PART III HOPE
Commander's Log: Stardate 8526.0, Palaan reporting.
It has been four hours, thirteen minutes since the fleet was immobilized. Ornix still maintains its vigil at our orbital level. Without the output from the engines, battery power for life support systems will begin to fail in an average of nineteen hours, eleven minutes throughout the fleet. Discreet experimentation has shown that Ornix either cannot sense or else ignores our subspace radio frequencies, so at least we are not deprived of communications. The Science departments of all my ships are on round-the-clock duty in search of an answer to this dilemma. The destruction of the Kukulkahr preys on the minds of all of us. Those of us of the Romulan blood felt the deaths of our comrades. The life-debt of my brother, Talak, grows heavier. An answer must be found soon, before Ornix destroys us all. Palaan, out.
Kirk, his head bandaged, leaned against the cave wall, watching Talak pace back and forth as they talked. "Your bond-brother is strong in you, Kirk. With all the drugs I have pumped into you these past months, you should have been dead by now. That blow to your head should by rights have nigh killed you. Am I possessed, that I should do such evil? Since the transporter accident, it is as though there were a demon inside my head, like an enemy within."
"The enemy within..." Kirk weakly repeated him, then gasped.
"The enemy within... That's what the Ancient One meant!" Talak stopped his pacing to kneel by Kirk.
"What? You don't talk sense, Kirk. T'Pralin is dead. I killed her..." He began to break down. Kirk grabbed his shoulders and shook him.
"Talak! Snap out of it. Did T'Pralin touch you before she died?"
Confused, the Prince responded, "Yes. Yes, she did. Why?"
"Don't you see?" Kirk continued excitedly. "You said before that it was as if she were inside your head. When she materialized on the asteroid, she said you were carrying her katra. It's the only explanation."
Talak pondered. "Her katra! I wonder... But what about the beast, the demon in my head who makes me do evil?"
"T'Pralin said you face a test that I faced long ago. I think I know now what she meant. For me too there was a transporter accident. I became two people — literally. Two bodies. Two personalities: one good, one evil. But I learned that both were necessary, and that neither of us could survive without the other. Otherwise, both of 'me' would have died. He's there, always, because he is 'me,' too. The good 'me' masters the evil. My enemy within. Master yours, Talak. Only you can do that."
In Sickbay, McCoy and Healer Tapel were waiting for the others.
"I can only initiate," Tapel said. "Do you remember what you must do?"
McCoy nodded, just as the doors opened signaling the awaited arrival of Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty.
"We're here," Sulu announced.
"Have you found the answer?" Scotty asked.
McCoy nodded vigorously. "We hope so. Tapel thinks it will work."
The Healer concurred, adding, "The technique is ancient, and rarely used. I have never heard of it being used with humans, but you have all melded with Spock before. That is why I think it will work."
"We're ready, Healer," Uhura affirmed.
"Do what you… must." Chekov gave a firm nod of his head.
"Yes, and quickly." Healer Tapel went to the diagnostic bed, melded briefly with Spock, and helped the entranced Vulcan to a sitting position. "All of you, take his hands. Call to him with your thoughts."
They did so.
In the cave, Talak handed Kirk a plate of food. He accepted it, then suddenly dropped it. He slumped, his eyes went unfocused, and he stared upward.
In Sickbay, Tapel cupped his hands around the massed hands of Spock and the others, concentrated intensely, then dropped his hands and stepped away. "Now, Dr. McCoy."
His eyes closed, McCoy called aloud, "Spock. Spock!"
Talak stared as Kirk, his voice curiously overlaid by Spock's own, answered. "I am here."
Back in Sickbay, McCoy continued, "You are too deep in the koon-i-fahraht, Spock. You must loose the Bond, come back to yourself. "
Spock replied, "No. Jim is weak. I must give him strength."
Near desperate, McCoy pleaded, "You must come back. We need you. You must leave Jim, or we will never find a way to save him. Jim! If you can hear me, tell Spock!"
In the cave, Talak tried with gentle hands and smoothing voice to quiet the now feverishly agitated starship captain. In delirium, Kirk shouted, "Spock! The ship! The crew is in danger. We've got to save the ship!"
McCoy and the others watched Spock in breathless hope.
He opened his eyes. "It worked. Ornix is attracted by antimatter. That it does not attack proves that it cannot sense the antimatter through the engine shielding. Mr. Scott, you must build a matter/antimatter explosive device, shielded so that Ornix cannot sense it until we are ready to use it."
