Star Trek®: The Original Series: The Shocks Of Adversity
The deck fell out from under James Kirk’s feet, and for a moment he was left suspended weightless in midair.
In the next instant, the ship’s artificial gravity field reasserted itself, and he hit the gymnasium floor with a loud whoomph. Despite the padding that covered the deck underneath him, his head struck hard enough to send a barrage of shooting stars streaming across his field of vision. Well, I asked for that, he silently reprimanded himself.
“Captain!” As the shooting stars began to clear away, he saw Lieutenant Joseph D’Abruzzo bent over him, wearing a look of worry on his young face. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Oh, just fine,” Kirk replied, trying to sound as though he hadn’t just had the wind forced out of him. “Why do you ask?”
He raised his right hand up toward D’Abruzzo, who grasped Kirk’s hand and helped pull him back up onto his stocking feet. “I am sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to throw you that hard, really.”
“Don’t apologize, Mister D’Abruzzo,” Kirk told the younger man. He adjusted the shoulders of his bright orange judo gi, which matched the one worn by the lieutenant. “I invited you to be my sparring partner specifically because I knew you would challenge me.” D’Abruzzo had been the captain of the Starfleet Academy martial arts team, and had been instrumental in leading them to the United Earth Intercollegiate Championship in his graduating year. “The last thing I want is for you to hold anything back. Come on,” he said, stepping to the opposite side of the mat and standing on the short white line that marked his starting position. D’Abruzzo took his place on the opposite mark, then the two men bowed before advancing to meet at the center of the mat.
Five seconds later, Kirk was flat on the deck again. Well, maybe holding back isn’t the last thing I want him to do, he considered silently.
“Well, at least you didn’t go airborne that time.”
Kirk raised his head and turned it in the direction of where Leonard McCoy stood watching. Bones was leaning against the wall by the gymnasium doors, his eyes bright with mischievous amusement as he grinned like a madman. Kirk slowly pushed himself back up to his feet, this time ignoring D’Abruzzo’s extended hand. “Don’t you have some other, better things to do, Doctor?”
“Other things, sure,” McCoy answered. “Better things? I have to say this is at the top of that list.”
“You know, Bones,” Kirk said, as he rotated his right shoulder, trying to work some of the low ache away, “for someone who is so insistent about his patients’ getting regular exercise, it seems to me that the only reason you ever visit the gym is to mock others.”
“I’ll have you know that I practice my own daily calisthenics routine every morning before breakfast,” McCoy told him. “You’re more than welcome to join me if you like. Very low impact, probably more appropriate for you.”
Giving McCoy the tightest of smiles, Kirk turned back to D’Abruzzo. “Again?” The lieutenant, who had been watching the exchange between captain and chief surgeon with the reaction-free face of a cadet undergoing inspection, nodded and moved into position again.
The deck lurched under Kirk’s feet again, but this time, D’Abruzzo had nothing to do with it—he was also thrown off balance, along with McCoy and everyone else in the gymnasium, by what the captain assumed was a sudden and unexpected failure of the ship’s inertial dampers. “What the hell?” McCoy blurted, pushing himself away from the nearby bulkhead he’d been tossed against.
Once the ship and Kirk had both regained their steady bearing, the captain crossed to the closest wall-mounted companel and punched the transmit toggle. “Kirk to bridge. What’s happening up there?”
Commander Spock’s cool, unflappable voice answered him from the speaker grille: “The Enterprise just dropped out of warp, Captain, and encountered some unanticipated subspace turbulence during the transition to normal space.”
“Another of the Nystrom Anomaly’s surprises?” Kirk asked.
“It would appear so, sir.”
“I’ll be right there. Kirk out.” He closed the open circuit, and then turned back to where D’Abruzzo stood and waited. “I’m afraid we’ll need to cut this session short, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” D’Abruzzo said as he bent forward in the traditional low bow. Kirk returned it before heading to the locker area, tugging at the knotted cloth belt around his waist and freeing it. He shrugged the gi off and turned to toss it into the clothing reclamator by the doorway, noticing only then that McCoy had been following right behind him.
“You know, Jim,” the doctor said, handing Kirk a towel, “you really ought to lighten up a bit on D’Abruzzo.”
