"That would require another three days travel time. Out of the question." Rifflard was firm.
"Captain," said Valdai, "I think we can afford a few days if it will increase the safety factor." The moment he said it, he realized his mistake. So did Ssarsun who shot him a look which the Councillor knew all too well.
As a matter of form, Rifflard pursed his lips and pretended to consider the advice. Then he rose. "Thank you, gentlemen. We will continue on course as selected." Without waiting for comment, Rifflard took himself out the door.
For a moment, the two remaining men looked at one another. Ssarsun raised both layers of eyelids and gazed steadily at the Councilor. At length he said, "Entropy is a vector quantity."
Valdai looked surprised. "Thatís a Vulcan saying. Book of Sources."
"Correction. Book of Fragments. I just hope we donít end up in fragments."
"Not many off-worlders know the Vulcan Books."
"I was raised on Vulcan. You have an excuse?"
"Iím of Dorn extraction. Trained on Vulcan."
//Then you should have known better than to needle the Captain.//
After a pause, Valdai said, "Most people usually have some reaction to that announcement, if only, ĎI didnít realize you were a telepath.í "
Ssarsun eyed the human carefully. "Ah, I see. You donít receive."
"Thatís right. Half-deaf telepathically. They taught me not to project and let me go home. Didnít Itn and Zimr tell you?"
"Didnít get around to it."
"Theyíre a nice pair. Think youíll like them when you get to know them. They like you. I can tell."
"Youíd better not tell, if you want to keep them on your staff."
"I didnít mean it that way! I wouldnít . . ."
"Sorry. Just joking."
Valdai chuckled. "Neednít apologize. Arenít any Vulcans aboard."
"Correction. Iím Vulcan. At least Iím more Vulcan than Schillian---sometimes."
"But not all the time!" The glint in Valdaiís eye was unmistakable even to a psi-blind. He was the only Federation Council Member whose staff consisted entirely of nonhumans. He was known as something of an eccentric among his peers, but he had gained an intimate knowledge of the habits of all races of the Federation. Heíd known Itn and Zimr had been frustrated for lack of a third, a kind of frustration no bisexual race could ever understand. He also could tell the three Schillian sexes apart.
"That is a private matter." Ssarsun rose. "Live Long and Prosper, Kieth Valdai."
Valdai rose, "Wait a moment. Please donít take offense."
Ssarsun paused. "A Schillian would not be offended, Councillor."
"A Vulcan would. I apologize. You are a most unusual person."
"I choose to regard that as a compliment to my race."
"A very Vulcan attitude, I would say. Tell me," he said moving up beside the Schillian and strolling casually toward the door in open invitation, "why are you in Starfleet?"
"A deceptively simple question, Councillor." Ssarsun tacitly accepted the invitation to walk a ways together. "I usually say because I prefer it."
"There arenít many Schillians who would."
"No, indeed, there are not. So I am doubly needed here."
"Security is a natural career for a Schillian, I would suppose, but donít you find it difficult to find a . . . telepathic contact always available?"
"Isnít that a handicap in Starfleet?"
"Not in Security."
"You are a full Commander. As far as I know, no Schillian has ever risen higher, in fact, very few telepaths have."
"I am well aware of that, Sir."
Something in the Schillianís tone prompted Valdai to say, "Youíve encountered prejudice lately?"
"Of a sort. The Admiralty refused my request for transfer to Starfleet Command."
"You want to be a shipís Captain?"
"There have been very very few nonhumans on Starfleetís Admiralty. I think it will soon be time. They do not agree. There the matter rests."
"Except theyíve given you this assignment." It was obvious the politician recognized how precarious Ssarsunís position aboard the __Ortiz__ really was.
"And if youíll excuse me, Councillor, I really do have a great deal of work to do."
"Peace and Long Life, Ssarsun."
Routine finally caught up with Ssarsun the next morning as the shipís Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Stimson, called him in for his physical. He entered the overly elaborate sickbay with tired resignation. "Good morning, Doctor."
"I donít know about that. This place is more like the scene of a massive panic than a good morning."
Ssarsun looked around at the facility. The duty personnel were busy processing the passengersí health records. A ship designed to cater to hoards of high-ranking dignitaries of assorted physiologies was necessarily possessed on an oversized, overstaffed sickbay. "Doctor, until youíve seen a panic on Vulcan, you havenít seen a panic."
Stimson cocked his head at the Schillian, a quizzical smile playing the corner of his mouth. He was a gray haired, fiftyish man with a well seasoned face to match his well traveled personality. "I rather doubt the Vulcans would treat an off-worlder to such a sight."
"I rather doubt that an off-worlder would have the sense to know what he was seeing, Doctor."
Stimson snorted good naturedly. "Jump up here on the bed and weíll get you started on the exercise machine," he said. Getting Ssarsun winded would be the only way to keep him from a continuing stream of improbable comments on Vulcan life. Every trip that Ssarsun made with the __Ortiz__ gave Stimson a new inventory of Ďfactsí to wonder about. But at the moment, he was more concerned about Schillians than about Vulcans.
In due course, he had Ssarsun on the BCP analyser (sic RBW analyzer) with the medical computer hooked in. He said, "Now, can you tell me what Iím going to have for lunch today?"
