The Council of Daughters occupied a veritable warren of interconnected buildings at the base of Mount Tsolnek. Some were as ancient as the planet, seemingly carved out of living rock in which flashing gems were embedded.
But most visitors saw this only from afar. The main complex of meeting rooms and offices lay in an extremely modern outlying structure served by a sleekly outfitted parking area. Amanda’s cab let her off at the front doors, and she entered the building. It seemed even hotter within than without.
The vaulted lobby was deserted. Vulcans used architectural spaciousness as a form of telepathic insulation. They just didn’t like being unnecessarily near one another. She found the directory and managed to get her bearings. She had no trouble finding the appointed room. Moments after she entered, T’Pau arrived in a powered wheelchair and pulled herself up to the softly gleaming table that was the room’s sole piece of furniture, save for Amanda’s chair.
The room itself wasn’t an office. As far as Amanda knew, nobody ever met with T’Pau in her own inner sanctum. There was a veil of mystery shrouding the operations of the Daughters, but that veil was nearly invisible.
T’Pau opened, her voice weary with the weight of centuries. "There is concern in your household?"
Amanda hadn’t known exactly what to expect, but it wasn’t the simple tone of a conversation picked up after a short pause. The last time she’d spoken to T’Pau had been at Spock’s betrothal. But Amanda summoned every shred of control she owned and replied softly, "It appears that T’Pring was the wrong choice, after all."
"It is natural for all mothers to be concerned when one such is at large. However, he is far."
"Can nothing be done?"
"You have spoken to him?"
"No. It is not a mother’s place."
Amanda could have sworn that T’Pau smiled, as if inordinately pleased with a daughter who has learned well. "But it is my place. And I have spoken. Repeatedly."
"Yet he has done nothing."
"He must make the first move. It is his right."
"T’Pau. He is my son. He is so very much a Vulcan, that sometimes I think even he forgets."
"He travels far. Thus he is no danger to tsaichrani. But he is the last of his line. And he is First Realm. He carries the Tradition from Suvil."
"Thee belabors the obvious."
"He is valuable to thee."
"More than thee knows."
"Is he not worth an extra effort?"
"I have spoken. I have reminded him of his duty and his danger. I have spoken more times than is proper. There is no more that can be done."
"But you have spoken only as to a Vulcan."
"Is there another way to speak?"
"He burns as a Vulcan. But still there is that in him which is human. And that part of him which is human may be that part which makes him most valuable to Vulcan. He is a bridge across a rift that seems to be growing larger every day. If he is worth saving, then is he not worth saving by an appeal to that in him which is human?"
T’Pau considered this. "I have seen him speak from the depths of the plak tow. It was the true blood fever: he did burn. But also he did speak. There is a strength in him which may be born of that which is human. In perilous times such as these, we dare not ignore our strength, even if it is our weakness. He freed T’Pring. He is not devoid of wisdom. He chose T’Rruel, and she chose him. He is strange, but not devoid of merit." She raised her head. "I would like to live to see a child of his mature."
Amanda swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "Then I have a suggestion. It may be that he hesitates for lack of knowledge."
"If this were so, he would seek knowledge where it can be found."
"A __human__ might not."
"Humans are illogical."
"And Vulcans are __sometimes__ illogical. I have heard of the Linger Death, the Slow Burn. Neither allows for clear thinking on all subjects."
"He has had T’Rruel. The problem is resolved."
Amanda ran a dry tongue over parched lips. "That was immediately before the Affirmation. Have you not wondered about that?"
"He is, in part, human."
"You can think thusly, after the way he Conducted? T’Pau, you are not thinking logically."
"There is no other possibility."
"Perhaps it takes a human or part-human to see it, but there __is__ another possibility. It is a perversion no Vulcan would consider. But weighted against the Affirmation, and the lives that hung upon that Affirmation, and the effect of a massive Disaffirmed group on tsaichrani at such a perilous time . . ."
Comprehension lit up the ancient features, and those dark Vulcan eyes fairly sparked with indignation. "__Why__?!"
"I have never discussed this with him, of course. I can only guess. But he did tell me that he and Doctor McCoy were trapped on a planet’s surface. They made the Affirmation only because the __Enterprise__ found them in the last possible moment. He never mentioned how they found him, but it would seem to me that T’Rruel could have guided the __Enterprise__ straight to Spock under certain circumstances."
If it hadn’t have been for a lifetime of firm discipline, T’Pau would have looked as if she’d been told that a Vulcan had fallen in love. Before the old woman could decide to excommunicate Spock, Amanda continued. "Knowing Spock, I doubt whether he could have thought of such a thing himself. And knowing Dr. McCoy, I am certain that the Doctor not only could have but would have thought of it. He’s told me how much Spock . . . wanted . . . T’Rruel. He’s also told me how much it cost Spock not to approach her before the Affirmation--until it was no longer unavoidable. I’m certain that if Spock did that, then it was the only logical alternative."
"__If__ he did, then it is not correct to assume him free of the Slow Burn."
"Tell him the names of those who would be acceptable."
"It is forbidden."
"Life is forbidden? A law which does not apply, should not be applied. Spock is part human. This may be all he needs."
"Thee has a candidate?" The sarcasm came through the heavy Vulcan accent and made Amanda blush. But she forged ahead.
"Yes, I think I have."
"Sarek and I have considered carefully. We believe that T’Aniyeh would be the logical choice. But we believe that Spock would hesitate to choose her, for obvious reasons. If the suggestion were to come from you, it might end his hesitation."
"All the more reason not to suggest."
"But he travels far, T’Pau. When the time comes, the choice may be made for him. It may not be a good choice."
Cocking her head in mild amusement, T’Pau said, "Is __thee__ an unworthy choice, Amanda?"
"I am human, T’Pau, and I have pride in that. Sarek chose me, and I chose him."
"The choice was not made __for__ Sarek, but by Sarek. Even the human languages recognize this difference. A choice was made for Spock, and it proved unworthy. Now the choice must be made by Spock. It is the law."
Amanda examined her blurred reflection in the tabletop. "Does not the concept of choice imply at least two alternatives?"
"It is so."
Amanda spoke a Vulcanir phrase she’d practiced to herself thousands of times but never had the nerve to use before. "This is my heart, T’Pau." It was the formal preface to an exposure of the deepest seated emotions. She spoke now without shame, with even a hint of pride. "Spock is my son. He may not be wholly free of the Slow Burn. He travels far, but even on Vulcan he would not be likely to encounter a Blooming that could heal him. Twice he has experienced the Severance of Bonding. The third choice must be right, or he may die. Yet he is part human. He may not be able to bring himself to ask you for alternatives from which to choose."
Amanda held her breath, unsure how the Vulcan would accept the baring of the human heart. She had spoken as quietly and dispassionately as she could. Now she waited.
And slowly, ever so slowly, it became clear that T’Pau, ‘All Vulcan in one package,’ would follow the rule of Vulcan courtesy and accept the offering as from a Vulcan. Logic demanded that desires be valued in direct proportion to their tendency to preserve life in the living. "Sarek chose well. It is proper to be concerned for the perils of a son. Yet thee is concerned without need. Spock has proven himself his grandfather’s grandson."
"T’Pau, I too had a father. Spock has two grandfathers. You know the Vulcan heart. I know the human."
"I do not understand your logic. There is no reason he might fail to request data."
"When he was barely five years old and could not speak, it was thought he was mentally retarded in some hitherto unknown manner because of his heritage. But I knew it was not so, and I convinced Suvil. And I was right."
"It is remembered that thee was the cause of Spock’s debility."
"I was guilty of an error in judgment because of a lack of knowledge. There was that in Spock which touched on my human instincts as a mother. I still believe that what I gave, he needed. If, in the process, his ability to hear and distinguish the fine differences of Vulcan speech was impaired, it was only a temporary impairment which he overcame with Suvil’s training. There was both good and bad in my actions. I would do the same today if necessary."
Seeing the thoughtful gaze upon her, Amanda continued, "I acted out of a combination of
ignorance and knowledge, just as you have acted now. I knew the requirements of his human side but not of his Vulcan side. You know the requirements of the Vulcan, but not of the human. Is it not time that we combined our differences to produce the ultimate Joy?"
T’Pau’s gradual yielding was almost a visible thing. After several minute’s consideration in which Amanda felt that, if she could have, the old woman would have paced the room like a caged lioness, T’Pau said, "T’Aniyeh is not a proper choice for Spock."
"She is unstable. She will not live long enough."
"What do you mean?"
"She is emotionally unstable. You know her history. Her sanity is deeply in question. Spock cannot afford another Severance, either in life or death. She is human in body. He will certainly outlive her. The effect that Vulcan has had on her psyche has been good for her, but would not be good for Spock."
"T’Pau, have you considered the case of T’Zorel? You know that emotional stability is largely chemically controlled. Human females lack the voluntary control of the body’s functions. The Bonding to a Vulcan male induces enormous changes in the emotional characteristics of a human, or part-human, female. I know this, T’Pau, with my own body I know it. The effect is not large, and it may be barely measurable with the most sensitive instruments. But it is perceptible. It may be that T’Aniyeh is as she is because she is not Bonded."
"The human equivalent of the Slow Burn?"
"It may be. Sarek and I believe that of all those available, T’Aniyeh is best able to understand Spock. Have they not both chosen a Questing Vocation?"
"It is true."
"And there are no actuarial tables on such as Spock. There is no way to predict the length of his life."
"Mistakes have been made," mused T’Pau, "on both sides. An error in judgment based on an error in knowledge can lead only to illogical acts. The only outcome is disaster. But how can a mortal ever achieve infallible knowledge?"
"Has it not come down into the Book of Fragments that the purpose of life is to live?"
T’Pau started as if knowledge of the Vulcan Books was the last thing she’d expected from a human.
"I have tried to learn the thoughts of Vulcan, as much as I am able. They are not my thoughts, and I cannot live thusly. But I have found many similarities, and many joyful differences. It has been that the mistakes I have made, Sarek has corrected, and the mistakes he has made, I have corrected. Thus have the interests of Vulcan been guarded in the Federation. Our method has produced a son who has brought honor to his grandfather. We would not presume to choose for him again, but we agree that T’Aniyeh should be considered."
Abruptly, T’Pau wheeled her chair back from the table. Turning toward the door, she paused. "A list of choices will be drawn. I will see it is communicated to him at the first opportunity. T’Aniyeh will be considered. Thee has done well. And now thee may rest."
As the door closed behind the Daughter, Amanda found that she was indeed at rest for the first time in years. A shrill voice of alarm within her had been stilled. All would be well.
Here is a story which was completed just two years ago and has yet to see print. During that time it has gathered a bit of moss---in the form of several flashback scenes added by Sondra Marshak. These are the first words of Kraith actually drafted by Sondra. And then I made additions to her additions. It was an exciting and stimulating experience. I hope more of the Kraith Creators will be doing things like this.
Way back in 1971, DECISION was scheduled to appear in VOYAGES #3. It has yet to materialize (but just might.) The reasons it did not appear in T-Negative are multiple. For the most part, Ruth just couldn’t go this far out on the Kraith limb with me. But also, the story has several structural flaws (which I am loath to correct since it would mean tearing the whole thing down and rebuilding it) as well as creating in some readers a feeling of wearisome and pointless repetition of things already said in Kraith. __Much__ criticism has been leveled at this story. It is the criticism I thought Kraith IV, (NEMESIS) would attract and didn’t. Puzzling and instructive is life.
