Then, Now, and Whenever (by Kasie)

Summary:  Gunsmoke/Star Trek Crossover
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Western/Sci-fi
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5850


The sun sat low on the western horizon, an immense flame-red ball of fire, that seemed to illuminate each and every dust particle that floated and flowed through the atmosphere. Minutes after the sun disappeared a huge; completely full moon rose over the mountain range to the east. The face of the man in the moon could be seen clearly. Normally the face looked to be benevolent, and laughing. On this night it seemed to be frowning and full of fright. It looked down on a pair of tired, but determined horseback riders crossing the grassland from the north and heading for a small town. They had made camp for the night in a clump of cottonwoods. From the south came three more riders, laughing and joking as they camped along side a rippling creek, before going on to the same town. Both groups tried to ignore the blowing wind.

*****

The strength of the wind increased as the rider entered the small town of Greenville at a slow walk. The long ears of the mule flicked back and forth as he listened to the voice of his rider and the whine of the wind. His eyes rolled and he snorted his displeasure as he danced a few steps when a small tumbleweed blew between his hooves.

“Whoa now, Rufe. You just take it easy, mule.” Festus Hagan kept a firm hold on the reins as he spoke to the mule trying to keep him calm. “It’s just a tumbleweed blowin’ in that dang ol’ wind.” The mule walked on past the first buildings on the edge of town. Shacks really, thought Festus, looked like they had been abandoned some time ago. He pulled his hat down tighter, and talked to himself and the mule as a whirlwind came down through the center of the town, swirling dirt, a few tumbleweeds, dry leaves, a piece of paper, and an old rag. Just before reaching Festus and the mule the whirlwind died, dropping its prizes in the dusty street.

“Greenville, huh? Nothin’ green ‘bout this place. It’s dry as can be. Ain’t a blade a green grass anywhere. Wonder where all the folks are? Hidin’ from this storm, most likely. This here Greenville town looks like it’s a ghost town. Matthew said he thought there was still a few folks livin’ here, but it sure don’t look like it.”

A door on a nearby building began slamming open and then shut and open again causing Festus to jump in spit of himself. A sign with faded lettering swung; squeaking on one rusty chain. Festus thought it might have said Doctor’s Office once, but he wasn’t sure, as he had never learned to read. But in Dodge City, Doc Adams had a sign almost like that over his office. He could figure out a couple of other signs over dilapidated buildings, like Livery, Feed and Hardware, Saloon and Eatery. Yeah, he could go for that, something to eat and a beer. “Hope Matthew shows up soon. Wonder if that fella knew what he was talkin’ ‘bout, sayin’ that Steiner gang was holed up in this here town.”

Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw movement. A horse, a skinny old bay horse. Festus reined over to the hitchrail near the horse, dismounted, and stepped up on the boardwalk. The old horse came close, looking for a handout. Festus reached out and rubbed its muzzle. “Seen better days, ain’t you, old fella.” He felt something soft and furry rub against his leg. He looked down and took a quick couple of steps backward, his big roweled spurs jingling. “Oh, no. I don’t need no black cat comin’ ‘round with its bad luck. This here town and sand storm’s givin’ me the willies as it is. Go way cat. Shoo. Shoo.” He made an ineffective waving motion at the cat with his hands, but the cat walked back up to him and rubbed against his leg. “Shoo!”

The wind picked up again whipping dirt and litter through the buildings of the ghost town. The cat followed the old horse down the ally. Festus saw two men come out of the Saloon and Eatery. It was the only building that looked as if it was inhabited. A woman peaked out the dirty window made a face at the two men now standing in front of the saloon on the boardwalk, now with their backs to her. One scratched his overhanging belly, then reached in a pocket, pulled out a jackknife, opened it, and used the blade as a toothpick. Both had several days growth of scraggly beards, and both wore clothes that hadn’t been cleaned in a long time. Beat up hats shaded their faces, but didn’t completely hide long, greasy, dark hair, and bleak eyes.

“Feller over there,” said the one around the blade of the knife.

“Uh hah,” agreed the other. “Looks familiar.”

