Captain James T. Kirk, still aching to the loss of his ship, drew the dry, fiery air of Vulcan's early dusk into his lungs, swung his legs up on the chaise and leaned back to survey the veranda as the waves of memory lapped gently at the shores of his mind.
The Enterprise had been a good ship, but he reminded himself with unaccustomed logic, she wasn't really a living being. It was the crew that gave her life and, though the mechanical gadget called Enterprise, NCC- 1701, was a total loss, every living being aboard had been rescued. The sacrifice had been unavoidable and the Admiralty had already promised to give him a new Enterprise from the latest model starship to come out of the Canopian shops . . . and give him his old crew to a man. What more could he want? They'd even promised to give the new Enterprise the old registry number. With twenty-three commendations distributed among the crew, they'd come out of the affair very well.
The illogical ache continued. He knew it always would. But he found the pain overlaid with a strangely peaceful acceptance of the inevitable just as Spock had predicted. He wasn't sure just when or how it had happened, but he seemed to have absorbed some of the famed Peace of Vulcan.
And he'd almost refused Spock's invitation. He'd stood on the observation deck of Starbase XII watching the final wrecking of what was left of his ship. Bones on his right and Spock on his left, he'd said, "Well, Bones, you have several months' leave, what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I haven't been at loose ends like this in years."
"How about you, Spock?"
"I'm going home. It will be a refreshing break in routine."
They'd stood in silence for a moment watching the cutting torches, then Spock continued, "I still have the Kraith to return, but that will only take a few minutes. Later, I intend to visit my family's ancestral home. You were in the amphitheater near there once. You remember?"
Kirk rubbed his jaw ruefully, "How could I forget?"
"The climate is quite mild in this season. Perhaps you would like to accompany me?"
At first Kirk had been unable to believe his ears. He just stared at his First Officer, uncomprehending.
Spock continued, eyes fixed on the wall screen before them, "Mother will be trying to accept Father's death. It is a difficult thing for a human. I don't imagine that I could be of much help. She has expressed approval of you."
Kirk shook his head. It would be an awkward situation.
"I understand," Spock continued eyeing the wreckage meaningfully, "that you also have grief to overcome. The environment is uniquely conducive to the search for inner peace." He shifted his gaze to McCoy, "I believe the Doctor would find it therapeutic as well as an interesting Phenomenon."
Spock had allowed one more hesitation before delivering the clincher, "On Vulcan, it is considered impolite to refuse a second invitation to someone's home."
Kirk remembered Edith Keeler and the first time Spock had invited him to seek the Peace of Vulcan and then, in unison with McCoy, he'd nodded acceptance.
As the dust thickened, Kirk let the events of the last two months flow before his mind's eye trying to identify the instant he'd acquired this Peace.
When he'd first seen the house from the air, a sprawling, parapetted edifice of unthinkably ancient stone blending in natural harmony with the foot of the mountain range that rimmed the barren-looking valley, he's wondered how anyone could live in such a desert. Spock had taken one hand from the aircar's controls to indicate the valley floor, "This is one of the most fertile regions of this continent. There are certain varieties of fruits grown here which are world famous. It's been under cultivation since the art was discovered."
"I don't see anything that looks like a farm," McCoy had adjusted the sunshades, squinting at the ground.
"It's not cultivated during the cold season, but the vegetation is quite vigorous if you know where to look for it."
Kirk reminded himself that 105'F was a chilly winter day for Vulcan.
Then Amanda had welcomed them into the surprisingly cool interior and immediately, Kirk remembered, there had been a soothing, subliminal impression of peace, almost as if it emanated from the walls themselves. Was it the faint tang of spice or incense that hung in the air? Or . . . He'd turned to Spock, "Subsonics?"
"No, sir, the aircooling unit is quite noisy."
Strain as he might, Kirk couldn't catch a hint of machinery noise.
Amanda had taken them on a tour of the house which resembled an ancient European castle or fortress more than anything else in Kirk's experience. All the household services were as thoroughly automated as any starship's, but totally unobtrusive so the impression of solid age was unmarred. Living in such a house was almost like a return to the primitive, without any of the inconvenience.
First, they had descended into the basement, a huge, natural cave in the center of which was a stone table. The only light was a ghostly blue glow from beneath the table. The air was fresh and dry, but cool.
As Amanda led them across the floor, they realized that the "table" was enormous. The top was level with a man's chest. Worn stone steps went down under the table to a pool of water, crystal clear but roiling ever so slightly; an artesian well, purified by blue-glowing plants.
Amanda had dipped up a cupful of that water, touched it to her lips and ceremoniously handed the plain, triple-handled ceramic cup to Kirk, "Please accept our hospitality." She'd said it simply, in English, but somehow the words rang like a gong echoing from ages long past. He sipped the tangy, refreshingly cool water that wasn't just pure, but alive the way only the gigantic distillery of a living planet could make it. And again that Peace had washed through him.
Was it the water? He'd handed it to McCoy and watched carefully but detected no sign that the Doctor felt anything. Instead, McCoy had cross- examined Spock about the source of the water.
Then, Amanda led them upward through the house, pointing out wings that were closed, areas preserved as museums, galleries devoted to the memorabilia of the xtmprsqzntwlfd, and finally returned to the currently used area with an admonition not to get lost. They'd continued upward until McCoy paused on one stairway landing and huffingly asked for a rest. The combination of thin air and thick gravity proved too much for him.
"Yes." Amanda had answered, "It takes years to become acclimated. That's why your rooms will he here on the lowest level."
She'd shown them into the double guest suite for off-world visitors complete with the most flexible environmental controls and, Kirk had noted with relief, standard sanitary facilities.
The rooms were ample, decorated in the severe Vulcan style which added to the stone-castle impression, but private and very comfortable. On a lectern in one corner, Spock kindled a small flame in an ornately carved, hollow sphere and said, "That you may never know confusion in my house."
And yet again, the words seemed to have a strangely haunting effect. As the water had given Peace, the fire seemed to give Security, the kind of security that comes with trust that no defense is necessary.
As he thought about it, Kirk could admit that these two welcoming ceremonies had done something to him, something that sensitized him to the mysteriously healing magic of this house.
After resting a bit, Amanda had shown them the remaining three upper floors. Spock's rooms were in a penthouse in the center of the large roof. At a touch, all four walls opened louvre-fashion to reveal a studio not unlike his quarters aboard ship, but much larger. There were three desk areas, many colorful artistic hangings of native origin, and numerous musical instruments. The ceiling was an enormous, polarizable skylight equipped with a small telescope.
Then, they'd leaned over the parapet to view the open-air animal preserve where Spock had kept his sehlat. McCoy had gone wandering and Amanda feared he'd gotten lost. They'd found him behind the penthouse on the edge of an area set off in intricate patterns by lines of knee-high stones. Each area was provided with benches and many pagoda-like housings with well- disciplined plants growing in, on, and around them. One little housing in particular attracted McCoy's attention, "What's supposed to be in here? It's empty."
"This will be the," Spock searched for a word, "place of the new Kraith."
"Like the one that was stolen?"
"No. This one will be intended for use."
Standing at the entrance to the stone pathways, Kirk had asked, "And what is this?"
"This area is called The Gardens of Thought. One comes here for private meditation. It is forbidden to communicate with someone who is within the Garden."
"May I stroll through for a few minutes?"
"Please. The Gardens are always available for the use of our guests."
He'd stepped onto that curving pathway and once again he was struck with a peculiar awareness of a pulsing power combing through the tangled agonies of his mind bringing order and Peace. He's walked among the stony- looking plants and he'd even sat on some of the benches and leaned over the parapets to view the veranda where he now sat. Everywhere that peculiar Peace followed and grew stronger.
