Beckett was, frankly, puzzled.
Cutler Beckett did not like puzzles. The Lord had created the world as a place of rationality and order, and the King of England governed it as such. The introduction of puzzles required human malice or, often, human stupidity. The puzzling situation confronting him now looked like it might involve either, or a bit of both.
“What do you think, Mr. Mercer?” Beckett asked his first mate.
“Well, she's certainly not the Proteus, sir,” Mercer replied.
Beckett scowled. “I have eyes, Mr. Mercer,” he said dryly. The Proteus, lately reported in these waters, was a forty-year-old hulk of a pirate ship, kept afloat apparently only by the devil's mischief. The ship the Endeavour was now coming alongside, by contrast, was a brand-new, first-class ship-of-the-line with a hundred and four guns, flying the East India Trading Company flag. She looked like a product of the shipbuilding program King George had first ordered ten years ago, to combat the threat of pirates in the colonies, and to judge by her condition – listing to starboard, with her crew scurrying over her like ants – she'd been doing her duty. That much was all very well.
But Beckett had personally overseen the construction of many of those ships. Each had its own idiosyncrasies, its own detailing, and he would have thought he knew each and every one by sight – but he didn't recognize this one. Furthermore, the name painted across her stern was Enterprise, and as far as Beckett knew there was no ship of that name in the fleet. Yet she could hardly have come from anywhere else – and if she had, that boded ill indeed.
It was a puzzle indeed, and Beckett wanted it solved expediently. He finished his tea and handed the china cup to a servant. “Get a dinghy ready,” he ordered. “I think I'd like a word with the captain of the HMS Enterprise.”
They ran up signal flags to announce that they wished to board. It seemed to take the Enterprise an awfully long time to respond. Through his spyglass, Beckett watched as a thin negro talked to a tall, straight-backed man in the uniform of an officer. The officer pointed and issued an order, and the negro raised flags to indicate that Beckett was welcome. Finally.
He stepped onto the Enterprise's deck and was greeted at once by the tall officer. Like their ship, the crew appeared to have been through some difficulty recently; the man was dirty and bruised, but his wig and hat were on straight, and he stood tall with his hands behind his back. Beckett approved – officers ought to maintain their composure, as an example for lesser men.
“Are you the captain?” Beckett asked.
“No, sir,” the man replied calmly. “My name is Spock. I am what I believe you would call the first mate.”
“Where is the captain, then?” Beckett wanted to know.
“He is in his quarters, receiving medical treatment,” said Mr. Spock. He spoke in an even cadence and tone, the voice of somebody entirely in control of his emotions. It was the sort of voice Beckett usually liked to hear; Mr. Spock appeared to be a model of composure and respect. And yet, there was something worrying about him. Beyond his measured voice and bland expression, he had a decidedly odd face. His eyebrows were set at a strange angle, and the scab crusted on a scraped cheek was a dark blue-green in colour instead of brown.
“Take me to him,” Beckett ordered.
“Of course, sir,” said Spock. “Whom shall I say is calling upon him?”
“Lord Cutler Beckett, Chairman of the East India Trading Company.”
Beckett expected surprise, or at least recognition, but Spock's blank expression altered not at all. “Of course, my lord.” He moved one arm, and for a moment Beckett wondered if he were reaching for his sword. Then, however, he appeared to change his mind. “Follow me, Lord Beckett,” he said, and turned to head for the captain's cabin at the rear of the ship.
Now that he was actually on board, Beckett saw that the Enterprise was in considerable disarray. A few people appeared to be doing something useful, cleaning up or making repairs, but most simply looked lost. And they were a curiously mixed bag for a company ship, as well. The helmsman, leaning over the poop to shout down to somebody working on the rudder, was a Chinaman. The voice calling back up had a thick accent that definitely was not British. The negro was still there, pulling in the signal flags. And there appeared to be a great lot of young boys about, many of whom looked suspiciously like women in male clothing. Something was very much afoot here, and whatever it was, it was certainly not in accordance with Company orders.
Mr. Spock rapped on the door of the cabin. “Captain?” he called.