“Yeah, he do.” He snapped the knife shut and dropped it into his pocket. “Let’s go.”

“Yeah, time to be riddin’.” They stepped off the boardwalk and angled across the street away from Festus.

Festus watched them a moment. He was sure that these two men were Ed and Tom Steiner. Where was the other one, Donaldson? “Matthew, time you was showin’ up, or else them two might get away.” The Steiner’s and Donaldson were wanted for a couple of robberies in Dodge and Hays City.

The Steiners had disappeared around the corner of a building. Ed stopped. “Now I know where I see’d that feller before. It was in Dodge City. He was with that there Marshal Dillon.”

“You think Dillon’s here, too?” asked Tom.

“Let’s find out.” Ed pulled his six-shooter from its holster, and cocked the hammer. Tom followed his example. “We’ll get rid of them lawmen. Don’t need ‘em doggin’ our trails.”

The two outlaws stalked back into the street. “Hey, Deputy!” yelled Tom.

Festus had crossed the street hoping to see where they were going when they reappeared. Seeing the guns each had drawn, Festus reached for his own pistol, as the first bullet slammed into his left shoulder, knocking him down. He was still able to bring up his gun and got off two quick shots. He saw Tom Steiner flinch. Festus struggled back to his feet. He had to find some cover, some protection. Where was Dillon?

As Festus tried to throw himself at the doorway of an empty building another bullet plowed into his right leg. He never made it to the inside of the building but collapsed on the ground. He lay there, unable to move, the wind swirling dirt and trash around him. He heard some one groaning in pain and realized it was himself, he was almost crying. He knew he had been hard hit. Knew his leg was badly broken, maybe his shoulder as well. He knew he was bleeding heavily, knew he was going to pass out. Where was Matthew? And why didn’t that damn wind go away.

The wind blew harder and harder. It swirled great clouds of dust and dirt, obscuring the building, while it wailed, and sobbed. The Steiner’s tried to see where the deputy had gone to but it was as if he had disappeared. Another gust of wind whipped several shingles off a roof and thew them at the two outlaws. They ducked back into a sheltered doorway and waited for the wind to let up. In just a minute it did. As the Steiners peaked out into the street the wind died to a fitful breeze.

“Where’d he go?” whispered Tom, pressing his hand to a bloody spot on his side.

“Don’t know,” answered Ed. He marched back into the street daring anyone to come out.

Tom followed more cautiously. The wind whistled up the street with a mighty gust, then settled again. “Maybe he blew away,” laughed Tom.

*****

“Jim, when you talked me into taking this vacation with you, you didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout having to survive a dang wind and sandstorm.” The Federation doctor pulled his felt cowboy hat down tighter trying to shield his face from the wind.

“It’s not so bad now, Bones, it’s letting up some. I do apologize, and if I had known I would have scheduled our trip for a different time.” Jim Kirk petted the neck of the bay horse he rode, then looked back at the pack mule he was leading, that was loaded with camp gear. “Come on, mule,” he said to the animal, giving it’s lead rope a tug.

“For once, Doctor, I have to agree with you.” Spock, also, gave a tug on the lead rope of the mule he led. “I didn’t realize that a camping trip in Kansas would involve such close association with such stubborn, contrary, equine creatures.” He gave another tug on the mule, and tapped his spurs to the flanks of the sorrel horse he rode, trying to increase its slow walk to a faster pace.

“Personally, I have totally enjoyed being able to ride a horse again, even with the bad weather. It’s been way to long since I’ve been riding or camping.” He looked at his two friends. “But to please you two city slickers we should reach the ghost town of Greenville soon, and you can sleep in a real bed tonight instead of on the ground, wrapped in a blanket, keeping warm by a campfire, after a fine meal of canned beans and burnt bacon, as we did last night.”

“Thank, goodness!” exclaimed McCoy.

“Doctor, would you please remind me never to go on shore leave back to earth with the Captain again,” said Spock.

The Captain laughed at the expressions on the faces of his two companions. He removed his setson and swiped at the sweat in it. “There it is. A real wild west ghost town.” He nodded at the dilapidated buildings just showing on the horizon. In a few minutes they were walking their mounts down the only street in the town of Greenville. The wind whipped the dirt in gusts causing the horses and mules to roll their eyes.