Finally, he had shaken off the feeling and returned to his waiting hosts.
The weeks that followed were packed with activity. More neighbors than he had counted houses in the valley had dropped by to greet Spock. At first, he'd assumed they were offering sympathy at the loss of Sarek, but then Amanda had said, "I wish Spock could understand how proud I am of him when neighbors we so rarely see take the trouble to come and congratulate him."
She'd nodded, "On his remarkable skill," she looked at his blank face, "as a Kataytikh. I'm told he's outstanding even considering his family. He's only conducted one Affirmation and already he's received State's Honors. Everybody is eager to touch minds with him, if only as the most formal greeting. It's the kind of thing they'll tell their grandchildren about."
Then, one evening, Spock asked them to escort Amanda to a tokiel performance in a new amphitheater up the valley.
"Aren't you going?" Kirk had asked.
"No. They are dancing the Motek. I've watched T'Rruel's Motek. I will be . . . unable . . . to view the piece again for many years. Even though she hadn't completed her rendition, she was such a genius that anyone else's would seem far too . . . trivial to me."
Remembering the look of Spock's face when T'Rruel had signed her composition, Kirk merely nodded. The loss of T'Rruel must be one of the pains Spock had brought to this house.
Seeing that astounding artform again, this time under the open night sky of Vulcan, had woven a mood that lasted for days.
Then one morning, Spock had come in from a dawn foray into the garden to pick a fresh breakfast, and as he reverently deposited the seeds in the box to be replanted, he announced that a large group of young people would be gathering that day for a night on the mountain and would he and McCoy care to join them?
Kirk had accepted before he was told it would be a hike up the mountain in Vulcan's moonless night, but he didn't back out and neither had Bones.
A mixed group of twenty young adults had gathered through the day. Spock introduced them but obviously didn't expect the humans to remember all the names. Most didn't speak English very well, but they all knew each other and treated the humans considerately.
In the late afternoon they ate a good meal, and at dusk, they set out on a trail that snaked up the nearly vertical mountainside behind the house. The Vulcans struck a brisk pace with Spock and a girl in the lead, Kirk and McCoy fallen to the rear. Puffing, McCoy observed, "These kids are chattering like a bunch of humans on holiday and they're all carrying something. I'll be damned if I'll ask for a rest!"
After that they'd climbed with stern determination doubting seriously if they should have come. Soon it was full dark and several of the climbers broke out hand torches to point out the trickiest parts of the narrow trail. Two hours later, they reached the flat mesa and everybody found seats on stones and panted for about five minutes.
Then, still chattering earnestly at one another, they'd broken into groups and Spock came over to his guests, "Come. We're about to start work."
He led them to a circular patch of low shrubs that, like all the water-conserving Vulcan plants, looked like lacy stone sculpture and showed them how to use a long probe to cross-pollinate the flowers which strongly resembled ripe cauliflower.
"In two years," said Spock, "the fruit will ripen. I hope you will come to the harvest." And then he left them to take his place. They formed a perimeter around the vegetation and worked in toward the center.
Several hours later they stood beside a roaring fire enjoying the warmth against the night's chill desert wind which diluted the pungent smoke to a nutty fragrance. McCoy snapped his fingers, "I've got it!"
"What?" asked Kirk.
"Why we had to cross-pollinate those plants by hand."
"We're above the altitude of the insects or whatever critter does the job normally!"
Spock came up behind them, "Very astute, Doctor. We maintain this patch because, here, the natural enemies of the plant don't thrive and the fruit grown here is particularly tasty. There's a legend that the first seeds were left up here almost three thousand years ago by a couple who sought solitude. Come. We're about to start the dance."
Kirk could hardly believe his fatigue-deadened ears, but music pealed out into the still night and already lines, circles and triples were forming with men and women mixed indiscriminately.
Spock showed them a step fitting the strange tempo. Several hands encouraged them to try and soon they were dancing with the Vulcans. It took all the humans' breath, but most of the Vulcans, including Spock, sang as they danced. Eventually, the humans had to quit, but the others danced ever more vigorously until the fire had died to glowing embers and dawn threw the plateau into shadowless relief, a perfect background for the dawn skydance of the silver birds.
Then they policed the area, gathered their possessions, and scrambled down the snaky trail, skidding, sliding, and chattering seriously, doing everything humans might do except laugh and complain. Amanda had a delicious breakfast ready and they all retired for a delectable sleep.
And, Kirk realized, that was it. Or rather, it was the minute he woke up. It was high noon and the windows had closed when the thermostat kicked the airconditioner to life. He woke to a frigid normal temperature with the unmistakable impression that he'd lost something. Had he forgotten something on the mountain?
He'd reviewed the whole night, and finally decided that the only thing he'd lost was a tension he'd never known he had until it was gone. Had it drained out into the helping hands of the Vulcans as they'd come down that precipitous slope? Or had the walls of the house drawn it out of his weary body as he entered and felt anew that mysterious Peace?
And then he realized something else. He hadn't laughed once the whole night, hadn't had one drink and not even a woman's smile, but he'd had a roaring good time, and he felt better than he had in years. He hadn't had a day's rest since he'd come to this strange house, yet he felt better rested than he could ever remember feeling before.
That feeling was still with him days later on the veranda in the gathering dark. It was no longer new but had grown to be a part of him. He felt totally . . . refreshed. Eager to accept whatever challenge life might confront him with. He rose and went through the louvre doors into the spacious main living room. Spock was in the Gardens of Thought and couldn't be disturbed, McCoy was sleeping and Amanda would probably be fussing over dinner.
He was standing, hands on hips, wondering which way to go when the hangings parted and McCoy peeked through an arch at the far end of the long room, "Come on," he beckoned. "Supper's ready."
"So soon?" Kirk started toward him.
"Soon? We've been waiting for you for an hour. Spock insisted. But I finally got too impatient and he let me come looking for you."
Shaking his head, Kirk followed the Doctor into the dining room with its oval, green-stone table that always seemed warm as polished hardwood. Spock stood as they entered, "Good. Now that we're all finished here, I have something for you both."
From the table before him he picked up a tiny, ornately carved sphere on a fine chain and approached the Captain with the sphere cupped between his palms. When he parted his hands, the sphere had broken into an empty hemisphere and a closed one with a small hole in the center.
Holding the Captain's eyes with his own, he raised the fingers of his right hand toward the Captain's forehead, slowly, asking permission for that contact.
Kirk nodded. The feather touch of warm, dry fingers that seemed to sink into his skull and comb the convolutions of his brain no longer disturbed him. It lasted only a moment and then Spock took Kirk's left hand and touched the hemisphere's hole.
When Spock released his hold, a miniature, ash-gold flame sprang from the hole as he said, "That you may take with you the good that you have found here," and placed both hemispheres and chains in Kirk's hands.
Wonderingly, Kirk touched the flame and found it tinglingly cool to his finger and strangely evocative of that recently discovered Peace. When he looked up, he found McCoy staring an identical flame in his own palm. With the cover on, the spheres became handsome ornaments which they slipped around their necks before they sat down to eat.
All during the meal, eaten in the silence required by Vulcan custom, Kirk wondered about this odd gift striving to find words to ask the questions it raised. When they'd all finished, he said, "Spock, that's the first time I've known you to give a gift, and I've just realized I haven't the vaguest idea how to say thank you."
"Gratitude is unnecessary, Captain."
Turning to Amanda, Kirk said, "Surely, you understand that we want to thank you for your splendid hospitality."
"Of course. But it's not customary. You were invited."
McCoy said, "I don't know about you, Jim, but I'll always consider this," he indicated the sphere, "one of my greatest treasures."
