Scarlett, working in the fields of the O’Hara plantation beside her few remaining servants on a sweltering August afternoon, at first took the bright streak in the northwestern sky for a meteor — until it came close enough for her to see the glint of metal from an obviously artificial surface.
She forced herself to dismiss her first thought, which was that the Yankees had invented a new weapon of mass destruction. Not at all likely; the war had been over since the spring of this god-cursed year 1865, and just because the Yanks could build iron-clad ships didn’t mean they had the brains to put together a flying machine. A new French invention, perhaps; she’d heard about Europe’s hot-air balloons, although they certainly couldn’t be this large . . .
It wasn’t until the shrieking servants ran for cover that Scarlett realized the impossibly huge machine was about to crash. Right into the midst of her cotton fields, the pitifully few acres she’d been able to plant after the Yanks freed the slaves. Just when she thought her luck couldn’t get any worse.
The crash shook the ground like an earthquake, but mercifully, the fields didn’t catch fire. Scarlett approached cautiously, wiping the dirt off her hands as best she could; after all, she wouldn’t want the foreign inventors to mistake her for a white-trash sharecropper.
And they had to be very foreign indeed, she thought, as a hatch opened on the strange vehicle and several oddly dressed figures stepped out of it. Scarlett narrowed her eyes as she caught a glimpse of a dark-skinned woman in a scandalously short skirt. Evidently, these foreigners had no shame whatsoever about bringing a harlot along on their adventures.
Scarlett drew herself up to her full height, heedless of her aching back and threadbare clothing, and introduced herself to the foreigners in a firm tone as the mistress of the estate.
One of her strange visitors stepped forward in response. “I’m James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise.”
Must be a Scotsman, she thought, with a name like Kirk, and quite probably a lord, as well. What a handsome face he had! Not to mention his body, which the tight-fitting foreign clothing showed to excellent advantage. And of course he would have to be fabulously wealthy, to have built such a wondrous flying ship. If I could sink my claws into a man like this, Scarlett found herself thinking, why, I’d never have to look at another cotton field again.
“Couldn’t you have found a more suitable place to experiment with flying machines, Mr. Kirk?” Although her heart beat faster when she looked into his captivating eyes, she did her best to maintain a stern tone. “You’ve flattened most of my cotton crop.”
“Our apologies, ma’am. We were trying to land at San Francisco, but somehow the ship was sucked into a temporal vortex and spun out of control here. We’ll pay fair compensation for the damage we caused, of course.”
Scarlett wasn’t quite sure of the distance to San Francisco, but that story sounded altogether preposterous. Not that she cared what absurd explanations her visitors chose to give, if she could get her hands on some of that compensation the alluring Mr. Kirk had offered.
“If you wish.” Kirk glanced briefly toward the gaunt, barefoot servants who’d crept back to stare at the new arrivals from a safe distance. “Or in food and clothing, if you’d find that more useful. We’re fairly well provisioned.”
The prospect of having real food again, after she’d been reduced to meals of thin soup and even thinner porridge for what seemed like several eternities, left Scarlett struggling to maintain her composure. She took a deep breath, counted to five, and declared, “Food and clothing will be acceptable,” in the tone of a queen accepting a vassal’s tribute.
She thought she saw a glint of approval in Kirk’s eyes as he answered, “I’ll inform the quartermaster that you’re to have whatever you require.”
Scarlett stretched luxuriously, the crisp fabric of her new red dress rustling, as she sat on a plush chair on the veranda. No more gowns made from an old pair of draperies for her. In fact, the Enterprise’s quartermaster had even provided her with new draperies for every window in the house. The generous, or possibly careless, Mr. Kirk didn’t appear to have set any limit on the amount of supplies she could request, and Scarlett intended to take full advantage of that happy circumstance.
“Bring me a mint julep,” she commanded the young servant who’d been standing behind her chair fanning her. “And another for the good doctor who enjoys them so much.”
