ASTERIA: Memories Of Otherwhen
PART II FAITH
In the Sickbay, McCoy watched as Dr. Christine Chapel, assisted by an intern, applied a med-spray and bandages to various parts of Spock's extremities. It had been about the most pleasant — and mind-easing — surprise he could have wished for, when he first beamed aboard the ship and found that Christine had been assigned to it. They had always worked well together.
Damn it! Spock had been doing so well, and to see him reduced like this again was demoralizing. And what it said about Jim's probable condition was even more frightening. If he hadn't been back at the Hospital on Vulcan during that first amazing communication between Spock and Jim, he wouldn't have believed it. But he had been there. When Starfleet investigators had tracked Kirk and found the place where Talak had waylaid him, the report had only confirmed what they already knew in their hearts. Heaving a sigh, McCoy turned and switched on his recorder.
Uhura added, "Message received, Admiral. It is the Romulan vessel. They say that they will reach transporter range in 2.7 hours. "
Just short of three hours later, the two ships lay close together, dead in space. Admiral T'Pava, McCoy, and several Security personnel waited in the Transporter Room. The transporter hummed.
The Romulan Commander, Palaan, materialized on the platform, herself surrounded by several black-clad and fully armed personal guards, each with weapon drawn.
T'Pava had been strictly warned to expect this, and raised no protest, though for a time she seemed to have trouble breathing. Her Security men stiffly maintained their positions, each individual acting under the severest of self-discipline. A mistake at that moment would mean war with the Empire, and she secretly hated entrusting her life to the emotional reactions of humans.
Not one Federation hand moved toward a phaser.
T'Pava began to breath again.
Commander Palaan was a Princess of the Empire, the daughter of the Imperial Mother, and the older sister of Prince Talak. By Romulan tradition, no member of their nobility ever went anywhere without personal guards. That hers traveled with her now had been a specific provision of the agreement for the joint mission. The Romulan guards, seeing that their Princess was safe, holstered their weapons, and the tension began to flow out of the room.
The Security guards visibly relaxed.
If this joint mission were to succeed, a state of mutual trust between Federation and Romulan personnel had to be built quickly.
By mutual agreement, the Excalibur was to be the only ship with a mixed crew, and in all some thirty Romulan officers and crew were to be beamed aboard. This proceeding had amounted to the Federation's ante. Commander Palaan anted, raised, and redoubled the stakes. She and her guards stepped down off the platform to make room for further transmissions, and Palaan walked forward, to hand T'Pava a small device. "Admiral, I am authorized by the Imperial Matriarch to say this to you. In token of the seriousness of the Empire's offer of help in this mission, my guards, my staff, and myself each have small explosive devices implanted inside our heads. That is the detonator. If at any time you have valid reason to suspect Romulan treachery, my mother asked that you use the detonator and execute us all — that she not be dishonored any further than Talak has already dishonored her. In the name of the Imperial Mother, I, Palaan, have said it."
It made for an auspicious beginning, and one that could only gain in the telling and retelling. As the transporter was again activated, for the third group of Romulan personnel, the Security people were already starting friendly chats with their Romulan counterparts.
As the transmission ended and the Romulans stepped down off the platform, one of them looked around. Spotting McCoy by his insignia, he held out his hand and introduced himself. He was Healer Tapel. As McCoy shook his hand and led him out of the room, headed for Sickbay, Tapel explained that Spock must never be left alone. In the early stages of koon-i-fahraht, it was often the case that the minds of the bond-brothers would dwell in one body at a time, alternating between the bodies, until they learned how to keep themselves separate again. When the minds of Kirk and Spock were in-dwelling in Spock's body, communication would be possible. However, constant vigil must be kept, because the contact was sometimes fleeting.
"Well," McCoy said, "if we must, we shall. It's been pretty much the case already." He mused for Tapel, “tell me, honestly. Is it true? I mean."
Tapel stared at him thoughtfully. "Yes, Doctor McCoy, it is true. It is necessary to the mission that you of the Federation learn to trust us quickly. It is a matter of honor." McCoy snorted. "It's a matter of insanity, if you'll forgive me. I cannot see how any government can justify ordering its people to have bombs planted inside their heads."
Tapel stopped and placed a dignified, gentle hand on McCoy's arm. "My friend, you misunderstand. We are all volunteers. No one, not even the Imperial Matriarch herself, could force us to do this against our will. The Ancestress, she whom you call the Ancient One, was greatly revered among my people. Her ignoble death has shamed us all. As I said, it is a matter of honor."
McCoy's expression softened into sadness. "Tapel, my friend, do you so value your precious honor that you would throw away your life?"
Tapel sighed. "Doctor McCoy, do you so value your precious life that you would throw away your honor?"
In the weeks that followed, the search for Talak and Kirk was undertaken with a vengeance, in both Federation space and in the Empire. It had been agreed that the location of the Guardian's planet would not be revealed, and that no Romulan vessel would be part of the garrison there. T'Pava and Palaan cooperated on the logistics concerned with maintaining the search. For the most part, Federation ships searched Federation territory, while Romulan vessels concentrated in Romulan territory. When deployment of the two fleets made it necessary, and only then, ships of either fleet would be dispatched to search areas regardless of territorial jurisdiction. Every report of stolen craft was investigated. Every small craft was stopped and searched by Federation or Romulan vessels. Every robot freighter was scanned by sensors. As time dragged on, it became more and more of a necessity to send ships of one fleet into the other's domain. Star maps of both territories were issued generally, and the search continued. But space is vast, and ships are very tiny in comparison. Weeks became a month, and then two. To no avail.