"Not always, Doctor," said Spock, "It will last for several years, but not forever."
"Spock," Kirk started resolutely, "I'd hate to . . . well . . . `look the gift horse in the mouth' but . . . what is this?" He fingered the sphere, opened it and capped it again, watching the flame fold in upon itself as he snapped the cover in place.
"It is part, a small part, of the heritage of my family."
"You mean," Kirk considered, "it's related to the science of the Kraith?"
"In a way."
"How does it work?"
"That I can't explain to you, Captain. Call it a part of the Vulcan science-of-mind you accept so readily."
McCoy said, "But this is mechanical."
"Not really, Doctor. Remember, I never handled both of them at once. That was to prevent accidental cross-linkage that might have proved troublesome. I had to key each to the owner's personal pattern."
Kirk said, "Is it dangerous?"
"Not in the way a Kraith can be. But don't attempt to show it to anyone who was not here with us."
Amanda leaned toward the humans, "Spock is an expert in these matters. Accept his gift, use it, and when it's spent, discard it. But ask no further questions he can't answer."
Just then, Spock's head came around swiftly, hunting the location of a sound, "What's that?"
They waited a moment, then Spock said, "Aircar. Sounds official . . . yes, it's a Federation vehicle." He stood up and Amanda followed saying, "More company. I'll clear the table, you go receive them."
Kirk rose and suddenly became acutely conscious of his appearance for the first time in weeks. He looked down at the colorful Vulcan tunic and skimpy but comfortable sandals and felt undressed. These clothes were fine for lounging around an oven, but they'd never do for greeting Federation officials.
Noting with some amusement that McCoy was having the same problems, he wondered if he'd have time to change and then he heard the car himself and decided to brazen it out. The three men moved through the living room and on to the front entrance arriving just as the car grounded on the stone and gravel rotunda that was the front approach to the house. As the car touched down, the grounds were lit by huge lamps concealed high on the stone building.
Presently, the car's door opened and a lovely young woman clad in the red Starfleet Communications uniform descended followed by a middle-aged man in . . . by pure reflex, Kirk snapped to a joint-cracking brace. It was Admiral Whitecroft, the Sector Commander stationed at Vulcan Base.
As the pair approached the house, Kirk had time to appraise the young woman. She was dark-haired, deeply tanned, short, but finely shaped. She walked with a springy gait that completed the impression of youthful vitality without innocence or invitation. It was a masculine walk, but to the graceful, female rhythm.
Waiting at the foot of the steps, flanked by his senior officers, no longer conscious of his appearance, Kirk considered his chances with the girl as he drew a breath to greet the Admiral.
But before Kirk could speak, the girl turned to Spock, rendered a casual Vulcan salute and addressed him in what sounded to Kirk like flawless Vulcan. He examined her ears and complexion again. Could the light be playing tricks? No. She looked Italian, or possibly Greek, but not Vulcan.
Spock answered, then turned to the Admiral, "Please enter and be welcome, sir. You have not interrupted. Our peace is complete."
When Amanda had them all installed over drinks at the table, Spock said, "Admiral, I understand that haste is your most comfortable mode, and as host, I offer to waive the usual formalities. Please tell us what it is that has brought you here."
The Admiral cleared his throat and looked at the three officers- without-a-ship who sat opposite him, "Spock, first may I offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your father. His absence will be deeply felt by all the Federation."
"Mortality," said Spock quietly, "is the source of racial vitality."
"Yes." The Admiral smoothed his thinning white hair, "I'm glad that I didn't interrupt anything because I have work for you." His gaze slid over the three officers then rested on Kirk. "Captain. I have a command for you. It's not a starship, but it's only temporary, and in my opinion this command is more important than any of our starships. Interested?"
"Yes, sir. I was just beginning to wonder what I would be doing next." At that moment, Kirk realized that they'd all come to the end of their visit by mutual agreement without ever exchanging a word on the subject.
"This ship, the Halbird, was specially built for this mission. She's a five-man, scout-class vessel built for speed, range, and indetectability. She has no offensive armament and precious little defense. Still interested?"
"A spy mission?"
"Espionage is a bit out of my line."
"You've done all right in the past. But we've arranged a stiff, four-week course for you with the Service's sharpest experts."
Kirk nodded, considering, then asked, "Who's my crew and where am I going?"
Nodding at each in turn, the Admiral said, "Mr. Spock, Doctor McCoy, Miss Minos here, and one other. Your navigator will be a Medusan by the name of Thilien."
The Admiral nodded, "Top secret, of course. I forgot to mention that the Halbird is too small for any of the fancy navigation equipment that this mission will call for. Miss Minos has been working with Thilien for almost a year with some rather startling results. They can handle the Halbird quite well."
Kirk looked hard at the girl for the third time. She wasn't blind and she wasn't Vulcan.
Spock said, "T'Aniyeh, you'd better explain."
She said, "Captain, I'm human, but I was raised nearly from infancy by a Vulcan family here on Vulcan. For some unknown reason, I don't actually need to view Thilien in order to establish a deep rapport. What we do is something rather unique, but it works."
Well, thought Kirk, I was feeling pretty cocky a few hours ago. Now I've got the challenge I wanted. He said, "And where are we going?"
"The exact coordinates will remain in Thilien's custody, but I can tell you this. It's deep in the Romulan Empire." The Admiral patted the air at Kirk's rise, "I know it's unusual to ask a Captain to command a ship when only his navigator knows the course, but you must admit that no Romulan can get anything at all out of a Medusan, and what you don't know, you can't tell."
Kirk subsided, "Why not make him the Captain, then?"
"Because he's not qualified."
Kirk thought it over and nodded. "All right. Am I to be told what we're supposed to do?"
The Admiral leveled his gaze at Spock, "Miss Minos is also the best expert we have on the Romulans. She even speaks the language. She'll teach you everything you need to know to find out how they've been infiltrating Federation space and especially Federation Starbases."
Spock took this with outward equanimity.
The Admiral turned back to Kirk, "Our best security has been shown to be as strong as rotten lace. We've got to know the hows and whys. Suddenly, we got a tip and a break. We can
put you in the vicinity of a top level Intelligence Conference with appropriate documents for Mr. Spock to walk right in. The conference will take place in six weeks. You'll just have time to get there."
They spent four of those six weeks in the most intensive training program Kirk had ever known. Not even the Academy had been so demanding. Kirk often groaned that he was too old for this sort of cramming, but he forged ahead day by day and soon had scoured the rust off his learning faculties and actually began to enjoy the challenge of a truly high-pressure grind. Days went by without his catching a glimpse of Spock or McCoy, and when he did, it was usually only from a distance.
He lost track of day and night as they worked around the clock with only four to six hour breaks for exhausted slumber.
Finally, the day came when they took the Halbird and headed for the neutral zone and their "final exam." The first four days Kirk and McCoy spent sleeping while the tireless Vulcan and human girl kept up the merciless pace. But eventually, Kirk's reserves were replenished and he began to take notice of his new command.
He checked out the strange bridge, poking about the computerless, navigator-helmsmanless compartment whose sole familiar feature, other than its shape, was the central free-standing console. But, he reflected sourly, this console held only the special com device and spectrum-shift decoder they'd need to keep in touch with Spock. He was wishing he could talk to Thilien when Tanya came through the door, "Captain. Have you seen Spock?"
"I believe he's in his quarters. What's that you have there?"
"My, what do you call it? Lytherette? It's broken."
"So I see. What happened?"
"Oh. I guess you'd call it an accident. Excuse me, sir."
She went off in search of Spock and Kirk decided to go share his frustrations with McCoy.
He found him in the galley, puttering with the autochef, "Bones. What are you up to?"
