The Admiral's office was quiet, efficient and so neat it resembled an unoccupied hotel suite. Admiral Pesin sat with both hands on his desk calmly reviewing the curious orders he was about to issue. In the guest-chair to the Admiral's left, sat a Schillian security officer. The Schillian looked rather like a man-proportioned toad, or perhaps lizard. The Star Fleet uniform pants and tunic only emphasized his differences.
Presently, a transporter beam built two figures in front of the desk. Captain James T. Kirk and his First Officer, Commander Spock, of the USS Enterprise, presented themselves with proper formality and then Admiral Pesin introduced the Schillian as Lieutenant Commander Ssarsun of Star Fleet Security.
"Gentlemen," Pesin said, "be seated."
He looked from Ssarsun to Kirk and finally to Spock where his gaze became unreadable. After a long thirty seconds, he said, "Commander Spock."
"It is . . . with regret I must inform you that Sarek is still missing, and the Vulcan authorities insist that, though there is still hope, your father must be declared legally dead."
Raising one upswept eyebrow just a tiny bit, Spock answered, "Yes, of course , as if he'd been told that the Enterprise uses a matter- antimatter power system.
Pesin frowned. Even Vulcans didn't usually take such news quite so lightly. "I'm sorry I can't even offer you home leave on this occasion, but I've finally received instructions from the Vulcan authorities on the disposition of the Kraith. They expressed pleasure that you participated in the recovery of the Kraith and that it remains in your personal custody." Pesin cleared his throat apologetically. He'd tried so hard to argue Spock into putting it in the Base vault for safe keeping.
"Now," he continued, "I'm instructed to ask if the Kraith is still functional."
Spock nodded gravely, "It is." His arms were folded across his spare torso as he sat at attention somehow giving the impression of a vitally alive and interested bystander at events which didn't affect him personally. The complementary lines of the Vulcan's slightly elongated ears and slanted eyebrows seemed to underscore the almost unnatural detachment.
Pesin consulted his desk reader, "Very well. I'm instructed to ask if you're prepared to take your place as," he read the word carefully, "Kataytikh."
" Kirk was watching Spock carefully and could just barely discern him subvocalizing the word several times in an effort to identify it through the human mispronunciation.
Finally, Spock answered, "Yes, I am prepared." He intoned the words as if they were some sacred formula.
"Good. Now these are your orders. There are five Vulcans here on Starbase IX, three dancers and their musicians. You are to take them and the Kraith to Feda XII, and there perform the . . . uh . . ." he consulted his reader again, "I give up. The English term is Affirmation of the Continuity, you understand the referent?"
"You know the planet in question?" "You know the planet in question?"
"Yes, sir. There's a Vulcan archeological expedition there."
"Right. They recently lost six members in an accident . . ."
"That explains it." Spock nodded as if all were now clearly logical.
"Explains what?" Kirk put in from the side.
Spock glanced his way then noted the Admiral's blank look and said to both of them, "It explains why the Kraith has not been called back to Vulcan by the fastest ship available. It explains why my father has been declared legally dead, and yet I am not ordered to Vulcan immediately, and it explains why five entertainers and I are to go to Feda XII."
"It does?" Kirk felt, as usual with Spock, that he'd missed some obvious and vital fact.
"Of course. We are to replace the missing archeologists."
"Oh," said Kirk, not at all sure that anything had been explained.
Pesin harrumphed and flicked his reader to the next view. "Which brings us to you, Captain. Finances being what they are this year, I'm not going to send the Enterprise half way across the Federation as a personal taxi for six people and a ceramic cup, not even if that cup happens to be the most important Vulcan artifact in the universe. There is a group of thirty- seven entertainers, which includes the five Vulcans, assembled here and ready to tour the Federation Bases and entertain the personnel as part of the Federation Day Celebrations. They've been with the Potemkin for the first half of the tour. Now you'll take them the rest of the way. You'll make two stops before Feda XII, lay over until after the ceremonies, and continue. Here," he handed Kirk a tape cartridge, "are your orders."
Kirk took it, "Yes, sir."
"You will do everything in your power to help the entertainers, but remember, the really important part of the mission is to get the Kraith, Spock and those five Vulcans to Feda XII by 5289.72. The Vulcans have warned me that failure to do so may well result in the gradual disintegration of the Federation."
"Yes," Kirk said, "I can see that. If humans don't take the values of the non-human members seriously, there is no basis for unity at all."
"Precisely, which brings us to Ssarsun here. He is to travel with you as Spock's assistant, allegedly being groomed for a post as Science Officer. He will be known as Lieutenant Ssarsun. In reality," Pesin frowned at Spock, "he will be your bodyguard. He will be with you at all times when you're not in your quarters."
"I hardly think that necessary."
"Mr. Spock," Pesin was very grave, "I'm in possession of the most emphatic document I've ever received from Vulcan hands, and it asserts that you are a most important person . . . at least for the moment. I would be guilty of gross negligence if I didn't take such an elementary precaution. You are familiar with Ssarsun's people?"
"Are you willing to accept him as your bodyguard?"
Spock closed his eyes as if to overcome an illogical reluctance.
Ssarsun spoke into the silence, a crisp elocution unexpected from such immobile lips, "Spock, I was raised from infancy on Vulcan, and after a few years among by own people, I returned to school there. I shan't . . ." he searched for the right word, "disturb you." He'd had plenty of experience blending his highly flammable Schillian personality with the coolly logical Vulcan mind.
Spock took one moment longer to ponder the prospect of allowing the deep and sustained telepathic contact that Ssarsun would require for his very sanity, and to weight that against the possible usefulness of the unusual talents of a Schillian. Then he raised his eyes to the Admiral.
"Mr. Spock, it's not entirely my own idea. When I suggested that whoever kidnapped Sarek and stole the Kraith may very well go after you next, the Vulcan authorities insisted that Ssarsun be assigned to guard you."
"In that case I have no choice. I accept." He turned to Ssarsun, "But not right now. You must allow me time to prepare."
Ssarsun didn't nod; his thick neck wasn't constructed for the gesture, but nictating membranes veiled his eyes for a moment in assent. "Of course, I understand."
Everyone put in a busy three hours loading the troupe of thirty-seven entertainers of various species, finding rooms for them and their luggage, rounding up stray crewmen who'd been sent on leave, loading supplies of all sorts, and tending to the myriad details of bringing an immense starship from drydock status to "operational." But finally all was in order and they were cruising at warp six on the first leg of their zig-zag across the Federation.
Kirk was marching briskly along the corridor heading for his quarters to change for the inevitable full dress banquet in honor of their passengers when the door to Spock's quarters slid open and Spock and Ssarsun emerged almost shoulder to shoulder.
"Oh, Captain," Spock called, "may I speak to you for a moment?"
Kirk stopped and waited for them to catch up, "Surely. What's on your mind, Mr. Spock?"
"I would like permission to offer hospitality to the Vulcan guests, sir." He thought that over for a moment and added, "Vulcan hospitality, that is."
"Vulcan hospitality? Just what does that imply?"
"Technically, sir, you are the host here. But you are not Vulcan, and I am. Therefore, I should offer hospitality in your behalf. So it must be at your order that I kindle fire in the rooms of our guests and offer them water."
"Oh, well, certainly, Mr. Spock. See to it for me." Kirk nodded and started away and then a thought struck him. "But, we've had Vulcan passengers before and . . ."
"Yes, sir, but it is now a time when such observances become . . . appropriate."
"Oh. I see. Very well, then, carry on."
The large reception hall had been cleared and long tables set up and heaped with exotic delicacies. The guests moved about or clustered in small groups and the air was alive with the singing, clicking, and chattering of the many languages of the Federation.
Spock and Ssarsun entered, surveyed the glittering crowd, then moved to one of the tables to fill glasses.
"Well, Spock," McCoy came up behind them with well-lubricated joviality, "Aren't you going to introduce me?"
Spock turned to McCoy, "Of course. Doctor McCoy, this is Lieutenant Ssarsun."
McCoy cocked an eyebrow at Ssarsun, "Schillian, aren't you?"
"Yes, Doctor." The Schillian didn't need to be a telepath to read Chief Surgeon in every line of McCoy's face.
"Never had the pleasure of meeting one of your people before."
"We aren't known for the inclination to travel."
"So I understand." You could almost see him flipping through a medical encyclopedia. Then he frowned, "But don't you require . . . ah . . . constant telepathic contact with one of your own kind?"
"No, Doctor, we require constant telepathic contact with a telepath. Mr. Spock has been most generous. I think you will find my psych profile as it has always been."