“These can’t be the original buildings,” commented Bones. “No wood can last that many centuries exposed to the elements.”

Spock reached for the tri-corder on his belt, that he always carried, even here, while he was on holiday. At the urging of his friends he had agreed to discard his uniform and was dressed in true western garb of jeans and cotton shirt with cowboy boots.

“No need,” said Jim. “It isn’t the original; it has been replaced several times. It’s owned by an archeologist and his wife. They keep it as a kind of living museum.”

“Tourist trap,” snorted McCoy.

“Maybe so, Bones, maybe so. But its fun to visit and learn about what life was like during that time of the 1880’s. Cowboys, cowgirls, gun fighters, gamblers, outlaws, and lawmen that were almost as bad as the outlaws. And all on horses. It almost makes me wish I had been alive during that time.”

“And give up the Enterprise?” asked Bones, while Spock just raised on eyebrow as he regarded the Captain.

“Almost, I said. Just almost.” The Captain reined in by a hitching rack.

“Hey, they even have a fake body laying in the street,” said McCoy.

At that moment the body groaned and rolled over. Ever the doctor, McCoy ran over to the man. “Mister, you Okay?”

“Ain’t sure,” mumbled the man. “Got hit a couple a times, that’s fer sure.”

“What happened?” asked Kirk.

“Shoot out. Got in a gunfight with them Steiner brothers. Need to find Dillon. He should be ‘round here som’where’s. We were gonna come in from different directions. Guess he got held up.”

“Dillon?” Questioned Spock.

“Marshal Matthew Dillon,” said the man just before he passed out again.

*****

“Drop those weapons!”

The Steiners looked at their guns, then looked around to see Marshal Matt Dillon standing behind them, his revolver looking small, but deadly, in the big man’s big hand.

“Damn,” sputtered Ed Steiner. “How’ed he sneak up on us.” He and Tom tossed their guns onto the ground.

“Guess we forgot ‘bout the Marshall while we was tryin’ to get that deputy,” explained Tom to his brother.

“Put these on,” said the Marshall tossing a pair of handcuffs at Ed. “Slowly. Try anything, and you’ll never make it back to Dodge.”

Ed picked up the cuffs and snapped them on his wrists.

“Now you,” another pair landed in front of Tom.

“But – but I’m hurt,” whined the outlaw.

“Put ‘em on!” The Marshals gruff command had Tom scrambling to get the cuffs and put them on. “Now, where’s Festus?”

“Uh?” asked both Steiners at once.

“My deputy.”

“Ah,—- he was over there.” Tom tried to point down the street with his chained hands.

“You better hope he isn’t bad hurt,” said Dillon. “Inside.” The Marshal took the two prisoners into the Saloon and Eatery. Leaving the owner, armed with a shotgun, to watch the pair, Dillon began looking for Festus.

An hour later he returned to the Saloon. Although he had found Rufe, the mule, nowhere had he seen a sign of his friend. Matt didn’t know where else to look or what to do. The town wasn’t that big. There weren’t that many places he could be, and the owner of the saloon had confirmed the fact that Festus had been shot by one of the Steiners. Frustrated and dead tired he sank into a chair. After draining several cups of coffee, while eating a bowl of stew, he began questioning the prisoners. Although he didn’t think so, he wondered if they had killed Festus and hid the body somewhere.

*****

“Careful, careful,” cautioned the doctor as he, Spock, and Kirk carried the unconscious deputy into the lobby of the old hotel. The proprietor hovered nearby, asking what they planned to do with the injured man. “Take care of him,” snarled Bones. They took Festus to a room indicated by the owner. A few terse orders and McCoy had the cleaning staff fetching first aide supplies and towels, plus anything else the doctor wanted so he could take care of his patient. Even Spock, and Kirk had jumped at his demand for the few pieces of medical equipment that had been packed with their camp gear.

