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Author's Preface - The Thousandth Man

 

The last story in this volume is the original manuscript of "Ni Var".

"Ni Var" was published professionally in Star Trek: The New Voyages (Bantam, 1976). It was about half as long as "The Thousandth Man," had one additional scene and a number of other changes that were necessitated by the exigencies of professional publishing. More important, a number of scenes in the original manuscript were drastically cut or eliminated altogether.

I did some of this editing myself, and the editors of The New Voyages did the rest. The result was generally much tighter and more closely knit than the original manuscript, but it was not the same story.

"The Thousandth Man" is the manuscript as I originally drafted it. I have asked that it be included in this volume because some of the readers of both versions have indicated to me that the additional material in the first draft enhanced the emotional impact inherent in the situation around which the story was created. Two scenes in particular -- one between Spock and Kirk and one between Spock and Scotty -- seemed to give the story an added dimension for many readers.

It is not uncommon these days to see variations of the same sf story published under differing circumstances. The most obvious example is the short story or (more frequently) novelette that is published in a magazine and later becomes part of a novel. In some cases, the separately copyrighted novel may even have the same title as the shorter piece.

I have chosen to re-title the original manuscript "The Thousandth Man" in order to avoid confusion and to emphasize that it is not the same story as the New Voyages "Ni Var." Happily, I feel that the latter title is as representative as the former was.

 

Claire Gabriel

Omaha Nebraska

July, 1987

The Thousandth Man

by Claire Gabriel

"Captain's log, Stardate 6834.5 Enroute to R & R on Starbase Ten, the ENTERPRISE has been ordered to divert briefly to Fornax II in order to pick up and transport to Starbase Ten a sealed tape, destined for the Federation archives. The tape contains a partial record of the genetic research of Albar Exar, a native of Fornax I. Dr. Exar, one of the most renowned geneticists in the galaxy, has voluntarily isolated himself on Fornax II for six standard years. He and his wife, Shona, an Andorian biologist, have lived and worked under a pressurized dome, endeavoring to determine the effect of the planet's hyperoxygenated atmosphere on tissue samples collected on Fornax I and other Class M planets. Dr. Exar has reported that his work is not complete, but he wishes to have a sealed record tape of the incomplete data stored in the Federation archives for reasons known only to himself, to be opened only at his death. He has also requested that I and First Officer Spock beam down to get the tape, and that no other crewmembers accompany us."

 

 

Kirk switched off the recorder and added, "And I don't like that one bit."

"Dr. Exar's request is quite to be expected, Captain," Spock said impassively from his station at the library computer. "Natives of Fornax I are known for their asocial proclivities as well as for their single-minded pursuit of scientific knowledge."

"In other words, they're likely to hole up for years once they get on the track of something 'interesting'." Kirk winked at McCoy, who was balancing on the balls of his feet near the Captain's chair, taking a psychiatrist's-eye view of the bridge crew on what was still known as 'a slow afternoon in the trade.' "But that's...what you said, of course...Mr. Spock?"

"Affirmative, Captain." Spock sounded slightly puzzled.

McCoy came to rest, pondering. "Why would a guy like that marry an Andorian? Any ideas, Spock?"

"Doctor, I must remind you once again that I do not speculate--."

"Of course, of course." McCoy sighed. "Jim, I'd give half a stripe to beam down with you two. Exar's genetics lab is one of the most elaborate in this part of the galaxy, and his papers are works of pure genius." McCoy's blue eyes were wistful. "It's hard being this close without having a chance to meet him and look the place over."

"Well...." Kirk stared at the back of Chekov's head, wondering if it was time he suggested that the young navigator get a haircut. He prided himself on his awareness of the crew's individual differences, but regs were regs, and Chekov's ears were vanishing by the day. "...Bones, I don't see why you couldn't take Spock's place if it means that much to you. Exar didn't specify Spock. He just said 'the First Officer,' and I don't think it would make much difference to him if the Chief Medical Officer came instead. What do you think, Spock?"

"I shall have to disagree with you, Captain," Spock answered a shade haughtily. "Dr. Exar may not have requested my presence specifically, but Starfleet orders were quite specific."

"But that was because Exar--."

"Give up, Jim," McCoy said wearily. "Come on, Spock, own up. You have a personal interest in beaming down to Fornax II."

"What...personal interest?" Kirk asked alertly.

"Exar and his Andorian wife have a child--a male about five years old. No one else in the Federation has ever seen the boy, and he's the first living child to be born of an Andorian and a native of Fornax I." McCoy was obviously pleased with himself. "It's all in the ship's memory banks, and I swear Spock has 'em memorized bleep for bleep."

"Highly unlikely, Doctor," Spock said mildly. "And if I may say so, your inferences are based on insufficient data. I, too, am a scientist--."

"You're curious," McCoy said flatly.

"Curiosity," Spock said levelly, "is a human characteristic." But his voice was a bit strained, and Kirk turned to look at him. But Spock's back was to the command chair.

"Gentlemen," Kirk interposed, "the discussion is academic. As Mr. Spock has pointed out, Starfleet orders specify that he is to accompany me to the planet. I think that...about settles it. Sorry, Bones."

"Captain." This from Sulu. "We are now orbiting Fornax II."

"You have the con, Mr. Sulu." Kirk rose from his chair and started toward the turbolift. "Maintain standard orbit. This shouldn't take long. Mr. Spock?"

And it did seem that Spock rose with unusual alacrity to accompany him.

"Captain." Uhura turned from her communications board with her usual air of listening with half her mind to whatever was coming in on the receiver in her ear. "That message from Starfleet Command should be coming in any time now. The preliminary message said it was for the Captain only."

"Oh, yes. Well, if I'm not back by then, notify me and I'll beam up to receive it." Kirk and Spock headed for the lift, with McCoy staring mournfully after them. Just as the lift doors slid open, he called,

"Good luck, Mr. Spock."

When Spock turned toward him, eyebrows on the rise, McCoy grinned sheepishly and turned away. As the lift doors closed and they were shot toward the transporter room, Kirk asked quietly, "Have you noticed that he's wished you luck every time you set foot off the ship since we almost lost you in the middle of that amoeba?"

"Indeed?"

"Spock--."

"I have noticed." The voice was expressionless, and Spock stood staring at the doors until they opened, hands clasped behind his back. But his expression, although as impassive as usual, was thoughtful as well.

 

 

 

 

Albar Exar was seven feet tall, with an almost rectangular head set directly on his shoulders. His skin was crimson, and his features prominent and finely chiseled. Jet black hair fell to his shoulders, and his resemblance to the Native Americans in the history of Kirk's planet was enhanced by his tunic, which was a soft tan material much like buckskin.

Exar's Andorian wife was even more striking in appearance, Kirk thought. Shona was as tall as Kirk, and her antennae gave her an other-earthly aura. Yet Kirk had little doubt of the answer to McCoy's question: Why would a guy like that marry an Andorian? Antennae or no, Shona was an extremely attractive woman by any standards, and her Earthsky-blue skin and silky white hair added to her attractiveness even as they emphasized her alienness. But when Kirk greeted her politely before addressing himself to her husband, she declined to answer, nodded briefly and favored him and Spock with a frown that was neither friendly nor unfriendly, but simply...preoccupied?

"Captain. Mr. Spock." Exar had not risen from his chair when they had materialized in his living quarters, but he was obviously pleased that they were there. At least, he was pleased that Spock was there. As Kirk took in the bizarre setting--a room full of ornate furniture from all over the galaxy overlooking what seemed to be a garden, but enclosed under the dome that kept the atmosphere at a livable distance--he became aware of two things. Exar knew Spock by name, and he was not eager to rise to greet his guests, in spite of the fact that he was obviously delighted to see them. "Shona, perhaps the gentlemen would like a drink."

Spock seemed interested in surveying the terrain as usual, so Kirk took it upon himself to answer for both of them. "Thank you very much, Dr. Exar, but I'm expecting a message from Starfleet Command, and my First Officer--."

"Is a Vulcan," Exar said quietly. "But only half Vulcan. Am I correct, Mr. Spock?"

Spock turned, for once obviously surprised. "Affirmative, Doctor. May I ask how you knew?"

"I have a reference library of my own," Exar said. "You see, Mr. Spock, Captain, my wife and I do not often have visitors. When we do, we take the liberty of preparing, so that we may make the most of our opportunity to converse with others."

Spock simply stared, and Kirk felt his nervousness growing. Something funny about this whole setup. "Dr. Exar--thank you, ma'am." He accepted a drink from the Andorian woman, who still had not spoken. But she seemed not to notice his thanks. Her antennae were pointed constantly toward her husband, and Kirk wondered if she, too, sensed something amiss and was as ignorant of the cause as he was. Or perhaps not quite as ignorant. Andorians were not the most friendly species in the galaxy, but he had never known one to be this inhospitable. Nervous was the word for Shona--the way a human would be nervous if he didn't know quite what to expect. The way Kirk himself was nervous. "Doctor, we really must be going. May we have the tape, please?"

"The tape is in my laboratory," Exar said smoothly. "Surely, Captain, you can spare a few moments of conversation. My wife and I are so isolated here." Intense. Feverish? Not rising at the entrance of guests, in a hurry to get the results of his research into the Federation archives. The man was probably ill.

"Of course." Kirk glanced at Spock, but his First Officer was again distracted, wandering toward the window overlooking the garden, holding his drink slightly away from him as though it were a dead fish. Looking for something, obviously. Maybe McCoy had been right. If there were a child, and apparently there was, he might well be in the garden.

Conversation, Kirk thought, pretending to take a sip of his drink. It smelled like Saurian brandy all right, but you never could tell. "Doctor, if you don't mind my asking, why is the tape sealed?"

"I have been doing some research here that is not connected with the purpose of the grant that my wife and I received from the Federation. 'On the side,' I believe you would say, Captain." A smile, but a painful one. Kirk was now certain that Exar was in pain. "But my discovery could be of great importance to the Federation. The research is not complete, and I hope to be able to complete it in the near future." A flick of a glance toward his wife, who stood like a blue marble statue, her antennae tuned on her husband. "But I want the Federation to have all available data in a safe place so that someone else can continue with the research should something...unforeseen happen to me." The voice seemed to drift off into silence.

"But sealed?"

"It is my greatest hope," Exar said softly but fervently, "to be able to complete my research myself."

Kirk realized that Spock had not participated in the conversation at all. Turning, he saw that his First Officer had set his drink down on a low table and was standing at the window, looking out into the garden. His back was to Kirk, but it was obvious that his full concentration was on whatever he saw outside.

"Mr. Spock--," Kirk began.

"I understood, Doctor," Spock said without turning, "that you had only one child."

The effect was electrifying. Exar seemed to turn three shades redder, and his eyes were fixed on his wife. He was obviously highly disturbed.

"You did not instruct me to keep them in the house," the Andorian woman said. Her voice was soft, but she did not seem intimidated. There was, rather, a touch of defiance in her tone.

"Very well," Exar said, trying to regain his composure.

Kirk, too, set down his drink, and joined Spock at the window.

The "garden" was about the size of a large greenhouse, and contained a variety of low shrubs and flowering plants. There was one tree in the center--an Earthlike growth with a single trunk, branches and bark. Overall hung the half-light of the Fornax II "outdoors"--lit by floodlights, encased in the dome.

Hell of a place to bring up your kids, Kirk thought. And then he saw them.

The two children were purplish in hue, each with a rectangular head of silky black hair through which the Andorian antennae protruded. One of them was sitting astride the lowest limb of the tree, examining the bark, his manner suggestive of the single-minded investigativeness of his father's race. The other was worrying one of his brother's legs, obviously trying to pick a fight, and as single minded in that pursuit as the other child was in his. The child on the tree limb ignored him. It was as though he were not there.

But in size and appearance, they were absolutely identical.

"We had only one child," Exar said from behind them in answer to Spock's question.

"Shortly after his birth, severe physiological trauma developed, trauma that was directly caused by his hybrid make-up. I also anticipated--other difficulties. I had been working for two years to perfect a mechanical means of what might be called 'hybrid twinning' in layman's terms. One of the 'twins' has the internal physiology and the personality of Andorians, the other those of the natives of my planet. This, gentlemen, is the substance of the material on the sealed tape that you will carry with you to the Federation archives. The research is not complete, but if ill luck should befall me before it is, you can see what importance this discovery of mine will have in Federation genetics. All hybrids are not as healthy as Mr. Spock is. If I cannot complete the research myself, someone else must go on with it."

"Now wait a minute." Kirk said softly, trying to wake himself from what could only be a dream. He turned and began to walk toward Exar. "Are you trying to tell me that you've invented a machine that can separate a living being into two identical, functional parts that look exactly alike but--." And then he stopped.

After a moment, Exar asked uneasily, "Captain, are you ill?"