The original Kraith Series conception called for I, II, & III to form a unified novel with IV, V, & VI being the sequel novel, VII standing alone as a novel, and VIII being the denouement or tag ending. So V isn’t really a "story" in its own right, but only the bridge or middle part of what was conceived as a single work. V doesn’t have a proper fictional "beginning," nor does it have an "ending" (it just sort of peters out if you look at it as a story, but if you consider that you ought to turn the page and find a blank page titled "Part III" then turn again and find a new chapter titled "Spock’s Pilgrimage," then you won’t feel quite so disappointed, I hope.)
Many people have urged me to write the scene between Ssarsun, Spock and the Elders at the end of DECISION. It actually was in the original story outline. But when I got to it, it no longer seemed appropriate. I’m hoping one of the Kraith Creators will do it for me. Any volunteers?
As always, we are interested in your opinions of this story, and there is a question I’d like you to see if you can answer. "What is Spock’s Decision? Or, why do you think this story was titled Spock’s Decision in Kraith? Which of the decisions he makes here is the __One__ of significance to the Kraith themes?"
(RBW Note. Jacqueline Lichtenberg signature)
(RBW Note. Signed) Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Monsey, New York
(RBW Note. Drawing of an Enterprise bridge scene with Spock in the captain’s chair, Uhura at communications, Sulu at the helm and McCoy standing.
Captain’s Log: Stardate, 7-5962.8. We are observing a stellar mass from a distance of one light year. Science Officer Spock is collecting full-spectrum sensor readings.
Captain’s Log: Stardate, 7-5963.4. Science Officer Spock asserts that anomalous conditions of unknown significance exist near the stellar mass. It is a dark star, but it emits in the non-visible portions of the spectrum with unusual density. The radiation bands and shifting gravity phenomena combine to produce a new type of interference pattern which we will attempt to study at closer range in accordance with our mapping and exploration orders.
Captain’s Log: Stardate, 7-5971.3. Ship’s condition, Yellow Alert. Proceeding on impulse power only. All the power of the warp engines has been diverted to our shields which have been modified according to specifications worked out by Mr. Spock.
On the bridge of the __U.S.S.__ __Enterprise__, Captain Kirk consigned his log entry to the permanent computer storage bank with a decisive flick of his finger and then sighed hugely. He swiveled his command chair around to face Spock who was bent over the hood of his sensor-scope. It seemed to the Captain that the Vulcan had been there, unmoving, for the last nine days . . . ever since they’d started their first, cautious probe of the dark star that blotted out the center third of the main viewscreen like an ominous storm cloud writhing in a stratospheric wind.
After a few seconds, Kirk could see that Spock wasn’t going to notice him, so he heaved himself out of the command chair and trudged up the steps to the Vulcan’s side. He stood there quietly for a few seconds, feeling unaccountably weary. All he wanted to do was sleep off the fatigue that had been building for the last nine days.
"Mr. Spock, you have the con. I’m going to the gym for a work-out. Bones says I need to lose five pounds."
Without turning his head, the First Officer said, "Acknowledged, Captain."
Kirk stood a few moments more until it became evident that Spock was definitely not in a conversational mood. Kirk shrugged and sighed again, taking one last look around the bridge. All was still quiet. The duty stations were manned by alert, bright-eyed youngsters who seemed to be getting younger every year.
Abruptly, Kirk’s vision blurred. He blinked and the scene cleared again. I’m just tired, he thought. A work-out and a quick nap in the steam-room would do worlds of good. Can’t have a Captain who staggers around bleary-eyed during Yellow Alerts!
He dragged himself toward the red blotch that led to the turbo-lift. In the cage, he gripped the handle and said, "Deck five."
The doors closed behind him . . . the lift’s separate gravity system took hold . . . the car plummeted five decks and came to a bone-crunching 15-gravity halt at the appointed place . . . all without disturbing its passenger. Kirk reflected that they could have built a turbo-lift that wouldn’t give passengers the slightest hint of motion, but they hadn’t because it would have been too unnerving for humans. Perhaps the new Starships being built for non-humans would have such exotic features.
The doors opened and he stepped out into the familiar blue--gray corridor. He felt as if he were floating down a tunnel of brilliant clarity that bored a conical hole in a blurred reality. It seemed worse than mere eye-strain. Perhaps he’d better see McCoy about it? But, that would require some initiative and he was so tired his mind just slipped past the idea.
He continued toward his quarters. Walking within the cone of clear vision that cut the mist ahead of him like the prow of a Denevian racing sloop slicing cleanly through a lake fog and heading for the outer marches of human civilization . . . borne by the winds of forever. . . .
Kirk shook his head. His mind was idling out of gear and throwing up the oddest things. He’d never been on a Denevian racing sloop! He wondered if he might be suffering some aftereffect of the disintegration of the glowstones.* If so, he ought to tell Spock about it. But not right now. The Vulcan was thoroughly engrossed in unraveling his mystery star. He was like a five year old boy with a shiny new toy starship that really levitated. Give Spock a new scientific puzzle to immerse himself in, and he became more unreachable than Ensign McClintok during a Grand Master Chess Tournament.
Kirk rounded the bend, strode under the intersection brace, and squared off down the center of the long, straight corridor that led to his room. No, he’d just lie down and take a wee little nap. Then he’d feel much better.
Kirk turned, spotted his Chief Engineer’s red shirt bobbing along behind him, laboriously associated the hailing voice with the shirt and blinked. "Yes, Scotty, what is it? Some trouble with the screens?"
Scotty pulled up beside the Captain and clasped his hands behind his back. "Well, now that you mention it, we have been having a bit o’ trouble . . ."
"But nothing you can’t handle?"
"Well, no we’ll manage. I just wanted to know when we’ll be getting away from here. The warp engines are operating on full just to power those screens of Mr. Spock’s . . ."
". . . the bastardly things . . ." supplied Kirk, nodding sympathetically.
Scotty looked sidewise at the Captain. "Well, now . . . __I__ didna’ . . ."
"But you’d have like to?"
Chin up, he answered, "I must admit, Captain, that I __would__ have liked to."
"Forget it." Kirk dismissed the thought that was in both their minds. "I wasn’t reading your mind . . .I just know you too well. You’ll have to ask Mr. Spock for an estimate on how long we’ll be here. He’s onto some sort of scientific puzzle and you know how he gets . . ."
"Aye. I suppose we can survive it another couple of days."
"Was there something else?"
"Else? Oh, just a message from Dr. McCoy."
"Why didn’t he call me on the com?"
"He’s tied up with a patient. Told me to tell you that he’s got some problem with his medical scanners . . . they bleep or something every once in a while. He blames this dark star and wants to pull back and check out his instruments."
"He’ll have to take that up with Mr. Spock." He draped a friendly arm around Scotty’s shoulders more to steady himself than to express sympathy. "You two call me if you need a referee. In any event, we’ll be pulling out of here in about twenty-four hours. I don’t see any reason to endanger the ship over this. See if you can stick it out that long."
Scotty nodded. "Another day or so, we can make it, I think. No sense bothering Mr. Spock then."
"Good. Meet me in the briefing room in twelve hours. We’ll discuss it with Bones and our Science Officer."
"Aye, Sir." Scotty looked askance and then shrugged.
Giving Scotty a friendly pat, Kirk turned and leveled off toward his quarters. Somehow, he felt he hadn’t been too coherent in that conversation, but his mind kept slipping. He shook his head and plodded on toward his door. He was just tired. He knew the corridor floor was level, but it felt for all the world like he was climbing up-hill.
Finally, he reached his door, leaned on the plate and staggered in, letting the door whoosh shut behind him. He leaned against it heavily and contemplated the desk intercom screen. Maybe something __was__ wrong with him. Maybe he ought to talk to Bones about it? But, no, Bones was busy with a patient. Spock? Forget him! Spock was reveling in his mystery as if it were a vacation paradise.
Kirk threw himself on the bed and swung his boots up, propping his hands behind his head against the bolster. Spock had taken to this problem of the dark star as a human might take to drink . . . a kind of hysterical rejection of a reality which had become an intolerable burden. Yes, that sounded right.
Spock __had__ been under an intolerable pressure. On the dze-ut’ planet, he had revealed a part of himself no Vulcan would ever, willingly, display. His human half must want to flee this ship in an agony of embarrassment. But his Vulcan half would never permit it to show.
Well, thought Kirk, drifting off, let him have his fun. He more than deserved it. If work was his way of keeping his mind off Tanya, it was probably good therapy. All questions of love aside, Spock was committed to her in a way no human would ever really understand.
He heaved himself to his feet and forced his reluctant body to march straight and tall through the corridors to the gym. Stripping his shirt off, the Captain slowly prepared to limber up while he waited for a pair of crewmen to finish with the mats.
Then, Kirk suddenly became aware of Spock standing behind him, watching. "Mr. Spock, I didn’t see you come in. Is something wrong?"
"Mr. Scott told me of your encounter with him fifteen minutes ago, Captain. He found you somewhat incoherent . . . and your uncontrolled mind-linking quite disturbing."
"Spock, I wasn’t linking! I just know Scotty too well." He swept one hand out in a deprecating gesture. "I’m no latent telepath - what happened down on that planet was probably just due to the effects of that uh, tower, and your . . ." Kirk stopped, embarrassed, then continued, "and that mind grenade."
"With all due respect, Sir, you are in no condition to judge at this time. It is vital that we set course for Vulcan immediately so that you can be given the necessary training. Otherwise there exists a 98.4% probability that you will encounter severe difficulties."
"Nonsense, Spock. I . . ." Kirk began to sway dizzily. He turned a puzzled stare at the two nearby crewmen who were practicing sumate, a highly complex fighting technique. Both men were obviously exerting themselves mightily. "Why are they so __angry__ with each other? Harrison wouldn’t foul . . . what’s this nonsense about Jeffries stealing Harrison’s girl on Altair IV . . ." Kirk found himself caught in a sudden whirlpool of frenzied emotions and tangled thoughts. All at once, he was overcome by the blinding barrage of sensations flailing at his consciousness. His knees gave way and the mat at his feet loomed up to meet him. He realized, incuriously, that he was falling. In the next instant, he felt steely arms break the fall and quickly lift him back to his feet.
"No, Spock, thanks, but I’m all right. I can make it alone. I--I can walk."
"I must differ with you, Captain. You cannot." Spock answered quietly, understanding. But he let go of Kirk and waited.
Kirk took a few hesitant steps and collapsed, helpless as the vitriolic, chaotic impressions seared through him. Spock held up one hand as Harrison and Jeffries quit their scuffling and came running toward the Senior Officers. "I will accompany the Captain to his quarters. You may return to your practice. I suggest that you resolve your dispute with rational argumentation rather than with futile brutality."
Turning his back on the startled and abashed crewmen, Spock lifted the Captain gently and effortlessly in his arms and, as if Kirk were a child, carried him to his cabin. Spock placed the Captain carefully on his bed and then stood there, his eyes deep and thoughtful, looking down at him.
Kirk was obviously shaken; the paleness around his lips told the Vulcan of low blood pressure from shock.
"Thanks, Spock. Reminds me of that time on Vulcan when you had to . . ."
"Yes, Captain, I too am thinking of those two months on Vulcan after Sarek adopted you. It occurs to me that it might be necessary to re-establish the Warder-Liege Relationship between us until you have learned to cope with your new condition."
Kirk looked up at the impassive Vulcan, startled consternation written on the expressive, human features.
"On the ship?! . . . But Sarek said that, other than on Vulcan, you could __only__ invoke it at a time of vital peril stemming from--. Oh, I see what he had in mind. But surely you aren’t certain!" He bit his lip anxiously as he waited for Spock’s reply. Spock stood gravely silent.