The servant boy, attired in an immaculate uniform that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in one of Europe’s finest mansions, promptly moved to obey. Most of the plantation’s former slaves had returned over the past few weeks, while the Enterprise’s crew had been busy fabricating parts needed to repair the ship. Word of Scarlett’s good fortune, and all the food now available, had gotten around fast. Not quite as pleasant as having slaves subject to her absolute dominion, Scarlett thought; but the world had changed, and she’d just have to deal with it.
She’d been a bit worried that her servants might all sign on as apprentices with the Enterprise’s shockingly egalitarian crew, but the exotic African woman, who had turned out to be what Scarlett understood as some sort of telegraph operator, had gently explained that the ship didn’t need any more crew at present.
To Scarlett’s annoyance, she hadn’t been permitted to see the inside of the Enterprise, either. Something to do with trade secrets, she supposed. She’d been at her most coquettish in telling Mr. Kirk that she knew nothing about engineering and couldn’t possibly steal any secret inventions, but he’d been unmoved.
Maybe the good Dr. McCoy, suitably plied with mint juleps, would prove to be more cooperative. Scarlett took the drinks from the servant and set off toward the small clinic that now stood beside the cotton fields.
The waiting room, as usual, overflowed with hopeful black faces. The doctor truly had to be a selfless man, Scarlett thought; after all, there wasn’t much likelihood he’d receive payment for his services, other than a few eggs or turnips. No one in Georgia had any money these days, and the former slaves least of all.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. The doctor is in surgery and can’t be disturbed. I’ll give this to him later, if you like.”
A young crewman, apparently one of Dr. McCoy’s assistants, took the mint julep from her and put it down on a nearby table. Scarlett suspected it would disappear long before the doctor ever saw it; but then, she’d had such good fortune recently so that she needn’t concern herself with such trifles.
Leaving the clinic, she found the chief engineer and several of the junior crew working amidst the flattened cotton stalks. Montgomery Scott, cutting a panel of some peculiar design with a tool she’d never seen before, waved cheerfully to her.
“Hello, lassie! What a fine day.”
Although the alloy looked considerably harder than steel, the chief engineer’s cutting tool sliced through it with ease. Observing her interest, Scott explained briefly, “Diamond-tipped: the hardest substance known to nature. So to speak — these diamonds are an improvement on nature’s pattern, ye might say.”
Scarlett puzzled this out for a moment before she concluded that the Enterprise must have some machinery for manufacturing artificial diamonds. Such alchemy would certainly explain the great wealth of the ship’s officers and crew. Wealth that would be hers, if only she could entice Captain Kirk into marriage. Surely the captain must have noticed by now that she had the loveliest figure of any woman in the county. Hadn’t she?
In the meanwhile, it might be possible to get a few of those gemstones right away. Scarlett favored the chief engineer with her most fetching smile. “Please, Mr. Scott, if you have the time to spare, could you make a few diamonds for me? They’ve always been my very favorite gem.”
He put down the cutting tool and turned to face her. “Call me Scotty, lassie, as I’ve said. And ye wouldnae want industrial diamonds; they’re of no value as gemstones. To produce gem-quality diamonds with our equipment would be possible, aye, provided the captain doesnae object. I’ll ask him when I have the chance.”
A frustrated Scarlett, forcing herself to smile sweetly in response, knew this answer was the best she’d get for the time being.
Dance music swirled enticingly through the elegant halls of the plantation house, Tara, now restored to its pre-war glory. Scarlett, wearing a bright, billowing turquoise dress tonight and well aware of the jealous glances her new wardrobe inspired, greeted her arriving guests with what she deemed a gracious superiority. Melanie and Ashley Wilkes, who’d just come in, were dressed in makeshift evening clothes that looked as if they’d had to piece together not only their moth-eaten draperies but a few tablecloths as well.