"No. No, I--." In fantasy, Kirk saw his Imposter as he had faced him for the first time in the half-light of the ship's lower decks, and momentarily felt again the hopeless terror of seeing oneself a thing apart. But then he took a deep breath and pushed that fantasy away. The Imposter was "back where he belonged." Kirk has said so himself. And that was the end of it. "We--encountered a similar phenomenon once, on Alfa 177. It was not a pleasant experience."

"Captain--."

Spock. Not touching him, and yet it was as though Spock had laid his hand on Kirk's shoulder from behind.

"For anyone," Kirk finished. Turning, he gave his friend what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

"This genetic 'twinning'," Spock said quietly, holding Kirk's gaze with his, "has no similarity whatsoever to the results of the transporter malfunction that stranded Mr. Sulu and his party on Alfa 177. An individual who is not of mixed racial origin could not possibly be affected by Dr. Exar's 'machine.' Am I correct, Doctor?" But he did not look at Exar as he spoke, and Kirk had the fleeting impression that he did not want to.

"Essentially...."

"I understand, Mr. Spock," Kirk said gratefully. "But...thank you anyway."

"...But not completely," Exar finished. He was looking intently at Spock now, and so he missed Kirk's startled glance at him. "There are similarities, Mr. Spock. The paper that you published on the effects of Alfacite ore on the matter-energy transporter was the starting point of my research. I, and my sons, are deeply indebted to you--on several counts. It was for this reason that I requested that you accompany the Captain when he visited us today."

Spock now favored the scientist with an expressionless stare that still managed to convey that he had no wish to be given credit for any part of Exar's work. But Exar was not to be distracted.

"You are perhaps unaware, Captain," he continued, "that your First officer is a scientist with a galaxy-wide reputation. The paper under discussion is one of several. A few years ago, no scientist would have believed it possible that a mass converted to pure energy could be duplicated and re-materialized physically intact, in duplicate. Nor would anyone have believed it possible that personality could be transferred by mechanical means. But Mr. Spock's papers on the Alfacite Energy Phenomenon and on the impression of engrams on a android duplicate are magnificently lucid as well as most scholarly. As you Earthmen would say, I had only to follow his lead."

Kirk expected Spock to acknowledge this praise in some way. But the First Officer's face remained expressionless--a circumstance that Kirk knew often indicated profound disapproval.

"But the 'twins' are not androids," Spock said flatly.

"No, they are not. The Alfacite Energy Phenomenon--."

"Indeed." Spock almost snapped the word out. "You spoke also of a personality transfer."

"Yes. I anticipated a conflict--."

At that moment, Kirk's communicator beeped. The message from Starfleet Command that was to be received only by the Captain was coming in.

Kirk made his farewells to Exar and his wife and then took Spock aside. "Get that tape and be ready to beam up in twenty minutes. No questions. No 'scientific investigation.' No nothing. That's an order. Just get that tape and get the hell out. If you're not on board by the time the watch changes in--."

"Nineteen point seven minutes, sir."

"In nineteen point seven minutes, this whole goldfish bowl is going to be full of security men. And watch yourself. You aren't immune to that thing he's rigged up."

"Understood, sir." But Spock's gaze lingered on his, probing.

"I'm all right," Kirk said gently. "Carry on, Commander."

"Aye aye, sir."

But as he dissolved in the shimmer of the beam, Kirk could still see Spock's eyes on him. Sam, he thought. That time he stayed up with me after I had the nightmare about.... But the dematerialization stopped the thought before he could remember what the childhood nightmare had been about.

Back aboard the Enterprise, he gave himself a thorough chewing out as he made for the bridge. There was no reason that he could think of for the explanation of Exar's machine to have upset him so much. He was well aware that his First Officer had published a paper detailing the results of Spock's computer analysis of the other-earthly ore now known as "alfacite," and also detailing whatever Spock and McCoy had been able to deduce--after the fact--regarding the effects of the transporter malfunction on one "Crewman X." Crewman X had grimly forced himself to read that paper, and had then put the entire incident out of his mind. The Imposter existed. He was aware of it, but there was no sense dwelling on it.

By the time he arrived on the bridge, his momentary fright was almost forgotten. It was not until several days later that it would occur to him that in this case, forgetting might not be a good thing to do.

 

 

"I wish to understand," Spock said to Exar as they headed for the laboratory with Shona trailing them, "how it is possible to factor a personality along genetic lines: Physical characteristics--."

Exar interrupted with a brief description of the research in his own field, which, together with the Alfacite Energy Phenomenon, had produced his son's factored internal physiology. Spock listened attentively, but immediately asked, when Exar paused for breath,

"And his personality? My paper on the Alfacite Energy Phenomenon did not include an explanation of the factored personality of Crewman X. The data were too meager."

"Ah, yes." Exar was obviously having trouble walking, and even talking. Yet he seemed determined to get the tape himself, having refused the errand to his wife, who followed them like a one-woman security guard. Now he glanced at Spock, again in appreciation. "Your paper on the Janice Lester case was the beginning of it."

"Dr. Lester's personality was not factored, genetically or otherwise."

"But it was transferred from one physical body to another. And then--you know, of course, who Richard Daystrom is."

"Affirmative."

"You are familiar with his work."

"Indeed." Spock stifled a small sigh. "Most familiar."

"Selective impression of engrams, Mr. Spock," Exar said a bit breathlessly. "Your paper on the impression of human engrams on android duplicates was also most helpful. But I must admit that I too do not understand how the engrams of Crewman X were factored without previous computer calculations and selectively impressed on the mind of a human 'alter' in a matter of seconds. Perhaps we shall never know. The process of genetic factoring of engrams is incredibly complex mathematically, as you may imagine, and formulating the equations alone took many months for one as relatively unskilled in mathematics as I am. You, perhaps, could have done it in days."

Again Spock ignored the compliment, and this time Exar noticed his reaction.

"You disapprove, Mr. Spock?" he asked, mildly incredulous. They walked in silence for a few moments while Spock formulated his answer. "I assure you, my son's life was at stake," Exar offered finally.

"No doubt. I compliment you on the thoroughness of your research, Doctor, and also on the apparent success of the results. The preservation of life is of great value." But Spock's tone was cold and emotionless. "However, the solution to personality conflict within an individual is integration, not disintegration. But you never gave your son a chance to try."

Taken aback by the uncharacteristic abruptness in Spock's tone, Exar glanced at him again. "Perhaps," he said tiredly. "But you anticipate me, Mr. Spock. The part of my research yet to be completed involves a method of physiological and psychic re-integration, should that seem a productive goal in the case of a given individual. But I am neither a mathematician nor a computer expert. It is--very difficult...." His voice trailed off, and it seemed to Spock that he looked more ill than he had before. "My laboratory, sir."

The pride in Exar's voice barely prepared Spock for the size of the domed room--that and the fact that the genetic duplicator stood in the center of it.

The whole system was apparently shut down, for no lights flashed on the computer consoles and no sound emanated from the huge, three-chambered center-of-it-all that sat like some hibernating monster in the half-darkness of the laboratory. But even quiescent, it seemed to emit potentiality--for hope or for destructiveness, depending on the viewpoint of the observer. The whole spectrum of the computers' dappling aurora glittered in the mind's eye, even as the whining growl of the once-rotating chambers seemed to echo in the mind's ear.

"Fascinating," Spock said softly, and was drawn toward the machine by his overpowering desire to examine it more closely.

"This computer center was originally set up for my biological research alone. But I've devised some unique programming which runs the duplicator." Exar gestured toward the mass at the center. "Mr. Spock, you understand that no experiment, however impressive, yields valid results when there has been only one subject. My son was only an infant...." Again Exar's voice trailed off breathlessly as he turned to the safe where the tape was kept. But fascinated as he was, Spock did not notice. "I am a dying man, " Exar went on softly. "It will not be long before the knowledge contained on this tape will be the property of the Federation. But I had...so hoped...." Still totally absorbed, Spock did not hear the choked emotion in the scientist's voice. "I had wanted very much to be able to continue this research before I die. Do you understand?"

"Albar!" the wife cried out. And at the same moment, Spock--inspecting the computers already programmed for the physiological and psychic factoring of a Vulcan-human hybrid--understood.

He whirled, but a standard phaser set on "stun" was in Exar's trembling hand.

"Please understand!" The phaser beamed out as Spock lunged forward, cutting him down in mid-stride. The last words he heard as one entity were: "Stay back, Shona! I don't want to hurt you, but I must--Shona!" The phaser whined again, but Spock heard no more.

 

 

 

 

 

The message from Starfleet Command that had been for the Captain's ears only turned out to be what Kirk privately thought of as a Red Tape--ten minutes of bureaucratic nonsense. Fuming, he instructed the transporter room to let him know immediately when Mr. Spock beamed up and prepared to be relieved by the Chief Engineer, who would have the con when the watch changed.

Scotty arrived on the bridge punctually, having spent the last part of his off-duty hours prowling around his kingdom rather than sleeping or recreating. His last stop had been the transporter room where Spock was due momentarily--the only one in use at the moment.

"Has Mr. Spock beamed aboard yet?" Kirk asked.

"Oh--aye, sir. He said to tell ye that he'd be in his quarters if ye want him for anything."

"In his quarters?"

"Aye." Scott's dark eyes searched his. "Anything wrong, sir?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing, mister," Kirk said a little more snappishly than he intended. "He has a very important tape in his possession. What the devil is he doing in his quarters?"

"I dinna know, sir. But he's off duty now, isn't he?"

"Yes, of course, but--." Kirk hesitated. "Scotty, did he seem all right?"

"Aye, sir. His Vulcan self, all right." Scott sighed. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but could ye speak to Mr. Spock about his--er--attitude toward some of the new men? It was almost time for the watch to change, but Mr. Spock froze the Everett lad out--ye know how he can be, sir. 'Dismissed, Mr. Everett,' says he. 'I shall deal with Mr. Hughes when he arrives.' Then I pointed out that young Hughes wasn't late for his watch yet, and Mr. Spock froze me out. 'In seventy point eight seconds, Mr. Scott,' says he, 'you will be late for your watch.'" Scott sighed again. "Well, sir, Everett and I just got out. But we didn't see Hughes. Pity the poor lad if he was late. Mr. Spock--."

"As you were, Mr. Scott."

"Aye, sir." Scott moved away toward the command chair, somewhat aggrieved, and Kirk headed toward Spock's quarters, wondering why he couldn't shake the sense of creeping apprehension that had overtaken him on Fornax II.

On the way he stopped at his own quarters, obscurely uneasy at the prospect of dropping in on Spock unannounced. As he was about to activate the intercom, it whistled at him.

"Kirk here."

"Hughes in the transporter room here." The kid didn't sound upset, but simply businesslike. Apparently Spock had not been on his back too. "Mr. Spock is on board, sir. We were ordered to notify you--."

"Yes, Ensign. Thank you. Mr. Scott already told me." Dead silence. Then: "...Sir?"

"Mr. Scott," Kirk said patiently, "has already informed me that Mr. Spock is on board, Mr. Hughes."

Another silence. Then, faintly: "Very good, sir."

Kirk waited impatiently for Hughes to get off the intercom, and then even more impatiently for Spock to answer his. But then, finally: "Spock here."

"How did it go, Spock?"

Another dead silence, and Kirk decided this must be his day for having simple statements or requests elicit nothing but dead air. Finally Spock repeated woodenly: "Go?"

"You have the tape, I presume," Kirk said wearily.

"Affirmative, Captain."

"Good. I think I'll come over and get it right now. Considering its importance, we ought to put it in a sa--."

"Captain." A pause. The word had been uttered without expression, but somehow the silence was heavy with tension. "I should prefer--since I presume that the tape will be kept in your quarters until we reach Starbase Ten, the most logical course of action would be for me to bring it there. With your permission, sir."

Scotty's expression froze me out, flashed through Kirk's mind. It was as though the friend who had so recently gazed at him with such compassion had vanished. Spock's voice was totally expressionless, but the message was clear: I don't want you here.

"Spock, is anything wrong?"

"Negative, Captain."

Silence.

"Get it over here, then. On the double."

"Understood, sir. Spock out."

Kirk turned abruptly away from the intercom, furious with himself. Spock's formal moods were nothing new to him, and there was no excuse for his own response. A Starship Captain simply did not respond to one of his officers as though he were...hurt?

Damn. He flung himself into his desk chair and sat there stroking his chin and scowling at nothing, trying to remember if he had ever intruded on the privacy of his First Officer. Try as he would, he could not remember ever having been in Spock's quarters for more than a few minutes except once--as the Enterprise sped toward the inauguration on Altair VI while Spock's hopes for life and continued sanity remained on Vulcan. But even then, suffering perhaps as he had never suffered before, Spock had not displayed the cold rejection in the voice on the intercom. If anything, there had been an almost human vulnerability about him, tempering his innate Vulcan reticence. But this.... Well, there was no use trying to figure out what had gotten under Spock's skin. If there was something bothering him, certainly he would know that his Captain who was also his friend had the inner resources to support him if he should need that support.