"Oh, I see. Well, I guess you'd better come down to see me for your routine check-in tomorrow." He half-turned, then thought again, Better make it late tomorrow." He'd have to do some stiff boning up on Schillians.
McCoy turned as a tall, lithe girl in a long, clinging golden gown came drifting over. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head in a helix and was fixed with little tinkling bells that jingled musically to the well- coordinated rhythm of her walk. It was some moments before the warm smile on McCoy's face froze at the realization that this was one of the Vulcan dancers.
As she scanned the group and acknowledged his existence, McCoy could visualize a thin film of ice encasing her loveliness. The poise and grace were cultivated not to crack the film. Such a pity! Such a waste! He knew she was as untouchable and as unmovable as Spock. Maybe even more so.
She fixed her gaze on Spock, and they traded Vulcan greetings.
"I am told you are the Kataytikh, Spock, son of Sarek, of the line of xtmprsqzntwlfd."
McCoy wasn't sure, but he thought her gaze just a little warmer as she answered, "I am called T'Rruel."
Christine Chapel, resplendent in her dress uniform, emerged from the milling crowd and joined the group. Casually surveying the table, she indicated an arrangement of porous cubes on colored skewers next to a bowl of scintillating froth, "This is a Vulcan delicacy, isn't it, Mr. Spock?"
Spock tore his eyes from the dancer's and followed Christine's gesture, Indeed it is." He took a cube, twirled it in the froth and examined it. "Try some. I think you might like it."
She copied the gesture with an expertness that belied her ignorance, What's it made from?"
Spock chewed thoughtfully, "It is the by-product of the metabolism of an insect."
McCoy and Ssarsun had started to try this rare treat, but McCoy froze at Spock's explanation, searching Spock's face for some clue that it wasn't as bad as that. Spock continued as
if he hadn't noticed McCoy's discomfort, "It resembles honey in many ways, except that it's a true by-product. This is a particularly excellent example."
Ssarsun munched contentedly and reached past McCoy for another cube, Excuse me, Doctor, but tomorrow you may tell me how much overweight I am. Tonight, I feast." He slipped past McCoy to stand between Spock and Christine, "Oh, yes, Miss, go easy on this one, it's about the only Vulcan food that is fattening."
Seeing that everyone was enjoying the frothy cubes, McCoy bit into his gingerly, lit up with a dubious smile and ate it all, noting with a medical eye that Spock, the only underweight member of the group, had eaten only one.
T'Rruel turned to Spock, "I am also told that you are the Science Officer of the Enterprise."
"We've been having a problem with our tokiel. I wonder if you might help. Our mechanic is not too familiar with the portable model we are using."
Christine looked annoyedly at the ceiling translator, and whispered to Ssarsun, "Did you get that? What's a tokiel?"
Ssarsun looked at her; they were about the same height, "Oh, of course it wouldn't translate; there's no equivalent. It's a folk-art dance platform. You have to see it to believe it. T'Rruel is one of the foremost tokiel artists of her generation, a true genius."
When Christine looked back toward Spock, T'Rruel had taken him off in a corner and was explaining something with very graphic body movements that Spock was watching most attentively. She was certain that his gaze lacked some of his usual analytic coolness.
Ssarsun followed Spock at a discreet distance leaving her alone with McCoy who helped himself to another cube, "Wonder what this is called," he mumbled.
Christine answered, "Yhotekhq," and turned away.
McCoy followed her with a raised eyebrow.
Late the next afternoon, McCoy was seated at his desk just finishing the section on Schillian health criteria. His viewer showed a final paragraph set in glowing red:
All three Schillian sexes prefer to be referred to by the same, masculine pronoun. The examining physician is cautioned to regard the sex of his patient as confidential and under no circumstances to reveal it to non- medical personnel. He is further cautioned not to indicate to the patient that he has noticed or noted the sex of his patient, though it is commonly understood that he must do so. This is an area of great sensitivity in all Schillian cultures and, as Schillians are noted for their violent temperaments, extreme tact must be employed.
McCoy snapped the viewer off just as his door opened and Spock and Ssarsun entered. "Oh, there you are, Ssarsun. I was just about to try and find you."
Ssarsun glanced at McCoy's reader, "I know. Shall we get on with it?" There was a smile in his voice if not on his face. McCoy got a strong impression of a deep sense of humor.
"Very well, then." McCoy gestured to his examination room and they entered. Spock followed and closed the door. He had a fist-sized gadget in his hand and was picking at it curiously while taking readings with the tricorder that was slung over his shoulder.
"Something I can do for you, Mr. Spock?"
"No, Doctor. I'll wait over here." And he went toward a table at the far end of the room.
"Examinations customarily take place in private, Mr. Spock."
Ssarsun put in mildly, "It's all right, Doctor, Spock is with me."
McCoy looked from one to the other, "It may be all right with you, but it's not all right with me."
Spock assented with raised eyebrows and started for the door. Ssarsun interrupted, "Spock, no. Wait. Doctor, I'd hate to have to bother the Captain . . ."
McCoy shrugged, "You really want him here, don't you? All right, don't see what harm it can do. We'll start with the psych profile. Over here . . ."
Two hours later McCoy checked his noteboard and said, "You can put on your shirt now. You're as sound as you ever were."
"Thank you, Doctor." He moved to where Spock was reassembling the component he'd been working on. "It was the blues circuit, wasn't it?"
Spock snapped the pieces back together, "Indeed it was. Sukar will be interested to hear your analysis."
The door slid open and Kirk paced in and looked around, "Spock! Just what is that mess spread all over the floor of Rec. Room Four? I promised the Vulcan dancers they could use that mess room for rehearsals . . ."
"It's their tokiel, Captain, and we've just fixed it. We'll have it reassembled in about an hour."
"Oh." Kirk said as if that explained everything. "Tokiel."
"Would it be too much if I asked what is a tokiel?"
The door whispered open once more and T'Rruel moved into the room just in time to hear his question. "You've never seen me work, Captain?"
Kirk turned and smiled graciously, "I've never had that honor, no."
"In that case, you must attend our dress rehearsal tonight. Skahn and I will be dancing the whole Motek, not just the segments we do for the show."
"Now that's something I'd like to see," McCoy said.
Spock said, "I'm sure there will be room for you, too, Doctor."
The Rec. Room was dark when Kirk and McCoy arrived. Spock met them at the door. Just then, Nurse Chapel came speeding down the corridor with a noteboard, "Doctor McCoy," she called, "here are the results on Ssarsun, Doctor. Oh, Mr. Spock!"
Spock nodded, "We were about to start, Nurse. Would you like to stay to watch T'Rruel dance?"
She smiled as nicely as she could, "Now? All right. I think I'd like that."
They went in and found places on the chairs grouped on one side. The room was very dark, and, after Spock closed the door, it took several minutes for Kirk to be able to make out the shapes before him.
The center of the room was occupied by a small, oval stage, about half a meter above floor level. Two Vulcan men were seated at a large console at the far side of the stage, and two women and another man stood beside them. They were dressed in a shimmery, clinging material that almost glowed in the dark.
Spock came to sit beside Ssarsun who was just behind Kirk. He leaned forward to say softly, "Keep in mind that this is just a rehearsal mainly to adjust the equipment. Some of the color and tone registers are still off considerably."
T'Rruel mounted the dais accompanied by a ripple of sound and a moving burst of rainbow color that seemed to hang in the air behind her like streams of gossamer. She stood still as the glow died around her and she was wrapped in living gold like a candle flame.
Then she moved her head rhythmically, side to side, slowly allowing the movement to grow into a rippling motion of the whole body accompanied by a harmonious chiming of a myriad tiny bells while rainbow streamers curled outward like wisps of smoke.
Spock shook his head, "No. No, there's still something else wrong. What do you suppose it is, Ssarsun?"
"I don't know. I've never seen that effect before."
Spock stood up, "T'Rruel. Try your signature."
She spun around reaching high and lunged forward into a dancer's imitation of a fencer's stance. She was enwrapped in a cocoon of purple smoke and the bells turned to plucked strings.
One of the Vulcan men seated at the console called, "Spock. Come look at this."
Spock went over to the console and T'Rruel joined them as the lights came up to very dim. The six of them set up a murmuring exchange in Vulcanur. Ssarsun turned to the humans, "Well, he warned you. They'll have it tinkered up in a minute.
Christine, who was seated next to Ssarsun, just behind McCoy, asked, How does it work? I've never seen anything like it before."