Scotty snapped to, with a click of his heels. "Aye, Captain Spock. I'll see to it. Welcome aboard, my friend."
Spock almost smiled. "Thank you, Scotty. Hurry now. Jim's life is at stake."
"Uhura, go to the bridge. Speak to Commander Palaan privately, and inform her that we shall require a shuttlecraft. Then meet us in the Docking Bay."
Uhura, crying for happiness, dabbed at her tears. "Anything you say, Captain Spock, sugar." She, too, left to carry out her appointed task.
"Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, we must prepare the shuttlecraft. We will be making an unpowered descent, gentlemen. We will launch by tractor beams and ride her down on her deflectors."
Sulu grinned. "It's been a long time since I made a deadstick landing, Sir, but we'll manage. Won't we, Pavel?"
"Sure," the young Russian averred. "No problem. My little old grandma from Leningrad could do it. Let's go."
They started to leave, then paused, looking at Spock. He put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Don't worry, my friends. Jim is right. For love's… sake, miracles can be done."
The three of them left Sickbay, headed for the Docking Bay.
A desperately ill Kirk lay prone on the floor of the cave, covered with a blanket. Without the mental support from Spock to sustain him, he at last showed his truly weakened condition. Talak dipped a cloth in a pan of water and mopped Kirk's brow. Raving, Kirk muttered, "Must save the ship... the Enterprise is in danger... no, she's dead... like my son... David... David... Enterprise..."
Talak looked up, listening. A loud rumbling sounded through the cave, followed by a violent tremor. He flung himself protectively across Kirk, as several rocks fell from the roof. When the tremor ended, Talak scurried to the cave entrance and looked out. On the far horizon, clouds of smoke billowed and the evening sky flared red. The volcano was erupting.
Hurriedly, Talak heaved Kirk onto the sled and put on the makeshift harness. Dragging his burden out of the cave, he headed downhill in the direction of the courier. Luckily, he soon found what he was looking for — a fairly flat open area in which to wait out the night. He had no wish for them to be crushed in their sleep. Gratefully, Talak made camp, settled Kirk comfortably, and lay down to sleep.
Spock and the others, pressed for time as they were, had worked all through the night to be ready for this morning's venture. Now, with less than eight hours left before battery power began to fail on the ships of the fleet, Sulu and Chekov occupied the pilot seats of the shuttlecraft. Spock, Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty were in the passenger seats.
Sulu broke the silence. "Turn on the viewer, Pavel," he said, then glanced behind him. "Touchdown in two minutes."
"Damn! Sulu, look!"
At the sound of Chekov's voice, Sulu's head snapped back around, and he looked at the viewer. On the screen, the ground appeared to be rushing past beneath the ship. But what drew his attention was the erupting volcano. "Hold on, everybody. This may be rough."
Due to the eruption, the morning light on the planet shone dimly with overtones of red. The shuttlecraft came in for a landing, the deflectors holding it off the ground and pushing ahead a mound of earth. It slowed to a stop. The deflectors cut off, and the small ship dropped about a foot, to land tilted on uneven ground near a bluff. The doors opened and Spock and the others climbed out.
"Sorry about that," Sulu apologized. "I didn't expect to land during an eruption."
A sudden tremor knocked all of them off their feet. As they picked themselves up, Spock raised a hand to his brow, searching for Kirk with his telepathic senses. Pointing up-canyon, he led off, the others following in his path.
At the campsite, further uphill, Talak heard the sound of the shuttle landing. Climbing a small height, he watched as Spock and the others came out of it and headed uphill. They were still distant. There should be time enough...
Talak clambered down the height and destroyed all evidence that he had camped at the site. Afterward, towing the sled carrying the unconscious Kirk, he moved laterally across the canyon face. Not all of the gullies interconnected. From what he had seen of the direction taken by Spock and the others, they had taken somewhat the wrong path. He moved, therefore, to intercept them.
That accomplished, Talak unhitched himself from the sled, picked up Kirk and carried him slightly downhill and into the shade of an overhang that would protect him from the rising heat of the sun. Laying him down, the Prince shook Kirk enough to rouse him to take some water. Kirk gulped thirstily, nearly finishing the water in the canteen. Talak raised the canteen to his own lips, hesitated, and shook his head ruefully. Dumping the last few ounces of liquid onto a rag, he used it to mop the sleeping man's face and neck. Kirk muttered, but did not wake.