Ashley, looking unhealthily gaunt and pale, positioned himself beside the hors d’oeuvres trays, devouring the food in handfuls when he thought no one was looking. His overall appearance, Scarlett concluded, was that of a half-starved peasant who’d slunk into his lord’s manor house by the back stairs. She couldn’t imagine what she’d ever seen in him.
And as for Rhett Butler, who’d never been captain of anything but a pirate ship and certainly wasn’t worthy of her company, he could just stay away, as far as Scarlett was concerned.
“If Rhett dares to show up,” Scarlett declared to herself, “well, he can just kiss my bustle.”
Melanie, close enough to overhear the muttered words, raised her eyebrows in horror at the unladylike language. The self-righteous little ninny ought to have locked herself away in a convent, Scarlett thought. Although she and Ashley did seem to deserve one another.
Scarlett glanced around the room, surveying the motley group that had once made up the local aristocracy. Now they all had work-roughened hands and pinched, hungry faces, and someone had already stolen a pair of her silver candlesticks while her attention had been elsewhere. Her guests were all so thoroughly pitiful that Scarlett, to her surprise, found that she wasn’t enjoying her moment of social triumph, after all.
If only Captain Kirk would walk through that door, Scarlett thought. None of the Enterprise’s officers had shown up in response to her invitations. She didn’t suppose they had intended that as a deliberate slight; for some reason, most of the foreigners preferred to keep to themselves, avoiding crowds.
All the same, it made for a deadly dull evening. Scarlett could barely restrain a sigh as her guests converged like locusts on the serving-wenches who were bringing more platters from the kitchen. She had plenty more food where that came from, of course, but it would have been nice to have some semblance of a conversation with her neighbors.
Then again, what could she possibly have in common with any of them, now, to talk about?
This time Scarlett actually did sigh, as she turned her head just in time to see more of her silver disappearing under Melanie’s skirt, which seemed to be quite heavily laden with various ill-gotten gains. Ashley had his pockets stuffed full of mincemeat pies. Obviously, they’d not have been well suited for the monastic life, after all. She was sorely tempted to trip both of them and enjoy the spectacle.
Just then, her miraculous salvation from social tedium, in the very attractive form of Captain Kirk, stepped into the foyer. Scarlett restrained her impulse to rush to greet the captain, who was wearing some sort of formal dress uniform and had already drawn the stares of every woman in the place. Ashley looked more than a bit interested, too, Scarlett thought spitefully.
Captain Kirk approached her with an elegant stride, bowed to her with a flourish, and extended a hand toward her.
“Your favorite gemstone, I believe?”
Scarlett could only stare in astonishment at the diamond necklace in his hand. Why, even the smallest of the gems had to be at least four carats, and all of the stones — fifteen, by her quick count — looked entirely flawless. She tried to estimate their value and decided that the necklace was probably worth more than the entire state of Georgia. As the captain began to put it around her neck, she was left altogether speechless, for what had to be the only time in her life.
Unfortunately, her next arrival didn’t share that affliction.
“Sir, I must question your intentions toward the lady.” The familiar masculine voice belonged to Rhett Butler, who had just stormed through the door and was obviously spoiling for a fight.
The entire room fell silent as Rhett continued, “No decent gentleman would offer a gift such as this to a lady not his wife. Evidently, sir, you have designs most vile on Miss Scarlett, and as she has no husband to protect her from rogues of your ilk, I am compelled, as a friend of the family, to defend her honor.”
Scarlett, her face burning with fury and embarrassment, snatched up the first thing handy, which turned out to be a plate of deviled eggs, and flung it in Rhett’s direction. “You insufferable, arrogant ass!”
Her aim wasn’t bad. The plate cracked across Rhett’s forehead, leaving bits of egg spattered all over his dark hair. Somehow he managed to keep his composure as he gave her a pitying glance. “Madam, this scoundrel’s importuning ways have clouded your judgment. An unfortunate weakness of the feminine gender, although under other circumstances, I might find your madcap enthusiasm rather appealing.”