"There's a field projector under the stage, and a computer is programmed to read every tiny motion of the dancer's body and translate it into music and light. It's a modern refinement of one of the most ancient folk arts of Vulcan.
"Folk art?" prompted McCoy.
"Yes. To understand it fully, you have to grasp the philosophy of T'Kiamut'h. Briefly, that's the idea that all relationships can be expressed by four parameters, as the simplest algebras can be constructed on four postulates. The Vulcans constantly seek beauty in the fundamental structure of nature . . ."
"Folk art?" prompted Kirk.
"Yes. You see, in tokiel, the four parameters are space, time, color and tone. There are various classical sequences, but even within them, there is a vast field for the individually creative artist to present his own ideas."
"You mean," put in McCoy, "it's a glorified lecture, if you know how to read it?"
"In a way, perhaps to you it would be, but to a Vulcan it's more the use of beauty to express beauty. I don't understand the Vulcan primary motivations all that well, but it has to do with their incessant groping after a comprehension of Infinite Reality. The test of comprehension is expression, or the ability to recombine dissimilar elements into new beauty . . ."
He broke off, seeing that he'd lost them. He wanted to explain that comprehension and "expression can be the same word in the Vulcan language, and that an esthetic sense is placed high on the scale of Vulcan values, and that logic is merely one facet of Infinite Reality, but he realized that that wouldn't illuminate the art of tokiel for them. Nor would the fact that the great tokiel artists were, themselves, logicians of the highest order. And calling tokiel the highest abstract form of the Vulcan language would only confuse them.
Spock turned and the five Vulcan performers jumped as if stung by a high-voltage current. He'd shocked them on the telepathic level. Ssarsun came up beside Spock and looked around at the performers as the lights came up again, "I apologize. I didn't mean to startle you so, but there is danger."
The Vulcans gathered around Ssarsun while Kirk came over followed by McCoy and Christine. T'Rruel looked incredulously from Ssarsun to Spock, You're linked!" It was both accusation and condemnation delivered by a statuesque goddess of justice.
The Vulcans gathered around Ssarsun while Kirk came over followed by McCoy and Christine. T'Rruel looked incredulously from Ssarsun to Spock, "You're linked!" It was both accusation and condemnation delivered by a statuesque goddess of justice.
As Spock stood mutely under that glare, Ssarsun said. "T'Rruel, I will not obtrude . . ."
Skepticism and rejection bordering on true loathing were so evident in the usually unreadable Vulcans that Ssarsun fell silent. Kirk and McCoy stood paralyzed.
T'Rruel's gaze locked onto Spock's eyes, "Spock, you are Kataytikh in your father's place and by his father's hand, and yet you don't seem to realize you've destroyed your usefulness to us by . . ." she glanced at Ssarsun and then at the floor, striving desperately not to exceed the limits of good taste by displaying emotion.
Ssarsun turned to Spock, "Bring them together, Spock . . . right now . . . show them it's not so. Show them T'Pau knows what she does." He didn't say that the seven way mental blending would show him whether one of them had deliberately set the tokiel stage to kill. He knew that such trivia as attempted murder wouldn't interest them now. He turned to the others, "You five will have to be his nucleus, anyway. He won't have time to select from the others, so it will have to be you. Today, tomorrow. What's the difference?"
T'Rruel leveled a cool gaze at him, "You will have to leave."
"I cannot. I have my orders. Believe me, you won't even know I'm there. Go ahead. Let him try. That will settle it, won't it?"
She looked at the others and then at Ssarsun as if to say, "You'd better be right!" Then she moved to confront Spock. They were the same height, and their eyes met levelly for a long minute, then Spock drew a deep breath and raised his right hand, fingers separated in a Vulcan salute. Slowly, she raised her left hand and joined his, palm to palm. A moment later, he looked toward the other Vulcan female who joined T'Rruel's free hand. Quickly now, he accepted the others until the last joined his free hand to complete the circle. Outwardly, nothing happened.
Ssarsun stood on one side, the Captain, McCoy, and Nurse Chapel, on the other, all but forgotten, afraid to move, or to breathe.
Then, as one, the Vulcans dropped hands and stepped apart.
Spock looked gravely around the circle, "Henceforth, my judgement as Kataytikh will be unchallenged, and my authority final." Plainly, he'd vindicated himself and he now dominated the group. He turned to Ssarsun, You spoke of danger?"
"The vision is now clear." He moved to the tokiel console, "This was accidentally left on reversed polarity when you finished the analysis routine," he threw two switches that went snick, snap, "now it's safe. Go ahead and test it out."
He moved toward the humans and herded them back to their seats as Spock mounted the dais, handed T'Rruel up and proceeded to execute a series of turns with easy familiarity.
The dancers were invisible on the platform and only figures of colored light appeared, grew, moved and faded. The focus and definition were greatly improved and the colors were sharper, blending only in certain areas.
Then a rippling sound accompanied by the rhythmic tolling of a large bell announced the start of the Motek as Spock returned to his seat.
To the humans, it was a pyrotechnic display of rhythm, form and sound utterly strange yet somehow pleasing. The dancers themselves were rarely visible, but the total effect was very like a ballet.
Toward the end, long gossamer streamers wove intricate patterns in the air, moving so swiftly, yet never touching, never faltering. Kirk found himself holding his breath as T'Rruel alone on the platform, spun around reaching high and then lunged forward in a beautiful imitation of a fencer's stance to the accompaniment of a pure, sweet, wailing tone.
Later, as Christine lay trying to sleep, she kept analyzing the look she'd caught on Spock's ruggedly masculine features as the lights came on. Was it the same lively interest he
turned on a mathematical problem? Was it the excitement of conquering a mystery? Or was it a warmer kind of excitement? Whatever it was, it was certainly more of a reaction than she'd ever been able to elicit. And that rankled!
The rest of the trip to their first stop went without incident, and since the shore facilities there were adequate, practically the whole crew attended the performance and the gala banquet afterwards. Then they were speeding through space toward their second stop.
It was during the second night after the banquet that Ssarsun was walking along the corridor outside Engineering, feeling sorry for himself. Spock had elected to stay on board rather than attend the banquet, so they'd both missed out on a good time, and Ssarsun was feeling the need of less frosty company.
Scotty came along, head down, wiping his hands on a disposowel and bumped into the Schillian, "Oh Ssarsun!" He looked around. "Where's Spock?"
"Sleeping. I'm off duty, but I'm not tired, so I was walking."
"No! Well, come along to Rec. Room Ten. Uhura promised to sing for us . . . uh, you do like human music . . ."
"I'd be delighted."
They walked along to the turbo-lift side by side, "Say, Ssarsun," Scotty began, "I don't know much about Schillians. Tell me, do you folks use . . . uh . . . alcohol in any form?"
"You mean, have we developed the distiller's art? Oh, yes. There are some particularly fine liquors beginning to be exported in quantity."
"Really! Strange that I've never come across them."
"It's a big galaxy, Mr. Scott."
"Aye. Call me Scotty." The Chief Engineer allowed his diction to revert to his natural lilt.
The turbo-lift carried them within feet of the Rec. Room and when the door opened, they could hear Uhura's sweet voice curling itself around a peculiar melody.
She was standing in the middle of a mixed group of crewmen and some of the performers. Her voice was low, melodic, and rather uncertain.
Ssarsun listened for a minute and then she caught sight of him and stopped. He moved to her side, "Oh, please continue, Miss Uhura. You were doing so well."
Uhura bit her lip and smiled shyly, "I'm not really all that . . ."
"Please. You've evoked such nostalgia with so few notes. Indulge me a little . . . here I'll help," and he picked up the melody where she'd left off, albeit several octaves lower. She joined in and together they wove a wordless duet of blended sound which was springtime and flowers yearning and joy . . . discovery and loss. Every eye in the room which could shed a tear of emotion did.
Then, as if realizing they'd launched the party on too solemn a downbeat, someone picked up a drum, someone else a pipe, and everyone was dancing. Ssarsun shook himself, grabbed Chekov and whirled him away in a fair imitation of a polka. Later, he danced with Uhura, and then some of the other non-humans with fine disregard of male-female roles.
Breathless, he made his way to a table where Scotty was seated, puffing, and sat down close to the Engineer. "A while ago you mentioned alcohol. Now I happen to have brought along a couple of bottles of Schillian Schlugtamer . . ."
"Never heard of it."
"Certified safe for humans. Becoming quite popular. Feel like experimenting?"
Scotty rose, "Do ye like Scotch, mon?"
"Never tried it, but I hear it's rather mild."