The tracing etched on the screen shifted as Ssarsun groped for a link with Stimsonís mind. The computer identified the overlay of Stimsonís BCP elements and then shifted and blurred as Ssarsun attempted to search Stimsonís future. The tracings appeared normal to Stimson, but Ssarsun said, "Uncertainty factor too large. Why do you always fix on something so trivial that it can have any number of interchangeable outcomes? I can tell you for sure you __will__ eat lunch, but thatís about all."
"Gee, thanks, but you donít have to bite my head off. I just wanted to check the Brain Functions patterns for the record."
"Sorry. I donít intend to have your head for lunch."
The multi-ordinal joke caused the BCP tracing to blur as Ssarsun associated across a number of different cultures. It was laughter reflected on the Doctorís screen. When it cleared, the overlay of Stimsonís BCP pattern was gone. Ssarsun had broken the telepathic link without being told. He didnít usually do that. In fact, thought Stimson, Ssarsun didnít usually strain so hard at his humor. "Ssarsun, whatís eating you? Why so touchy?"
"Who, me? Iím fine."
"Then, who isnít fine?"
"There are no medical problems that I know of. Thatís your department, isnít it, Doctor?"
Stimson released the Schillian. "Now, __that__ sounded like a typical Vulcan put down. Translation: ĎI wish out-worlders would learn to mind their own business,í right?"
Suddenly serious, Ssarsun hitched himself onto a bed and let his feet dangle as he observed the human doctor. "Vulcans arenít the only people who place a high regard on privacy."
"Schillians define privacy a little differently, though, donít they?"
"Yes, but . . ."
". . . but," interrupted Stimson, "either way you define it, a manís got to be honest with his physician. Sometimes painfully honest. Ssarsun," Stimson said, tapping the screen on which the brain circuitry pattern had been displayed, "there was something here that a Schillian physician would have recognized, but which I missed."
Eyes hooded, Ssarsun was silent.
"Look, weíve been friends for quite a while. If Iíd been on that Admiralty Board, Iíd have voted for your transfer to Command, because I think youíd make a damn good captain. And Iím not usually wrong about people . . . all different kinds of people. But, Ssarsun, even a captain has to be honest with his physician."
"What makes you so sure Iím not being honest?"
"Hell, you know."
"I donít pry into other peopleís minds, Doctor. If you want me to know something, you must tell me."
Stimsonís deeply lined face went stoney. "All right. I can do arithmetic. I can even add a little. Point One: the three of you could form a triad if you chose. Point Two: anxiety readings sky high on all three to exactly the same value. Point Three: not one of you can predict more than an hour into the future. Point Four: BCP pattern shows a __very__ tenuous connection between you and Zimr-Itn with a very strong connection between Zimr and Itn. Youíre holding out on them, and it is ruining the pre-cognizant abilities of all of you. Now that might not add up to a medical problem, but it looks like a psychological problem in the offing. I canít certify you fit for duty if thereís any chance youíd be hallucinating from sensory deprivation."
"You know thatís nonsense. I can get along on far less."
"Iíve seen you. But what about Zimr and Itn?"
"They have each other."
"So they do, but they evidently require more."
"Doctor, your statements do not follow any logical thread of argument. First you are threatening to remove __me__ from duty because I might be hallucinating, and then you are threatening to remove me from duty because Zimr and Itn might be hallucinating. That just does not make sense."
Stimson threw up his hands. "Vulcans!"
"All right, as long as weíre being Vulcan today, letís just state that it is a private matter which your intervention cannot resolve. There is no effect which interferes with the performance of my duties."
"Except as a predictor youíre not worth a copper credit."
"Precognizance is not an officially recognized duty. True, with a broader meld-net as a base, we could probe farther into the future with greater resolution of detail. However, there are no standards of performance governing precognizance, and I know my own margins of error well enough not to call a danger that doesnít exist. You have no choice but to certify me fit for duty."
Stimson sighed. He knew when to quit. But he promised himself heíd keep an eye on the three of them.
For the next several days, Ssarsun managed to avoid Itn and Zimr. His feelings toward the pair were sharply mixed. On the one hand, his sympathy for their longing verged on genuine anguish. On the other, his aversion to the
wide-band rapport they instantly demanded produced an overriding panic in his heart. The average Schillian raised among the huge group-melds on the home planet would thrive on such total telepathic contact. Ssarsunís childhood on Vulcan had never included more than five or six way melds among visiting Schillians, and those were always distantly formal contacts by comparison with what Itn and Zimr demanded of him.
As a result, whenever he met the pair, Ssarsun made sure he was not left alone with them. He used every bit of the discipline heíd learned on Vulcan to keep their probes out of his inner mind. This, of course, confused and tormented the couple, until inevitably, late one evening, Ssarsunís luck ran out.
The Chief Engineer had rigged a small immersion unit, barely large enough to exercise swimming muscles, but at least filled with nonchlorinated, mildly saline water. It was a tasteless odorless liquid nothing like the warm green seas of Schillia, but at least it was devoid of the pervasive human stench that filled the ship.
Long hours juggling emergencies had left Ssarsun precious little time to himself. By the time he reached the tank, his gills were afire from the dessicating (sic RBW desiccating) air. Stripping off the red shirt and black pants of his Starfleet uniform, he emptied his lungs and sank into the water gratefully letting the fluid tease his enflamed (sic RBW inflamed) gill slits open.
He basked in the current from the oxygenating pump, surprised at the trembling in his body. He hadnít realized how far heíd exceeded the fatigue limits. The world would just have to get along without him for a while. Before he knew it, he was asleep.
