Kirk stood beneath a hazy sky, feeling hazy himself. Around him rose trees and brush. A light breeze blew, causing the switchgrass to sway against the legs of his black uniform pants. The strong scent of Solomon's plumes wafted through the air, though in his mouth, he still tasted the tang of metal.
He reached his left hand to his lips, and his fingertips came away stained with blood. Kirk peered down at himself and saw dark patches on his crimson vest, and streaks of red on his long-sleeved white shirt and on his right hand. The material of his uniform had been covered with dirt and torn in numerous places. He struggled to recall what had happened -- and then did.
Soran. Veridian Three.
Kirk remembered falling, remembered gazing out from beneath the misshapen remains of the bridge that had crushed him and knowing that he had only seconds to live. He'd seen the flaming ribbon of energy, racing toward him and bringing the obliteration of space and time with it. The ribbon and the ruin had extended down to the planet, had engulfed him and Picard --
Kirk looked left and right, then turned in a circle, searching for any sign of the Enterprise captain. He didn't see him, though, nor did he see the rocky desert locale where they'd fought Soran. Instead, he found himself once more among the rolling, wooded hills of Idaho, in the area where he and Picard had last spoken prior to their mission on Veridian Three.
Except that they hadn't really been in Idaho, but in some type of temporal nexus that had allowed Kirk to imagine himself there. Picard had told him that, but Kirk had really known the truth of it even before then. He'd ridden Tom Telegraph out here from his uncle's barn sensing that it had been the day he'd met Antonia, but also knowing that it could only be an imitation of that time.
Movement caught Kirk's eye. He looked across the ravine to the hilltop, to where Antonia sat on horseback. Beneath the filmy sky, another horse and rider ascended the slope, approaching her. Only when they arrived at the summit of the hill and neared Antonia did Kirk recognize the second rider: himself, dressed not in the clothes he had worn on that long-ago day, but in the black slacks, white pullover shirt, and crimson vest of his Starfleet uniform -- the same uniform he wore right now, though neither ripped nor coated with the soil of Veridian Three.
What's happening? Kirk thought, and with an absurdity he realized a moment later, he actually patted the front of his own body in a visceral attempt to verify his own physical existence. He reasoned that he must be witnessing some sort of reproduced scene, since clearly he could not exist both here and there -- or could he? Could his presence here, in this spot, simply be a later version of himself than the one right now appearing to meet Antonia for the first time? Could he be standing here minutes after he and Picard had stopped Soran sometime in the 2370s, viewing a period in his life that had taken place in 2282?
He didn't know. That hadn't seemed to be how the nexus had functioned before. In his previous spell within the mysterious region, he hadn't been a witness to events, but a participant in them. He remembered preparing breakfast for Antonia on that day when he had been about to break the news to her of his intention to return to Starfleet, and then having his change of heart and telling Picard about it. He remembered stranding Gary Mitchell on Delta Vega but not being forced to kill him; finding a different way of dealing with Apollo on Pollux IV that did not require the self-styled god to spread himself thinner and thinner upon the wind, until only the wind remained; sharing a birthday meal with his son as David turned forty; and living or reliving so many other events of his life, some old, some new, many modified in ways clearly born of his own desires. But this...
He began walking forward, in the direction of the ravine, and beyond it, toward the hill where some version or replica of himself even now had that initial conversation with Antonia. As he moved through the switchgrass, he realized that it had been from this precise location that he and Picard had departed the nexus to reach Veridian Three. What did it mean, if anything, that he had returned to this place when he'd been swept back into the strange temporal confluence? Had he even really left the nexus?
Kirk stopped, unsure how he should proceed. He had intended to approach Antonia and the other Kirk, but now he didn't know if he should. He looked to his left, then moved that way, until he stood concealed behind the foliage of a low-hanging tree branch. For now, he decided, he would simply observe, in the hope of gaining more information before choosing a course of action.
As he peered through the leaves of the tree to the top of the hill, Kirk could not help remembering the original version of this day in his own life.