"Mild? Well, now, laddy . . . you just come along with me . . ."
It took several hours to admit it, but he'd finally met his match with a bottle. He consoled himself with the fact that the other's metabolism gave him an unfair advantage.
In the morning, they woke, feeling much better psychologically, and much worse physiologically and went their separate ways in remarkably good cheer, promising to meet again.
During the next few days, Spock spent most of his off-duty hours closeted with the other Vulcans, or escorting T'Rruel about the ship. Ssarsun always tagged along, and the three of them were a familiar sight.
Spock became his frostiest Vulcan self, and even began slipping into Vulcan phrasing occasionally, a thing unheard of since his first days with the Enterprise. Rumors based on as little fact as possible made the rounds, and the other female crewmembers made sure that Christine heard every one of them.
About six hours before their scheduled stop at Star Base Twelve, Christine was seated in Rec. Room Two, nursing a cup of black coffee and holding the dietician's report that Spock had just left with her. Spock and Ssarsun, as inseparable as ever, marched out the door as T'Rruel came over to Christine's table.
"May I?" She indicated the second chair.
"Of course. Why not?" Christine was determined to be civil.
"He's a strange one." She sat and folded her hands on the table.
"Not really." She answered noncommittally while her eye traveled down the report she held, automatically checking trouble spots and lighted on Spock's name. He'd refused his last two meals. Her heart thudded into her throat. With the greatest effort she'd ever made, she forced her voice level, "Why do you ask? He hasn't been eating lately, perhaps he's ill."
"No, not ill. It is a time of fasting for us."
Christine took a deep breath and a long drag at her coffee.
"I meant, he seems so . . ." T'Rruel hesitated, searching for the right word, "well, almost . . . human at times."
"Oh? Maybe that's because of his mother."
One graceful eyebrow grazed T'Rruel's impeccable hairline, "His mother?"
"Hmmmmm. I'm sure she must have imparted some of her traits to him, if only by accident."
"His mother was human?"
Christine put on her best wide-eyed innocence, "I thought everyone knew . . ."
"Vulcan is a large planet. Not everyone knows everyone else . . ."
Christine imagined that she'd just poured a whole bucket of water on one very shapely piece of dry tinder. Just then all the ship's hooters began whooping out a yellow alert. Christine gulped her coffee and grabbed the dietician's report, "Excuse me."
The Captain's quarters were spacious enough, but not designed for large conferences. The four-way conference in progress just missed being cramped. Spock stood in one corner, arms folded across his chest like a stone statue. Ssarsun was seated near him while McCoy perched on one corner of the desk and Kirk paced back and forth, unsure for the first time in his career if he'd really considered all the ramifications before issuing a command decision.
"So that's the whole story, Bones," Kirk finished. As usual, the Doctor had gotten caught in the crossfire between him and Spock and had insisted on an explanation. "Now what do you think?"
"Your orders are clear enough about priorities. But . . ."
"True. But so are our standing orders. Ssarsun."
"You've never served on a Starship before, have you?"
"No, sir. My talents are rarely needed on Starships."
"One of our highest traditions," Kirk paced over to stand in front of the Schillian, "is our . . . automatic . . . response to distress signals . . . especially when there's an indication of armed attack."
"I understand that, sir. But my instincts tell me, very emphatically, this move represents a danger to Spock."
"Spock." Kirk turned toward his First Officer who'd remained silent since his first objection was overruled. "It's true that we can divert to Ahrent III, even spend twenty hours there, and still make Feda XII on schedule, isn't it?"
Spock blinked assent, "Twenty-one hours seventeen minutes."
"Then, tell me again, exactly why do you object?"
"Because Ssarsun objects, and I trust his judgement." He looked away for a moment, considering, "Also . . . perhaps my judgement is colored by values that are not yours."
Kirk turned away toward his desk, "The report was that a small raider had attacked a hundred man outpost on Ahrent III and been beaten off, slightly disabled. Now, how could such a vessel pose a serious threat to the Enterprise?"
McCoy put in, "While it could mean death to those hundred men. And they've sustained radiation casualties that need a Starship's facilities."
Spock eyed the doctor, "Coincidence upon coincidence until credulity is strained to the utmost and still you don't see it?"
"Show us." Kirk invited, throwing himself wearily into his desk chair.
Spock took a deep breath, "The patrol ship of this sector is out of range, but the Enterprise can just spare enough time to divert to Ahrent III. A raider, just large enough to pose a threat to the outpost appears, inflicts damage that requires our assistance, and limps off slowly. Bait."
Ssarsun spoke up, "May I respectfully remind the Captain that there have been a considerable number of security leaks on dozens of Star Bases and Posts lately. We theorize that Klingon and Romulan intelligence networks are being strengthened. They must have had excellent sources to execute the theft of the Kraith, if it was they. They might know that Spock and the Kraith are on board the Enterprise.
Spock stepped forward gravely, "This could be a new phase of the war, Captain. Armed conflict is out of the question since the Organian Treaty. They may now try to tear the Federation apart by pitting us against one another. And, Jim, if anything can succeed, this will. I don't think you appreciate the . . . importance of this particular Kraith. Nor our attitude in the matter."
Kirk rose and moved around the desk, cocking his head to one side, You mean, if we don't get to Feda XII on time, Vulcan will secede from the Federation and take a bloc of other worlds with them? Just like that? Isn't that rather . . . illogical?"
"The values may seem strange to you, but I assure you the logic is impeccable. The Admiral's warning was phrased very mildly. The situation is much more critical than he indicated."
McCoy swung his leg thoughtfully, "It seems rather emotional to me."
"Not emotional, Doctor, but far more basic than you realize."
"I just can't believe," Kirk paced out his frustrations, that if we explained that it was a matter of the lives of a hundred people against . . ." he stopped to stare at Spock as he realized that he really didn't know what the consequences would be for the Vulcans. His decision had seemed so logical . . . he'd hardly believed his ears when Spock had objected to his order to respond to the distress call. Now he felt shocked at his oversight.
Kirk threw up his hands and collapsed into the desk chair again, How can I make command decisions if I don't have all the facts! All right. Make me understand. What will happen if we're, say, an hour late getting to Feda XII?" He looked at Spock hard. "Is it a matter of life or death?"
Spock sighed, "Not exactly . . . If it were merely a matter of life or death, your logic, sir, would hold. The problem is that we would not die. Our laws forbid suicide and ostracism. Therefore, Tsaichrani . . . excuse me, Vulcan . . . would have to absorb fifty-seven individuals who had not, your phrase is `Affirmed the Continuity.' This would be a devastating blow to the stability of our culture."
McCoy shook his head, "I don't get it. A mere fifty-seven out of," he searched the air with one hand, "how many billion?"
Spock looked at McCoy and took a breath to provide a precise Vulcan population count. McCoy raised a hand to forestall the flood.
"Spock," Ssarsun spoke softly, "why don't you give it to them from the beginning. They're groping in the dark. If they understood the importance of the Affirmation, I think they'd change their minds."
Spock clamped his hands behind his back and looked from Kirk to McCoy. He saw two friends--a concept they'd defined for him to be their very existence--who had stood by him through the most traumatic experience of his life. They'd learned something of his culture then. Perhaps it was time for them to learn more. "In the beginning, when we who now dominate our planet lived in caves, used chipped stone implements and knew no society larger than the clan, there arose in one tiny enclave, a mutation.
"It was a dominant genetic strain, passed through the male line, and it displayed one
single trait that differentiated it."
He saw that he had their attention and continued, "The trait was the ability to draw large numbers of people together into mutual telepathic linkage. Those first ancestors of mine used their gift to forge and perpetuate social values and launched one of the bloodiest periods of history known on any planet.
"Then came the reforms. By then the dominance of the gene, together with a vigorously practiced tradition of exogamy, had spread the trait. The Kataytikh banded together and put all their power behind the reforms. We used the accumulated wisdom of ages to restructure our society for peace.
"But the durability of the structure depends on the transmission of our value system. So we meet in groups of no less than fifty-seven every fifty-one point two three standard years, to Affirm the Continuity. One who doesn't participate . . . he and his children born during the ensuing interval . . . are not only lost to the Continuity, but represent a destructive influence within our society. In fifty-two years, fifty-seven people can become as many as four hundred seventy-three. The damage can never be fully repaired."
He turned and paced away from Kirk. When he turned back, the lecturer's tone was replaced with earnestness, "Consider now, who this particular group of fifty-seven includes. Fifty-one of the foremost of our young scientists. And I doubt if I could ever make you understand the importance of someone like T'Rruel. She is very young and the brilliance she has shown is a mere foreshadowing of what she may yet do."