In Sickbay, Spock remained in a condition resembling coma. Tapel said that this reflected Kirk's condition. Talak must be keeping him drugged. The Healer continued to insist that as long as Spock remained alive, there was reason to hope. In this stage of the Bond, if one died, the other would die, too. As long as Spock was alive, then somewhere, Kirk was also. It was only a matter of time.
Talak had gone to ground on a poorly manned Outpost planet somewhere in the Romulan Empire. Though he continued to go through his mood changes, as time went on, both his passive and violent moods became less frequent and less severe. The people of the Outpost did their level best to take care of the Prince, and his prisoner. But even a demented Prince can only push himself so far. Something had to give.
On the Romulan outpost planet, Talak tossed and turned in exhausted slumber. This was his first extended period of rest in several days. Tapel had guessed rightly; Talak had kept Kirk drugged. But finally, while Talak slept, the drugs wore off. Kirk jerked awake and looked around. Weak and confused, he dragged himself to the door of the hut and looked out. It was night. He staggered up and went outside, to stand looking up at the stars. A wave of weakness washed over him and his eyes closed...
Uhura sat by the side of Spock's bed, nodding and half asleep. Spock began to mumble. "Bones... Bones..."
Uhura came starkly awake at the sound. Dashing for the intercom, she summoned McCoy, then returned to Spock's side. She shook him, gently. As a sleepy-eyed McCoy entered the room, she said, "Spock... Admiral Kirk... Jim!"
Spock opened unseeing eyes. "We are here."
McCoy took over. . "Jim! Where are you?"
Spock replied, "I do not know. Looks like an outpost. We must be in the Romulan Empire..."
On the outpost planet, Kirk continued, "... because I don't recognize these stars."
Talak muttered in his sleep. "...to be, or not to be...not our equals... area equals pi r-squared..."
Kirk listened to him. "Talak. He's babbling-"
In Sickbay, Spock added, "…just like the Ancient One."
Talak awakened in a rage. He saw Kirk standing outside, got up, and knocked him unconscious again.
Spock grunted and passed out, as a large bruise appeared on his cheek. While McCoy treated the bruise, Uhura called the Bridge and reported to T'Pava and Palaan.
T'Pava sat in the command chair, while Palaan stood next to her. "Very well, Uhura. T'Pava, out."
Palaan commented, "Well, at least we know they are somewhere in the Empire. That cuts the search area in half."
"Can we be so certain of that, Commander? I do not understand this aspect of the koon-i-fahraht."
"But I assure you, Admiral, that Healer Tapel does. He is the Empire's authority on the subject. He informed me, as he informed Dr. McCoy, that this sort of communication is possible with the Bond. And in all known cases, such communication has proved to be 100% valid."
T'Pava remarked, "So be it. It is the only lead we have had had so far. We will set course for the Empire at once."
Palaan asked, "And when we reach it?"
T' Pava replied, "And when we reach it, I shall turn over command to you, per the Federation/Romulan agreement for this mission."
A few days later, the Excalibur entered Romulan space. And though she disagreed with the policy, orders were nevertheless orders, and as promised, T'Pava duly turned over command to Palaan.
In the very early hours of the following morning, Chekov was in Sickbay, boredly reading to keep himself awake as he stood watch over Spock. All of a sudden, Spock sat up in bed, his eyes open and staring into nothingness. Chekov spoke to him, but received no answer. Spock got up and slowly left the room, walking in a state reminiscent of somnambulism. Chekov followed him, and though he repeatedly tried to get Spock's attention, his attempts were in vain. Spock made his way down the corridor, with Chekov tagging at his heels.
They reached an intersection, to stumble across Sulu, as he came out of a side corridor. Sulu reeled and staggered as he avoided running into Spock. He looked up, and saw the vacant expression on the Vulcan's face. "Spock? Spock, wake up. What's the matter?"
Chekov snaked out a hand and grabbed Sulu, his finger to his lip in an urgent gesture of silence. He had no idea whether Spock was, in truth, sleepwalking, but he had no wish to cause the severe disorientation a sudden awakening might bring. With a wave of his hand beckoning him, Chekov urged Sulu to follow.
Despite the lateness of the hour, Scotty was still in Engineering. He, too, had found a measure of comfort in knowing that the threat of the detonator hung over the Romulans, but the working closely with them was still too new for him to fully trust them with his engines. Several of the Romulan crewmen were presently on duty with his own personnel.
Scotty turned at the whoosh of the doors, his mouth dropping open as Spock entered Engineering, followed by Chekov and Sulu. After one long stare at Spock's vacant expression, he responded to the younger officers' promptings and joined them.
The three friends stood guard over Spock as he went to the Auxiliary Navigation Station, there to begin an adjustment of the knobs and settings, which would result in a change of· course. Alarms sounded. Several of the Federation and Romulan crewmen rushed over to subdue Spock. Scotty growled an expletive, which caused the Star fleet personnel to fall back. When the Romulans didn't respond to that order, Scotty, Chekov and Sulu drew their phasers, thereby holding the Romulans back from interfering. The tableau froze in mutual suspicion, while Spock continued his manipulation of the controls, all unheeding.
