"Lieutenant, call sickbay and find out how Mr. Spock is . . ." the captain was saying.
The signal was very weak, but Uhura had trained her subconscious to be alert. When the whoops of the Federation's standard distress call began registering as a miniscule jiggling on her instruments, she was jerked out of her conscious attention to the captain's orders.
"Distress signal, sir," she interrupted, already at work trying to bring it in more clearly and to track down its location. The buttons on the new board were still a little stiff but she simply grimaced at them and punched harder, without even wasting time to wish that they had not lost the old Enterprise.
Kirk left his sentence unfinished and instead said, "Mr. Chekov," in a low voice, so as not to disturb Uhura, and pointed at Spock's station.
The ensign swung out of his chair and hurried to the sensors to help in tracing the call. He bent down, blinking into the blue light, then dialed a star-chart onto the viewscreen above the panel, replacing the ornamental rainbow nebulae left on it from last usage. He threw the computer's estimated triangulation on over the chart. "Probably a planet of XA-792, Captain," he reported.
"The signal is automatic, sir," Uhura began at the same moment. They both stopped and both hesitated, about to repeat, but Kirk waved Uhura to continue. He had the command knack of taking in reports from all sides. "I'm sending an acknowledgement of the signal, sir," she said. "Shall I say we are on our way to them?"
"Yes, Lieutenant," said Kirk. "Mr. Chekov--anything more?"
"Affirmative, Captain. One-man scout was reported lost in this quadrant 341 standard days ago. Menash, manned by Lt. S'Darmeg. No other ships on record as missing."
"A Vulcan craft?" said Kirk, incredulous despite his own knowledge of the names and registries of Star Fleet vessels.
Chekov, taking the question seriously, obediently looked up the Menash's registry before Kirk could tell him not to bother. "Affirmative, Captain," he reported.
"Thank you," said Kirk, and swung his chair around to face front, so as to hide his look of distress from Chekov. If the signaller was Lt. S'Darmeg of the Menash, he had missed the Affirmation. Spock's own father had missed it, and Spock had been perfectly ready to disown Sarek and ignore him as a non-person on that account, until the chance of Spock's illness made necessary an otherwise forbidden joining of minds through which Sarek shared in his son's Affirmation. That was fine for Sarek, by now safe home on Vulcan, and it was fine for Spock, even if he was confined to sickbay again after trying to resume his work too quickly following his exertions in Romulan territory; but Kirk wondered how it would be for Lt. S'Darmeg.
His first thought was to blame the Vulcan ships for not finding their compatriot in the first place, but then he reflected that they probably had searched for him up until the last possible minute. Space was large. If, say, his transmitter had been broken, and if he had not been able to mend it until long after . . . Kirk scowled and made himself concentrate on logging the events. "So far we do not know if the caller is alive or not; his signal is automatic," he finished up his entry. Possibly, he thought, S'Darmeg was dead. That would solve matters, but it was not his idea of a reasonable solution.
They moved in toward XA-792, and the automatic call continued to come in through the rest of the day. Kirk went to bed still wondering if he ought to hope S'Darmeg was dead.
The next morning, upon learning the truth, he felt grieved, and then scolded himself for the--he stopped his thought, examined it, and let it go on--for the inhumanity of his reaction. S'Darmeg was alive.
Scott's log entries for the watch while Kirk had been asleep included a notice of an end to the distress signal and the reception of a message of thanks from S'Darmeg. Kirk ordered Uhura to play him the tape.
"Enterprise, Lt. S'Darmeg, on the second planet of XA-792. I camp at the confluence of two rivers, running in the direction of the planet's rotation, on the smallest of three continents. I await your coming."
His English was accented, reminding Kirk of T'Pau's speech, although it lacked her formal archaisms. The Enterprise's acknowledgement had been sent through the translator, which meant, Kirk realized, that S'Darmeg had recognized "Enterprise" as the name of the Terran-based vessel, or he would not have replied in English. Which in turn made it a good guess that S'Darmeg knew that it's personnel included the legendary Spock. Kirk's face twisted wryly as he considered how amusing it would be to ask Spock the precise odds. Instead, he played through the rest of the log entries covering the ship's "night," forcing his mind into careful attentiveness to the routine.
Two days later they entered orbit. Kyle located the castaway within minutes with the aid of the directions given, and Kirk went down to the transporter to meet him.
"Captain Kirk, how do you do?" said S'Darmeg, limping off the transporter disc. His crutches slipped on the step, but Kirk caught him. "I thank you," said S'Darmeg quietly. He recovered his balance and, rather to Kirk's surprise, shook hands with him.