Ssarsun leaned forward, "Not to mention Spock himself. He traces his lineage back to the original xtmprsqzntwlfd. Only one other family can make that claim. And Spock is the last of his line."
"None of my father's ancestors has ever missed an Affirmation. The line is unbroken for millennia. I am both custodian and transmitter of a Contiguity which my society values . . . very highly."
Spock fell silent and Kirk discovered that he'd been holding his breath. He let it go explosively.
"But," McCoy asked, "Where does the Kraith fit in?"
During the past month, Spock had become accustomed to the various human mispronunciations of Kraith and he fielded that one with veteran smoothness. "The Drinking of the First Water is a social act which symbolizes . . . well, never mind. It's the act which initiates the Affirmation. The Kraith is the vessel used in the Drinking, and it is . . . very extraordinary."
"Yes, I've seen that." McCoy could still visualize the twisted corpse that lay beside the Kraith when they'd found it. Spock claimed the Kraith had killed him, but wouldn't explain how. He'd said that only he could touch the Kraith . . . but wouldn't explain why. Very extraordinary indeed.
"This particular Kraith is very old. The legend is that it dates from the time of the reforms. It's never been used. When it's been used, it will be destroyed." Spock hoped that that would illustrate how highly his group was valued.
Kirk buried his face in his hands. What a decision. He knew that if he were Vulcan, he certainly wouldn't have sent the Enterprise off course . . . no matter what. But now they were halfway to Ahrent III.
Ssarsun lunged forward and caught Spock's hand, alarm written in every muscle, "Captain! We're being attacked!"
Kirk slapped the intercom button on his desk viewer, "Bridge! Status!"
"Normal, sir." It was Sulu's voice. "Maintaining Yellow Alert."
"All sensors full out, Mr. Sulu. Scan for an approaching vessel. Sound Red Alert. I'm on my way. Kirk, out." He'd seen Ssarsun in action and was taking no chances, "Come on, Spock." He was out the door almost before the others had a chance to move. The Red Alert hooters were calling all hands to their stations, but somehow, a pathway was always open for the Captain.
The bridge was in a state of quiet tension when the three of them stepped out of the turbo-lift. Ssarsun followed Spock to the Library Computer. Kirk climbed into his chair and waited grimly.
Sulu looked over his shoulder, "Nothing, Captain." Then he turned back to the helmsman's console. The huge main viewscreen filled the forward wall with star-studded blackness.
Spock said, "Tie all sensors into the main computer, Mr. Sulu."
Ssarsun moved to stand by Kirk's right hand, "They're coming, sir. Won't be long."
Ssarsun had never seen the bridge in this state before. He could feel the well-trained tension ready to crackle from Kirk as he sat in the central arena of command either toward the
twin consoles of the helmsman and navigator in front of him or to his rear where Spock worked over the main computers and Uhura presided over the ship's communications board. The enormous emptiness on the main screen contributed a sense of unprotectedness and insecurity that kept Ssarsun's inner eyelids tightly closed.
Spock barked, "Mr. Sulu, deflectors!"
Sulu hit the switch, "Deflectors on full."
The floor shifted hard under their feet. Uhura started her damage control routine and her board crackled with crisp reports. Spock checked his scanner, Photon torpedoes, Captain. Delivered from warp eight. A small vessel, about twice the size of the Galileo. They are turning for another run. This could be the raider."
"That's a favorite Romulan tactic!" said Kirk. "See if you can get her on our screen."
The floor shook again as the gravity compensators labored. Spock shook his head, "No, sir, too fast."
Kirk nodded, "Tie the main phasers into the computer and instruct for maximum dispersion."
"Aye, sir." Spock's hands flew over his board.
Ssarsun blinked all his eyelids in sequence. "It won't work, Captain. We're going to be hit this time."
Ssarsun moved to Spock's side. If a Schillian could tremble in fear, he would have been vibrating the whole ship.
Suddenly, the world stood on its side and for a moment they all floated in free fall. The ship's power died with a turbo-whine and growl and the lights went out. Seconds later the ship's gravity stabilized and they all fell a good eight feet to the deck and then the emergency power came on.
Sulu was the first to recover and he worked the main screen into focus, We got him!"
But the steady murmur from Uhura's board told at what price. Sulu turned to assess the damage to bridge personnel and his left hand shot out to his intercom switch, "Medical team to the bridge . . . on the double."
Combat veteran that he was, he could scarcely overcome his shock at seeing his Captain draped over the command chair like a broken rag doll, the First Officer sprawled on top of Ssarsun who was jackknifed between the computer console and the chair, and the Communications Officer gracefully prone in front of the lift doors. He looked around for Chekov, but couldn't find him. He lay out of sight on the floor in front of the navigator's station.
The lift doors swished open and McCoy stood there with a team of doctors. As he looked around, Spock began to stir and Uhura picked herself up. McCoy automatically lent her a hand and then motioned his men to take care of the Captain while he saw to Spock and Ssarsun. Medical scanners in hand, they fanned out with smooth efficiency.
By the time McCoy reached him, Spock was on his feet. McCoy pointed his scanner at Spock and Spock pushed it away toward Ssarsun. "I'm all right. Doctor. But Ssarsun is hurt."
McCoy shifted the scanner to his other hand and completed a once over on Spock while Spock ignored him in favor of a long look at the main screen which now showed the tiny ship that had disabled the Enterprise. Then he bent to his instruments, probing the quiescent enemy with every sensor at his command. Nothing. No life forms . . . no power.
When he looked up, McCoy was wheeling Kirk's stretcher into the turbo-lift which already contained Ssarsun's stretcher. It was a tight fit. Everyone else was in place and functioning.
"Lieutenant Uhura," Spock snapped as he moved to the command chair, "damage report."
"Direct hit Engineering Deck six, near the main gravity compensators. Pressure doors closed. We've lost warp power. Mr. Scott's assessing the repairs now, but he says it's difficult because there's some kind of projectile lodged in the hole and he's afraid to move it. It ticks. They're working in vacuum. Sick Bay reports five dead, seventeen injured . . . not counting the Captain and Mr. Ssarsun."
Spock eyed the main viewscreen with outward equanimity. Inwardly he was seething with reactions, none of them (he noted with satisfaction) at all emotional. "Remarkable," he muttered, "In fact, fascinating. Mr. Sulu, lock onto our late opponent and bring it onto the hangar deck."
Sulu turned toward Spock about to ask for a repeat of that one, changed his mind and began the procedure, gingerly. As soon as he laid a hand to the controls, the tiny ship erupted into an orange blaze and began to move away at sub-light speed. It was already out of range for the commanded maneuver.
Spock sat forward alertly, "Impulse power, Mr. Sulu. Follow. Deflectors on full." He hit the intercom button on the chair arm, Bridge to Engineering, report. How soon can we have warp speed?"
"Engineering. Scott here. Maybe thirty hours after I get this . . . thing . . . out of my Engine Room."
Very quietly, Spock said, "Make it twenty, Mr. Scott. Bridge out." Then he sat studying the mysterious enemy, so utterly devoid of identifying markings and so unexpectedly dangerous. In thirty hours, it would be too late to make Feda XII. He swallowed a slightly emotional lump of desperation verging on panic. To miss an Affirmation would be a distastefully emotional experience. He turned to find McCoy pointing a medical scanner at him.
"How is the Captain?"
"Slight concussion, he'll be out for hours. The ship is all yours, Mr. Spock."
Spock turned back to the main screen where the raider was fast disappearing from maximum magnification.
"Well," prompted McCoy, "aren't you going to ask how Ssarsun is?"
I don't have to, Doctor. Torn ligament and the equivalent of a sprained back, slight concussion."
McCoy nodded, "That covers it except for assorted cuts and bruises. So what are you going to do?"
"Follow that raider."
"He's leading us away from Feda XII?"
"It's your ship, now, Mr. Spock. Why don't you . . ."
"I admit I am sorely tempted, Doctor, but it's not my ship. It's Jim's ship, and I must do what I believe he would do were he sitting here."
"I think you're wrong. I think he was changing his mind."
"It's too late now, Doctor." He turned to eye McCoy, It's a command decision." He made the emphasis so gentle, it was almost un- Spockian.
McCoy got the distinct impression that, had he been able, Spock would have burst into tears. Then he pooh-poohed himself. He had an overactive imagination.