The doors whooshed open again, and Commander Palaan entered the room at a dead run. T'Pava followed her at a slower, if no more dignified, pace.
Palaan glanced at Spock's countenance. Before T'Pava had time to speak, or even to think, the Commander said, "He is with the Bond. You! Holster your weapons. My people will not interfere."
At her authoritative command, the Romulan crewmen bowed and withdrew. Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu grudgingly put away their phasers.
"What is he doing?" T'Pava demanded.
"He is setting a course, Admiral. That much is obvious," Commander Palaan replied. As she watched, Spock ceased his ministrations, and stood calmly, eyes still staring into space, hands held loosely at his sides. Palaan continued, a jerk of her head relaying her desire, "Mr. Scott?"
At that moment, Spock's eyes closed and he collapsed. Scotty and the others caught him, and lowered him gently to the floor, while the third sounding of the doors heralded the arrival of McCoy and Healer Tapel. The two of them hurried over to assist with Spock.
Leaving his Vulcan friend in capable hands, Scotty moved over to the Navigation Station, and flipped the switch which sparked the viewer into life. Belatedly, he replied to the Commander. "The new course lies in the Empire, course 218, mark 7, warp 7."
Palaan studied the star map which now appeared on the Station's screen. "The message of the Bond has been confirmed, Admiral T'Pava. That course will take this ship to one of the Empire's minor outposts."
On the Bridge, Commander Palaan sat in the command chair, with T'Pava standing next to her. On the viewscreen, a mottled globe slowly rotated, showing areas of green vegetation, blue waters, and large brownish sweeps of what appeared to be cultivated lands.
"Standard orbit, Commander," Sulu reported from his helm station.
"No response to hailing frequencies," Uhura added from communications.
Palaan acknowledged, then said, "We will beam down. Uhura, you will please come with me. Admiral T'Pava, you have the conn."
On the surface of the planet, several Romulan children were engaged in a teams game. Not too far from them stood the Outpost's living facilities and storage sheds. Next to one of these, the stolen scout craft stood forlornly, waiting for occupants destined never to return. In the fields and gardens surrounding the outpost grounds, the Outpost's adults worked diligently.
A chirring hum began to sound, and the children stopped their game to stand staring at the source of the noise. As they watched, Palaan, Uhura, and several Starfleet personnel and Romulan guards materialized. One of the children shouted for the adults, who stopped their tasks to approach.
The oldest child, a boy of about twelve years of age, walked over to Palaan, gave her a little bow, and addressed her, "How may I help you, Lady Commander?" Palaan stared down at him from a sternly regal height. "Do you know who I am, boy?"
The youngster looked closely at her face, then gasped. "The Princess Palaan, Imperial Matriosa, Heir of the Imperial Mother herself!"
All of the children snapped to attention, then executed the deepest of formal bows. The boy screwed up his courage to ask again, "How may we help you, Highness?"
The adults arrived on the scene, and the boy's father, the Outpost Commander, placed a hand on his son's shoulder, instinctively pulling the boy somewhat behind him. The Outpost Commander sensed danger here, though why he and his should be in danger from the Matriosa... He bowed formally and said, "The Prince and his prisoner have gone, Highness. At his order, we gave him our fastest courier ship."
Palaan, her tone of voice deadly quiet, ventured, "And why did you do this?"
The boy peeped from behind his father. "But Highness, it was the Prince!"
Commander Palaan waved a hand in disgust. "Prince Talak has been condemned to death. His honor is forfeit. The Imperial Matriarch herself has commanded it. The Great Ancestress, she who was Ancient One of Vulcan, lies dead at his hands."
The boy's father, his eyes widening in incipient horror, stammered, "Highness... we... did not know... Our subspace radio has been out of order for months, and our supply ship is not due for another three weeks."
Angry and frustrated, Palaan turned to her personal guards. "Execute them."
Her guards hesitated.
She rounded on them. "Do you defy me?"
The Head Guard bowed low. "No, Highness. It shall be as you command." He and his comrades drew their phasers. They were pledged to defend their Princess, at the risk of their own lives, if need be. They were pledged also to obey her every command. But this was madness, senseless slaughter. Prayers flew silently from the lips of not a few of them, as they slowly, slowly took aim. The Outpost personnel stood rooted. The Imperial Matriosa was to be obeyed, but this...
Uhura, thinking fast, began to laugh derisively. Venom spitting from her words, she sneered, "So this is the vaunted Romulan honor!"
Palaan spun around and lifted a hand. The Romulan guards froze, hoping. Mortally calm, she snarled, "What do you mean by that, Uhura?"
Uhura urged pleadingly, "Does the honorable Matriosa condemn children for the mistakes of their elders? Or those elders for their ignorance? I am ashamed of you."
Chastened, her face blushing a bright green, Palaan snapped her fingers at her guards, then turned to face the Outpost Commander, bowing low. "I beg forgiveness. I will send technicians to fix your radio. When your supply ship comes, ask of its captain anything that you need or desire. I will pay for it myself. It is my honor-price."
The Outpost Commander bowed again, and as the tension flowed away, he offered refreshments to the Princess and her party. The mass of people headed for the largest building, the communal dining hall.
Later, when there was a chance for them to be alone, Palaan drew Uhura apart from the others. The Commander said, "You saved my honor this day, Uhura. Would that you were Romulan. I would keep you ever at my side as my personal advisor."
