn't quite understand it.

Banks shook his head. "The only reason I'm even listening to this is because I saw you two... well... you know. So you're saying days have passed for you, but it's been only twenty four hours here?"

"Well, if you say we've been gone twenty-four hours, then I guess that's how long we've been gone," Jim said.

Banks sighed. "The department's been crazy looking for you. Forensics just left here a few hours ago, looking for some evidence of an abduction... anything." He paused, then looked pointedly at Blair. "You've been awfully quiet, Sandburg."

Blair seemed startled by the sound of his name. "Sir?"

"I said you've been quiet," he said, then his voice softened a bit. "You okay?"

Blair managed a small smile. "Yeah, Simon, I'm fine. Thanks." He rose from the couch. "But, if you two don't mind, I'm gonna head to my room. I'm really tired."

Jim stood up, walking over to his partner. "You sure you're okay," he asked, his voice whisper-soft.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, Jim, I'm fine... but whatever happened back there really wiped me out."

Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder. "You do still have the pills McCoy gave you, right?"

"Yes, I do. Don't worry, big guy, I'll make sure to take one before bedtime," he said, smiling. With that, he slipped out of Jim's grasp and disappeared into his room.

Jim turned around and walked back over to the couch, sinking into the cushions. He tilted his head back, releasing a tired sigh. "Simon, it already seems so unreal. I keep thinking I'll wake up tomorrow and realize it was all just a dream."

Banks leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Well, I definitely saw you two do that little magic trick." He shook his head. "I really don't need to know anymore. There's no way in hell we're filing a report on this. I'll think up something to tell the others tomorrow. First Sandburg, then you... an impromptu fishing trip won't cut it," he grumbled.

"Whatever," Jim said, "I'm sure you'll think of something."

"Take the rest of the week off," Simon said. "From what you've told me, you both can use it." He glanced at Sandburg's door, then lowered his voice a fraction. "Is the kid really all right? You said they interrogated him? And I heard you ask about some pills?"

Jim raised his head to look at the Captain. "He'll be fine, Simon, but, yeah, he had it rough. I'm not sure how this is affecting him. He's doing a damn good job of putting on his 'everything's cool' front." Jim shook his head. "Sandburg's something else. He... well, you should have been there, Simon. Maybe if he decides it's okay, we'll tell you all about it sometime. Right now, I just wanna make sure he's okay. The rest can wait."

Simon took a deep breath, then pushed himself to his feet. "I can see that you're tired," he said. "Call tomorrow to check in with me, but, otherwise, get some sleep and take it easy. Okay, Jim?"

Jim nodded, managing a small smile. It really did feel good to be home. "Thanks, Simon."

Simon let himself out, and Jim tilted his head back, casting a skeptical glance at the stairs leading to his room. Eventually, he'd get up from the couch and go to bed, but, at that moment, he just wanted to sit and enjoy the silence and the soft sound of Blair's breathing. Eventually, his eyes drifted closed, and he fell into a light, peaceful sleep.


Whew! So do you like it? And to think my little brain almost wanted to make it longer... but I had to put my foot down.
However, there may be an extended epilogue/sequel coming. If so, I'll post a summary of this story with it.
Oh, you want to know who that Janet Enquist person was?
Sorry, that information is classified to preserve the integrity of the Star Trek timeline *grin*