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MIND-SIFTER

by Shirley S. Maiewski

He seemed to be climbing a long, steep incline. Up ahead he could see a dim light. Not really...only a lessening of the darkness which now surrounded him. He stumbled...what was he walking on...a road...a walkway...a deck? It appeared to be smooth, hard. It leveled off...he became conscious of a low humming...a vibration. It came from...where? He put out his hand, touched a smooth surface...cool, smooth; yes, but also rough...paint, flaking paint. He felt some come away and brushed his hand against his leg. Felt cloth...loose...rough. Put out his hand again...the wall was vibrating...must be heavy engines behind it. He kept going...the light brightened. A corner...sharp...now curved? Light much brighter now...coming from around the corner, a glow...yellow, not bright.

A voice. It stopped him...short of the corner. Careful...careful. Danger!

Voice hard...rough: "He's gotta come out sometime." Another: "Yeah, he'll get hungry."

Hungry...food...yes...that was it...but.... Danger. Danger.

He pressed against the wall...fear...overpowering, awful fear striking him. His legs began to tremble...a whimper grew...his hands covered his mouth...quiet. Be quiet. Danger!

The footsteps...going away...the fear subsided, his hands dropped, he moved to the corner...careful...go slow. Slip around...empty hall. The light brighter, coming from an exposed globe...hanging from a wire...revealing brown, dirty walls...cracked paint...brown, dirty floor...a door.

Careful...trap? Round handle...he reached out...touched...pulled back...again, touched then grasped, pulled. Nothing...again...it was loose! Turn handle...the door moved toward him...opened. He stepped inside...saw sticks, poles...darkness. Small room...cluttered...brushes, shelves with containers. He sniffed...oil, chemicals...a lab? No...too small...no food here. He stepped back. The door stayed open. Shouldn't it...close? No. He gave it a slight push, it swung easily...slammed!

Noise. Danger.

His knees began to tremble again...he backed quickly around the corner, the whimper building in his throat. He crammed his fist into his mouth to silence it...but still a whine of fear escaped. His knees gave way, he sank to the floor...curled into a ball, his knees pulled up against his chest, one arm clasped tightly against his legs...trying to make himself as small as possible. His face was pressed against the floor...he could feel dirt and grit there. The vibration of the engines was very pronounced...even through his fear and terror he noticed them.

Then...footsteps. Coming toward him...hide. Hide! He curled tighter...arms over his head now...the whimper grew into a cry, crawled up his throat.... "Help me. Please!"

A voice. Different... "I'm coming...wait there!" The footsteps became hurried, came closer...closer...stopped around the corner. "Where are you?" the new voice called.

He huddled against the wall...the whimper escaped again, "Please?"

The footsteps came around the corner...stopped beside him. A hand...was it? Fear!...something...touched his arm...gently...then the voice again...soft...full of compassion, "Oh, Jimmy...I was so worried. Why did you run away?"

The fear subsided. Slowly he relaxed, uncurled a little, looked up and up...along smooth legs...to white dress...to arms reaching down...hair, swinging around a face...a smiling face...danger? Unreal? A trap? Another whimper.

"No - no, Jimmy, don't cry. It's all right. I'm Jan. You remember Jan, don't you? Come, take my hand."

Jan? Jan was...nice...gentle...yes, she...she would help. Slowly he put up his hand and took hold of hers.

"That's right, Jimmy...you remember. Come now, get up. You must be so hungry."

Hungry? Yes. When had he eaten last? What? No memory came...wait...a tray? Bright colors? No...a bowl...dull, but food.

He began to uncurl more...her hand encouraging him. He got his feet under him, pushed up...against the wall...his hand still holding tightly to hers. Now. She...she's shorter...he looked down at her now, she smiled.

"Good for you! That's fine, Jimmy. Come, let's go and find you something to eat." She tugged gently at his hand...towards the corner...towards....Danger.

He stiffened...pulled back...his pull drew her towards him...off balance. She tripped...fell. He grabbed at her...held her by the shoulders. Soft. Nice...a girl, no, a woman. He looked down into her face...turned up to his now...eyes widening...meeting his...slight frown....

"Jimmy? Let me go now, Jimmy."

"No! I...I want to...to...."

"What, Jimmy? You want to what?"

"I...want...." He stopped...what did he want? Her shoulders were...soft, yet firm...they felt good in his hands...deep within him...something familiar...a warmness...a....

"Hey! What's he doing? Shout. Harsh rough hands reaching...pulling... "Get away from her, you nut!" A slap...a blow against his head...danger. Danger.

"Stop - oh, stop! Frank, don't. Please!"

"Why? Crazy nut...whadya think you were doin'? Why'd ya let him get so close?" Big harsh hands yanked him off balance...threw him around the corner.

"Hey, Fred! Here's our Superman. Caught him fooling around with Miss Hamlin."

Another set of hands...hard...coarse...caught him, slammed him against a wall. His breath was knocked out of him, carrying a wail of fright with it. From a long way off he seemed to hear someone sobbing...a voice crying....

"Don't, please - leave him alone. He didn't mean anything."

Something was thrown around him...his arms jerked and pulled...forced into sleeves...twisted. He was spun around...shoved again...against the wall...his face scraped over the rough peeling paint. He jerked back from the pain, only to receive a crashing blow on the side of his head.

"Stand still! We'll teach you to keep your dirty paws off our nurses."

"Frank! He didn't mean anything. I tripped - he helped me. Kept me from falling. Oh, don't - don't put that thing on him. Please!"

"Trying to tell me my job, Miss Hamlin? I've seen you with this guy before - you're kinda soft on him, ain't ya?" the voice snarled. "Hey, Fred, pull those straps tighter - wanta lose him again?"

The yanking grew rougher...his arms were pulled around to his sides, binding...he struggled...the wail grew to a scream of sheer terror.

"Aw, shut up. Dammit, ya'll start all the loonies in the place howling - shut up!" A rough hand covered his mouth and nose...he couldn't breathe. He tried to throw his head back, but another hand pressed it forward...he was suffocating. The hand tightened over his mouth...he clamped his teeth down hard on the part in his mouth and felt them sink into...flesh?

A shout of pain and rage...the hand on the back of his head shoved forward and slammed him against the wall...pain! His knees gave way...he slid down the wall, his cheek scraping over the roughness...a blackness rose to meet him...distant voices....

"I'll report you, Frank! Doctor Wright will hear about...."

"Oh, no, sweetie - no, ya won't. I'll tell him I saw you snuggling up to this - this Superman. He don't look so pretty now, does he? Face all scraped like that. Aw gee - ain't that a shame? He fell down and bumped his pretty face. Nah - you tell Wright - and next time I won't be so gentle with him. Cummon, Fred, let's get him back where he belongs...."