Talak looked down at him tenderly, and brushed the hair out of his eyes. "Your friends will find you soon, Kirk. Worry not. But they must have a plan to defeat Ornix, else they would not be here. I must discover that plan. The life-debt is mine. Because of you, I have mastered my enemy within. In other circumstances, I could have called you brother."
Talak melded with him. "Remember T'Pralin." He left.
Further downhill, at the top of a ravine about 75 feet deep by 30 wide, Talak stopped. Down around the bend, he could hear the faint sound of voices. He hid where he could see down into the ravine, but could not be seen from the bottom.
Spock and the others rounded the bend, to pass almost directly below Talak's position, but on the far side of the ravine, where its wall provided some shade. In the air above Talak's head, high, fast winds had dispersed most of the smoke clouds from the volcano, allowing the now fierce sunlight to shine through. As Spock and company passed below him, Talak caught portions of their conversation.
"Open the shielding and..."
"...bait for Ornix..." "...detonation..."
Talak smiled and mumbled to himself. "They aren't carrying it. It must be in their ship." He backed away from the edge of the ravine and, following its crest, hastened downhill at the best speed he could manage. He must get to the shuttlecraft before Spock and the others found Kirk and returned to it themselves. His newly formed plan required it.
In the late afternoon, Talak reached the crest of the last bluff at the edge of the canyon country. From its top, he could see the volcano. Lava had flowed halfway down its side, but the eruption was over. As he drew back his gaze, he saw the nest, the stream this side of it, and the courier, nearer still. Leaning over, he looked down the bluff face, to espy the shuttlecraft cuddled up against it and directly below him. His luck was holding. He began to pick a precarious way down the steep bluff.
Far uphill, Spock called a halt. "He is very near. We must show caution, or Talak may harm him. Fan out, carry your phasers."
Chekov headed further uphill. Sulu climbed the side of the ravine, unslinging his tricorder when he reached the top. To the right, a cleft opened, splitting in twain further along. Spock, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty entered this branch.
Downhill, Talak emerged from the shuttle. Carrying the anti-matter bomb slung across his back, he headed for the courier.
At that moment, Spock reached the overhang, to hear a low moan. Signaling for Uhura and Scotty to remain on guard, he and McCoy ducked under the overhang. They had found Kirk at long last. Now to succor him. Spock knelt by his bond-brother, pillowing his head in his lap, while McCoy made a hasty examination.
McCoy looked at his mediscanner then prepared a hypo, explaining, "His body is full of chemical residues, Spock. Talak must have kept him drugged for weeks, if not months. This will counteract them and act as a restorative." He injected Kirk.
"Very good, Bones," Spock replied.
Jim moaned, and Spock tenderly stroked his brow. Hesitating, Spock melded with him briefly. "He carries katra, Doctor. Apparently, Talak takes no chances."
Outside, they heard a scraping noise and congratulatory sounds from Uhura and Scotty. Leaving Kirk to rest, Spock and McCoy went out from under the overhang, just as Chekov returned triumphantly with the discarded sled.
Talak reached the courier, heaved the shielded bomb into it, and climbed in. Seconds later, the doors closed and the lights came on as Talak prepared for liftoff.
While McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov settled Kirk onto the sled, and strapped him down securely, Uhura stood guard. Spock looked up at Sulu and called to him. "Anything to report, Mr. Sulu?"
Still standing atop his vantage point, Sulu looked up from his tricorder. "There is no sign of the Prince in the immediate area, Sir." Faintly, he caught the rumbling of engines. "Listen! That sounds like a ship taking off!"
As the rumble increased in volume, the others were also able to hear it. Sulu shouted, "I can see it now. It's the courier!" He again consulted his tricorder.
Scotty listened, then reported, "Ion propulsion, by the sound of it."
Sulu looked down, shouldering his tricorder as he said, "Confirmed, Captain Spock."
Spock accepted their verdict. "Of course. That explains why Ornix did not attack when it first landed here."
Disgusted, Chekov muttered, "Well, so much for Plan A."
Uhura added with a grimace, "If Plan B doesn't work, Prince Talak just left us here to die."
Aboard ship, Palaan had the conn, while T'Pava stood next to her, practically leaning over her shoulder.