The buzzer sounded, and Kirk answered "Come," determined to play this one as cool as he could.

The door slid open and closed, and Kirk looked up at a stranger.

There was no way he could define it. Spock looked exactly the way he always had--a shade stiffer, perhaps, almost standing at attention. But Kirk experienced the same sense of shock that he had felt once when, on Rigel V, he had, after an evening of drinking with McCoy, run smack into a transparent door leading from the bar to the street--a barrier he had not known was there until he collided with it. The barrier between him and Spock at that moment was just as invisible, but just as solid.

"The tape, Captain," Spock said formally, handing him Exar's cartridge. And yet it seemed that his fingers were loathe to release it; Kirk had the impression that he did not want to let go of it, but that passed in a second. "Request permission to return to quarters, sir."

"Permission denied." Kirk rose and paced slowly away from his First Officer, reminding himself of his resolution to play it cool. "Mr. Spock--." He turned on his heel, facing Spock squarely. "What happened down there on Fornax?"

"Dr. Exar became ill shortly after you left, Captain," Spock said woodenly. "It is my considered opinion that he will shortly be dead. The disease from which he is suffering is incurable--a secondary result, I believe, of the work he has been engaged in on Fornax II. The primary work, that is."

"You mean," Kirk began slowly, "that you left that woman alone with a dying husband and two young children?"

"It would have been illogical for me to have remained, sir. Andorian women are known for their strength of purpose and for their resilience. Dr. Exar's wife assured me that she would be able to manage without the help of the Enterprise. She is--an extraordinary woman." For a moment there was an expression in Spock's eyes--respect? Gratitude? Then it was gone. "She did not need my help, and I had duties to perform."

"Spock!" Kirk burst out, all his resolutions going up in smoke. "That's not like you!"

Spock stared ahead of him. "A part of me," he said quietly, "wished to remain. But it has always been so. I have--learned to deal with it." Then he actually sighed. "Quite effectively."

Again Kirk's memory was touched. Somewhere, sometime, he had seen someone--Spock? No, not Spock--exhibit the same kind of ragged control, as though he had sustained a severe physical shock and was desperately trying to combat its effects ....

"Request permission to return to quarters, Captain."

There was no use trying to deal with this, Kirk realized. At least not now. Whatever it was that Spock was trying to handle, he was not yet ready to share his suffering. And arrangements could be made to aid the Andorian woman without involving Spock.

"I think your decision was unwise, Mr. Spock," he said quietly. "But the Exeter is in the area of Fornax II--."

"I am aware of that, Captain."

"Yes. Well...get some rest." Kirk forced himself to smile easily. "Dismissed," he said with a shade of irony.

Spock's gaze flicked toward him for a moment--just an instant of palpable disapproval. But Kirk felt as though that glance had slapped him.

"Thank you, sir." Swish-swish. And he was gone.

It was not until Kirk had notified the bridge to transmit a message to the Exeter to request Starfleet permission to divert to Fornax, and then lay down on his bed, bone-weary, that he finally remembered what Spock's manner had reminded him of. Several years before, Spock's father had been stricken with a severe coronary attack while meditating on the observation deck of the Enterprise, but had attempted to conceal its effects. Sarek's manner on that occasion bore pronounced similarities to Spock's on this one.

 

 

 

 

During the next day-watch, Uhura announced that a message was being transmitted from Fornax II to Captain Kirk.

"Put it on the screen, Lieutenant," Kirk instructed.

Almost immediately, Exar's Andorian wife appeared on the main viewscreen. Her husband, she informed Kirk, had died that morning without regaining consciousness. Members of the crew of the Exeter were with her, and she had no need of any further help. She and her children would shortly disembark for Fornax I, and then for her home planet. But before settling her affairs, she wished to settle her husband's. "You are aware, Captain Kirk, that it was my husband's wish that the tape be unsealed by Federation authorities and his research made public at the time of his death."

"Yes, ma'am. I remember the terms. We'll see to it that the authorities at Starbase Ten receive the instructions." Kirk went on to express his sympathy, but the woman was not really listening. She seemed to be looking for something on her screen.

"Captain Kirk, are you on the bridge of your ship at the moment?"

"Yes, ma'am. I am."

"Is your First Officer present?"

"Yes." Kirk motioned for Spock to move into Shona's line of vision. Spock complied but not very quickly. By the time he had joined Kirk, the Captain had the impression that his First officer was again in the grip of some unknown tension.

"Mr. Spock." The woman's gaze fastened on Spock's face, but her own remained largely expressionless. "As my husband told you, the answer to the question you asked of him before you left us is on the tape which you carried from this planet to your ship. There is one other record of his research extant, and I have that in my possession. Should you have further questions, do not hesitate to contact me through the Andorian embassy on Vulcan."

"I shall not hesitate," Spock answered expressionlessly. But Kirk sensed that some of the tension had drained away. "Live long and prosper." Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan salute.

The woman raised her hand in answer. It was clear that she did not know the appropriate verbal response. But long after the viewscreen went dark, it seemed to Kirk that he could still see the picture of that lonely, and yet somehow strong, figure etched in his mind. And he wondered if Spock could see it, too.

 

 

 

 

It was a long voyage to Starbase Ten.

Spock remained taciturn and uncommunicative, although his performance on the bridge was, if anything, more efficient than usual. Scotty also turned thoughtful and tense--much more unusual, and some cause for worry on Kirk's part. When, about a week after their visit to Fornax II, McCoy requested somewhat peremptorily that Kirk drop into Sickbay after his watch, the Captain could not but wonder if the whole ship were going to the dogs. Too much inactivity, he decided. With nothing to do but warp through space day after day, it was no wonder that Spock could get upset over some point in Exar's research that he didn't understand. If that was what was disturbing the First Officer.

"What's up, Bones?" he asked as he entered Sickbay and dropped into a chair.

"Spock. He's the only one on the ship that hasn't reported for his physical, and he's giving me a runaround like you never saw."

"Well, the crew physicals don't have to be finished for another month, do they?"

"True. But everybody else is all done, and I want to get the whole project stowed away before R & R."

"Business before pleasure, huh?" Both of them grinned, anticipating, and then Kirk turned serious again. "Maybe I better put some pressure on him. He seems in the pink physically--."

"In the green," McCoy interrupted dryly, and Kirk nodded impatiently.

"Bones, I'm worried about him. This past week he's been so--." Kirk hesitated.

"Vulcan," McCoy said glumly. "Jim, it's a phase. We've seen this kind of behavior before."

"Not quite."

"It's a matter of degree, then. Look, he's half human. Nobody who's even half human can operate the way he does without some quirks showing up now and then. This--I wouldn't be surprised if it's what the old Freudians called reaction formation."

"You got a better name for it?" Kirk asked, grinning.

"I prefer descriptions to labels," McCoy said grumpily. "His human half is acting up and he has to be double-Vulcan to make up for it. I'd let him stew if it weren't for these physicals."

"Well, let him stew then. My advice, Doctor, is--."

The doors opened and Spock stepped into the room.

"Forget it," McCoy said before Spock could open his mouth. "The Captain's on your side. You get one standard month to report for a physical. So go raise a little hell on R & R--if Vulcans can raise hell on R & R."

Spock stared at him, eyebrows on the rise. Expecting one of their familiar gambits, Kirk leaned forward in his chair and bowed his head, resigned. But when Spock began to speak, Kirk's head came up with a snap.

"Captain," the Vulcan said frostily, "I respectfully suggest that you require your officers to observe military decorum as befits their rank."

McCoy was speechless, and after a moment Kirk said faintly, "Wha...?"

"Do you wish me to repeat--."

"Mister," Kirk exploded, "did somebody shove a poker up your--."

"Sir, is that a request for infor--."

"No, dammit!"

"Then I respectfully request permission to leave, sir."

"Permission granted!" Kirk shouted, and Spock turned on his heel and left, radiating a veritable halo of affronted disapproval.

After a moment McCoy said thoughtfully, "That is a whole new can o' worms. I haven't really had a chance to observe him lately, he's kept to himself so much. Has he played chess with you in the last few days?"

"Once. He beat the pants off me, played like a freshly overhauled computer. I couldn't psych him out. Bones, he's a stranger. I don't know him anymore." Kirk rose. "I think I better go apologize."

"Leave him alone, Jim. Take your own advice. Either this'll wear off, or it'll get worse. If it wears off, forget it. If it gets worse--." McCoy sighed. "Well, you can't put him on report for acting like a Vulcan."

"I want to talk to him."

"Jim--.

But the door had closed behind the Captain before the doctor could say any more.

Yet as he approached the door of Spock's quarters, Kirk's exasperation began to wane, and with it his determination. What could he do--stalk into his First Officer's quarters and demand "How dare you act like a Vulcan on my ship?" The Spock he had known this past week would admit no more personal approach, much as Kirk might wish to make it.

He slowed, and then stopped just beside the door to Spock's quarters. The corridor was empty, and in a moment of sheer weariness, he laid both hands against the bulkhead and rested his weight on his arms, feeling a sudden surge of despair. My friend.... The words of Bonner, the Orian novelist, came to his mind: Let me help.

The fantasy was so strong that for a moment he thought he was hallucinating visually. It seemed that he could see Spock sitting at his desk, reading. He almost identified the text on the viewer: Plato, he thought. Or Socrates. Then it seemed that Spock raised his eyes from the viewer as though he had heard a sound very close by. His face was in shadow, and he did not speak. But the words were as clear as if he had.

Not yet, my friend. Not yet.

Slowly Kirk stood erect and began to walk down the corridor. Two crewmen passed him, talking together, and he greeted them casually. Later, alone in his room, he wondered that they had not looked at him curiously, for surely the turmoil that was raging inside him was visible even to a casual observer.

But: Not yet....

 

As their watch began the following day, the Captain tried to keep his attention away from Spock as much as possible. He did not begin to understand what was happening, but the request had been so clear and so definite that he could not ignore it.

But there was something else he could not ignore.

Turning in his command chair just a few minutes after arriving there, he began to issue an order to Uhura. The bridge crew was still assembling, for it was not quite time for the watch to begin. As Spock approached his station, Kirk could not help watching him. The First Officer moved slowly toward his console, almost as though he had not worked there for an entire shift just the day before. The relief technician had already left, and so the console was fully visible. Spock hesitated, and Kirk, watching him from behind, tried to focus his attention on what he, himself, was saying to the communications officer. But it was difficult, and growing more difficult by the minute. Spock stood with his hands at his sides, but not in the attitude of semi-rigid attention that had characterized him in the last few days. He seemed, rather, relaxed but alert. A moment longer, and then he approached the console and simply laid his hands on it, standing motionless, lost in thought. There was a kind of reverence in his attitude, and a kind of quiet joy. Almost the quiet joy of a man contemplating the home he had thought he would never see again.

Then, in an instant, the impression was gone, and Spock was expressionlessly summoning the computer to divulge whatever bit of information his duties required him to have at the moment.

But the watch had only just begun.

It was a dull watch. They were only a few days from Starbase Ten, and the crew became more restless and bored with every passing hour. The viewscreen showed nothing but stars. They had no further assignments before R & R, and both the Klingon and the Romulan Empires were light years away. Like a rainy Sunday on Earth, Kirk thought. One could almost hope for a tribble or two to make life interesting.

Sulu and Chekov were talking shop.

Kirk caught the word "piece" and glanced quickly over his shoulder at Uhura, for he did not approve of blue language in the presence of ladies. But the lovely communications officer was a good deal more intent on her work than the navigator and the helmsman were on theirs, and Spock too appeared thoroughly absorbed. Like a kid with a new toy, Kirk thought fondly. But that was nonsense. The ship's library computer might be something of a glorious toy to the Vulcan. But it was hardly new to him. Well, better absorbed in that than counseling Sulu and Chekov about their military decorum....

"...Aware of the dichotomy," Sulu was saying, and Kirk pricked up his ears.

"Dere iss no dichotomy," Chekov insisted solemnly, but with a hint of a twinkle in his dark eyes. "You may tink you vant a vife, Sulu. But vat you really vant is a woluptuous, vanton geisha." Proud of himself, he finished with a flourish, "In every port."

Sulu muttered something that sounded both sheepish and argumentative, and Kirk caught the words, "By definition...not 'woluptuous,' Pavel.... 'Vanton'...a matter of viewpoint." And the Captain fought to keep a straight face.

"Explain, please," Chekov countered with a certain wicked innocence.

Sulu took a deep breath and then paused, apparently becoming aware of what he was getting into. At that moment, Spock's voice drifted over Krik's shoulder--not loud enough to attract Uhura's attention, but carrying clearly to the two young men.

"En garde, Mr. Sulu."

Kirk froze. Rainy Sunday though it might be, there were shafts of sunlight in that tone--that and warmth, amusement, even affection.