Kirk said, "Aren’t you going to ask McCoy to remove me?"
"I must meditate on whether circumstances warrant it. In the meantime, I suggest you recall the details of your Oath to prepare yourself for what will, in all probability, be required of you." He paused. "If you will excuse me now. Captain?"
Kirk stared at the door after Spock left. The Captain’s mind was in a turmoil. He hoped desperately that Spock would not invoke that ancient Vulcan Arrangement. Kirk had come to realize over the last few years that the peace he had found on Vulcan was his only haven in the galaxy, his only home. He knew he could not, __would__ not jeopardize his belonging there. So, if Spock’s analysis of the situation invoked it, Kirk knew he would honor his oath - and for as long as the time was called, he would carefully obey the Vulcan’s every command.
Finally, the Captain fell into a fitful doze, interrupted by memories of the First Officer’s penetrating gaze as he talked about that latent telepathy business. Would Spock order him back to Vulcan for training? __Well__, he thought, __we__ __really__ __would__ __have__ __to__ __go__ __there__ __anyway__ __if__ __Tanya__ __were__ __pregnant__.
Idly, Kirk wondered if she would yet become pregnant. It was theoretically possible, Bones had told him over a Saurian Brandy the other night, for an impregnation to occur even up to six months after a single copulation.
Copulation? Yes, that was the word he’d used. It wouldn’t be right to talk about Spock’s problems in anything less than strictly proper vocabulary.
He wondered what he would do if she became pregnant. He couldn’t turn the ship around and head for home . . . he wasn’t the Captain, only the Chief Surgeon. But he hadn’t delivered a baby since Capella . . . and that had been a classical, text-book perfect delivery. Spock’s offspring would pose quite a different problem, regardless of the identity of the mother.
He bent over his screen again . . . those blasted bleeps! Wish Jim would get the hell out of this neighborhood. __Had__ to be that star that was doing it. There! Now he had it.
He straightened, heaved a deep sigh and smiled at the red-uniformed girl seated on the bed dangling pert feet at the ends of her short but exquisite legs. "Well, you slipped by that one, Tanya. You’ve got one more month’s grace. Congratulations!"
The girl looked at him incredulously. "Congratulations?" She cocked her head to one side in a way that reminded McCoy very strongly of her husband . . . even though she didn’t have his slanted eyebrows and upswept ears. If she had, she would have looked like a petite pixie out of an Irish legend.
Her short, dark hair didn’t conceal her ears . . . and she looked just like what she was, a tiny Greek-Italian girl of thoroughly human stock. It often took new acquaintances hours to divine that she was indeed completely Vulcan in philosophy . . . and that that philosophy was essential to her sanity because of her extreme telepathic sensitivity.
She finally completed her bemused study of the human doctor, the compassionate part of her personality winning out. "You really don’t understand, do you?"
She slid down, dropping to the floor like a ballerina completing a leap. "You’re so close to Captain Kirk . . . and the Captain is like a brother to Spock . . . and neither of you seem to understand that if we fail . . ." Tears sprang to her eyes, magnifying the dark beauty of them, ". . . if we fail, it will practically kill him! You’ve both forgotten T’Rruel . . . but he hasn’t."
Abruptly, she turned and almost ran out the door.
McCoy stared after her. He hadn’t realized that they wanted a child that much. This was bad . . . very bad. Because, according to the blood and tissue tests he’d run last week, Spock’s fertility might have been adversely affected by the Romulan virus he’d picked up on their spy mission. He wondered if Spock knew.
Oh, of course he knew. That knowledge was one of the sources of the deep concern he felt. One would expect a doctor of medicine to understand these things without being told. The deleterious effect was progressive. Even with the disease totally expunged, the deterioration would continue at the rate of at least three to five percent every ten years for the rest of his life.
Nonsense! The effect was only temporary! McCoy frowned. It wasn’t like him to fantasize disasters.
It’s no fantasy. It would be a disaster if I don’t conceive this time . . . and it would be a disaster if I do.
Agreed. Either way, the timing is most inconvenient. But, then, that’s traditional with my people.
"Our people!" she corrected absently, offering her husband her two outstretched fingers in formal greeting.
He touched her fingers tenderly. "Agreed," he said aloud, "but there is much work to be done now."
"I beg forgiveness. I thought you’d like to know."
"You did well. But the bridge is no place for such discussions."
She held his eyes with hers. "Spock. Three to five percent? __That__ bad?"
"Probably no worse than that. Now, go, My Wife, I am very busy."
Obediently, Kirk turned toward the red blotches that were the turbo-lift doors. They - shimmered, blurred and seemed to retreat into the distance. Two strong hands clasped his fragile shoulders as his legs buckled under him and he fought for breath . . . red blackness swirling upwards in sparkling shreds.
The last thing he heard before he lost consciousness was Spock’s voice saying, "Captain! T’Aniyeh, break it off! You must break it off. The Captain is unable . . . he doesn’t have the training. T’Aniyeh, atondei shrze!
McCoy took the air-hypo from Nurse Chapel, eyed the life-signs indicators over the two beds and turned to Spock who was standing in the corner, apparently communing with the medical computer on the wall.
Spock put out a hand, touched a stud, and rainbows of dancing lights lit up the computer’s panel. McCoy said, "Be careful, you’ll overload it!"
Spock turned a cool eye on the Doctor, one brow raised in mild incredulity. Then he favored the nurse with a gaze that almost said, "Since when is McCoy a computer expert?" But he didn’t answer verbally, and Christine retreated to a corner where she’d be out of the cross-fire.
McCoy gestured to the hypo he held. "I hope you know what you’re doing, Spock. Under the circumstances, I would prescribe a stimulant, not a sedative . . ."
". . . and you’d have two very dead patients on your hands, Doctor." The computer beeped quietly and Spock checked the readout, then turned back to McCoy. "My estimate was correct; two milligrams per pound of body weight would be optimum dosage in this case."
McCoy raised an eyebrow. "I knew you’d picked up a whole gaggle of degrees, __Mr__. Spock, but I hadn’t heard that one of them was in medicine."
"Not medicine, Doctor, history. In every recorded instance of this type of occurrence, stimulants killed while sedatives saved."
"How come you’re so certain of the type of this ‘occurrence’?"
"You forget, I was in the mind-link the Captain forced on us . . . and so were you, for a time. I am trained to know what I experience."
"How come you and I didn’t end up like this?" McCoy gestured at the recumbent patients.
"You, Doctor, are virtually psi-null while I am relatively insensitive __and__ highly trained." He paced over to the Doctor and stood watching the life-signs displays. After a time, he said, "Administer the sedative now, Doctor."
McCoy took one last look at Spock and then at his diagnostic panels. The six needles over the Captain’s head danced up and down in exact unison with those over Tanya’s head. He’d never seen anything like it before. He took a deep breath, reluctance apparent in every line of his body. But, he lowered the hypo and gave the Captain the calculated dosage. Then he re-set and gave a shot to Tanya.
While they stood watching for the first sign of the effect, McCoy said, "What caused it, Spock? Some aftereffect of the disintegration of the glowstones?"
"Unlikely, Doctor. As I said at the time . . ."
The intercom whistled stridently and McCoy took it on the wall unit near the door. "Sickbay, McCoy here."
"Scott here, Doctor. I’m sending up two men. They seemed dizzy and confused on the job and I thought it best . . ."
"Right, Scotty, anything else?"
"Well, I’ve got four others complaining of headache and double vision. I don’t know that it’s not related."
"O.K., check your air and radiation levels . . ."
Hurt, Scotty said, "I’ve __done__ that . . ."
McCoy said, "All right. I’ll look into it. Sickbay, out." He tapped off the switch and turned toward Spock, but the intercom beeped again. "Sickbay, McCoy here."
"Bridge, Chekov. Doctor, I’ve sent Lieutenant Uhura to her quarters. She seemed ill . . .
blurred vision, confused . . . maybe feverish. Donahue is filling in for her, but he is complaining of a headache, and for that matter, so is everyone else up here. I’ve checked with Environmental Control. All Life Support functions read nominal. I think you better look into this, Doctor."
"I will, Mr. Chekov," said McCoy.
Chekov asked, "Is Mr. Spock there?"
Spock stepped up to the intercom, "Spock here, Mr. Chekov. I heard your report. I’ll be up in a few minutes."
"Yes, Sir. Bridge out."
McCoy signed off and turned to Spock, but the Vulcan was punching at the wall-mounted medical computer again, running the specialized unit to full capacity.
From the outer office came the sound of a corridor door opening and then shutting. McCoy nodded to Nurse Chapel. "Go check Mr. Scott’s men in. I’ll be there in a moment."
She hurried into the office, letting the door slip shut behind her.
After a moment, Spock nodded. "Yes, of course."
McCoy snapped, "Of course what?"
But the Vulcan stepped over to the desk and began hooking the desk viewscreen into the main library computer. Then he connected the bio-computer into his improvised circuit, strode over to an un-occupied bed and appropriated the diagnostic panel without so much as a "by-your-leave" to the Chief Surgeon. That was almost too much for McCoy. Nearly five years ago, just after T’Rruel’s death, the Doctor had sworn off needling the Vulcan. But as the Science Officer’s movements became swifter and more complex, McCoy’s resolve was weakening.
Finally, Spock bent over the desk intercom and instructed the computer, "Tie intra-ship sensor readings into Averaging Program EDX-2276. Display continuous readout on diagnostic panel 10."
The computer voice answered, "-working-"
McCoy gaped at his precious diagnostic panel as the needles rose from the base line and began to dance as if there were a patient on the bed. "And just who do you think you are, Mr. Science Officer . . . a pointed-eared, green-blooded Rube Goldberg? Hasn’t my equipment suffered enough from you ill-concealed passionate curiosity about this dark star . . ."
Spock held up a hand and said mildly, "Restrain yourself, Doctor. I’m only attempting to ascertain . . ."
"__I’ll__ ascertain that you’ve overstepped the bounds of your authority, __Mr__. Spock!" McCoy was as close to rage as he’d ever been and he was shouting now. "Who authorized you to ruin . . ."
"I’ve __ruined__ nothing, Doctor. And, you may recall, that during the incapacitance of the Captain, the First Officer is in command."
"If that’s why you wanted him under sedation . . ."
Turning his back on the human, Spock examined the diagnostic panel he’d commandeered. "I’m merely attempting to ascertain the cause and extent of the symptoms that have . . ." His voice trailed off as he became utterly absorbed in the display over the empty bed. In effect, he had the whole crew on that bed and was reading the average of each body-function.
McCoy said urgently, "Spock, you’re going to overload that panel . . . it wasn’t built to . . ." But Spock absently waved him to silence.
Eventually the Vulcan moved back to the desk and said, "Statistical analysis."
The computer answered, "-working-"
Spock went on questioning the computer on mean-deviations and curve half-widths while McCoy reflected morosely that some people seemed more at ease conversing with a machine than with flesh and blood people. In fact, McCoy thought, the triumphal satisfaction exuded by the Vulcan was definitely colored with emotional overtones.
At last the Science Officer gave a crisp nod and began to undo all the complex linkages he’d built. He found time to glance over his shoulder at the Chief Surgeon and say, "I’ll thank you to keep your thoughts to yourself, Doctor. The next few hours will be a great enough ordeal without deliberate insults."
"What do you mean? I didn’t say . . ."
"No, but you were thinking very ‘loudly,’ Doctor."
"But you just said I was psi-null!"