"Ach! They didn't give me a lab, they didn't give me a decent sickbay, and practically no medical supplies and the scarcest minimum in instrumentation; so where else can I better look after the health of the crew than in the kitchen playing dietician?"
Kirk sat at the tiny table wondering if, indeed, he had it so bad after all. Maybe he was just feeling sorry for himself.
"So, what's eating you, Jim? And what would you like to eat?"
"Nothing, really." He looked up at the Chief Surgeon in surprise, "That's the snappiest remark you've made in a long time. Come to think of it, how come you haven't been sniping at Spock?" He considered, "You haven't poked him in the ribs once since, well, since before I lost the Enterprise. Have you given up?"
McCoy sat down opposite his Captain, folded his hands gravely and leaned forward, "I'm supposed to be a pretty fair psychiatrist, you know."
Kirk nodded, "So I'd heard, Bones. Go on."
"Well, Spock is an odd one . . ."
"Hmmm. Go on."
"He's actually made a pretty stable adjustment to his situation, and there aren't many texts or research papers on human-Vulcan hybrids."
"So what changed?"
McCoy inspected the youthful face heavy with experience for a long moment, then very quietly, he said. "T'Rruel."
Kirk waited encouragingly.
"You know, she died because of me. And Spock has never said a word to me about it. Never once. He even invited me to his home and treated me as an honored quest."
"I don't follow you. Why should you blame yourself?" Kirk thought, was this why Spock had invited Bones?
"Jim. Don't you realize? Didn't you read the reports? If I hadn't tried to revive that Romulan cyborg before Spock had her unhooked from the controls of that little raider, she wouldn't have been able to take the ship up and crash it in that crevice. If that hadn't happened, Spock wouldn't have had to, well, T'Rruel wouldn't have had to die pulling my chestnuts out of the fire."
"And you feel guilty?"
McCoy thought soberly for several long minutes. "Not any more, I guess. Not really. I did what any doctor would have done. It was pure reflex. Spock worked as fast as his injured hands would allow. It wasn't really anybody's fault. But that's not the point. Spock has never said a word to me about it."
"Is that bad?"
"No. It's good. I think. I really believe it doesn't bother him. He doesn't blame me. Not even in his human subconscious, if he has one. And," his voice lowered to a penetrating intensity, "Spock was goddamned- awful serious about that girl, Jim."
"Yes. I know, Bones."
"He's been up and down that rollercoaster several times in the last few years. He's learned a lot about himself in the process. How Vulcan he is. And how human. But he's never once been really serious about a female. Take the first time: T'Pring. That was real and it was a fiercely physical experience, but he never cared for T'Pring herself. When the need was gone, he let her go.
"I'm not sure, but I think that Romulan Commander kinda got to him where it hurt. He was so withdrawn after we let her off, I was a bit apprehensive for a while.
"And then there was Zarabeth, back in the ice age of that planet. You didn't see how he was with her. There was harmony there, Jim, the kind we call love. But it was largely due to the effects of the atavachron. It was hard, but he walked away from her. If that had been T'Rruel, he'd have stayed and died there regardless.
"He'd never really gotten it out of his system, if you know what I mean. He's been sensitive, even tense, ever since T'Pring. And it was getting worse, though he'd deny it a million times over. His body was waiting, ready to respond to the slightest trigger. And then came T'Rruel. To save her life, he had to wait. Then I loused it up. And he doesn't blame me. Do you see, now?"
"You no longer think he needs to admit his human emotions?"
"Well. As a psychiatrist, I just don't know. As a human being, I feel it's time to go cautiously. At least until there's been time to forget, time for him to come back to an even keel."
"He'll never forget, Bones. Besides," Kirk fingered the golden orb hung about his neck under his shirt, then fished it out to toy with it in what had recently become a habit. "I think he's found his peace."
McCoy took his Flame from around his neck and twirled it between two fingers, "You may be right. What do you suppose this is, anyway?"
"I couldn't begin to guess. I'm not even sure I want to know."
"He doesn't carry one."
"Amanda said he doesn't need it. He can get the effect anytime without props." props."
They sat a while in companionable silence and then adjourned to their routine tasks.
Meanwhile, T'Aniyeh stood outside Spock's quarters, clutching the remains of her lytherette to her shivering body and wishing she'd never been born. Then she shook herself out of it with a Vulcan proverb, "Misused pride is illogical" and touched the door's signal.
She entered the cramped cubicle to find Spock seated cross-legged on the bed surrounded by piles of tapes he'd been sorting. "Do you have a few minutes?"
Spock put his hand viewer down, unfolded himself, and stood with an ease that gave no hint of the hours he'd worked in that position. "Yes. I just finished."
"Would you . . ." she switched to the Low Vulcan idiom that lacked rigorous precision but was more concise than the ultra-precise High Vulcan, "I need a good lra-man."
"Obviously." Spock answered in the same mode, eyeing the wreckage in her arms. "What happened?"
"I don't want to answer."
He acquiesced with one eyebrow and put out a hand for the pieces. She held them out to him and in transferring the pile of trash, his hand brushed hers, hesitated, and closed firmly over her fingers. "T'Aniyeh. Your skin is below room temperature and you're shaking. Why?"
She cast about and chose an English phrase for the non-literal but emphatic quality, "I'm freezing! They were so bent on building this ship with economy they didn't put in an adjustable environmental control."
"You can't . . ." he switched back to Low Vulcan, "adjust your metabolic rate?"
She shook her head, "I don't have the physiology. My foster father used to krobia'achk for me when I'd suffer from the heat and he helped me up-shift when I went to the Academy, but I made the mistake of returning home and down-shifted so easily I wasn't aware of it. And now I'm suffering. It's so bad, I can't concentrate."
Still holding her hand, Spock moved closer and looked down into her eyes, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Even if you knew the technique, which is unlikely because it is an archaism that has fallen into disuse, you couldn't help me so soon after conducting an Affirmation, so what would be the point?"
"Logical. However, you can't go on like this, you'll end up in Doctor McCoy's sickbay. You still have much to teach me and I can't afford to let you become ill." He took the remains of the instrument from her, laid them on the bed and positioned his hands before her, saying, "My grandfather was also your foster-father's mentor. He set still requirements. With your permission."
"Don't. I don't want you to overextend yourself. You'll need your vitality."
"I won't strain for perfection."
"All right." She touched his fingers in a complicated caress and then guided them to her forehead as she reached for his. Presently, her shivering stopped.
"That," said Spock, breaking the contact, "will have to do." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"You'd better sit down."
"Negative. I'm not fatigued." He turned to the mess on the bed, "I'm not an expert in this, but I believe it can be repaired." He fingered the shattered soundboard, "However, I wonder if it's worth the trouble?"
"To me it would be."
Seating himself on the edge of the bed to toy with the jigsaw puzzle, he said, "T'Aniyeh," picking up the thread of an old conversation, "why won't you marry me?"
She chose English intonation, "Oh, Spock," as if to say, "Dear Spock, I don't want to hurt you." Then she switched to Vulcan, "That," she pointed to the lytherette, "is the main reason."
He looked blankly at the pieces in his hand, "Because I can't fix it?"
"No. Because I broke it."
He stared at the shattered instrument as if demanding an explanation from it, "Why?"
"Because I'm human . . . and female."
"I don't understand."
"I know. And that's why I can't marry you, even though our parents have called it a good match."
"Because I don't understand human female psychology?"
"No. Not even human males understand all that well. Because I do things like this all the time. Last night, after our conversation, I went to my room, and had hysterics."