Uhura gripped her arm. "On Earth we have a saying: ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ We humans spend a good portion of our time trying to fight against that truism. Just keep it in mind and you should do all right."
In a small briefing room aboard their flagship, Palaan and T'Pava conferred over the results of the search so far.
T'Pava summed it up. "Between your fleet and mine, we have rescued 17 ships in distress, captured and halted the operations of 238 smuggling rings, and captured three Klingon spying missions, two in the Federation and one in Romulan space. I doubt that the Federation has ever had such a systematic patrol and clean-up operation."
"Nor has the Empire, Admiral," Palaan concurred.
T'Pava put forth the little indignant sniff she often used for punctuation and emphasis. "Why is it, then, that we cannot capture one mad Prince and his one captive?"
Palaan shrugged. "My brother was the head of our Military Intelligence Corps before his injury. That was how he learned of the Guardian of Forever in the first place. He has always been fascinated by the possibilities of the place. The ship my unwitting Outpost people gave him is a high-warp courier craft. He knows our codes and search patterns, and he stays in the Empire because he feels safe here. He knows how to slip through our cordons."
T'Pava commented, "The planet of the Guardian is heavily defended, and I have quadrupled the garrison there. When Talek tries to attack it, he will be caught. This continued search becomes more and more ridiculous every day. I suggest that we have all ships draw back to wait."
Palaan disagreed. "The search must continue. That Talak has not yet attacked the Guardian means he has not yet forced Kirk to talk."
"I think, Palaan, that you overestimate your brother."
"And I think, T'Pava, that you underestimate Kirk."
Down in Sickbay, McCoy spoke into the intercom. "Admiral T'Pava, Commander Palaan?"
"T'Pava here." Her voice wafted out of the speaker.
McCoy continued, "I think you and the Commander should come down here, Admiral. Spock is reacting again."
Receiving Palaan' s acknowledgment, he signed off and turned around. Spock was thrashing around on the diagnostic bed, while Healer Tapel and Dr. Chapel struggled in a vain attempt to treat him. Suddenly, Spock sat up and opened his eyes, but they remained unfocused. It was obvious that he was looking someplace else.
Light-years away, in the early morning, on a desert planet, Kirk opened his eyes. He tried to get up, but found his arms and legs restrained. He turned his head as far as he could, and looked down at himself. He was staked out on the ground. He laid his head back down and struggled with his bonds, but he could not get free. From above and to his right, he heard Talak give a derisive laugh. He looked up in that direction.
Talak sat cross-legged on top of the courier craft. While he sneered down at Kirk, he tossed and caught a palm-sized rock in his right hand. "Soon, Kirk, you will beg to tell me where the Guardian of Forever lies."
Talak threw the rock.
Kirk watched it as it sailed over him and struck against a low cliff face that was itself riddled with openings.
Suddenly, a small creature popped its head out of one of those holes. The beast was insectoid, about eight inches long, and had a wasp-colored body, a feathery mane around its head, evil stereoscopic eyes, and an underslung jaw filled with piranha-like teeth. Kirk strained against his bonds as the creature approached him and sniffed his hand. Its curiosity satisfied, the small monster scurried back for its hole. Kirk heaved a sigh of relief and relaxed. Too soon! The creature reemerged from its hole, followed by a horde of its fellows. They attacked Kirk. As they swarmed over him, biting fiercely, he screamed Spock's name.
In Sickbay, Dr. Chapel gasped. She, McCoy, and Tapel watched in horror as bites began to appear on the exposed portion of Spock's body. Spock grimaced in pain, then his vacant gaze focused inward. "Jim. We are Vulcan. There is no pain... there is—"
On the desert planet, Kirk repeated after him, "—no pain...There is no pain...” His face smoothed out, and he endured the bites stoically.
The insectoid creatures, however, reacted far differently. As each bit Kirk, it backed away with an expression of extreme distaste, then scurried back for its hole!
From his vantage atop the courier, Talak gaped down at the scene.
Kirk gaped also, then as the last creature left his body in its retreat, he looked up at Talak and laughed gleefully, "It seems I don' t taste very good."
Talak shook his head, then he, too, began to chuckle, at first ruefully, then wholeheartedly. He clambered down from his perch, released Kirk, and helped him up. "Well, with that sickly red stuff you humans use for blood, I'm not surprised. Come. I have something for those bites."
Back in Sickbay, Healer Tapel examined the bites manifested on Spock. He gasped, then looked at Palaan. "Commander, lion-ants!" At his words, Palaan spun around and punched the button on the intercom. "Bridge."
"Bridge, Uhura here." She had the conn.
Palaan added, "Uhura, Formidae Felis III is the target planet. By my command, all ships within 500 parsecs plot a course to cordon that system. Lay in our own course, lock, and execute, warp 6."
McCoy reached for the medicant-sprayer that Tapel had prepared. He started to apply the medicine to Spock's wounds, then stopped, amazed. The bites were pealing on their own!
Talak spread medicine on Kirk's bites, while Kirk, in turn, watched him warily. Conversationally, Talak said, "You know, Kirk, that I bear you no personal malice. But I will get from you the information that I must have."
"And you know," Kirk replied, "that I will fight you every step of the way. I have seen what can happen when the Guardian is misused."