Spock put the finishing touches on his work and then came over to face the doctor and look down into his face gravely. "I’ve put all of your equipment back into its regulation condition, calibrated and zeroed properly . . . sans bleep."
McCoy looked into those dark, Vulcan eyes for a long moment. It was impossible to stay angry with Spock for more than a few seconds. How can you rage at someone who won’t return the complement? He sighed. "All right. Forget it."
Spock nodded and then, frowning deeply, he rested his hands on McCoy’s shoulders and said, very softly, "Leonard. We’re in trouble. Very, very bad trouble. I need your help . . . not your hindrance. Remember the tape Jim left for us in his safe?"
McCoy nodded, shocked speechless by Spock’s use of his first name.
Spock continued, "The Captain isn’t dead yet, but we __all__ will be very soon . . . if you and I waste our energies in unproductive disputes. Jim advised me to seek your counsel . . . he advised you to make allowances for my mistakes. And, Doctor, I have made one . . . perhaps the worst mistake of my career . . . a mistake that may cost all our lives."
McCoy blinked. The grief he sensed in Spock was like a red hot knife twisting in his guts bringing tears of pain to his eves. He said. "What can I do?"
Spock released the Doctor and paced across the room taking a deep breath and letting it out very slowly. Gradually, the pain in McCoy’s body eased and vanished so completely that he wondered if it had ever been there.
Spock said, very quietly, "You __are__ psi-null, Doctor . . . but even you are experiencing psi phenomena on several levels of awareness . . . as is every other member of this crew."
"Why?" McCoy was numb, but his analytical mind plowed on along well worn channels. Symptom to cause to cure . . .
"Yes, Doctor. It __is__ a pathological condition. Fortunately, our crew is human."
"I thought the day would never come when I’d hear you admit it!"
"Today, I do."
The Vulcan took another deep breath and paced the length of the room, for all the world like a frustrated human. As he walked he said, "The Kaenerla Psionic Scale rates all the races of the Federation . . . you are familiar with it?"
"Not in detail. It’s rather new and I haven’t had time to read through it all."
"In outline, it is a scale of one hundred, calibrated logarithmically. Races like the Metrones, the Organians, the Melkotians rate between ninety and one hundred. The Schillians come in around seventy, plus or minus five. The Vulcans average around thirty, plus or minus two. Humans average about five. Certain individual humans rate as high as forty or even forty-five while others approach zero."
Spock rounded on the Doctor and confronted him. "I took the test twelve times and achieved readings varying from a low of three to a high of forty-seven . . . the greatest variation ever recorded in a single individual. I’ve often told you my control is erratic. The results of this objective test have verified that."
McCoy nodded. "Meaning sometimes you’re sensitive and sometimes not."
"But what has this to do . . ."
"Doctor, I know, from personal experience, what it means to go from being nearly psi-null to a high sensitivity level. I assure you that no untrained human can live through it."
"Are you telling me that Jim is going to die?"
Spock shook his head in disgust. "No, Doctor. I was not speaking of the development of Jim’s latent telepathic faculties. I was speaking of you and your crew-mates."
"Not of yourself?"
"No. I shan’t suffer greatly from the effect." He walked over to examine the diagnostic panels over the patients’ beds. "If this crew were, say, Rigellian, they would be dead already. As it is, they may survive another couple of days . . . at the most."
"Unless . . . ?" prompted McCoy.
"Unless we get away from this dark star."
"I knew it!"
"Yes, I admit . . . that I may have become overly intent on the investigation . . . though, even now. I can not see how I might have predicted this effect . . ."
"Never mind about that now. Just get us out of here."
"On impulse power, Doctor? It took us a week to get in this close. We allowed two weeks for our retreat."
"Well, put the warp engines back on . . ."
"The shields that the warp engines are powering are all that stand between us and instant death, Doctor. That was my mistake . . . and I may yet live to regret it." He looked down at Tanya, pale and tranquil in drugged repose.
The silence grew painful. Then McCoy said, "What about them? They’re both human . . . both telepathically sensitive . . . will this field kill them?"
Spock sighed. "I don’t know. I believe they are both safe as long as they are under heavy sedation." Abruptly, he turned to the Doctor and ordered crisply, "Have the lab synthesize that theragin derivative you used when the Tholians almost had us trapped. I doubt if it will actually decrease telepathic awareness, but it should help to combat the confusion. If we can just keep the crew functioning a few hours more, we may be able to pull out of here . . ."
Spock started for the corridor and McCoy called after him, "How . . . ?"
Spock flung the tattered words over his shoulder as he sped out the door. "__Through__ the corona, Doctor . . . __through__!"
Stunned McCoy looked after the retreating First Officer. Had the man gone completely insane? If so it was his duty to log it and start proceedings to remove him from command. But nobody else aboard had the vaguest notion what was going on. Telepathy, stellar physics, and starship engineering __were__ the Science Officer’s domain of expertise . . . medicine was McCoy’s specialty and, he thought, he’d better get busy.
Once he got his body moving, McCoy found his mind returning to his habitual channels of thought and all considerations of the correctness of Spock’s command decisions vanished in flurry of routine. Theragin derivative; intensive care for Jim and Tanya; patients waiting . . . McCoy narrowed down his concentration and worked with a fiendish intensity that kept his mind off his own growing headache.
Spock stepped off the turbo-lift into a maelstrom of un-restrained emotions. The air of the bridge seemed to glow with the free emotional energy snapping between navigator, helmsman, communications and engineering. In the center of it all sat Mr. Sulu in the command chair, squinting at the main screen and rubbing his forehead.
Spock took firm grip on himself and dove into the whirlpool of emotion as if it were a cascade of molten lava. He stepped down into the command arena and took up a stance within Sulu’s field of view. Presently, the oriental face turned toward him and Sulu jumped up. "Oh, Mr. Spock!"
"Very good, Lieutenant. Report to sickbay. I think Dr. McCoy may have a good headache potion worked out by now."
"Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir."
"No need to apologize."
"Yes, Sir," said Sulu imaginatively. Then he hurried toward the lift.
Spock took the command chair and surveyed his crew. Chekov on navigation. Lt. Singer at the helm. Donahue at communications. And Mr. Scott unaccountably at the bridge Engineering Station.
Solemnly, Spock made the required log entries . . . including a dispassionate account of his own errors and an outline of his current plan. Then he swiveled around to face the communications station. "Mr. Donahue, dispatch log entries to date . . . capsule drop."
Donahue faced around, removing the earphone from his right ear. "Are we in that much danger, Mr. Spock?"
"That was an order, Mr. Donahue, not a request."
"Yes, Sir." Donahue swiveled around and went to work dispatching the capsule that might be all of the __Enterprise__ that would survive.
Spock went back to staring at the main viewscreen. The writhing sun shot its black plasma into space and called it back in ragged tongues only to be shredded by the unpredictable
variations in the gravitational-pulson density. And, Spock thought, he was planning to take the __Enterprise__ right through that corona without even understanding the reason for the gravity shifts . . . let alone having a well-tested means of combating them.
Momentarily, he wondered if he had chosen this course because he wanted to solve these problems and had earlier concluded that the only way to collect the data would be to travel straight through the dark plasma . . . but he had been thinking of a series of unmanned probes and possibly one, manned, shuttlecraft mission . . . not the whole __Enterprise__.
He said, "Mr. Singer, stand by for orbital change. Mr. Chekov, plot an orbit with the following parameters . . ." then he rattled off the specifications for a hyperbolic orbit that would take them out to a distance where they could drop the shielding and cut in warp power for a complete break-away.
Finally, Chekov answered, "We can’t make it, Mr. Spock . . . not enough power. We’d skim into the corona."
"Re-compute for parabolic."
"Computing." Chekov was sweating now, as if the ship were already overheating. Then he said, "Can’t do it, Mr. Spock. Still not enough power in the impulse banks." He swiveled around to face the First Officer. Strange, he thought, Spock must have known that. He could approximate an orbit faster than the main computer.
Spock said, "Yes, Mr. Chekov. I did. Now, tell me, how would you get the ship away from this star in less than forty-two hours . . . using no more power than is in the impulse banks?"
"You mean without touching the warp engines?"
"I believe I said that."
Chekov’s face froze. He said, "We do have enough power to achieve a long elliptical that would swing us out just far enough in about twenty-five hours . . . but . . . we’ll shave so close to the corona there probably wouldn’t be anyone left alive to cut in the warp engines and complete the escape."
"If we cut our orbit directly through the upper coronal layer, we can achieve aphelion within twenty-three hours ten minutes."
"But at perihelion, we’d be torn apart . . . or fried!"
Spock nodded. "That __would__ be inconvenient. Therefore, I suggest we take precautions. Compute the orbit, Mr. Chekov. Compute it closer than you’ve ever computed an orbit. I want our position known at thirty second intervals for the twenty-four hours after injection."
"But with the shifting gravity . . ."
"Do the best you can." He turned to Scotty who was staring from the one to the other in open-mouthed horror. "Mr. Scott, come with me. Mr. Singer, you have the con. We’ll be in the briefing room."
Spock rose and led the dazed Scott toward the turbo-lift.
Somehow, the Chief Engineer managed to keep his peace until the briefing room doors closed behind them, leaving him alone with the Vulcan. Scotty was very keenly aware that, during the Captain’s incapacitation, he was second in command under Mr. Spock . . . and it wouldn’t be proper for him to argue with the Commander in public.
But, as soon as the doors closed, Scotty said to the First Officer, "Are you daft, man! You canna’ take this ship through that sun’s corona just to satisfy your scientific curiosity while the Captain is ill. You know he’d never approve!"
"Engineer." Spock seated himself at the computer input unit at the end of the table. "The Captain will never have the opportunity to approve anything ever again if we do not execute this maneuver with superlative accuracy. Nor will any of us. We are in grave peril. If you doubt that, I suggest you consult with Dr. McCoy."
"Peril? What peril?"
Spock leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk, steepling his fingers and gazing somberly upward until the human decided he’d better sit down and listen.
When Scotty had chosen a seat, Spock began to talk, frankly admitting his own guilt in failing to provide a means of swift withdrawal in the event they couldn’t use the warp engines as they’d planned. He went on to explain the nature of the side-effect the star had on brain tissue.
When the Vulcan had finished, Scotty said, "The only way out of the burning barn is straight through the fire!"
"Quaintly put, but essentially accurate."
Scotty sat back shaking his head, "But, Mr. Spock, I’ve been studying these gravity shifts, and I know this ship canna’ possibly take the strains . . ."
"At present, no. But with several modifications, we might make it. Let me show you my calculations." He fingered the computer and the tri-screen in the center of the table lit up with a schematic diagram of the __Enterprise__.
As Spock talked, he had the computer put the model of the __Enterprise__ through a grueling simulation of the stresses involved in a close pass to the dark star. Within seconds, he’d captured the Engineer’s attention and after fifteen minutes, the dour Scott was flushed with animated enthusiasm for the challenging job . . . unmindful of the risk to his own life.
Half an hour later, they emerged from the briefing room. Spock headed for sickbay and Scotty for Engineering.
McCoy found the Vulcan standing between the two beds, the Captain on his left, Tanya on his right, gazing fixedly at nothing. The Doctor swirled the Erlenmeyer flask in his hand and fetched a beaker from the supply cabinet. "Here, Spock, you better take a shot of this. Perk you up a bit."
"No thank you, Doctor."
"Come on, now, doctor’s orders! It’s worked perfectly on everybody else."
Spock straightened, looked at the flask of orange juice, smelled the vodka, and said, "But I am not ‘everybody else.’"