She turned away, "I'm Vulcan trained. I can step outside myself and watch it happening. I know its chemical-physiological roots. But, nevertheless, there is no surcease but to sob and smash things, precious things, and then sob over their loss. It passes, but it leaves a tangled mess in its wake. You could never live with that. I could never ask you to. I'm too . . . embarrassed . . . by my own lack of control."
She turned toward him again, "You see? We don't even have the words. I have to borrow from them to explain myself." And then, as a new thought, "Spock, why are you in such a hurry? "Why do you want me? And why now?"
"You're right. There's no haste. I want you because you're the logical choice. Have I not said so, many times?"
"Yes. But you ignore that my dedication to logic is strictly emotional. Listen. After T'Pring, you wrote to me, and I said wait. And you waited. And came T'Rruel. Wasn't she worth waiting for?"
"That's what I wanted for you. It didn't work out. Now. Again, I say wait."
"I'm not terribly sanguine about hunches."
"The odds are more than ten thousand to one against there ever being anyone for me. I won't have a human. Emotionally, I couldn't bear it. And I won't inflict myself on a Vulcan, so there's no reason for haste. If you ever want me. I'll be there."
Abandoning the smashed instrument, he rose and took her by the shoulders looking down into her eyes somberly, "You force me to say it in words?"
"T'Aniyeh. My dedication to haste is . . . emotional I've been through . . . hell . . . these last few years. I need to put an end to it while I can still think clearly and logically. There are reasons for our custom of choosing one for another at such an early age. There is a peace that can only come from that kind of commitment. The chance of someone else like T'Rruel turning up is negligible."
"Yes. But there is yet another point. You carry genes to which you are obligated. It's the purpose of marriage, the only purpose. You must have a son by a Vulcan who can raise him in the proper tradition."
"It is only required that the union be fertile. I have fathered a son by a Vulcan. He died. What I do now is my own private affair. It's my . . . professional . . . opinion that you have the tradition."
She bent her head to avoid his eyes and then melted against him, "I'm going to cry again. Oh, Spock, I'm such a mess."
"You did Affirm the Continuity."
"Yes. But I had no right."
She sobbed, "How can you!" She produced a throwipe and blew her nose, turning away from him. "I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted." He paced around her in the tiny compartment that barely held the bed and a desk and chair. He dawdled long enough for her to regain her composure and then confronted her, tipping her face up to him as he dabbed at one last tear. His face was set in utterly impersonal neutrality.
"T'Aniyeh. Have you considered that one source of your difficulties may well be that you're not married?"
He'd adopted the syntax of Middle Vulcan, a flexible mixture of the ultra-precise and the informal. She found herself relaxing as the slightly higher level of abstraction let her answer in the abstract. "Marriage-to-a- Vulcan is not-solution."
"True. But-no-marriage-at-all is-also not-solution." He came back to the informal mode, "If I read you rightly, you're not inclined to compromise."
She retained the impersonal mode, "True. But that-does-not-imply necessity to-inflict-misery on someone-else."
With one appreciative eyebrow, Spock conceded formally. "Logical." He switched to English, "We'll leave it at that for now. Come. We must work. There is a great deal I don't yet understand."
They turned to Spock's piles of tapes and became two different people as they bent to their task.
Thilien drove the little, nearly indetectable ship onward, through the neutral zone and deep into the Romulan Empire. Right on schedule, he informed Tanya that they were in position to jettison the warp engines and become virtually indetectable. She informed Kirk, and he tended to the mechanical details on Thilien's cue. They were now merely an impulse-driven disk, as lost among the stars as a coin in a slot machine.
Except for Spock and Tanya for occasional company, Thilien was quite alone in his sealed compartment. He was not a cyborg but he could accomplish nearly the same feats of economy. He didn't mind the loneliness because he had much to contemplate. So he brought his passengers to their destination, informed Tanya, established the requisite solar orbit, and went to "sleep."
Kirk turned from surveying, for the thousandth time, his useless bridge with Thilien's "quarters" solidly walled off in the forward portion. "Yes, Miss Minos?"
"We have arrived. Spock is about to leave."
"Thank you." He couldn't suppress a note of sarcasm, "I'd like to see him off."
"Then come. He's checking out the shuttlecraft."
There were moments, Kirk reflected, when he was glad of her Vulcan background. She might be frigid but at least she could miss, or maybe overlook, his badly chosen intonations.
The shuttlecraft bay resembled an archaic submarine torpedo room more than the spacious hanger deck of the Enterprise. When Tanya, Kirk and McCoy arrived, Spock had just finished a last once-over of the slick but cramped one-man missile and was climbing into the padded chamber when he noticed them.
Kirk approached his friend, "Don't leave without saying goodbye."
"I had intended to. Goodbye is hardly in order."
"I certainly hope not," said McCoy, "But take care of yourself. Remember, I don't have the tools to paste you back together."
"I shall try, Doctor. Captain, communications check."
Kirk, doubling as communications officer as well as engineer, went to the wall screen controls glad that routine preparation of a Command Officer included grounding in every phase of ship's operations, "Ready, Mr. Spock."
Spock closed the canopy of his coffin-like cartridge and activated his throat mike, "Spock to Kirk, do you read?"
"Loud and clear. Do you read?"
"Clear, sir, but not loud. All channels open and functioning. Spock out."
The servo-motors drove the capsule into its launching tube, whined, whooshed, clicked and whined again. And then the three turned away to begin the familiar agony of the professional spaceman.
Vigils were not strangers to the two men, but the girl, despite mature years, Academy accomplishments and Vulcan training, was pacing the narrow corridors and fidgeting restlessly through her days long before the strain wore into her companions' feigned serenity. She couldn't even converse with Thilien because he had withdrawn into private meditation.
Then, the morning of the fourth day, a quick burst of static resolved into a brief message, "On schedule." That was all, but it told the waiting trio that the ticklishly dangerous part of the mission was beginning. If all went as planned, it would be a walk-through. The slightest snag could spell disaster.
By midafternoon, they were all gathered on the bridge near the main com unit. The hours dripped past in an agony of minutes until, less than an hour before the next scheduled check-in, they were all counting seconds and concentrating on not holding their breaths.
McCoy broke the silence, "Tanya, you're nervous. Like all other emotions, anxiety demands expression. The release of emotion is essential to human mental health."
She sighed hugely and shook herself, favoring McCoy with a ghost of a smile, "I have often observed, Doctor, that the healthy release of emotion is singularly unhealthy for those nearest one."
"Now, where have I heard that before?" said Kirk.
"Platonius," supplied McCoy.
T'Aniyeh looked from one to the other and then shrugged an eyebrow, "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I believe I'll go release my emotions in private." She left.
McCoy followed her with an eye and then shrugged, "Well, public or private, perhaps it doesn't make any real difference. But I'll bet she'll be back in time."
And she was. She returned twenty minutes later draped in a composure that was somehow infectious. As the seconds ticked by, they relaxed in their confidence in Spock. Then the console clock registered check-in time and all their breathing stopped as the plus seconds oozed by to be racked up by the relentless mechanism. Ten seconds. Thirty seconds. One minute late.
"He's in trouble, Bones."
"Yes. With that infernal time sense of his, he'd never be this late without reason."
"Our chronometer must be off," suggested T'Aniyeh.
"Not by this much," answered Kirk.
They waited rigidly, three pairs of eyes riveted on a rolling, digital readout chronometer
that just couldn't be more than five-hundredths of a microsecond wrong. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Kirk said, "Tanya, ask Thilien."
"Ask him what? He's asleep but I could wake him."
"Do so. Ask him if he can reach Spock. Tell him to go to red alert status."
"There's nothing he could do."
"That was not a request, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir." After a moment, "He says that Spock is alive, but he can't establish more than that. He says he's been on red alert twenty minutes now."