"Misused? Why should you think…" Talak paused, listening intently, alerted by his acute Romulan hearing. Faintly at first, then with increasing volume, came a sound like frying bacon, getting louder and louder until Kirk could hear it, too.
"What is it?" Kirk asked.
Talak shook him slightly. "Be hush." He paused. "It is them! Run!”
Before either of them could move, the ground beneath Talak's feet caved in and he dropped chest deep into a hole, screaming in pain. Kirk pulled him out of the hole to find several of the lion-ants clinging to him. Kirk plucked them off, to fling them violently away. Talak was already in a state of near shock from the pain of his bites. As the creatures boiled up out of the hole, Kirk hoisted Talak to his shoulder, and carried him into the safety of the courier, locking the door behind them.
Inside, Kirk laid Talak down on one of the two bunks. Taking the tube of ointment still clutched in Talak's hand, he gently treated the Prince's wounds, while Talak watched him with a confused expression on his face. When Kirk finished, Talak said, "You called to your bond-brother. I heard you. We must go."
Talak got up and opened a small cabinet set into the wall above the bunk, and took out a hypo sprayer. "It is time for the drug."
Kirk plopped wearily on the other bunk. Under the influence of the drugs Talak had kept pumping into him, he had lost weight and vigor. The effort of carrying Talak into the courier had about used up the last of his fleeing reserves. He knew with one part of his mind that it was the Bond with Spock that helped to sustain him at all. It worried him what effect all this was having on Spock. He suppressed that thought. It seemed to him that Talak's mental condition was much improved. He very rarely went into the passive or violent moods anymore. Perhaps a desperate play, born of his own desperation... Docilely, he held out his arm for the shot, all the while striving to make eye contact with the Prince.
Talak finished preparing the drug, then turned to give Kirk the hypo. He hesitated, then locked eyes with Kirk for several intense moments. In a fit of anger, and more than half ashamed, Talak threw the hypo against the wall, shattering the sprayer. Ignoring Kirk, he stalked to the control console, dropped into the seat there, started the ship's engines and took off.
The courier ship rose from the planet to a point high in orbit above it, then went into warp drive.
Not long after, Talak snapped on the courier's tiny viewer, to reveal a large asteroid winking into existence as the craft came out of warp. The asteroid appeared in the screen against a background of stars, then began to grow larger as the courier craft descended. The asteroid, though airless and barren, was large enough to have a fairly substantial gravity. On the screen, Talak watched as the asteroid's surface began to pass below the ship. Ahead, he could see the opening of a cave. Talak guided the craft into the opening and landed.
High overhead, in orbit, two Romulan warships passed the asteroid at warp speed, their occupants ignorant as to how close their quarry was at that moment. The two ships continued in the direction from which the courier had come, on their way to Formidae Felis III.
In the courier, Talak cut the engines, and locked his board. Suddenly, he spun in his seat and attacked Kirk. In his weakened condition, and against the Romulan's strength, Kirk's efforts to defend himself were ineffectual. Talak started to choke him, then cast him aside. "You! You, you are as bad as the Ancient One, Kirk. You shame me. I kidnap you, torture you, and you save my life. And the Ancestress! I caused her death — and she forgave me." With a grimace, he rubbed his temples, then raged on. "Now she haunts me. She is there, ever in my mind. I can hear her talking to me. Is there no escape from guilt?" With a sob, he dropped to his knees and knocked his forehead against the floor, thrice. Then he crawled over to Kirk, pleading. "Kirk, you must tell me about the Guardian of Forever. Do you not see? I could make things right again. I could bring her back!" He laid his head in his prisoner's lap, weeping.
Kirk, touched despite himself tried to comfort him. Finally, overstrained from stress, guilt, and exhaustion, Talak slept, while Kirk rocked him like an overtired child.
A white, misty shape appeared in the air above the pair, forming itself into a spectral, ghostly face— the Ancient One's face.
Kirk shuddered and stared as the apparition spoke. "Kirk..."
He stammered, "B... bu... but, you're dead!"
The misty head replied, "Yes, I am dead, as you understand it. But my katra lives. Talak carries it. It is strange. I, too, feared death, but it is just another step on the path to life... Never mind that now. I have done all I can for him, Kirk. I can do no more. He faces a test, which you faced long ago. If he is to be made whole again, he must face himself and conquer. You must help him to help himself..."
The misty form faded and disappeared.
Kirk shook himself, then shouted, "Wait! Come back! I don't understand..."
Back in the now nearly empty Sickbay, Christine Chapel monitored the diagnostic panel over Spock's bed. He was still in what appeared to be a trance state, eyes open and staring. Christine turned away to write something on a report. Unheard by her, Spock whispered, "Ancient One... Talak... the enemy within..." He closed his eyes, sleeping at last.
Her task finished, Christine came back and looked at him. Seeing him asleep, she gave a sigh of relief and dimmed the light over his bed.
Two days later, the Excalibur was due to reach the planet of the lion-ants. That morning, the Commander had the conn. Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu manned their usual stations on the Bridge, and a young Romulan officer named Tusim was on duty at the Science Station.
Sulu reported. "Coming out of warp now, Commander. Standard orbit in five minutes."
Uhura added, "Hailing distance in two minutes."
Palaan nodded in silent acknowledgment. "Sensor scan, Tusim."
The Romulan officer examined his computer's telltales. "Two Warships engaged in a standard ball-of-string search pattern at 10,000 kilometers altitude, Commander. The ships are presently nearing the poles."