"When did that happen?" asked Kirk, looking at the twisted leg.
"When I crashed. The bones will have to be broken again and reset. I applied splints as soon as I could, but it knit imperfectly."
The stoicism reminded Kirk of his First Officer, although the younger Vulcan did not resemble Spock much, having brown hair and a straggling beard, skin pigmented yellow by exposure to the weather, and wide ears that stuck out jughead style. His uniform was ragged at the wrists and cuffs but otherwise, Kirk thought, it had stood the strain better than the wearer had; the cloth flapped loosely on the lieutenant's skinny frame.
S'Darmeg started out the door, saying, "Your sickbay is on level seven, I presume."
"Yes, but--" Kirk said, and stopped. He could not very well tell S'Darmeg to stay out of sickbay until he could get Spock out of it.
S'Darmeg paused out in the corridor and looked back at Kirk, waiting for him to catch up. The corridor was empty, except for a dark-skinned Terran female, who turned around and came toward S'Darmeg. Kirk smiled, recognizing Uhura, hoping to gratify her curiosity with a look at the castaway who was, after all, her discovery, by loitering in the vicinity of the transporter.
Her quick sympathy brought her to a halt, exclaiming "Oh!" as she saw the crutches. Then, realizing it would be bad form to express pain on his behalf, she said instead, "What beautiful carving!"
Kirk looked again and saw that the crutched had an intricate design of animals of many worlds twining around the staves. The armpieces were open jaws of two Berengarian dragons. "Lt. Uhura, communications; Lt. S'Darmeg, detached duty," he said, glad of a chance to delay the journey to sickbay.
"Communications," S'Darmeg repeated. "You are, then, my rescuer?" he said gravely.
"That's right," said Kirk. "You were lucky that one of our best officers was at the communications board when we first came in range of your signal."
"So I had surmised when your acknowledgement came from such a distance." He looked at Uhura. "Your voice was . . . most welcome."
"I'm glad to have been of service," Uhura said. He was really quite charming, she thought. "I can see you've had a time of it!"
"A time?" said S'Darmeg, hesitating at the idiom.
"Interesting and difficult experiences," she said, as an approximation. "Dr. McCoy should see to you," she went on.
"Yes," said Kirk, giving in to the inevitable. "We're on our way there."
Spock looked up, and his eyes widened as the trio entered. The First Officer had heard that they were going to pick up a Vulcan castaway, but he had not heard how long the newcomer had been lost. The length of S'Darmeg's untrimmed beard was not a precise measure, and it was even just possible that S'Darmeg had affected such an unfashionable style before the shipwreck. Spock closed his eyes and reached inside, toward S'Darmeg's mind.
"Live long and prosper, Commander," said S'Darmeg, continuing towards the examining table in the next room.
"May you not live long and prosper, Lieutenant," Spock answered.
Kirk felt himself sagging inside. Spock could at least have held off until the poor fellow had had a decent meal. On the other hand, S'Darmeg had given the opening.
Uhura looked at the three faces, and held her own face in a professional impassivity. Her communications training had given her an almost Vulcan control of her expression, when needed.
"I do not thank you, Commander," said S'Darmeg.
Kirk stared, but caught himself and forced his eyes away from S'Darmeg. The lieutenant was not following the lines Kirk remembered. Then, mercifully, they were around the corner and into the next room. Before Kirk could even offer to help, S'Darmeg had pulled himself up onto the examining table. He left his crutches leaning precariously against the side. Uhura caught them and carried them into a corner. "You won't be wanting these again, I hope," she said, "unless you collect souvenirs. Have you been to Berengaria, or did you see films of the dragons?"
S'Darmeg took a deep breath, turned his head so that he could see Uhura, and said, "Both. I have been there, and I have seen the Ozawa Tale of Beren."
"That's a beautiful film, isn't it," she said, delighted that her attempt at easing the mysterious tension was succeeding. "Did you . . ."
Kirk left them and went in search of McCoy. He found him in a nearby lab watching test-tubes peacefully boiling. "Bones, get Spock out of sickbay."
"Back to work, Jim? I don't think he--"
"Just out of sickbay," Kirk said. "And fast."
"Well, I guess he'd be all right in his quarters. But why?"
"Lt. S'Darmeg is on board, and he's going to need medical attention."
"Our castaway? But--"
"He was down there since before the Affirmation."
"He . . . That sure tears it, doesn't it?" McCoy turned off the plates, capped the tubes and shoved them away from the heat, then spun around on one foot, heading off to sickbay to discharge Spock as the first step in taking care of the new patient.