As though from a great distance he could feel himself being hauled up and dragged along...he stumbled...they kept going, one on each side...holding him by the straps of the jacket binding him. Sometimes he walked...sometimes they dragged him on his knees...then jerked him up again.

The voices continued:

"Dammed idiot, now I'll be late for supper!" / "Yeah?- So put in for overtime!"

At last they stopped, he heard a rattling, clinking jingle...clash of metal, a squeaking...saw a door before him pushed open...bright light...blinding him...felt himself pushed, staggering. He fell full-length...his hands instinctively struggling to break the fall, but they were tied to his sides. He crashed to the floor, his head hitting hard...darkness again.... Pain. Awful pain...another cry.... "Help me! Help me, Sp...Spock? Help me!"

Silence...dead, ear-aching silence. He rolled on his side...the glare from the light above him hurt his eyes. He blinked...looked again, avoiding the light...saw a bed beside him. Low-grey mattress, rumpled sheet, but...better than the floor. He raised himself, got his knees under him...pushed against the wall. Up...staggered to the bed...collapsed again, on the bed this time. All...this familiar...he'd done it...when? Why couldn't he...remember?

He lay panting heavily...conscious of a growing thirst, his throat and mouth were dry...he licked his lips...tasted the grime of the floor...sweat...a salty warmth--blood? His tongue found a split in his lip...probed...hurt...but it felt better after he'd licked it...he spat out the grit that his tongue had found...but, the thirst!

"Water...please...water!" His voice echoed...silence again... "Help...help me? Spock?" No, not Spock...Jan! She said she'd help.... "Jan!" he cried. "Where are you?" His throat was sore...it ached from thirst and his screams.

A noise. A clanking...the rough ones again? Danger. Hide, hide! He rolled away from the edge of the bed...curled back against the wall...saw the door swing in.... Danger. Danger.

"Jimmy?" The soft one. "Jimmy? Here I am...." A swirl of white...a figure rushing toward him...he opened his mouth to scream.... "No, no, Jimmy. I won't hurt you - shh - it's Jan." Soft hands on his face, stroking, pushing back his hair. "Jimmy - they hurt you. I'm so sorry," face close to his, eyes...blue eyes...peering anxiously at him...eyes wet with tears. A soft, cool wetness on his cheek...water? A cloth, soft and wet....

Pain! Sharp. "Hurts."

"Shh, Jimmy, let me clean up your cheek; it's scraped and bleeding - now, now, Jan won't hurt you - shh." The soothing voice crooned, the pain became less, was gone. Gone with it some...most of the fear.

In place of the fear, a thought growing....

"Jan?"

"Yes - I'm here, Jimmy. Come - sit up so I can undo these straps."

"Jan?" Again the question.

"Yes, Jimmy. Jan. What is it?"

"Where, Jan. Here?"

She looked closely at him, realizing that he was looking at her with a different expression. Was that a glimmer of intelligence in his eyes?

"'Where' what, Jimmy?" she asked gently. For the first time in the six months that he'd been there she thought she saw a change in him.

"Where am I?"

"This is - a hospital, Jimmy. You've been very sick. I am a nurse. I am taking care of you." She spoke each word very slowly and distinctly.

He frowned - shook his head as though to clear it and then looked into her eyes again. "Sick? How - how am I sick?"

"In your mind, Jimmy," she said gently.

"No - no - no!" He started to get up. Couldn't - with his hands still confined he was off balance – helpless. He sank back on the bed, thrashing his head from side to side, tears pressing out from between his tightly closed eyelids. "No! Not that!" he cried.

"Jimmy, don't, please. I'm sorry, hush now." Jan Hamlin caught his rolling head between her hands and held tightly, meanwhile murmuring quietly to him. At last he stopped fighting her hold and lay still, sobbing softly, like a broken hearted child.

Jan's mind was racing - he knew what she meant! So far as she knew, this was the first time that an idea had registered in his mind. He knew the implications of a sick mind.

"Jimmy, come, let me get this awful jacket off you. Sit up, please?" she coaxed, smiling.

He looked up at her, at her smile, drew a shuddering breath and struggled to sit up. She helped and soon he was sitting on the edge of the bed. She quickly unfastened the buckles and straps of the heavy canvas straitjacket that held him. Pulling it away from him, she tossed it disgustedly to the floor. He sat looking at her, rubbing his hands together. The sobbing stopped. Once more he shook his head then rubbed one hand over his face and eyes as if to clear away cobwebs. Again he looked at her, a tiny smile crooking one corner of his mouth.

"Thank you," he said.

Jan felt a thrill of hope - yes! There was a change. She was strangely attracted to this man. Many times she'd tried to work with him -- but never before had he shown any sign of coming out of the black pit of horror that seemed to enfold him.

She thought back to the day he'd been brought in - six months before. She'd been working in the admittance office when two policemen had come in supporting, almost carrying, a man who fought and screamed and sobbed in absolute terror. Orderlies had come running with a jacket and shortly had him bound securely. A doctor had come and administered a heavy sedative, and soon he'd been slumped in a chair.

"Who is he?" the police had been asked.

"We don't know. We found him staggering along a back road, near the city limits."

"What's that costume he's wearing?"

"Never saw anything like it - that yellow shirt, the insignia, looks like some kind of team shirt or something. Strange material. He was covered with dirt - must'a fallen a lot - but it brushed right off."

"Any identification?"

"Nothing. Not even any pockets in that outfit. We'll inform Missing Persons. Somebody will probably claim him...." The police left shortly afterwards.

The man was admitted, his strange clothes marked and packed away, the doctors examined him - a well-built, physically healthy man in his mid-thirties, as far as they could judge. He had several strange scars -- no stitch marks. One doctor had wondered casually who'd done surgery like that - wished he could learn the technique. The only really odd thing about his appearance was the cut of his side-burns, coming to a point as they did, but they soon grew out in the normal way.

He was listed as "John Doe" - the few words he'd mumbled or screamed were English - American-English - and he was started on a series of tests and treatments.

No one came looking for him - his fingerprints weren't on file anywhere.

Shortly afterwards, Jan Hamlin was transferred from admitting to active nursing and patient care. She was bored with paper work and was glad for the change.

She found the strange man in her wing of the giant hospital. Something about him appealed to her. When he wasn't in one of his periods of violence he, at times, would stand quietly looking up at the sky through the barred windows.

One day, when he was standing so she'd stopped beside him and had spoken to him, calling him "John." He'd turned, looked at her, and said, very clearly, "James."