Kirk grunted an acknowledgement and pounced on the board as the decoder hummed to life, "Physiological difficulty. Contracted contagious disease. Am continuing on schedule."
Kirk's hands flew to the controls before he realized they had no code for "Timecheck erroneous." They looked at each other in horror. "Bones, could a disease foul Spock's time sense?"
"No known disease."
"Chances that he might realize his error?"
"Mighty slim. He's depended on it all his life. He's got his mind on other problems and he's fighting some kind of infection. There's a limit even to Vulcan mental capacity."
Tanya said, "This is a precision mission . . ."
"I am aware of that, Lieutenant."
She said, "What are we going to do?" It was a request for information, not a plea to the gods for help.
"Wait. There's nothing we can do. Unless you'd care to pray. Alert Thilien to be ready to take the capsule aboard and depart for warp-engine rendezvous."
And they waited. In lip-chewing, nerve-grinding silence. Occasionally, McCoy prescribed tension relieving exercise and somehow remembered to feed them. It was midnight by their clock, a full hour and a half past check-in time when the console hummed and clicked to itself and emitted a mechanical, "Secured. Debarkation imminent."
As is so often the case in a spaceman's life, the action, when it came, was so swift as to leave even the professionals helpless.
Three things happened simultaneously. The floor shifted wildly under their feet, knocking McCoy and Tanya to their knees while Kirk seized the console to save himself. Thilien reported to Tanya, "We're being towed by tractor beams from three starship class vessels." And the console said mechanically, "Agent captured."
Tanya relayed Thilien's message, but there was nothing they could do. The surprising thing was that they were not simply destroyed. Instead, they were transferred, gently by Romulan standards, to a large, featureless but otherwise not uncomfortable detention cell deep within the maximum security confines of a Romulan free-orbiting Star Base. To add surprise to surprise, they were all herded into the same cell where Spock was laid out on a hard bench in the corner.
Then Kirk got a final shock as their captors left and the inmate of the cell across from them rose from his bench and approached the double horizontal bars of the energy field restraint. The Captain was unaware of the most unmilitary gape of his mouth.
Sarek raised his hand solemnly in the Vulcan salute, "May You Live Long and Prosper, Captain Kirk . . . Doctor McCoy . . . T'Aniyeh."
Without the slightest hesitation, she answered, "May You Not Live Long and Prosper, Sarek."
"I thank you, Daughter-of-the-Tradition."
Kirk's gape widened and infected McCoy as they turned to eye the girl and then back to the ex-Ambassador.
Sarek said, "Spock is ill?"
McCoy shook himself and went to Spock, "I've no instruments," he complained, touching the Vulcan to check skin temperature, respiration and non-existent pulse. He peeled an eyeball, doubted the result and shrugged, "I think he's just fighting an infection."
Sarek nodded, "Most probably the one that nearly killed me shortly after I sent the message that most probably drew you here. He will have it under control shortly, but he'll require a transfusion of Romulan anti-bodies to whip it completely. It's a self-immunizinq disease they all
contract in early childhood when it's quite minor. It severely affects our time sense, which in a mature Vulcan," he eyed McCoy, "can be fatal."
McCoy approached the barrier to their cell and examined Sarek, "You've lost a lot of weight, Mr. Ambassador. Are you well?"
"Quite fit now, thank you, Doctor. They wished me alive for purposes best known to themselves so they cured me of the malady."
"And your heart?"
"Your repair job has held up quite well. I'm no longer troubled by malfunctions."
Kirk mastered his confusion, "Mr. Ambassador, we . . . the whole Federation thought you were dead."
"But you recovered the Kraith."
"And I was declared dead."
"Excellent. And Spock . . . ?"
T'Aniyeh answered shortly in Vulcan and Sarek's face relaxed into the closest thing to satisfaction he'd allow himself, "He is his grandfather's grandson." It was the highest tribute he could pay.
During this exchange, McCoy went back to Spock's side and covertly compared the father and son. With Sarek's new figure, the family resemblance was certainly more apparent.
Kirk began to circle their cell, mentally taking inventory of their ordinance and other assets. Sum total: zero. He eyed the light fixture in the unreachable ceiling, remembering a certain impromptu laser experiment, but they were denied even subcutaneous advantages. Besides, there was no cot to cannibalize. The bench was cast in one solid piece. There were no windows and no sanitary facilities.
He came back to Tanya, "Our only asset is not here."
She started, "Thi . . ."
"What do you think?"
After a moment she said, "Ready and waiting."
He nodded, "Keep up the good work."
She said, "I will, sir."
McCoy called from Spock's corner, "He's coming around, Jim."
They gathered around Spock as he struggled to a sitting position and McCoy helped him prop himself up against the corner.
"How do you feel?"
Spock eyed the doctor sourly, "I believe I've discovered the meaning of one of your expressions. I feel `lousy.' I haven't conquered the creature that has invaded my body and evidently it will be a losing battle resulting in my eventual demise. However, in the meantime, we have a problem: one involving . . ." his eye fell on Sarek.
The ensuing silence crackled with tension. Then Spock lowered his eyes, closed them for a moment, and when he again viewed Sarek he observed levelly. "Mother will be pleased."
Sarek answered, "She has her irrational moments. But she'll get over it."
Kirk said, "I don't believe it!" Looking from father to son, "You must feel something!"
Leaning his head against the wall for support, Spock slowly shifted his gaze to Kirk. He had great difficulty obtaining a satisfactory focus. Finally he said, "Sir, certainly you've not forgotten that my father has not Affirmed the Continuity."
Kirk and McCoy shared an indrawn, "Huuuuuuh!"
Sarek said, "Spock," and continued in the crisp, ultra-precise High Vulcan which, when wielded by a master, could be unbelievably compact while not at all concise. Shortly, Spock closed his eyes to concentrate and eventually was forced to ask his father to slow down.
Kirk turned to the girl, "Lieutenant, what are they saying?"
"The referents are highly abstract. I'm not getting it all. Sarek is recounting his adventures . . . how he went after the thieves and got taken prisoner . . . how he got them to abandon the Kraith . . . now he's telling what he knows of the disease Spock has."
When Sarek finished, Spock remained silent, eyes closed in stony concentration. McCoy moved to his side. Sarek said, "Leave him, Doctor. He is trying a suggestion of mine."
Then Spock was with them again, "With some success, Father. Thank you." He laboriously shifted his gaze to McCoy, "Doctor, does your equipment aboard the Halbird include blood filtration apparatus?"
McCoy considered. "No. But I could improvise. Depends on what I have to filter for what."
Sarek said for Spock who was again withdrawn, "I have the requisite anti-bodies, but you are familiar with Spock's blood requirements. Ordinary T-negative blood contains factors his tissues can't tolerate . . ."
McCoy said, "Yes," intrigued by the problem. Then, "I think, no, I know I can do it. That much they gave me. But it's purely academic."
Spock said softly, "Captain."
Kirk kneeled beside Spock. Spock's fingers plucked at the fine chain just visible above Kirk's collar and drew the tiny sphere into the light. Across the corridor, Sarek gave a most un-Vulcan gasp, "Spock, no, you can't! Not so soon after an Affirmation. It'll kill you."
Fingering the golden orb, Spock eyed his father calmly, "Perhaps. But, does it matter? Remember, Father, I am my grandfather's grandson. He who trained me in the six-hundred seventy disciplines knew my weaknesses as well as my strengths. And you, yourself, have said that I am a throwback. I'm not very sensitive and my control is erratic, but I have compensating advantages. However, it remains to convince the Captain."
"Captain Kirk," Sarek said, "don't. He is ill. His mind isn't clear. His strength is dissipated on too many fronts."
To Spock, Kirk said, "Explain."