Kollos, Kirk thought irrationally. But before he could turn, Sulu did. Kirk had seen the young helmsman smile many times, but never like this. The smile beamed all over Sulu's face like the sun--shining, totally delighted, shyly responsive.

But responsive to what?

Yet again Kirk's attention was distracted before he could turn. As quickly as it had begun, Sulu's smile faded, and he turned back to his console, obviously confused. Chekov, whose attention had been summoned by a minor aberration on his board at the crucial moment, had not turned around. Sulu glanced at him, took in the situation, and then half turned toward Kirk.

"Captain--."

"Yes, Mr. Sulu?"

"Nothing." Their gaze held for a moment, and then Sulu looked away. "Uh--nothing, Sir. It was...." His voice died away.

"Carry on, Lieutenant."

"Yes, Sir."

By the time Kirk finally turned around, he saw exactly what he expected to see: Commander Spock, First Officer of the Starship Enterprise, very busy at his work.

As they left the bridge after the watch, Kirk maneuvered carefully, delaying Sulu so that they entered the turbolift alone together. As the lift whirred into action, Kirk said casually, "Ah...Mr. Sulu, off the record, what...was that all about near the beginning of the watch?"

He knew that Sulu knew what he meant. The smile returned briefly. "Nothing, sir. Mr. Spock was...smiling, and I wondered if anybody else--well--had seen it. That's all."

"I see. Haven't you ever seen Mr. Spock smile before?"

"Well, yes, sir. But not like he meant to. You know how he is, Captain."

"What'd he do--grin at you?"

"No, Sir." Sulu looked away, apparently at a loss for words--which, Kirk knew, was as though a fish were suddenly unable to swim. "Mr. Spock was...enjoying himself. You could tell." He stared helplessly at Kirk as the lift opened.

"I see. Well, carry on, Mr. Sulu."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Sulu slipped out, and the doors closed behind him. The following day, the First Officer was late coming on watch.

At his wits' end, Kirk buzzed Spock's quarters and snappishly informed him, "You're almost ten minutes late, Mister. Explain."

Dead air. Then, expressionlessly: "No explanation, sir."

"To your post, Mr. Spock. On the double. Kirk out."

When Spock arrived on the bridge, Kirk met him at the lift. In an undertone, carefully modulated so that none of the others could hear him, Kirk said, "Consider yourself on report, Mister. Now, explain."

"No explanation, Captain." Stiff, rigid, almost at attention. Totally expressionless. This? Kirk thought incredulously. Smiled?

"Mr. Spock--."

But Spook's gaze had shifted toward Scotty, who had "gone on days" only a few days before. Kirk was sure that the Chief Engineer met Spock's gaze, for there was a flicker of response in the Vulcan's eyes. A warning? Then it was gone, and Kirk heard Scott talking to Chekov.

"My apologies, Captain," Spock said stiffly. "I have been engaged in research in multi-dimensional physics during my off duty hours. I...lost track of the time. Any punishment you find suitable--."

"Research?" For a moment Kirk felt as though the breath had been knocked out of him. "Spock, you've never allowed research to interfere with your duty."

"Indeed I have not," Spock answered softly, his eyes on the deck. It was almost as though he were in physical pain, but concealing and controlling. "My ancestors learned centuries ago that immersing oneself totally in abstractions inevitably renders one unable to function in reality. A Vulcan must always remember that, but I seem to have forgotten."

"All right," Kirk said gruffly. "Get to your post."

"Captain--."

"Get going, Spock."

"Yes, sir." The Vulcan walked stiffly away, his back expressing obvious disapproval of the Captain's unmilitary demeanor.

"Mr. Spock, you have the con. I'll be in the briefing room. Mr. Scott, come with me." He knew that the Vulcan was watching him and Scott as they left the bridge.

 

 

 

 

The large room echoed emptily around them. But it was one of the few places where Kirk was fairly sure they would not be interrupted.

"Scotty, what the devil is going on?" Kirk rested his hands on the back of a chair and glared across the table at his Chief Engineer, who was slumped in another chair, obviously wishing he were half way across the galaxy.

"I dinna know what ye--."

"Mr. Scott!"

"I canna say, sir," Scott insisted miserably. "I gave Mr. Spock ma word."

"Oh, for--!" Kirk turned away and began to pace the room. "First he goes double-Vulcan, then he grins at Sulu, then he forgets--forgets!--Spock!--what time it is. What is happening on my ship, Mr. Scott? Ever since...ever since Fornax II it's as though we have two First officers, except that neither one of them is...."

He stopped almost in mid-stride, facing away from Scott, his own words echoing around the empty room. And in his mind, he saw two small purplish figures with their father's black hair and their mother's Andorian antennae--one investigating the bark of a tree like a miniature scientist, and the other trying to make war.

"Captain--."

"No," he moaned softly. "No, Scotty, no. Not that."

"Young Hughes told me he beamed the--the second one up," Scott said thickly. "He couldna figure out how I knew Mr. Spock was on board when I hadna seen him. He--the lad, thought it was a wee joke someone was playin' on him. I...let him."

"Go on," Kirk whispered.

"I went to Mr. Spock," Scott went on heavily, his eyes downcast. "The--the Vulcan one, it was, but I dinna know--Captain, if I'd known what had happened to him--."

"Go on."

"He explained. He dinna want anyone to know until we got to Starbase Ten. I--he only told me because I--."

"Mr. Scott, I am the Captain of this--."

"But he trusted me, sir! I gave him ma word!"

They stared at each other for a few agonized moments, and then Kirk turned away. "Go on. Tell me why"--my friend--"my First officer didn't want me to know...."

Not yet, my friend. Not yet....

After a moment Kirk said dully, "Go back to the bridge, Engineer."

"Captain, please--."

"Have you seen...the other one?"

"I dinna know, sir. But I think he might have ta'en the watch yesterday." Again the silence pounded around them like a vicious headache waiting to be born. "Captain, leave him alone. At least until we get to Starbase Ten. He wants it that way."

"Alone," Kirk repeated softly. "My God."

"He hadna been out of his quarters until yesterday. Maybe he's--ill?"

"I think it's about time somebody found out, wouldn't you say, Mr. Scott? Report for duty. That's an order."

 

 

 

 

McCoy, he thought. Get McCoy. But he did not get McCoy.

The communication he had received as he stood outside Spock's quarters had not been from a desperate man, or even from a man in pain. He was sure of it. There was resignation in it, and acceptance, and a kind of love.

He did not know how he could get Spock to open the door. He knew without trying that the buzzer would go unanswered; Spock was on duty on the bridge, so therefore Spock could not acknowledge his presence elsewhere.

But the human Spock had heard him once. Right through the bulkhead.

Spock?

He stood in the daywatch-empty corridor, his hands on the door, sweating.

Spock!

The door slid open without warning, and he almost jumped back in surprise. But someone was coming along the corridor now. He slipped through the door and it swished shut behind him.

"You heard me," he blurted out.

"Some things can be learned, Captain." Spock sat on the edge of the bed, where he had apparently been lying when Kirk approached the door. He was in uniform except for his blue shirt and his boots--a long, slim figure in black, sitting on the edge of the bed, elbows resting on his knees, hands clasped loosely between them. The reading light on the bed was behind him, and Kirk could not yet see his eyes, for there was no other light on in the room. "Even by humans. You 'heard' me, too--the last time you came here."

"I--yes. Yes, I did." Kirk strained his eyes. "Spock, what's happened to you?"

"But you already know that, Captain. Else you would not be here, looking for me during my watch." The voice was gentle, but without much expression. Pitched slightly higher than the Vulcan's, but a voice that Kirk had heard many times. ("Captain, are you all right...?") "May I ask how you came by your information?" Now, at last, tension.

"I...guessed, Mr. Spock. It doesn't matter now."

"Indeed it does, Captain. It is not logical to assume that, after all this time, you suddenly 'guessed' that you have two First Officers."

"Logical?" Kirk repeated helplessly. "Now wait--."

"I am what I am," Spock said gravely. "As I said, some things are learned. A way of life...." His voice drifted into silence. Then he went on, still softly. "Other things are indigenous to a species." He bowed his head, and his next words were almost inaudible. "My curiosity was, quite literally, my undoing."

Kirk's first impulse was to reach out and touch his shoulder. But then he realized that this Spock might be even harder to reach than the other, perhaps because he was so much more vulnerable.

"I did guess," Kirk said carefully. "Your--the oth--the Vulcan was late reporting for duty--."

"Yes, I know."

"While I was reprimanding him, I got the impression that Mr. Scott was...somehow involved." Spock's head came up sharply, and Kirk, his eyes gradually growing accustomed to the dimness, saw something very like anger, and quite human. "Spock, Scotty didn't violate your confidence. While I was talking to him, everything fell suddenly into place for me. He merely corroborated my suppositions."

"Understood." It was not much more than a sigh.

Kirk reached for Spock's desk chair and sat down, straddling it. "Spock--."

"It was most fortuitous," Spock said softly, "that the Vulcan reported late today.

"Why?"

"Once freed, it was difficult for him to contemplate being reunited with me." Almost expressionless, yet with an undertone of agony that Kirk could feel tearing at his soul. "This has presented me with a complex problem in...tactical maneuvering."

If Spock had not smiled at that moment, Kirk did not know how he could have borne the combined weight of his own memories of an all-too-similar situation and of his friend's pain. The smile, was, Kirk was sure, only a shadow of the one Sulu had responded to--wistful, fleeting, wry, one eyebrow on the rise, but so utterly unselfconscious that Kirk almost held his breath for fear Spock would realize what he had done, and regret it.

"Can you talk him into it?" he asked.

"That should not be necessary, now. You see, Captain, each of--us has always relied on the other for certain restrictions. The human has relied on the Vulcan for emotional control, even that minimal control that humans ordinarily attain on their own." No condescension there. Simply a statement of fact.

"That's why you stayed in here until yesterday." And in memory Kirk seemed to hear again: Lock me away, Captain. I do not wish to be seen. "Did he--have you been a prisoner here?"

"No, no. The choice was mine." Again Spock's head was bowed. "But we have also discovered that the Vulcan has relied on the human to--." He looked up, and again the wry, fleeting smile. "I believe the expression is 'keep him in touch'?"

"But Vulcans--your father isn't out of touch."

Spook's gaze dropped abruptly, his face becoming rigid with his effort at control. Kirk looked away, cursing himself silently for bringing up the one subject that should not have been mentioned. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have--"

Spock rose--the quick, almost uncontrolled motion of a human male who must, at all costs, move or jump out of his skin. But then he seemed to regain a measure of control, pacing slowly past Kirk to the other side of the room. As he turned, Kirk saw something that he would probably never see again: Spock of Vulcan, hand on the back of his neck, stretching to ease the tension in his neck and shoulders.

"Dependence is also learned," he said grimly. "My father is a full Vulcan, not a hybrid. He never learned to depend on a human element within himself, but developed ties with concrete reality the way any Vulcan does--or any human--out of the total configuration of his personality. My Vulcan half learned dependence. We both did." He laid his hand on the wall at forehead height and leaned his head against his arm, and Kirk realized that they were both near exhaustion, after having spent only a few moments together. "My...the Vulcan has been spending more and more time immersed in research and meditation. He simply lost track of the time. His sense of duty will tell him that he must take any measures necessary to correct that situation."

"You were here, weren't you? Why didn't you remind him?"

For a moment Kirk thought that Spock was not going to answer. But then, with deep wistfulness: "I was daydreaming, Captain. The most unproductive of human occupations. But, I have discovered, one of the most delightful."

After a moment, Kirk asked softly, "Do you want him back?"

"I have no more choice than you had. Nor has he."

"Spock--." It was only a whisper, and Kirk's head was bowed. But he knew that his friend had turned to look at him again.

"Don't come here again, Jim," Spock said softly but with great intensity. "Logically, you should be the one who can help me the most. But the situation in which we find ourselves is tragically illogical."

Kirk raised his head. He knew from experience that Spock habitually used "logically" as the antithesis of "emotionally." Yet this seemed hardly the time for such distinctions. "But why? Yes, dammit--I admit that I'm emotionally involved. You're my friend. How could I be anything--."

"You have not been able to objectify your own experience," Spock answered quietly. "Your reaction to Dr. Exar's preliminary explanation of his research in hybrid 'twinning' revealed this to me, but you have not yet understood--yourself. Your 'Imposter' cannot be hidden away, Jim. His existence must be acknowledged, intellectually as well as emotionally. The bad and the good. Until then--." Spock hesitated, and then went on with deep compassion. "It does not help me to see you suffer. And I am unable to help you at present. Do you understand--." He hesitated again, and then finished very softly, "--my friend?"

Much as he wanted to, Kirk could not deny the truth of Spock's compassionate accusation. His memory of his own words was now all too vivid: "The Imposter is back where he belongs...." Out of sight, out of mind. "I'm sorry, Spock. I wish--."

Spock shook his head once. "There is one thing that you can do for me, though. Now that you know--what has happened."

