Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Marla McGivers in the second person.
When Gene Roddenberry comes to me and complains, I'll stop.
Few people get to see the past coming alive; even fewer want to.
You're the ship's historian. You write up reports long after the real action has happened down on the surface of some planet or out in the vacuum of space. Your job is to speculate on the long-term impact of the Enterprise's mission.
Sometimes an event of obvious historical interest comes up, such as the unmasking of Anton Karidian. No one thinks to consult you at such times. To those around you, the past is dead and gone; it contains no dangers and no lessons to be learned. It is a story to frighten children - a sorry tale of war, famine, pestilence, and death.
That's not what it means to you. To Lieutenant Marla McGivers, the past is a world more alien by far than those your ship has visited - a world of warriors and ascetics beside whom the modern-day Kligons and Vulcans seem mere caricatures. To you the past is the living, breathing day to which the present is a long, dark night.
So you find yourself dreaming of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and dating Pavel Andreievich Chekov. Not that Pavel is so bad - despite his dull ambitions of winning bridge duty by working double shifts, he's a new face on a trip that was supposed to show you the final frontier in all its fading glory, but instead leaves you pining for yesteryear. Pavel, too, believes in the past, in a great Russian motherland that never quite existed.
You smile at the thought. That's what they told you when you defended your dissertation, "The Exceptional Man in History." They called your thesis fanciful, romantic, even eugenic. "These are the stories," they said, dismissing your evidence, "that people tell about men."
"No," you said, "these are the men about whom tales are told." They shook their heads, but they gave you the degree.
Somehow, it wasn't enough. You took the one-year Academy course designed for professionals entering Starfleet. You got a lieutenant's stripes, took an oath to Starfleet - brave old words, but toothless - and were posted to the Enterprise.
Tonight Pavel apologizes when you catch him in yet another pro-Russian historical inaccuracy. You're not sure why he thinks you'd be offended; you never have been. You wouldn't even point it out except that he looks guilty when you hear him at it. You are fascinated by guilt.
Guilt, you say, is what people feel when their own values conflict with the ones around them. You tell him that everyone loves their own race best. The only difference is how they define their race: Starfleet pretends that the entire Federation is one big happy humanoid family, but Pavel's prejudice is more honest, more intimate, more like love.
He doesn't believe that you think such things. The moment always comes in your relationships when the other person realizes that he has never really listened to the things you say, and never believed them when he heard them. Pavel thought he loved you, and, indeed, you have shared more than just his bunk. You both love a past so far away that it is little more than a rumor and a byword. That joint passion for a lost world has to be sufficient for you if you expect to survive in the desert of the present time. Pavel is about to decide that it is not enough for him.
He looks at you strangely, and his eyes stray back to the sketches on your walls, the bust in the niche, and, finally, the door. Had he been born a philosopher, he would have asked, "Which is your race, Marla?" Pavel is no philosopher, but he knows your answer nonetheless - and you know this will be your last night with Ensign Chekov.
The duties of a ship's historian are light, so you are passed around from department to department, doing odd jobs like inventory and helping the less overqualified with their paddwork. You write a mean report, though you've been accused of being over-dramatic, not to mention unduly sympathetic towards Kodos the Executioner and the Romulan Star Empire.
You have just finished polishing off one of Mr. Scott's engineering reports and come back to your quarters to paint when the call comes. You think nothing of it at first, assuming someone in the transporter room has heard of your ghostwriting talent. You're wrong. You meet the captain and Dr. McCoy there; you barely understand that you're beaming over to another ship before you're aboard it, disoriented, for your first away mission.
Late twentieth century, you see, but it's not your period. The Klingons say the history of Earth ended with the Eugenics Wars; later ages were uncivilized or clearly influenced by Vulcans and other spacefaring races. Man's unique culture, his destiny, his might, had passed into history. You appreciate the Klingon viewpoint, and confine your research to well before mankind's end.
According to a more Terran analysis the age of great men ended with the nineteenth century - unless you count the supermen. That sort of thesis gets one tossed out of graduate school; suspicious as your interest in Napoleon is, it could never compare to an obsession with, say, El Rey Dom Joaquim do Brasil e Paraguay. History is strident and unreliable on the topic of eugenics, a prejudice that still survives two centuries later - and is yet another reason to avoid the field.