Then, almost as if the name had been a signal, he'd become violent. Since then, except for only a few unconnected moments, he'd dropped back into the well of horror that seemed to engulf him. At times he was like a small child, whimpering and sobbing. She'd found that calling him "Jimmy," as one would a child, sometimes brought response. Other times, he would rage and fight and need restraints. He'd been given all the tests - one doctor swore he was a schizophrenic, another a manic-depressive, but it all added up to a big zero. They really didn't know. They changed his name to "James Doe", after Jan had told of his response, but beyond that - nothing. Except for periodic treatment, medication to calm him when violent, nothing could be done. He became just one more poor unfortunate, forgotten patient in a large, overcrowded, understaffed state institution. No one cared, except Jan Hamlin. With the limited time allotted to her, she did her best to see that he was cared for.

When she'd come on duty this day, she'd been told her "pet" had escaped. She had been teased before for bothering with the "Superman," as the orderlies who attended him called him, partly from his strength and partly from the strange clothes he'd been wearing when brought in.

Somehow, today he'd escaped from his room and had disappeared in the depths of the giant hospital's basement. There was no way he could get out, so the orderlies hadn't hurried in their search. "Escapees always came out when they got hungry.

The rough treatment he'd received wasn't unusual. But the special care Jan Hamilin gave him was. The pay for orderlies was low. As a rule, only people who couldn't find other jobs applied here. Jan often felt sickened by what she saw: the sadism of the orderlies, the laxness of nursing care, the indifference of many doctors. She often wanted to quit, but she couldn't. She just couldn't walk away, so - to the limit of her strength, she did what she could to help the unfortunate beings in her care. She tried not to favor any, but - in James' case, she couldn't help it. Something about him kept drawing her back.

Now, finally, after all this time - a sign of comprehension - a few words -- two words: "Thank you."

Jan's smile lit her face. "You are welcome, Jimmy," she said happily.

"Jim," he said, glancing at her sharply.

Her mind flashed back to the other time and she caught her breath.

He frowned. "Jim," he repeated, "Yes, Jim - not 'Jimmy' ... He smiled again.

"'Jim' what?" she urged.

"Jim - I - I - don't - just Jim," he said, looking worriedly at her; she saw tears forming and hastened to say, "That's all right, Jim. It doesn't matter. Come now, let me get you down to the dining room - there's still time for supper." She took his hand and urged him to his feet.

"Hungry," he said. "Thirsty."

""Yes, of course, Jim. You haven't eaten all day. Come along now," Taking his arm, she led him from the room. He hesitated at the sight of the corridor, but she gently led him on. Soon they were walking side by side through the hallway. Jan noticed he was looking around, actually looking, not just staring straight ahead as he usually did...

"Jan?"

"Yes, Jimmy - Jim?"

"Why is it - straight?"

"Why is what straight?" She looked around; what was he talking about? For a minute he was so silent she thought he'd forgotten.

"Cor - corridor - it is - it is - straight," he seemed confused, stopped - turned and looked back then, ahead again, his face showing his puzzlement.

"Yes, it's straight. Shouldn't it be, Jim?" she asked, stopping and waiting with him, almost holding her breath. He'd never put an idea into so many words before - she prayed silently that he would go on.

"No, no - it should - curve!" He began to tremble; she clasped his hand tightly.

"Jim, it's all right. This corridor is straight, it should be straight. You are thinking of some other corridor. Don't worry about it, Jim. The other place is all right, too. Both places are as they should be. You're here, now; the corridors here are straight, so don't worry."

He slowly quieted while she talked. "Yes. This one is straight - another one, a blue one, is curved." He sighed, shook his head then, at her gentle urging, moved off again. Soon they reached the dining room.

At the door he stopped, looking around a little wildly. The clash and rattle of dishes startled him. Jan remembered another time when she'd tried to bring him in, he'd broken and run frantically back up the hall. This time, however, he just gripped her hand tighter - hurting her, although she'd have endured much more if he would only keep improving.

"Everything's all right, Jim," she said. "Come, I'll get you your supper."

She drew him toward the tables. Soon an orderly saw them and brought a tray. Jim cringed when he saw the white uniform, and Jan had to quiet him, gesturing to the orderly to move away. "I'll help him, Harry," she said quickly.

"Okay, Miss Hamlin," he was glad he didn't have to, there were enough others he had to feed.

After the orderly left, Jan turned her attention to the meal he'd brought. As always, she was revolted by the quality of the food the patients were given - coarse, unappetizing, often greasy, colorless, unrecognizable food. She knew it was probably nourishing; the patients didn't starve, but why couldn't they at least make the food attractive? She sighed and picked up the battered spoon.

"No." Jim said.

"'No' what?"

"I - I can."

She sat back and watched, while he took the spoon from her. Dipping it into the grayish mess that was some kind of starchy casserole, he began to eat. She sat quietly beside him, hope building. She couldn't believe the change in him. He was awkward with the spoon, it was hard for him; a fork would have been better, but forks are sharp. He spilled the first couple of spoonfuls, but gradually he did better and soon was eating easily. He drank thirstily from the cup of cold coffee, made a face.

"Cold! I never liked cold coffee," he said clearly, as casually as though they had been talking for hours. He glanced at Jan. "Please - I want some hot coffee."

"And you shall have it," she said, standing up quickly and starting for the serving counter.

"Jan, no. Don't leave me!" He jumped up frantically, shoving back his chair. It scraped noisily and he whirled at the sound, fear starting on his face. Heads turned toward the sound, the orderly began moving toward him. Jan turned back quickly and caught hold of his arms. He was as tense as a bowstring, ready to panic.

"Jim. Jim, I'm here. I won't leave you."

"Jan?" He whimpered, and her heart sank. Was he regressing again? She'd been a fool to move so quickly.

"Yes, I'm here, Jim. Come - you come and help me get the coffee." She took his hand and he followed her. Behind her back, she waved away the orderly, who shrugged and turned away. This time she moved slower. She kept talking to Jim and he quieted, the fearing slowly leaving his eyes.

Taking a clean cup, she drew some fresh coffee from the urn and carried it back to the table. Jim watched her carefully and when she told him, he again sat down at the table.

"Now, Jim, be careful, the coffee is hot," she warned.

He picked up the cup and carefully tasted the steaming liquid. A smile lit his face. "Good." he said. "That's how I like it. You programmed the selector just right, Jan."

"I - what, Jim?"

"I said, you programmed the selector just the way I like my coffee," and again he drank from the cup, deeply this time.