The dreams that flowed through his mind like the water through his gills left little trace of their passage save to strengthen and revitalize a mind gone numb and bruised. Gradually, after several hours, the dreams began to focus and collect around a central theme---Vulcan. That hellishly dry planet with the desperately logical people and their peculiar culture, tsaichrani . . .
Stone walls of age proven tradition;
Deep valleys of quiet serenity;
Crystalline towers of thought;
Growing, reaching, yearning, groping to the stars.
He saw Vulcanís throbbing, ruby sky arched over a gem encrusted, glittering planet where each person was a lonely pylon isolated in a desert. The image was so bleak it suddenly seemed hostile. The glittering, hard, unyielding Vulcans, unknowable in their cherished privacy were transformed before his eyes from trustworthy understandable friend to unpredictable, potential enemy.
The weird, insideout negative vision shocked him to full wakefulness. Above him, the silver surface of the water parted to admit the sleek arrowing form of Zimr. The sight cleared the last webs of sleep from Ssarsunís mind. He identified the delicate probes which the other Schillian had inserted into his mind as he slept turning his dreams to nightmare.
With a shudder of revulsion, he excised those tendrils and triumphantly watched the other falter in his descent as the shock hit him. Instantly, Ssarsun regretted his callous act. He gathered himself and went to the otherís assistance, opening his mind to help support his fellow Schillian. Sensory deprivation was a familiar torture to Ssarsun, something he could take in stride when need be. Most Schillians, however, were far more sensitive. //Zimr. I did not mean to hurt you, but only to protect myself.//
//We would not harm you.// Slowly his physical reaction abated, yet Zimr still clung to Ssarsun.
//Nor I, you, intentionally.// Preparing to surface, Ssarsun tried to extricate himself from Zimrís grasp.
//Then, donít go. Put an end to this. Now.//
//I . . . canít . . . help . . . you . . .//
//You can if you will it.// The older Schillian grasped Ssarsunís hand spreading the fingers to compare the hue of the gossamer webbings. The bluish tinge of sexual maturity was clearly visible in Ssarsunís tissues, though for him it hadnít yet spread to his body scales as it had for Zimr.
The physical evidence forcibly displayed before his eyes, Ssarsun had no defense from the throbbing plea of the otherís thoughts. Their eyes met, bared of all protective lids. //Ssarsun, we do not demand any permanent commitment of you. For us, time is short, but you have many years yet. Help us now, and we will find another when we get home. But we will never forget you.//
He did not say it, but the implication lay there, plain for Ssarsun to read. He was Schillian enough to feel that they would be right in that. He could see it in Zimrís scales, now that the otherís hand lay on his for comparison. Zimr could hardly have been any bluer and still be scale gray enough to be alive!
//You should not have come. You should have gone home. Valdai would have let you.//
//It would have been all right if you had not completed our triad and then refused us.//
//I cannot . . . complete. I never offered to.//
//You did not need to offer. Your beauty offers for you. We look upon you, and we live for the first time. Deny us, and we will never live again.//
//Life continues, even for the neutered,// replied Ssarsun.
Instantly, Zimr clamped down hard on Ssarsunís hand and his mind simultaneously isolating Itn from Ssarsunís attempt at logical cheer. //Donít. Itn fears being left neutered and childless by the passing of the blue. You have years yet to make that choice. Our time is now. Help us before it is too late.//
Ssarsun did not fear the passing of the blue. He had always seen it as his inevitable role. In fact, it would be a relief when he was no longer a potential mate, and he wished it to come to him as soon as possible. Helping them meant delaying that time, and making it harder to accept when it came. Yet he was Schillian. His guts knew the desperate drive to delay that passing as long as possible. His Vulcan outlook made it seem criminal for him to deny others the right of parenthood. His Schillian emotions surged through his body swamping out his mind.
A human would have sobbed in anguish.
Ssarsun broke away from the stronger Schillian, striking for the surface with such speed that he hit air before closing his gill slits properly. He flushed water and drew air with a lung wracking cough that drove him to his knees on the edge of the tank. Delicate hands closed about him, soothing the spasms of his gill slits with their moist webs.
He looked up into the veiled eyes of Itn. Never had he seen such beauty. Moments before, they had been his enemies forcing him to act against his will. Now, suddenly, his will was theirs. He found his hands moving to the join of neck and shoulder, seeking Itnís gill slits.
They drew together, mouth to gill slits, tongues flicking, exploring delicately in tune with the exquisitely painful dilations. Zimr joined them, first mentally then physically. Though his state of arousal was already well ahead of theirs, he did not hurry them for fear of frightening Ssarsun. At first, he tried to confine the mental rapport to the areas Ssarsun had already revealed. But then, gradually, as the internal and external dilations reached maximum, Zimr began reaching deeper into Ssarsunís guarded mind. Before long, Zimr had begun forcing Ssarsun into the deeper, sustained meld they had been demanding of him.
But that was a mistake. He hit a memory-area that had been under a privacy block, and it sent an electrifying shock through all three of them. Ssarsun rolled away from them, tried to regain his feet, slipped and fell back into the pool. He sank like a stone, curled into a ball.
It was several minutes before Zimr and Itn, clutching each other for support, could catch their breaths. When the spasms caused by the severed contact had subsided, they brought Ssarsun back to the surface and coaxed him out of his fear. //Come back to us, Ssarsun. I promise I wonít do that again.//
//You couldnít help it. But I canít __stand__ it. This is not for me!//
//Ssarsun,// said Itn with the persuasiveness of his gender, //can you find it within your power to leave us now? We will not hurt you again. We will be very careful, because we donít want that to happen again.// As he went on in that vein, he moved closer to Ssarsun.