It was hours later when the bewhiskered patient moaned and opened his eyes. At first he could only stare at the man, dozing in the chair next to the bed. Festus gradually became aware that the wind was still howling outside the hotel. He thought that the hotel was really fancy with the elegantly turned and carved furniture, expensive glass oil lamps, linen tablecloths, and curtains, and good sheets and blankets on the bed. There were even some good looking painting on the wall. “Hey, Mister,” he crocked, his mouth dry.

McCoy came awake, and handed Festus a glass of water letting him have only a little before taking it back. Using a small, black handheld instrument he checked his patients vital signs. Festus tried to back away from it when it started beeping.

“What’s that thing?” He put out a hand to push the instrument away from him.

“Take it easy now. It’s just a medical tri-corder. Part of my instruments. I’m just checking your heart rate – normal, temperature – a bit high but that’s to be expected, and blood pressure – good.”

“I ain’t never, ever seen nothin’ like that,” muttered Festus. “You keep that thing away from me. I ain’t never seen Doc use no docturin’ thing like that. Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m a doctor, Doctor Leonard McCoy, of the Starship Enterprise, you – you backwoods hick. I’m just tryin’ to help you.” A bit of McCoy’s southern accent came out as he tried to continue his examination. “And who are you?”

“Festus Hagan,” was the quick answer. “A doctor, uh. Well, I know another sawbones that you must a learned your bedside manners from. How bad am I hurt, anyway? Am I goin’ a live? Not that I trust your opinion.”

“Of course you’re goin’ a live. You’re going to be a bit sore for a few days but you’ll be fine. I removed the bullets. I could have done a better job in a hospital where I would have had better equipment but I did a good job, even if I do say so myself, with what few things I did have to work with.” He clicked off the tri-corder, and touched the strange looking badge he wore. “Jim?”

“Yes, Bones?”

Festus almost jumped out of the bed at the sound of a man’s voice seemingly coming from the badge. “What?” his mouth hung open in astonishment.

“Jim, my patient is awake, and could probably use some food. Would you see that some broth or something light is sent up.”

“Sure thing, Bones.”

“Oh, and Jim. Send up a bottle of that Wild West Rotgut you were telling me about. I sure didn’t plan on spending my leave time playin’ nursemaid to no – to this – this – red-neck, uneducated hillbilly.”

Festus stared in wonder at the sound of laugher coming from the doctor’s badge. Was he dreaming, he had to be dreaming. He felt his shoulder. He was sure he had been shot in the gunfight with the Steiners, but he barely had a twinge of pain now. “How long since I was shot, Doctor? Must a been a week or more,” had he been unconscious the whole time or just didn’t remember, “since I feel like I’m ‘most well from those wounds I had.”

“Couple of weeks? ‘Course not. More like a couple of hours. Twenty-two hours and nine minutes to be exact. Just how backward are you people here in Kansas?”

“Now just you hang on, Mister – doctor – McCoy, did you say your name was. Just ‘cause I ain’t never had none a that there fancy book-learnin’, don’t give you no right to go callin’ me names. And what kind a gadget is that there badge you’re wearin’, that voices come out of it?”

McCoy’s sigh in exasperation was interrupted by a knock on the door. He jerked the door open to admit the Captain carrying a tray loaded with food. Spock followed, a bottle in each hand. Behind them came a busboy pushing a cart with more food. Quickly the young man uncovered several dishes, letting appetizing aromas fill the room, then he left.

“Friends of your’n?” asked Festus, as he realized his stomach was growling and rumbling at the thought of all that food. He shifted around on the bed, pushing himself into a sitting position. McCoy handed him a bowl of chicken broth with a few vegetables floating in it.

“Yes, this is Captain James Kirk and Commander Spock,” introduced Bones.

Jim sat the tray down and extended a hand. “Deputy.”

“Pleased to meet ya.” He hesitated a moment. “Don’t mean to be rude, but what happened to that fellers ears.”

Jim and Bones smiled. In somewhat of a disgusted voice Spock explained. “I am a Vulcan.”

Festus snorted. “I’m a Hagan. Ain’t never heerd of no Vulcan’s.”