The Commander ordered, "Put it on visual, the southern view."
Tusim manipulated his controls, and the screen flickered into life. The south-polar region of Formidae Felis III appeared in the upper portion of the screen. Moving against this background, in orbit, was one of the Warships, headed away from them and apparently upside down relative to the screen. As it began to disappear behind the rim of the planet, Palaan asked for the northern view. The scene changed to show the other Warship, coming over the horizon of the planet, and appearing to approach them, this time right side up. Palaan was satisfied. "Enough. Sulu, establish a standard orbit at 20,000 kilometers. Uhura, contact the ships. I wish to speak to the ranking captain."
Sulu and Uhura acknowledged, and Uhura reported the contact had been made. The ranking captain of the two warships reported that traces had been found proving that the courier was there, but they had not found it as yet. They were in their third run of the search pattern, which would be completed in about three hours.
Palaan nodded, and dismissed the ranking captain. "Report to me when the third pass is completed. Commander out. Uhura, you have the conn. I will be in my quarters. My compliments to Admiral T'Pava, and will she please join me?"
Uhura took over the command chair as Palaan exited the bridge. While she contacted T'Pava to relay the message, Chekov commented to Sulu, "That's a likely looking planet. You'd think the Romulans would have colonized it by now."
Tusim overheard, and swiveled in his chair. "The planet is uninhabitable."
Sulu rejoined, "But it has plenty of water. With a little terraforming..." Tusim interrupted him, "You do not understand. It is the domain of the lion-ants. They are semi-sentient, and share a hive mind. They are capable of great strategy."
Uhura commented, "I see. The Prime Directive. A developing species."
Tusim replied, "Ah, yes. Your Prime Directive. I have heard of it. It is true that we have a similar standing order. But you still do not see. We tried to colonize this planet about ten of your standard years ago." He shook his head sadly. "Five hundred men, women and children..." He trailed off, and looked at the floor, remembering.
Chekov prompted him. "So? What happened?"
Tusim looked up. "The lion-ants ate them."
On the asteroid, inside the courier, Kirk awakened. Talak was sleeping on the other bunk. Quietly, Kirk got up, reached over, and gently shook the Prince. Talak muttered in his sleep, but did not wake. Kirk smiled. Stealthily, he crept to the control console, opened a cabinet in its side, and removed a small device. Then, donning a spacesuit, he went outside. Bouncing in the low gravity field, he reached the cave mouth, and looked up at the stars. Nope. He still didn't know where he was. Taking good advantage of his nearly weightless condition, he rapidly leaped and bounded his way to the crest of a small nearby hillock. There, he implanted the device, and activated it. Then he returned to the courier. Reentering it, he took off the spacesuit and replaced it, then crawled back into his bunk, slipping into one of the few really restful sleeps he had had in weeks.
The three hours were nearly up. Uhura was still at the conn, when the doors opened and Palaan and T'Pava entered the bridge. Palaan relieved Uhura, who returned to her normal station. As Palaan planted herself in the command chair, the ranking captain of the warships reported. The third pass of the search was completed. Though the courier definitely was there, it just as definitely no longer is there. There is no hint as to where it has gone. The captain signed off, and the viewscreen went blank.
"Very well," T' Pava commented dryly. "As we discussed, Palaan, it is time to call off the search. All forces will fall back to the Neutral Zone, and to add to the garrison at the Guardian's planet. Kirk will break eventually. When he does, Talak will try to reach the Guardian. We will capture him there. Kirk is expendable."
The human members of the bridge crew gasped, and started to protest. Palaan waved a hand to silence them. She said to T'Pava, "As was agreed at the start of this joint mission, I am in command while we are in Empire space. I, too, have my orders. My mother, the Imperial Matriarch, does not consider Kirk to be expendable. The search will continue."
T'Pava sniffed. "The search is ended. I am in command of all Federation forces. Remember the detonator, Palaan. All Federation forces will return to Federation space immediately. The joint mission is ended."
Palaan, shocked and angry, replied hotly, "You do not have the authority to end the joint mission, T'Pava. Are you so jealous of one man, that you will defy your own Federation's orders and risk war with the Empire?"
Everyone on the bridge froze as the two leaders confronted one another. The wheeping of an alarm signal broke the strained silence. Uhura jumped, then looked at her panel. A red light was blinking. Flipping the switch beneath it, she scanned her board. "A distress beacon, Commander, Romulan in origin."
Without taking her eyes from T'Pava's, Palaan ordered, "Put it on audio."
Uhura complied. Static sounded in the air, then a beloved voice was heard. "Admiral James T. Kirk to any ship. Captured by Prince Talak. Barren asteroid. Must be in Romulan space. I don't know these stars. Follow beacon...follow beacon...follow beacon..." The message began to repeat, to rousing cheers from Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov.
Palaan laughed. "Kirk! I knew he would find a way. Well, Admiral?"
Feigning dignity, T'Pava replied, "Of course this lead will be followed. How could you question the logic of it, Palaan? I will be in my quarters. Keep me informed." She exited grandly.
Palaan stared after her, and mumbled to herself. "Stiff-necked bitch. How T'Pau could have begotten that..." She shrugged and turned her seat back around. "Determine the source of the beacon and set course immediately."
The bridge crew burst into feverish activity.