Already sensitized, Ssarsun responded strongly. Lulled by their promises to respect his mental privacy, he found his barriers softening as his private orifice began to dilate once more. When the membrane sealing Ssarsunís orifice had been completely exposed, Zimr quickly parted him from Itnís grasp and gently lowered him to the deck. Before the dilation could begin to relax, Zimr had the membrane parted and the throbbing organ released. What could have been a long and painful process in less experienced hands evinced only an inarticulate hiss from Ssarsun, his delirium scarcely disturbed.
Zimr wasted no time relieving Ssarsun of the precious genetic material. Itn parted them, demanding his rights from Zimr and received them in full measure while Ssarsun rolled aside helpless in the long ecstasy of the retraction phase. Zimrís skill was evidenced again as he brought the three of them to a simultaneous climax that left nothing to be desired. Afterwards, Zimr lay between them, an arm around each. The dilations had been total. It took a long time for the orifices to close to decent invisibility again. Together, their minds rode the lazy surf of the Schillian coasts and together, their thoughts turned naturally to predicting their mutual future.
The shock that hit the three of them then made what Ssarsun had done to them earlier seem like a pleasure. They sat up as one, eyes unveiled in dismay---there __was__ no future!
Ssarsunís withdrawal from that three-way rapport was a conditioned reflex that was to save his life, and the lives of all aboard the __Ortiz__. As the other two Schillians reached forward into that blank which was not merely their own
deaths, but the absence of any whisper of the Schillian meld-nets --- the almost subliminal __presence__ that pervaded all space no matter how far from Schillian --- Ssarsun slammed down his Vulcan trained barriers and extricated his mind from theirs and from that horrid knowledge that lurked just moments away.
His orifice not yet properly closed, the lassitude still gripping him, he forced himself to rise and move swiftly. He squirmed into his uniform, pausing only a moment when the coarse cloth rasped across delicate, exposed tissues. The alarm thrilling his nerves made that sensation painful instead of erotic. He ignored it.
When he burst onto the bridge, everything seemed quietly normal. None of the humans sensed anything amiss. The Captain was in his command chair, Valdai standing beside him talking softly. Even though the bridge was smaller than that of a Starship, the Councillorís voice did not carry to the crew working the boards around the perimeter. The main viewscreen showed star studded space apparently devoid of any menace.
Ssarsun strode directly to the command chair and confronted the Captain without formality. "Sir, this ship is in grave danger!"
Surprised, the Captain said, "Of what, Mister?"
"I donít know, Sir. But weíve seen it. Itís bad, and very close."
Valdai said, "Premonition, Ssarsun?"
"Yes, Sir. Captain, get this ship off this course before itís too late!"
Instead, the Captain turned to his Science Officer, "Walton, a sensor scan."
"Just completed, Captain. Negative. Thereís nothing out there but space and stars."
Rifflard swung his chair around and shrugged at Ssarsun. Then he said, "Helmsman, deflectors on full. Actuate all defensive hardware."
"Deflectors on. Defensive systems . . . armed!"
Rifflard look to Ssarsun, "Better?"
"No, Sir. Change course."
From the communications console, Valdai said, "Zimr and Itn donít answer my page, Captain. They could confirm this, couldnít they, Ssarsun?"
"No, Councillor. Iím afraid they are incapacitated for the moment." He turned to the Captain. "Sir, this is __bad__ whatever it is. Zimr and Itn are only civilians. Their fear reaction has them paralyzed. Iím asking you for the last time . . . change . . ."
In mid-sentence, Ssarsun choked off a gasp, all eyelids peeling back in stark terror. He fell to the deck, spinning the command chair around backwards with his weight. Before Rifflard had time to react, time seemed to stop them all dead in their tracks.
The deck bucked under foot as some weird field disrupted the gravity compensators, giving the illusion of a sudden burst of acceleration followed by an even more sudden deceleration. The Captain pitched forward out of the chair, stumbled over Ssarsunís outflung arm and fell against the railing hitting his head sharply against the stanchion.
The bizarre stretching of time seemed to recoil as if a rubber band snapped them back into place. No sooner had the effect subsided and the duty officers picked themselves up than the Navigator called from the Helmsmanís board. "Captain, weíve being fired . . . !"
A giant hand shook the ship and all in it. The intercom gave out miniature voices screaming wordless shrieks of surprise and alarm.
". . . upon," finished the Navigator lamely.
When the Captain didnít answer, the Navigator turned. The Science Officer was examining the Captainís head. The Communications Officer was calling sickbay. The Helmsman was unconscious on the floor by the turbolift doors. Valdai was helping Ssarsun to his feet.
The Navigator had a problem. Ssarsun, a full Commander outranked Walton, a Lieutenant Commander. Walton, however, was legally allowed to command the ship, Ssarsun was not, because of the law against telepaths in constant rapport with other telepaths commanding UFP ships.
Hardly before the Navigator perceived that he did have a problem, they were hit again. This time, nobody was knocked down, but boards all over the bridge went red. Reflexively, but a little late, the Navigator hit the Red Alert button.