Suddenly, the Captain began to moan, a low anguished, tortured sound which sent the doctor to his side, scanner in hand. "You’ve got to do something for him, Spock! If you won’t let me use what I know, then try some of your mind techniques."
"It could be highly dangerous to attempt a link with him now, Doctor. His mind is an overwhelming turmoil of warring sensory impressions and anxieties and terror."
McCoy snorted. "Certainly you’re not __afraid__."
"There __is__ one possibility left."
"Well, out with it!"
"If I can touch his mind before his condition worsens, and impose upon it the peace and tranquility he needs to strengthen him against this thought-barrage, it might help them both."
"If you can possibly do something, do it now. __I__ don’t know what to do!"
"There is not sufficient time now to attempt it, Doctor. He must be brought to accept his telepathic sensitivity and the necessity of returning to Vulcan. Then I can try to take his consciousness away from here-now and back to those last months on Vulcan."
"I see. Yes, he’s told me something of what that adoption interval meant to him. Can you reach him now, in his present condition?"
Spock looked intently at the two patients. Kirk’s moaning had almost ceased and, for the moment, his features appeared less contorted. Tanya’s face seemed to reflect a prolonged, tense concentration.
"Possibly, Doctor. The danger of such an attempt is formidable. But perhaps I might succeed in opening a small crack to his mind at first, and widen it later when he can be made to recall and focus on the Leige Control. I will make the attempt as soon as this emergency . . ."
The intercom whistled for attention and Spock took it at the desk. "Sickbay, Spock here."
"Scott here. I’ve assigned men to ripping up the floors at the calculated points, but I’m going to need some help shutting down the main coils of the gravitational compensators; can you give me a hand?"
"Not just yet, Mr. Scott. I must supervise the orbital injection. Then I’ll have the null-g warnings broadcast. About fifteen minutes."
"Aye, aye. Meantime I’ll get my space-polo team outside."
"Good. But be certain they know the exact angles. Those nacelle pylons are extremely fragile and if they activate a g tractor two degrees off, it would tear the ship apart."
"Aye, Sir, I’m well aware of that!"
"Good. Carry on. Spock out."
McCoy gasped, "Null-g! Mr. Spock, what are you up to?"
"We must remove the gravity compensators from luxury duty and put them to work bracing
the ship. Actually, we only need to remove 17% of the units, but to do that, we’ll have to shut down the whole system."
"Why? I can’t operate a sickbay in null-g!"
"You’re going to learn, Doctor. Our gravity compensators work on a cryogenic superconducting torus charged with anti-matter electrons . . . positrons . . . in order to . . ."
"Skip the mechanics. I get the picture. One null-g sickbay, coming up. I’m an acrobat not a doctor!"
Spock left McCoy muttering phrases of wry self-pity into his theragin derivative cocktail.
When he entered the bridge, he found Chekov and Sulu standing behind their chairs staring up at the direct-vision dome over the center of the command arena. To Spock’s way of thinking, that dome was the most horrendously useless feature of the human-designed ship. It was not only a structural weakness, albeit a minor one compared to the nacelle pylons, it was a source of distraction to bridge personnel.
He walked up behind the two young men, and without himself looking up, said, "What seems to be so interesting, gentlemen?"
Sulu answered, "We thought we saw four men out there in space-polo armor doing acrobatics."
"Is that all?" asked Spock mildly.
Chekov brought his head down, rubbed the back of his neck, and said, "‘Is that all?’ the man asks. Isn’t that enough?"
"It is far too much if you haven’t yet completed your assigned calculations."
"Oh," said Chekov, "They’re completed, Mr. Spock. Precisely as ordered."
Sulu added, "Ready for orbital injection at any moment you say the word."
"Good," said Spock, taking his place in the command chair, "then prepare for course change. Mr. Sulu."
The two took their places favoring the dome with occasional anxious glances, but finally steadying down to the job in front of them. Sulu wiped sweaty palms on his trousers. "Mr. Spock, are you quite certain we have to do this?"
"Quite, Lieutenant." Spock swiveled around to face the communications desk. "Lt. Uhura, outside intercom, please."
She paused, blinked and then woodenly said, "Outside intercom . . . Sir? Yes, Sir."
Spock heard her mutter, "Not that there’s anybody out there." Then he was talking to the outside of the ship. "Bridge to extra-vehicular party."
"Phillips here," came the tiny voice.
Sulu and Chekov abandoned their ready positions to swivel around and stare at the command chair’s speaker incredulously and then up at the dome where two tiny bodies were now visible.
Spock said, without looking up, "Mr. Phillips, Spock here. Secure for acceleration."
"Aye, Sir. Two minutes."
"Two minutes . . . mark!" Spock cocked his head to one side and viewed the Helmsman and Navigator quizzically. "Gentlemen, mark!"
Crisply, they spun back to the desk, chorusing, "Mark!"
Uhura said hesitantly, "Mr. Spock, could you tell me why those men are out there?"
Patiently, Spock recited, "They are dismounting our tractor-beam projectors and re-positioning them to brace the engine nacelles during perihelion. Any further questions, Lieutenant?"
"Uh . . . no . . . Sir . . . sorry I asked. Just curious."
"Please attempt to restrain your curiosity for more appropriate moments."
Chekov said, "Thirty seconds and counting. Twenty-five."
Spock said, "Lay in the orbit change, Mr. Sulu."
Sulu hit the switches. "Laid in and tracking on the vernier."
Chekov was chanting, "Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, . . ."
The elevator doors swished open and Scotty marched in, silently taking his place at the engineering desk. Uhura cast him a beseeching glance. The Scot winked confidently and bent over his board.
Uhura checked her monitors. The countdown was going to the boys outside. She uttered a little prayer for them; she couldn’t recall ever riding a course change with people outside.
Then Chekov was chanting in clipped monotone, "Four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . zero . . . plus one . . . plus two . . . plus three . . . ." Finally he said, "On course and tracking, Mr. Spock."
Spock rose and moved to glance at the board over Chekov’s shoulder. "A fair job, Mr. Chekov. Have we power left for course corrections?"
Sulu brought the appropriate instruments to bear and allowed Spock to see for himself. He was quite proud of the economy he’d achieved, but Spock didn’t even comment. Instead he turned to Scotty. "You’ve cut out all non-essential power?"
"Aye, Sir. And we’re still shutting down systems one by one. But, there’s one question, Mr. Spock."
"How are we going to keep the star’s magnetic field from disrupting the magnetic bottle of our anti-matter plasma?" He said it with smug satisfaction, hands behind his back as he balanced on the balls of his feet.
All eyes were on Spock as he answered, "We won’t."
"Then we’re all doomed!" said Scotty gravely.
"Not at all," answered Spock. "When the interference becomes acute, we shall eject the anti-matter plasma."
"But, by then we’ll be inside the star’s corona. It will trigger an explosion that will rip the ship apart . . ."
"Anti-matter," said Spock tutorially, "only explodes on contact with matter."
"But, Mr. Scott," said Spock, "this star is anti-matter, so obviously . . ."
Scotty gasped, "__Anti-matter__ . . . ," then his eyes were irresistibly drawn to the star that loomed darkly in the center of the main viewscreen.
Spock waited until the Engineer had mastered his shock. The Vulcan had assumed that, since the star’s composition was so obvious to him, it must be obvious to everybody else aboard. That was a type of error he’d never be able to avoid.
Eventually, Scotty turned back, the stricken look fading gradually to acceptance. Spock walked toward the engineering station, looking up at him. "The skin of the ship will be protected by a positive matter plasma trapped in a spheroidal shell by our deflector fields. Outside of the positive matter plasma, the anti-matter plasma ejected from our engines will cushion the interaction with the star’s corona.
"Of course," continued the Vulcan, "the two plasmas will be reacting at the interface, but it will be a controlled reaction, releasing power which we will be able to tap to maintain our energon screens. As we approach aphelion, the star’s own gravitational peculiarities will strip the plasma from us. We should have at least seventy-three minutes to engage our re-start cycle and attain full power."
Scotty cocked his head to one side and looked the Vulcan up and down. "And just how do you do expect to accomplish all of this?"
"Come. We will shut down the gravity compensators and I’ll show you."
"The gravity compensators?" said Scotty blankly. Then a smile quirked the corners of his eves and he said dreamily, "Ah . . . now . . . Ah . . . begin . . . to . . . see . . . ."
Spock took the Engineer’s elbow and led him into the turbo-lift. As the doors closed, the bridge crew could hear the Engineer muttering about Romulan Cloaking Systems and sub-dimensional gravitronic field theory. They didn’t understand it, but it made them feel better.
During the fifteen hours following the fateful orbital injection, the Vulcan seemed to be everywhere at once. He was on Deck Twelve supervising the re-alignment of the gravity
compensators as structural braces.
He was in Engineering, sleeves rolled up, hands grimy from helping convert the Emergency Cryogenic Dumpers into hot plasma ejectors.
He was in sickbay, gently solicitous of the drugged patients until surprised by McCoy making rounds.
Then he was in vacuum gear, outside the ship, inspecting the tractor-beam mountings that would brace the slender nacelle pylons.
He was climbing through the Deck Seven Computer Cores, installing the controls for the converted tractor-beams so the computer could compensate for shifting strains.
He was on the bridge programming the computer to operate the jury-rigged strain compensators.
He was waist deep into the guts of the Environmental Engineering Console, stripping down the circuits and shunting all power into cooling. Dark star or no, there was still considerable infra-red flux incident on their screens.
And all the while, he was on the intercom instructing Scotty who was building the power-tap that would utilize the interface reaction so vital to the success of the whole scheme.
In the sixteenth hour, the First Officer was again on the bridge seated in the command chair, crisp and cool under the smudges and grime.
Already, the interior temperature had begun to climb noticeably. Creaks and groans were all too evident to the trained ear and twenty percent of the computer’s capacity was engaged in Spock’s Stress Compensation Program. The ship was in powered-down condition, lights on minimum, air-cycles on low, some sections shut down completely. The only inhabited area near the naked hull was the bridge, now pared down to skeleton crew.
"Spock to sickbay," said Spock, propping his elbows on the arms of the command chair and steepling his fingers.
"Sickbay, McCoy here."
"Doctor, you may commence Metabolic Reduction shots."
"Spock, is this really necessary? It’s bad psychology to force the Starfleet-type human to face death in his sleep."
"I’m well aware of that, Doctor. But which is better, a certain death while awake, or possible life upon awakening?"
"You may check my calculations, Doctor," said Spock, leaning wearily on the chair arm. "We’ve just enough power to make it provided 80% of our crew undergoes a thirty per cent Metabolic Reduction. You must commence Reduction within ten minutes and complete the job within one hour and twenty two minutes. You have the list of personnel subject to Reduction. Please advise me on completion. Bridge out."
The Vulcan sat a moment staring at the main viewscreen. Then he said, "Mr. Chekov, report to sickbay for Metabolic Reduction."
"Aye, Sir," said Chekov, releasing the navigator’s console to Computer Control. The low, musical murmuring from the Library Computer station increased a little. Otherwise, there was no apparent change. Chekov rose and headed for the elevator.
"Mr. Sulu," said Spock, "Cut power to the main viewscreen."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
As the image on the screen shrank and winked out, leaving the bridge suddenly a very closed, stuffily claustrophobic place, Chekov gave one involuntary glance at the overhead dome which was now shrouded under metal baffles, then he left.
Now, Spock and Sulu were alone on the bridge.
Spock touched his chair arm buttons. "Bridge to Damage Control. Commence placement of emergency bulkheads according to Schedule A-Prime."