"Oh. Yes..." she was puzzled. Programmed? Selector? Just what kind of strange ideas were these? He seemed so sure of what he'd said, as though it were perfectly natural - programmed - that was something you did with a computer - but...a selector?

"Jim, what is a...?" Suddenly a bell sounded in the hall, a loud, clanging bell, signaling the end of visiting hours. It clanged through all the halls, even in the wards, like this one, where no visitors ever went. Jan hated the bells, they always startled her, and she'd seen many patients react in fear at the sudden onslaught of sound. This time was no exception; all over the room bodies stiffened, cries of fear were heard.

There was a violent crash beside her. Jan looked around to see Jim standing beside his overturned chair. He was looking around, his lips moving, "Red Alert!" He started for the door, not running, but moving fast.

Jan hurried after him, caught up Just outside the door. He was looking up and down the hall. "Where is it?" he asked when she came up to him.

"Where is what?" She'd expected to find him frantic with fright, but he seemed almost calm, just business-like.

"The turbo-lift? Which way?" He snapped out the question.

"Jim, there's no - turbo-lift here," she said.

"There must be!" He started down the hall; striding rapidly along, not shuffling or running - striding! She had to run to keep up with him.

"I've got to get there. It's a Red Alert! They need me."

Almost as he said it, the bell stopped its clamor. He took a few more steps then slowed to a halt, turning slowly to Jan. "It's stopped - what happened? Why did the...?" He frowned, trying to remember. "Jan? Where - where is - is...?" She saw helpless confusion growing in his eyes, saw him raise his fist to his mouth, heard an all-too-familiar whimper start to build in his throat. Her heart sank; she reached out her hand and he took it, like a lost child. Tears formed in his eyes. "Jan? It's gone. I almost..." he started to sob quietly.

"Sh - shh, Jim, come. I'll take you back to your room. It's late. Come," she urged, drawing him down the hall. Once in the room he quieted, the sobbing died away. He sat listlessly on the side of the bed, his head hanging. All the light and brightness held shown before was gone. His eyes were dull, withdrawn once more.

Jan stood looking sadly at him for a minute. Nothing she'd said had reached him. Finally she said, "Jim, I must go now. The orderly is coming; he'll help you get to bed. Will you let him help you?" She knew he sometimes fought the attendants and they would just go and lock the door, letting him sleep on the floor if he wanted to.

He didn't move, even when she said goodnight and went out the door. He just sat there. In a while, an orderly came in and helped him get ready for bed. He offered no resistance, let the man change his clothes and help him into bed.

Finally he was alone. He lay on his back, staring at the window at the foot of the bed - a window covered with a heavy webbing of bars. It was getting dark outside, the light in the room had been extinguished, only a dim light trickled in through the small window in the door, so he could see outside. It grew darker and darker and the stars began to gleam, one by one. It was a cool, clear night. Before long the night sky was awash with brilliant stars. While he lay there looking at them, something moved - a late plane at a great height, only a pinpoint of light. He watched it, only his eyes moving, until it was gone. A sob grew in him, a line of tears formed and ran down the side of his face. His lips moved silently then words formed: "Spock? Spock?" It was only a whisper. "Help me? Please - help me?" Finally he slept.

***

Spock looked up from the journal he'd been studying. The buzzer at his door had sounded. "Come," he called, and the door swished open.

Doctor Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer of the Starship Enterprise, stood in the doorway. "May I come in?" he asked formally.

"If you wish, Doctor McCoy," Spock switched off his viewer and indicated a chair across the desk. "Sit down, Doctor." His voice was cold. It sounded as though he didn't care if McCoy came in or sat down or stayed away.

McCoy moved slowly to the chair and sat down. He didn't speak for a moment, just stared at a rack of Vulcan bells on the wall as though he'd forgotten what he'd come for.

"Well?" Spock prompted finally.

McCoy roused with a start, turned to Spock. "Do you know what the date is?"

"Shall I repeat the exact hour and minute for you, Doctor?"

"Yes - you'd know to the minute, wouldn't you? Is that all?"

"What do you mean - 'all'?"

"Just numbers...? D-don't you know what day this is, Spock?" McCoy snapped out the name distastefully.

"If you mean this is the anniversary of the day that Captain Kirk disappeared, yes, I know what day it is. Why do you ask?" Spock had leaned back in his chair and had steepled his fingers before him, light gleaming from the gold braid on his arms, two bands of gold, with short dashes between - Captain's stripes.

"Aren't you going to do anything to commemorate the day?" McCoy asked. "Most of the crew now aboard served under Captain Kirk. Wouldn't a memorial service be in order?"

"To serve what purpose, Doctor? A memorial service is to honor someone who is dead. We do not know that James Kirk is dead," Spock added coldly.

"Of course he's dead, Spock! Otherwise, he'd have come back. Jim Kirk would come back from Hell, if he could. If he were alive, he'd have shown up somewhere, somehow! He's dead."

"Can you prove it, Doctor? Can you show me a body, a phaser burn - anything?"

Obviously, this was an old quarrel, one they'd gone over, and over many times. They seemed to be reciting lines; making automatic responses.

McCoy flared. "Damn you, Spock! You don't want him found. You have what you always wanted - you are Captain of the Enterprise now."

"Doctor, I did not wish...."

"Don't give me that old spiel, 'I do not wish to command!' You took it fast enough when Jim disappeared."

Spock sighed. "I took command in order to keep an efficient crew together. I have explained this to you before, Doctor McCoy. Very well. Since you feel so strongly that some observance of the date should be made, you have my permission. However," firmly, "I will not attend."

"Why not? Guilty conscience?" McCoy rose from his chair and started for the door without a backwards glance.

"Doctor McCoy! You will not use that tone with me." Spock stood also, and his face darkened.

McCoy whirled on him. "Why, Spock, did I finally hit on the truth? You're willing to admit you're glad Jim's gone? Okay, put me on report! I don't care anymore. I'm thinking of leaving the Enterprise soon anyway." McCoy was breathing hard, glaring at Spock.

"Doctor. I am Captain of the Enterprise. I command here. I do what I think is best for this ship and I do not have to explain my actions to you. There are reasons why I cannot believe that James Kirk is dead, but I will not go into them with you. I understand how you feel about him, so I will overlook your outburst. However, you cannot leave this ship unless I approve. Since I do not approve, you will stay."

"Why you...!" Fists tightly balled, McCoy took one step towards Spock, stopped. "Oh, what's the use?" he said, turned, and stamped out the door, which closed behind him.

Spock stood looking at the closed door, a strange expression crossing his face - pain? Regret? At last he sighed, sat down at his desk, and again switched on the viewer.