Simultaneously, Ssarsun gained his feet ant spun the command chair around to face front. He sat in it, apparently more because he couldnít quite stand up yet than because he was taking command. Nevertheless, he said, "Red Alert, Mister Hughs." Then he hit the arm-button and spoke into the pickup, "Engine Room, Damage Report."
"Impulse power only. Donít know how long weíll have that, though. Get us out of here."
"Who is this?" said Ssarsun.
"Ensign Greymont. Commander Hill seems to be dead. Weíre waiting for the medics now."
Ssarsun said, "Walton, get down there and take command of the Engine Room. Get our warp engines back on line as soon as possible."
Walton hesitated, looking from Ssarsun to the main viewscreen which still showed nothing but empty space. Ssarsun said, "My training has been in Security, Mister Walton. I can handle the bridge, but I know little about engineering."
Valdai said, "Go on, Walton. My responsibility."
The turbolift doors parted to admit a stretcher and two medics. Walton departed.
Ssarsun said, "Lieutenant, maximum magnification. Navigator, plot us a course to the nearest Starbase Ö Ten, I should think it would be."
The main viewscreen still showed nothing. Then, suddenly, a white streak swooped across the screen and came to rest in the middle of the view. At once, Ssarsun seemed to relax in the chair. He said, "Hailing frequencies, open, Lieutenant. Helm, strike the deflectors to half-maximum. No sense wasting our impulse banks."
Incredulous at this order, the Navigator turned.
Ssarsun said, "Go to Yellow Alert. You can relax now. Thatís the __Enterprise__."
With a trace of his more usual good humor, Ssarsun said, "Of course, itís not __our__ __Enterprise__ . . . but it will do in a pinch."
At that moment, the viewscreen flickered and zeroed in on the bridge of the USS __Enterprise__. In the command chair sat the familiar figure of Spock, wearing command gold and captainís stripes. The rest of the bridge crew were unfamiliar to the __Ortiz__ people.
Spock said, "This is the USS __Enterprise__ Captain Spock commanding. What ship?"
Ssarsun answered, "__Ortiz__, Federation Council Registry Five-five-one. Why have you fired upon us?"
One classic Vulcan eyebrow raised toward hairline, Spock said, "I might ask why you are parking on the bullseye of a Starfleet target range. Would that answer your question?"
"Yes, I think it would, Captain. I think a full scale conference is in order. If you will do us the honor of beaming over with one or two of your officers . . .
"Since we were the ones who inadvertently inflicted damage, may we be the ones to offer hospitality? It is not every day that an experimental weapon transforms an asteroid into a Federation Starship complete with unknown species . . . even a pocket-sized starship like the __Ortiz__ is quite an accomplishment. The mystery interests me."
"No doubt. But I think you already know the answer."
"Transmitting beaming coordinates, __Ortiz__. "Weíll expect you in five minutes. You do use minutes, donít you?"
"Yes, weíll be there." Ssarsun motioned to the Communications Officer and the screen went blank.
As soon as the stars reappeared, he swung out of the chair and headed for the turbo-lift. "Navigator, you have the con. Iíll be in sickbay. Lieutenant, keep Damage Control working hard. We must be spaceworthy sooner than possible."
Valdai followed him into the lift. "Where are you going?"
"To get a drink. I need one."
Folding his arms across his chest, Valdai said, "Thatís an unusual thing for a commanding officer to do in the midst of an emergency."
"Well, Councillor, I would hate to be under the command of an officer who suffers from hallucinations during an emergency. Unless I get some alcohol into me, thatís whatís going to happen very soon. Deck 3."
The lift whined and dropped, shunted, and dropped again. Valdai said, "Youíll have to let Walton take it, Ssarsun."
The Schillian put out a hand to stay the doors. "Sir, I donít think Walton can do the job. Letís find out if the Captain is OK before we fight about it."
He let the doors go and they flew open. Across the narrow hall, the sickbay was a seething mass of humanity. Ssarsun wilted at the sight, but Valdai led the way down the corridor to the Chief Medical Officer door. They entered to find a quiet office leading into a private ward of three beds. On one lay the Captain, life-signs indicators dancing. On the other, lay a covered body, life-signs indicators lying mute at the bottoms of the scale. Doctor Stimson turned from the corpse, "Commander Ssarsun. Commander Hill is dead. The Captain has a concussion, possibly some slight internal bleeding may develop. I canít give him anything to wake him up. Whoís in command?"
"For the time being, I will have to take the responsibility, Doctor," said Ssarsun.
"With whom?" Zimr and Itn are . . ."
"I know how they are. Iíd like to be able to save their lives and all the rest of us, too. But I canít do it if I go crazy first."
"Iím surprised you havenít already."
"Chalk it up to clean living, Doctor. Do you happen to have any of it in stock?"
For a moment the Doctor was nonplussed. Then he remembered something Ssarsun had told him during a drinking bout some months ago on shore leave. ĎClean Livingí was a loose translation of a pun on the Schillian name for the liquor that Ssarsun favored. He chuckled, "In the lab, storage bay ĎDí."
Ssarsun went through the door at the far end of the room. Valdai said, "Doctor Stimson, Iíve never known a Schillian who could get along without a contact."
"Ssarsun canít any more than the others, but he can last another half hour or so, Iíd guess . . . if he gets drunk enough."
"What good is a drunk commanding officer?"
"Depends what he has to do."
Ssarsun returned with a bottle of Schillian Schlugtamer in one hand. "Nothing requiring coordination, Doctor. Itís Spock who will have to do the calculations. After that, I can easily turn command over to Mister Walton. By then, Zimr and Itn should be awake again. Until then, keep them under heavy sedation. Letís go, Councillor."