All the while as you're thinking you're looking through glass doors at the mummies of another age. You pause to tell the captain about sleeper ships, but the sight draws you back again. These men and women could pass for modern people - the others seem to have found nothing remarkable about them - yet there is something in their preserved faces that might conquer a world.
In the darkness your crewmates see Rip van Winkle, but you see the Twilight of the Gods. Your artist's eye sees a beauty you cannot help but admire, but there is more to this puzzle than simple aesthetics. Mankind, you know, is an impatient race - he would not make do with sleeper ships, nor any journey the end of which was so uncertain. Twentieth-century man might sleep two decades to pass the time, provided he could radio home his success at the end of them. He was incapable of planning ahead two centuries; he had no hope for the resurrection.
Neither do you, until the lights come up and you see him, a man from the twentieth century coming alive.
"Magnificent," you say.
Afterwards you hardly remember what you said or didn't say on the away mission. You know the captain was angry, but your concern is for the man lying unconscious in Sickbay. You're surprised to see the captain there as well; he scolds you and only then does it occur to you that you should have gone to him first to apologize for your poor performance. You ought to have cared.
"And men were more adventuresome then - bolder, more colorful?" the captain asks you, when you claim your interest in the patient is purely professional. You say "Yes, sir," but what you think is that the men of the present are timid and colorless.
You realize that you have a problem when you are more reassured by the the doctor's positive prognosis for the patient than the captain's overlooking your behavior. In fact, you're worthless while you're waiting for news; you neither research his past - the instinct to avoid the topic of the Eugenics Wars is getting stronger rather than weaker - nor complete anyone else's reports. Poor Hikaru resorts to writing his own.
Christine comms you the next day to say that Khan is asking after you, and of course you'll come, won't you? She sounds nervous; you wonder if he's been holding the scalpel to her throat today. The thought doesn't shock you nearly as much as it should - she's your friend and you ought to care. But you don't, and you go.
And there he is, awake, alive, saying your name, calling you beautiful, telling you to sit and entertain him. Telling you to exist for him. You know that you already do, but you push the thought out of your mind.
You protest; you ask him for historical information. You tell him you're here on business, and wonder if either of you really believes it. He sees your glaring weakness, your Achilles' heel - whether you love the past in general or him as its incarnation doesn't matter now. You were addicted to a drug that did not exist anywhere in your world; now that you have access to it, you cannot give it up. He asked for you and you came; he knows it and he knows you will take up his invitation to come again - or is it obey his order to come again?
You should not ask yourself such questions, you who live in a world with no notion of seduction. Pavel never thought of himself as tempting you away from your painted heroes with his more concrete physical attractions, because he could not conceive of such a temptation - of a love that was a betrayal of a conflicting ideal. Nor could you have been seduced in that way; you're too much a product of modern Federation society. There is no virtue to be stolen here, no unwillingness, no war of the body against the spirit.
Yet this man out of the past means to seduce you; it doesn't matter that you've never seen that look in a man's eye before - you know it. It's not lust and it's not love; it's something for which the very words have disappeared from Standard - ownership, perhaps. He had bought your silence before he'd even spoken a word to you. What he wants to buy next you're not sure you want to know. He will run through the things you're willing to give him, and when it comes to something you're not, you'll give that up, too.
These are your thoughts when he arrives at your quarters with a transparent excuse about escorting him to the dinner you've arranged. You read once about someone entering a room as if he owned the place, but you've never seen it done before. Pavel viewed your collection with nervousness; Hikaru had admired your antique netsuke figurine of a samurai without anything approaching a desire to possess it.
Khan, on the other hand, looks on each bust and sketch as if it existed only to please him. For a moment you are glad that one other person on this ship, in this universe, sees what you do in the great names of the past, and then he speaks. "Very good, fine technique," he says, and you know his judgment is superior to those who once scolded you for compositions that were too bold and old-fashioned.
You ought to be pleased, but his praise is also a dismissal; yes, these your works are now his possessions, but they are the least of his possessions. You defend Flavius, but he seems more interested in the hairstyle Christine had to help you with - such things are not your talent - and his praise rises to "Excellent." He doesn't mean the effect, but that you did it for him. The message is clear: better that you do something he requested, and do it badly, than something you wished, and do it well. Man is the measure of all things, Protagoras said, and Khan means it.