“What?” Kirk asked as he accepted the proffered piece of terrycloth, and proceeded to rub it over his sweat-slicked chest and sore, aching shoulders.
“Just . . . go a little easy on him.”
Kirk stopped and stared at McCoy, stunned. “Me, go easy on him?” he said. “Did you not see what he did to me out there?”
“Yes, I saw what he did,” McCoy agreed. “And I saw the look you gave him when he did.”
“The look that said, ‘Keep tossing your commanding officer around like an old rag doll, and don’t be surprised to find yourself reassigned to waste extraction for the rest of this mission.’ ”
“But at least I didn’t say it aloud,” Kirk joked, and tossed the towel back to McCoy. “You have to give me credit for that.” The captain turned and opened the locker where he had stashed his uniform and boots before the start of his workout, and began to dress.
“No, you weren’t that plain,” McCoy said. “But the way you kept addressing him as ‘Lieutenant’ and ‘Mister D’Abruzzo,’ making sure he didn’t forget his place in the chain of command.”
Kirk paused, shirt in his hands, looking at McCoy. “You’re not saying I was purposely trying to intimidate him, are you, Bones?”
“Not intentionally, no, Jim,” McCoy allowed. “But you are the captain; that alone is pretty intimidating to most of these kids. Then you put D’Abruzzo in the position you did, where he really had no choice but to hold back on you.”
“Oh, no, he wasn’t holding back.” His abused muscles complained as Kirk put his arms through the sleeves of his green, wraparound uniform tunic.
“Okay. If that’s what you want to believe,” McCoy told him, in such a way that Kirk had to seriously consider the possibility that he was not kidding. “My point is,” he continued, “you’ve got to keep in mind who and what you are to your crew. These have an effect on people”—reaching out, McCoy plucked at the rows of golden braids that circled his wrist—“even when you’re not wearing them.”
Kirk considered McCoy silently for a moment. Ironic that such counsel should come from the one man aboard on whom his rank seemed to have the least effect. “You’re right. Thank you, Bones.”
McCoy nodded, and left Kirk alone in the locker room with his own thoughts. While Bones had certainly meant well, he hardly needed to remind Kirk how set apart he was from the rest of the crew. A starship captain was first and foremost a leader, one who had to require obedience from his crew and make difficult, if not impossible, choices on a regular basis. It was not the sort of environment that allowed a captain to form many close friendships. McCoy was an exception, due to his decidedly non-Starfleet personality. And Spock, too, of course . . . though as much as he valued the Vulcan’s friendship, it could never be compared to the one he’d shared with Gary Mitchell. The two had been inseparable for much of their early careers, and when Kirk was given his first command, he brought his closest friend aboard as a bridge officer. And when Gary had been transformed during the Enterprise’s encounter with the galactic barrier, it was Kirk who had to kill him.
The captain gave his head a quick shake, dispelling those old memories, then finished pulling on his boots and left the gymnasium. He strode down the corridor, passing by crew members in groups of two and three. Kirk gave them all only the curtest of nods in acknowledgment as he moved on to the turbolift, and then rode to the bridge alone.
* * *
The Nystrom Anomaly appeared on the bridge’s main viewscreen as little more than a luminous oval smudge against the starscape beyond. Even with the Enterprise’s state-of-the-art sensors and computerized color image enhancers, the picture they generated revealed little more scientific data than had been collected by Friendship 1, the first-generation warp probe that had discovered the stellar object eighty-nine years earlier.
At first, the only remarkable thing about those original images was that the ancient pre-Federation probe had still been operational and able to capture and transmit them back to Earth. At first glance, the unnamed stellar object had been identified as a small planetary nebula, consisting of a shell of hydrogen and other stellar gases ejected by a star transforming from a red giant into a white dwarf. But Doctor Loretta Nystrom, a junior researcher assigned to the long-running mission, noted that over the course of Friendship’s long-distance flyby, the nebula displayed no evidence of either expanding outward or contracting back in on itself. Instead, it appeared that it was an almost completely stable accretion disk, holding static at five billion kilometers in diameter.