"Wait a moment," said Stimson. "I think you owe me an explanation, since this is a medical problem."
Ssarsun glanced at a chronometer near the table viewscreen. He took a swig of the liquor, paused, took another, then said, "Doctor, the situation is quite complex. At the moment, we have slipped out of our space time coordinates and into a parallel universe of unknown characteristics. However, there are a few things that we do know. One: in this universe, there are no Schillians."
Valdai said, "No, we know only that the UFP of this universe doesnít know about the Schillians yet."
"Contrary, Councillor. There are no Schillians here. None save Zimr, Itn and I. That is why they have gone catatonic. There isnít even the slightest whisper of an . . . hmmm . . . echo from the massive meld-nets of Schillia. There are no Schillians." He took a swig from his bottle. "Two in this universe, the __Enterprise__ is commanded by Spock, not Captain Kirk. The Spock of this universe is . . . personality-wise, somewhat different from the Spock with whom I am acquainted. The origins of that personality difference intrigue me. I
must learn why he is different and at the same time convince him to help us get home, quickly."
"Because," said Stimson, "if not quickly, you wonít make it at all."
"Right, Doctor. For me, it is only a matter of minutes. Even my own friend, Spock, could not help me in a universe where there are no Schillians."
"Then," said the Doctor watching Ssarsun guzzling Schlugtamer, "Iím going over there with you, Commander Ssarsun."
"Iím glad you volunteered, Commander Stimson. Iíd hate to be in the position of having to order you into danger." He took two last gulps from the bottle and tucked it away on a shelf. Valdaiís opinion of the Schillianís ability to command went up a notch or two.
Moments later the three men stood on transporter pads in the relatively large transporter room of the __Enterprise__. Ssarsun stepped forward holding up his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Peace and Long Life, Captain Spock."
Slanted eyebrows rose precipitously toward the receding hairline as the smooth shaven chin dropped slowly as if in dismay. However, the Vulcan aplomb was legendary even in this alternate universe. Spockís answer came smoothly even if a somewhat self-conscious imitation of the Schillianís phrasing, "Peace and Long Life, Commander. If you will follow me to the conference room . . ."
"Certainly, Captain." They followed out into the corridor where Ssarsun drew abreast. "Captain Spock, I would have expected you to offer the Commitment of Surak to my greeting."
"In this way, Commander," said Spock, indicating a door. They all filed through and took places around the long, curving table. The ship and its furnishings were so familiar that the universes just couldnít be greatly divergent, thought Ssarsun. He was beginning to hear a ringing in his ears. Sensory deprivation was a creeping reality within his mind. He punched the computer console for some background music to counteract his personal problems. The labia of his private orifice were extremely irritated from his untimely departure. It was that as much as anything that kept him sane. But he needed a drink. He said, "Where I come from, Captain Spock, it is considered polite to offer refreshment to guests. I donít suppose youíd happen to have any Terran whiskey in stock, would you?"
Loath to be caught short on diplomatic protocol, Spock ordered the beverages. It was only moments before they were served. Ssarsun drained half his glass, made appropriate comments about Terran distilleries, and said, "Now, Captain, to business."
"Indeed. Who are you?"
"Commander Ssarsun, Starfleet Security. Kieth Valdai, Federation Councillor from the Conreid Stars. Commander Stimson, Chief Medical Officer of __Ortiz__."
"There is no record of a Federation registry, __Ortiz__, nor of any race fitting your description, Commander Ssarsun."
"Yet here we are."
"And in possession of an inordinate amount of information. Surprisingly accurate information in some instances."
"Have you never encountered the alternate universes, Spock?"
"I have read the theory, and some reports, but never have I seen any concrete evidence of such transferences."
Ssarsun spread his fingers so that the pearly webs glistened. Only to his eyes was the blue evident. "In my universe, Spock, your fatherís name is Sarek and his fatherís, Suvil."
"My fatherís name is Sarek, but his fatherís name is Shariel. How is it that you come by this?"
"I know your counterpart rather well. He has encountered parallel universe transferences and succeeded in restoring imbalances by calculating the conditions and moments of reverse transfer. Iíve been hoping you could do this for us."
"Iíll have my Science Officer begin on it immediately."
"No. There is a severe time limitation. In less than an hour, I and two other Schillians will probably die unless we can get back to our own time. There are no Schillians here." He took another pull on his drink.
"What makes you think I could do it faster?"
"Your counterpart could. In fact, your counterpart would have already made most of the relevant calculations. I know you want to stall us here until you can study us and our computer banks and determine the differences between our universes. But, Spock, to do this would be to violate the Commitment of Surak."
"Surak was a great man, perhaps the greatest of all Vulcans. But I do not know this, ĎCommitment of Surakí of which you speak."
"Surakís Construct stands upon five principles: The Philosophy of Nome, the Philosophy of the Idic, Domination of Logic, Reverence for Life, and Privacy. To delay us in our return would be to place the Idic above the Domination of Logic and to destroy life. Such behaviour would be illogical."
"The Commitment of Surak, then, is to abide by these five principles?"