"Damage Control, acknowledging. Schedule A-Prime, in effect."
Sulu wiped his palms on his trousers again. This was going to be a helluva ride.
"Sickbay to Bridge," came McCoy’s voice.
"Bridge. Spock here."
"We’re still having some trouble with headache, dizziness and disorientation," said McCoy. "Request permission to rotate personnel from the Reduction List onto the Duty Roster in accordance with their resistance to symptoms."
"Permission granted," Spock answered without hesitation and then added, "Doctor?"
"How is the Captain?"
"Delirious. I’ve had to put him under physical restraints in spite of the tranquilizer."
"I don’t think you do."
"Your doubts are duly noted and logged. Carry on, Doctor."
"Aren’t you even going to ask about Tanya?"
"I know very well exactly what her condition is, Doctor. Bridge out."
When the contact was broken, Spock said to himself, "I know her condition better than you do __Doctor__."
Unable to stop thinking about McCoy’s patients, Spock made one of his visits to sickbay. And the Captain was, indeed, tossing in delirium. Spock stared down at his suffering friend. It was a kind of suffering which the Vulcan knew he himself was far more capable of enduring.
"My Father was wise to anticipate the need for this," Spock said softly to the anguished Kirk. He placed his fingers carefully on the Captain’s face, then, after a few moments, repositioned them on his skull. "We are thinking of the peace washing over you, Jim. Our minds, our memories, are one. Together we will remember, my brother . . ."
Kirk’s eyes moved contentedly from one familiar object to another in Spock’s home, luxuriating in this house. And it was his home now, he thought, exhilarated, and soon it would be made official. Sarek’s stargram had requested that Kirk and Spock spend their pre-mission leave on Vulcan for the formal adoption ceremony. In a couple of months they’d be on their way to seek out the marauding pirates who had destroyed the Trantu. For now, Kirk was content to reach out and grasp his new family. He brought his attention back to what Spock was saying, realizing that he had missed much of it.
". . . are unfamiliar to you, Captain. Indeed some of the traditional ritual of a Vulcan Ceremony-of-Adoption you might find most repugnant to the captain of a starship with his First Officer acting as . . ."
Kirk interrupted, smiling. "I don’t think I would, Spock. I can hardly believe that anything you or Sarek would do, or have me do, would upset me."
Spock was silent. Then, "It is time to go, Captain."
The two men descended a curving staircase which appeared to have been carved from rock. As they entered the underground floor of Spock’s home, a spacious natural cavern, Kirk felt as if that inexplicable Peace were reverberating within his being. His eyes rested on the blue-green stone table which seemed to spring from deep within the earth. His gaze was captured by the pure crystal pool of water beneath that wide expanse of natural table. But those chairs which seemed sculpted from the same textured stone, they weren’t here before, yet they evoked a sense of familiarity. In fact the entire arrangement, the three chairs raised several feet above the natural floor, the two dozen austere chairs forming, by their placement, the Idic symbol, tugged at some half-forgotten memory chord. Then he remembered. These looked exactly like the chairs used during the Spock/T’Uriamne confrontation. Had they been brought here for __his__ adoption? He couldn’t be that . . .
::Indeed you are. The mingling of different cultures which is about to begin embodies the true meaning, the logical implication of the Idic.::
Kirk was about to answer when he suddenly realized that Spock had not actually spoken. He was puzzling over this as they drew closer to the dais. His eyes widened as he saw T’Pau, looking older and frailer and more indomitable than ever. He realized that he should have expected that she would be here. He was about to go over to her, but Spock shook his head no.
Kirk’s eyes were drawn to the multicolored fire which burned in a long low pit close to the crystal water. The flames soothed him, yet simultaneously, the murmuring sound of the bells filled him with an eagerness, an almost tangible excitement. The fire appeared cool and smokeless but the air was alive with wafted scents which Kirk was at a loss to identify. Mint laced with jasmine and spiced with turmeric and Aldebaran garlic? No, it wasn’t that, but something uniquely Vulcan. A symphony of scents, each remaining distinct even while mingled. Almost as if the very air symbolized the spirit of the Idic. Sarek, seated next to T’Pau, lifted his hand, and Spock and Kirk approached him. Spock seated himself in the third chair.
Kirk glanced at the glittering medallion hanging from T’Pau’s neck. He remembered Spock saying that this was a __komatt__, the badge of office of the Daughters-of-the-Tradition. It was the authority of their long, venerated tradition made tangible in a symbol.
T’Pau held up her hand and said, "Kari far!" Kirk was thoroughly startled for a moment, then recalled that those words signified only the beginning of a ceremony which was unchanged for at least two thousand years.
"Thus begins the Koon-ut-Tspoek-Tasichrani, the joining-of-family-in-Tsaichrani, a joining that can never be sundered from the moment it is completed provided that all those who are to be joined now give their consent. Sarek, do you agree to welcome this man into your family, to guide him in Tsaichrani, to accept him as your true son with all the rights and obligations which will be his by our custom, to do what is necessary that he be taught the ways of our people?"
Sarek’s effective voice, wrapped as always in that immutable dignity, answered, "I do so agree."
The bells again rustled the air, a quiet expectant sound.
"Spock. As Kataytikh of the First Realm, do you accept Kirk into you family, as your brother, to teach him our ways, to share with him you heritage, to mingle our differences according to the Philosophy of Nome - and to stand ready always to show him the way of Tsaichrani despite the great trials attendant upon one who is not Affirmed?"
The Guardian of the ancient Tradition, that stabilizing essence of the Vulcan soul, looked at the human, at his friend, and answered, "I do so accept him." The music of the bells seemed to echo the solemn calm, the resonance of Spock’s voice.
"Kirk, do you agree to become a son of Sarek, brother of the kataytikh of the first realm, to accept all the obligations, trusts and rights of such a joining and to perform all that is required of you to fulfill this pledged commitment?"
Kirk answered softly, happily, "I agree." Again the bells filled the air and it was as though their trilling voices spoke in solemn finality - and a hope.
T’Pau’s gaze brushed each of the twenty-four seated Vulcans, their emotionless faces expressing the dignity of their positions on Vulcan. "It is done. Se’eron, continue."
One of the seated observers rose and came toward the group before T’Pau. He continued past them and to a large case set upon a pedestal. There was a tense silence as he opened the case and extracted a vessel. A stalwart, remote man with the face of a hawk, he turned holding the glittering artifact high enough for all to see. "I have prepared this kraith according to The Tradition."
T’Pau rose, leaning heavily upon her chair but none moved to assist her. "How does thee guarantee its function?"
"With my life, T’Pau."
"If there be one with us who trusts not in Se’eron, let him leave now."
The motionless silence was unreal to Kirk. He had to force himself to breathe.
T’Pau raised her hand, "Kari far!"
Kirk blinked. A ceremony within a ceremony? That seemed somewhat illogically pompous to Kirk. But from somewhere came the answering thought. The formalities were complete. This was an addition which was optional, and which was performed only within kataytikh families. That is why all the witnesses were Guardians, of course. Kirk relaxed, thinking his own reasoning had provided the solution.
Se’eron knelt by the natural fountain, his face limned in blue from the glowing algae that purified the water. Kirk got his first good look at the kraith. It was a dull, unglazed pottery vessel in which were set fragments of sparkling gems of all colors. It wasn’t the usual calix shape of a cup or glass, but rather an unusual long trough set upon a tall stem. The trough was shallow and almost broad enough to be called square. The ends curved upward into gem-encrusted spirals so that anyone attempting to drink from it would place his whole head between these intricate horns.
As he watched, Kirk felt his mind going hazy and numb, as if a thousand pounds of cotton had been stuffed between each thought. He found himself accepting this condition with a strange calm, almost as if he’d been told that it was only the linked minds of the company protecting him from the dangers of the kraith.
Se’eron dipped the kraith into the water, and suddenly the whole cavern was lit with a nearly blinding brilliance. Cascades of colors seemed to weave through the air wafted on curlicues of scented smoke. It was like being inside a tokiel field with a whirling dervish of a dancer!
Kirk thought his whole body would disintegrate. Every nerve sang with vibrant harmonics.
Vaguely, it seemed to him as if each Guardian of the Idic gathered threads of a single color together and wrapped himself in a sheath of dancing light.
Now, Se’eron was standing, kraith held aloft. Beneath his arms the algae of the pool had come alive, as if fluorescent tubes had been ignited. The light was almost as bright as a class F star. Kirk squinted into the glare as Se’eron spoke. Kirk’s befuddled mind could not understand a word that was said, but there was only one explanation--a mass mind meld was in progress, something resembling the Affirmation but shallower.
One by one the Guardians came to Se’eron as he stood with his back to the pool. Each would put his hands over Se’eron’s and then take a sip from the kraith. As they did this, the lights would flare up, each time brighter than the last. Kirk was glad Amanda was not here. It was much too dangerous.
Then, finally, it was T’Pau’s turn. The kraith was brought to her and as she sipped the intensity of the effect was almost unbearable. Spock confronted Se’eron, placed his hands over the kataytikh’s, and paused. The tension was broken by a muttering of bells, muted and distant. Spock sipped and the room went crazy with light and unhearable sound. Kirk nearly blacked out. When his vision cleared, Sarek stood before the kraith, head bent in concentration over the crystal waters. Kirk got the impression of glances being exchanged around the room, though not a head turned. When Sarek finally sipped, the cacophony suddenly turned to music.
Then all eyes were upon him and he wanted to scream, "No! It’ll kill me!" But there was no fear strong enough to get through the cotton in his head. Se’eron was kneeling before him, and Kirk found his elbows attended by two Vulcans. Without knowing how it happened, he was kneeling before Se’eron looking down into the kraith, and through it into a universe of scintillating starpoints. It seemed that each of the Guardians who had drunk from the cup was there within it as a point of distant light, vivid and immense. He was dizzy from the heights, and falling, falling, falling into and through, brushed by gossamer wings of beauty, enfolded by paeans of color, borne on threads of sound so soft he couldn’t feel them.
But he did feel his lips touch the water, cold and tingling. It entered his mouth and seemed to fire his brain with a million sharp flames, each tiny flame a memory shared. The curled ends of the kraith, one on each side of his head, nearly at the temples, seemed to grip him. It was as if he were skewered on a thread passing directly through his brain.
And then it was over. He looked up at Se’eron. The two at his elbows helped him to his feet, but it wasn’t necessary. He knew he could have floated to the ceiling if he chose. He’d never felt so light, so filled with uncluttered, untarnished joy in all his life.
Spock came to him then, approaching in mind rather than body. His thought was clear as the waters of the kraith, and plain for all to know while meant specifically for Kirk.
::We are as one mind now, yet none has lost his distinct identity. Se’eron has set the safeguards with great skill. You have become as one with us, and yet you remain apart. The Vulcan way will never be your way, yet you have much to contribute. Our way will never waver from the Tradition, yet we may teach you vital truths. All of this will occur within the one family of the First Realm, and all will benefit.::
And Kirk knew the excitement running within the Guardians, the hope that here was the key to survival against great odds. He found himself suddenly treasuring the values of tsaichrani, and in tears at their imminent danger of extinction. There arose within him a great knot of yearning for the triumph of tsaichrani over the Federation.
And at that moment, the meld shattered into a cascade of glittering fragments. In a whirlwind, they were gone more completely than a transporter-image. Kirk took a deep, shuddering breath. The cavern was as it had been before, though now it seemed dark, dingy, and painfully prosaic.
T’Pau, seated once more, said, "You wrought well, Se’eron. The safeguards operated without hesitation, and there was no transference effect."
