The ion storm dominating the bridge viewscreen only seemed to be growing larger, of course; actually it was coming closer. First Officer Spock examined the computer-generated image with suspicion. Storms in the area of the planet Halka were nearly always vicious and unpredictable. They were also frequent. Furthermore, the large deposits of dilithium on this pacifist world attracted the energy of any storm.
Three years ago, the Enterprise had visited Halka on behalf of the Federation Council, their mission to persuade the Halkan Council to allow dilithium mining on their planet. Upon beaming back to the ship during just such a storm as now filled the viewscreen, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Cmdr. Scott, and Lt. Uhura had found themselves in a savage mirror universe, while their counterparts from that universe had arrived on the Enterprise.
Since each group had materialized in appropriate uniforms, Captain Kirk managed, with some difficulty, to deceive the crew of the ISS Enterprise long enough to rig the transporter and escape. The four who appeared on the USS Enterprise, however, had been unable to adapt their violent behavior to the unexpected situation, and Spock had ordered them thrown – quite literally – into the brig, before they penetrated the ship any further than the transporter room. There they stayed until Spock had determined how to send them back where they belonged, and in the process retrieve his captain and the other officers. Analysis of sensor data recorded at the time indicated a strong possibility that the powerful storm, interacting with Halka’s dilithium deposits, had caused the transposition.
Spock recalled Kirk describing a fringed gold lamé bolero that he had worn in the Empire universe, as they had since referred to it. All in all a fascinating experience. Spock had been pleased to hear that his own counterpart was at least a man of integrity, though he experienced some difficulty visualizing a bearded version of himself.
Although the Halkans had refused mining rights, fearing their crystals would be used as components of weaponry, Kirk had now returned there on a similar mission. Federation scientists, Spock included, believed that unless the dilithium deposits were mined, or at least broken up and redistributed in smaller clusters over the entire surface of the planet, unstable conditions surrounding Halka would continue and grow more severe. Indeed, an infinite number of alternate universes were thought to coexist. During any storm, therefore, a door between this universe and some other could open – with results Spock considered unfortunate, no matter how interesting.
Transporting at the exact moment of an energy surge now seemed the time of greatest vulnerability; but Halka was a comparatively young planet, still geologically active. Conditions could only worsen until anyone on or near the planet would be in danger of falling victim to an inter-universe exchange.
Spock’s private theory, which he fully expected to see proved within his lifetime, was that the natural crystals had become supercharged, and now functioned as energy conductors much like the crystals in a starship. On a vastly larger scale, however.
While mentally reviewing the situation, Spock had been keeping track of the storm. It almost looks consciously malevolent, he thought, and immediately chastised himself for the illogic of ascribing such sentient motivations to a natural phenomenon.
Spock frowned and looked over his shoulder at Chekov. As science officer, Spock would have elected to remain at his own console. As second in command, he belonged in the center seat while Kirk was absent from the ship. I am as much divided by the exigencies of the chain of command as I am by my dual heritage. Now I must be patient and show trust in my subordinates. But why is he taking so long to make his report?
Spock returned to his study of the storm on the screen. It has either picked up speed, which would signify increased energy, or it is indeed expanding. He glanced at Chekov again. I cannot take over the sensors from him, but perhaps if I walk casually around the bridge, pausing at each console, he will ask for my advice when I reach the science station. That is what Jim would do.
Deliberately, Spock rose from the command chair and moved forward to glance quickly over Sulu’s shoulder at the helm settings. They were, as he expected, impeccably precise.
Sulu looked questioningly at him.
“Carry on, Lieutenant.”
The helmsman began a smile, but seemed to reconsider.
I inhibit him, Spock thought. Yet Jim insists Sulu has more fondness for me than for any other officer on the ship, including Jim himself.
The engineering displays came next on his route. Scott had assigned a new technician here under the watchful eye of Lt. O’Neil. Mindful of the approaching storm, Spock took his time, but saw only indications of flawlessly maintained equipment – the norm on the Enterprise, thanks to Mr. Scott. Someday I must find a suitable may to demonstrate my appreciation for his talent and efficiency.
Spock knew his captain would simply walk up to Scott, clap him on the back in that peculiar manner expressive of camaraderie among Human males, and say, “You’re doing a damn fine job, Scotty,” or, “You really earned your pay today, Engineer.”
Such emotional exhibitions did not lie within Spock’s social vocabulary, and he had no wish to enlarge it to such an extent. Perhaps a gift. I do not approve the unbridled consumption of alcohol, but he often mentions the special bottle of Scotch whiskey he sacrificed to the cause of victory over the Kelvans.
Uhura also smiled at him, but openly as Sulu had not, when he paused at the communications console. She accepts me as I am, and refuses to modify her own Human instincts because of me. Like Jim. He nodded to acknowledge her smile and moved on.