"That is correct. One indicates oneís commitment to Surakís philosphy (sic RBW philosophy) by this sign," he said holding up his webbed fingers separated into a "V" with opposing thumb isolated and ticked off the meaning of each digit as it formed the symbol, "Privacy stands alone, Reverance (sic RBW Reverence) for Life and Domination of Logic are an inseparable pair, and Nome-Idic are of equal stature. This sign, together with the words, ĎLive Long and Prosperí are a guarantee to adhere to the dictates of Surakís Construct. I am not Vulcan, so the most I can usually offer is the lesser commitment of, ĎPeace and Long Lifeí."
"It is a concept of great beauty. I would like to visit the Vulcan of your universe."
"There is no telling what disruption such cross visits might entail. In our universe," said Ssarsun, "many scientists are engaged in developing the theory of level travel. Perhaps one day it can be made safe, even with profitable trade of knowledge, if not artifacts. Right now, we believe that the less effect that one universe has on another, the less chance for disaster. That is another reason we dare not tarry here a moment longer than necessary."
"You argue like a Vulcan."
"Thank you, I consider that a great compliment, especially from Spock."
"Are you so sure I am anything like your Spock?"
Ssarsun drained his glass, placing it firmly on the table before him. "Iím willing to find out, and at the same time convince you of the urgency of our request." He rose and walked around the table toward Spock.
The Vulcan rose to meet him, wary and alert. Ssarsun was anything but alert. The liquor had begun to take effect. And he hadnít had anything to eat since the previous day. He took the easiest approach he knew, marshalled his mind into strict discipline putting away the pain the coarse uniform cloth caused him every time he moved. At all costs that pain and its associations must not reach this Spock.
When he reached the Vulcan, Ssarsun raised his hands spread for a skull contact and said, "We will do this the Vulcan way."
Two steely hands lashed out and caught his wrists. "Do what the Vulcan way?"
"A brief, relatively shallow, mindmeld, I assure you I know what Iím doing."
Spock looked at the spread fingers, not at all repelled by the gossamer webbing, but rather distrustful of the pattern the fingers formed. "You may, but I do not. I am only half Vulcan, and I am not trained in the use of the mindmeld."
"Shariel did not train you? You are not a Guardian?"
"Guardian of what?"
"The Tradition. Are you not kataytikh?"
Spock shook his head cautiously. "Either your accent is bad, or that category does not exist here."
In Vulcan, Ssarsun said, "My accent is passable most of the time."
"Fascinating," said Spock.
"Ah, yes, indeed. But I havenít time to be fascinated. You have completed the calculations, havenít you?"
Spock looked at the hands he held. "What is it you wanted to do?"
//Only this, Spock, to show you why you must release the calculations now and help us get home.// Ssarsun conjured within the Vulcanís mind some of the sights, sounds, smells, and the general feel of several different Vulcan cities. He concentrated his demonstration on details that revealed the extent of the Domination of Logic and Reverence for Life while trying to keep his emotional reactions under control.
Because of this Spockís lack of training in the science of mind, Ssarsun was afraid to give him a glimpse of the Schillian meldnet. Instead, he concentrated on showing this Spock a glimpse of the general precepts of Vulcan behaviour in action. He took the scenes from his own memory, a city here, a family met there, a vacation trip somewhere else. He showed this Spock a Vulcan living at peace with itself, creative, intensely competitive, yet deeply respectful to all living things.
Then, in quick succession, he showed him the results of the inroads the Federation culture had made upon the prevailing peace. The nature of disputes reaching the courts gradually changed. The number of Divorces by Challenge took a sharp rise. Industrial espionage made its planetary debut. And the most shocking news headline --- a contract had been signed for the export of Vulcan animals to be slaughtered for meat.
That last brought Captain Spock to sharp attention. His people, too, were vegetarians, opposed to the slaughter of animals for food. His Vulcan, too, had suffered similar changes under the impact of the Federation. Though his people did not seem aware of any threat. His counterpart, Commander Spock, was the leader of a movement slowly gathering followers who were alarmed at the symptoms already visible in the daily Vulcan news.
Almost before Ssarsun knew what was happening, Spock had seized on his knowledge of the other Spock and plumbed the depths of that knowledge. Only his privacy blocks stopped that thirsty mind. Untrained and insensitive though this Spock was, he was a man of supremely tenacious will. Ssarsun severed the contact, saying aloud, "So you see why you must help us return and discover the truth about the theft of the Kraith. The disappearance of the Ortiz could be the first step toward interstellar war."
"That is your Vulcan, not mine. I am not bound by its laws or its fate."
"Donít play with us any more, Spock, your own Vulcan is not so different, is it?"
Spock didnít answer. He still held the Schillianís wrists.
"Schillians are full telepaths, Spock. We donít need physical contact. But we have a dire weakness. We need constant telepathic contact with a telepath in order to maintain sanity. In our universe, any telepathic mind will do. But here, the lack of others of our kind leaves an emptiness that we cannot tolerate. The only reason Iím not catatonic already is my Vulcan upbringing."
Spock released the hands.
"I have paid by showing you our Vulcan. Now send us home."
"You have paid richly. The calculations are complete. Tell your Captain to set course one-one-three-mark-seven, warp one for two and one half minutes. We will lay down a barrage ahead of that course, and at the appropriate moment, we will fire directly at the Ortiz. The special stresses should be a perfect reverse of what brought you here, and we will have our asteroid back."
Ssarsun shook out a communicator. "Ssarsun to Walton."
"Ortiz. (sic RBW "Ortiz.) Walton here."
"Can you give us warp one for three minutes, Mister Walton?"
"Yes, Sir. Can do."