Naturally, this data was deemed unreliable because of suspected signal degradation over the vast distances and because the probe was by then in its twelfth decade of operation. The data from Friendship 1 had cut off only months later, and it was assumed that the probe had finally failed and was lost. However, when subsequent Federation deep-space probes were dispatched to follow up on those initial surveys, they confirmed the earlier readings, and also discovered additional inexplicable peculiarities.
Over the decades, the Nystrom Anomaly had remained one of the more curious mysteries within the Federation’s astronomic community. Some had theorized that the Nystrom Anomaly was composed of an undiscovered form of dark matter, or that it was an exotic extradimensional construct. Others posited that it did not exist at all and was a mere sensor shadow. It was these debates that had led to the Enterprise crew’s current assignment: to serve as the anomaly’s first live observers and to uncover the answers to these long-standing questions. Thus far, though, the answers had remained elusive.
Spock studied the image of the anomaly from his present position in the bridge’s command chair, while Ensign Pavel Chekov manned the science station. Unable to glean any meaningful information from the indistinct visual representation, the first officer found himself turning to look at the young human officer, hunched over the hooded viewer. Spock felt the illogical urge to ask for a report, though he knew with certainty that any new findings would be promptly relayed to him. All the same, the Vulcan was finding the viewscreen less worthy of observation than the shifts and twitches of Chekov’s back and shoulders as he continued his silent examination.
From behind him, Spock heard the turbolift doors slide open. Determining with a ninety-nine point thirty-nine percent certainty that this was Captain Kirk come to relieve him, Spock vacated the captain’s chair. “Captain,” he said in greeting, and as Kirk stepped down into the command well, Spock moved to relieve Chekov from his temporary post.
“Spock,” Kirk returned the acknowledgment. “Report.”
“We are approximately three billion kilometers from the Nystrom Anomaly,” Spock said as he took his first survey of the science station’s readings. “Unfortunately, the information being gathered by our sensors is woefully lacking.”
“So, we can’t chalk the mystery up to poor quality equipment on the old probes,” Kirk noted as he assumed his place in the captain’s chair. Turning his full attention to the viewscreen, he asked, “Is this the best resolution we can manage?”
“Yes, sir,” Chekov said as he slipped into the navigator’s seat, next to Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu at the helm. “Whatever the anomaly is, it’s almost impervious to all our scans. It’s like they used to say about Vladivostok: there is no there there.”
“What about that subspace turbulence we hit earlier?” Kirk asked. “That was something new.”
“Yes, sir,” Sulu reported, without turning his attention from his console. “We’re still encountering a good deal of subspace distortion, but I’m compensating.”
“Well done, Mister Sulu; I don’t feel a thing,” Kirk praised the helmsman with a smile. The captain then turned to his first officer. “Shouldn’t the old probes have detected subspace distortions in the vicinity, even at their ranges? For that matter, shouldn’t we have?”
“One would have expected so, sir,” Spock answered, looking up from his console. “The pattern of the subspace distortion we are currently encountering would appear to indicate that the Nystrom Anomaly is bending local space-time and subspace, as stars and other high-mass objects do. And yet, there is not a concomitant gravitational effect.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Kirk said thoughtfully as he turned back to the enigmatic object showing in the forward viewscreen. “Mister Sulu, how bad are these subspace distortions?”
“Not very, sir,” Sulu replied. “Just a bit unpredictable.”
Kirk nodded and asked, “Current speed of approach?”
“Let’s strap in and take her up to half impulse.”
“Aye, sir,” Sulu said as he keyed the commands into his console. “Half impulse.”
The deck began to shudder perceptibly as the ship accelerated through a series of subspace resonance waves that should not have been present. As Spock analyzed the subspace readings that were now being relayed to his station at a steady rate, the beginnings of a hypothesis began to take shape. As the science officer continued to collate data and extrapolate the possible conclusions to be drawn, his focus was drawn away by the captain, who had moved from his seat over to the red rail that separated the raised stations from the center of the bridge. “Spock . . . is it just me . . . or is the center of the anomaly getting brighter?”
Spock turned and looked at the main viewer. His left eyebrow lifted above the right, and he told the captain, “You would appear to be correct.” He turned back to his monitors and referred to the older readings, comparing them to the current ones. “Peak luminosity in that specific area of the anomaly has increased fifteen point eight percent since we began our approach.”