McCoy filled his plate with thick slabs of roast beef in brown gravy, boiled potatoes and onions, squash casserole, and fresh baked bread. Kirk opened one of the bottles of whiskey and poured a generous amount into three antique, cut glass tumblers. Bones took a swallow of the pale golden liqueur, savoring it as it slid down his throat. Jim and Spock tasted their drinks. For a moment the doctor couldn’t say anything. Finally he whispered. “Your right, Jim. That’s some rough whiskey – er – rotgut. Very potent.” He coughed slightly.

Festus watched as Jim piled his plate high with food. Spock did, too, but avoided the roast, as he didn’t care for the earth custom of eating meat. No one offered him anything other than the broth. “Could sure use a taste of that there whiskey you fellers got.”

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Bones cut in. “Only soup and water for you tonight. Maybe some soda. I gave you some strong pain killers, so you best stay away from the hard stuff for a while.”

“Pain killers?” questioned Festus.

“Yes, you hick, drugs to keep you from hurting.”

“Oh, you mean laudanum,” said Festus, “that’s what Doc Adams uses when he has it. Often times a feller just takes a shot a liqueur and toughs it out.”

“Laudanum?” Bones was almost spitting at the thought. “I’ve never used the stuff and don’t know anyone else who has. Didn’t think it had even been made in several hundred years. Medicines advanced beyond the laudanum of the 1900’s.”

Festus gazed blankly at the doctor while trying to understand what the man was talking about. Giving up he dipped a spoon in his soup and began eating. “Could I at least have a hunk of that bread.”

Relenting, Bones passed the plate of fresh baked bread to his patient. Festus snagged one and dipped it into the broth before biting off a mouth full.

Jim looked at the hillbilly thoughtfully. “What did you say your name is, Mister……?” He reached under the white cloth that covered the top of the food cart, hiding a lower shelf, and pulled out an old wooden picture frame and a book.

Festus took time to swallow his spoon full of soup and bread. “Festus Hagan.” He eyed the picture and book that Kirk was contemplating.

“What’s that, Jim?” asked Bones with interest.

“While we were waiting for the food I took a look in the museum downstairs. I found this photograph. When I queried the owner he remembered this journal. One of the men in this photo looks a lot like Mr. Hagan, only older. Distant relative of yours, Mr. Hagan?” He handed the picture to Festus. “It has a date on it of 1887. That was a long time ago.”

Festus studied the picture. “Ain’t no relative, that’s me, all right, and Marshal Dillon, Doc. Adams, and Miss Kitty.” He did look a bit older, he thought. It took another moment before Festus realized what else the Captain had said. “What do you mean a long time ago? You said 1887. That’s ten years from now. I may be uneducated, but I do know what year it. Just what kind a tall tales are you yahoos tryin’ to get me to believe?”

Bones and Jim didn’t know how to answer, but Spock did. “I, Sir, am not in the habit of telling tall tales and the year is 2394. The month is August. At least in my world it is. I do not know what year it may be in your world.”

“Hold it a moment, gentlemen. I took the liberty of reading some of the entries in this journal. It was written by a waitress, who was also the wife of the owner of the saloon and eatery that was here in the 1870’s. Her name was Julia. She describes a gunfight between a Deputy Marshal Hagan and two wanted men during a sandstorm in the month of August. It goes on to say the deputy disappeared and it took the Marshal a while to find him. A Marshal Matt Dillon. I take it he was a famous lawman during the old wild west days.”

“You’re darn right he’s a famous lawman, and a good friend of mine, and as soon as I can get out a here, I’m goin’ a go find him.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Bones put a restraining hand on Festus’s arm. “Jim, I think he might be hallucinating.” Quickly he picked up a syringe and gave Festus an injection. It happened so fast Festus couldn’t avoid it. He muttered several curses at Bones and his new fangled gadgets.

“I’m not so sure, Bones. I’m not so sure.”

The room was still dark when Festus woke to the fretful whine of the unrelenting wind, even though he was sure it was close to dawn. He lay still listening, while letting his still stiff and aching body come awake, also. He thought of all that had happened in the past couple of days. The ride to the small almost deserted town, the gunfight with the Steiners, and then waking up in this bed. A man calling himself a doctor was taking care of him, and had done a pretty good job of it, if he was any judge, considering the way he felt. At least he was alive and doing better than he had any right to expect. He would have sworn he had been hard hit in his shoulder and leg. The doctor had given him a few pills, used some sort of squeaky little box and he was almost well. Oh, he still had a few twinges but not bad.

