SECRET OF GROSKIN
Admiral Freemont placed both hands on his desk and spoke across the lightyears that separated him from the __Enterprise__. "Captain Kirk. A situation has arisen which I believe can’t be handled by anyone else."
"I’m listening, Sir." Kirk adjusted the viewscreen on his desk so that Freemont seemed to look straight out at him. The Admiral had salt-and-pepper hair swiftly receding from a deeply tanned forehead. Kirk judged him near retirement age.
"Since your crew testified before the Starfleet subcommittee, Thirlev’s supporters have been gaining ground. Now, some of the human admirals are going to be asked to retire early in order to make room for hastily promoted nonhumans. You can imagine the chaos that could result."
At Kirk’s nod, Freemont picked up a tape as if about to hand it over. We’ve been given a test situation to see if this plan is feasible. A number of problems have been chosen for the human admirals while an equivalent brace of problems has been assigned to the nonhuman flag officers. One of the most important of our assignments is a little planet called Groskin."
"Never heard of it, Sir."
"It was discovered by the Medusans. They formed an alliance with the Andorians in an attempt to study the planet thoroughly, but they were unsuccessful. Its main value at the moment is sociological."
"Sociological . . . value, Sir?"
"Yes, you see, Groskin has five sentient races living in peace together. Apparently, they don’t have a machine-age technology yet, but they are in the middle of the horsecollar revolution. As soon as one of those five races thinks of it, the industrial revolution will spread like a nova’s corona."
"Which means that we’ll have to work under severe restrictions."
"The severest, Captain. I’ve arranged for you to abide by Schedule D."
"The proposed Directive?"
"Right. I know, it’s not ratified yet. But laws require field testing just like any new machine."
"Yes, Sir. But just what is our mission?"
"Groskin is located on the far border of Sector Twenty . . . and it’s the only Class M-I planet in the vicinity. Your assignment is to secure permission from the natives to use a particular river delta for a Starfleet R&R installation. You will then garrison a staff of xenologists there to study the locals---‘Towsin’ they call themselves. You will pose as natives of another continent of their planet. There must be no mistakes on this mission."
"There won’t be."
"Remember, the Andorians failed five separate times to gain the native’s confidence . . . and they at least have the same color skin as the Towsin. If you succeed, it will demonstrate once and for all that the Admiralty’s judgment concerning you . . . human values is not unjustified."
"Your official orders will arrive within the hour. Freemont, out."
Kirk spun his chair around and rocked meditatively. Admiral Freemont would reap half the credit if the __Enterprise__ succeeded. But if they failed, James T. Kirk would take all the blame.
Fist clenched, Kirk punched the intercom. "Mr. Spock to briefing room twelve, immediately."
Near noon of the fourth day after receiving the assignment, the __Enterprise__ assumed standard orbit about Groskin.
Kirk was eating lunch in his quarters while Spock had the con. Soon, they would keep the Andorian’s appointment with the local chieftain, Towsin Mirmel, and somehow succeed where the nonhumans had failed. Kirk had no idea how he would succeed because, after days of study, he still didn’t know why the others had failed.
Suddenly, the damage control hooters began to whoop stridently. Over the din, the speakers erupted with order for the Damage Control duty officer and then, "Captain Kirk to Mr. Spock’s quarters. There’s been an explosion."
Kirk made the distance at a fast trot, arriving just as Spock strode out of the turbo-lift joining McCoy who came from the opposite direction. McCoy looked from Spock to the green smoke billowing from the open door. "Well, nobody hurt?"
Without breaking stride, Spock elbowed his way through the knot of Damage Control crewmen and dove into the smoke. There was a sizzling crackle and a bolt of chartreuse lightening etched itself across the doorway. Then the smoke stopped billowing and the Vulcan emerged carrying a limp form cradled in his arms.
The damage control crew began spraying coarse globules of some quasi-liquid into the air. Within moments, the smoke was gathered and precipitated to the floor while the aromatic globules popped like soap bubbles. But neither the Captain nor the Doctor noticed.
McCoy shooed crewmen away to make space for the Vulcan to lay his burden. It was Lieutenant Tanya Minos.
Stunned, Kirk knelt to examine the singed face. "Bones!"
Silently, McCoy went over her with a medical scanner while Kirk rose. "Spock, what happened?"
"My . . . idlomputt . . . exploded, Captain."
"The Culling Flame?" Kirk knew that despite its gargoyle danger-symbol, the firepot that many of Starfleet’s Vulcans kept were certified absolutely safe. "But, it doesn’t generate enough heat to ignite a phosphorous match!"
"Correct, Captain. There is no way it could accidentally cause damage of any sort."
"But . . . accidentally? Are you saying . . ."
"Yes, T’Aniyeh triggered the explosion deliberately."
"But how can a firepot explode?"
"It is not actually a fire, Captain. As with the Flame Spheres, there is a reserve of power which can be released by a mind attuned to the unit."
"But how could Tanya . . . I mean I thought it was a very, well, personal sort of possession."
"T’Aniyeh is partially trained in the use of the idlomputt. I made the requisite adjustments so she could use mine."
Two orderlies came with a stretcher and took the unconscious girl away. McCoy rose. "She’ll be all right. Slight concussion but no burns."
"It could have killed her, couldn’t it, Spock?"
"Yes, Captain, it could have."
"Mr. Spock?" A crewman stepped forward. "Perhaps this is a bad time, but . . ."
(RBW Note. Drawing of an idlomputt.)
"This package came for you this morning. I was trying to deliver it when the explosion occurred."
"Thank you, Ensign." Spock took the box in one hand. It was rectangular, flat like a jewelry box but not very heavy.
One of the damage control men emerged from the green haze that still drifted in the doorway. "Mr. Spock, I’m afraid everything in there is a total loss. Something corrosive spattered all over and the smoke . . ."
"Yes, I saw, Mr. Mauser. Thank you."
"Spock, you’ll be assigned temporary quarters later. Mr. Mauser, just close up when you are through. Gentlemen," Kirk said, including McCoy, "Let us adjourn to the briefing room."
As they seated themselves around the table, McCoy said thoughtfully, "What would make a Vulcan commit suicide?"
"T’Aniyeh is not wholly Vulcan."
"I know that," drawled McCoy. "But I know some of the reasons humans commit suicide and some of the reasons they don’t. But I’ve never seen that aspect of Vulcan culture analyzed."
Spock took his place at the computer console and flashed Tanya’s psychological profiles on the tri-screen. "Do you see anything that would indicate such an instability Doctor?"
"No," growled McCoy. "I’ve studied those profiles until I’m crosseyed from it. She’s healthy. If you call her anti-human attitude healthy."
"I do," said Spock without elaborating.
"Well, then," Kirk slapped the table. "Tell me this. Why did she blow up your room?"
"I don’t know."
"You’d better see if you can find out why," said McCoy, "because of all the people on this ship only you and Tanya knew that firepot could blow up. You entrusted her with a dangerous . . ."
"You can’t accuse me of negligence, Doctor. You cleared her to handle phasers and similar dangerous equipment. Even a tricorder can be caused to explode."
Kirk frowned. "You’re certain she must have done it deliberately? It couldn’t have been an accident?"
Spock toyed with the package before him. The idlomputt was a quasi-telepathic device. The trick of releasing all the nascent energy at once required timing and coordination. "It was deliberate Captain. No other possibility."
"But, why?" asked Kirk. "Could she have any reason to want to hurt you?"
"Illogical, Captain. If she wanted to hurt me, she’d have triggered it to explode when I activated it."
"But your room is a mess," objected McCoy.
"Nothing of any value was destroyed."
"Except," said Kirk, "our confidence in Tanya. I was going to use her in the contact party. She’s a competent linguist with a flare for this kind of work."
"Spock," said McCoy thoughtfully, "she destroyed your Culling Flame. Doesn’t that hurt you? Isn’t it essential to your own psychological well-being?"
"Not that essential, Doctor. I can construct a new one easily enough."
"So we’re back where we started," said McCoy. "No motive."
"Well, Bones, I guess we’ll just have to ask her why she did it."
"Not today you won’t. That concussion will keep her out for hours, and I’ve left orders for sedatives if necessary. A blow on the head can be very bad for a telepath, you know."
Suddenly, Spock sat bolt upright muttering something under his breath. Glancing at the humans in consternation, he charged out the door. By the time they caught up with him, he was emerging from the smoking ruin of his quarters.
"Well?" asked Kirk.
"Certain items were laid on the Flame before it was triggered. They were totally
"Which items, may I ask?" said McCoy.
"Those necessary for constructing a new Culling Flame."
"Fascinating," said Kirk.
They paced along the corridor back to the briefing room lost in thought. Once again settled at the computer console Spock said. "No, Captain, not fascinating, but illogical."
"If she wanted to deprive me of the Culling Flame, the time to destroy it would be after we leave Federation space on the six year mission . . . not now. As it is, I will merely order a replacement."
"Expensive," said McCoy.
"So is a blow on the head," said Kirk. Then he brightened, "Could she have supposed she’d get off without being hurt?"
"Improbable, Captain. The risk in such an undertaking is very high. On the order of . . ."
"Skip it. What time is it?"
McCoy jumped up. "Time to go! The Towsin make a fetish of punctuality. Has something to do with their visualization of time."
Spock rose, one hand on the com-button. "Who will assume T’Aniyeh’s place?"
Kirk looked at the Vulcan in sudden comprehension. "That’s the worst effect of what she did. Spock was she scared of this mission?"
McCoy snorted. "She didn’t want to go, that’s for sure."
"Negative, Doctor. She was anticipating a pleasurable experience."
"How do you know?" asked Kirk.
"She told me."
"Whom shall I summon, Captain?"
"Nobody. We’ll go alone. Bones, get your kit and meet us in the transporter room."
Ten minutes later the trio mounted the pads of the transporter. No communicators hung from their belts; no phasers nestled beside the universal translator’s loops, and the loops themselves were missing. Instead McCoy had inserted a small unit under the skin of each man’s arm. It would serve not only to translate for them but also to make a permanent record in the __Enterprise’s__ log of all that occurred below.
Kirk looked his men over. "Mr. Spock, what’s that in your hand?"
Spock picked up his hand and examined the package as if he’d never seen it before. "Mail, Captain. I haven’t yet been assigned quarters . . ." He broke the seals and flipped up the lid of the box. Frowning he plucked black fuzz out of the dark interior and came up with a long, intricately carved chain.
"A fine piece of jewelry," said Kirk admiringly. "Why don’t you just let Scotty take care of it for you until we get back?"
The Engineer started to step around the transporter console, but stopped as Spock said, "Sorry, Sir, I can’t do that." He held out the chain for Kirk’s inspection. "Recognize the carving?"
"Looks just like that chain T’Uriamne wore . . ."
"It is a miniature copy. It is very like a badge of office, Captain. Since I have no place to put it, may I be allowed to wear it?"
"All right. Scotty, whenever you’re ready, energize."
Hastily, Spock discarded the box and looped the long chain around one shoulder, across his chest and then around his waist.
They materialized beside a wide, deceptively placid river. True to expectation, a boat made from native material (but by offworld craftsmen) floated at anchor. They scrambled aboard and set the sail noting with some trepidation that the sail was decorated with Andorian symbols. With Kirk at the tiller, the little craft scudded briskly down the river toward the appointed place. Within fifteen minutes, they came in sight of the delta island that they were to secure for Starfleet. Kirk drew a deep lungful of the spicy air. It did indeed look like a pleasant place to take a dose of R&R.
Spock sat absently fingering his chain, staring off into the distance, apparently unaware of the great beauty about him. At length McCoy said, "Seasick, Spock?"
"No, Doctor." The denial fell into the silence with the thud of a dead tennis ball.
Kirk cleared his throat. "Uhummm, why don’t you tell us about the chain, Spock? On Earth, the officials of cities used to use chains as badges of office . . . but I’ll bet this one is different."