"Thank you, Mister Walton. Stand by."
"Standing by. Ortiz, out."
Ssarsun held up his hand. "Live Long and Prosper, Captain Spock. I hope the failure of your mission doesnít cause you too much difficulty." Ssarsun led his small group to the door, Stimson lingered. "Tell me, Captain Spock, have you ever heard of a Captain James T. Kirk?"
"This shipís last commanding officer was Captain Kirk. He died in the line of duty."
"Oh, I see." Stimson rejoined his group at the transporter door. They climbed onto the pads and were whisked back to their own ship.
Ssarsun said, "You shouldnít have asked him that, Doctor."
"I wanted to know. Jimís my friend."
"Yes, but what Spock meant to say was that he wasnít able to save Jim Kirkís life. And even in this universe, those two were friends. Even a Vulcan can know grief."
"Not as sorry as youíll be if this Spock decides not to send us home."
"Why should he do that?" They were walking down the Deck Three corridor to sickbay and turned into the Doctorís office before Ssarsun answered. "Because he saw a Vulcan which could have taught him to save Jim Kirkís life many times over. Heíll be eager for that knowledge and weíre taking it away from him --- possibly at the cost of his career."
"I donít understand."
"This was no mere accident, Doctor. That Spock fetched us here on purpose. It was his mission." Ssarsun extracted his bottle from where heíd cached it and took a long pull. "Iíd feel easier if heíd return the Commitment of Surak."
He took another pull on the bottle, stashed it safely and headed for the bridge.
A fresh bridge crew member filled the Helmsmanís chair. The others were still on duty. Walton came in behind Ssarsun. "Commander," he said softly, so none would hear but Ssarsun, "are you well?"
"Iíll last. Take the sensors and stay alert."
"Helm, course one-one-three-mark-seven, warp one for two and one-half minutes --- stand by to execute on my countdown."
"Aye, Sir. One-one-three-mark-seven, warp one, two and one half minutes. Standing by."
"Deflectors and defensive systems on full."
"Deflectors and defensive systems on full."
"Theyíre going to be shooting at us. Sound Red Alert, impact warning. We donít want any more injuries."
That earned him some curious stares, but the crew went to work securing ship for a shakeup.
"Hailing frequencies open. Get the Enterprise (sic RBW Enterprise) on the forward screen."
The stars flicked off and the Enterprise (sic RBW Enterprise) bridge replaced them. Spock sat in the command chair, his crew busy around him. "Commander Ssarsun, standby to execute on my countdown."
Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan salute as he had before, but this time he said, "May You Live Long and Prosper, Ssarsun."
"May You Live Long and Prosper, Spock."
"Ten Second Warning. We will retreat to firing distance. Mark."
The Spock image disappeared. The white streak smeared itself across their screen. Ssarsun chanted, "Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, . . . Three, Two, One, Helm, execute."
It was a bumpy, nauseating ride, but suddenly a big fist slammed into their rear sending them through a hole in space-time big enough to shove a ship through.
When it was over, Ssarsun stood up, swaying slightly, and said, "Your ship, Mister Walton. Iím not qualified to command on this side of that barrier."
He staggered off the bridge into Valdaiís arms. The lift doors closed on the two of them. Valdai said, "Sickbay."
The lift dropped. "Ssarsun, theyíre awake!"
"I know, but Iím dead drunk. Wonder if anybody aboard thought to bring along any good, Schillian hangover remedies?"
"How about hair of the dog?"
"Good olí Schillian tradition, that. Wonít work this time, though. Drank too much, too fast."
"Iíve got another one. How about an appointment to Command Officerís Training School at Starfleet Academy? Youíve earned at least that much, and if a Councillor canít swing it, heís not worth the paper his credentials are printed on."
They reeled into the hallway, crossed to the Doctorís office and went on in. Ssarsun threw himself onto the bed with a groan. "Now thatís no hangover remedy, but it makes the sacrifice worthwhile. I accept, Councillor. OHHH," he groaned, as the uniform cloth did violence to his tissues again.
Stimson came in with a pair of surgical scissors. "Lie still, Ssarsun. I know what you three have been up to, and what you in particular should not have been up to so soon afterwards. Goodbye, Councillor. See you later. Take another drink Ssarsun, this is going to hurt."
Valdai tiptoed out. The door closed on Sarsunís (sic RBW Ssarsunís) "Donít you dare . . . ohhhhhh!" and Zimrís "Shut up Ssarsun. You have a lesson to learn."
Ssarsun groaned once more and was still. Stimson glanced at the life-signs panel. "Unconscious."
"Yes, Doctor." said Zimr from the neighboring bed. "Work well now. There is danger of infection." It was his first time."
"I figured as much. Humans may not be telepaths, but weíre not all stupid." He trailed off on a low whistle. "Inflamed already. He was in water?"
"Yes. The Ziturian?"
"Itíll be all right. I have a good pan-spectrum anti-biotic stock of Schillian hormones. Need something to create some good strong contractions."
"You take care of the infection -- weíll handle the rest of it."
Stimson looked over his shoulder eyeing first one Schillian and then the other. "Itís a deal." He turned back and armed his air-hypo with a flourish. There wouldnít have been any infection if it hadnít been his first time and if he hadnít started dilating under water. Zimr should have known better. But that wasnít the sort of thing a human doctor could reprimand a Schillian for. Stimson knew when to stop.
END KRAITH COLLECTED VOLUME 2
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