“But what we are looking at here is a computer-generated and -enhanced visual interpretation of our stellar sensor array,” Kirk said.
“You are correct, sir,” Spock answered. “The sensor array’s subroutines are programmed to compensate for subjective distance and make any corrections necessary for the accuracy of scientific study. Likewise, such variations in areas of luminosity should not be affected by proximity.”
Turning back to the main viewer with a thoughtful expression on his face, Kirk observed, “This is the same way the probes studied the Nystrom Anomaly. What if we were to look at this just in the visible light spectrum?”
Spock, knowing that the captain’s remark was not an invitation to speculation, reached for his console controls and deactivated the sensor display protocols. When he turned back, the difference was minor, but still marked. The bulk of the anomaly now appeared as a translucent field surrounding a single, large light-emitting source at its center.
“A star,” Kirk said. “A star system, surrounded by . . . something.”
The science officer shook his head. “We are not picking up any gravimetric readings, or other associated readings which would be expected in a star system. It could simply be an illusion.”
Kirk shrugged. “What is the old Vulcan saying, Spock? ‘The evidence of the eyes is often immune to logic.’ ”
Spock, impressed by the captain’s knowledge, let one corner of his mouth bend upward slightly. “Yes. Or, as the human aphorism has it, ‘Seeing is believing.’ ”
Kirk smiled and asked, “And if what we are seeing here is a star system whose gravitational field is being restrained by some sort of shield? We need to take a much closer look.” The captain turned to Sulu, ordering, “Helm, full impulse. Bring us right up to the edge of the anomaly.”
* * *
The journey in was a rough one, or at least it was rougher than Sulu would have liked. He prided himself on his abilities as a starship pilot, and he considered every slightest bit of turbulence as a shortcoming on his part. He winced silently as the ship momentarily lurched, its impulse engines reacting to an unanticipated subspace energy wave. But he made the needed compensations on the fly, bringing the Enterprise quickly back to an even keel. It was a challenge, to say the least, to guide a starship into a system that did not follow any of the established rules. He had been able to smooth their ride to a large degree by determining—from the small amount of sensor readings they were able to gather from the Nystrom Anomaly—that the star at its center was likely a type M1 subdwarf and plotting his helm corrections accordingly. It was very much how he imagined his long-ago ancestors had navigated their way across the Pacific Ocean, guided only by the North Star, a small degree of meteorological information, and pure intuition.
As the Enterprise drew closer to the perceived edge of the phenomenon, the anomaly began to resolve itself on the ship’s main viewscreen, from a fuzzy and indistinct haze of light into what looked like a shimmering field of trillions of sparkling gemstones. However, the forward sensors detected only visible light, even as those gems steadily grew into gigantic onyx-hued crystalline asteroids refracting the light from what was now unmistakably a star at the heart of the anomaly. “Captain, I’m not able to get an accurate reading on our distance,” Sulu said, as the proximity alerts remained unsettlingly quiet. If his eyes were to be trusted, the largest of the objects were at least triple the size of the Enterprise.
“Full stop, Mister Sulu,” the captain ordered. For a moment, no one on the bridge spoke a word, all silently taking in the display.
It was Lieutenant Uhura, turned forward in her seat at the communications station, who finally broke the silence. “It’s beautiful.”
“And fascinating,” Spock added, looking from his readouts to the viewscreen. “Sensor scans are still not returning any readings. It would appear that the field is absorbing all the energies directed toward it, from our sensors as well as the majority of the stellar emissions.”
“Except for visible light,” Kirk noted.
“Yes,” Spock said. “Extremely curious.” After years of serving with the Vulcan science officer, Sulu was able to detect the tiniest hint of annoyance underneath his otherwise emotionless tone. “And none of our standard analytical protocols are yielding any information about the nature or composition of the objects.”
“Could we beam one aboard,” the captain suggested, “for more hands-on testing?”
But Spock replied, “Impossible. The transporter would be unable to get a coordinate lock without effectual targeting scanners.”
“Tractor beam?” Kirk asked, and when Spock did not immediately shoot down that idea, the captain said, “Mister Sulu, try pulling in one of the smaller ones.”
“Aye, sir.” The helmsman had to manually target the tractor emitters, but still managed to accurately project a beam and make contact with one of the strange crystals. But it had no effect whatsoever on its trajectory. “It looks like they absorb gravitons, too.”