After waking up and eating a light breakfast, Jim Kirk knocked around the one-story farmhouse for a few minutes. Clad in blue jeans and a gray short-sleeved shirt, he paced aimlessly through the few small rooms: from his bedroom on the right side of the house, past the refresher, down the short hall to the kitchen, out into the living room, and into the second bedroom, which he'd more or less set up as an office, though he rarely spent any time there. With his years of starship service -- and consequently the requirements for written and recorded reports to Starfleet -- at an end, he found little need for a desk or any sort of a sit-down workspace. He'd had a com/comm unit -- a computer and communications station -- installed when he'd moved in, but he almost never used it. During his first few months here, Spock and McCoy and others had contacted him a number of times, but he supposed that he must've made it abundantly clear that he intended to disconnect from his former life and keep to himself in the Idaho wilderness. At this point, after residing here for nearly two years, days would pass between when he checked for messages, and only infrequently did he find one waiting for him.
Now, standing before the self-contained terminal, Kirk leaned forward and touched a control surface. It responded with a buzz, and the declaration 0 messages appeared on the display. Kirk felt a mixture of relief and disappointment.
If you want to talk with Spock or Bones, he told himself, you can just go ahead and contact them. He could, of course, but what would he say to them? That he'd made a mistake in leaving Starfleet? He knew that most of his friends and colleagues had believed that very thing when he'd stepped down, and they probably still believed it now. But while there might have been some truth to that view, he also knew that it would have been a much greater mistake for him to have stayed.
Kirk didn't want to discuss any of that, though, and what else could he tell his friends about his current life? Each day, he tended the horses, then often rode or hiked across the Idaho hills, even during the cold and sometimes snowy winter months. He occasionally went into Lost River for supplies, or farther afield, to Blackfoot or Pocatello or Idaho Falls. Twice, he'd visited the lava flows and cinder cones of Craters of the Moon Monument and Preserve. Last summer, he'd tried his hand at cultivating his own fruits and vegetables, but had discovered that he possessed little interest in the activity, not to mention something less than a green thumb. Now as then, he thought that some Orion joke must've hidden in that last observation, but it still eluded him.
Leaving the office, Kirk walked back out into the living room. A sofa and a pair of easy chairs, all old and timeworn, formed a cozy sitting area about the hearth. The mantel and the two end tables on either side of the sofa remained bare, though, and no personal photographs or artwork adorned the walls -- not just in this room, but throughout the house. Since he'd come here, Kirk had done little to make this place his own. He'd brought with him several crates of books and personal, naval, and antique artifacts that he'd collected through the years, but he had for the most part left those items packed up and stored down in the cellar. Every so often he would descend the old wooden stairs and rummage through one of the crates to find one volume or another to read -- and usually to reread. At the moment, a black, leather-bound edition of Great Expectations lay on the sofa, a gold ribbon halfway through marking his place in it, but the book hardly qualified as decoration.
Kirk padded across the living room to the front door and opened it, knowing that he needed to take care of the horses. The spring had been exceedingly mild so far, and the dull sky -- more gray-blue than blue -- promised another cool day. Kirk grabbed his light-blue jacket from where it hung beside the door and pulled it on. As he stepped outside, he hoped that the sky would clear and that by the afternoon the mercury would climb.
Great expectations, he thought, but the phrase resonated less with respect to the weather than to his own life. On his way to the barn, he considered the classic novel, which he had already read several times before, and he suddenly faced a moment of self-revelation. Have I become Miss Havisham? he asked himself. Jilted at the altar, her heart broken, the Dickens character had subsequently locked herself away, spending the rest of her life in her manse, Satis House, which she had then allowed to decay around her.
And me? he thought. Have I locked myself away? Kirk had not been abandoned on the day of his wedding, but fifteen years ago he had watched as Edith Keeler had been killed. The death of the woman he'd believed his one true love had affected him deeply, and though he hadn't physically sequestered himself away as Miss Havisham had -- at least not then -...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.