Then there was the doctor’s friends. They were even stranger. Especially the one with the pointed ears. Said they belonged to some sort of army called the Federation and were stationed on a Starship. Tried to convince him the ship could go way out past the moon and stars. Weren’t no way he was going to believe a tall tale like that.

Course nobody back in Dodge would believe him if he told them about what he’d seen here either. Light that came out of little boxes and round glass balls. Oh, there were the normal coal oil lanterns sitting about but they didn’t use them. Said they were antiques, and called them collector’s items. And that was nothing compared to little rooms with hot and cold running water. Then there was all that fancy equipment for cooking downstairs in the kitchen. Things like refrigerators, replicators, microwaves, electric stoves, and can openers. Too much for him to keep track of. Festus sure didn’t know what to think about the strange boxes everywhere that had pictures on them and talked to you. Computers and TVs they called them.

The wind increased its tempo throwing a handful of rattling sand against the window. Wide awake now he got up and pulled on his pants and shirt over his longjohns. Someone had been nice enough to wash them earlier that day. He pulled on his boots. His gunbelt and revolver hung from a heavy black hook on the wall. He took it down and buckled it around his waist. He pulled out the Colt, flipped it open, and checked to make sure it was loaded. He picked up the tin star that lay on the table by the bed, and rubbed his thumb across the lettering he knew said Deputy Marshal, then pinned it to his shirt. It might not let him talk to other people but to him it meant a whole lot more.

Matthew was out there somewhere. Maybe he had been hurt, too. The strangers had said they had looked for him but hadn’t found anyone else. Well it was time he, Festus went and looked. His friend might need help. You didn’t turn your back on your friends, or at least Festus Hagan didn’t.

Captain James Kirk had risen early that morning, also. Early enough to see the sun try to break through the haze of blowing dust that covered everything. He hadn’t come this far to spend his time stuck in a hotel room even if the weather wasn’t that great. He heard the slight ringing of spurs and tread of boots on the old threadbare carpet in the hall, as Hagan walked past his room, then down the stairs. He played the scene over in his mind again wondering how much of what the man said was true. There was no doubt he had been hurt. Why pretend he had never seen modern convinces so simple as hot water, or light bulbs. What would he say to cars or shuttles, which weren’t allowed at the resort? Wondering where the man was going, Jim slipped into the hall to follow him, only to find himself face to face with Doctor McCoy and Spock.

“My patient has wandered off,” said Bones.

I think we should see where he’s going,” said Jim.

“Agreed,” said Spock, as the three men went down the stairs as quietly as possible on the creaking wooden boards.

*****

The sun had come up but the sky was a dingy gray that promised another day full of wind, dust, and heat. Festus looked through the glass front window of the hotel and surveyed the street. Already a warm breeze played fitfully in first one section of the town and then another. The street was disserted except for a man standing on the boardwalk across the street from the hotel. He watched the Deputy emerge from the hotel, and stepped purposely into the street.

“Do I know you, Mister?” asked Festus. The man looked suspicious, and definitely looked like a gunfighter. He was sure he had seen that face on a wanted poster. Thin face with a hooked nose, a sweatstained hat shading his face. The man wore dusty gray pants and shirt, but the pair of gunbelts that criss-crossed his hips were well cared for even though warn with use. Both pistols were tied tight to the man thighs.

“Maybe – maybe not,” said the man in a harsh, raspy voice.

“You a friend of the Steiner brothers? You’re Donaldson, aren’t you?”

“Rode with ‘em once. If it’s any of your business – which it ain’t?” The man stepped farther into the street and walked slowly about twenty yards, making sure never to turn his back on Festus. He had seen what had happened to Tom and Ed when they went up against the deputy. “You’re a lawman, ain’t you?”

“I am,” said Festus, turning so he could continue facing the man. “I’m lookin’ for those Steiners. And a friend of mine, Marshal Matthew Dillon. You seen ‘em?”