With a glance, Spock drew Kirk and McCoy close and spoke very softly, "We must move quickly, now, before they realize we are able to escape and before they discover Thilien. And before I'm truly incapacitated."
"I gave you this," he fingered the sphere, "and a warning. Do you remember it?"
"I did not, however, give a complete warning. And now, I must." His eyes shifted laboriously from one to the other, "If you give these back to me as I gave them to you, it will cause you greater pain than you brought to my home and left there. It will be what Doctor McCoy would call a psychic trauma. However, I believe that the worst of the shock will not come for a day or two. Enough time, perhaps, to take counter measures. You are both strong, well-adjusted personalities. In my professional judgement, this will cause you no permanent harm, if we live through it.
"But the immediate experience will be very like . . . attempting to pull one's own tooth. The Flame is a crutch. It's meant to be used to hasten and guide a healing process and when it's no longer needed, it is easily, even eagerly, discarded. But until then it is very dear.
"It is your decision. I can use them and in the using destroy them. But the path to the Halbird will be opened." He fell back exhausted, withdrawn.
Kirk and McCoy rose, and almost in unison took the treasured gifts from about their necks. Each became lost in his own decision.
For Kirk, it was a panoramic review of each of those moments when he'd heard that singularly pure note of Peace. The Flame could evoke the taste of living water, pungent smoke on desert air, and a soul-penetrating quiet that had given him a vague insight into the life based on pure logic. It had seemed as effective in increasing his ability to reason dispassionately as the hours he'd spent exploring the Gardens of Thought.
Though he rarely viewed the Flame, he realized he'd come to rely on that tiny instrument of sanity. His innate distaste for mental crutches, chemical or otherwise, rose in him, and, though he didn't doubt Spock's word that the thing would be outgrown, he determined to part with it one way or another. He looked up.
In his own way, McCoy had come to the same decision. They turned to Spock.
The Vulcan had risen to his feet and stood swaying, one hand to the wall for support. Kirk nodded and a second later, McCoy did also.
Sarek said, "Spock, I forbid."
Spock answered softly, "Father. I am Kataytikh. You no longer have authority over my professional decisions."
Kirk again had that odd impression of reverberation down the ages, a formula uttered with a simplicity that masked far-reaching implications.
After a pause, Sarek said, "Suvil was only one of two grandfathers. This will kill you."
"I don't think so. At least not if I do it now, before I lose control to this sickness."
McCoy said to Spock, "Don't do it if it's too dangerous for you. We'll find another way."
"That is not your concern, Doctor. You will have your own problems to contend with. After, we will have to move swiftly to take maximum advantage of what I will be able to do. I presume you know the way to the Halbird?"
T'Aniyeh said, "Sarek and I can find it. Thilien can guide us because we form a triad."
"Yes," Spock said, moving out into the center of the cell, "T'Aniyeh?"
Fighting not to chew her lips or say something impulsive, she stationed herself at the force barrier facing Sarek who turned his back. It took all her determination not to implore Spock to seek another way out.
Spock turned to Kirk, standing firmly with scarcely any sign of the weakness that grew minute by minute. "Now."
Kirk held the orb out to Spock who held up his hand, "No. Not like that. Remember how I gave it to you?"
"Yes. But you said you keyed it to my pattern. I don't know how to do that."
"I'll do the work, Captain. Open the sphere."
Kirk obeyed. The tiny ash-gold flame leaped.
"Good. Now damp the Flame."
"Make it go out. Just think that it's not there."
Kirk tried. It took about thirty seconds, but the Flame flickered and died. He felt like he'd just lost his best friend. He swallowed the first sting of tears.
"Fine. Now raise the first two fingers of your right hand and touch my forehead." Spock never took his eyes off the empty flamehole.
After a moment, Kirk remembered that next, Spock had placed his fingers on the hole and started to remove his fingers from Spock's forehead. Spock said, "No. Wait. I'm a bit slow."
They stood like that for about a minute until Spock said, "Now I've got it. Take the fingers of my left hand in your right and touch them to the flamehole."
Kirk did so.
"Now, let go."
As the tiny flame blossomed anew it was a full spectrum rainbow too bright to look at. Spock muttered a Rigellian expletive and the ash-gold returned. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head as one who has almost dropped a whole handful of mercury fulminate caps onto a hot griddle and turned to McCoy, "Captain. Go to T'Aniyeh."
In the blind fog of his pain, Kirk obeyed the voice of authority. The girl gathered him in and placed a soothing hand to his forehead somehow stemming the unreasonable flood of grief.
McCoy said, "You'll have to give me that routine slowly."
Spock held the flaming hemisphere in his left hand, "Yes, Doctor, but you will do it in reverse. Hold the hemisphere in your right hand and damp the Flame."
McCoy did so, but not with ease.
"Now, raise your left hand to my forehead."
"But don't you have to put the other one down first?"
"No. I must cross-link them. It's tricky and I'm not well, Doctor. Will you get on with it?"
McCoy did as he was told and waited the eternity until Spock said, "I've got it. Now, take the fingers of my right hand in your left hand and touch them to the flamehole, release the sphere and step back quickly."
McCoy did that and somehow ignored the overwhelming surge of emotion to watch the spectacle.
The new Flame exploded to rainbow brilliance, danced a good foot high and then the other one joined it and they twined to a pillar that nearly brushed the high ceiling. McCoy didn't notice when Kirk and Tanya turned nor when Sarek did likewise. They all watched Spock balancing that pillar on two small hands like a juggler. He turned to face the energy screens, and, as they vanished, the rainbow paled slightly.
Very quietly, without any fanfare or fireworks, the bars slid aside and the field they generated collapsed. As soon as the last trace of restraint had vanished, Sarek plunged across the corridor and arrived at Spock's side just in time to catch him as the Flame turned soot black then winked out and Spock crumpled.
Supporting his son, Sarek said, "Let's go, Captain."
Now that physical action was imminent, Kirk and McCoy found they could put aside their loss and proceed to run for their lives. Kirk said, "Lieutenant, inform Thilien. Lead the way."
The party took off down the corridor, past guard posts where bodies were strewn in sudden disarray. Around corners, up and down ramps, they pounded. Soon, Spock recovered enough to move on his own, but it was acutely obvious to Kirk that he was using his last wind.
Finally, they climbed a huge spiral ramp that circled a cavernous, multi-leveled machine shop and found the Halbird's disk drawn up to a workbench while the rest of the ship was supported on a pair of runners that led to a shuttlecraft lock. Apparently, work on her had just started. Surprised, Kirk realized that less than an hour had passed since their arrival.
The Captain led the way toward the underhatch snapping orders, "Lieutenant, inform Thilien. Doctor, take care of Spock."
Suddenly, a phaser beam whizzed and vaporized half the workbench. Before they could gain cover, a second beam brushed Sarek and Spock, knocking them spinning. Kirk and McCoy closed up while T'Aniyeh climbed in and turned to give them a hand hauling the Vulcans aboard. Several more phaser blasts snapped around them, but they got clear with no further injuries.
As soon as the hatch closed, Thilien guided the ship down the ramp, and revved his impulse engines, aiming their field at the lock. The metal vanished with a snapping explosion and Thilien performed the same service for the outer door. Explosive decompression killed several hundred loyal Romulans before emergency doors closed, effectively immobilizing the rest.
At top impulse speed, Thilien, a master of evasive maneuvers, led the remaining Romulans a merry chase. But, while he thoroughly enjoyed himself, his passengers knew virtually nothing of the events outside of a wildly gyrating floor and occasional straining of the ship's skeleton.