"It is indeed, Captain. You have a proverb, ‘a chain is as strong as its weakest link.’ The first time I heard it, I thought it somewhat oblique."
"Oblique?" said McCoy edging himself toward the centerboard. "In what way?"
"In the same way that the human mind seemed oblique, Doctor."
McCoy glanced at the lowering sun and back at Spock’s chain. The links were of some golden alloy that seemed to collect the sunlight into warm pools. Each link was intricately carved and in the center hung a tiny medallion which, McCoy guessed, was a replica of the komatt representing the name of each Guardian on the Council. He recognized T’Pau’s as it was larger than the others. But what else could a chain symbolize other than teamwork?
"All right," said McCoy, "you’ve got me beat. What does a chain symbolize on Vulcan?"
The First Officer picked up the end of the chain, wrapped it around his fingers, let it fall off, curled it in the palm of one hand, stretched it out straight, then curled it again. "Could you do that with a wire as many times as with a chain before it would break?"
"No, certainly not."
Spock gathered a length of the chain and pulled on it with both hands, obviously using most of his great strength in an attempt to break it. "Yet it is as strong as a wire. Each link is rigid, but the structure as a whole is flexible. Tsaichrani is founded on regulations which are strong and rigid.
"Some of us," he fingered the medallion, "are designated Guardians over the strength of one set of regulations, for in truth, the chain is no stronger than its weakest link. But a society which is rigid breaks before the pressures of evolution. So, our Tradition is not formed as a solid shaft connecting what was with what will be . . . rather it is a chain, having both rigidity and flexibility. A chain can transmit force around corners where a rod would shatter."
"So," said Kirk, "when it comes to understanding how Vulcan society functions, you are an expert?"
"Of sorts. Even the head of the Guardian Council cannot understand all."
"Even so, that makes you the xenologist in this party."
"The society of the Lowmin and Towsin is not likely to be a logical one, Captain. Logical societies are very rare, even though they are fairly simple to understand."
"Not for me, they’re not," said McCoy.
"Well," said Kirk squinting ahead, "you said you understood something about sails. I suggest you get busy."
Glancing at the pier they were approaching, McCoy ducked under the boom and muttered something salty. But he performed the duties with a surprising alacrity, steadying their tiny craft as Kirk leaped ashore with the painter. Then the doctor made a big show of helping the Vulcan ashore.
Spock let McCoy have his fun before he pointed out that despite the fact that Vulcans don’t sail for recreation seamanship was required for graduation from the Academy.
They had only moments to wait before the delegation of Lowmin who were to meet them came marching from between two hulking warehouses. There were eight of the humanoids. Dressed in well-tailored, soft leathers, they were indigo skinned, slender people with almost perfectly spherical skulls. The group looked friendly though there were no females among them.
Kirk stepped forward to be met by one of the group.
"You are from beyond the sea?"
"We are, yes." Kirk winced as his head tingled in warning. He knew it was only the Schedule D psycho-conditioning preventing him from saying too much, but it left him uncomfortable.
"You are punctual," said the native solemnly.
"As my hosts are punctual." Kirk returned the compliment.
"Then let us proceed. The Towsin are punctual."
Kirk knew the Towsin were the noblemen of this feudal culture. The Lowmin were the peasants according to the Andorian tapes. But Kirk saw no signs of peasantry in his guides. No overdeveloped muscles, no starvation, not much grime or callous on the hands, good clothes . . . they seemed neither over-worked nor under-fed and moved with the surety of those accustomed to ruling, not to being ruled.
They trudged up the bank from the wide sluggish river and entered a stone-paved street of weathered buildings.
The street opened out onto a large plaza which had some polygonal shape Kirk couldn’t name. But there was no community well or fountain here. Kirk wondered if they had piped water. The sewers were open troughs in the paving stones, but they were covered with a network of live vines on which one could walk.
There were women and children gathered about the market stalls at one side of the square. These citizens ignored the strangers with cosmopolitan sophistication. Marching behind the guides Kirk wondered what these people used for transportation. No animals or carts were visible on the twisted streets.
At the other side of the plaza they entered another street overhung with balconies and festooned with laundry. They passed a tiny cafe with a few tables outside. A girl scrubbing the table with singleminded diligence caught Kirk’s eye and returned to work with renewed determination. This Kirk found bewildering as the setting was more in keeping with a negligent flip of a filthy rag than any practice of asepsis.
Finally they climbed flight after flight of steps carved from the living rock of an escarpment above the town. Set well back from the edge of the cliff and surrounded by lesser structures was the wall of a castle. There was no moat and no portcullis, only a bare archway leading into the court before the keep.
The building itself was a multiplex of towers thrusting skyward as if in a static effort to pull free of the festoons of varicolored cables that hung between them like cobwebs among pirate’s treasure. Never had Kirk seen such an eye-shattering sight as the glittering mosaics that coated those towers. He gathered the distinct impression it wasn’t just reflected sunlight, but an inner fire that burned brighter than the sun.
However, the throne room was reassuringly standard. A single immense chair at the apex of a V of lesser chairs occupied a raised dais. The hangings were soft and rich, though undecorated. There were no chairs for the guests who were, Kirk surmised, expected to kneel.
Almost before he’d really looked the room over, five Towsin arrived. They were a darker indigo-skinned breed with shocking white hair that stood out from their spherical heads in a halo. None seemed old, yet all carried themselves with the unbending dignity of the aged. They entered one at a time through the hangings and took places . . . on the smaller chairs.
Kirk looked questioningly at the throne. Apparently they weren’t going to be granted an audience with the important one. But then one of the Lowsin stepped forward and intoned with grand formality, "Strangers, these are the Towsin of Lhoredy. No higher authority exists in Lhoredy."
Kirk introduced himself and McCoy---but when he got to Spock there arose such a buzzing in his ears he couldn’t go on.
The buzz rose to a howl that threatened to crack his skull. But while the Captain and his companions fell to their knees clutching their bursting heads, one of the Towsin struggled to speak to another pointing at Spock. The one who spoke suddenly toppled down the steps where he lay at Kirk’s feet, unconscious but still twitching spasmodically. Another Towsin staggered to the wall behind the throne and brought back something that looked like a hose made from very fine chain-mesh.
As he twisted the nozzle, the empty cylinder of the hose stiffened as if some sort of fluid flowed its length and issued from the orifice which he aimed at Spock.
Instantly, the chain shimmered and began to glow bright orange! It was a cold light that seemed to slice into the brain and freeze his very thoughts in the making. But, at the same time. Kirk felt the pain subsiding as the cold numbed him.
Through the shimmering haze of orange light, Kirk saw Spock fumble with the chain until he worked free of it and flung it away. Then the Vulcan slumped to the floor, apparently unconscious.
The haze cleared quickly when one of the Lowmin yanked down a heavy drape and heaped it over the chain. The Towsin manning the hose twisted the nozzle, and the hose collapsed. Then he drew himself up in righteous indignation and roared, "Lowmin! Take these away from us. Confine them as if they were detestable beasts unfit for the company of others. Let it be known that no weapon of mass destruction will be tolerated in the presence of the Towsin!"
Still sick from the frozen pain, Kirk only felt himself dragged away from the scene
behind Spock who was rolled in a drapery and transported like an oversized sausage. They were taken out of the castle, down twisting stairs to a rough wood stockade just outside the castle wall. After the three of them had been thrust inside the stockade, the gate was nailed shut with the finality of a coffin lid.
After a time, Kirk struggled to his feet and focused his eyes. The stockade walls were about twenty feet high with a wicked set of spikes jutting out from the top. The spikes gleamed with a red paste that Kirk thought must certainly be poison. He shuddered and surveyed the enclosure. It was floored with smooth stone. A sewer channel cut across one corner. There was a small fountain and catch basin obviously intended to supply drinking water. Clean straw was piled near one wall where a slight overhang from the castle abutments protected it from dew.
The sun was going down, and it was getting very chilly.
Wordlessly, Kirk helped McCoy move Spock onto the pile of straw. The Vulcan had been hit hard by the bizarre forces unleashed by the Towsin, but it wasn’t long before he was conscious and apparently unhurt. At length McCoy pronounced him fit, and Kirk stood over him, worried concern turning to a peculiar anger. "What the hell happened, Spock?"
Squinting upwards at his Captain, Spock said, "If you’ll speak a little louder Sir. I think I will be able to hear you."
"It was some sort of sonic?" asked Kirk.
"Yes, Sir, among other things."
"What did he mean, weapon? Was that chain some sort of weapon?"
"Not unless any sort of chain is considered a weapon among these people."
"Hardly likely," said McCoy. "That little trinket of yours was obviously jewelry."
Spock placed both hands over his ears and closed his eyes for several moments. At length, he shook his head again. "That’s better now. My hearing has returned to ninety percent of normal. You needn’t shout."
Kirk threw himself down on the straw beside the Vulcan and seized his right arm, pushing the sleeve up. Where the translator unit was embedded, the Vulcan’s arm showed a greenish bruise while Kirk’s own was angry red and very tender.
"The transmitter must have overloaded," said Spock. "Fortunate."
Kirk pierced the dusk with a glance. "What do you mean, fortunate? Scotty will be going crazy . . . but this time he can’t do anything to help us until we get back to the beamdown point. If he does interfere, the repercussions won’t stop short of the Federation Council itself!"
"If the transmitter hadn’t overloaded, the resonances would have destroyed the translator which would leave us unable to communicate with our captors."
McCoy paced. "Some good that’s going to do us until we find out why they turned against us."
"I can think of only one possible explanation---and it is impossible."
"Well," said Kirk, "out with it!"
Spock sighed, "It must have been the t’aith emanations. The Towsin are telepathic, apparently."
"T’aith emanations!" cried Kirk bouncing to his feet. "First the perfectly harmless firepot practically blows the ship apart, and now a piece of innocent jewelry attacks our hosts! Don’t you think . . ."
"Captain." Spock’s low voice cut through the tirade restoring reason. "Nobody could possibly predict any sort of adverse reaction to t’aith---no more than you would expect humanoids to go into convulsions from exposure to your body heat. T’aith could not possibly be construed as a weapon. The universal translator itself is a stronger telepathic interference, and it is barely perceptible to the most highly trained minds."
"Then," said McCoy, "maybe it was the universal translators they objected to?"
"Negative, Doctor. If it had been the translators, the Lowmin guides would have reacted. They, too, are sensitive. We would never have reached the throne room. It must have been some combination of circumstances peculiar to the room and its occupants."
Kirk sighed. "Now let me get this straight. The chain puts out a signal which can affect a telepath?"
"Of course," repeated Kirk. "All Vulcan jewelry puts out telepathic signals."
Spock leaned his head against the stone wall and looked up patiently. "Negative Captain. Only items concerned with identification. The t’aith pattern of each link corresponds exactly to the pattern of each Guardian. The t’aith is amplified only when the proper person touches the proper link. Otherwise, it is imperceptible."
"But," said McCoy, "one of those links is tuned to you, isn’t it?"
"True. And that must be the source of the Towsin’s discomfort . . . though I am at a loss to understand the reason."
"You should have left it with Scotty," said Kirk.
"I could not have done that, Sir."
"Would it have hurt him?"
"Well, if you’d left it with him, you’d be getting it back just as soon as we finished here. Now it looks like you’ll never see it again."
Spock only frowned into the deep shadows, averting his face from the humans.
Suddenly, there was a loud smack on the far side of the compound. Kirk ran to see what had happened. He took one glance and turned. "Soup’s on."
McCoy approached cautiously. A white cloth wrapped around a haunch of some sort of meat had landed on the stones. It had been skinned and roasted, then served still warm.
"I wonder." said McCoy eyeing the unappetizing grease, "how long they intend to keep us here."
"We may as well eat," said Kirk. "Bio cleared the native foods. The Andorian tests found nothing in the microbes to worry us. And," he grinned slyly, "It would be a change from reconstituted meatloaf."
"Well," said McCoy dubiously, "what are we going to eat with?"