In the courier craft, its lights dimmed, Talak jerked awake, and looked around. This time round the weakened Kirk was the one who remained asleep. On the control console, Talak noticed a blinking light and arose to investigate. He whispered to himself, "Distress beacon — Kirk!" A malevolently crafty look came over his face. He picked up the hypospray he had tossed aside days ago, but it was broken beyond use. Opening a wall cabinet, he got another one, prepared it, then tiptoed over and injected Kirk. Talak started the courier's engines, and took off. With a maniacal laugh, he shouted, "Let them search the entire asteroid belt, for all the good it will do them!"
Against a background of stars, several asteroids floated freely in space, as the Excalibur and other Federation and Romulan vessels converged on the search area.
On the Bridge, Palaan was issuing and signing orders assigning search areas to the other ships, while T'Pava stood by. Tusim interrupted her with a report. "A visual contact of unknown origin, Commander. Coming on the screen now."
The viewscreen showed a star field, and a misty, white, formless mass. The mass swirled and billowed as it approached the ships.
Palaan ordered a sensor scan. Tusim replied, "Already done, Commander. We see it, but sensors detect nothing."
Uhura added from Communications, "Other ships are reporting it, too. Visual contact, unreadable by sensors."
Chekov nudged Sulu, and pointed. "Look. It's changing."
On the viewscreen, the misty shape contracted and coalesced to become the face of the Ancient One. She uttered just one word. "Come."
The ethereal voice rang not in their ears, but inside their minds. The spectral visage began to shrink, as if receding from them at high speed. Quickly, it reached pinpoint size and winked out.
Palaan and T'Pava, as did the others, gaped at the screen.
Palaan sat back in her seat, awed. "Ancestress. The order is given, and that order is to be Obeyed. But how does one track a ghost?"
T'Pava opened her mouth in unfeigned incredulity. "It is not possible. Her katra was lost. It is hallucination...mass hallucination."
The turbolift doors snapped open. Everyone jumped, startled, as Spock entered the bridge, followed by McCoy, Scotty, Christine, and Tapel. Again in a trance-like state, Spock intoned, "As it was in the Time of the Beginning, is now, and shall be, the katra of T'Pralin abides. Talak carries it. Sulu, look to your instruments." The strength seemed to flow out of him, and he fainted, as McCoy and Scotty jumped to catch him.
Sulu struggled to tear his eyes away, and looked down at his board. He blanched. "Course 207, mark 6, already plotted and laid in. But that can't be. My board was locked!"
Palaan was more decisive. "Uhura, ship-to-ship." She waited. Uhura nodded. "All ships. This is Commander Palaan. Course 207, mark 6. Lay in, and lock. Warp 6. Execute."
In a large library and records room, Healer Tapel, Christine, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, sat around a table, poring over Romulan records. Most of the records were on tape, but there was also a scattering of old-style bound books to be seen.
McCoy prodded the others. "Keep reading, everyone. Somewhere in these records there has to be an answer on how to snap Spock out of this."
Tapel looked up, and added, "Yes, I remember hearing an obscure reference as a first-year student. All we have to do is find it. I brought my entire personal library on this voyage, and mine is the most complete one in all of the Empire. It is here somewhere. I know it."
The courier craft landed on yet another planet, coming to rest next to a stream, which cut through a level area, overgrown with low vegetation. The doors opened and Talak emerged. He blinked in the red-tinged light and looked around at a series of canyons leading up to a mountainous horizon highlighted by a smoking volcano. Going to a large panel on the outside of the craft, he pulled out and assembled a sled-like contraption. and loaded it with survival gear. Reentering the courier, he dragged an unconscious Kirk to the exit, and injected him with a stimulant.
Under the influence of the stimulant, Kirk sat up, grabbed his spinning head, and opened his eyes. The harsh oranges and purples of the vegetation hurt his eyes, and he looked up. Across the stream, in the middle distance on a low hill, he saw a massive collection of trees and bushes, which bore a horrid resemblance to a huge nest. There was the stuff of nightmares. Better not look that way. He wretched; his empty stomach made queasy by the drug, and tried to lie down. Talak would not have it so, and poked and prodded until Kirk was on his feet. While his prisoner was still groggy, Talak bound his hands and hitched him to the sled. With a rope tied around Kirk's neck like a leash, Talak forced him to drag the sled, and the two of them headed away from the stream, across the flatland, and into the canyon country.
McCoy sat, asleep at his desk in Sickbay, his head pillowed on his arms. About him were strewn some of the Romulan record tapes, and an old book. The book, an ancient collection of parchments, was hide-covered, and tied with thongs. It was the last thing he had been reading, and still lay open in front of him.
Behind him, Spock roused and muttered unintelligibly. McCoy jerked awake and went over to check on him. While he attended to Spock, the face of the Ancient One, this time a very tiny version, materialized to hover over the open book. The Ancient One concentrated, and the pages of the bound volume slowly began to turn, one by one, until a point about a fourth of the way through the book had been reached. Her face faded away. McCoy, having settled Spock, returned to his desk, and plopped wearily into his chair. He noticed that the book was turned to a different place, and looked wildly around. No one else was there. McCoy shuddered, shivers dancing up and down his spine, then carefully placed the ancient volume on the platform of his linguistic analyzer. He began to read the translation as it appeared on the screen, at first languidly, then with excited intensity.