In the evening Kirk went to Spock's quarters.
"Enter, Captain," Spock answered the buzzer.
Kirk stepped in wearily, and found Spock sitting up in bed and just putting aside a viewer. Kirk wondered fleetingly if he should warn McCoy to make sure that Spock didn't overwork himself with study now that he was out from under direct supervision. He cast about for an effective opening, without expecting to find one. If Spock had understood that he would come about S'Darmeg, he no doubt already had his own arguments marshalled. Still . . . "Spock, if Vulcan continues to take part in the exploration of space, there will be more cases like this one. A synchronous, universal ceremony is barely possible on a single planetary surface, but between worlds! Your own father missed the Affirmation. You nearly missed it yourself. If Vulcan does not do something to change the nature of the ceremony, there will be even more absentees next time, lost forever to . . . to the tradition. If you should have a son who goes into space . . . Kataytikh . . . he may be one such."
Spock was silent, staring at his steepled fingers a long time. At length he said, "Sit down, Captain."
Kirk shook his head.
"As you please." Spock looked up. "What you want is impossible. Jim, if the lieutenant had lost his vocal chords in the crash, would you let him sing in a choir?"
"I would put him up in a white robe and let him hold his mouth open with the others," Kirk said bitterly.
"Argument by analogy is invalid, Captain. You press the comparison further than it will go. However, if the lieutenant had been deafened in the crash and could not tell if he was emitting sounds or not, would you . . ." Spock hesitated, searching for a name to give the human the full emotional weight. "Would you put him in the chorus for the `Ode to Joy' in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?"
Kirk winced, despite himself. Unbidden, pealing chords of Freude! Freude! sounded in his head. He shook it convulsively and sat down. "Then where does he go, what does he do? You said your society does not ostracize its members, but--"
"He does what he did before. But he does not . . . participate . . . in the meetings of the minds. And the ceremonials which are meaningless applied to him are . . . not applied. It is fortunate for the lieutenant that he has been trained as a scout."
"Good night, Spock," said Kirk, leaving without waiting to hear if Spock made the response to that human ceremony of day's-end leavetaking. He could not shake Spock's logic, and he could not admit that, for the moment, he loathed all that was Vulcan in Spock; surely such loathing must be bigotry. He fell asleep, still trying to admit to prejudice and still trying to find a hole in Spock's reasoning.
In the morning he went to visit S'Darmeg in sickbay. His entrance went unnoticed, however, for the young Vulcan already had a visitor. Uhura was singing the songs from the Tale of Beren. Kirk sat down in a chair in the corner to enjoy the performance himself. He observed with relief that she was playing a Berengarian dulcewires to accompany herself, not a Vulcan harp. The thrumming of the soft arpeggios blended with her clear voice.
S'Darmeg was listening intently, meanwhile spooning the last of a bowl of thick, red soup
into his mouth. It looked vaguely familiar, but Kirk, his mind running on Christine Chapels and plomik, did not identify the stuff until S'Darmeg finished the bowl and lay back to listen more comfortably. It was Russian beet borscht. A gift from Chekov, presumably. The junior officers did not know that S'Darmeg was still cut off from home, in a sense, but they knew that he had been by himself for months, and sympathy for their Robinson Crusoe (it was, after all, a fate which could befall any one of them) seemed to be provoking attempts at an acceptable expression of the feeling. The borscht and the music seemed to be fairly successful.
S'Darmeg shifted restlessly in between songs, apparently trying to ease his twisted leg, but was silent otherwise. Kirk glanced again at the empty bowl and estimated that the Vulcan would have regained enough strength to undergo operations on his leg in less than a week.
Uhura came to the final chords and looked brightly to S'Darmeg for a reaction.
"Will you marry me?" he said.
"What?" she said, astonished. Feeling absolutely sure that she had misheard, she amended it. "I mean, I beg your pardon?"
Kirk sat stone-still, trying to figure out a way to remove himself from a scene where he had no right to be and meanwhile hoping to remain unobserved.
It took Uhura a couple of seconds to figure out why "why." She said, "I don't mean I ask forgiveness. I mean, I didn't quite hear you."
"Will you marry me?" he said, in a somewhat louder voice.
"Right now?" said Uhura, feeling herself at a loss for words.
"Not necessarily," said S'Darmeg, "but within a year, perhaps, you would be willing?"
"But, S'Darmeg --" she stopped and tried to translate the underlying meanings. A face came to her mind. She tried to dismiss the image, because it interfered with her thinking, but she could not shake it off. Suddenly she recognized it: T'Pring, dark hair vivid against the red sky, framed within the Enterprise's main viewscreen. "You are expecting to enter the pon farr then," she said.