“If I had, I wouldn’t tell you.” Now the two men faced each other the length of the street.

Jim, Bones, and Spock had moved onto the hotel porch so they could watch what was happening. “Actors,” said Bones, in a ‘I told you so’ voice. “They’ve been actors all along.”

“I’m still not sure. Festus really was hurt.” Jim leaned against the porch rail and petted the black cat that sat there. The cat purred and arched its back in pleasure at the attention.

“Donaldson, I think I’ll just ask you to come with me ‘till we find out what happened to Dillon and the Steiners.” Festus was convinced this man probably had something to do with the other outlaws, and the Marshal’s disappearance.

“I don’t think so,” said Donaldson. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere with you.” His hands shifted to hover near his gun butts.

“Ain’t no need for what yer thinkin’, Mister?” cautioned Festus.

A sudden gust of wind caused dirt and sand to swirl around the feet of Donaldson and the deputy. It whined and sang, screeching, and howling, stretching everyone’s nerves taunt.

Festus saw the narrowing of Donaldson’s eyes, the slight twitch of his fingers and he threw himself to the ground as the gunman’s pistols appeared in his hands and spit bullets at the place the deputy had just been standing. Festus, too, had drawn his Colt and fired twice at the gunfighter. His bullets smacked into the outlaw’s chest raising little geysers of dust and blood.

For a long moment Donaldson looked stunned then he fell to the ground, face down.

With a sudden roar an enormous dust devil threw itself down the street obscuring sight and sound of the three Federation officers that were watching the drama being played out in front of them. It was a long minute before they were able to see clearly again. Still rubbing at the sand in their eyes they had rushed into the street, but Festus and the gunfighter were gone.

“Where’d they go?” asked Bones. “That looked like real blood on that man. Were they acting or not.”

Spock knelt on one knee at the place where he thought the man had fallen, and touched a finger to the small red stain there. “It is real blood. Human, if I am correct.”

Jim Kirk turned around in a quick circle in the middle of the street, looking in all directions, wondering where the two men could have gone. The only thing he saw was the black cat still sitting on the porch rail smoothing down its wind-ruffled fur.

*****

“Festus, you all right?” Matt Dillon ran up to his deputy, who stood starring down at the body of the man he had had to kill. Neither lawman liked to have to kill but sometimes it was necessary.

“Matthew, where you been? I thought something might a happened to you.”

“I’ve been looking for you for the past two days,” said Matt staring at his friend.

“Why, I been right here. In the hotel. I got a bit shook up and that there doctor was takin’ care of me. Him and them friends of his.”

“What doctor? Festus there’s no one in this town but the saloon owner and his wife. I’ve got the Steiners tied up over there. The saloon owners been watching them while I looked for you. I haven’t seen anyone else ‘till now when I saw you and Donaldson. Are you sure you’re all right? You’re limping some.”

“I’m sure, Matthew. But I tell you what when we get back to Dodge I’m goin’ a take about a week off and do nothin’ but go fishin’. That is after I have a little talk with ole’ Doc about them new fangled doctorin’ gadgets he sure needs to be usin’.”

*****

 “Well, Jim, were they actors putting on a show or was it the real thing? Did we see a real gunfight, or not.”

Kirk didn’t say anything as the ship’s doctor propped one arm on the back of the command seat that the Captain sat in.

“Or maybe they were some kind of androids or robots that could make their wounds look real. Part of the whole tourist thing.”

Jim grinned and turned to his first officer. “Spock, your opinion.” The discussion had been going on for days.

“According to my readings, Captain, Festus Hagan and the ‘gunfighter’ were earthlings. The same composition as you and Doctor McCoy.”

“Jim, I know you set the whole thing up. It’s a joke. I know it is.” Bones headed toward the turbo lift, muttering to himself about going back to sick bay for a much needed vacation.

The Captain considered the situation. He hadn’t said so, but personally he was inclined to think it might have been real.

“It is possible,” said Spock softly, raising a Vulcan eyebrow, “that they were caught in a time warp. They came through and then they went back.”

***The End***

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