Spock took a deep breath. The raider had effectively disappeared from their screens. "Mr. Sulu, you have the con. I'll be in Engineering. Let me know if there is any change."
He rose and went to the lift with McCoy trailing after.
Engineering looked like an ill-managed construction workshop when Spock marched in looking around for Scotty. He noted the quiet efficiency of Scotty's men with a lack of disapproval which was his highest form of praise. Then he spotted the Chief Engineer near a makeshift lock that had been installed in the emergency bulkhead halfway down the corridor. He was dressed in vacuum gear and had evidently just doffed the helmet to wipe sweat from his brow.
Spock made his way across the littered floor, "Engineer, report."
Scotty turned. His face was deeply lined and he looked much older than he had that morning. "It's a Romulan torpedo, Mr. Spock. One of their sonic, delayed detonation models. Have na seen one in years. Come over here, I'll show you."
He led the way to a viewscreen and punched a combination. A four- part diagram appeared on the screen and Scotty pointed out the salient points as he spoke, "And . . . yes . . . I remembered right, this is the timer fuse circuit. It can be aborted . . ." he became even more grave, "but . . . I have na man with a hand steady enough. See how this shaft has to be drawn straight out without the slightest vibration? I can rig up a sling to do the job, but it will take the best part of an hour and I don't know how much longer we have before that clock runs down."
Spock studied the diagram. He knew the model, but had never defused one himself. He nodded, "Get me a vacuum suit."
Scott looked at the Vulcan a long moment. It was a Romulan machine designed to be defusable by Romulan hands, presumably. He'd heard that Vulcan specialists had been carried to deal with these babies during the Romulan Wars. He nodded.
Ten minutes later, Spock confronted the softly ticking mechanism with a cautious tricorder probe. Then he reached deep within himself to tap the wellspring of steadiness that was his most cherished heritage, and knelt to the job.
The gloves made it difficult to manipulate the tools with the delicate sensitivity he would have liked to employ, but he was grateful that the anachronistic specialty tools were still regulation equipment. It didn't occur to him to be grateful that Scotty ran a neat, tight department.
He worked with the swift sureness that gave the sweating men monitoring the scene on the intercom no clue that he'd never actually done it before. His tricorder was registering an ominous change in the rhythmic ticking by the time he was ready for the last, and most delicate stage, the withdrawing of the shaft. He flexed his fingers inside the stiff gloves. No. It would never work, and he'd not get a second chance. He made a swift calculation and, sealing the suit at the wrists, he drew the gloves off. Very conscious of the hard vacuum on his bare hands, he grasped the shaft and drew it gently but firmly out.
He forced his hand to drop the cold metal, and with it several pieces of skin, and then he rose and took the five quick steps to the makeshift lock, dripping icicles of boiling green blood.
All during McCoy's ministrations, Spock found he couldn't keep his mind off the subject of Fate. He was even willing to entertain such notions as a Prime Mover. For instance, yesterday, had he not, in the last instant, pulled himself together and aborted that certain mindtouch, his hands might well have been too unsteady . . .
Even when he reminded himself that this uncontrollable curiosity alienated him from his own kind, he could scarcely drag his mind back to business. But discipline finally won out and he found himself back in the command chair of the fleetest of Federation ships of the line while it wallowed after an utterly improbable raider.
Sulu threw a glance over his shoulder, "They've gone to ground, sir. Landed on the fourth planet of this system."
"Class Six orbit, Mr. Sulu." Class Six should do it, he thought. Far enough to give them forty-two point seven eight hours before orbital decay required powered maneuvers, yet near enough to use the transporter, sparingly.
He made the appropriate log entries and then issued orders for a landing party to form. He was virtually certain what his sensors would show as soon as they were near enough.
An hour later, his certainty was confirmed. No life forms . . . no power. He had no logical alternative. He ordered the landing party down. Then he went to Sick Bay to check on the progress of the injured.
Sick Bay was quiet now. Most of the injured had been discharged to their quarters. In the room just off McCoy's office, Ssarsun and Kirk lay next to each other, while Christine monitored their medical scanner readings. It took Spock only a moment to note their condition and then he approached McCoy who was seated at his desk reading.
The intercom whistled and McCoy answered, looking up at the enigmatic First Officer.
It was Sulu's voice, "Is Mr. Spock there?"
Spock leaned down, "Spock here, Mr. Sulu."
"Landing party report, sir."
"On my way, Spock out. How soon can you have the Captain on his feet, Doctor?"
"Couple of hours if necessary. He's sleeping now. Ssarsun will be laid up for days."
"I know. He's still unconscious."
Spock nodded, "Tenuously."
Spock turned to go and McCoy rose to follow, "Landing party?"
By the time they reached the bridge, McCoy had pumped Spock for all the details. Spock folded himself into the command chair and activated the intercom, "Landing party, report."
"Fielding here, Mr. Spock. As you suspected, this little ship is one solid block of machinery, but it did carry a crew of one. In sensor-shielded vacuum gear. She's dead, sir . . . I think. All the weapons systems are inoperative. Propulsion intact, but we can't raise her until we get a doctor down here to remove the pilot. It's very strange. She seems to have been wired into the controls."
Spock eyed McCoy, "Cyborg?"
McCoy pulled a skeptical face. Spock said, "Very well, Lieutenant Fielding. Carry on. Spock out. Let's go, Doctor."
Choking on his protests, McCoy followed Spock into the elevator. They were taking their places on the transporter pads before McCoy could put his objections into words, "Spock, are you sure you're not exposing yourself to an unnecessary risk?"
"A calculated risk, Doctor. If the Klingons or the Romulans are using cyborg raiders . . ." he shook his head, "we must have that ship."
McCoy held his peace and went quietly to sparkling pieces. When the world again became visible, it was a sandy plain whose only distinguishing feature, other than a baking desert heat was a tiny craft close to a rosy rock pinnacle. It was clear that if they were to raise the wreck, they would need all of Spock's skill and probably Scotty's too.
They waded through the wind-rippled sand, Spock in the lead, McCoy wishing he had the Vulcan's temperature tolerance. The hatch had been sprung in the crash, and they entered the velvet darkness which soon revealed itself to be a well-lit interior.
Without even looking around, McCoy knelt beside the pilot, a very lovely Romulan woman. He swore. She was a cyborg all right. What a perversion! Then his tricorder registered a faint, oh so faint, trace of life. He went to work, trying to nurse that flicker into flame.
He didn't hear Spock order the rest of the landing party back to the ship, but then Spock's sure fingers were working over the cyborg's control connections, oblivious to the pain from his injured hand.
Suddenly they were slammed back to the rear of the tiny cabin and pinned there by a grueling surge of acceleration. The builders hadn't wasted any space on gravity compensators. Only the pilot's couch was properly rigged and unaffected. Then the engines stopped and they were in free fall. The eerie whine of sliced atmosphere picked up and began to whistle through the cracks around them.
The crash came as an almost welcome release from terror, and McCoy surrendered gratefully to unconsciousness.
Had Spock not disconnected the pilot from the course computer and almost disconnected the engine controls, she would certainly have smeared them over half the continent.
As it was, Spock woke with no broken bones, and only a wrenched ankle as a souvenir. The pilot, he ascertained, was now thoroughly dead. Then he tended to the ankle. A few moments of concentration had the swelling under control.
He left his boot off, hobbled over to McCoy who was sprawled on the canted deck, apparently unmarked, and checked him over with the medical scanner. No damage other than two cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder.
Balancing on his good foot, Spock braced himself, grasped the Doctor's wrist and gently eased the shoulder back into place. When he checked the scanner again, he was satisfied. Next he reached for his communicator. When he flipped it open, the insides fell out with a tinkle. The Doctor's had fared a little better, but when he tried it on the Enterprise's frequency, all he got was static.
Favoring his abused ankle, he made his way to the entry and had a look around. They were deep in a crevice gouged out of what looked like metallic crystals. Their position made them invisible except from directly above. The tricorder readings indicated that the rocks were generating random piezoelectric and photoelectric currents. There was no hope of getting a signal out and very little hope that the Enterprise's sensors could spot them unless they'd been tracked. At least, it would take some time.
When he went back inside, McCoy was sitting up probing his shoulder. Spock filled him in on the situation, they treated each other's wounds and settled down to wait. Spock stood in the entry hatch, his eyes roving the loose rock walls of their prison. A climb was out of the question.
The hours rolled by. Spock rummaged through the dead ship taking tricorder readings. He couldn't even get the lights on again, and the only illumination came through the hatch and assorted cracks. Eventually, McCoy found himself asking Spock for the time every five minutes and curbed his tongue. Presently, to make conversation, he said, "I could surely use a drink of water."