Kirk wriggled his fingers under McCoy’s nose and went purposefully toward the fountain to scrub as best he could without soap. Reluctantly, McCoy followed suit. He, too, had a feeling they’d be there for a long time to come.
"Spock?" called Kirk.
"No thank you, Captain."
Kirk shrugged. The meat came apart easily in his hands and tasted fine. The logic of the situation would prevail in a few days no doubt. Meanwhile, he had no business pushing his values onto his nonhuman crewman . . . or so said Thirlev and his supporters.
After sunset, they all burrowed into the heap of straw, clinging together against the chill. The mysterious, multicolored glow from the castle towers lit the city more effectively than any moon. The heavy beat of sentry boots on stone was the only sound left after the city quieted.
How many nights would they spend this way, wondered Kirk. They had come prepared to be here a week as guests. Scotty would wait that long at least. And probably another week to make sure. Then he’d have to report to Freemont. Would they mount a search?
The first two Andorian expeditions had disappeared without a trace. The last one had been rebuffed but had managed to set up this appointment for Starfleet. Nowhere in the Andorian tapes was there mention of telepathy among the natives. So they’d learned something, anyway. How long should they wait before trying a jailbreak?
Kirk fell asleep mulling that one over.
The days piled up in monotonous routine. The two humans took to chattering incessantly at each other while the Vulcan rarely moved, and as far as the humans knew, never slept.
The main excitement of the week occurred when they decided to tie up the moldering meat scraps in the white cloths and throw them back over the wall. There was a malicious glee in hearing the startled cries from the other side.
But by noon of the second dreary day after that, Kirk had still found no way to attract the attention of their captors. Spock had been unable to make contact with Tanya, claiming some sort of telepathic interference from the castle. This sent Kirk to pacing circles around the fountain, groping for something he almost understood---some connection between Tanya, telepathy, t’aith and their current situation.
Dropping down on the straw beside his First Officer, Kirk said, "Spock, does the Culling Flame emit . . . t’aith?"
"Naturally. How else could it function?"
"And to the Towsin, T’aith is a weapon. Do you suppose Tanya got some sort of--well Premonition---about that and destroyed all the t’aith emanators aboard in order to avoid . . ."
McCoy slammed fist to palm. "Jim, that’s it! The only explanation! Tanya isn’t the suicidal type, but sacrifice is well within her character. Why didn’t we think of it before?"
Vulcan brows climbed in appreciation. "True the only items deliberately destroyed were t’aith emanators. The other damage was only incidental." For the first time in days, Spock rose and moved to the center of the pen where he could get a clear view of the scintillating towers. And as he looked, his eyes widened as if he saw and comprehended for the first time.
Kirk saw his friend come alive for the first time in days with his typical delight in new knowledge. It was as if a spirit consumed by a fatal disease had suddenly been granted a reprieve.
McCoy asked, "Does Tanya know the chain is an emanator?"
"Of course. But she doesn’t know I have it."
"You don’t," said Kirk. "The Towsin have it, if they haven’t melted it down for scrap. Don’t you think you should __do__ something to try to get it back?"
Spock continued to stare at the towers as he answered absently, "To attempt to escape from a secure pen is the act of an animal."
Kirk and McCoy traded glances, looked from Spock to the towers, and then locked gazes again as they chorused, "That’s it!"
The unharmonious duet attracted Spock’s attention. "What is what?"
In unison, the two advanced on the Vulcan, each taking one arm and escorting him back to the straw. Solicitously, McCoy said, "You shouldn’t be on your feet, Spock. You’re starving to death, suffering from exposure and other deprivations. You’re about to loose consciousness, aren’t you?"
Spock looked to Kirk for help, but Kirk only nodded, "Yea, Bones, his eyes are beginning to glaze over. He’s certainly not long for this world."
That atrocious pun earned Kirk a piercing stab from his Schedule D conditioning, but he continued, "Quick, here they come with dinner. You just passed out."
Eyes closed, Spock answered remotely, "Affirmative, captain."
Meanwhile, Kirk plunged across the compound to the spot where the cloth wrapped haunch had just arrived. He took a deep breath and hollered, "Hey! Guard! My friend’s sick. He can’t eat meat. He’s starving to death!"
There was a low murmur from the crowd on the other side of the wall, but nobody answered him. Kirk yelled, "You tell the Towsin that among us, even the animals are entitled to medical care. We are beginning to doubt if Lhoredy is fit to associate with us!"
But as with all the other times he’d tried to talk to their captors, there was no response at all. He strode back to where Spock lay apparently oblivious to their surroundings. "Keep it up, Mr. Spock. Unless I miss my guess, they’ll be back with a higher official soon."
The dusk turned to night and nothing happened. Eventually, they burrowed into the straw, and Kirk made sure Spock was well covered before sleep overtook them all.
At dawn, Kirk roused to the sound of nails being drawn screechingly out of wood. "Bones! This is it! Wake up!"
"Wha . . ?"
"They’re here. Come on." He stood, brushing straw out of his hair. Then he dug Spock out of the heap. "Spock. Hang on just a few minutes more. Your audience is about to arrive."
They waited by the door until it was pried open a crack. Four Lowmin edged in and pounced on Kirk and McCoy, binding their hands behind their backs with leather thongs. Then the door swung wide admitting the five Towsin of the throne room in V formation.
The middle Towsin approached the recumbent Vulcan, and passed his hands slowly over the still body, finally encircling the head with what looked like gentle concern.
Kirk said, "He meant you no harm and look what you’ve done to him! Is this the way you always treat ambassadors? We are a peaceful people, far from home, among strangers. How could we dare harm any of you?"
The Towsin rose and turned to his companions. "This one suffers as we would suffer here. He is a man. We must make amends."
"No, High One. He almost killed Fedre. Those others are not men. They eat flesh. They speak only with sounds."
"But," said another, "they have a device which amplifies for them."
"Did they make the device?" asked another Towsin. "No. It must be the product of the man’s wisdom. They are animals."
The leader said, "Are the Drur animals because they learned horticulture from the Ktith?"
"But he uses man’s science to contest with force the clear decisions of logic. Is it not true that the only difference between man and beast is that among beasts strength prevails while among men wisdom settles all differences?"
Kirk stepped up to the Towsin, "And so it is among our people. We settle our disputes only with wisdom spoken in council chambers . . . we use force of weapons only against beasts who would overcome us with their unthinking strength."
"Then why," said the high one, "Did he try to kill Thvin?"
"He didn’t," said Kirk. "It was all an accident. A misunderstanding. Surely you can’t expect complete strangers to know all your customs? You do not know ours. You do not know how we have suffered in this beast’s pen. But yet we do not blame you. We hold no ill will toward you for your ignorance. We do not threaten to exterminate Lhoredy as if you were vermin because you have treated us as vermin. We ask again to negotiate as equals. We are men just as you are men."
Abruptly, the High One motioned to the Lowmin by the door to carry Spock out. The four who had tied the human’s hands cut the thongs and stood back like an honor guard. As the exiting procession formed, the High One came to Kirk. "Forgive us for arguing while you languished in distress. It seemed logical at the time."
Kirk began to nod, but coughed spasmodically. Logical! But all he said was, "Forgiveness can only be granted by men."
"I see now that you are indeed men; however strange your habits may be."
"Fine. Let’s forget the whole incident and start fresh."
"Selective memory erasure is against our principles." The Towsin turned and stalked off regally, letting the Lowmin take charge of his guests.
Three hours later after a hot bath and an enormous vegetarian meal, Kirk sat across from the five Towsin. He felt somewhat at a disadvantage with only McCoy on his side of the long stone table that separated them. But he expected Spock momentarily, and that should even the odds.
In the center of the table sat a murky glass sphere in which was just visible the chain which had started this whole thing. Kirk said, "Will you return my friend’s property?"
"I regret that may be impossible . . ."
"And I," said Spock from the archway, "Regret the injury you suffered, Fedre. Never has a race been discovered that reacted so disastrously to a simple patterning device."
"You claim then," said the High One, "that this is not intended as a weapon to disrupt our __thrultar__?"
"Definitely not," said Spock. "Among my people, it would take ten to the tenth power times as much force to disrupt our equivalent of your thrultar."
"You then are Towsin among your people and these are as Lowmin?"
"As I understand it, we have no direct equivalent."
"But," said Fedre, "you can manipulate __thrultar__."
"Among my people, such skills are taught to a few that they be not lost . . . but they are of no practical use."
"I don’t understand," said Fedre. "If you can manipulate __thrultar__ and he," he indicated Kirk, "cannot, how is it that __he__ speaks for __you__?"
"He is my captain."
This brought a murmured exchange among the Towsin, and Kirk wondered how that term had translated. Probably Liege Lord or something similar judging from the feudal state these people seemed to live under.
"Then," the High One cut off the debate saying, "he is responsible for your actions?"
"I am responsible to him for my actions."
After another hasty conference the High One said, "That seems illogical."
"The logic, gentlemen, may be symbolized by the chain which you have confiscated. Within my field of expertise, my judgment is unchallenged. The same is true of the captain. The same is
true of the doctor. Yet we link ourselves together to provide flexibility for our strengths. The captain is the central link to which all others are joined."
This pronouncement brought on yet another conference between the five. At length the High One declared, "It is indeed logical. Since you are all linked thusly, you must all bear responsibility for bringing a weapon into our __thrultar__."
"But," said Kirk, "it’s not a weapon!"
"We were destroyed by it," said Fedre relentlessly. "Such is the function of weapons. It must be proved in test that it is not a weapon."
"And if we can prove the chain is no weapon," said Kirk, "will you grant my people a lease on your delta island?"
"Non sequitur," ruled the High One.
"My captain does not always govern his thoughts with the strictest logic, however, his conclusions are usually valid."
Fedre pounced on that. "Then he is __not__ a man!"
"One moment," cautioned the High One, "there is a relationship here we do not fully comprehend. The Spock could not live among those governed by the illogic of beasts."
"Thank you, High One," said Spock bowing graciously. "When logic is required, the captain consults me. When I require a non-logical evaluation, I consult him. Thus we share our strengths."
"Such a system," said Fedre thoughtfully, "would also abrogate weaknesses. It is logical. Nevertheless, I call for the Test on this weapon."
"And that too, is the only logical course," said the High One. "We will adjourn to the laboratory." He rose and swept out of the room carrying the sphere as if it were filled with nitroglycerin.
Kirk followed the procession down stone corridors and up narrow, twisting stairs -- all polished to a scrupulous cleanliness. Every few hundred feet there was a niche with a glazed window through which Kirk could see they were climbing the inside if a central tower coated with mosaics. Save for that, it looked like the keep of a feudal castle -- but a __laboratory__?
About two-thirds of the way up, they came to a large airy room surrounded by open balconies. Surprisingly, the altitude didn’t seem to reach the wind-whipped heights Kirk associated with such towers. Noon sunlight poured in, striking gleaming highlights off polished glassware and metal. The place looked like a cross between an alchemist’s den and Scotty’s machine shop.
The five Towsin took places around a massive horseshoe workbench and began a ritual that reminded Kirk of the countdown for a twentieth century missile launch. From a nozzle that hung under the bench, a shaft of ruby light struck out to hit the floor inside the horseshoe. Another nozzle lowered itself from the underside of the bench and, after a moment’s hesitation, zeroed in on the ruby light’s target with a shaft of green light. Finally, a cone of golden light sprang from the ceiling directly above the intersection point veiling the target in misty ripples of nearly tangible light.
The Towsin locked their controls and left their places, continuing the orderly drill. Two of them wrestled a pair of eight-foot tall posts from one corner, and, with great precision, placed them in the target area of the lights.
Meanwhile, the High One retreated to the balcony where he shattered the sphere with a twisted wand. Fedre busied himself positioning small devices around the base of each pole while his assistant tested the aim. Another Towsin finished some other measurement and moved to help Fedre complete his task.