Chekov, his face buried in the viewer, continued to be engrossed by his sensors. It required 28.5 seconds for him to notice Spock standing beside him. “Eet is picking up energy from somevhere, Meestair Spock, but I cannot figure out vhy. I vould walue your opinion, sair.”
Spock had long since grown used to the young Russian’s accent which, among other oddities, reversed the sounds of v’s and w’s. Indeed, he thought, assuming the seat Chekov had vacated, he can be most tactful – when he is not discussing his native region on Earth or females of his acquaintance.
After studying the sensor data in direct feed for a time, Spock made some range adjustments and narrowed the penetration angle, then bent to the viewer again. As I suspected. He leaned back. “Look now, Ensign.”
Chekov bent over until the blue light from the sensor display bathed his face. “It’s not one storm, but two!”
“Precisely. One behind the other, and obscured by it so long as the sensors were tuned to wide-angle focus on the center of the lead disturbance. The reciprocal exchange of ionized particles between the two storms accounts for the increase in energy and speed.” Spock stood. “Continue observations, Mr. Chekov.”
Spock settled himself in the center seat once more. The double storm would be dangerously near in l5.8 minutes, assuming its rate of approach continued to accelerate by present increments. His captain should be warned. On the other hand, Kirk might be at a critical point in the negotiations, and he was due to check in at 747l.385, only twelve minutes away. Spock waited. As a precaution, he sent Mr. Scott to the transporter room. Then he waited again – through the twelve minutes, a thirteenth, and the beginning of a fourteenth.
“Contact in 2.5 minutes, Mr. Spock,” Chekov said.
Spock turned his head to the left. “Lt. Uhura, please attempt to raise Captain Kirk.”
“Captain Kirk is calling us, sir.”
Spock heard a faint click when, without being told, Uhura transferred the call to the command chair speaker. He depressed a button on the arm of the chair. “Spock here, Captain.”
“Ready to beam me up, Spock?”
“Sir, an intense ion storm will intersect our orbit in 2.l minutes. I do not advise using the transporter.”
There was a sharp crackle of static. “I’m aware of the storm, Spock. But what are the odds of my getting caught in the exchange phenomenon a second time? Not great, I’ll bet.”
“I do not have sufficient data to calculate them, sir. That does not, however, preclude its happening whenever a transporter is activated during a storm – despite your Human proverb concerning the non-repetitive nature of lightning strikes.”
Kirk chuckled. “You know me too well, Spock. I was just going to quote it.” He lowered his voice. “Look, you know how difficult these negotiations are. You spent a full day explaining the science to them in words of one syllable. Now, I think I’ve finally got all the Council members convinced of our humanitarian motives except two. I need to get out of here and let the majority work on the hold-outs.”
“Surely there is some place on Halka to – ”
“They most pointedly have not offered me a place to stay, Spock. Maybe the doubters want to see if another exchange will happen when I beam up.”
“A joke, Spock. A joke.” Kirk’s voice changed again, attaining the hard edge that meant all discussion was to be terminated. “Energize please, Mr. Spock, so I can get my ship out of the way of that storm.”
Spock sighed. “Right away, Captain.” He activated ship’s intercom.
“Mr. Scott, lock on to Captain Kirk’s signal and beam him up immediately.”
“Now? I dinna – ”
“Now, Mr. Scott. Energize.”
“Energizing, Mr. Spock,” Scott said with a sigh.
With the shields lowered for beaming, a surge of energy struck the ship and spent itself in the circuitry, interfering briefly with artificial gravity so that the Enterprise seemed to lurch violently. Spock’s finger was on the intercom button again when Scott’s voice sounded urgently from the speaker. “Dr. McCoy to the transporter room. Spock, get doon here, mon. Fast!”
Spock was already in the turbolift before he heard more than his name. “Transporter Room One, full emergency speed,” he snapped to the lift computer, then felt a sensation of weightlessness as the pod dropped seven levels in as many seconds. The abrupt switch to horizontal movement threw even Spock against the wall of the lift, but he righted himself easily. He was out before the doors fully opened, running the fifteen meters to the transporter room. It had been less than thirty seconds since he left the command chair.
Kirk – or a man who was his twin – knelt on the platform clutching his head. McCoy hovered over him with a scanner.
The man raised his head when Spock entered, and some of the agony left his face. He stretched out one hand toward the Vulcan. “Spock. Spock, please! Put it back!”
Spock hurried forward, hesitated, then touched that desperately reaching hand. An instant later he jumped back, his own mind ringing with the Human’s pain. He grabbed McCoy and pulled the resisting physician away from the gallery, at the same time shouting, “Reverse all settings and energize!”