A faint green color rose in S'Darmeg's cheeks, showing through the strong yellow pigmentation. "That is correct," he said.
"But, my poor dear," she said, causing a slightly shocked look to come over S'Darmeg's face, "don't you have a . . . an affianced bride?"
He hesitated, weighing the accuracy of the phrase. "That is essentially correct," he admitted. "But her mind will be closed to mine. The odds are 62.3% against her accepting me in that state."
"That's close to an even chance," Uhura began slowly.
"The union of bodies without a union of minds is against the traditions," he went on, not noticing the interruption, "and I myself am unwilling to allow her to accept me."
"But why will her mind be closed?" Uhura asked in bewilderment. "You're not a--" She stopped herself from finishing the sentence: half-breed like Spock. Instead she said, "How can you be so sure that . . . that . . ."
"I missed the Affirmation," he said simply.
Uhura knew enough of the implications to make no argument. She sat in silence, going over the words she had heard the two Vulcans exchange the night before. What had been confusing then, was becoming miserably clear. "Oh, you poor darling," she said, and added, "If you're going to react to endearments that way, you'll have to give up the idea of marrying a human."
"I believe I can accustom myself to them, my . . ." He tried to force himself to use similar phrase in response, but, failing, closed his sentence, ". . . in time."
Uhura glanced at him sharply. "In time," she repeated. "You've got a year, S'Darmeg. What's the hurry? Why me?"
An unflattering thought came to her. "If you think one Terran is just like another and you could just as well take the first one you meet, you're wrong."
"Indeed," said S'Darmeg. "Would you recommend one more suitable than yourself?"
He made the question sound so matter-of-fact that she actually took it seriously for a moment, and tried to think of a good match for him. Her first thought was Christine Chapel. The unfortunate nurse's love for Spock might lead her to take S'Darmeg as a substitute. Her second thought was that Christine would probably tell her she was wrong if she thought one Vulcan was
just like another. "What do you think I am, a marriage broker? I don't know what you need, I'm no telepath, and . . ." She broke off, struck by a new obstacle in S'Darmeg's already improbable plans. "I'm no telepath," she repeated, more quietly. "This union of minds you talk about . . ."
"But I am a telepath. There need be no barrier. If I may demonstrate . . ." He reached one hand towards her forehead.
She drew back hastily. "No. Wait." His tranquility in reaching out for the unknown, specifically, herself, baffled her. "You should at least wait till you get to know me better, or check my service-record, or something, but . . ."
"I did check your service-record," he interrupted.
"The First Officer speaks highly of your ability to communicate with, and understand, alien beings."
"Yes, but . . ." She halted, unable to continue the sentence. She had run out of arguments. She looked down at him and smoothed his hair once with her hand, then put her hands in her lap and sat silent for a long time.
"S'Darmeg," she said at last, "I scarcely know you. I'm not going to make any kind of agreement now tying my life to yours. But I'll promise you this: if you need someone when the fever comes, I will be yours, for that time. I won't promise to stay afterwards."
"That is a pollution of the mating," he said flatly.
"In Vulcan terms," she said.
"That is true," he said. "Your standards are your own."
She blinked and then stared at him, not used to such ready acceptance of variation in standards. Suddenly she smiled at him. "You take that very logically."
"Not at all," she said wryly, and thought some more. Then she said, "If Vulcan women are out of the question, and if you don't find . . . human love, if you'll pardon the expression, you're going to be forced to choose between death and a purely physical mating. Let's hope that doesn't happen, and you find someone else." He raised one hand in a negative gesture, whether at the idea of engaging in the activity of hoping or at the idea of finding someone else, she did not know, but she hurried on. "If the worst comes to worst," She remembered to pause to see if he understood the idiom, and saw that he did "I will be there."
"I thank thee."
She shivered suddenly, and turned to look again into the long, yellow face, expecting to see repugnance or stiff control hiding it, but there was only a quietness. She said softly, "If I come to love you, I will be yours always, if you find you can accept love."
He reached up again, not towards her forehead, but to her neck, drew her head down, and kissed her.
She knew at once that he had only seen it in films. His lips were stiff and shut, and it did not seem to occur to him that anything was supposed to happen beyond the meeting of faces. She touched her tongue softly to his lips. She did not feel them move, but she became aware of a sense of well-being and was puzzled to realize that it was not her own. Then she understood that it was a perception of his reaction to her kiss. She tried to hold her mind open to the feeling but in her attempt to concentrate on it, she drew away from his awkward kiss, and the link was broken.