Kirk rubbed his chin as he considered that, then said, “Well, let’s try approaching this the old-fashioned way, then.” He turned back to his command chair and hit a button on the armrest. “Kirk to engineering.”
The distinctive brogue of the chief engineer replied over the companel speaker. “Scott here, Captain.”
“Correct me if I’m mistaken, Scotty,” Kirk said, resuming his seat, “but don’t we have an old-style grappler assembly in ship’s stores?”
“Aye, that we do.”
“Is it in good working order?”
“Sir!” Scotty sounded genuinely indignant. “You’re not suggesting that I would let any piece of equipment aboard my ship fall into disrepair, are you?”
“Heaven forfend, Scotty,” Kirk answered, successfully keeping the smile he wore from his voice. “How long to get it set up for use in the cargo loading bay?”
“An hour, sir,” Scotty said, then added, “May I ask why, sir?”
The longer Scotty prodded at the inner workings of the old grappler assembly, the more he worried that his quadrupled estimate would not be time enough.
He lay flat on his stomach on the deck of the large bay in the aft section of the ship, aiming a light into the open panel on the side of the bulky gray apparatus. With his other hand, he poked at the outdated circuitry with a probe. To one side lay one of the loading bay’s tractor beam emitters, which was used for the ingress and egress of supply pallets through the exterior cargo hatch, which was situated a deck below the shuttle hangar at the ship’s stern. The power supply and control cable from the tractor emitter was now plugged into the older contraption, but it was stubbornly refusing to activate for some reason. Or, as Scotty now realized, for a whole myriad of reasons.
“Ach,” the engineer grunted through his teeth, between which he clenched a microlaser refuser. He swapped that tool for the one in his hand, and then reached back into the machine’s guts to fix another failed connection. If he didn’t know better, he would have suspected this ancient piece of machinery might actually have been salvaged off the pre-Federation Enterprise. Grapplers like this one were part of the standard equipment on nearly all space vessels of that era, and up through the early part of the current century. But as tractor beam technology improved and became more sophisticated, the older devices had fallen out of use. Scotty himself had not actually seen an operational grappler since his first Academy training cruise, and had been surprised to discover this one during an inventory conducted shortly after his assignment to this ship. As best he could determine, it had been added to the Enterprise’s stores when she was initially launched, at the insistence of Captain April’s executive officer, but had sat unused the entire time since.
Finally, Scotty completed his diagnostic. As he was bolting the cover panel back onto the grappler’s side, the doors to the bay slid open, admitting Captain Kirk. “How’s it coming, Scotty?”
“All set, sir,” Scott said as he pushed himself up and latched the lid of his tool kit shut. He stood, taking his tools in one hand and with the other grabbing one of the handles of the antigrav unit clamped to the disconnected tractor beam emitter. Kirk took the other, and together they moved out of the loading bay into the small control room forward of it, opposite the space doors. Once sealed inside, Scotty seated himself at the primary control panel, set before the transparent aluminum bulkhead that looked out onto the wide, empty deck. “I’ll be honest with you, sir,” Scotty said as he ran a final check of his handiwork. “I’ve never been much of a fisherman, and I’ve never used this type of reel.” It had taken a bit of jury-rigging and creative computer programming to coordinate the cargo bay’s tractor control with the grappler, and the engineer could only hope it would work in practice the way he thought it would in theory.
“Fishing is a sport of patience, Scotty,” Kirk answered with one of his easy smiles. Scott nodded back, appreciative of the captain’s sentiment, but hoping he wouldn’t let him down.
Satisfied with what he saw on his board, Scott then pressed a sequence of controls, beginning the depressurization process. Warning alarms sounded as the atmosphere was evacuated, and once the air had been cycled out and the alarms had fallen silent, Scotty keyed in another command. Looking up from the console through the transparency as the large exterior hatch slid open, he got his first glimpse at what lay beyond the ship.
The Enterprise had reoriented itself so that, from their vantage at the ship’s stern, Scott and Kirk could look directly into the vast field of crystalline shards, tumbling slowly in their orbits. As they moved, their black surfaces reflected back an oddly muted yet stunning prism of colors, like an oil slick on the surface of a shallow puddle. “Oh, my, but that is a pretty sight,” Scotty said in an awed whisper. It seemed unbelievable that they were all but invisible to sensors yet so beautiful to the naked eye.