Before Scarlett could throw something more at him, Rhett took another step toward his rival and issued a challenge. “As of now, sir, your days of preying on defenseless ladies with nefarious schemes are over. You may have the choice of pistols or saber, sir.”
The excited crowd pressed forward, watching the confrontation eagerly. They hadn’t seen a good duel in ages. The Enterprise’s captain, without a word, took down a pair of crossed sabers that had been hanging above the mantel and slid one across the floor to his opponent. Rhett Butler picked it up quickly, as the onlookers pressed even closer.
Scarlett, now completely livid, elbowed her way to the front of the crowd and shrieked, “Don’t even think about fighting a duel in my parlor!”
“I beg pardon, ma’am.” Rhett inclined his head slightly toward her. “It would, indeed, be most unseemly to leave this scalawag’s carcass in several pieces on your floor. We’ll take this outside.”
And before Scarlett could make any further attempt to stop them, the two men, swords in hand, were already out the front door, followed by their avid audience. She could see a few of her servants concealing themselves behind the bushes, too, so as not to miss the show. To her left, a gleeful voice said, “I’ll give two-to-one odds on Butler.”
Surely, Scarlett thought as the combatants assumed duellists’ stances, the better man had to be Jim Kirk. Although she hadn’t really known the Enterprise’s captain long enough for the use of his first name to be proper, the expected social formalities seemed absurd when he’d just put such wildly extravagant jewelry around her neck. No doubt, Jim had to intend marriage, despite Rhett Butler’s accusation. He’d probably been just about to propose to her with a matching ring, Scarlett concluded, when Rhett’s untimely arrival interrupted things.
Steel clashed in a flurry of movement as the duel began in earnest. Scarlett clenched her fingers nervously in the folds of her dress as she watched. Although she didn’t know much about the finer details of swordplay, she noted that both men seemed reasonably well skilled in the deadly business as they parried one another’s strokes.
Taking the offensive, Jim drove Rhett backward with a relentless attack. A fierce slash opened a deep cut on Rhett’s sword hand, and drops of blood spattered into the grass. Rhett, fighting tenaciously, countered with a stroke that sliced through Jim’s shirt and gashed his chest.
The onlookers pressed forward with the eager anticipation of a pack of wild dogs circling their kill. The betting among them intensified, with fewer men willing to give odds now that the peculiar foreigner had demonstrated his skill with a blade.
Rhett, with a desperate lunge, nicked Jim’s shoulder with an attack that his adversary barely managed to parry. But he left his own chest unguarded for just a second, and Jim, with a swift riposte, took advantage of the opening. The blade entered just below Rhett’s ribs, leaving the would-be defender of Scarlett’s purity staring down at it in disbelief, until he collapsed to the ground.
The crowd, most of them looking somewhat disappointed, others collecting their winnings, began to disperse. Jim withdrew his sword, which had surely pierced the heart of his motionless foe, and turned to Scarlett. “Tell two of your servants to put him on a stretcher and carry him to the clinic.”
“He can’t possibly survive that!” Scarlett protested in astonishment.
“Dr. McCoy is extremely skilled. Please do as I ask.” Jim, his bloodied shirt hanging in tatters from his muscular chest, took a step toward her. “I’d hate to be responsible for killing a man who had your best interests in mind.”
Although Scarlett wouldn’t have described her fallen admirer in quite those terms, she promptly summoned two brawny ex-slaves from the shrubbery where they’d been lurking and sent them to fetch a stretcher. After all, there could be no harm in humoring Jim, even if he foolishly believed that his ship’s doctor had supernatural abilities. Indeed, it was a rather endearing eccentricity. The servants complied at once, with the usual “Yes’m,” but the expressions on their faces as they began to carry away Rhett’s limp body made it plain that they believed their effort to be a total waste of time, too.
“But Jim, darling, you’re hurt, too.” Scarlett had no problem recognizing an opportunity to show off her feminine, nurturing qualities when she saw one. “Come inside, and I’ll bandage you.”