At length the three conferred and then turned to Spock approaching in triangular formation. Docilely, the Vulcan allowed himself to be escorted out onto the balcony opposite where the High One stood holding out the chain with a pair of long handled insulating tongs.
Spock did not seem worried to Kirk’s experienced eye; rather, the Science Officer seemed to regard the entire performance with bemused astonishment.
As soon as Spock was in position, the High One came back into the room and stepped up onto a stool to drape the chain between the tops of the two poles. He handled it with such care Kirk was beginning to think of it as extremely dangerous.
When he’d fastened the ends so the chain hung down in a graceful parabola, Fedre came and removed the stool while one of the others rolled out a cloudy glass disk about a foot thick and positioned it between the two Doles to form a dies.
Now, the cone of golden light played down upon the area containing the two poles, the draped chain, and directly beneath the center of the chain a round glassy dies. The shafts of ruby and green light still converged at the exact center of the cone where the dies seemed to gather them together and pulse ever brighter.
Silently, the five Towsin returned to their places gesturing Spock to rejoin the group. They worked among their controls for a few seconds and then a sheet of rainbow haze sprang to scintillating life between the two posts and beneath the chain. Braids of clear orange fire spiraled around the posts like palpable electricity.
The High One came around to Kirk’s side. "Now, you must pass through the membrane without breaking it. When all three of you have done so, we will discuss the matter which brought you here. It will be as if you had never brought destruction into our chambers."
Spock walked around the outside of the assembled test, careful not to pass between the workbench and the posts for fear of breaking the ruby and green lightbeams. He examined the glowing dies from every angle, sighted along the spotlights, measured the angles with his eyes; then put out a hand to the dancing braids of orange fire, cautiously feeling out how close he dared come. Hands behind his back, he examined the array from all sides until, finally, he turned to the High One.
"If we pass the test, the chain will be destroyed. If we fail, __we__ will be destroyed."
"Of course. If you pass the test, the chain will be payment for the destruction it wrought. If you fail the test you will be payment for the destruction you wrought."
"Logical," agreed Spock.
Indignant, Kirk took a breath to object, but the High One cut him off with a withering glance and serenely accepted Spock’s compliment, "Thank you."
"Now wait just a minute!" McCoy burst out of his self imposed silence, "You can’t . . ."
Spock silenced him with a terse gesture. "If we had brought a weapon into a __thrultar__, we would be guilty of a crime which would logically require the surrender of life. Since we did not, are in no danger."
"But," said Kirk, "your chain will be destroyed!" He turned to the High One. "That is an invaluable heirloom of enormous significance to my friend! It’s destruction cannot be accepted lightly."
The High One addressed Spock. "It has another function?"
"It has many functions. Loss of it will be considered disgraceful. However, I possess nothing which could replace that which it accidentally took from you. Therefore, it is your right to claim it as your own."
"Spock!" said Kirk horrified.
The Vulcan held up a restraining hand while the Towsin went into conference. Kirk subsided, aware that Spock probably understood the situation better than he. He consoled himself with the promise of extracting a full explanation later.
At length, the High One said, "The test will proceed."
"But first," said Spock, "I ask leave to protect my associates from the disorientation. They are sensitive to the forces used here and might suffer irreversible damage."
Fedre frowned, "You __are__ Towsin?"
"My people used such things," Spock gestured to the test area. "I am a student of ancient history. We no longer depend on power grids such as your __thrultar__ to light our homes and provide services. But a few of us remember."
"Very well, then. Proceed." The High One took his place along the bench and adjusted his instruments.
Turning to McCoy, Spock said, "A state resembling mild hypnosis will be necessary Doctor. With your permission?"
McCoy took a deep breath. "Is this really needed, Spock?"
"You will thank me for it."
"All right. Let’s get it over with."
The Vulcan touched his fingertips together, and then he passed his hands lightly over the doctor’s forehead. He stepped back. "Just walk through the veil, doctor, and wait on the other side. Remain calm. Any severe emotional disturbance could be fatal.
McCoy stepped up onto the glass disk and moved through the shimmering curtain of light. There was a faint sound as a soap bubble breaking. Then he was standing on the other side squinting at the Towsin arrayed before his as if his vision were blurred.
Spock turned to Kirk who nodded brusquely. He administered the same light touch releasing Kirk to walk through the curtain of rainbows. Kirk emerged from the other side, one hand
to his head, nursing an incipient migraine. The Vulcan followed on his Captain’s heels, moving out hastily.
A moment later the chain disappeared in a rain of molten metal. The orange braids of light crawled back into the floor, The spotlights winked out -- first the ruby, then the green.
Imperturbably, the High One glided toward the exit. "Very well, then. Let us convene the negotiations."
Once again the conference room, the High One faced them. "I have seen the Spock provide logic. Logic could be accepted only by a man. I have seen the Kirk accept the Spock’s logic. The Kirk is a man. We negotiate as men."
Kirk took a deep breath and launched into the speech he’d prepared so long ago. After some haggling about limitations and conditions concerning the number of different foreign species who could occupy the delta, Kirk concluded the agreement. It was easier than he’d expected since the Towsin were eager to make amends for treating guests as animals.
The captain gave assurances that cautious investigators would come first to ascertain the hazards of misunderstanding that lurked between civilizations. Then the Star Fleet officers departed leaving only the appointment for the follow up xenologists.
Kirk could hardly wait to see Freemont’s face when he learned that Groskin housed a another logical society . . . one developing along the same lines that ancient Vulcan had -- first logic, philosophy, biological science, and then esper technology used to supply the electric power that Earth had liberated from fossil fuels. He wondered how his ancestors would have reacted to strangers whose presence rendered the vast 20th century power grids inoperative.
Then he made a special note to recommend Tanya for a commendation and a long, special leave to enjoy a bonus in.
(RBW Note. Drawing of female in profile.)
COUP DE GRACE
Crewman Folsome was screaming when they brought him into Sickbay, but McCoy’s air-hypo quieted him down quickly. McCoy lifted the sheet that draped the casualty’s body and felt his stomach turn over as it hadn’t since his sophomore year in medical school. He didn’t even hear Spock and Kirk skid to a halt just outside the door. The doctor was still tingling with shock when the Vulcan gently took the sheet from his hands and laid it back over the partially dissolved legs and the raw abdomen.
Spock was the first to break the silence, "Where did this happen?"
"Where?" McCoy flared as if blaming the First Officer for the injury, "You don’t ask ‘how’ or ‘when’ but only __where__?"
"‘How’ is obvious . . . xsrthi attack . . . plainly a recent one or he’d be dead. ‘Where’ is the only logical question." Spock delivered this speech slowly, granting the human time to adjust to the situation.
"Uh, Mr. Spock?" Crewman Langwright stepped away from the wall, a tall, lanky blond nursing a bloody nose, "I was there. I can show you on the map . . ."
"Excellent, Mr. Langwright. Use that screen, " (sic RBW screen,") he pointed to the Sickbay’s desk viewer and turned back to McCoy, but before he could speak. Kirk said, "Bones, can you save him?"
"Well, yes, but . . ."
"Then you’d better get busy," Kirk snapped, "Mr. Spock, I’ve seen that expression before. What’s bothering you?"
Langwright called, "I’ve got the map, sir."
Spock led the way to the desk, "Captain, xsrthi do not normally attack warm-blooded creatures. When they do, it is often due to either extensive provocation . . . or a disease induced insanity." The Vulcan leaned down to examine the screen where Langwright was pointing, automatically noting the co-ordinates, "Do you have a view of the exact place?"
"Yes," said Langwright working the controls, "the tricorder was feeding back to the ship’s log at the time."
A scene appeared on the screen: a rift cut in the solid stone of the bleak desert floor and, at the bottom of the rift, scraggly, salt encrusted vegetation surrounding blank patches of smooth sand. In the foreground, a huge mound of mottled flesh was in the process of engulfing a struggling figure . . . Crewman Folsome.
Langwright pointed shakily to one of the patches of sand. "It came up out of that one, Mr. Spock, a big slug, with edges like . . ."
The Science Officer interrupted, "Did it go back down the same hole?"
"Hole, sir?" Langwright twisted around in the chair to eye the Vulcan blankly over his handkerchief, "There wasn’t any hole, sir. The sand just flowed right back . . ."
"Each of those sand patches is a ‘hole’, Mr. Langwright. Did the creature go back into the same one?"
"Yes, sir. It just disappeared."
"I see. What was Mr. Folsome doing just before the creature attacked him?"
"Snipping samples off the bushes with tin-snips. I was holding the branch with a spanner I’d borrowed from Mr. Scott when . . ."
"Thank you, Mr. Langwright. Now if you’ll be good enough to accompany me back to the site of the attack . . ."
Langwright paled and couldn’t hide the trembling of his body.
Kirk said, "I don’t think that will be necessary, Mr. Spock. We’re about through with this planet. We’ll complete the survey of the rest of the system and . . ."
"Begging the Captain’s pardon," Spock said stiffly, "But the Science Department is not yet finished with this world."
Kirk tilted his head to one side and eyed the Vulcan speculatively, "You know something I don’t?"
"I’m more concerned with what I __don’t__ know, captain."
"Which is?" prompted Kirk.
"__Why__ that xsrthi attacked our specimen collectors. From Mr. Langwright’s description, the attack was unprovoked."
"That’s the third time you’ve named the creature a . . . well, whatever you said. Why do you call it that?"
"It’s a general description which includes all carnivores with such habits."
"Are they common on Vulcan?" prompted Kirk.
"And" added Kirk nodding, "this is a Vulcan-type world. But what I don’t understand is why you insist on going down there? You’ve got all the specimens . . ."
Spock repeated, "We don’t know why this creature . . ."
"Why do you want to know why?" asked Kirk doggedly.
"Because it is important if we are to save Folsome’s life."
"McCoy joined the group, "I didn’t see any signs of poison."
Spock turned to Langwright, "Did Mr. Folsome disturb the sand hole at any time during his presence in the gorge?"
"No, sir, not that I saw. We were working on the plants."
Spock turned to Kirk, "Captain, I formally request permission to conduct an investigation. As far as I can see, the attack on Mr. Folsome was unprovoked."
"Spock, what are you thinking?" McCoy said.
"That a puzzling circumstance should be investigated. The standing orders of a survey mission . . ."
Kirk said, "All right, Mr. Spock. Conduct your investigation. But see to it that no more men are lost on that planet. Report to me in twenty-four hours." He eyed Langwright, "Crewman, come with me." Then he turned and marched out of the Sickbay, Langwright on his heels.
Spock shrugged an eyebrow and punched out a call for a security team to meet him in the transporter room.
The sun was still high in the burning sky as the First Officer and his security team materialized on the parched rock table just above the dry gorge where the sand holes lay in treacherous innocence.
Spock looked around, noting the twisted, wind molded scrub-vines still gleaming in the spring coat of salt crystals; the almost white sky seemed bluer as his eyes adjusted to the glare; and the distant black peaks of the continental ridge mountains were just visible in the distance. At night, one could see the orange glow of eruptions even from here. It was an uninviting wilderness even by Vulcan standards . . . but it was not a dead place.
The First Officer approached the edge of the canyon gingerly and craned his neck to find the trail that had been cut out of the rock with phasers. He found it and eased himself over the rim, leading the three security guards who’d volunteered for this mission.
They’d volunteered only after Spock had announced his intention to kill the beast that had attacked Folsome. Killing wasn’t the Vulcan way, nor was arousing the lust for revenge. But Spock knew he had to have that carcass in order to run the tests that might avoid a plague . . . and if that required inciting humans to revenge, he was prepared to accept the guilt.
They reached the bottom of the gorge and advanced single file. Ensign Piermont, a plump youngster with freckles, gestured with a phaser at one of the sand holes, "It’s like quicksand, isn’t it Mr. Spock?"
"In a way, Ensign. Although on Earth ‘quicksand’ doesn’t support the wide variety of fauna generally found in the Vulcan analog. And," he added circling a small, pale white patch that resembled thin farina, "the mathematics is quite different."