McCoy helped Spock onto the Sick Bay's single bed, then turned to Sarek, who was at least conscious, "Are you all right, sir?" While he prepared a hypo, he said to Sarek, "New stuff. Guaranteed not to upset your stomach, or so they tell me. It'll ease that phaser burn."
McCoy pressed the hypo to Sarek's shoulder and then to Spock's, and watched the life sign indicators anxiously. Spock was younger than Sarek, but he'd sustained the greater portion of the phaser beam on top of a raging fever on top of an unknown effect of whatever it was he'd done, and shouldn't have. Privately McCoy admitted he'd never seen Spock so near to death. Not even the time he'd had to regenerate a whole organ because they didn't carry a replacement for him.
Spock started to come around and McCoy turned to Sarek, "Well? Feel like a meal?"
Sarek nodded, "Excellent, Doctor."
Spock's head tossed feverishly and then steadied as his eyes opened and McCoy said, "How's your stomach?"
He struggled to a sitting position, "What did you give me?"
"Just something for the phaser stun.
Looking dubious, Spock swung his legs off the bed. The hurt look on his face turned to reproach as he gained his feet and tottered to the little room in the corner and closed the door. The sounds were faint but unmistakable.
Spock returned looking weaker but enwrapped in injured dignity. He lay down again and relaxed systematically as he said, "Doctor, if you ever put that chemical into my body again, I shall have you up for malpractice. I did not offer myself as an experimental subject." Then he quietly and deliberately fainted.
Sarek eyed the Doctor, "You'd better set up that filter while I try to repair some of the damage he's inflicted on himself." He turned to Kirk who'd been watching, "I'll require privacy. I must use a technique which . . . is quite dangerous in itself. If we both live through that, we
will need that filter immediately. It may take several hours, but then I'll be free to do what I can for you both."
The humans left father and son to their battle and embarked on the all too familiar routine of waiting. The hours went by. McCoy finished his work and Tanya made them all eat and even prepared a meal for Sarek. She fended off Kirk's inquiries about ship's status saying she didn't want to distract Thilien by asking idle questions.
Then, with evident relief, she told Kirk, "Prepare to hook in the warp engines."
Glad to have work for a change, Kirk pitched in and was ready to couple the final leads as soon as Thilien had them maneuvered in place. Kirk, as a spaceman, appreciated Thilien's skill in the maneuver and made a mental note to recommend him for a commendation. Then they were hurtling for the neutral zone at warp speed.
Meanwhile, McCoy was called back to Sick Bay, and when Kirk, weary, but satisfied, returned from his task, he found Spock's bed rigged with filters. A small reservoir of thick green blood was supplying a steady drip into Spock's veins. McCoy came out closing the door behind him. "I think, but don't quote me, that he's going to live. Sarek seems in remarkably good health too, considering."
"Thank you, Doctor," Sarek came up behind McCoy, "the active life agrees with me. It will be hard to return to the desk."
"You will return to Vulcan, sir?" asked Kirk.
Sarek nodded, "Yes, gentlemen, I am now rejoined to the life stream of my people." At their blank looks he added, "Spock is in a unique position. He is my son, and we are xtmprsqzntwlfd. He recently conducted the Affirmation which I missed. And we now had the necessity to meld in a technique ordinarily not practiced between members of the same family. To save a life, it is permitted. But merely to trans-Affirm, it would result in dual death. But, in this case, it resulted in dual life. And now, Captain, I believe it is your turn to receive attention. I cannot recreate your Flame, but perhaps I can cue you to another."
Sarek stepped between the two men, turning them down the corridor, "Rest assured that Spock's standing invitation to you will be honored in our house all the days of my life."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: When I wrote that scene in MISSION where Spock takes them up the mountain, I had already in mind to tell a far larger tale of interstellar politics of which FEDERATION CENTENNIAL is only a tiny fragment. However, I didn't have the writing skills to do the job. Thus, I left that scene uninterpreted and planned to find another slant on it in Kraith IV. Likewise, the climax of MISSION is not meant to be understood on first reading. It must be reinterpreted in the light of Kraith IV. However, at the time I wrote it, I thought that IV would never be published. I didn't believe that fans would be able to accept the premises of IV involving Kirk. Therefore, Spock's reasons for giving the Flame Sphere remain cloudy in MISSION . . . also the entire significance of the events in MISSION depend on IV, V, and future stories. (This is admittedly dirty pool, but here you have the maturation of a writer.)
For example, take the often asked question of how the technique Sarek used on Spock at the end of MISSION resulted in a trans-Affirmation. Nowhere in Kraith is the mechanics of this miracle explained. Yet, an explanation would enrich the understanding of the story. The explanation I had in mind was this: The conducting of an Affirmation impresses a pattern on the brain circuitry patterns which opens direct channels to the Race Memory which is not a genetically passed on memory.
In order to understand the trans-Affirmation and its dangers, one must understand the nature of the Affirmation and its reason for existing. The Affirmation serves to create and pass on the Race Memory. In the mass- meld of Affirmation, memories are shared totally. If the meld is properly performed, the personalities of all participants serve to sift the memories and assign them weighted importance in the overall history of the Peoples.
Thus the composition of a group which is to Affirm must be carefully balanced. There must be at least one representative from each of the many traditions that went into blending Tsaichrani. Thus, the minimum number. There is another, mechanical reason for the minimum number. Fewer minds than that can't attain the depth-meld and hold it long enough to be effective without causing fatal insanity to all. Perhaps, it might be possible. There is a percentage risk involved when fewer than the requisite number are melded. Any time that requisite number or more are joined through the proper exercises, there is no risk to the group, though weak individuals may suffer. Therefore, better safe than sorry.
The pattern formed by the group mind that comes into existence briefly at an Affirmation remains fresh in the Kataytikh's mind for about a year afterward. Thus, any telepathic strain can cause insanity and death for the Kataytikh during this period. But that pattern can also be used to pass on its information to someone who missed the Affirmation, under certain very rigid circumstances. However, the trans-Affirmation is never without danger. Two minds alone should never attempt it, yet no more than two minds can. Therefore, trans-Affirming is no remedy for missing an Affirmation. Trans-Affirmation can occur only between members of the same family, and one must be a Kataytikh who conducted (not merely participated). It has never been successfully completed between a Daughter and a Kataytikh.
In MISSION, Spock had performed a difficult and dangerous maneuver with the Flame Spheres, using his brain as a modulating channel for energies he would handle with care at any time. But he performed this maneuver while the Affirmation's mass meld still held sway over part of him. The maneuver he performed can be understood only by understanding the "ghost" passages of Kraith IV. What Spock did with those two Flame Spheres was drawn from the same science that killed his grandfather; a "forbidden" field of investigation, one that produces more evil than good, if there is such a thing as good or evil. The "modern" mass meld mind says "No," while Spock's will says "Yes." The conflict creates psychic injury. Sarek had to attempt to heal the injury but in order to reach it, he had to pass through the mass meld. If he had Affirmed he would have had no problem. Since he hadn't, he had to force himself into that matrix of minds and become part of them. Since he approved partially of Spock's use of the Spheres, his opinion changed the mass mind in such a way as to lessen the conflict and hence, he was able to reach and heal the injury.
Spock's use of the Spheres, his opinion changed the mass mind in such a way as to lessen the conflict and hence, he was able to reach and heal the injury.
Ordinarily members of the same family should never attempt this kind of deep meld because they have common experiences and dispositions that may be strong enough to cause them to lose their identities. It is a risk. Since Spock is half human, the differences between him and Sarek were great enough to prevent this type of confusion. They'd never tried it before, so it was a calculated risk that paid off. Without treatment, Spock would die. Without Affirmation, Sarek's life was less than worthless. They had nothing to lose. They gambled and won.
(Excerpted from a letter to Debbie
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