He turns again to your paintings and sketches, this time to observe the pattern among your subjects. Hikaru never even noticed - he did not study the faces, thinking them mere historical types. Khan identifies your hobby, seems to know that he fits your ideal. So perhaps he knows, before he uncovers it, what is on your easel; still he pauses a moment, says he is honored.
And that painting, which until now existed as a fancy of what the sleeping man in sickbay might have looked like in his other life, now exists solely to honor him. These things he has claimed with his eyes he now owns, and he says so: "Such men dare take what they want."
Such men, you know, want more than the body. History numbers the followers of great men as so many souls:
The emperor, now king of the petty Island of Elba, after having held sovereign sway over one-half of the world, counting as his subjects a small population of five or six thousand souls,--after having been accustomed to hear the "Vive Napoleons" of a hundred and twenty millions of human beings, uttered in ten different languages,--was looked upon here as a ruined man, separated forever from any fresh connection with France or claim to her throne. --The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
Your formal dinner goes down in flames, and as you make your way to Khan's quarters to apologize, you know that your shipmates have done nothing wrong. It is your sudden anger that is out of place here, as telling as his. Your fierce loyalty to Khan, your irrational protectiveness, and even your primitive passion are relics of the past beside which the cold duties of Starfleet pale in comparison.
You slow down to think. Is this the feeling that once made men follow generals and kings? Is this what set brother against brother? Is this what Khan felt on the battlefields of Asia? After tonight, you are sure he was high in that short-lived government centered at Khalistan - a general or an even closer aide to the warlord of Asia.
Better for you if this were just the infatuation that Christine suspects. You quicken your pace, assault his door chime, to keep yourself from thinking about it.
He lets you in, but brushes off your apology. You can see he is angry, though not at you. You want desperately to comfort him, though you sense he is not one to be comforted. "I know exactly who you are," you say on impulse, meaning only to contradict the faithless curiosity of your officers. He overreacts. You see what fear would look like on his face, were he capable of so pedestrian an emotion. "Do you?" he whispers.
Yes, you do, but you have been striving to avoid the knowledge for so long that you will not give in now. Your lips are already speaking the praise you had meant to give: "Leif Ericson, Richard the Lionhearted, Napoleon..." You say something more, automatically, but in your mind you must face the truth. There is no point asking him what it was like to serve under the Maharaja Noonien Singh, because you know the answer. You are the one who serves the Maharaja with silence, pretending to be deceived. If you do not know that the erstwhile lord of Asia is awake again and living on deck five, then you will not have to tell the captain.
You will not tell the captain that Khan is threatening to remold your world to his liking - starting with you. He draws you to himself, and you shy away from the man about whom the most tales are told.
Now he is angry with you. "Go," he tells you, then relenting, "or stay, but do it because it is what you wish to do." You stand frozen before a challenge as old as Protagoras. "Well?" he asks.
With a purely modern dignity you offer to stay a while. You are trying to escape from Asia into the shadows of the present world you despised, but it cannot conceal you. Khan is rightly disgusted; he will not listen to apologies. He wants you to beg to stay.
There are turning points in the tides of battle; you know that as well as he. This is one of those moments upon which lives hang, this moment in which you beg him to let you stay. There is no middle way between the great men of the past and the small ones of the present; you have been suborned because you alone can conceive of being seduced. You wonder whether he realizes that you are the only one.
He offers you his hand, but only to crush yours, to make you kneel as if to take an oath of allegiance. Your heart you give him freely, but he also wants your ship. He will not listen to questions, he will not promise the crew's safety though you know he guaranteed the safety of many conquered peoples in his day. You hesitate and quite rightly he tosses you onto the floor, telling you once more to go.
You can see the crack of the door in its track. You could leave now - walk away, crawl away. He won't stop you; he won't even keep you from telling the captain. You would be keeping your oath to Starfleet - you would be a hero, saving the Federation from the Maharaja.
And the Maharaja would go to some prison from which there is no return, never again to toss you on the floor for the crime of refusing to measure all things. Outside that door there is no such offense - only Pavels and Hikarus, forever.
Do it because it is what you wish to do, he said. You know you are supposed to have some different standard of action than Khan's, but that other measure is outside with Pavel. You want to stay; you have always wanted to stay.