The three humans looked at one another and shrugged, joining in the thought that there were advantages to being in Ship’s Services rather than in Sciences. The man at the rear, Lt. Harris muttered, "The Mathematics of Quicksand. Just what I needed for Christmas!" His black skin already glistened with sweat.
"What was that, Lieutenant?" asked Spock.
"Making up a gift list for my friend, the rock-gardener."
"I suggest," answered the Vulcan mildly, "that you keep your mind on the job, Lieutenant."
Finally, they arrived at the sight of the skirmish. The shrubbery had been trampled and several shorn plants evidenced the passage of human specimen collectors. Spock picked up one of the broken branches, shook some of the salt crystals into his hand and tasted them cautiously. Yes, he thought, mostly potassium chloride with only a slight admixture of sodium. That should do it.
"Mr. Philmore, take your small bag and collect as much of these salts as you can. Lt. Harris guard Mr. Philmore. Mr. Piermont come with me."
The group separated and within five minutes they had two pounds of the salts in their bags. When they gathered again around the site of the attack, the humans were wiping sweat from their eyes and wishing for a quick beam up. Spock hefted the two bags of salt and eyed the eight foot diameter sand hole. Quickly, he made a crude estimate of the activity coefficients and transport numbers of the impure mixture and then nodded, "Take cover and remain absolutely still until I signal. You know the plan."
"Mr. Spock," said Piermont, "how do you know this will work? There could be any number of those creatures down there . . ."
"I doubt that, Ensign. A carnivore of such bulk requires a large territory to supply its needs."
"Still . . . ," said Harris dubiously, "how can we be certain we’ve got the right one?"
"We have the tape which shows the attacker clearly," lectured Spock with grieved patience. "We shall know from its markings if it is the same one."
Muttering, the humans dispersed. When they were safely crouched behind rocks, the Science Officer sprinkled handfuls of the salt over the surface of the sand hole, looking unintentionally like a retired executive feeding the pigeons. Then he took his own place several yards from the hole . . . as bait.
An hour passed and nothing moved under the fierce sun. Spock noted several varieties of night blooming plants and a pervasive aroma that told of adequate underground water. He searched the sides of the cliff upstream and down until he spotted the caves he knew had to be there. Undoubtedly, there would be free running water within and that meant free running carnivores thronging the gorge at night. He squinted at the angle of the sun and recalculated his dispersal quotients in a close imitation of human nervousness. He wasn’t eager to be in the gorge at dusk.
Suddenly, the surface of the sand hole heaved, puckered and spewed forth a seething mass of grey skirted flesh that undulated across the soupy surface and surged out on firm ground making straight for Spock, and moving faster than a charging lythma.
The Vulcan paused a moment to admire the beast’s grace and to ascertain if the hide bore the same markings as Fulsome’s attacker.
"Fire, Mr. Spock, fire!!" screamed Piermont.
"Spock!" shrieked Philmore, "What’s the matter? Should we shoot?"
The First Officer calmly held up a hand to deter rash action and continued to observe the orange tinge around the edges of the beast’s flanged foot. He pursed his lips and nodded. He watched it charge another ten feet closer, examining its co-ordination carefully.
When the thing was less than five feet from him, Spock raised his phaser and waited for the flap of armor-tissue to rise in preparation for the strike. He wanted to dispatch it neatly. It was a female and might be carrying young.
At the last possible second, he fired a narrow beam through the mass the creature used as a brain. It skidded to a halt not two feet from his boots, twitched a few times and died.
The three humans came trotting out of concealment, and Harris demanded, "Mr. Spock, why didn’t you fire? You could have been killed!"
"I was in no danger, Lieutenant."
Philmore choked, "How can you say that sir!? The beast was ready to eat you like it did Folsome."
"Xsrthi are quasi-telepathic. They use brain emanations on certain wavelengths much as the pit-viper uses infa-red. To become ‘invisible’ one merely controls one’s thoughts." Spock turned to find Philmore and relieved him of the telescoping pole he carried at his belt. "Mr. Piermont, collect the tricorder. Lt. Harris give me a hand with the carcass."
Shaking his head ruefully, Piermont went to get the tricorder that had been set to record the scene for the log, and, incidentally, to signal for an emergency beam up if anyone called the code word.
Spock took the long probe, extended it to full length, and inserted it between the lump of flaccid tissue and the hard ground, "Lieutenant, you have the large specimen bag?"
Harris produced a folded sheet of white material and handed it to Spock. It was flat sheet that could be made into a bag by sealing the edges. The First Officer said, " Now, if you gentlemen will lift the body by means of this lever . . ."
Harris and Philmore moved in to lean hard on the pole as Spock kicked a rock into fulcrum position. Soggily, the edge of the mass of flesh lifted clear of the ground and Spock moved in cautiously. He threw the specimen bag over the creature as a fisherman might spread a net in the wind. Then he used the impervious fabric of the bag to heave the creature onto its side.
Yes, he thought, a female . . . and with a whelp. He took the pole and prodded the baby away from the dead mother. "Fortunately," he said grunting, "the whelp is old enough to survive alone. We’ll leave it in that sand hole over there." He picked the whelp up on the end of the pole, draped like so much soggy dough, and tossed it into the chosen hole like a farmer forking hay.
Harris said, "Do you think that wise? If the mother was diseased . . ."
Spock said, "There is little chance for such a young one to have contracted any disease inimical to warm-blooded creatures."
The humans paused to squint dubiously at the Vulcan, then they bent to the task like the trained team they were. Soon they had the bag sealed around the carcass and then they placed all the instruments that had touched it into the quarantine box. Two minutes later, they were aboard the __Enterprise__ delivering the cargo to a special anti-grav isolation unit that awaited it.
Spock insisted on conducting the biological analyses himself, then he ran rack after rack of spot tests assisted by Nurse Chapel and nineteen technicians. When the lab work was done, the Vulcan sat up all night over the computer checking and rechecking. It was fine to insist that genetic analysis eliminated the need for growing cultures, but Spock knew the pitfalls of the method very well. He wished fervently that he had time to wait for the cultures to mature, but Fulsome’s fever was already rising.
Finally, he pushed himself away from the console, stretched and headed for Sickbay. It was late enough into the ship’s morning that McCoy should have finished breakfast.
Sickbay was quiet except for the urgent beeping of the diagnostic panel over Folsome’s bed. Presently, Nurse Chapel hurried in from the office and administered another heavy dose of the pain-reliever McCoy had prescribed. She fussed about feeling helpless until the beeping subsided. The man was in such pain and one look at his body was enough to make anyone wish him an easy death.
"Nurse," said Spock softly.
Christine started guiltily, and said, "Yes, Mr. Spock?"
"Where is Dr. McCoy?"
"In his office . . . with the captain."
"Thank you there should be no need to disturb them." He strode purposefully toward the bed and plucked the air-hypo from her hand to examine its setting, "You just administered 5cc?"
"Yes, but . . ."
Spock nodded and reset the instrument to deliver a double dose. Then, holding the hypo in one hand, he looked up at the diagnostic panel and down at the bloated body. Finally, he
sighed deeply and began to administer the second dose while the flabbergasted nurse gesticulated helplessly. She would have seized the hypo but McCoy’s voice interrupted, "Mr. Spock!"
The doctor strode into the room and paused, "What to you think you’re doing?"
Kirk followed close on McCoy’s heels, "Yes, Mr. Spock explain!"
Without looking at them, Spock froze. He said, "There’s no time to argue, captain. This must be done."
McCoy strode toward the Vulcan, "Are you out of your mind. Another dose of this will kill him."
"I’m aware of that, doctor," said the First Officer and calmly plunged the trigger home.
McCoy leaped the last two yards to the patient’s side, "Nurse, twelve cc of Kaoninone."
Christine ran out the door leaving Kirk staring at the First Officer in shock. Finally, the captain managed to whisper, "Mr. Spock, if that man dies, you’ll be guilty of murder."
"Yes, sir. It is sufficient that only one of us be guilty. I take full responsibility."
McCoy watched the life sign indicators falling and then turned to Spock, cold with fury, "I thought mercy-killing was against Vulcan ethics."
"It’s not a question of mercy doctor. But a question of survival. The lab tests indicate that he is infected with kye-fi-par. If his body temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, the spores will . . ."
The nurse returned breathlessly, "Here it is, doctor," she said slapping a new air-hypo into McCoy’s hand with professional brusqueness.
Automatically, McCoy started to administer the antidote and then paused, "Kye-fi-par . . ." he repeated, "Vulcan __rabies__! But I thought that was eradicated two centuries ago!"
Spock nodded, "On Vulcan."
Horrified, McCoy looked at the hypo holding the antidote and then down at the patient.
"Go ahead, doctor," said Spock calmly watching the indicators, "Satisfy the requirements of your oath. You can’t save him now."
McCoy followed his gaze to the electronic miracle whose assistance he welcomed but whose philosophy he loathed. He read the indicators and then methodically administered the injection, "Spock, are you absolutely certain?"
"You will have absolute confirmation within three days. when the cultures mature. And you will probably live to evaluate those cultures personally, doctor."
Kirk snapped, "Mr. Spock, consider yourself confined to quarters. Need I call a security detail to escort you?"
"No. sir. I have no other plans." No, his thought continued to himself, the act I’ve just performed requires a period of intense meditation.
On his way out the door, Spock paused to say to McCoy, "When he dies, be sure to place the body in cryo-storage, with absolutely perfect isolation and handled by the most scrupulous technique. In fact, I would suggest that the procedure commence immediately, although it may already be too late." Then he left and the door slipped shut behind him.
Kirk stared at the closed door for a few seconds and then at his Chief Surgeon, "Bones, I want an interim report from you within the hour . . . and keep me posted on Folsome’s condition. I’ll be in my quarters." He started for the door but McCoy said, "Hold it."
"Folsome’s condition isn’t likely to change much, Jim. He’s dead. My final report will be on your desk within the hour."
Kirk took a deep breath, nodded once and set out for the door again. It seemed a long trip to the corridor and he was very weary. What a way to end a brilliant career.
It was fully two weeks later when the reply came from Starfleet Command and Kirk settled down with the Captain’s decoder to view the tape in the locked privacy of his quarters. Spock had neither eaten nor slept in the whole two weeks. The few times Kirk had visited him, he’d found the Vulcan either seated crosslegged with his lytherette, or stretched out on the bed. Either way, Spock had been oblivious of the captain’s presence and soon Kirk had departed in silence.
Now the Captain found his hands shaking as he deposited the tape in the decoder and
hooked it into the viewscreen. It ran about five minutes and when it was finished, Kirk replayed it three times to make sure he understood. Then he jammed the apparatus back into his safe and took off for Spock’s quarters, restraining himself from running in the corridor only by sternest self-discipline.
As usual, the Vulcan was seated with his instrument, plucking at the strings in what sounded like random discords. Kirk had found himself utterly unable to appreciate Vulcan symphonies composed on beat-frequencies and he winced as his teeth vibrated unpleasantly.
"Spock, put that thing away and listen to me."
The Vulcan looked up and silenced his instrument but didn’t set it aside, "Yes, captain?"
"The answer came today from Starfleet Command."
The First Officer nodded placidly, "Yes."
Exasperated, Kirk flared, "Well, aren’t you even curious?"
"I try not to be."
Kirk threw up his hands in mock despair, "Here I’ve been bending over backwards to save your neck and you aren’t even interested in the results."
Mildly, the Vulcan said, "I didn’t say that. Logically, I must interest myself in the verdict since it affects what I shall be doing for the rest of this afternoon."
Frowning, Kirk reached down and snatched the lytherette from him, "On your feet, Commander."
Spock rose with an alacrity that belied the hours he’d spent in that position, "Aye, aye, sir." And he came to attention with a parade ground snap that must have been audible all the way to the Academy.
Kirk walked around the Vulcan like an Academy instructor discovering a cadet who’d reported for Admiral’s Inspection in pajamas. But, in truth, Kirk found nothing counter-regulation except the near skeletal thinness of the Vulcan.