Se’eron gathered his praise with silent dignity. Then he took the kraith, a dingy, lusterless lump of pottery now, and hurled it into the crevice where the table joined the floor. The pieces fell into the waters of the fountain, disintegrating and dissolving amid furious bubbles. In a moment, there was nothing to show for what had happened here, but Kirk would never forget it--it was his first and only unfiltered glimpse of what it meant to be Vulcan.
T’Pau said, "Sarek, continue."
"My son, may this day be remembered as the beginning of a union that could bring added harmony, that could invigorate the bonds of the friendship between the peoples of the Federation. May you know a life long and prosperous with achievement and serenity. May you surmount with ease the problems of this Joining. You will discover that within yourself which can aid you. But you must be prepared for that discovery. You are Unaffirmed, you know not the full scope of our ways--nor is it incumbent upon you to learn all. However, there is much that Spock can teach you, much distress his teaching can spare you. Thus, T’Pau and I sanction a Warder-Liege Compact between Spock and you. You will recall from the events on Babel1 the singular esteem in which we hold this Relationship on Vulcan. While it is in force, you will be completely subordinate to Spock. You will owe him total obedience. His welfare will be your
only concern. The Warder-Liege Compact is our most formidable tool for training a mind in the logical disciplines, and for instilling the required respect for mature judgment and expert knowledge. It is the most logical and thorough and expeditious manner in which you can be taught that which you must know. Now you will kneel before the kataytikh and accept the kumattikh, signifying your acceptance of this Compact and his sovereignty over you while it endures."
The younger son of Sarek, the Captain of the mightiest starship in the fleet, looked at his First Officer, who sat there impassively, watching Kirk, waiting for his decision. Through his mind flashed a multitude of never-to-be-forgotten images of what this Vulcan had meant to him--the devoted friendship, the unbreached trust which Spock had given him, the total loyalty, the countless risks the Vulcan had taken for him, the scores of rescues, the life he now owed Spock two dozen times over. And in true homage to the man to whom he owed so much, Kirk sank slowly to his knees and bowed his head.
Spock placed the kumattikh around Kirk’s neck. The new Warder raised his eyes to meet the other’s level gaze, and felt the approval and admiration emanating from the solemn Vulcan countenance.
"You may rise, Student. Go to T’Pau."
Kirk remembered one of the proper responses he had heard Spock use on Babel. "As you wish, My Liege." In a moment he stood before T’Pau.
"Son of Sarek and Amanda, learn all that Spock will teach you during these two months. When the proper time arrives, you will once again be called to Vulcan and we will meet here for the Ceremony-of-the-Naming and . . ." she hesitated for a brief moment, ". . . other problems."
Kirk wondered fleetingly what other problems regarding him she had in mind, but he could not focus on it for more than a handful of seconds. He was too filled with the immediate moment, with the intoxicating feeling of being home, of belonging to these people.
Spock removed his fingers from Kirk’s head and drew a deep, lingering breath.
"Well, Spock, were you able to reach his mind?" asked McCoy.
"He will be dreaming now of his weeks on Vulcan, Doctor. But I do not know how long it will last." As he uttered that final sentence, Spock studied Tanya’s face which appeared so remote, yet so defenseless to McCoy.
"I must now return to the Bridge, Doctor. Mr. Scott will be awaiting my call."
McCoy watched the austere Vulcan leave, thinking that somehow Spock appeared subtly more controlled than when he had entered the Sickbay an hour before.
The First Officer reached the Bridge and punched the Engineering button.
"All scheduled alterations complete, though I dinna’ see how we’re ever going to put things back to rights."
"Are your men now accustomed to null-g work?"
"You’ve got some new scheme in mind?"
"We’re going to need a crew of volunteers to operate the plasma ejectors and monitor the energy tap. Five men good in null-g and highly resistant to psychic disorientation."
"I __know__ that! Myself and four others. Standing by."
"Very well. See that your volunteers are in vacuum gear and under adequate medication within seventy-two minutes."
"Aye, Mr. Spock, we’ll be ready."
Spock folded his hands and stared at the blank viewscreen over steepled fingers. Minute by minute, he could feel the mysterious radiation from the star stripping away his mental defenses, leaving his mind as raw as a freshly skinned specimen on a dissection table.
And if it was bad for him, it was torture for T’Aniyeh. Part of him wished her an easy death while another part begged her to live. Part of him yearned to flee this star’s influence while another part strained toward his instruments, probing at the depths of the enigma. Part of him wished to lay down his life to save the Captain and his ship while another part placed his own safety above all else. And the treacherous thing was that he couldn’t tell which desires were fostered by his Vulcan half and which by his human half . . . or, for that matter, which were imposed from without by the rampaging broadcasts of untrained human minds.
Mentally, he drew the vector diagram representing his internal conflicts and attempted to resolve the problem with simple geometric operations. But, somehow, the resultants failed to satisfy all the boundary conditions and he was forced into wilder and wilder approximations. Finally, he sighed hugely and dismissed the issue as irrelevant. His actions were governed by objective reality, not the subjective reality of desires. It would be illogical to allow desires to affect decisions in this situation. Afterwards, perhaps desires could again be considered.
"Sickbay to Bridge."
Spock thumbed the button on the chair arm. "Bridge, Spock here."
"Metabolic Reduction Program completed."
"Very good, Doctor. Standby for one more patient. Bridge out." Spock broke the connection. "Mr. Sulu, report to sickbay for a theragin booster, then take over in Auxiliary Control. Report to me when you’re set."
Sulu snapped his board on auto and stood up. "Yes, Sir." He started for the door as Spock moved to take the helm, but as the Helmsman raised his foot to climb out of the command arena. The magnetic boots seemed to weight his feet and he stumbled and went to his knees.
Instantly, Spock was at his elbow helping him right himself. "Mr. Sulu!" But, suddenly the oriental was a deadweight floating in Spock’s arms.
Spock anchored the unconscious man to the railing with one of the safety lines that were now strung everywhere in the ship. Six and a half hours to perihelion; twenty-two and a half hours to breakaway; and already he was losing good men.
Resolute, the Vulcan slid his feet to the command chair. "Bridge to sickbay."
"Sickbay, McCoy here."
"Doctor, you’ll have to send a corpsman to pick up the patient I mentioned."
"Spock, this has gone far enough! I’ve got twelve . . ."
"I know, Doctor, and you’ll have many more before we’re through this. However, I believe recovery will be rapid as soon as we’re free of the star’s influence."
"I certainly hope you’re right! Sickbay out."
No sooner had Spock broken the connection and assumed the Helmsman’s station than the doors swooshed open admitting the medi-corpsman who slipped Sulu’s limp body onto a stretcher and was gone with professional dispatch.
The Vulcan turned his full attention on the board, mentally calculating the orbital perturbations caused by the shifting gravity strains. As if to underscore his glum conclusions, the ship’s superstructure gave a strident groan that sounded like a micro-recording of a taffy-pull.
"Damage Control to Bridge!"
"Deck twelve. Fire Control sections K-9 to T-50 open to hard vacuum. Two dead; none injured."
"Acknowledged. Carry on."
So, thought Spock, it was starting already.
"Bridge to Auxiliary Control."
"Auxiliary Control, Scott here."
"Stand by to take the Helm."
"Switching. Now! You have the con, Mr. Scott."
"Aye, Sir, that I have, but what can I __do__ with it?"
"Stand by. I’m on my way."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
But once in the turbo-lift, Spock chose to stop at Deck 11 and climb down the Jeffries Tube to inspect the pylon that connected the main hull with the Engineering Hull. Those connections could not fail or Auxiliary Control would lose the main computers and the strains would literally rip the fragile ship to shreds. The resultant matter-anti-matter annihilation would create a strange type of variable for Federation astronomers to study . . . hundreds of years hence.
As he floated around the stanchions between the bulkheads, able to see only by the hand torch he carried, Spock ran swift calculations through his mind. At first, it seemed like the wildest theory he’d ever concocted--something born of the delirium of exhaustion and excessive mental strain. But then, as he refined the equation by successive approximations, it began to look very promising. It would never occur to him that his sharing of that steadying Peace with the Captain had anything to do with his renewed creativity.
By the time he reached Auxiliary Control, his hands were itching to seize the computer inputs and run some really sophisticated trial calculations. He strode past the Chief Engineer who was standing by the door, in vacuum gear but with the face plate open, holding Spock’s vacuum suit like a limp rag-doll. "Here’s your gear, Mr. Spock."
"Thank you, Engineer. Just a moment." And he seated himself at the desk and began diverting computer capacity from the Strain Compensation Program.
Scotty looked over his shoulder and gasped. "Now, wait a minute, mon, just what do you think . . ."
"Silence!" Spock leaned into the job intently, his sensitive fingers flying over the keys. Three seconds before each large gravity shift, Spock would pounce on the console and release full computer capacity to the Compensation Program. As soon as the circuits cleared again, he would seize direct control of thirty per cent of the computer’s capacity.
Scotty stood behind the Vulcan, hands on hips, head cocked to one side, looking like the mother of a hopeless genius and feeling like an exasperated Chief Engineer. He knew very well that the orbital perturbations had dragged them in a lot closer than they’d expected to be and he’d been waiting for the Vulcan to order a course change. Now, he watched the clock and the antics of the First Officer with equal anxiety.
After an hour of playing tag with destruction, Spock opened a voice channel to the computer and dictated a complex modification to his Strain Compensation Program. Then he leaned back and said, "That should do it, Mr. Scott."
As if in answer, the impulse engines growled to life for five seconds, the ship had a sort of gravity, albeit at ninety degrees to the deck. The two held on until it was over, then Spock keyed open his voice channel to the computer instructing it to give ten second acceleration warnings.
Scotty said, eyes wide in amazement, "You’ve done it! You’ve predicted the blessed gravity surges!"
"Correct. We can now predict the shifts to ninety-six per cent accuracy. With another hour computer time, we could drive that to ninety-nine per cent."
Scotty beamed. "I’d give an arm and a leg to learn the theory behind this . . ."
"You may yet have to make that sacrifice, Engineer. Even with the predictions, our power reserves are still critically low. What is our hull temperature?"
"Two thousand and rising."
"Good. At three thousand, we’ll release our positive matter plasma. We should have at least four thousand when we jettison the anti-matter, so we’ll have a self-starting effect on the interface."
"That’s what I calculated, but the magnetic bottle is already showing signs of disruption."
"Will it last another two hours?"
"Well, I think so. . . ."
"All right. I want a man monitoring the bottle constantly and another at the jettison controls. Tell your man on the power tap to get some rest. We won’t need him for about three hours. Then get some rest yourself. You may have to relieve me here before breakaway."
Spock rose and took the vacuum suit that had been checked out for him. "I’ll be dressed, so you may consider yourself off duty."
"Aye, aye, Sir."
"Something else on your mind, Mr. Scott?"
"Uh, I was wondering if I shouldn’t get some more of Dr. McCoy’s headache potion to help me sleep."
"By all means, do. And you may tell the Doctor . . ."
"Yes . . . tell him what?" asked Scotty when the Vulcan seemed at a loss for words.
"Tell him that . . . that . . ." Spock shook his head as if to clear it, "No, nevermind. He’ll find out soon enough."
"Sure you don’t need a wee bit o’ that potion yourself, Mr. Spock?"
"Quite certain, Engineer."