Muffled voices could be heard, but nobody answered.
Spock waited a moment, then turned to Beckett. “My lord,” he said. “Captain Kirk was...”
“I want to speak to Captain Kirk regardless of what condition he is in,” Beckett said firmly.
“Very well, my lord.” Spock opened the door of the cabin, and Beckett stepped inside.
“Captain Kirk,” Beckett began, “I would...”
“OW!” a voice interrupted
Beckett stopped. The cabin was quite dim compared to the sunlight outside, and his eyes were not yet adjusted. All he could make out as yet were the vague shapes of a group of men gathered around a desk, silhouetted against the windows.
“Damn it, Jim!” somebody else snapped. “I'm doing the best I can with what I've got! Now hold still, and let me do my job!”
“Is this some kind of misguided revenge?” asked the first voice, evidently that of Jim. “I mean... ow! Geeze, Bones, it's not as if...”
“I'd give you a painkiller if I had one,” Bones said. “You two got a hold on him?”
"Yes, Doctor," two voices chorused – one was unmistakably female.
“All right, then,” said the voice that must have belonged to the ship's doctor. “On three. One... two...”
“Captain Kirk,” said Spock loudly.
“Huh?” The man seated in the captain's chair, the one the doctor had called Jim, looked up, and Bones seized the moment of distraction to twist his dislocated shoulder back into position. Jim hollered in surprised pain and tried to jump to his feet; the two sailors holding on to him redoubled their grip and wrestled him back into his chair. There was an unpleasantly juicy popping sound, and then the doctor carefully let go.
Jim swayed a moment, then sagged back against his seat. “Thanks, Bones,” he breathed.
“Don't mention it,” the doctor grumbled.
Beckett cleared his throat and took a step forward. “Where is Captain Kirk?” he asked.
Nobody in the room looked very much like a captain to Beckett. On the right was the doctor, a thin, sour-faced man now standing back to survey his handiwork with a scowl. On the left were the two sailors who'd been holding on to Jim. They were clearly nobodies, dressed in shirts and trousers without even hats on – the woman had not even bothered to bind her breasts. And in the middle was Jim himself; a boyish blond in a gold brocade waistcoat. With the doctor and the sailors eliminated, he was the only remaining candidate. And sure enough he stood up and said, “I'm James T. Kirk. Who are you?”
“This is Lord Cutler Beckett,” said Spock, “chairman of the East India Trading Company, which he has implied makes him our employer.”
Kirk's stance shifted slightly. He straightened up and raised his head, guarded but at least nominally respectful. “Sorry, Mr. Beckett,” he said.
“Lord Beckett,” Spock corrected.
“Lord Beckett,” said Kirk. “We would have extended a more suitable welcome, but as you can see we've just been through a bit of a crisis...”
“I can indeed see,” Beckett affirmed. “What sort of a crisis?”
“Why, an attack by pirates, sir,” said Kirk.
It was probably fortunate that Beckett had not walked in expecting to have a high opinion of the Enterprise's captain. If he had, the past five minutes' acquaintance with the man would have been more than enough to sorely disappoint him. Not only could the man not direct his crew, he was a liar as well. Even a stupid pirate knew the difference between a merchant and a warship. “Oh, yes?” he said. “And who, pray tell, were the pirates brazen enough to attack a ship of a hundred and four guns in broad daylight?”
Kirk didn't even flinch. “The Proteus.”
“That rotting hulk?” Beckett was incensed. “Against your Enterprise?”
“She caught us by surprised, my lord,” said Spock.
“That's right,” Kirk agreed. “And we'd just been through a, uh, storm. The crew was exhausted and in no shape to fight. Once Mr. Spock and myself had a chance to collect ourselves, we escaped from their brig and re-took the Enterprise quickly, and now we...”
“Where is the Proteus?” asked Beckett. There was only one answer that could satisfy him – the pirate ship had better be at the bottom of the sea.
Kirk was getting impatient with Beckett's interruptions, but restrained himself; the only admirable trait Beckett had seen in him so far. “I'm sorry, sir. We don't know.”