"Name it."

"Keep McCoy away. From both of us."

Kirk stared, understanding at last why the Vulcan Spock had been so adamant about avoiding a routine physical. "Your blood. It's red, isn't it? And his--there are no human elements in it now."

"Affirmative. And...unknown, but highly probable."

 

 

 

 

Kirk returned to the bridge as though he were sleepwalking in a nightmare. But as soon as he arrived there, he realized that he must immediately face still another confrontation.

The Vulcan's eyes met his as soon as the lift doors opened, and then flicked away. But in the instant their eyes met, Kirk saw fear.

Scotty?

But their absence together, followed by Kirk's continued absence after Scott's return--possibly showing his agitation in his expressive face--would have spelled the truth to the Vulcan's logical mind.

Kirk spoke briefly with Uhura, and then moved to stand behind Spock.

"I haven't heard a word he said," he said very softly, knowing that Spock would remember the one other time he had made that promise. "You have my word, Mr. Spock.

"I did not require you to give your word on that occasion, Captain. Nor shall I require it now."

After a moment Kirk returned to his command chair, deeply shamed that, until now, he had believed that the only Spock who was his friend was the human one.

It was only a few hours later that Kirk was called upon to give the only help that either Spock had asked of him, and found himself unable to give it.

"He just doesn't look well, Jim." McCoy was saying as they sat at dinner together, watching Spock take his tray to an isolated table. There had been just an instant of hesitation, an instant in which Spock had considered joining them. Kirk drew his conclusions as to which Spock it was as McCoy continued, "His color isn't right. If I didn't know better, I'd say that he looks what we call 'peaked'."

"That's not a very scientific observation," Kirk said lightly. "Back off, Bones. We're all tired. Once we get to Starbase Ten--."

"He'll find somebody to play chess with," McCoy grumbled. "Some R & R."

"To each his own."

"Hey, Spock." McCoy raised his voice only slightly, and no one else in the room took note. "Come on, join the family. Aren't your ears ringing?"

Spock looked up gravely. "My ears, Doctor?" But a ghost of a smile played about his eyes, and Kirk thought Watch it....

"Come on over." McCoy jerked his head, grinning. He was obviously in an amiable, father-confessor mood, and Kirk sensed disaster. But Spock just as obviously did not. What impulse prompted him to rise and carry his tray to their table Kirk could not fathom. He knew only that although Spock moved with his usual deliberate grace, he did not move reluctantly.

"I am here, Doctor," he intoned. Seated himself, and resumed his meal.

"Well, you're eating anyway." McCoy's gaze fell to Spock's tray, and Kirk panicked. But there were no animal products on the tray. "Youbash," McCoy continued approvingly. "Plenty of protein, low in carbohydrates, no cholesterol to speak of--."

"Doctor," Spock interrupted mildly, "if you feel called upon to discourse on the nutritive elements of my repast, I shall be forced to return to my table. You are spoiling my appetite."

He cocked an eyebrow at McCoy, obviously ready to be challenged, and Kirk felt his own tension ease.

"That's better," McCoy said inexplicably. But then Kirk realized that it was he to whom the doctor's last comment had been directed. "Relax, Jim. I'm not gonna rush Spock here. I'm gonna let him finish his dinner, an' then I'm gonna have him report to Sickbay for a quick once-over. Nothing formal. Just a blood sample. I don't remember the technical term for the Vulcan equivalent of anemia, but I can look it up quick enough. And I'd bet my tricorder he's got a touch of it. Spock, have you been experiencing any--."

"No, Doctor," Spock interrupted very quietly, "I have not been experiencing any. And I shall not report for a physical examination until after our stop at Starbase Ten. I was under the impression that we had settled that matter several days ago."

"Bones--."

"Captain," McCoy drawled, "this is my territory. Just let me do m' job. Spock--."

"Leave me alone," Spook said with controlled fury. But before McCoy could react, Kirk broke in.

"Dr. McCoy, I hardly think that harassing a patient is your 'job'."

"Now wait a minute!" McCoy looked from one to the other, and Kirk realized in despair that between them he and Spock had quite effectively aroused the doctor's diagnostic intuition. "What is this, a conspiracy? Look, I don't know what you two are up to, but I commence to smell a rat."

"Doctor," Spock broke in with a bleak imitation of his usual literalism, "you are of course aware that no rodent of that species has ever been found on a vessel of the Starship class outside of laboratory cages."

"Cut it out, Spock! Now let's get down to business. As Chief Medical Officer, I can order any crewmember, even the Captain, to report for a physical if, in my judgment, he may need medical or psychiatric treatment. If I have to do that to you, I will. You're jumpy as hell, and at the moment you look like--like a human about to go into a dead faint. I'm not about to--."

"That'll do, Mister." Kirk had not intended to snap the words out, but his inner tension prevailed. Not yet, Spock had said. But Not yet had somehow become Right now. "You're trying to win one at Spock's expense, and Starfleet regulations are not set up to facilitate one-upmanship. As you were, Commander. And that's an order."

The talk continued to buzz around them as McCoy turned slowly to face the Captain. But Kirk found himself unable to meet his gaze. "Tell me, Captain," he asked quietly, "are you prepared to take responsibility for your First Officer's physical condition? If necessary."

"Well, I hereby overrule you, Captain. Mr. Spock, as Chief Medical Officer, I order you to report to Sickbay for a complete physical at 1900 hours, pursuant to Starfleet regulations...."

Still unable to look at McCoy, Kirk did not understand why he stopped in mid-sentence. But when the doctor began to speak again, he understood all too well.

"Spock, you don't believe that nonsense about one-upmanship, do you? My God, you're looking more like death warmed over every minute. Just because the Captain here feels like trying to pull rank--."

"Bones--."

"What's the matter, Jim? Things too quiet for you lately?" For the first time it became obvious just how angry McCoy was--too angry to think carefully about what he was saying. "No chance to play God with Tyree and his friends, so you'll just aim a little closer to home, eh?"

"As a psychiatrist," Kirk managed to say, "you play damn dirty pool, Doctor."

"Stop it," Spock said softly. "Jim, stop it, please. You're tearing each other apart."

In his fury Kirk had finally looked up at McCoy when he last spoke. So he could clearly see the astonishment in the blue eyes just before McCoy turned to look at Spock.

"I should like to explain to you, Doctor," Spock said huskily, "that the Captain is endeavoring to protect me from exposure--."

"Spock--!"

"I know the Vulcan's mind, Captain, as he knows mine. The odds are very high that he would concur with my judgment, although for very different reasons."

"What Vulcan?" McCoy asked blankly. "There's no other Vulcan on the Enterprise."

"Dr. McCoy, I suggest that we adjourn this discussion temporarily and resume it in Sickbay." Spock pushed his tray away, his face ashen. "I have a rather lengthy story to tell you, much of which the Captain also has not heard. But I would prefer to tell it in private."

 

 

 

 

Much later, in the middle of the ship's night, the Captain and the Chief Medical Officer sat alone in the Captain's quarters, trying to get drunk. But although they had consumed almost half a bottle of brandy in the last hour, sobriety dogged them like a nemesis.

"Pigmentation," McCoy said softly. "His pigmentation wasn't changed, anymore than the pigmentation of Exar's children--child was changed. That's why the change in skin tone wasn't noticeable to anyone but me--a physician who's observed him over a period of time. Jim, his blood's AB positive. Tomorrow I'm going to check the computer memory banks for the passenger registrations that time his parents were on board. Care to make a bet on Spock's mother's blood type?"

"No." Kirk took a long drink. "Is he anemic?"

"He's in perfect health. Blood pressure slightly above normal for his age and weight, but considering the strain he's under--God, this is incredible!" It was the third or fourth time the doctor had used that word that evening.

"Then there's a good chance the--rejoining will work?"

"In context, I'd say a very good chance. Theoretically, the probabilities of the very existence of a viable Vulcan-human hybrid were once considered vanishingly small. But Spock exists, and so do others. And after what Exar apparently accomplished with his own child and then with Spock, and with no discernible physical deterioration--well, anything's possible. Oh, I can't quote you the odds--."

"I'll bet," Kirk said tightly, "that he can."

McCoy sighed. "Yeah." He was silent for a moment. "What hell he must be going through. I wonder if he'd let me...."

"What?"

"I better ask him...them...first. I'll let you know then." McCoy sighed again. "I would give one year's pay to see them together. Just once." And he drained his glass with scientific efficiency."

"So would I. Permanently 'together'."

Their apologies had been exchanged hours before--one of many such exchanges in a long and eventful friendship. Now McCoy's gaze reflected only his concern. "Dammit," he said gently, "Why is Spock always right?"

"About what?--this time." Kirk smiled tiredly into his glass.

"About you. You look like you're in worse shape than he is." McCoy rose. "Get some sleep now. You'll need it. I hope he gets some. Both of him. Good night, Jim."

"Good night, Bones. Sleep well."

But Kirk did not sleep well himself that night, and by the time he arrived on the bridge for his next watch, he was far more tense than he cared to be while on duty. It was now clear that neither Spock wanted the crew to be aware of their disintegration, and he could well understand why. Both were products of a culture that placed a high premium on personal privacy; to be exposed to the curiosity or even the sympathy of the rest of the crew would be unbearably painful for both of them.

It was the spectre of that pain that haunted James Kirk as he dozed uneasily through the ship's night. For he was no Vulcan, and the knowledge that he possessed was bound to affect his attitude toward his First Officer unless he remained constantly on the alert. And the worst of it was that if the two Spocks continued their apparent routine of taking turns on watch, the one who was most likely to betray himself would be on duty during this first watch wherein his Captain was privy to his secret.

Hoping that the Vulcan would foresee this and take the watch himself, Kirk was at first relieved when his First officer appeared as impassive and expressionless as usual. But his relief was short lived. He could not have explained it even to himself, for to the casual observer Spock would have continued to appear totally Vulcan as the watch wore on. But Kirk knew without knowing how he knew that it was the human Spock who worked quietly at his station.

"Captain?"

Uhura's voice broke in on Kirk's thoughts, and he glanced questioningly over his shoulder. "Message from Starfleet Command, sir. Commodore Mendez. Priority two."

Mendez's Latin face almost filled the viewscreen, and his smooth voice sounded unruffled. But the dark eyes were serious, and the Commodore frowned a bit as he began to explain why the Enterprise must briefly divert to Iota Ceti Five--a Class M planet in the immediate vicinity that had been code named "Thebes." And of all the men and women aboard the Enterprise, James Kirk was probably most aware of the significance of that code name.

Yet Mendez did not seem to know that Kirk had any personal knowledge of Iota Ceti Five.

"...Only the last few years," he was saying as though he were briefing a colleague unfamiliar with the planet. "Originally the two tribes co-existed in peace, but this war of theirs seems to be stalemated. Nobody can win it. Through the anthropological field team on Thebes, one of the tribes formally requested that the Federation assist them in their cause, and the field team thought it best to--ah--forward the message." Kirk nodded, understanding all too well. "The Federation," Mendez went on, "must of course decline in accordance with General Order One. But all indications are that the natives will not--er--hold it against the field team if they themselves do not convey the Federation's refusal. But being a Class 10 civilization, they have no communications devices." Mendez hesitated perceptibly. "There is some danger to the messenger."

"I'm aware of that, sir," Kirk said quietly. "I was in the original landing party on Thebes."

Mendez stared, and then appeared to mentally snap his fingers. "Of course. The Farragut. I'd forgotten." He smiled, momentarily bemused. "Strange coincidence, that. The Enterprise was selected for this mission solely because your ship is the only Starship currently in the vicinity of Iota Ceti Five."

Wrong place at the right time. Again. "Yes, sir," Kirk said aloud. But he was already beginning to access his own personal responsibility growing out of that coincidence.

"Because of the danger involved," Mendez went on, "the standard procedure for delivering messages on that planet must be strictly adhered to."

"Written," Kirk supplied immediately. "Sealed. Immediate beam-up."

"I see that you're on top of the situation as usual, Captain," Mendez said approvingly. "Complete orders will follow this message. Please see to it that the landing party is aware of all the circumstances, and that there is a qualified anthropologist in the party. Most of them have built-in sensors for unexpected trouble."

"Yes, sir," Kirk answered calmly. "I will."

As Uhura busied herself with the reception of the complete orders, Sulu turned from the now darkened viewscreen, mystified. "Captain, isn't it odd for a Class 10 civilization to be aware of the Federation's existence?"

Kirk explained, his mind still on the mission. Due to an oversight on the part of a member of the original anthropological field team, the natives had become aware that Federation personnel possessed weapons far superior to theirs. Some quick thinker had produced a highly imaginative story that the field team's "chieftain" controlled the weapons and their use, and that the team was forbidden to trade for them. "Apparently," Kirk finished, "that story isn't good enough anymore."

"Vy ken't the field team conwey the Federation's refusal, Kepten?" Chekov asked.