However, although the words on the screen came and went at his usual reading speed, he didn't see them. Instead, in his mind's eye, he again was seeing the face of the man he'd called his friend - a young, vibrant ship's Captain, James Kirk. A man who'd been closer to him than few other beings. Spock thought again of that day, one Earth-year before, when Kirk had come bounding into his quarters:

"Spock!" He could hear the voice ringing in his mind again. "Spock how about coming on Shore Leave with me? Scotty says he's going to pass it up this time. He'll take charge here. Come on, Spock, there's a place here I just have to show you! You'll never believe it." Kirk had grinned widely at him, excitement showing in his face and in his manner.

As if viewing a tape, Spock seemed to see himself answering his friend: "No - no, Jim, I have a new science journal with a report I must study. You go ahead. I do not wish to take leave now."

Kirk's face had fallen a little, but soon regained most of its former animation. He winked broadly at Spock, leaned over and said, "You'll be sorry!" waved his hand, turned, and hurried out the door.

Spock hadn't seen him since.

Kirk had beamed down to the R & R station. He'd been seen by several of the Enterprise's crewmen during the evening: seen with a pretty girl, a civilian; had been traced to a famous restaurant, where he and the girl had had dinner and had spent some time dancing. Late in the evening, Ensign Chekov had seen the Captain entering a jet-cab, still with the girl, but also with a man. The Captain had seen Chekov, had waved then had stepped into the cab and had disappeared.

Chekov had been questioned for hours - days - about what he'd seen. He'd described the girl and the man to experts, who'd drawn up composites of his descriptions, pictures that had been circulated throughout the known galaxy, along with Kirk's, but no one ever came forward to identify them.

The jet-cab had been found abandoned in a quarry beyond the limits of the R & R city. It'd been stolen. No clues were found, with one exception - Kirk's communicator had been discovered behind one of the passenger seats. It was open, as though to act as a homing signal. The activating switch had been broken off, so the device had not worked. Only Kirk's prints were on it; the last trace of Captain James T. Kirk ever found.

The Enterprise had remained in orbit around the planet for ten days, while the planet was searched from end to end for sign or trace of James Kirk.

Nothing.

Beginning on the day following Kirk's disappearance, when the fact that he was missing was finally realized, all ships leaving the planet had been searched -- but there'd been plenty of time before that for him to have left.

It was an Open Planet - one of several near the edge of the Federation's sphere of influence, not far from the Klingon Empire. It was used by humans and aliens alike. Klingons were often seen there, as well as other non-human races. It served as a kind of clearing house for contacts, official and unofficial, between various races and cultures.

On the sixth day of the search, Lieutenant Commander Scott returned to the Enterprise under guard. He had obviously been in a fights he had a black eye and his uniform was torn. He stood stiffly at attention in the transporter room before Commander Spock.

"What happened, Mr. Scott?" Spock asked.

"I - have nothing to say, sir," Scott replied.

"Mr. Scott. You will tell me what happened," Spock's voice cracked at him. "Why were you sent back here in this condition?"

"Sir, I - well, I just couldna stand there and listen to what they were a sayin' about Captain Kirk - sir," Scott's voice revealed his anger.

"And what was it 'they' said, Mr. Scott?"

"Sir, they - they said the Captain has sold out to the Klingons! Sir!"

"I see. Who are 'they,' Scott?"

"A bunch of heathens from the Lexington, sir. They say the Captain must have been paid off..."

"That is enough, Mr. Scott. I quite understand your impetuous reaction. You are excused." Spock turned away from Scott for a moment then looked back at him. "However, you will remain on board this ship until I give you permission to leave."

"Ay, sir," and Scott didn't leave the Enterprise again while they were in orbit around that planet. However, the story grew - others began to wonder, even while the search for Kirk continued.

On the tenth day Spock received a message from Star Fleet Command: "Commander Spock. We regret that we can no longer allow the Enterprise to remain out of service. The search for Captain Kirk will be continued by the civilian authorities.... You are hereby appointed Acting Commander of the Enterprise and will return the Enterprise to Star Base 11 for reassignment."

The message had been heard by the bridge crew. There were expressions of shock and surprise when it ended and Spock ordered Chekov to lay in a course for Star Base 11.

"You mean you're gonna leave here without finding out what happened to Jim?" McCoy had railed at Spock.

"Doctor, I have my orders."

"So what? You can't do this, Spock."

"Doctor McCoy, there is nothing further we can do here. Star Fleet has already given us several extra days in which to search. They can no longer have this ship out of action."

"But - Spock...!"

"That will be all, Doctor McCoy," Spock said coldly. He turned his back on McCoy and stepped to the command chair. For one short second he paused, looking at it. Then the cold Vulcan mask closed over his features -- never to change in the days that followed... He settled down into the chair. "You will lay in the course for Star Base 11, Mr. Chekov."

"Yes, sair," Chekov replied. "Laid in," he said sharply, not raising his eyes from his board.

"Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu," Spock ordered. "Warp two."

Sulu hesitated.

"But - Mr. Spock," he said, looking back at the Vulcan behind him. Sulu had never, to anyone's recollection, questioned a direct order from Spock before. Uhura gasped; she could feel the tension on the bridge. All heads turned toward the two figures, whose eyes were locked, the alien Vulcan and the Old Earth Oriental - races that had been set apart in their own times.

"Lieutenant Sulu. If you do not comply with my order immediately, I will have you relieved of duty," Spock said coldly.

Sulu flushed, a smear of red flooded his cheeks. He turned back to his controls. "Aye, aye, sir," savagely snapping the switches controlling the great starship.

Spock turned his attention to Engineer Scott, who was standing near his bridge control board. Another red-shirted crewman was seated there. "Mr. Scott, I believe the Lieutenant can handle the required engineering duties here. I also believe your duties can be better handled from your office in the main Engineering section. I shall notify you when your presence is required on the bridge. Dismissed."

Scott's mouth opened in surprise and shock. Then it snapped shut, opening only long enough for: "Yes, sir!" as Scott whirled and stalked to the turbo-lift.

"And you, Doctor McCoy, will find work to occupy you in your Sick Bay," Spock said, without looking at the doctor standing behind him.

McCoy took a step toward Spock, stopped, glanced at Uhura, whose face registered her shock and disbelief. His eyes swept on around the bridge, taking in the rigid figures seated at their stations. Finally, he looked at Spock. He could only see one pointed ear, the sharp profile, as Spock stared straight ahead.