She drew some stares and whispered comments as she led Jim upstairs to a guest bedroom, but no one dared to say anything to her face. Not that she cared what any of her neighbors thought. Before long, she would be Jim Kirk’s wife, comfortably ensconced in the glamour of his fabulous estate abroad, without so much as another thought wasted on Georgia’s unfortunate residents.
A silent maidservant, who would no doubt instantly transform herself into a fountain of gossip as soon as she got out of earshot, brought hot water and bandages before starting a fire in the hearth. Although the evening wasn’t particularly cool, and the fire surely had to be a pretext for a few more minutes of spying, Scarlett let the servant go ahead and light it. It would provide a nice romantic backdrop for what she hoped would be a most pleasant interlude with the Enterprise’s captain.
After all, whether society cared to acknowledge it or not, women did, on occasion, have certain undeniable physical needs, too.
The servant reluctantly left the room, closing the door behind herself, probably to make her eavesdropping less noticeable. Ignoring her, Scarlett removed the shreds of Jim’s shirt and carefully cleaned his wounds, which didn’t appear to be serious. The bandaging didn’t take long at all, though it would have been even quicker if Scarlett hadn’t been so tempted to let her hands linger on Jim’s very handsome chest.
“You’re so brave and strong, Jim. Why, I’ve never seen a man who had such skill with a sword.” Scarlett, of course, had no interest whatsoever in watching men fight their preposterous duels, but as usual, she figured that a little flattery wouldn’t hurt.
“I took second place in the fencing tournament at the Academy in my senior year.” From the way Jim had started looking at her, Scarlett had no doubt that he was enjoying the touch of her hands, too.
“West Point, you mean?” Although she’d finished the bandaging, Scarlett deliberately allowed her hands to rest on Jim’s muscular shoulders as she leaned closer to him.
If the Enterprise’s captain said anything in response to that question before he began to kiss her, Scarlett never remembered it afterward.
Late in the night, a rumble almost like nearby thunder shook the plantation, but a blissfully sleeping Scarlett, her dreams filled with quite another sort of earth-shaking thunder, never noticed.
Bright sunlight filtered through the new velvet curtains as Scarlett woke, slowly, to find herself alone in bed. That had not been the situation when she’d fallen asleep. But of course, she thought, Jim must have returned to his ship before morning so as not to place her reputation in jeopardy. Why, he was such a gallant, considerate man, and his wonderful skills in the bedchamber were simply beyond description . . .
Scarlett’s pleasant reverie was interrupted by the loud, excited chattering of the servants in the hallway, from which she learned that Rhett Butler had indeed been miraculously restored to life and health overnight. Then he’d slunk out of the county before dawn, thoroughly embarrassed by the circumstances of his defeat, and wasn’t expected to show his face again for quite some time.
Good riddance to bad rubbish, Scarlett thought. She turned her head toward the fire, which had burned down to a few glowing embers, and just then noticed a folded letter on top of the small desk beyond the hearth. No doubt, Jim had left her a romantic poem in which he professed his undying love. She was truly the luckiest woman in all the world.
Until she started to read the letter. Then, her face hot with chagrin, she crumpled the dreadful thing and threw it into the fireplace.
How could Jim have left without her? No matter what sort of duties his stupid ship had? And, worst of all, leaving only this wretched, insincere letter to tell her that he’d always remember their time together, as if she’d been nothing but a high-priced . . .
She raised a hand to her throat. Yes, the diamonds were still there. Surely they had to have enough value, if sold at one of Europe’s premier auction houses, to keep her in luxury for the rest of her life. Even without a man. From that perspective, maybe this revolting incident was for the best, after all. What did she need a man for, anyway?
And Scarlett began to smile, as the charred remains of Captain Kirk’s letter crumbled into ash. “Frankly,” she informed the glowing coals, “I don’t give a damn.”