When he’d drawn out the agony as long as he could, Kirk said, "You are hereby ordered to eat a good meal . . . and then report to the bridge and resume your duties. You’ve been docked six months’ pay . . . and that’s the sum total of penalties leveled against you. Reading between the lines I think somebody has been teaching Vulcan medical history to a certain Admiral Laurilard. You wouldn’t happen to know who that somebody might be, would you?"
Kirk doubted that, but he said sternly, "I’ll want to see you in my quarters in four hours. Come prepared to discuss the Starfleet Manual regarding discipline in the Service. That is all. Dismissed."
Kirk marched smartly toward the door. Then he paused, walked back to hand Spock the lytherette and returned to the door. As it slid open before him, he said, "Oh, and Mr. Spock."
Kirk allowed himself a thin smile. "Don’t ever do anything like that again."
"Sir," said the Vulcan gravely, "I certainly hope I will not be required to do so."
Kirk stepped out into the corridor and let the door close behind him. That answered his question. Spock was content in his own mind that he’d done the right thing. But how, thought Kirk, could the Vulcan rationalize a cold-blooded killing! No matter. Spock could view it as a matter of logical necessity and it was Spock’s conscience that Kirk had been most worried about. He had enough problems without being saddled with a Vulcan hatching a guilt complex.
For example, in three weeks time, they’d be passing the effective sub-space radio perimeter of the Federation and they’d be literally on their own.
COUP DE PARTIE
Ruth Berman Kraith IIIC(1)
Leaving Spock’s room, Kirk went to Sickbay. In the lift it occurred to him that he had scarcely seen McCoy in the two weeks since Folsome’s death. He knew, of course, that the Doctor had been upset when Spock deliberately killed a man to prevent the spread of kye-fi-par -- Vulcan rabies. Still he was sure McCoy would be glad to learn that Spock’s career was not going to suffer as a result.
"Where’s McCoy?" he asked, after swinging into Sickbay and finding only Nurse Chapel, checking readings on a couple of crewmen with minor complaints.
"Down the hall, sir, in the lab."
"Oh, so that’s where he’s been the last couple of weeks?"
"Yes, sir, he’s been doing some research."
"Thanks." Kirk went on down to the lab.
McCoy was sipping a cold drink and studying a tape. He snapped off his viewer and set down his drink at the captain’s entrance. "Something wrong, sir?"
It occurred to Kirk, with a little shock of surprise, that on the few times they had met recently McCoy had been constantly sir-ing him. "Bones, what’s eating you?"
McCoy pursed his lips and held out one hand as if weighing his answer, "Working too hard, maybe."
Kirk wasn’t satisfied, but decided to let it ride until McCoy felt like talking. Instead he sat down and told McCoy about Starfleet’s decision on Spock.
"Docked six months’ pay!" McCoy said. His blue eyes opened wide and, catching the light, blazed at Kirk. "Are you serious, Jim?"
"Well, I’m glad we’re on first name terms again. Why shouldn’t I be serious? Would you want to see Spock court-martialed for saving our lives?"
McCoy sighed and shook his head wearily. "I don’t know, But I do know he made the wrong decision. Made it the wrong way, at least."
Kirk looked at him closely. "You aren’t miffed because he made a medical decision over your head? He is your senior officer, you know."
"That gives him the right to reject my advice, sir. It doesn’t give him the right not to ask for it. Who pressured the admiral? T’Pau?"
"I don’t think the admiral would take very kindly to your calling it pressure if someone explains to him some facts about Vulcan medicine."
That brought the blaze back. "How about some facts of military protocol? And plain common sense?" McCoy snorted, picked up his forgotten drink and took a mouthful. "Another Terran advantage -- not counting the English, of course. Englishmen and Vulcans don’t understand about ice-cubes."
Kirk started to demand a more lucid reaction, but at that point the bridge put in call for the captain. "Kirk here," he said, switching on the circuit.
"Sir a Vulcan ship is approaching, the __Kthir__. They request medical aid," said Uhura.
"Navigator, Helmsman, set course for rendezvous. Call Mr. Spock to the bridge. On my way. Kirk out. Doctor --" Kirk set off for the bridge, with McCoy close behind.
Scott turned command over to the captain and Spock arrived a moment later, a smudge of purple salad dressing still on his cheek, as Kirk said. "__Kthir__, how can we help you?"
Uhura had already checked the ship’s registry and put the information on one of the smaller viewing screens. The __Kthir__ was a small private craft, owned by the Vulcan Academy of Science, and currently crewed by a geological husband and wife team, Smural and T’Ven.
The ship was not quite in viewscreen range yet. A woman’s low voice, filtered by the translators, came on. "We were exploring a Vulcanoid planet in this vicinity, when Smural stepped too far aside in avoiding a nest and disturbed a xsrthi hole. A xsrthi whelp attacked him before he could control the situation, and he has lost most of one leg. The other is partly damaged but could, I think, be healed without amputation given the medical resources of a Starship. Your flight plan indicated that you were within range; there were no other possibilities. I regret the interference with your own assignments."
"That’s no problem, T’Ven," Kirk answered, suppressing his amusement at the Vulcan courtesy which operated even when a medical emergency was occurring.
Meanwhile, the viewscreen had come on, revealing a tall woman, thin even for a Vulcan, wearing an incongruously cheerful robe of shades of pink set off by grey and silver. A screen behind her evidently hid her husband.
"As soon as you’re in beaming range -- " Kirk started to say.
"With the captain’s permission," said McCoy.
Kirk swung his chair around, careless of what T’Ven might think of such a display of surprise. McCoy’s face was somber, and Spock’s mouth was still open, apparently from having tried to interrupt Kirk just after McCoy had already done so. Spock closed his mouth and looked quizzically at the doctor. "Go ahead, Bones," said Kirk.
"Madam, we were on that planet and encountered a case of kye-fi-par."
Her eyes slightly widened. "Indeed?"
"It’s not likely that your husband’s case involves the disease, but we must take precautions. Bring your ship directly onto our hangar deck."
"Very well, Physician. T’Ven out."
The __Kthir__ was something of a tight fit through the hangar doors, but T’Ven piloted the little ship in with a swift grace that spelled both expertise and anxiety to Kirk. As soon as the deck was re-pressurized he and Spock followed McCoy in. The doctor went ahead of them, pushing a cart full of a wide variety of paraphernalia, and edgily refused their assistance.
T’Ven let down a ramp from her ship, and McCoy grudgingly allowed his commanding officers to help him apply an anti-gray and steer the near weightless cart up the ramp and into the __Kthir__. T’Ven, still in her soft colored robe, stepped forward.
"It is almost certainly kye-fi-par," she said without preamble. "After you suggested the possibility, Physician, I checked for symptoms according to the directions of our computer’s medi-program -- "
"Name’s McCoy. Let’s recheck to be sure." McCoy accepted the clipboard which held her notes and went over her husband with his own diagnostic equipment. "I agree. And with that Vulcan body temperature, it could be any time now, so -- "
"I accept your judgment, McCoy." She closed her eyes for a moment, then started to leave the ship.
"Now, you hold on a moment, ma’am! I want your help." McCoy started unpacking what looked like an oxygen tent from his cart.
She looked puzzled and turned to Spock for explanation. The First Officer had a somewhat strained expression which Kirk thought would have been open exasperation if there had been no other Vulcans present. "The doctor wishes to attempt to search for a cure up until the moment of death from the disease. Or have you discovered a cure in the past two weeks, Doctor?"
"No, sir." McCoy drew aside the screen and started setting up the tent over Smural’s bed. He beckoned to T’Ven to help him.
"You have no right to endanger the lives of over 400 crewmen by attempting to confine the spread of the spores. A vacuum seal may hold them -- "
" -- but in the past has proved only 52.37% effective. I know that, sir. Now, unless you care to order me off this case, sir, get out."
"Explain," said Spock, showing no reaction.
"To keep you from any risk of catching the disease, sir, and to keep you from killing him while my back is turned."
"I order you off the case, Doctor."
"I countermand your order, Mr. Spock," said Kirk softly.
Spock allowed himself a raised eyebrow and looked at T’Ven.
She stopped helping McCoy set up and seal the tent, and she looked at all three men carefully. "Human logic is subject to disturbance by ‘emotion’?" she said.
"That is correct," said Spock. "And Dr. McCoy’s emotions are involved in this case."
"And you’re not a doctor," grunted McCoy.
"Are the captain’s emotions involved, also?"
Spock looked a little puzzled. "Possibly."
T’Ven set her hands together, palm to palm, and looked down for a moment, then went back to helping McCoy.
Spock turned around, without another word, and left the ship.
"Jim, you go, too," said McCoy. "Set up a link with the radios so I’m in touch with our computer continuously without having to fiddle with those damn controls. And after I send the lady out, open the hangar doors, so I can take this ship out into space far enough to make sure this plague can’t get across to the __Enterprise__."
"If I can be of assistance, I would prefer to stay," said T’Ven.
"Very well, McCoy."
Kirk said, "Bones -- take care." McCoy made no answer. Kirk grimaced and walked out.
T’Ven soon followed, and the __Kthir__, somewhat clumsily, slid out the hangar door and into space.
During the uncomfortable week that followed, McCoy continued to research kye-fi-par, with the aid of the computer. Kirk guessed that the disease had already been the doctor’s constant preoccupation for the past two weeks, and confirmed the guess by asking the computer. He tried to read some of the literature on the subject himself, but found the terminology beyond him.
McCoy, evidently on stim-pills, worked round the clock, so far as they could tell. Of his patient he said nothing. The computer said only that McCoy’s researches so far had not produced a drug which could kill the virus without killing the patient. Kirk was first anxious and then confused.
Smural should have died days earlier, leaving McCoy free to return, unless he had caught the disease, too. For a few days Kirk feared that McCoy was infected and wasn’t telling them, but he dared not disturb McCoy by demanding to know.
But McCoy continued his research, and too much time went by for him to be still alive if he had caught kye-fi-par.
Once, during the period when there was still anxiety over McCoy, Spock failed to show up in time for his watch. Worried that something might have happened to Spock, Kirk went down to the Vulcan’s room and found Spock staring into the flame of his firepot. T’Ven was there, too, reading a text on geology. The woman looked even thinner than when she had first come on the __Enterprise__.
"Mr. Spock, you’re late."
"My apologies, Captain."
Spock got up to go, but Kirk said, "Are you all right?"
"Affirmative, Captain. I was engrossed in attempting a reassessment of my original judgments. I erred, unquestionably, in considering the xrsthi whelp too young to be diseased; the analogy between that variety and the ones known to me was not as close as it appeared."
"But you didn’t want to kill a puppy?" said Kirk.
"I did not want to kill at all."
They left the room in silence, leaving T’Ven still reading. The watches went by, and
McCoy went on talking only to the computer.
But finally, in the middle of the watch, he put in a call to the captain. His voice was rough with fatigue, but the triumph showed through. "My patient’s alive, and the spores are dead. Request permission to beam aboard. Have a stretcher cart meet us. You’ll have to send over a better navigator than I am right now to get this thing back on the hangar deck, though."
Kirk, Spock, and T’Ven met McCoy and Smural in the transporter chamber, and Spock and T’Ven lifted Smural onto the cart. Kirk stared at the injured Vulcan. He was missing most of his left leg and his right foot.
Smural held out his hand to T’Ven, two fingers extended. She touched her hand to his and said, "My husband."
McCoy stumbled coming off the transporter. His face was pale, and the skin under his eyes was dark.
"Spock." Kirk pointed at the tired doctor. It would be a quick way to see if McCoy was still mad at Spock, he thought. McCoy accepted the Vulcan’s help without questions. Kirk smiled and took charge of pushing the cart to sickbay. T’Ven walked alongside where Smural could see her.
"Ma’am," said McCoy, "I’m sorry about the amputation. I wasn’t able to handle both problems at once, I’m afraid."