“The viewscreen did not do this justice,” Kirk told him, sounding equally awed by the sight. “It just goes to prove, there really is no substitute for sending people out here, seeing things like this up close, close enough to touch.” Then the captain tore his eyes away and turned to Scott. “So . . . let’s touch one.”
“Aye, sir,” Scott said as he turned his attention to the targeting panel before him. “At least the fishing pond is well stocked.” The grappler had been built in the day when its operator would more often than not have to rely on visual targeting, so Scott was able to pick out a reasonably sized, slow-moving asteroid from the field, track its trajectory, and as it reached the center of his field of vision, hit the launch trigger.
Trailing a carbon-fiber tether, the large duranium claw flew out the open hatch and made impact. The four-meter-long, pencil-shaped sliver began to tumble away, but not before the grappler head engaged and secured itself, finding purchase in a small fissure or micrometeor pockmark. Scotty slapped the control that stopped any more line from reeling out and gritted his teeth as the mass the grappler had attached itself to pulled the cable taut. The cable held, though, and after a moment it slackened again, the asteroid’s kinetic energy spent. “Nicely done, Mister Scott,” Kirk said, impressed.
Scott shrugged modestly and pressed another control on the panel to start slowly reeling the line back into the ship. The crystal was drawn closer, meter by meter, bringing it gently toward the open bay doors. Scotty fired one of the miniature positioning jets that formed a ring around the base of the grappler’s claw head, adjusting the captured object’s angle of approach, in order to bring it in cleanly through the open hatch. He misjudged only slightly, and triggered the opposite thruster to compensate.
That one, however, only sputtered feebly before failing. “Damn,” he said, just as all of the control readings from the grappler’s remote assembly went dead.
“What is it?” Kirk asked.
“I don’t know, sir,” Scotty said as he hit more controls and found them all unresponsive. “I don’t know if it was the impact or the age of the blasted machine, but I can’t work the remote maneuvering system.”
“Is the crystal interfering with your command transmissions?” Kirk posited. The reason wasn’t especially important at the moment; the immediate concern was that they had a large asteroid coming at them that could no longer be controlled. The ship’s shields were of no use against the energy-absorbing object, and it was on a path to hit lengthwise against the outer edge of the open hatch, doing serious damage.
The engineer’s first thought was to cut it loose, but inertia would only make that a futile act. As the options raced through Scotty’s head, none struck him as particularly good. But one was the most likely to accomplish the task at hand. “Captain, ye may want to get down,” he said, and then boosted the speed of the grappler tether retrieval to maximum. The straining of the intake reel could be heard through the transparent bulkhead as the line went tight again, and the crystal was pulled around, so that it was coming at the Enterprise straight on, like an oversized harpoon.
“Scotty, what . . . ?”
Watching the velocity of the incoming object as it increased, Scott ignored the second thoughts shouting to be heard from the back of his mind. The long and disturbingly pointed crystal shard had now been pulled into a straight trajectory into the open bay, and Scotty stopped the spinning reel. The asteroid stopped accelerating, but it was still coming at them at close to thirty meters per second.
“Down!” Scotty shouted, as he slammed the button to rapidly repressurize the loading bay, and at the same time tackled the captain, knocking him flat onto the deck. On the opposite side of the bulkhead, air vents opened wide, filling the bay with gas, much of which quickly blew out the open doors into space. The jet of oxygen offered enough resistance to slow the incoming asteroid fractionally, but it still struck the loading bay deck with a mighty crash, bounced, and hit the transparent bulkhead with enough force to crack it. Air started hissing out of the control room, and Scotty disentangled himself from the captain in order to reach up and get the space doors closed. Within seconds they were sealed, and Scotty peered out the still largely intact observation window to see their prize broken into roughly a dozen sharp-edged pieces, none longer than one meter, scattered across the deck. Scott let out a long, noisy breath of relief.
Then, from the deck beside him, he heard the captain groan and then say, “You know, I’m getting a little tired of having my officers knock me to the floor today. . . .”