Shaking his head ruefully, Scotty left and the First Officer sat down to brood over his instruments. Four and a half hours to perihelion; twenty and a half to breakaway. How could he tell McCoy that T’Aniyeh wouldn’t make it? How could he tell the Doctor to let her die peacefully? Was it love or was it logic that drove him? He wasn’t sure and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
She would live or she would die . . . and there was nothing he could do about it. His first duty was to the ship. That was clear and to that he clung like a starving leech sensing its peculiar nourishment. Logic was the nourishment of the Vulcan soul; not love.
But his mind continued to wander the maze of his desires. Was love only an emotion? Or was it more? Was it an objective experience onto which humans projected their uncontrollable emotions?
Yes! He saw it with the sudden clarity of true inspiration. There was an element of love which Vulcans shared with the emotional races of the galaxy. It was that common, shared portion of love which was also the essence of hate . . . the hate he had experienced on Platonius. . . . Hate was the Exclusion where love was the Inclusion in the balanced logical equation. Emotion was irrelevant.
He sat immersed in the peaceful warmth of his triumphal insight, as one by one, the tensions of his warring desires relaxed. It was as if a tight knot loosened and for the first time in days he was able to achieve the true serenity that was the Vulcan ideal.
"Engineering to Auxiliary Control, Waterman here."
"Hull temperature approaching three thousand, Mr. Spock.
"Standby to release positive matter plasma."
"Standing by, Sir."
"Two thousand nine hundred ninety degrees . . . ninety two . . . ninety three . . . ninety four . . . ninety five . . . ninety six . . . ninety seven . . . ninety eight . . . ninety nine . . . three thousand!"
"Jettison positive matter plasma."
"Positive matter plasma jettisoned. Fields balancing."
Spock hit a stud on the computer console and instructed, "Go to tape Able four oh four Baker. Execute instructions."
The computer voice replied, "-executing-"
Waterman cut in, "Fields balanced."
"Three thousand two hundred."
"Call Mr. Scott."
"He’s here, Sir. Just came in."
"Scott here. What can I do for you, Mr. Spock?"
"Check the condition of the magnetic bottle.
"Just did. She’s weakening, but will last another half hour at least."
"Very good, Mr. Scott. Post someone to monitor the temperatures."
"I’ll take that job myself."
"Then post someone on standby. You may be needed elsewhere."
"Aye, I’ll do that."
From then on it was a tedious vigil that left the men all too much time to consider their peril. Spock kept them busy reading numbers to each other, but nobody was fooled as to his purpose.
The minutes passed in increasing tension. Their lives now rode on the Vulcan’s judgment--which had already been proved faulty. Nobody was more aware of that than Spock.
Eventually, the call came in. "Outside temperature approaching four thousand, Mr. Spock."
"Auxiliary Control to Engineering."
"Engineering, Scott here."
"Man the power tap now, Mr. Scott."
"That’s what I’m doin’ mon!"
"Hull temperature countdown."
"Three thousand nine hundred fifty, rising. Three thousand nine sixty . . . nine-seventy-nine-eighty--nine-ninety . . . ninety one . . . ninety two . . ."
There was a crackling howl over the intercom.
"Magnetic bottle beginning to blow, Mr. Spock!"
"Three nine ninety eight!"
"Jettison anti-matter, now!"
"Get that power tap functioning, Mr. Scott!"
Faintly over the crackling static, Spock heard, "I’m tryin’ you green blooded computer! What do ya think I’m doing!?"
They’d lost their energon shields! But almost as soon as the storm of ionization started, it stopped.
Scotty’s voice came, trembling a little. "Power tap functioning! Congratulations, Mr. Spock, your screens are operating perfectly!"
"Thank you, Mr. Scott. If you can leave the operation of the tap in your assistant’s hands, please come to Auxiliary Control."
"Aye, Sir, I’m on my way."
"Sickbay to Auxiliary Control."
Wearily, Spock answered, "Yes, Dr. McCoy?"
"Spock, can’t you do something about this heat? It’s a hundred five degrees in here and rising. I’ve got patients . . ."
"I realize that, Doctor. We’re approaching perihelion. I don’t expect the temperature to exceed a hundred forty degrees Fahrenheit. The maximum should not last for more than two hours."
"You sound tired. Maybe you better come in and . . ."
"Thank you, Doctor. I shall stop by . . . after I’ve rested. Spock out."
"Now that," said Chief Engineer Scott, "is the most sensible thing you’ve said all day. You can use my emergency bunk down the hall. I’ll call you if anything comes up."
Spock rose, unplugging himself from the control desk’s intercom and fingering the suit’s intercom at his throat. "An eminently appropriate suggestion, Mr. Scott. I shall do that. And I shall return in an hour. Meanwhile, you may instruct Damage Control to issue vacuum suits to Dr. McCoy and his patients."
"The suits won’t help much, but I suppose you’re right. I’ll tend to it."
Spock went along the wide corridor and found the Engineer’s private retreat. He lay down on the bed, vacuum gear and all, and systematically relaxed his body while reinforcing his mind blocks.
It was an old and well-known exercise for establishing the Warders of Personality before attempting a mind-meld. The familiarity was comforting and he leaned on that, drawing strength from who and what he was . . . neither human nor Vulcan, but part of both.
It was only fifty-seven minutes later when Spock strode into sickbay with the gliding shuffle of magnetic boots countering weightlessness . . . but he knew it was already too late.
McCoy barred his way with one outstretched arm. "Spock . . . she’s . . ."
"I know, Doctor. It was...mercifully swift."
"Spock, I . . ."
"You did all you could. It was her destiny to die so. And better dead now than to live . . . mindless. She would never have recovered."
Trembling with sudden rage, McCoy grabbed Spock’s shoulders and spun him around. "Now listen to me, you pointed-eared Vulcan. You can’t tell me you cared so little that you shrug off her death . . ."
Eyes fixed coldly on Kirk’s recumbent form, Spock said, "What would you have of me, Doctor? Tears? Hysterics? Would that bring life back to her?"
"No, it wouldn’t help her . . . but it might bring life back to you if you could, just once, honestly admit to pain. There’s a dead place inside of you where a part of your own self has been excised . . ."
"There will be time to feel pain later . . . after the ship is free." He looked down at McCoy, searching out his eyes through the two suit visors that separated them. "But, remember Doctor, that I am Vulcan enough to prefer to grieve in private. Must I beg you to allow me my own kind of dignity?"
McCoy loosed his grip and stepped back. What did he know of Vulcan dignity? All he said was, "Is there anything special you’d like done with the body?"
"No. She’s gone. The body does not matter." He walked over to look down at the still form, encased in a shining vacuum suit, and said, "She honored her name in life and has returned it untarnished to the archives of her people. What more can one demand?"
Touched, McCoy said, "What more indeed?"
Spock turned to the other bed where the Captain lay sleeping . . . though not peacefully. The diagnostic panel told of the physical turmoil wrought by the mental battle that raged within the still body.
McCoy came to stand across the bed. "Spock, I don’t even know why she died. I’ve no idea what to do for Jim!"
"There’s nothing you can do, Doctor. He is as safe as you can make him now. T’Aniyeh was far more sensitive and far less . . . determined. She wasn’t a fighter and she was conditioned from childhood in the Vulcan . . . outlook. Also, she was weakened greatly by her experience with the dze-ut’."
"But Jim suffered from the disintegration of the glowstones."
"Yes. However, that was a relatively minor injury. He straightened and headed for the door. "He will live or he will die; speculation can change nothing. It is up to him . . . not us."
McCoy followed him. "Spock, can’t you touch his mind . . . give him the strength to fight on . . ."
Spock whirled on the physician. "If I could do that, would I not have saved T’Aniyeh?"
Chagrinned, McCoy said, "I’m sorry."
"Our concern right now is the ship. If the ship survives, some of us will, too."
"Yes, you’re right, I guess. That’s the way Jim would want it."
Spock nodded, ponderous in his suit. "Very well, carry on, Doctor. I’ll be in Auxiliary Control."
The ship’s corridors were deserted and very dimly lighted now. Only a few of the turbo lift routes were operative and often, even on those, there would be long delays in the lift’s movements while the computer diverted capacity to deal with the shifting gravity fields.
When Spock finally arrived, Auxiliary Control was deceptively quiet. Scotty sat plugged into the big board. Otherwise the room was deserted.
The Vulcan thumbed the suit radio control at his throat. "Mr. Scott, I’ll relieve you now."
Scotty rose, removing his jack from the board. "It’s all right, Mr. Spock, I’m not tired."
"Good. I want you to check on the power tap and then make the rounds of the strain compensators."
"Aye, Sir, I’ll do that." As he relinquished his place, Scotty nodded at the computer input. "That’s a bonny piece of programming, Mr. Spock. Hasna’ missed a beat for the last hour."
Plugging himself in, Spock grunted absently, dismissing the Engineer. There was nothing left to do now but wait. Interior temperature was approaching one hundred thirty eight. According to their instruments, they were at perihelion, the thin wisps of coronal gases already enveloping the tiny craft that seemed so large to its passengers.
In various places on the proud ship, paint was peeling and lubricants were oozing from minute cracks opened by the continual strain. The only thing between them and death was a long chain of jury-rigged, emergency inventions, any one of which could fail unexpectedly, and nobody would ever be able to ascertain why.
But what difference would it make? Death one way or the other was all the same. Personally, Spock found, he had no particular reason to go on living.
Of course, he couldn’t die without doing his best to save the ship. But, with T’Aniyeh gone, he found himself emptied of motivation . . . just following orders. What else was there to do?
T’Aniyeh . . . gone.
No! He shook his head, dragging his mind away from her; no! It’s too soon. There’s work to do now. There will be time to grieve later. No! I will not! Not now!
But, as usual, his half-human body betrayed him. Such a bond as he’d shared with T’Aniyeh could not be severed without a heavy penalty and, in spite of his will, the reaction set in . . . the price would be paid, now!
The shaking and the weakness became worse and worse until, in spite of iron determination, he found himself half lying over the console, eyes squeezed shut against nothing at all. Somewhere, one corner of his mind was repeating, over and over, "They must not see me like this! They must not!"
A memory floated up and seized him. The voice of T’Pau, "‘Are thee Vulcan or are thee . . . __human__’?"
And he realized that he didn’t __know__.
He only knew that he suffered pain . . . the pain of yet another loss. But was it human pain or Vulcan pain?
OH, WHY MUST IT ALWAYS BE SO?!
The cry echoed in his empty mind and he had no god to direct it to. He was alone again; one body; one soul; and none to touch, no other was there to tap and drain the anguish. He thought he knew how it must have been for Ssarsun during the Affirmation when he’d had to sever the link that was his sanity.
Another traitorous thought floated up. Perhaps if he’d left Ssarsun’s mind a little sooner, he might have saved T’Rruel’s life. Perhaps, perhaps, PERHAPS!
How many times, he asked himself desperately, could one person endure the shattering of such a tie? Would he ever have the courage to enter such a linkage again? Would he ever have the opportunity?
His body shook ever more violently, his nerves throbbed, his brain refused to serve him. It seemed a hundred times worse than when he’d lost T’Rruel. His linkage with her had been fresh . . . unrooted in his deepest consciousness. But T’Aniyeh had been with him for years. T’Rruel had been a sudden brilliance dawning over a bleak life . . . T’Aniyeh had been the tiny light that never failed.
Somewhere in the distance, he heard a faint voice, a familiar voice, "No, Doctor, I’m all right. It’s nothing . . ."
He was moved, carried, lifted onto a table beneath a softly humming diagnostic panel. He felt restraints tied across his shuddering body. He could not move. He could not care.
All rights reserved to the authors and artists. Not intended to infringe on copyrights held by Gene Roddenberry or Paramount Corp.
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