"Your management appears to have been fully competent, McCoy."
"Thank you," he said, grinning. "Thank you very much."
Spock’s curiosity could no longer be held down. "Doctor, I followed the course of your research through the computer. You did not succeed in discovering a way to kill the kye-fi-par spores."
"You’re telling me!" McCoy yawned widely. "No, an antitoxin’s still beyond me. But I found a treatment that worked -- kept the patient in an ice bath that discouraged the spores from multiplying until the body’s own defenses could get rid of them. And if you don’t think programming a Vulcan life support system to keep a bed temperature low is hard -- "
Spock started to say, "Such a treatment would . . ."
McCoy shook his head, unable to find an adequate close to the sentence. "Of course all that cold damn near killed the patient, too. I had to fight off one of your weird Vulcan equivalents of pneumonia in him. If Vulcans didn’t have that ridiculous tolerance for extremes, I don’t think I could have done it at all. I guess that’s why the Vulcan doctors two centuries back didn’t try this treatment -- the cures for that group of pneumonias were only developed a few years back. Or," he added, "maybe they just couldn’t imagine that being that cold could be good for anything."
They had reached the sickbay by then, and McCoy fussily supervised the transference of Smural to a bed. It would be some time yet before the man’s stumps would be completely healed, and he would have to be fitted with artificial legs before he and T’Ven took their ship off the __Enterprise__ and returned to work. Once Smural was settled, McCoy crawled into the neighboring bed and fell asleep without even removing his boots.
Kirk looked doubtfully at him. "Miss Chapel, can you handle him?"
"Yes, sir. I’ll tuck him in properly later, when he’s sounder asleep."
T’Ven drew up a chair beside her husband’s bed and sat there quietly.
Kirk gestured Spock to follow him, and went into the doctor’s office next door. "It’s finally dawned on me what was bugging the doctor about . . . what happened earlier."
Spock looked stubborn. "This cure is the result of intensive study. Dr. McCoy could not possibly have produced the same results before, and he has just told us that even this cure would not work on a human."
"I know. But you should have given him the chance to offer to try. You couldn’t have known for sure that he’d fail. He said it himself -- you have the authority to dismiss his arguments, but if you assume from the start that a human’s arguments are biased by his emotions and don’t waste time even listening to biased arguments -- you’ll never command humans successfully."
"There was no time for argument in Folsome’s case."
"There would have been if you’d let McCoy in on your suspicions in the first place. You’ve got to delegate your authority, Science Officer. Let others take part."
"At the risk of their own lives?"
"If they want to risk it, yes. Risking lives is a command prerogative, my friend."
Spock blinked and hesitated a long time before answering. "That is true, Captain," he said at last. "Should I request a court-martial?"
(RBW Note. Picture of Vulcan female, most likely T’Ven.)
(RBW Note. Picture of Vulcan male, most likely Smural.)
"A court martial? Oh, no, you shouldn’t. That poor kid would have died anyway. If you’d asked me to back you up the first time . . . I think I would have. But I don’t know, Spock, I don’t know." Kirk was silent for some moments. "Anyway, we’re pretty well outside the effective radius for even sub-space communication by now. Come on, Spock, we have a ship to run."
(RBW Note. The above is a solid, thick line.)
MAY YOU LIVE LONG AND PROSPER:
The following is a commentary on Ruth Berman’s Kraithlette, "Coup de Partie."
Let me start by saying that "Coup de Grace" is the single most embarrassing story I’ve entered into the Kraith chronology. I prefaced that story with some deep misgivings about it and since its first publication, I’ve had those misgivings reinforced ten ways from Sunday. When it came time to put together Kraith Collected, I was very reluctant to even consider it. I still consider that story a total failure. In some ways I wish I’d never written it; yet it does serve a purpose of sorts.
Ruth Berman was one of the first to put in words some of the many things wrong with "Coup de Grace." She’s the first to come up with a fictional statement of some of those arguments. Her story, "Coup de Partie," makes "Coup de Grace" worth publishing, if only to open debate on this area of thought.
Her story opened up some new thoughts for me and I hope it will do the same for you. The ease with which Ruth has dispensed with some of my arguments in "Coup de Grace" only serves to illustrate how flimsy my arguments were. If "Coup de Grace" had been properly structured, Ruth’s story would be invalid. As it is, Ruth’s story is not only valid but important.
I am most thoroughly unsatisfied with the disease "Vulcan rabies" or kye-fi-par. If it had been properly invented, it would be genuinely incurable. Ruth cured it brilliantly. So much for that.
The point of "Coup de Grace" was to illustrate the cultural gulf between human and Vulcan. It didn’t do that. It would have been enough if the story had actually backed Spock into a corner where he would have to kill a sentient creature in order to save it from undue suffering. It didn’t do that very well. Perhaps the reason the story didn’t come off too well is that I, myself, haven’t figured out where the Kraith Vulcans stand on mercy killing. This, as you know, is one of the hottest issues in medicine today. We can already prolong life long beyond logical limits of usefulness or even consciousness. We’ve begun to discuss "the right to die" -- and I am not altogether certain exactly where I stand on all sides of this issue. If "Coup de Grace" had discussed this problem intelligently, displaying some unique Vulcan solution to this problem, then it would have been worthy of publication in the Kraith Series. It didn’t do that either.
Ruth’s objections -- that life should be prolonged even at risk to others on the chance that a cure might be found, or a ‘miracle’ occur (a given individual displaying some unique resistance that might lead to the discovery of a cure, for example), happen to be in tune with my own opinion. I think the Kraith Vulcans would be apt to take such risks, I think they’d approve of McCoy’s isolation chamber approach to the problem. They could have used a shuttlecraft in like manner in "Coup de Grace" if somebody had wished to risk their life with the patient’s.
Basically, it’s the __characterization__ that is all wrong in "Coup de Grace." Spock just wouldn’t react to a disease in that fashion, not even so deadly a disease. Ruth has brought this out on the last pages of "Coup de Partie." If Spock had acted as he did in "Coup de Grace," then he would have to learn from his errors however painful the lesson.
This is, perhaps, the only claim to validity in the Kraith series that these two stories have. Spock does make an error -- or a series of errors -- in judgment based on his assessment of human nature. In "Coup de Partie," he lives to face those errors and to correct them.
One of the most often leveled objections to the Kraith Series is that the Kraith Spock is too "superhuman," too unerring. This was not an intentional implication of the characterization. The Kraith Spock is fumbling his way, trail-and-error, through a complex situation which had never before been encountered, analysed and dealt with before he came on the scene -- namely the human/Vulcan cultural interface; the impact of the emotional cultures of other sentients of the Federation on Vulcan’s emotionless culture.
"Coup de Grace" and "Coup de Partie" together depict one of Spock’s errors, and the correcting forces. Unfortunately, that was not one of the original purposes in writing "Coup de Grace." And the background of these stories is still subtly "wrong."
Nevertheless, I think they should be retained in the Series because they do attempt to deal with an area of discussion which is topical and undeniably important. By retaining this pair of stories, I hope we will stimulate others to tackle this subject matter, perhaps doing a better job at it than I have.
(RBW Note. Signature of Jacqueline Lichtenberg)
(RBW Note. Female in dance pose with floral covering.)
(RBW Note. Male, most likely, in dance pose with floral covering)
(RBW Note. Female in dance pose with floral covering.)
(RBW Note. The following page is in landscape mode which is rotated 90 degrees to the right.)
(RBW Note. Five Dancers above 4 flowers.)
(RBW Note. The following word are to the right (top of page) of the illustration.)
in your JOY,
the ecstasy of
Book of Life
(RBW Note. Illustration of a flower.)
The U.S.S. __Enterprise__ hung in synchronous orbit over a single spot on a nameless planet far outside the frontiers of the United Federation of Planets. The digital readout on the helmsman’s console read Stardate 7-2750.6. The subjective time elapsed since they’d left the Federation’s space was almost two years.
The huge main viewscreen faithfully recorded the bright oranges and shimmering reds of the planet below although not one eye aboard was watching. The ship’s high-ceilinged corridors were buttressed against the oppressive silence by the triangular archways and overhead cross beams that were brightly decorated in sharp contrast to the unobtrusive blue-grays of the bulkheads.
The quiet, however, was deceptive.
Four hundred seven human brains labored on circular tracks of vivid memories almost too painful to bear, yet too captivating to relinquish. One half-human brain suffered the same fate . . . almost.
On the bridge, bodies lay forgotten in every imaginable position -- draped, jackknifed, prone, propped -- as if they had all suddenly collapsed.
In the turbo lifts, along corridors, in quarters, recreation rooms, gymnasium laboratories, duty stations, and in dark crawlways, bodies were heaped or sprawled with the boneless grace of the totally unconscious.
From Captain Kirk slumped with abandoned dignity at the center of the circular bridge to the yeoman draped over a tray of toppled coffee cups, they were locked in their memory tracks as securely as a current confined to a super conducting circuit.
Only in sick bay did the pattern vary. There, Chief Surgeon Leonard McCoy lay crumpled at his desk, stricken in the act of recording a Medical Log entry on the patient in the next room.
The patient Spock of Vulcan, also lived only within his memory but he was not locked on an invariant memory cycle. His body lay below the diagnostic panel while all six life-sign indicators hovered near the bottom of their scales. But, at the moment, in his mind, Spock was preparing to voice his Life’s Decision to his father as they faced one another in the spacious central hall of the austere, ancestral mansion that had been his boyhood home.
The gigantic, imported air-cooling unit vibrated the massive stone walls, an oppressive reminder of his mother’s humanity which had made this decision necessary. To dedicate himself to the Vulcan Science Academy? To acknowledge that he’d never be totally at peace within himself if he ignored the needs of his human half? A balance must be struck or sanity would be forfeit. To allow that to happen would be illogical.
Having made the decision, he spoke the words to his father and suffered his father’s pain without a flicker of outward reaction.
With the peculiar pride known only to those whose sole motivation is logic, he turned his back and walked away from his father, away from his home, toward Star Fleet Academy.
Eighteen years later, he was already a full Commander when his father finally acknowledged the validity of his reasoning and his successful adjustment to his chosen life.
Shortly after that, his second greatest trial had begun when T’Pring had divorced him. Before the growing pressure of his relentless Vulcan metabolism could blur his reasoning, he chose T’Aniyeh . . . human of body but Vulcan in spirit, and sent her his summons.
In the condensed reality of his memories, he lived again the distastefully emotional shock when her reply had caught up with the __Enterprise__. She hadn’t rejected him, but she had refused him the peace that was his right. Her logic was sound enough as far as it went, but the disappointment was a leaden burden . . . until T’Rruel had come to him.
(RBW Note. Drawing of Female reclining on a bed, most likely in death, with Spock also in the room.)
T’Rruel had taught him the meaning of marriage . . . and of life. Her death had taught him the meaning of tragedy and opened in him depths of humanity he feared to explore.
But, finally, he stood before T’Aniyeh, offering the touch that did not touch and yet would always touch. It was a touch deeper than the soul and broader than all existence whose fruition lay hidden in the unguessable reaches of the future but whose immediate meaning was peace in mind and body.
And he’d been accepted! Not only from logical necessity, but with full eager willingness to accept a bound Unity . . . a Unity defined by uncountable ages of Vulcan tradition and regulated by modern Vulcan philosophy.
Thus established, the touch brought to them both a peace and strength rooted in a logical harmony with the forces that rule all life . . . and death.
Death! There was danger!
The alarm thrilled along his nerves. Somewhere in that complex Vulcan brain, was the dread knowledge of an imminent crisis . . . but mental apathy swallowed the disturbance and returned his mind to inner paths.
He stood again on the bridge of the __Enterprise__, secure in the new confident peace that was his right, and scanned the surface of the planet searching for the landing party. They should have reported half an hour ago.