"Thee will teach me, and I thee," he said.
She nodded, unable to speak, and left the room.
S'Darmeg lay with his face turned up to the ceiling and wriggled himself deeper into the warmth of the covers.
Kirk felt deeply ashamed of himself for having witnessed so much, but, seeing no way he could have avoided it, he set himself instead to thinking what he could do to repair the blunder. He decided, after a moment, that the best thing he could do was to behave as if he had seen nothing and hope that neither Uhura nor S'Darmeg would see through the pretense. He was not entirely sure that a Vulcan male would be upset by an accidental trespass of his privacy, but he was sure a Terran female would be. He rose, stepped silently to the door, stood still a minute to arrange his face, and then said cordially, "Good morning, Lieutenant. How are you?"
"Better, I thank you, sir. Your Dr. M'Benga tells me that he thinks a complete repair of the injured leg will be possible."
"I'm glad to hear it.
"I have a favor to ask of you, sir."
"The Menash operated out of Vulcan Star Base and was under orders directly from Vulcan. I wish to transfer to scoutwork further out on the Federation frontiers."
"That would mean operating out of one of the more distant bases," Kirk mused. "25, or 26, perhaps? Or would you prefer to join explorations on a Starship such as the Enterprise?" S'Darmeg could probably arrange his course to cross theirs fairly often, but it would be easier for him to be with Uhura if they were both on the same ship.
S'Darmeg hesitated. "No," he said finally. "My training has been for the scoutcraft. And I should not remain on your ship, sir, because I am no longer a part of the Tradition, and . . . But perhaps you do not know what that means to . . ."
"I know something of it.
"Indeed? Ah, from the Commander. Of course." S'Darmeg hesitated again. "There have been few like me in our past, sir. I am, I imagine, the only Exile of the new Cycle."
Kirk started to tell him about Sarek, then stopped. The case did not apply. apply.
"In the past, there has been no choice except to hold to what little of the traditions remained open, or to live a hermit's life." S'Darmeg closed his eyes and stirred restlessly for a moment before opening them and going on again, no longer looking at Kirk. "I have considered this problem carefully during the past months. I think I may call myself expert in it. There is now a better solution: to adopt the culture of another people. The Commander will no doubt approve my solution and agree that I must therefore be out of his society. Will you inform him of my decision?"
"Very well," said Kirk. He did not much like the commission, but he supposed someone would have to do it sooner or later. He went to Spock's quarters and found his First Officer up and playing chess with the computer.
"Leave the traditions!" Spock repeated, when Kirk had explained his errand. His vehemence startled Kirk, and struck the human as being downright un-Vulcan. Kirk stooped and retrieved a pawn which Spock's involuntary gesture had brushed off the topmost board.
"He thought you would approve," Kirk said, replacing the piece.
"He is in error," said Spock, as if that was a serious crime. "It is true that he is shut out from a large part of our culture, but it is his culture all the same, the society in which he grew up. I do not see how he can hope to find greater peace elsewhere. What does he want? The uncontrolled passions of Terrans, the violence of Andorians, the . . ."
Spock stopped and looked surprised at the Captain's horrified expression. "What is it, Jim?"
"What makes you so damn sure Vulcan culture is better than the others? Haven't you heard something about infinite diversity and . . ."
"I am sure it is better for those who have been reared in it," Spock interrupted.
"And better for someone who wasn't reared in it, such as your . . ."
"Be quiet." Spock's voice was soft, but the chill in the contemptuous tone stopped Kirk momentarily.
"Don't give me orders, Mister," Kirk said at last, matching Spock's cold intensity. "I give the orders on board this ship. If you don't like it, go home to Vulcan, where you seem to think you belong."
Spock shuddered and turned away from him, staring at the flickering of the dark red flame in his firepot. "I don't belong there, entirely," he said. "I chose a middle way."
"But, naturally, S'Darmeg isn't allowed to do that."
"My way would not help him," said Spock. He did not turn to look at the captain, but remained as he was, as if addressing the little statue which held the firepot. "I live among aliens as a Vulcan. I . . . I don't find it easy, Jim, and I'm within the traditions. I don't see how he could manage it from outside."
"`May he not live long and prosper'," Kirk murmured. "I don't suppose he would, either, if you forced him to go on receiving that communication. How long do Exiles live on the average, anyway?"
Spock was silent.
Kirk sighed and left the room to transmit to Star Fleet Command Lt. S'Darmeg's request for a transfer of operations-base from Vulcan to Star Base 26.
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