A few hours later, on the Bridge, T'Pava sat in the command chair, waiting. She had had the conn for the night watch, and soon the others would arrive to begin the morning shift. At least, contrary to her fears, the Romulan Commander had not cut her off from all duties.
Palaan, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty entered the bridge, to relieve the officers manning their stations. Scotty manned the previously vacant Engineering Station. The changing of the guard completed, Sulu reported that they would reach their destination in one hour.
On the planet surface, inside a cave, Talak and Kirk lay sleeping. The early morning sunlight shining in and striking his eyelids roused Kirk. He struggled with his bonds, then gave up, sidling on hands and knees over to the cave entrance. He looked out and gasped. "Talak! Wake up. Come here!"
While Talak wakened and moved to join him, Kirk sat staring out of the cave. From the height of the cave, near halfway up the mountainside, Kirk could look out over the canyon country, and could see the courier in the middle distance. Across the stream from it, he could see the huge nest-like structure. And in it... Kirk rubbed his bound hands over his eyes and looked again. In it, sat a huge beast like a giant bird of prey.
Talak joined him, and he, too, stared at the mighty beast. He muttered, "The Great Bird... Ornix. I thought it myth."
As they watched, the gigantic creature stirred, looked around, then went back to sleep. Talak, again slipping partway into mania, gave an eerie laugh. "I need have no fear of pursuit now, Kirk. If the old records be true, Ornix can destroy a thousand fleets!"
While Talak raved on, Kirk pulled back from the cave entrance and leaned against the wall. For the first time, he strove consciously to use the Bond to reach Spock, to warn the others of this new danger. Concentrating with fierce intensity, he reached out with his thoughts. Spock. Spock! You've got to warn them. Ornix... Ornix... ORNIX!
In Sickbay, Tapel was reading the passage McCoy had discovered in the parchment book, while McCoy himself examined Spock. The Vulcan began to mutter. McCoy bent over him, and called Tapel over. The Healer scanned the other's face. "He is with the Bond. What is he trying to say?" He leaned over so that his ear was directly over the Vulcan's mouth. Spock spoke again. "Warn them... warn them. Ornix!"
Tapel, a stricken look on his face, brushed past the mystified McCoy and called the Bridge.
"Tapel here, Commander. Spock is with the Bond. He speaks of Ornix!"
On the Bridge, Palaan's face paled. "Ornix?!? Very well, Tapel. We will take proper precautions. Commander out."
Uhura looked at her. "Who is Ornix?"
Palaan drew a heavy breath, almost a sigh. "Not who. What. Ornix is an energy being, shaped like a giant bird of prey, but capable of interplanetary flight. Some say that we named our warships birds of prey on account of it."
Tusim was confused. "But surely you humans know of Ornix. I have read your history tapes. Ornix has visited your world. You call it Roc, or Phoenix."
Sulu began, "But those are…"
"…only myths!" Chekov finished for him.
Tusim sighed. "It never ceases to amaze me how little respect you humans have for your history. Behind every legend there is a kernel of truth. In our legends, it is said that the Great Bird was called forth from another sphere of existence, by a dark adept of the Elder Ones, to be used as a weapon in the war between the Lords of Light and Darkness, before the dawn of our days."
Palaan shushed him. "Enough, Tusim. You could spout legends by the hour. At any rate, if the old records are true, Ornix is quite capable of destroying our entire fleet. Uhura, inform all ships. By my order, all ships, immediately upon coming out of warp, will shut down their engines as soon as orbit is established. If Ornix is there, the matter/antimatter drives will attract it."
The waiting began, and seemed to stretch out interminably. At last, Sulu reported, "0rbit established, Commander."
Scotty added, "Engines shutting down per your order."
Uhura said, "0ther ships are reporting in. As orbit is established, engines shutting down per your order."
At the cave mouth, Talak and Kirk watched as Ornix scanned the sky and gathered itself for flight.
Palaan ordered, "Sensor scan."
Tusim replied, "The courier is there, and so is Ornix."
On the planet, Ornix rose from its nest and launched itself skyward.
"lt rises!" Tusim gasped. "Ornix rises."
"This is Commander Palaan to all ships. Cut back all systems to minimum life support. We will wait it out." The lights dimmed as the emergency backup systems came on. "Viewscreen."
As Palaan and the others watched, the planet appeared on the screen, in its lower left portion. In orbit, several ships also appeared, all seemingly dead in space. From the screen's right, a moving Warship entered the framed picture.
"What ship is that?"
"The Kukulkahr, Commander," Tusim replied, "just out of warp, orbit not established, engines not shut down."
Tension gripped everyone on the Bridge, and they looked on in horror, as Ornix appeared, rising from the planet. As if it were, in truth, the giant eagle it resembled, Ornix destroyed it, then changed form to surround the wreckage, absorbing the antimatter energy.
In the cave, Talak was still laughing to Kirk about Ornix destroying the fleet. Suddenly, he clutched his head and screamed. "The ship! Dead. All dead. O my people, what have I done? How many more will I lead to their deaths? Kirk. Help me. You must help me!"
Raving, Talak grabbed Kirk's shoulders and shook him, accidentally whacking his head against the cave wall and knocked him unconscious. Lowering Kirk to the floor of the cave, Talak cradled him in his arms. Rocking him, Talak murmured, "Kirk, my friend, my beloved foe, come back. I need you. Come back." He hugged him, weeping.
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