Tusim reported, "A ship taking off from the planet surface, Commander. Ion propulsion. It can only be the courier. Ornix is ignoring it." The intercom wheeped. Palaan punched the button that circuited it to the speaker in the arm of her chair. Spock's voice came through.
"Landing party to Excalibur."
"Excalibur. Palaan here."
Spock continued, "We are still on the planet surface, Commander. We have found Admiral Kirk, but Talak has escaped in the courier." Before Palaan could reply, the ensign at the Communications Station spoke to her. "Message from Prince Talak, Commander."
"Hm. Keep this channel open, Spock. Viewscreen, Ensign." Talak's image appeared on the large screen. "This is Prince Talak to the commander of the fleet."
"Ah, yes. My erstwhile brother. What do you want, Talak?"
The Prince's eyes widened then went cold and dead. "Palaan! I have the antimatter device, my sister. Do not fire upon my ship. If the device goes off now, both this entire fleet, and this planet, will be destroyed."
On the planet surface, Kirk was awake, but very weak. He and the others listened to the continuing conversation via communicator.
Palaan tried cajoling. "Talak, listen to me. Bring your craft on aboard my ship. I will have the Docking Bay opened."
Talak answered, "No, sister. Do you think I do not know that our mother has condemned me?"
As Palaan watched, his image on the viewscreen added, "I repeat, Palaan. Do not fire upon me, and do not attempt to follow. Talak, out." His image faded, to be replaced by a view of the planet, several stationary fleet ships, and the moving courier.
Admiral T'Pava whispered, "You will do as he says, Palaan. He carries the katra of the Ancient One."
Palaan snarled sarcastically, "I shall most assuredly comply with your request, Admiral, since I can do no other. Our weapon systems are out. Remember?"
T'Pava sniffed huffily and left the Bridge.
Kirk, still lying on the sled, closed his eyes. "Talak, don't do it. It's not necessary!"
Inside the courier, Talak watched Ornix on his screen. His clenched hand lifted in challenge, he said, "Now, thou maleficent Great Bird, follow me. Yea, even unto death!"
On the Bridge, Palaan ordered, "Helm, Talak will abandon us soon. I want him tracked."
Tusim looked up from his board. "Picking up antimatter emanations, Commander. Prince Talak has unshielded the bomb!"
Palaan gasped. "The cowardly fool! He deserves what he gets."
On the viewscreen, they could see Ornix veer toward the courier. When it drew close, the courier went into warp. Ornix went into warp right behind it. Palaan nearly jumped out of her seat. "Ornix followed him! We must make the most of this chance. Ensign, inform all ships. By my order, activate main engines. Set course and depart for Vulcan immediately when warp capability is reached. Palaan, to landing party. Ornix has left the area. What is your situation?"
On the planet surface, Spock held the communicator to his lips. "We heard, Commander. Mr. Scott estimates it will be three hours before the transporters are operational. In less time than that, we can return via shuttlecraft. It lies less than a mile from us."
Palaan's voice replied, "Very well, Captain Spock. Report to me as soon as you arrive. I want to leave orbit as quickly as possible."
"Noted, Commander. Spock, out." He flipped the device shut and turned to the others. "Doctor?"
"Jim's doing as well as can be expected, but he's very tired and mentally depressed."
Underlining McCoy's statement, Kirk moaned, "Talak. Don't do it. We can find another way."
"I doubt it, Spock. Judging from my own experience, I'd say it's because he carries Talak's katra."
T'Pava had rejoined Palaan on the Bridge. As Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty entered the room, the Vulcan addressed Palaan. "Landing party reporting as ordered, Commander."
"Excellent," she replied. "Man your stations, please."
During the subsequent changing of the guard, T'Pava spoke in an aside, "Do you think that is wise, Palaan? Now that we have Kirk back, his crew…"
"Are still the most experienced personnel on this ship, Admiral. We do not yet have warp capability, nor are we sure of Ornix. There is still the matter of Talak." T'Pava sniffed.
Palaan cringed inwardly at the irritating sound. That nasal whiffle infuriated her more than anything else on this entire mission. T'Pava knew this. She had done it deliberately. It gave her a desired opening. "Captain Spock, where are Kirk and McCoy? They were to report, also."
"Admiral Kirk has been very badly used, Admiral. Doctor McCoy has taken him to Sickbay. They will be here shortly. Admiral Kirk insisted upon it."