Spock turned. He almost looked contrite, "I'm sorry, Doctor. This temperature must be hard on you. There is water about a hundred yards up the canyon." He pulled on his boot, "Come, we'll take a walk."
"You must be thirsty, too. Even Vulcans need water."
"I do not feel the need. Come."
They scrambled and walked, slowly, up the crevice. The silence between them was so thick, McCoy thought he could slice it and serve it with plomeek soup. None of his usual comments seemed less than boorish considering what Spock must be going through. Finally, in a desperate effort to raise his spirits, McCoy said, "How did you know there's water here?"
"I can hear it, Doctor, and smell it. I'd forgotten you couldn't, or I would have mentioned it earlier."
Mentally, McCoy kicked himself. They then rounded an outcropping and the tiny cascade was revealed in all its wet glory. The pond drained into an underground chasm. McCoy ran a standard tricorder check and then drank. When he rose, he held out a wet hand to Spock, "You really ought to drink . . ."
Spock backed away from the drops and their splashings as if the water were a deadly poison, "No, thank you, Doctor."
McCoy frowned, "What's the matter?"
The stony mask of a thousand generations of Vulcan forefathers veiled his face, "It is forbidden, there is still a chance. Come, let us return to the vessel." He turned and stalked away as if mortally offended. McCoy followed, back to the only shelter from the relentless heat.
Hours later, McCoy was seated on the deck while Spock leaned against the bulkhead and stared out the hatch. The Doctor was sure he'd fallen asleep because he remembered dreaming of one of his more vivid experiences, the time he'd accompanied Spock to his marriage ceremony and accompanied Jim's "body back to the ship.
He stared at Spock, now seated cross-legged on the deck looking out the open hatch at the gathering dusk. He was normally a rather withdrawn type, but these last few hours he'd been positively . . . elsewhere. McCoy felt as if he'd been excluded, shut away, barred. If he didn't know better, he'd say treated as a man would treat an animal that just happened to tag along.
"Spock, how much time left?"
"Two hours, eleven minutes."
"Jim must be in command by now.
"What about Ssarsun?"
Spock turned his head to glance at McCoy then looked back out at the thickening night, "Didn't I mention that I'd lost contact with him?"
"No, you didn't. When did this happen?"
"When I lost consciousness. I don't know why. Perhaps we moved around the planet, out of range."
"He must be half out of his mind by now!"
"No. One of the others will take him."
"Why don't you try to reach him?"
"I have been trying."
"What about the other Vulcans?"
Spock turned again, the exterior glow lighting the drawn planes of his face, "What about them?"
"Can you reach them telepathically?"
"No. Telepathy is not directional, Doctor."
McCoy sighed, "Well, let me have another look at that ankle." He heaved himself erect and moved toward Spock.
"That won't be necessary. It's healed serviceably enough."
"It has?" McCoy pointed his scanner. So it had. He kneaded his shoulder. "I envy you your Vulcan nervous system, if not your philosophy." McCoy froze. There was something in that . . . but what? And he had it!
He stood over the seated Vulcan and his heart pounded into his throat. Now, how to put it so he wouldn't get killed in the process.
"I have an idea. A way we might yet get back to the ship in time to make Feda XII.
"You won't like it."
Spock turned with one eyebrow raised to peer at the Doctor. He didn't have to say it; McCoy would read "irrelevant in every line of his face. Spock had already spent hours ransacking
the wreckage for the components of some type of signalling device. He'd done everything he could think of. Any new idea was certainly worth listening to.
"Spock, you, ah . . ." McCoy turned and walked away. He'd gathered enough courage to speak, but not to face those analytic eyes, "You kinda like T'Rruel, don't you?"
"What do you mean, `like'?"
"I mean . . . she . . . well, registers on you. I mean, as a female."
"I hardly see that it is any of your concern."
"It's part of my idea. Just answer. It's a fact, isn't it? You do respond to her?"
Spock swallowed hard and breathed evenly for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was level, controlled. "I don't know. It's possible."
McCoy interpreted this to mean that Spock was on the verge of falling madly in love. "You say that telepathy isn't directional. Yet, I seem to remember that your engagement ceremony involves a touching of minds that is supposed to form a bond that will draw the interested parties together at the appropriate time. Isn't that directional?"
"Not exactly. Nevertheless, the situation doesn't exist."
"No, but your ankle is as good as new."
Spock cocked his head and frowned quizzically, "I don't follow your logic."
"Of course not. Cultural inhibitions can create actual blindness. Spock," McCoy squatted down near the First Officer and peered through the darkness trying to read that inscrutable face, "If you wanted her, wouldn't she come?"
"But, I don't . . ."
McCoy was sure the other's bewilderment was actual. Perhaps it was impossible, but he'd gone too far to back out now. "You have such perfect control over your body, Spock. I understand this is an area where control fails. But, I'm sure that if you wanted to, you could induce . . . that state." McCoy held his breath.
Spock was silent a long time. Finally, "Doctor, you don't know what you've said."
"I apologize if I've been offensive. It was unintentional. I had an idea. I had to state it."
"Rightly so. But you offer me the choice between committing murder or suicide. The probabilities are so finely balanced, the unknowns so numerous that the choice is surprisingly difficult. And it is a subject on which I can't trust my own logic."
"I didn't know . . ."
"Of course not. And I wasn't aware of the choice until you pointed it out, which is, in itself, fascinating."
"Explain it to me."
A moon began a swift traverse of the night sky. The doubly reflected light gave Spock's normally sallow complexion a graveyard cast while most of his face was etched in black. When he spoke, his voice was pitched low and quiet, with absolutely no hint of what seethed inside him. But McCoy read tension in the straight back and unnaturally still hands. Here was control, not tranquility.
"It's theoretically possible, what you propose. But there is, as you guessed, a cultural inhibition against . . . inducing pon farr. Therefore, data on the subject are scanty. This I do know. That, when induced, it goes to completion within hours.
"As well as I can estimate, there is only a twenty percent probability that I might be able to reach T'Rruel. I have no way to estimate the probability that she would accept. If she did not . . . I would die regardless of when they find us.
"If she did accept, and they find us in time to make Feda XII, there is a sixty-two point seven eight percent probability that T'Rruel would die."
"How do you figure that?"
"We don't practice contraception, Doctor. Our population problem has always been the opposite of yours. A woman in the first days of pregnancy usually can't survive the physically and mentally draining experience of the Affirmation. We go to a great deal of trouble to avoid the situation, which is the primary reason I don't know T'Rruel's thoughts on the subject."
"You're right. I didn't understand. If you try, someone will probably die. If you don't try, they may find us in time, anyway. Or they may not . . . and there'll be trouble! What a decision."
"And I don't know if my decision to try is logical."
McCoy sat, stunned. His brilliant idea was about to cost a life, and he'd dedicated his existence to saving life.
Spock rose, and McCoy followed, not knowing what to do or say. Doctor, afterwards . . . you will neither speak to me nor make your presence known. We will wait in silence. That will be difficult enough." He took a turn around the cabin, stopped at the hatchway to peer into the sky, and then resumed his cross-legged seat.
There was nothing to see. He sat still, but not serene. The shadows deepened again as the moon set. The hour that passed then seemed fifty times as long as the whole time since they'd received word of the theft of the Kraith.
McCoy remembered that moment with a crystal clarity that amazed him. He'd been on the bridge to give Jim a routine report. Spock had been overhauling his library computer input when Uhura announced the arrival of two messages at once, one from Vulcan and one from Star Fleet Command.
Kirk had her put the one from Vulcan on the main screen and McCoy remembered the look on Spock's face as T'Pau had spoken, first to the Captain, the common amenities, and a request that the ensuing message be given to Spock. Then she'd spoken to Spock in that strangely euphonious language that served all Vulcan.
Spock had just stood there, woodenly. They were so far from Vulcan that the message was days old when it arrived. And, McCoy realized, he'd never told them what she'd said. The message from Star Fleet Command had sent them after the Kraith and led him inexorably to this point, three feet away from a man who was going swiftly and deliberately mad.
With one smooth motion, like a spring uncoiling, Spock stood up. McCoy did likewise, but with far less agility. The years were catching up to him.
And then, they were caught in a transporter beam and reconstructed aboard ship. T'Rruel and Kirk were the only others in the transporter room. The two humans stood mute as Spock's eyes met T'Rruel's. The tableau lasted an eternity. Then, without word, sign, or gesture, Spock descended from the transporter platform and walked out the door. T'Rruel followed smoothly, without a backward glance.