"Yes, Commander," McCoy said, through stiff lips. "I shall not bother you with my presence here again - unless ordered." He joined Scotty at the door of the lift and the two disappeared from view. From that day on, Montgomery Scott and Leonard McCoy had only appeared on the bridge of the Enterprise when ordered. They did what was required of them, most efficiently, but no more.

The Enterprise was no longer a "happy" ship.

When the Enterprise reached Star Base 11, Spock had been ordered to report to Commodore Mendez' office. Mendez was waiting at his door when Spock arrived. "Come in, Mr. Spock."

"Yes, sir," Spock said. The two moved into the office and the door closed behind them.

No one aboard the Enterprise learned exactly what happened behind that closed door. All they knew was that several hours after he beamed down, Spock returned to the Enterprise. Lieutenant Kyle was alone in the transporter room when Spock materialized. He, therefore, was the first one aboard to see the result of the meeting. He'd glanced up from his controls casually when the materialization had concluded, gasped in surprise, and then had snapped to attention.

"Ah - Welcome Aboard, sir - ah - Captain Spock, sir!"

The familiar blue shirt Spock had worn for so many years was gone. He now wore command gold, and two and one half rows of gold braid designating his rank as Captain gleamed at his wrists.

"Thank you, Mr. Kyle," said Spock, stepping down from the pad. He walked quietly from the room, leaving Kyle staring dumbfoundedly after him. Spock went immediately to the bridge, stepped down to the command chair, and seated himself.

"Lieutenant, Uhura, open the all-ship speakers, please," he ordered.

"Ye - yes, sir - uh - Captain," Uhura stammered. The unflappable Communications officer finally blew her cool and hit the wrong button, creating a squealing feedback for two agonizing seconds.

Spock shot a dark glance at her then spoke: "This is - Captain Spock. I have been ordered to take full command of the Enterprise. As soon as the ship has been re-supplied, we will continue our regular mission. There will be no Shore Leave granted at this time. Spock out."

A stunned silence, broken only by the click and hum of automatic equipment, swept the giant ship. Then, throughout the ship, a hum of voices began. Groups of crewmen formed, separated, reformed:

"Did you hear that?" / Yeah! I can't believe...!" / "What, about the Captain?" / "He's the Captain!" / "Did you hear?"

Nurse Chapel stood rigidly in the center of Sick Bay, staring at the speaker of the intercom - unable to comprehend what she'd heard. Spock - Captain? No! But, he said - he said, "This is Captain Spock." It must be true. She felt someone watching her. Finally she turned and saw McCoy standing in the doorway of his office.

"Well, Nurse Chapel, he finally did it," McCoy said grimly.

"Sir?"

"Ever since. I've known Mr. Spock he's said he didn't wish to be Captain. Now, Jim has been missing for less than two weeks and Spock has taken over. That blasted Vulcan...!"

"But, Doctor McCoy, someone has to be - Captain of the Enterprise, until - until...," she couldn't bring herself to finish.

"Until. Jim. Comes back?" McCoy finished for her. The good doctor couldn't as yet bring himself to believe James Kirk was dead. Many of the crewmembers were beginning to say it, but he couldn't. Not yet. The thought was too painful, too awful to accept.

"Un - yes, Doctor," Christine said hesitantly. She, even more than the others, had been shocked and confused by Spock's sudden change. She hadn't spoken to him since the day McCoy had stormed into Sick Bay after Spock had ordered him from the bridge. He'd told her, "Your beloved Mr. Spock has reverted to his true Vulcan colors, and I'll be damned if I'll ever set foot on that bridge again without a direct order!"

Now, McCoy went on: "They didn't have to make him Captain; he could have commanded as First Officer for now." But in his heart he knew the Enterprise had to have a Captain. He turned away from Christine Chapel, entered his office, and closed the door.

Nurse Chapel roused herself and went on with her duties.

The Enterprise stayed at Star Base 11 only three days then moved away, continuing its mission of exploration and survey.

A year passed.

The ship spent a lot of time near the Klingon Empire. Often, they encountered Klingon ships and personnel. There were several minor engagements, but these always ended in a withdrawal of both sides without any serious contact being made. Most of the year was spent in surveying new planets in the region, re-supplying outlying colonies and checking on archaeological teams on distant, lonely outposts. Time had passed.

The day he'd confronted Spock in his quarters, McCoy had tried to remember when it was he'd finally accepted the fact of Jim Kirk's death. He couldn't. It had slipped, unnoticed, into his thinking some time earlier, while the months had dragged by. He'd discovered himself talking about Jim in the past tense, without realizing what he was doing. Now, he'd convinced himself of the fact and couldn't understand Spock's attitude.

Leonard McCoy couldn't know that, on the night that James Kirk had disappeared, Spock had awakened in his quarters, shaking with horror - his mind a whirling torrent of pain and fear. In the midst of it all, he'd seemed to hear James Kirk screaming to him for help. The feelings and sensations were identical with those he'd experienced long ago on the neutral planet of Organia, when he'd been subjected to the agony of the Klingon Mind-Sifter. That time his powerful Vulcan mind had been able to withstand the torment, and he'd suffered no permanent damage from the experience, except for the memories.

However, if James Kirk, or any human, had been subjected to even the limited amount of exposure he'd endured, the consequences would have been devastating.

The sensation had faded quickly. Anyone other than Spock would have said it was a nightmare, but Spock knew better. He knew James Kirk had been taken by Klingons, knew they'd drained Jim's mind - but Spock also knew they hadn't at that time, killed Jim. He'd have known that. Why they'd done what they did, he had no way of knowing. Nor did he know what they'd done with Kirk. All he did know was that his friend had cried out to him for help in his agony - and he hadn't been able to respond. He locked away in his mind the realization that his friend, his only real friend, James Kirk, could be to all intents and purposes a mindless vegetable - if he was alive. He did what he thought was best - for himself, and for Star Fleet - took Jim's place as commander of the Enterprise.

He was certain that there was no chance of ever finding Kirk; still, as one of the terms under which he took the Captaincy, he'd requested that the Enterprise be assigned to the quadrant of the galaxy nearest the Klingon Empire. There was always the faint possibility that he could somehow find the answer to why Kirk had been taken and what the Klingons had wanted from his mind.

There had been times when Spock had been tempted to tell McCoy what he knew. However, he could never bring himself to do so. McCoy would not believe him now; the gulf between them was too deep. And now that McCoy had finally convinced himself that Kirk was dead - there was no point in opening old wounds.

McCoy knew nothing of this, so he went ahead, assisted by Lieutenant Uhura, Mr. Sulu, and Engineer Scott to hold the memorial service for Captain James Kirk. It was an emotional experience for all of them. Since most of the crew aboard had served with James Kirk, they couldn't all attend in person, so the service was piped to all decks.