"Thank you, Captain Spock," Palaan interjected. "You may attend to your duties."
"Thank you, Commander." Spock turned to study his board. Behind him, he could overhear the two co-leaders as they argued.
"Do you see what I mean, Palaan? With Kirk to lead them, they are capable of the most outlandish transgressions. They are undisciplined."
"On the contrary, it is you who are undisciplined. I am tired of your power plays, T'Pava. You will cease to interfere with my command, or I will have you escorted to your quarters, with guards stationed to keep you there. My own personal guards."
This time, T'Pava didn't sniff. Spock decided it was time to distract the squabblers. "Commander, there is one more thing which I must report. Admiral Kirk carries katra."
"Talak." Palaan was certain.
"Indeed," T'Pava concurred. "The Ritual of Dissolution, Commander?"
"That is in keeping with my mother's decree."
The turbolift opened, and Kirk stepped out, leaning on McCoy for support.
Noting the haggard look on Kirk's face, Palaan got up and offered him her seat. Nodding thanks, he sat wearily in the command chair. With a flash of insight, Palaan signaled for McCoy and T'Pava to be silent. Leaning next to his shoulder, she whispered sotto voce, "Admiral Kirk, I relinquish my post. You are in command."
Palaan stepped back, and stared at him. The change in him was amazing! As the mantle of authority settled about Kirk, he sat straighter, his eyes brightened, and the tired lines in his face smoothed away.
Palaan moved away and joined T'Pava. "Observe, woman. A lesson in the Romulan art of discipline. Put the best crew at the duty stations, then put the best leader for that group in charge."
Kirk snapped, "Status reports."
The responses came back just as crisply and efficiently.
From Uhura: "Two ships have already left on course for Vulcan, per the Commander's order. Seven ships report warp capability in less than ten minutes. The rest, in less than one hour."
From Scotty: "All auxiliary systems operational, Sir. Warp capacity in seven minutes."
From Chekov: "Weapon systems fully operational and standing by, Sir."
From Sulu: "Navigation system ready. Still tracking the courier per the Commander's order."
And, from Spock: "Computer fully operational. Sensors on 360-global long-range scan."
Happiness settled over the Bridge. McCoy turned to Palaan. "My compliments, Ma'am. That's better medicine for him than anything in my Sickbay."
Palaan bowed her head. "I am honored, Doctor."
"Picking up a disturbance at extreme sensor range, Sir. Tying in to Navigation now."
"Add computer augmentation, Spock. I want it on visual. Sulu?"
"Coordinates identical with ballistic for the courier, Admiral." On the viewscreen, and far out in empty space, an explosion similar to a supernova flared, then faded away.
"Antimatter detonation," Spock said.
"Obviously the purloined bomb."
Kirk slumped. "Talak is dead. And, if I know him, he took Ornix with him. Grieve for your brother, Palaan."
Aghast, Palaan snarled, "I'll waste no grief on that dishonored…"
T'Pava interrupted her. "Grieve, rather, for the Ancient One. Her katra is now lost, beyond any recalling."
Palaan, taken aback, stared at Kirk with something akin to awe. T'Pava opened her mouth to retort, couldn't think of anything to say, and closed it again.
Kirk added sadly, "Don't you see? Don't any of you understand? Palaan, your brother regained his sanity before he went to meet his death. He had conquered his enemy within." The stress he placed on those last two words caused the dawning of comprehension to appear on the faces of Spock and of the other humans. Kirk went on. "Talak took the antimatter bomb and the courier, yes. But he did it to lure Ornix away from here and save all of our lives. When he left me on the hillside, Talak faced a dire choice. His decision? I, James Kirk, bondbrother of Spock, bondson of Sarek and Amanda of Vulcan, carry the katra of T'Pralin! Talak sacrificed his own."
Spock, his right hand stretched forth in the fullest Vulcan salute, bowed his head in homage.
Palaan, stricken, slowly went to her knees and knocked her head three times to the deck plates, in the Romulan Ritual of Grief.
Sitting back on her heels, she sobbed, "Talak! O, my dear little brother, how I hated you, but only because I loved you so much."
T'Pava, for once absolutely sincere, placed a gentle hand on the Commander's head. "All of Vulcan grieves with thee, Palaan."
Sulu, McCoy, and the other men would have liked to burst into tears. Uhura did it for all of them.
Spock intoned, "As it is witnessed, so let it be said. Talak died with honor."