No cause for alarm, he told himself sternly, but they were in for a reprimand if not worse. T’Aniyeh had gone down with them and he’d seen no reason to object. Risks were an accepted part of a Service career and there were no known hazards below . . . just his growing . . . illogical . . . concern for her welfare.
The planet was quite beautiful really, a Class M-IV, almost a twin of Vulcan, and T’Aniyeh would welcome a brisk walk in fresh air and sunshine. Being human, she missed home more than he did, and through their link, he knew her yearning and the satisfaction she’d feel as the dry wind lifted her dark hair and her volatile spirits.
He reached out to her mind, opening channels of sensitivity deep in the subconscious levels.
Bending over the hooded viewscreen, he shifted the focus of his scanners and combed an adjacent area of the planet below. They must have walked far. There were natives down there, too. Very sparsely scattered. Humanoids. Readings fairly close to Vulcan norms. Possibly a related species. They’d found a number of such peoples in this region of space.
He flipped a switch, adjusted a dial and began to home in on the landing party’s communicators. They should have answered Uhura’s signal by now! He’d have to put them all on report.
Suddenly, before he could get a clear fix on the party, a lance of pain skewered his head and sent him stumbling back from his desk, sagging into the startled Captain’s arms. His last memory before consciousness disintegrated was a cold orange explosion in his brain that sent white-hot agony through every nerve, a sensation vaguely similar to the backlash from two cross-linked Flame Spheres focused and energized into the equivalent of a phaser on strong stun.
IT WASN’T HIS PAIN . . . IT WAS __HERS__!!
T’Aniyeh was in trouble!
He struggled to rise. But nothing happened. He tried again, straining against nothingness if he were totally unconscious . . . or tied down.
He directed his attention to his tactile senses as he again tried to sit up. But he got no feedback. He tried again, making a concerted effort to co-ordinate his body. Nothing.
That could only mean that he wasn’t conscious. But he was! He puzzled over the contradiction, searching for a fallacy.
He’d had a similar experience once, when his grandfather had been training him in the six hundred seventy Disciplines.
Suvil had detached the young Spock’s consciousness from his physical awareness in such a way that his body continued to function but his mind was unable to connect to imminent reality. The object of the exercise had been to teach the boy that he couldn’t break out of the prison of his mind without outside aid. The moral had been that the science-of-mind is a dangerous tool that demands all the respect one accords a matter-antimatter generator activated in a populous city.
He’d had occasion to induce a mild form of the state for healing but always with modifications that would bring him up to semi-awareness before the chrysalis of his own mental barriers could enclose him forever. This time, he theorized, he’d slipped below the threshold while making a similar attempt.
He checked for new scars. There were none.
The only remaining possibility was that somebody had done this to him. But who? And why?
No matter. He must undo it. T’Aniyeh was in danger, and he was in no mood to tolerate __that__.
The immediate problem was how to reach full consciousness. The classical answer was the sensory cue. He’d been trained to respond to pain, therefore he should simply have someone inflict pain.
But, he’d already sunk too deep to reach out to anyone. Therefore, the only way to obtain a pain-cue was from his own memory.
Visualizing the search for the landing party and T’Aniyeh he nursed uneasy doubts about her well being, deliberately lowering all his pain barriers and then he conjured the mind deadening blow again, and found himself no closer to reality.
All right, he thought, try a more severe pain. He reconstructed the events at Deneva when they’d encountered those oddly detached braincells that invaded more tightly organized nervous systems controlling their victims with pain. But the experience was etched indelibly in his Vulcan memory.
Once again that terrible agony flashed along abused nerves, triggering bone-bending muscle spasms. He made no effort to defend himself as wave after wave of white-hot agony seared every receptor of his brain.
And, slowly, through the blanketing haze, he became aware of his body. The linkages were re-establishing . . . with clumsy slowness . . . almost as if nerve tissue were regenerating . . . but it __was__ happening. He could feel the pain more sharply now.
It was REAL!
As he lay on the sick bay bed, the six life sign indicators on the diagnostic panel over his head wobbled up from their base lines, beginning to oscillate around mid-scale . . . some higher, some lower, but all, at last, alive again. The second indicator from the left . . . pain . . . clung tightly to the top of the scale.
Then, slowly, the pain indicator lowered, hovered for a moment as if confused, then dropped smoothly to the bottom of the scale. A few seconds later, it rejoined its fellows, dancing around the Spock-norm readings.
Commander Spock, First Officer of the __U.S.S.__ __Enterprise__ opened his eyes, then rose smoothly to sit on the side of the bed dangling his feet in puzzlement. There should have been an attendant.
He slid down, stretched systematically to relieve some last cramps . . . he’d apparently been motionless several days . . . and went into the Doctor’s office.
Two quick strides brought him to McCoy’s body and ten seconds later, he realized that whatever had imprisoned his mind had also attacked McCoy . . . and the whole ship.
Frowning slightly, he positioned his fingertips around the human’s skull, hunting for the braincenters that he needed. Then he opened his mind to the thought-flow within.
After several minutes he pulled away, stunned. The attacking force was still operative. And he could do nothing to break its grip on the human.
He took a medical scanner and went in search of the Captain, checking everyone he passed on the way. He found he could touch the minds of anyone he’d previously touched, but the rest were as closed to him as if they were dead.
That, in itself, was unusual. In fact, fascinating. He needed more data.
Medical scanner whirring, Spock bent over the Captain, carefully checking his vital signs. As with the others, the body was in fair condition. But the mind was locked.
Spock went to his library computer and trained all available sensors on the planet beneath. He left the readouts feeding into the computer and went to the navigator’s station. Their orbit appeared stable enough and there were no other ships in range of their sensors. Whatever was attacking must be below them.
Gently removing Sulu from the Helmsman’s chair, he sat down and grimly worked an orbit change into the board and laid it in.
Nothing happened. He checked the circuitry . . . Auxiliary Control, Engineering . . . all wide open. He should have control of the ship from here. He stared at the planetary image on the screen. Illusion?
The library computer bleeped and he called for the readout.
The high pitched, mechanically modulated female voice said in its staccato monotone, "All-sensor-readings . . . no-significant-change-for-last-sixty-one-hours . . . Landing-party-still-missing . . . Presumed-lost . . . Tower-structure-directly-below-ship- . . ."
"Stop!" Spock swiveled out of the chair and pounced on the computer console.
Twelve minutes later, he’d extracted all the data on the artifact below their position. It wasn’t much, but coupled with the aberrant behavior of the main computer it led him to a wild surmise . . . and a desperate course of action.
Pausing to grab several packets of field rations, he hurried to the medical lab to load two hypoguns with a potent mixture of nutritional concentrate and mild, time-released stimulants and set about dosing the crew. If he succeeded in deactivating the dze-ut’, as he now thought of the tower, it would do little good if the crew were all dead.
Once again on the bridge, he made the necessary log entries describing the situation and his proposed course of action, hinting at the nature of his theory in the warning he left in case he never returned. Then he balanced the Captain’s body over his shoulder and entered the lift. In sick bay, he picked up McCoy and Nurse Chapel. After a brief stop in Engineering to collect Mr. Scott and a longer pause in the Quartermaster’s sanctum, he set the lift on course for the hangar deck.
There, as everywhere else aboard ship, crewmen sprawled in ungainly disarray. He munched his last ration packet as he surveyed the cavernous chamber. Glumly, he counted the bodies he’d have to remove and inject with fortificant before opening the huge shell-doors to hard vacuum. Then he set to work.
The turbo-lift brought a shuttlecraft, __Galileo__ __7__, up into launch position on the deck and he loaded his somnolent passengers aboard. Then, carrying a crewman’s body, he went back to the turbo-lift with a pair of anti-grav lift-bars and unloaded the supplies he’d requisitioned.
Half an hour later, he took a last turn around the hangar, searching for stray bodies even though the counter on his hypogun read 406. Then he set the main doors on automatic and climbed into the shuttle.
It was a tight fit for the five of them and all the gear. Empty, the long rectangular cabin seemed quite spacious. There was adequate room to walk between the four high-backed chairs and ample room to stand. But now, he had converted all available deck for cargo stowage. Only the co-pilot’s chair remained empty beside him.
Checking once more that all his passengers were secured in safety harnesses, Spock seated himself at the control desk and took a deep breath. His long fingers caressed levers with a sure familiarity that belied the uncertainty in his heart. Ahead of him, the hangar doors cracked and parted to expel the tiny craft into the void. He activated all three view panels over the control desk and cut an orbit for the landing site that would put a logging forest between them and the dze-ut’.
He chose the site with care. He wanted to be as close to T’Aniyeh as he could get and still remain free of the dze-ut’. He picked a sandy crater surrounded by precipitous rock walls that promised, to Vulcan eyes, a plentiful water supply as well as potentially useful materials and a certain amount of strategic cover, even though the crater wall was breeched at several points.
It was all he could do to aim the shuttle for the flat center of the crater headed away from T’Aniyeh when every cell of his body yearned to dash to her rescue . . . to enfold and protect her. Every foot of distance he placed between them heightened the vague tension he refused to admit he felt. Yet logically, the crater was the best possible compromise.
Well before he touched down, he made one last check with the shuttlecraft’s sensors. They registered no natives in the vicinity, and no hostile animal life, but he remained skeptically alert.
And it was well he did. The tiny vessel swooped into the atmosphere obeying the auto-helm flawlessly until a bare twenty kilometers above target, the soft, arrhythmic clicking of the simple device began to repeat its pattern for the third time.
Leaning forward alertly, Spock frowned. In the silence of the cabin, he could hear the humans’ breathing and under that, the unobtrusive operational sounds of the machinery. He concentrated on the musical clicks of the autohelm as the complex tonal pattern began a fourth time. Then he flicked switches until he obtained a simultaneous readout of the orbital calculations on his central screen.
Calculating swiftly, he nodded and a moment later was on his knees opening the access
panel under the autohelm. He lay down on his back and slid, head first, into the recess. In a few seconds he had discerned the computer’s difficulty.
It was imposed by a new, external field and there was nothing he could do to rectify it.
Quickly he disconnected the autohelm, engaged the Emergency Manual Override and snapped the access panel closed as he set his mind to the rapid calculations.
Seconds later, eyes fixed on the viewscreens, his fingers hovering over the controls, he prepared for a tricky manual landing. Summoning all his concentration, he eased the ship’s vector into the desired value and applied deceleration gently but firmly.
In the cabin the passengers felt nothing, but from the ground the shuttle could be seen to buck and waver as the flesh-and-blood pilot fought for control of the aerodynamically unstable craft.
Then, as speed reduced, the ship steadied and zeroed in on the chosen crater and settled with only a slight bump . . . unfelt by the gravity shielded passengers.
Safely grounded on the fine sand, Spock leaned back in his chair and blanked his mind, warily testing for the dze-ut’ influence. But they __were__ free of it.
Silently, he turned to examine the humans slumped in the chairs behind him. Not one had begun to stir. He’d hoped they could come out of it spontaneously, but apparently it was not to be so easy.
He had two choices . . . wait until they woke, or attempt to break the circular memory track with his own mind.
Ordinarily he would have chosen to wait at least a few hours, but time now was at a premium for him as well as for the whole crew. He would try to reach the Captain and through him the rest of them. But, he’d need a sensory anchor, a life line to reality, lest he become lost in the Captain’s dreamworld.
Once decided he moved rapidly. He unstrapped the humans, one by one, and hauled them out onto the warm sand. The terminator was approaching. It would be full night here very soon. All the better.
When he had them all laid out in the fresh air, he chose a convenient, flat rock and struck a fifteen hour magnesite-nitron cube on it.
The fire erupted, then settled to a shaft of blue flame. Kneeling with the Captain’s head on his thighs, Spock fixed his eyes on the flame.
Starlight. Fragrant breeze. Rocks. Gritty sand.
When he was sure that all his thoughts would lead out to sensory reality, he flexed his fingers, positioned them on Kirk’s skull and sank easily into the strangely flavored, human memory.
Go to Spock's Nemesis Chapter Two - Memories.
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