The two Star Fleet officers turned toward one another and, in perfect unison, heaved huge sighs. McCoy hardly knew where to begin asking questions. His hands solved the problem for him. He found himself pointing the medical scanner at the Captain and asking the routine questions. Then he launched into a quick report of what had happened to them.
When he'd finished, Kirk said, "Yes, of course. When Ssarsun lost Spock, T'Rruel insisted on linking with him on the assumption that Spock would try to reach them mentally. When Ssarsun regained consciousness and still they couldn't reach you, Ssarsun suggested what the next logical move would be. He had some trouble convincing T'Rruel. They argued in Vulcan for half an hour. He finally pointed out that with either of them alone it wouldn't work but the two of them together could zero in on you right away."
"How's Scotty doing? Are we going to make it?"
"We've been traveling at Warp Eight since I plucked you out of that wreck."
Arms around each other's shoulders, the two men moved toward the door. McCoy carried the tricorder with the records of the wreckage. He'd have to compile a complete report on the cyborg. Undoubtedly some other ship was moving to pick it up. He was sure Spock's report, when he filed it, would be the usual exhaustive and detailed study. He'd have to go some to look as good. But he'd have a head start since Spock would be thoroughly preoccupied for the next several days.
The trip to Feda XII was unremarkable for most of the crew save for the straining and groaning of the ship's skeleton as Kirk tried for new speed records. Occasionally, the engine room crew drew extra duty and hazard pay repairing blowouts of various descriptions, and once they lost power for all of twelve seconds, but that was routine aboard the Enterprise.
At Spock's request, Kirk logged the marriage and had Uhura dispatch the appropriate notifications. The tone was anything but appropriate for a wedding day, especially when McCoy confirmed the pregnancy the newlyweds already knew about. McCoy restrained Christine from offering them a wedding present. He tried to explain the absence of the usual atmosphere of joy and hope which should prevail on such occasions, but could not without betraying a confidence.
Alone in Spock's quarters, T'Rruel and Spock looked at one another, the knowledge of the probable futures heavy within each of them. Spock had just had a brief glimpse of the meaning of life; the kind of thing which gives a man, or a Vulcan, drive, purpose, direction, and the only meaningful immortality. It still lay warmly within him reawakening all his childhood yearnings toward belonging, a hope he'd abandoned years ago. In a few short hours, he'd acquired a wife,
and a son. His abused system had not yet fully recovered equilibrium, and he found an emotional basis for his reluctance to part with them.
"T'Rruel," the ancient name rolled off his tongue like a song, I will try to protect you."
She went to sit on the bed, "You cannot. There are only fifty-seven of us. Each must carry his own share . . . in full. The only chance is to master the changes before the Drinking." She lay back on the bed and in two slow breaths was deep within herself fighting for her life and the life of her child. child.
Spock adjusted the ambient temperature for her comfort and sat down in his desk chair to wait, and to plan. Nevertheless, he would try to protect her. She was exactly what he wanted in a wife, and he was just beginning to realize how right he'd been.
They arrived at Feda XII without ten minutes to spare, and beamed the Vulcans down to the diggings. Kirk fended off requests for shore leave and the ship settled down to waiting.
Ssarsun and Scotty closeted themselves with a case of good Scotch and even better Schlugtamer that Ssarsun had been saving to work off a really colossal mad. He couldn't imagine anything more colossally maddening than Spock's beaming down into an enemy craft while his bodyguard lay unconscious. Besides, later he'd have to relinquish the tenuous thread of contact, his lifeline to reality, for a few hours during the peak of the ceremonies when Spock would need all of his concentration just to stay alive. It was always better to be drunk at such times. He'd discovered early in his career that sobriety sharpened the hallucinations unbearably.
Kirk and McCoy passed sixty-five of the sixty-eight hours by pretending to adhere to routine. But finally the tension got to be too much for the Doctor and he took a flask of his best brandy and went in search of the Captain.
He found him in his quarters pretending to read a status report. Silently, he poured two glasses full and sat down to kill the three hours remaining. Life in the service seemed to consist mostly of a series of life- or-death crises strung together by unbearably eternal waits.
Sixty-eight hours thirty minutes had passed before Kirk's communicator tweeted. "Kirk here."
"Captain." It was Spock's voice, level, businesslike. "Five to beam up, sir. Please have the transporter room cleared. I'll be bringing the Kraith with me."
"Right. Five minutes. Kirk out." He looked at McCoy. "She didn't make it.' it.'
McCoy capped the flask and rose, "Let's go. When a rigid shaft is forced to bend . . . it shatters."
Kirk nodded and rose, "Yes. He may need us. But he'll never admit it."
They were out the door and marching along the corridor toward the transporter room as McCoy cautioned, "Jim, don't try to make him admit it. For the present, let him handle it his own way. Maybe later, one day, he'll come looking for a shoulder."
They cleared the transporter room and Kirk locked onto the target, checked by communicator, set the time delay, and left the room.
When they re-entered, four weary Vulcans were making their way silently out of the room. Spock hefted a plain blue case and descended from the platform. He stopped in the middle of the floor to look at his two friends.
"Captain, I'll require about a day before I can return to active duty. I'm quite thoroughly exhausted."
"Granted. Take as long as you like. T'Rruel . . ."
Kirk closed his eyes and shook his head. He started to reach out to Spock's free hand. Spock stepped back quickly. "Thank you, Jim. But I still have some unfinished business." He indicated the Kraith. "If you'll excuse me, I'll be in my quarters." He made for the door.
Fifteen minutes later, he was stowing the case for safe keeping. The next time they stopped at Vulcan, he'd perform the ceremonial destruction and bury the remains. There was no hurry. He had fifty-two years.
The door chimed. He reached over and tripped the release. Christine came in carrying a tray with two steaming dishes under brightly polished covers. "I made some pekrewp. The others said it turned out well, so I thought you and T'Rruel would . . ." She looked around, "Where is she?"
The savory vapors had reached him and he identified the traditional dish by smell. Its festive associations were hardly suitable at the moment, but it would provide the concentrated and easily digestible nourishment he needed now. now.
"Huuuh!" Her indrawn breath and growing frown culminated in a breathed, "Ohhh! I didn't know. Oh, Spock, I'm so sorry! What an awful tragedy!"
"It was the result of actions taken in full knowledge of the probable consequences. It was unavoidable."
"Even so, I'm sorry."
"There is no need to be sorry." He locked the cabinet, and rose to take the tray from Christine. "We live in changing times, Nurse. We have witnessed the end of an era today. An ancient symbol has passed to dust. A new symbol will be made to light the way into the future."
Christine wanted to say, "If you can't feel your pain, I'll feel it for you. But I know you can, and I want to share it with you and make it easier." But she remained silent and left the tray with the hungry Vulcan.
It didn't even occur to Spock to be grateful for the food, done by hand to perfection. It was a nurse's duty to look after the health of crewmembers. But, as he sat staring at the closed door, he reminded himself of Christine's well-known attitude toward him. That was a problem he'd have to grapple with again, soon.
But first he owed his ravaged body a good rest. As he finished the last spoonful, the door buzzed, "Come."
Kirk paced over to Spock's desk, motioning him to remain seated, "I'm sorry to bother you now, Spock, but a message just came in I think you should know about."
"Spock . . . I'm sorry . . ."
"Jim." How to explain without alienating? "Jim, sympathy isn't necessary. It isn't even welcome. I'm very tired, and the human practice of `breaking the news gently' only strains my patience. It's about Sarek, isn't it?"
Kirk nodded. "They found a body tentatively identified as Sarek. They're not sure. The search will continue. We've been ordered into the area as soon as we finish the tour."
Spock nodded, noting the way the room spun around him. He was truly on the verge of collapse. His efforts to save T'Rruel had drained every resource of vitality. "Thank you. We'll discuss it later, if that's all right with you."
"Yes, of course." Kirk turned to go then came back, "Spock, I have to say it. I . . . feel sympathy . . . so I'm compelled to express it. I want to help . . ."
"I understand, Jim. But I don't need help, only rest."
Kirk nodded, "Sleep well," and left.
For a moment Spock sat staring at the closed door. Deep inside, he knew that Sarek was not dead. He knew that as Kataytikh he would feel that loss as a severance deep within, and there was no such sensation. Perhaps he would yet rescue his father.
He didn't remember stumbling to the bed and tumbling into the deepest sleep he'd ever known.
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