"There are...reasons. Mr. Chekov." Abruptly, Kirk became aware of two things: his First Officer had been working at the Library Computer throughout the conversation, and he, himself, did not like that fact at all. "Plot a course for Iota Ceti Five."

It was not until Sulu had announced their ETA that Spock began to actively enter into the plans.

"Captain, Mr. Leander and a security team will have barely enough time for a thorough briefing on the mission before we achieve orbit around Iota Ceti Five. May I suggest that they be summoned immediately?"

Kirk's heart sank. Lt. Alan Leander was a crackerjack anthropologist, one of the most brilliant social scientists now on the Enterprise. He was also very young--the kind of quick minded, thoroughly professional youngster that Kirk most hated sending out alone on a dangerous mission.

"Lt. Uhura," he said, rising and turning toward the communications officer as he spoke, "I want Lt. Leander, Dr. McCoy and a team of two security men to meet me in the Briefing Room immediately. Fill them in on the nature of the mission."

"Yes, Sir."

"Mr. Spock, Mr. Scott, come with me. Mr. Sulu, you have the con. I'll be in the Briefing Room until it's time to beam down."

"You're going too, sir?" Sulu asked.

"Yes," Kirk answered firmly. "This is Mr. Leander's first mission, and I know the planet."

Facing Spock's station as he was, Kirk could not miss his First Officer's reaction, and was relieved that only Scotty observed it as well. The expression that flitted briefly across Spock's face was most unSpockian--disapproval, impatience, almost anger.

"Captain--." he began.

"Come along, Mr. Spock."

The sharp, clipped tone in which Kirk said the words surprised him almost as much as it obviously did Scotty. Spock was again impassive, but as the three of them moved into the turbolift Kirk had a momentary sense of complete unreality. He could not explain to himself why he had spoken to Spock in that tone, and within earshot of most of the bridge crew. Even less could he explain the sudden sense of...was it betrayal?... that had enveloped him when Spock tried to question him. This kind of situation had occurred several times in their years together, and intellectually he had been completely prepared for an argument. But emotionally...Emotionally, he felt as though he had been stabbed in the back.

"Captain--," Spock began again, and Kirk thought Et tu, Brute?

Now what the devil...?

"Mr. Spock," he said aloud, forcing himself to smile easily, "you'll have a chance to voice your objections in the Briefing Room. Anyway, I know what they are."

"Do you?" Spock asked softly, his eyes fixed on the closed doors.

"I should. I've heard 'em often enough." Keep it light, he thought. Time enough later on to figure out why he felt...betrayed. "Mr. Scott, accurate timing on the transporter could be--."

"A matter of life and death," Spock said, still softly. "For the Captain of the Enterprise--it would seem."

"That'll do, Mister."

Kirk's retort had been no louder than Spock's remark. But its tone had been even more cutting than before. Scott was obviously miserable, staring straight ahead in an agony of embarrassment. But Scott knew that the regrettable exchange he had just overheard had been between two humans. If he had not known, he would even now be wondering...

The lift doors swished open and the three of them marched silently toward the Briefing Room, Kirk fighting for control even as he knew the human Spock was fighting. This is all wrong, he thought. If he were...whole, this wouldn't be happening.

McCoy was already seated at the table in the Briefing Room with two security men (So young, Kirk thought. Why so young?) and Alan Leander, who looked barely twenty although Kirk knew that he was several years older than that. He and McCoy were discussing the effects of Iota Ceti Five's thin atmosphere on humans. Leander listened intently, asked a few questions, nodding now and then, "Yes, sir.... I understand, sir." And he did--enough to ask the right questions.

"Well," McCoy said finally, leaning back in his chair, "that about takes care of my end of it, Captain. I'll administer the Tri-ox injections just before they beam down. Now if you'll exc--."

"Mr. Leander," Spock interrupted as though he were unaware that McCoy was speaking, "do you know why Iota Ceti Five has been code named 'Thebes'?"

"Yes, sir," Leander answered calmly. "The natives, by custom, execute messengers bringing bad news."

Scott stared, and McCoy, who had been opening his mouth to object to being interrupted, gasped instead, "Execute?"

"That's why the message will be in writing, sir, and sealed," Leander explained politely, matter-of-factly. "The Thebans have an elementary system of graphics, and the orders from Starfleet include the textual content, according to Lt. Uhura. Then, as soon as it's in the chief's hands, we're to beam up. That's where Mr. Scott comes in."

"Aye," Scott agreed calmly. "That it is."

"My God," McCoy murmured, "that's calling it close."

"We can handle it, sir," Leander assured him quietly, and the two red-shirted boys nodded. It was obvious that Leander had already infected them with his own confidence. Nobody smiled; it was not a game, and they knew it. But no one was hanging back.

"I'm sure we can, Mr. Leander."

The boy turned to Kirk, confused. "Sir?"

"I'm going with you," Kirk said steadily, not looking at Spock, who sat like a stone, staring ahead of him. "I've been on Thebes before, and this is your first mission command, Lieutenant."

He spoke with quiet authority and no condescension, and Leander took it without blinking. "Very good, sir." A pro, Kirk thought proudly. In a year or two he'd be unbeatable.

"Commodore Mendez," Spock said quietly, "was not aware that you had ever visited this planet, Captain. The Enterprise was chosen for this mission only because it was in the area. All Starfleet anthropologists are familiar with this planet's culture. Is that not correct, Mr. Leander?"

There had been only a hint of tension in his voice, and Leander's only acknowledgement of that tension was a slight hesitation before answering. "Yes, sir. That's right."

"Mr. Spock," Kirk began, forcing himself to remain calm, "your objections are duly--."

"Captain, do you believe that Lt. Leander is unqualified to undertake this mission alone?"

"Spock!" McCoy exclaimed, too startled to conceal his awareness that Spock had issued a direct challenge. Scotty was staring at the table now, head slightly bowed. But the three younger men were staring at Spock.

Kirk held up his hand to silence McCoy. Calm, he thought. Just keep calm. One false move and the whole situation would blow like a phaser on overload. "Mr. Spock," he said slowly, carefully, quietly, "let me put it to you once again. Lt. Leander is most qualified--."

"Then let me put it to you, Captain." Spock's words came only a shade more rapidly than usual, and his tone was only a shade more emotional. But that tiny bit of difference was like the sound of distant thunder before a summer storm. "You would rather risk death yourself than risk feeling responsible for the death of another officer."

"That's enough!" It was no use. The situation was now out of control, and so was the Captain. "As you were, Mister. You're obviously not yourself..."...oh my God....

The rest of them had all averted their eyes--the three young officers because they did not understand what was happening, and Scott and McCoy because they did.

"A most--perceptive observation, Captain." It was hardly more than a whisper, and Spock's lips scarcely moved. He rose, still meeting Kirk's horrified gaze directly, his eyes as bleak and empty as his Captain, who was also his friend, had ever seen them. "As I am, I can be of no help to you. That is--more than obvious. Request permission to return to my post, sir."

Kirk turned away. "Dismissed, gentlemen. Mr. Leander, make your preparations with Mr. Scott. I'll join you in the transporter room."

Soon they were all gone. All but one.

"Go 'way, Bones."

"Why, Jim? Why did you--do that to him?"

"I don't know." Kirk sat with his elbow on the table, shading his eyes with his hand. "He's done this before. Not--in public, but that wasn't it. Not really. I felt...betrayed this time."

After a moment, McCoy said thoughtfully, "Maybe you've always assumed it was his Vulcan half that was doing it."

Slowly, Kirk raised his head, staring.

"Jim, he was right, you know. You'd rather risk--."

"Dismissed, Doctor." Now calm again, Kirk pointed at the door. "I'm going. So go psych out somebody else."

"Jim--.

"Bones, I know that planet."

"Will your knowing it stop them from killing you?"

"That's not...the point." For a moment, it seemed to Kirk that he had forgotten what the point was. But then he saw Alan Leander's calm young face in his mind, and he remembered.

He was not sure how long it was after McCoy left him alone that the door swished open and he looked up to find Spock once again standing before him.

"Spock, I--." But the rush of words stopped as his eyes narrowed, searching the other's impassive face. "I thought you'd returned to your post." But it sounded like a question.

"I am not on duty, Captain."

"Yes. I--I see that now." Strange, he thought. He was in for it now, and yet there was no one--least of all the human Spock--that he would rather have talked to at this moment. "Did...he tell you what happened in here?"

"What has happened is of no consequence. It is what is about to happen that requires discussion."

"No consequence! Didn't he--."

"Captain, is it still your intention to beam down to Iota Ceti Five with the landing party?"

"Yes, Mr. Spock, it is. I am the only one on this ship who has been to Thebes before. Surely you don't think that I'm doing this because--for emotional reasons."

"It would be illogical to repeat that accusation, Captain, just as it is illogical to have made it initially."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Question, sir?" The Vulcan's eyebrows rose slightly. "What question?" Kirk said a small word under his breath which the Vulcan apparently chose to ignore. "It is your proposed actions that are relevant to this discussion, not the reasons for those actions. Whatever your reasons, you have several times risked your life unnecessarily in situations comparable to this one, and in doing so have jeopardized the safety of the Enterprise and her crew."

"There is no one else on this ship--."

"--Who is her Captain," Spock injected quietly. "You are the Captain of the Enterprise sir. You are not an expert in xenoanthropology."

"Mr. Spock--."

"Mr. Leander, on the other hand, is a qualified xenoanthropologist and an excellent officer. The mission, although dangerous, is not complex. Nor does it demand any other skills that you possess but that Mr. Leander does not. Every possible precaution has been and will be taken to insure his safety and that of the rest of the landing party. In addition, Starfleet command is now cognizant of the fact that you have been on Iota Ceti Five before. If Commodore Mendez had wanted you to undertake this mission, he would have so ordered."

"Mr. Spock." Slightly irritated now, Kirk nevertheless felt nothing comparable to the dangerous lack of control he had experienced while discussing this same subject with the human Spock. "As you are well aware, I have the authority to accompany the landing party if I think that move is necessary. Commodore Mendez did not specify who is to beam down."

"Commodore Mendez is human." To Kirk's surprise, the Vulcan permitted himself the smallest of sighs. "I find it most...interesting that humans invariably assume that other humans will behave logically." Kirk smiled, but briefly. The Vulcan's gaze had become more intense, and his voice a shade less impersonal. "Captain, you are the commanding officer of this ship. It is your duty as its commander to refuse to risk your life unnecessarily, and your responsibility to delegate risk to qualified subordinates. Each time you refuse to do this, you risk the safety of the Enterprise and the life of every member of her crew."

"The Enterprise is not in danger, Spock. Nor is her crew--with the exception of one Alan Leander and two security officers whose names I do not know, but should. I appreciate your professional concern and your opinion is duly noted. But my decision has been made. Now, is there something else?"

"Yes, sir, there is." For a moment Kirk had the impression that the Vulcan wanted to avert his eyes, but was controlling that impulse. "You are familiar with the content of Starfleet Regulations, Book Five, Section Six, Paragraph Seven."

For a moment, there was silence in the room. Then Kirk said very softly, "You're bluffing."

"A Vulcan does not bluff, Captain."

"You'd file a five-six-seven on me--for this?"

"I am a Starfleet officer," the Vulcan said calmly, half quoting. "You are my immediate superior. The regulation in question is quite specific: if I have evidence of dereliction of duty on more than one occasion--."

"What evidence," Kirk asked, deadly calm, "do you intend to submit?"

"The present situation is a case in point. On one other occasion, sir, you beamed down to the fourth planet in the Tychos star system, risking your life--the life of the ship's Captain--to plant an antimatter bomb for the purpose of killing a creature who fed on human blood. At that time I pointed out to you that, as a Vulcan, I was immune--."

"That's enough." Still Kirk had not raised his voice. "Tell me, Commander--why did you two bother to warn me about your little plan? He could have filed your five-six-seven from the bridge in a few minutes. As close as we are now to Starbase Ten, you might have had an answer back in time to stop me from beaming down. You could have stayed in your quarters without fear of...detection...."

Kirk's voice trailed off into silence. Now, at last, the Vulcan had looked away.

After a moment, Kirk continued incredulously, "He's on duty. You--both of you risked having someone discover that there are two of you when you came here to warn me." Silence. "Was that his idea or yours?"

"We were in complete agreement on the proper course of action."

Now the Vulcan's eyes met Kirk's directly, but Kirk found himself unable to meet that steady, intent gaze. Again, he shaded his eyes with his hand, and long moments passed as he listened in retrospect to every word that the Vulcan had said to him--and, for the first time, really heard them.

"Leander's just a kid," he said finally, hopelessly, and then sighed. "Yes, Mr. Spock, I know. I seem to have made your point." Painfully, looking toward the chair where the human Spock had sat: "And his." He looked up then--but this was not the time. He knew that the Vulcan's almost total lack of emotional feedback would inevitably help him to make his peace with the human Spock. But he also knew that every moment that both of them were outside their quarters at the same time was a moment that they were in danger of being discovered. "Why didn't you ever do this...before?"