“So not only were you taken and imprisoned by a group of desperate brigands in a ship that barely floats, you've let them escape as well!” If Beckett had for a moment believed him, he would have ordered the entire crew clapped in irons.
“I'm sorry,” Kirk repeated. “I was more worried about the welfare of my men.”
“Men cost nothing,” Beckett informed him. “Ships and cargoes, however, cost a great deal, and the duty of expensive ships like the Enterprise is to protect expensive merchant vessels and their expensive cargoes! Those who spare the lives of pirates are no better than pirates themselves!”
Kirk took a deep breath and opened his mouth, plainly intending to shout at Beckett. If he had done so, Beckett would have arrested him for insubordination. But both were stopped in their tracks by another calm interjection from Mr. Spock.
“We did not intend to let the Proteus go, my lord,” the first mate said. “On the contrary, we had a great interest in capturing her. However, as the Captain and I freed our crew, a fog closed in around us. It lifted a few minutes later, and we found the Proteus gone.”
“Rest assured, Lord Beckett,” said Kirk, speaking the name with just the tiniest hint of mockery, “as soon as we have the Enterprise up and running again, we will follow the Proteus to the ends of the... of the Earth, and tow her back to headquarters for you, with a big red bow on her!”
Beckett paused a moment before answering. The tale of the mysterious fog and the Proteus abruptly vanishing... that was a convenient little lie, indeed, but it was also a story Beckett had heard before, from other ships who'd tried to pursue the pirate vessel. And it was a story he'd ordered kept secret, because the last thing he needed was more mystique and legends frightening men who were supposed to be doing their duty. If the Enterprise had indeed met the Proteus, it might well be true.
So all he said was, “excellent. I shall be waiting with great anticipation.”
“You won't be disappointed, Lord Beckett,” said Kirk.
“Good day, Captain Kirk.”
“Good day, Lord Beckett.”
Beckett motioned for Mercer to follow him as he stalked towards the door. Mr. Spock was there to show him out, still calm and collected as ever. Beckett paused in the door. "Spock," he said. "is that Dutch?"
"Vulcan, my lord," was the immediate reply.
Beckett had never heard of Vulcan. “Your English is excellent,” he said, hoping to be given a clue as to where the place might be.
“Thank you, my lord,” said Mr. Spock. “While I was growing up, my Mother took pains that I should be fluent.”
“Your mother was an Englishwoman, then?”
“An American, my lord.”
It was plain that Beckett would get nothing out of him. He and Mercer left without another word.
With Beckett gone, Jim Kirk sank back into the chair and breathed out, then turned to look at his first officer.
“Spock?” he said.
“What in blue blazes is happening to us?”
Spock shifted his weight slightly, which was the closest Jim had ever seen him come to betraying discomfort. “I do not know, Captain. The situation does not seem to follow any recognizable logic.”
“You can say that again,” grumbled Bones.
“I see no reason to repeat myself, Doctor,” Spock noted.
“Maybe I'm dreaming,” said Jim.
“If you are, I'm having the same dream,” Bones said.
“I can say with some certainty that I am not,” said Spock. “Vulcan dreams are quite different from human ones, and do not contain this sort of imagery.”
Vulcans probably dreamed in equations, Jim thought sourly. “All right,” he said with a sigh, “I'm calling a meeting. Get everybody in here... everybody important,” he added, recalling Spock's unfortunate tendency to take things literally. “I need command officers, scientists... anybody who thinks they might have a clue. And I've just realized we're actually going to have to go collect them, because if there's an intercom on this ship I don't even know what it looks like.”
“I would say that there is not,” said Spock. “We appear to be in a pre-electric era.”
"That means the intercom is called shouting," Bones added helpfully.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” said Jim. He glanced up to see Bones taking a deep swig from the silver flask he carried. "You're on duty, Bones."
Without speaking, Bones offered the flask to Jim. Without reply, Jim accepted it and took a long drink himself. Depressingly, the world did not make any more sense once he lowered it again.
"Right," he said. "Let's just get the smart people together, and see what we can figure out."