Captain Spock had appeared on the bridge just before the time for the service and had taken over the command chair, thus allowing Ensign Chekov to attend the ceremony. Chekov had been surprised when Spock had told him he could go it was the first "human" thing Spock had done since becoming Captain.

The service was heard on the bridge. Several crewmen stole furtive glances at Spock during it. The only thing they could report afterwards was that when Lieutenant Uhura had broken down while singing one of Captain Kirk's favorite songs, a twinge of - something - they couldn't say what, had flashed across the cold Vulcan face and was gone. Nothing more.

***

Jan Hamlin stepped outside the locked door leading into Jim Doe's room. She'd looked through the small pane set in the heavy panel and had seen him standing by the window gazing out. As always, he was looking at the sky... It was a lovely day - white, puffy clouds moved majestically across a deep blue sky. It was cool and the bright colors of autumn had touched the huge old trees surrounding the old red brick buildings of the sprawling hospital complex.

Jan had just gone off duty, she wanted to go home, she was tired. But the lonely figure standing motionless drew her in. She unlocked the door and walked quietly inside. "Jim?" she said softly, hoping not to startle him. "It's Jan." She walked around and stood where he could see her face.

Slowly he lowered his head and his eyes shortened their focus. A slight smile formed. "Hello, Jan." He had recognized her at once this time - quicker than usual.

She smiled brightly back. "How do you feel today, Jim?"

"I'm fine - I - feel..." he paused, as if in thought then continued, "I think I feel well, Jan, I just can't - remember...."

"That's all right, Jim - don't worry about it," Jan broken in hastily. "How would you like to go outside and walk under the trees?"

"Out - outside?" He seemed confused and a frown formed on his face.

"Yes, Jim, I'll take you. But you must promise that you'll stay close to me and not try to run away." She had, on occasion, taken him out before. One time, he had broken away and started running wildly down a pathway. Only quick action by a passing orderly had stopped him. Other times he'd let her lead him docilely around.

"I - won't - I will not run," he said slowly.

"It's cool, Jim, get your sweater."

He moved to the bureau, took out a sweater and shrugged himself into it. Lately he'd been doing more for himself. There had been a long period of remission following the day he'd escaped into the cellar of the hospital. For some weeks he'd been completely withdrawn. Then, one day, he'd again seemed to know her, called her Jan and responded to the name of Jim. Since then, there'd been a slow, but definite improvement. He was like a child in some ways, learning how to eat by himself, how to dress and care for himself. Only once or twice had he been overcome by the wild fears that had consumed him earlier. He'd recovered more quickly each time, and Jan had again begun to hope that he might, in time, truly recover.

"Come now, take my hand, Jim," she said, opening the door.

"No."

"What?" she said in surprise. He'd always taken her hand willingly before.

"No - not your - hand. A - a man - no - a woman takes a man's - arm when they - walk together," he said slowly. He bent his arm and offered it to her.

"Yes! That's right, Jim," Jan said happily, and she placed her hand through the bend of his arm as they walked slowly toward the doorway. She had to remove her hand to unlock the outer door, but once through it, she again placed her hand on his arm and they stepped out into the brilliant sunshine.

"Out. Outside," Jim said. He smiled slightly and took a deep breath of the clear, cool air. "It's nice, Jan, a nice day." He smiled again, looking down at her.

"Yes, Jim. Come - let's go over there under the trees and walk on the grass."

"I like to walk on grass when I'm on Shore Leave," he said casually.

"'Shore Leave'?" Jan thought. She'd learned not to question him when he made statements like that, it seemed to confuse and frighten him when she didn't know what he meant. But "Shore Leave" was a military term - Navy - that was it! Her brother had been in the Navy, she'd heard him tell about going ashore on leave before - before he'd been lost off Korea.... He, too, had said once how good it was to walk on grass after the hard decks of ships - she was going to take a chance. "Yes, I suppose the decks do get hard, don't they, Jim?"

"Yes; of course, the floor coverings in my quarters are softer and those in the Rec Rooms, but the corridors and the..." he stopped and frowned again.

"Well," she said brightly, not appearing to notice, "here we are; isn't this nice? Come, Jim, let's sit here in the sun. You can lean against that big tree and rest." She tugged a little on his arm and he followed her to the tree. Even under the tree, the slanting sun shone on them, its warm rays helping to dispel the October chill. Jan sat down on the grass. Soon Jim sat beside her, leaning back, as she'd suggested, against the rough bark of the tree. He put his head back and looked up into the branches above him, where the blue sky could be seen in patches through the leaves.

"Beautiful," he murmured. "Just like the sky on Omicron Ceti Three. Too bad we can't ever go back there." He smiled to himself.

"Yes, isn't it too bad we can't go back?" Jan wondered what he was talking about, it seemed so real to him.

"Well, you know if we did, the Berthold Rays would..." he stopped suddenly and looked at her. "You - you weren't there, Jan!" A crafty look came into his face, his voice hardened. "Why did you say that?" He took hold of her wrist and started to squeeze.

"Jim, please, let go of my wrist," Jan said quietly. Her heart was racing, he'd never tried to hurt her before. Was this some new phase? "You're hurting me, Jim," she spoke in the same quiet tone.

He looked down at her hand, which was starting to redden. He released it quickly and looked up into her eyes. "I'm - I'm - sorry - I wouldn't - hurt you, Jan." His eyes started to swim with tears.

"It's all right, Jim, I'm not hurt. Please don't cry." His emotions were always very close to the surface.

"I - I didn't mean - to hurt you," he said. "Jan - you are - nice. I like you - Jan."

"And I like you too, Jim," she said with a laugh. Then, she realized that she did in fact "like him" - that she was beginning to feel more than just a professional interest in this man. Realized, with a pang of regret, that she must not, as all the textbooks said - as all her experience in nursing had taught her, "get emotionally involved". But he was smiling at her now, and, with a tiny catch in her breath, she thought what a fine-looking man he was. His hair was a nice shade of brown. His eyes were hazel, and he had a nice smile when he used it. The old green sweater happened to fit him. Usually, the clothes issued to the patients were shapeless and ill fitting, but this one fit him well. She made a mental note to see if she could find something of her brother's that she could bring for him. They were about the same size.... Oh, Oh! she thought. Be careful! Oh well giving him something decent to wear wouldn't be getting involved. Nobody else cared.

That was true, nobody did. No one had come forward asking about him. It wasn't fair - here he was getting better, at least a little," and she was the only one who noticed. She decided that she was going to do something about that. "Jim," she took a deep breath, this might be dangerous. "Do you remember anything about the time before you came here?"