"A part of me was indecisive," the Vulcan answered quietly. "And there was conflict. But on this particular issue, Captain, that conflict no longer exists."

"Obviously." Kirk almost winced. "I...consider myself warned, Mr. Spock."

 

 

 

 

That evening, he again paced his quarters restlessly. The mission had gone well, even without his presence; Leander and his two companions had beamed aboard safely, pale but proud of themselves, and the Enterprise had left orbit and proceeded on course for Starbase Ten with only a few hours lost. And so the incident ended--but not for James Kirk.

He knew that the human Spock had spent part of the last two evenings in one of the recreation rooms, playing his Vulcan harp and displaying an uncharacteristic interest in socializing. Uhura had been heard to remark that Mr. Spock seemed to be unbending, and it was the Captain's fervent hope that he would continue to unbend this evening.

At a few minutes after 2000 hours, Kirk activated his intercom.

"Spock here."

"Are you alone, Mr. Spock?"

"Affirmative, Captain."

"I'd like to talk to you. May I come there?"

A slight hesitation, but when the Vulcan spoke, Kirk detected none of the cold rejection of that first day. "If you wish, sir." Flat, impersonal, expressionless--and somehow reassuringly neutral.

 

 

 

 

 

"Will he permit me to apologize?"

The Vulcan regarded his Captain gravely. "Vulcans do not apologize, sir."

"Spock, I'm not a Vulcan! And he--well, I know these things go pretty deep, but his sensibilities are totally human now. I hurt him, and I didn't mean to--."

"Indeed?" The Vulcan's expression showed compassion, but his voice was relentlessly calm. "My people learned long ago that an apology is often an attempt to deny the existence of an emotion that does or did exist. It is for this reason that we do not apologize. One cannot hope to control by denial."

Kirk remembered all too clearly the outrage he had experienced when the human Spock challenged him, the sense of having been betrayed. "Yes," he said slowly, "I did want to hurt him." But that admission brought with it both a deep sadness and a curious kind of peace--a peace he was beginning to associate with the Vulcan Spock, and for which he was deeply grateful. And yet.... "But that emotion doesn't exist anymore."

"He is no doubt aware of that."

"Are you sure?"

"Captain--." Uncharacteristically, the Vulcan hesitated. Then: "Is it his human sensibilities that you wish to soothe, or your own?"

"Both." Again Kirk felt gratitude, this time for the insight that had permitted him to say both instead of his. "I think he'd know what I meant."

At that moment there was a light tap at the door. The Vulcan frowned, but to Kirk's surprise, did not reply.

"There's somebody at the--," Kirk began. Then, while he still faced the Vulcan, the door opened and closed quickly. Turning, he saw the human Spock, harp in hand, standing just inside the now closed door.

The human's eyes were downcast, and being human himself, Kirk could well appreciate the state of his emotions. But he himself remained steadied and reassured by the Vulcan's presence.

"We were discussing the Vulcan attitude toward apologies," he said quietly. And then, very gently: "What are your thoughts on that subject, Mr. Spock?"

There was a moment's silence, and then the human Spock sighed. "I think, Captain...." He looked up then. One eyebrow arched, and a faint, wry, almost tender smile crept into his eyes. "...That you're putting me on the spot?"

Kirk felt a rush of relief. Aware that he was grinning like a fool, he couldn't have cared less. But then he heard the Vulcan make a slight movement, and it came to him that the two Spocks were about to speak to one another.

He could not share McCoy's curiosity about seeing them interact. Rather, he dreaded it with the dull but insistent dread that can only come from unpleasant memories not yet placed in rational perspective. And that emotion, he realized, was like the warning light flashing on Sulu's board, informing the crew that the ship was not quite secure. At that moment, James Kirk was not quite secure enough within himself to help his friend, and remaining where he was could only be justified if he could help. Already both Spocks were watching him with evident concern, and this was definitely not the time for them to be distracted from solving their own problem.

"I guess I am at that," he said slowly in answer to the human Spock's question, if in an entirely different context. "I'm sorry about that, too. I shouldn't be here." He turned toward the Vulcan. "Good night, Spock. And--thank you." Moving toward the door, he could not resist a small, wry grin at the human. "I guess I better go do some 'objectifying'." The human's left eyebrow arched and the dark eyes smiled in return, although they still showed concern. "Good night, Spock. Sleep well. Better days are coming--I hope."

 

 

 

 

The night before the Enterprise was due to reach Starbase Ten, the human Spock stood in the night-dimmed corridor outside his quarters, hesitating. Three alternatives were open to him, but two of them presented challenges that were more than he could stand to face. And yet the need was there--a need that he had seldom if ever experienced while one with his alter, but had led him, several evenings before, to the table where Kirk and McCoy were eating.

It was an overpowering need for human companionship.

Slowly he moved alone the silent corridors, and finally pushed a buzzer. When the door slid open, the man lying on the bed hastily began to rise.

"No, don't get up." Still hesitating, Spock stepped in and the door closed. "I'm sorry I disturbed you. It's--I really don't know--."

"I wasna asleep, Mr. Spock."

The Chief Engineer and the First Officer regarded each other in silence for a moment, the former still half reclining, fully dressed, a small viewer beside the bed still showing a diagram from a technical journal. Scott observed his guest intently as Spock took Scott's desk chair and sat down, straddling it as Kirk had done with his. Now satisfied as to exactly who it was who had come knocking on his door at this hour, Scott lay back and clasped his hands behind his neck, his dark eyes sympathetically watching his superior officer.

"I cannot," Spock said with some difficulty, "calculate the odds on the success of tomorrow's venture."

"You...?"

"Neither of us can. The data are insufficient."

"Aye." Scotty's sympathy remained, but he smiled a little. "But then, this willna be the first time ye took a desperate gamble, Mr. Spock. Or have ye forgotten?"

In an instant the memories of both men were bathed in the flare of ignited fuel as the doomed shuttlecraft Galileo approached annihilation in a decaying orbit around the planet Taurus II. When the moment passed, Spock too was smiling, if only very faintly.

"Indeed I have not, Mr. Scott," he said a shade ruefully.

Scott rose from the bed and went to his storage compartment. Realizing what the engineer was about, Spock cleared his throat. But before he could voice an objection, Scott was pouring.

"A wee nip'll do ye no harm, sir," he said, his voice a perfect blend of aware respect tempered with casual affection. "An' there never was a Scotsman who couldna keep a secret." He turned, glasses in hand.

"Very well," Spock said uneasily. "But it is my understanding that it is not--that alcoholic beverage in undiluted form--."

"Straight Scotch, if you please, sir."

"--That straight Scotch may prove detrimental to the human nervous system."

"Ach." Scotty dismissed this with a wave of a glass. "Take it from me, sir--drinkin' watered Scotch is like chasin' a Klingon on impulse power."

Spock considered this for a moment, one eyebrow on the rise. "It is," he intoned finally, "'simply not done in the best circles'."

"Aye, sir." Scotty held out one glass, and Spock accepted it gingerly. "Here's t'luck, Mr. Spock."

It was not clear whether Spock's faint grimace was a reaction to the Scotch or to the toast.

Scotty returned to the bed, head and shoulders now propped up, feet crossed at the ankle, drink resting on his chest.

Twirling his drink in the glass, Spock said gently, "I shall never forget you, Mr. Scott.

"Sir?"

"You were the only crewmember on the Galileo who had any confidence in me."

"I know a good officer when I see one," Scott answered simply.

They sat in silence for a few moments, and then Spock said softly, wryly, "The boy genius with his first command."

Scott waited for a moment before answering, wanting to be sure that he was supposed to have heard what he thought he heard.

"Aye," he said matter-of-factly, and watched both eyebrows rise. "But we're alive, Mr. Spock. Thanks to you."

"Indeed." Spock sighed. "No chance of survival, and yet five out of five survived. But not only because of me. The Captain also...gambled, and won." The words seemed to have a special meaning for him, and Scott had the impression that he was no longer, thinking of the Galileo, even though the reference had obviously been to that incident.

Spock looked up then, and there seemed to be less tension in his face. "To luck, then," he said softly. "And, to life."

 

 

 

 

It was after the ship's midnight when he returned to his quarters, feeling slightly drowsy but otherwise unaffected. At his own door he paused and then went through the ritual that he and his alter had agreed upon: one knock in deference to privacy followed after ten seconds by entry without waiting for permission.

The Vulcan was, as he had anticipated, seated at the desk, still in uniform. The viewer was on, apparently tied into the ship's computer. But the material the Vulcan was studying was not abstract mathematics, but a series of calculations with intense personal import for both of them.

The question Any luck? flitted through the newcomer's mind, and he shivered--even though the temperature in the room was hardly conducive to that reaction.

The Vulcan turned, and they regarded each other in silence for a moment. Then the Vulcan said expressionlessly, "Progress has been made. Exar had published papers that have some bearing on the present circumstances of...." And he used a Vulcan word that could roughly be translated as This Totality.

"Indeed?" The human glanced over the other's shoulder. "Interesting." But he was not interested. The figures swam before his eyes. He was suddenly more tired than he had ever believed it was possible to be.

"Rest now," the Vulcan said quietly. It was in no way an order, but simply a statement of awareness of the needs of a physically weaker species. The tone was almost gentle.

The human hesitated, torn. "May I...." But he could not go on.

"Specify."

"It is...of no consequence."

The human turned away and pulled his blue velour shirt over his head. Without removing his boots, he threw himself across the bed, aware of a slight headache, but even more of a physical sensation of sinking into a dark, formless mass. How, he wondered, already only half conscious, does one man express gratitude to another for the gift of sleep. Scotty.... His thoughts separated, sinking into the healing darkness. Did I...ever...thank you....

An hour later, the Vulcan turned from his viewer and stared at the human, who had begun to toss restlessly. Frowning, he rose and approached the bed. Then his eyes sought the individual heat control on the wall, and he realized for the first time what that hesitant, aborted May I had signified.

The regulator setting and the ambient temperature were identical--as he had intended when he re-set the control hours ago, just after the human left to seek out the Chief Engineer. Both the regulator control and the temperature stood at 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Vulcan allowed himself the smallest of sighs. He had lost contact with his particular reality. Again.

The human lay bathed in sweat, his black shirt clinging to his body, hair matted and glistening. But still he slept.

The Vulcan reset the controls again, first for 90 degrees, then after a moment's thought, for 80. As the temperature plunged, he took from the storage compartment a light covering of thermal weave and threw it over the human on the bed. With no expression on his face, he removed the other's boots and then pulled the blanket up to his shoulders, tucking it carefully around the sleeping figure. By the time he had finished, he was shivering.

Returning to the desk, he sat down again and steepled his fingers in meditation. Slowly his shivering stopped, only to return periodically during the next hour as he worked at his calculations. But he knew that the only other blanket in the room was underneath the figure on the bed, as well as underneath the spread.

Finally he turned again to view the sleeper, who had by this time thrown off his covering. The Vulcan rose once more, inspecting his alter with detached thoroughness. The skin was warm but dry, and the shirt no longer clung. Satisfied, the Vulcan drew the blanket around his own shoulders and returned to his viewer, and his calculations.

 

 

 

 

The Enterprise went into orbit around Starbase Ten at 0730 the following morning. The crew was scheduled to begin transporting down at 1000 hours, but all had been instructed that an infrequently used transporter room was off limits between 0900 and 0930.

At precisely 0901.5, the Vulcan arrived in the designated room, alone, to find Scott at the console and the Captain pacing the room. Kirk turned quickly, the sealed tape in his hand.

The Vulcan's gaze flicked around the room. "I had calculated that Dr. McCoy would also be present," he said impassively.

"Calculated?" Kirk repeated.

"The doctor is well endowed with the characteristic humans call 'scientific curiosity.' I had calculated the probabilities at 87.536% that he would request permission to accompany me to the Base hospital."

"Uh...yes. Well, I don't know anything about that, Mr. Spock. As we agreed, the hospital personnel are still unaware of what has happened to you. They've been notified that two patients will be arriving with an interval of five to ten minutes between beam-down times, and that one will have on his person certain Top Secret information as to the nature of their indisposition. Commander Moseby has been most cooperative, considering that Starfleet has kept him in the dark about what's going on. The beam-down coordinates are those of his private office." Kirk handed the tape to the Vulcan. "You can be briefing Moseby until...for the next few minutes." He hesitated, unable to decide how far he could go. "Take care, Spock."

"Thank you, Captain." Their gaze held for a moment, and it seemed to Kirk that the Vulcan was about to continue. But at that moment the doors swished open and McCoy entered.

Sensing trouble, Kirk tensed as the Vulcan's eyebrows shot up. But McCoy seemed unaware. "Good morning, Captain--Mr. Scott." He faced Spock, standing as the Vulcan did--not quite at attention, in no way suggesting informality, but displaying a quiet dignity that Kirk had almost forgotten he possessed. "Sir, I would very much like to beam down with you to Starbase Ten. You may draw your own conclusions as to my reasons."