You would do anything to stay.
You would hold a phaser to Ensign Cardos, who thinks you have come to help him with a report, until Khan arrives in the transporter room to knock him out. You would beam Khan back to his ship to revive seventy of his own kind, knowing that you are yielding your place to them. You would be the least of his followers afterwards - hardly more valuable a possession than the sketches he admired once in your quarters.
You are alone with such thoughts as you program a few transporter tricks you once read about in an engineering report. Later you check Cardos' pulse, not sure whether Khan has killed him and not even sure that you want to know; he is sleeping it off peacefully.
They all pass through your fingers, strong men and beautiful women, being beamed aboard and then to vital sections of the Enterprise. You could leave one in a wall, another in the brig, but you do not. Instead you join the superior beings in the conference room, where they're holding the senior staff. Not everyone is as willing to follow him as you were; in fact, no one is, not even to save the captain's life. Your crewmates look at you with the same cold expression they fix on your leader.
Khan is getting angrier, and Kirk weaker. You excuse yourself; he is disappointed, as if you had failed him - as if the future itself has failed him. You know it has.
You are going to collect on the promise he never made: not to hurt anyone. This won't save you with Starfleet; Khan may punish you for it if the captain doesn't defeat him, but this is what you want to do. Marla is also the measure of all things, you think; she chooses that James Kirk should live.
When Spock arrives, the next intended victim, he and Kirk plan to retake the ship. You are left on the sidelines, chattel of little use and questionable loyalty. They succeed, and you are confined to quarters, the ally of neither the present nor past but just a prisoner.
Christine is kind enough to come to visit, although she's a bit cold. You suppose you deserve it. "No one died, did they?" you ask her, half nervous and half annoyed. You are concerned about the mutineers; she is talking about the crew when she says that thankfully no one was hurt.
The truth is, she tells you, she's not sure what went on. Kirk and Spock aren't talking, and McCoy was gassed when the intruder control system went off. Kirk has a talent for getting himself out of sticky situations, Christine admits, but she's not sure that explains his victory.
You're not taking the hint, so she asks you point-blank whether you were the one who took out his guard with a hypospray. It has the same deleterious side-effects on short-term memory as the anesthetic gas, so the victims won't talk. You look up when she mentions that - you hadn't known - then you change the subject. Khan doesn't own your silence anymore; you do.
You ask her what will happen to the men of the past. She says they have been transported back to a disabled Botany Bay, except for Khan, who's still in the brig. They'll probably end up in a reorientation center after the hearing.
All Khan had wanted was transportation and willing followers. Was it so very much for a Napoleon to ask for an Elba?
And so you are marched toward your fate; your guard meets Khan's in the hall, and your eyes meet his. You see no anger there - he does not know, or does not choose to know, that you betrayed him. You imagine he sees sorrow in your eyes, for you are looking your last on your vision of the past. Your hair is the way he likes it.
But I hoped you would be stronger, he had said, just before you betrayed him. You, too, wish you had been stronger. Today, James Kirk's life seems a small price to pay to remain by Khan's side - but you chose not to pay it. That was what you wanted.
You are led in, and you sit beside Khan at a table. You watch the captain but your senses are focused on the man by your side. You can feel the heat of his body, and the strange absense of his rage. A bell rings, and your former captain declares all charges against Khan dropped. He will be exiled. Khan mentions Milton, and you think of your fall: "Taste this, and be henceforth among the Gods thyself a Goddess." That's not the line he means, but it will do.
And then Kirk turns to you. He has the necessary senior officers to court-martial you right here and now, but you hope he will not. Before Khan you are ashamed not of your crimes but of your repentance. You wish to preserve the anonymity of your betrayal; you want the silence.
Kirk offers you a choice, to stay for your court martial, or to go with Khan. Yet this is not your choice; to go with Khan is to belong to him, to be his one follower on the colony world he sought - you, out of an entire galaxy, were the one willing to be led by him. You still are, but if he would still have you he must claim you himself.
Khan turns to you, tells you it will be difficult there, a struggle - the world he wanted, and now he has it. Nothing matters, of course, but that he will have you. "I'll go with him," you say.
You have always chosen the past.
The title is from Othello:
Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't.
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well...