Kirk almost gasped, and Scott was staring. But the Vulcan did not change expression.

"Indeed, Doctor, I have already done so." He paused, but McCoy's expression did not change either. "However, one who is not present here is also involved in what is to come."

"Yes, sir. We had breakfast together this morning. He has no objection. It's up to you, Commander."

"I see." Silence. "I should be honored, Doctor. Shall we proceed?"

McCoy went speechless, but recovered quickly. "Captain, request permission--."

"Permission granted." The Vulcan had already moved away toward the transporter platform, tape in hand, and Kirk lowered his voice. "Bones--take care of them."

McCoy nodded, touching Kirk's arm in passing. A moment later both he and the Vulcan shimmered away into nothing.

As the sound of the transporter died away, Kirk said helplessly, "Breakfast? Together?"

Scott did not answer, but simply smiled a knowing but rather tired smile.

The human Spock arrived about five minutes later--again rather pale, Kirk thought. As he stepped into the room his tired eyes went immediately to Scott.

"Spock," Kirk interposed, concerned at his friend's pallor. "are you all right?"

"Yes, Captain." Still looking at Scott, Spock smiled with his eyes only. "However, I am at the moment what I believe is called"--one eyebrow arched-- "a wee bit hung over, Mr. Scott?"

"Aye, sir," Scott responded without a flicker. "I believe that's wha' it's called." A pause. "Did ye sleep well, sir?"

"Indeed, I did, Mr. Scott." The smile deepened, and Spock added very gently, "Thank you."

"Any time, sir." But then suddenly Scott dropped his gaze, and there was silence in the room.

"I'll still be here," Spock said softly, and Scott nodded, unable to answer.

Then Spock's gaze turned to Kirk. "Was it at your suggestion that the doctor decided to beam down, Jim?"

"No. It was his idea. I understand that you...had breakfast together. Didn't he explain then?"

"He encouraged me to consume a large quantity of black coffee. He stated that his purpose in beaming down was a wish to--keep me 'out of trouble'." Spock's gaze dropped, and he added softly. "Would you call that 'scientific curiosity'?"

The silence lengthened, and Kirk, who had foreseen this moment and dreaded it like no other, called on all his resources, and particularly on one idea that he had saved to ward off the pain for both of them.

"Mr. Spock."

Surprised by the Captain's tone, which was at once matter-of-fact and thoughtful, Spock looked up. "Sir?"

"Before you go, I'd like to ask you something. It's crossed my mind to wonder--." The worst moment had been aborted, and Kirk found himself almost grinning, "Do you let me win at chess? He beat me to a pulp every time we played. I never had a prayer. Now...how do you explain that...Mr. Spock?"

Even having seen Sulu respond to it, Kirk was unprepared for the smile. Fatigue fell away, and a thousand shared memories sprang to life between them in a single instant, like an exaltation of larks rising in a morning sky.

"No explanation, Captain." Still smiling, Spock backed away gracefully toward the transporter. "Mr. Scott--." He turned, mounted the platform and took his position in one quick movement. "Energize." But his gaze still lingered on Kirk's. And even after he was gone, the shared memories remained.

It was only a few moments before Kirk turned again to Scott. But in those moments the Captain's Imposter seemed to retire to some distant country--banished by a friend's smile. There was no knowing when he would return, arrogantly demanding the intellectual recognition of his existence that had been denied him even after the embrace of emotional acceptance. James Kirk knew now that the Imposter would never accept permanent banishment--the facile delusion that out of sight was where he belonged, that out-of-mind would negate his existence. There would be other confrontations--perhaps a lifetime of them. But for now ....

"Mr. Scott--," Kirk began, and then sighed--even though something in the Chief Engineer's expressive dark eyes told him that the words he was about to say were anticipated. "You have the con. I'm sorry, but I can't turn my back on him--on them. Not now."

"Most of the crew'll be outside in two hours, Captain," Scott answered serenely. "I'll just have a heart-to-heart talk with me engines. It'll be nice and quiet with everybody gone."

"Thank you, Scotty."

"Think nothin' of it, sir." Scott smiled dreamily with his particular kind of anticipation, and laid his hand on the energizing lever. "Whenever you're ready."

 

 

 

 

Ten days later, on the evening before a carefully constructed replica of Exar's genetic duplicator was scheduled to rejoin the Vulcan and human Spocks into one entity, Kirk and McCoy sat together in the small visitors' suite that had been assigned to them in the medical wing of the hospital on Starbase Ten. Alcohol was not permitted in the hospital rooms, but neither the Captain of the Enterprise nor his Chief Medical officer were in a mood for drinking anyway.

"They should be in bed," McCoy was fretting. "Dammit, Jim, they've checked that machine out half a dozen times since four o'clock."

"When they finished the tests this afternoon, Moseby should have rescheduled the rejoining for tonight. Y'know, Bones, times like this I despair of the command mentality." But his voice was subdued.

"Are you all right?"

"Now don't you start in on that!" Kirk burst out irritably. He rose and began to pace the floor. "I've had enough...mother-henning since I beamed down--Vulcan-style and human-style--to last me until retirement. What the devil do the two...the three of you think I am--some kind of a psychic invalid?"

"Take it easy!" McCoy threw up his hands. "Sorry I asked." He rose. "They need their sleep. I'm going--."

"Bones," Kirk said quietly. "Let me, and...relax. This time tomorrow it'll be all over."

"Look who's giving advice." But McCoy did not argue with him. "Jim, I'm worried. This--prowling around half the night isn't like Spock. I don't think they've had four hours sleep between them in the last seventy-two. And have you noticed that they don't--well--talk to each other much?"

Who would you be asking if I weren't here? Kirk thought, and wondered if his presence might be more of a comfort to McCoy than it was to Spock. "Yes," he said, "I've noticed." Now, he wondered, could he explain to Leonard McCoy, who had always been one, the anguish of self-acceptance and the paradox that was Spock? For James Kirk, emotional acceptance of his alter had come quickly if not easily; it was intellectual acceptance that continued to elude him. But for the two Spocks, schooled in intellectual discipline but seldom totally one in their emotions, the problem was totally reversed. "They'll...work it out," he said, and left the room before McCoy could question him further.

For he did not want to be questioned further. As he wound his way through the hospital to the renovated operating theater that now housed the genetic duplicator, he pondered the irony of the past ten days. The thing he had so feared--seeing the two Spooks interacting with one another as separate entities--had scarcely come to pass in all that time. As McCoy had said, they barely spoke to one another except while they were working on the duplicator. Kirk suspected the situation was much the same when they were alone together, and he was beginning to suspect the reason. His own rejoining had been a trauma he would never forget, but the whole affair had lasted less than four hours. For Spock, it had already lasted almost four weeks--four endless weeks of asking "Can this be me?" Small wonder if whatever emotional unity they had managed to attain was wearing thin with the strain of waiting.

He found them as he had known he would find them--the Vulcan tinkering compulsively with the computers, the human standing in the shadows of the huge room, hands behind his back, staring at the machine he and his alter had constructed with the help of three carefully chosen technicians. The technicians, of course, had long since gone to bed.

In the half-darkness, Kirk moved slowly toward the machine, hating it. Now he understood Spock's uncharacteristic discourtesy to Exar the afternoon they two had beamed down into his living room on Fornax II. This looming hulk was Spook's only hope of re-integration, but another had taken two living creatures--a small child and Kirk's closest friend--and torn their very souls in two. And this--for Spook--after a lifetime struggle to become truly one. Whatever the benefits to Exar's son, the sight of the thing made Kirk sick.

The human seemed to know he was there, but did not turn.

"You never told us how Exar knocked you out," Kirk said softly, and turned cold with horror. Surely Spock hadn't been conscious....

"A phaser," the human answered tonelessly, and Kirk's stomach churned even as he sighed with relief.

He continued to walk toward the machine, now almost hypnotized by it. Polished surfaces gleamed in the faint light.... He stopped, momentarily close to panic. But it was only his reflection that seemed to be walking toward him out of the monster's epicenter.

He began to move slowly forward again, past Spock, just then barely aware of his presence. The reflection advanced at the same speed, but blurred, distorted, threatening. Fascinated, Kirk paused, and he and his reflection appraised one another in wary silence.

The gesture came without conscious intent, before he was aware that his hand was moving--an abrupt upward thrust of the middle finger, a simple symbol of a simple concept, both born of Earth and both of ancient origin.

Simultaneously, he became aware of the fact that both he and his reflection were grinning, and that the human Spock had made a small sound midway between a groan and a chuckle. Turning, he saw that his friend's expression was a rather extraordinary blend of amusement and disapproval.

"Jim--." It was almost a sigh. "That's no answer." But Spock's humanity could not quite maintain an objective sobriety.

"It'll do for openers." Spock shook his head wearily, and Kirk jerked his toward the oblivious Vulcan a few feet away. He approached the human and laid his hand on his shoulder, steering him purposefully away from the machine and toward his alter. "Come on, now. Enough's enough." Crossing the space between them, he laid his free hand on the Vulcan's shoulder and continued gently, "Time to turn in, Spock."

He had half expected the Vulcan to stiffen up, perhaps even pull away. Instead, he turned from the computer and looked directly at his Captain. Again Kirk was reminded of his brother, Sam--searching, concerned. And again he felt shame, remembering that he had once believed that that particular response sprang only from Spock's humanity. "I'm all right," he said, managing to sound exasperated so as not to appear moved. "I told you that."

The Vulcan's gaze shifted to that of his alter, and after a moment the human said softly, "Kipling's Thousandth Man."

"Indeed." The Vulcan's response was immediate.

At a loss to understand what they were talking about, Kirk glanced from one to the other as their gaze held. Their emotional unity at that moment was palpable, and he wondered briefly if the fact that he was in physical contact with both of them made him some sort of telepathic conductor. Well, whatever the reason, the unity was there, perhaps for the first time since the beamdown. It might even get the two of them through until tomorrow.

"Come on," he said again. Then, only half-joking: "That's an order, Mr. Spock."

Two right eyebrows rose. "Yes, Sir." The response was virtually in unison, and the Vulcan turned to reduce the computers to silent darkness. Then the two of them left the room with Kirk walking between them, one of his hands still resting lightly on the shoulder of each.

 

 

 

 

"Stardate 6863.7 The crew having enjoyed the shoreleave facilities on Starbase Ten for two solar weeks, the Enterprise has been ordered to proceed to a rendezvous with the U.S.S. Potemkin for routine partial rotation of crewmembers, and from there to Sector Five for exploration and mapping operations. The crew seems rested and in good spirits. All present and accounted for."

 

As he had done so many times before, Kirk flicked off the recorder. But this time he added silently, Thank God. "Prepare to leave orbit, Mr. Sulu."

"Yes, Sir."

"Mr. Spock?" McCoy's voice sounded behind Kirk, and the Captain thought Here we go again. Thank God. But he knew that whatever was to pass between his two friends now or in the future, no matter how familiar it might sound to others, would never be quite the same.

"Would you call that 'scientific curiosity' ....?"

"My instruments," McCoy said blandly, "have been recalibrated just for you, and this watch is over. Any time that you're ready, sir."

"That, Doctor," Spock responded thoughtfully from his station, "is a very interesting euphemism, involving a characteristic human proclivity for saying in six words what could be said in three." A slight pause for emphasis. "'I am ready'."

"I," McCoy repeated amiably, "am ready."

"But I am not, Doctor."

There was a moment's silence, and then McCoy began ominously, "Spock--."

"I," said Spock with what no one but McCoy would have dared to call smugness to his face, "shall be on duty for another two point one six minutes. If you will consult Starfleet Regulations, Book Three, Section Six, Paragraph--."

"SPOCK--!"

"Bones." Kirk turned in his chair, grinning up at McCoy. "Ship out."

"Thank you, Captain." Spock said lightly, still facing his hooded viewer.

And then, slowly, he turned to look at Kirk. When he spoke again--in quite a different tone--the bridge became for both of them a mirror image of a time long gone.

"...'From both of us'."

"Speak for yourself--," McCoy began--and stopped, realizing that Spock's last words had nothing to do with him or with their argument, and that Spock had in fact spoken only for himself.

The Captain and the First Officer continued to lock gazes as Kirk's grin faded but did not entirely disappear.

"'Shall I pass that along to the crew'," he quoted back softly, expecting no answer. And in his mind he saw the words of Rudyard Kipling that he had located in the ship's library only a few days before.

 

One man in a thousand, Solomon says,

Will stick more close than a brother....

But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side

To the gallows' foot--and after....

The only answer the Captain got was a faint echo of the human Spock's smile--just before the First Officer of the Starship Enterprise turned again to his duty.

END OF QUARTET PLUS TWO

 

 

 

 

 

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