He looked startled then puzzled. He frowned and seemed to be concentrating very hard. "Before? Before? Was I somewhere - somewhere else?"

"Yes, Jim, somewhere else, where the corridors curved, where there was a turbo-lift, where food was programmed. Can you remember?"

"Turbo - turbo.... Yes! The turbo-lift - it took me to - the bridge. Yes! The bridge." He leaped suddenly to his feet, and she scrambled up after him. "I must - I must get there - they - they need..." he looked quickly around. "No. I am on Shore Leave! Trees - grass - I'll have to - to beam, up...."

She saw him reach around under his sweater to a point over his right hip and fumble around at his belt. "It's gone! My communicator. It's gone!" He whirled around to her and grasped her arms. "Jan! I must find it. Help me look." He dropped to his knees beside the tree and started brushing his hands through the fallen leaves and grass. "Help me, Jan, help me!"

She sank to her knees beside him and put her arm around his shoulders. "Jim, don't - you won't find it here. It isn't here, Jim. You don't have a (a what?) com-communicator (was that it?). Come, let me take you back now."

He stopped rummaging around in the grass and sank back on his knees, sitting on his heels. The motion brought him against her and for a moment he was still. She kept her arm around him and held him tightly. She could feel him trembling and expected to see him break into tears again, as he usually did when he'd been "remembering." This time, however, he didn't. He seemed to draw comfort from her touch and for a time the two of them knelt there quietly. At last, he drew a long breath, turned his head to look into her face and said, "It's gone again, Jan."

"What is, Jim?"

"I don't know. At times I think - I seem to be right on the edge of - remembering?" he said it as a question. "Is that it, Jan? I can't remember?"

"Yes, Jim, that's it. If only you could remember." She realized he was talking very rationally. There was an improvement - if only he didn't slip back again.

She stood up and he followed her. For a moment he stood looking down at her. Then he raised his hands and took hold of her shoulders. She thought of the time before, in the dim passageway in the basement. "Jim," she said, wondering what was in his mind, "what is it?"

"You are a lovely woman, Jan," came the surprising answer, as he smiled gently at her.

"Thank you. It's nice of you to say that," and she realized she was blushing.

"No - no. It's true. You are," he smiled again and broke into a little chuckle, "and you're blushing, too." At that he laughed out loud and threw his arms about her - held her tightly to him for a couple of seconds. Then, before she realized what was happening, he kissed her, softly, gently. It seemed so natural that for a second she responded - then, remembering, she pushed away from him with a little self-conscious laugh.

"Jim! It's getting late. I must be going home." Her mind was whirling, what was she doing? She must not - this was wrong! But it hadn't seemed wrong, not while she'd been in his arms. It had seemed so right. He seemed so relaxed, a he stood there smiling at her.

"Really, Jim, I must go now," she said, returning his smile.

"Okay then," he, said, laughing again, "Come on. I'll walk you to the door." He started moving quickly, surely toward the entrance. She had to trot to keep up with his long strides. She didn't say anything, she didn't want to break the spell. They could have been any young couple coming back from a walk in the bright October air. However, when they entered the building and the heavy door clanged shut behind them, his cheerful mood dropped from him. He followed Jan to the dining room, ate his dinner and went quietly back to his room. He seemed to have completely forgotten the time outside, but as she was leaving, he looked at her and said, "I do like you, Jan," then turned, walked to the window and resumed his stand there, head tilted back, staring at the sky.

The next morning Jan Hamlin made an appointment with the hospital director. When she was admitted to his office, she set about telling him what she thought she'd learned about James Doe. That he'd been in the military, probably the Navy; that he'd traveled a lot, no, she didn't know where, the places he'd named were unfamiliar.

"He must be known somewhere," she finally burst out. "Dr. Wright, somebody must know him!"

"Miss Hamlin, we've tried. We've already checked with the military services - Army, Navy, Marines - they have no record of him. The FBI has no record of his fingerprints. Missing Persons has no record of anyone meeting his description. What more can we do?"

"Couldn't we publish his picture in the papers?"

"Miss Hamlin, what good would it do? If anyone was looking for him...."

"But maybe they think he's dead, Dr. Wright." she insisted urgently. "They may have given up looking for him."

"Well - yes - I suppose that could be the case," Wright said thoughtfully. "Tell you what, I'll call the papers and see if they will do it. I'm sure nothing will come of it, every now and then someone's picture appears and nothing results. Just one more forgotten patient in a mental hospital.... All right, I'll try."

He made a phone call and soon it was arranged. "They'll be right over, Miss Hamlin. I guess it's a slow news day; the editor said he was looking for a human interest story."

Jan's excitement was obvious. She'd had an idea. "Doctor Wright, remember the clothes he had on when he came in? Maybe if he put them on and we took his picture in them...."

"That might help. You get the clothes from the storage room, and I'll send an orderly just in case he starts getting violent again."

"I don't need an orderly, Doctor he'll do it for me, I'm sure. I'll bring him out when he's ready." And Jan Hamlin was gone, hurrying to the storage room, where the clerk soon found the bundle of things that had been resting there for over a year. Clutching the bundle, Jan hurried to Jim's room. At the door, she stopped and caught her breath. She tried to calm herself; she didn't want to upset him by being too excited herself.

"Jim?" she called as she entered. He turned from the window and smiled quietly at her. He was very calm this morning.

"Good morning, Jim. How are you today?" She moved to the bed and laid the bundle down on it.

"I'm - fine, Jan," he said then noticing the bundle, "what's that?"

"Jim, remember I told you yesterday that your trouble was you couldn't remember who you are?"

"Yes - I remember."

"Well, I'm - that is we are going to see if someone else can remember."

"What?"

"Doctor Wright - he's the head of the hospital - is going to have your picture put in the newspaper, to see if anyone recognizes you."

"News-paper?" A puzzled look spread over Jim's face, but Jan was leaning over the bed, undoing the bundle of clothing and didn't see it.

"Yes, the newspaper, Jim," she said quickly. "These are the things you were wearing when you came here. If you'll put them on, we'll take your picture in them. Someone may see it, someone who knows you."

She'd opened the bundle and was spreading out the contents. There was a golden shirt, of a soft, velour-like material; a pair of dark pants, rather short-legged, and a pair of knee-high boots. On the front of the shirt was a small insignia, a gold patch of leather-like material with a star, an elongated star, set onto it. Bands of gold on the sleeves gleamed softly in the light.

"Here, Jim, put it on," Jan said. She moved to help him; being a nurse, she was used to helping a man change his clothes she did it every day, but he drew back from her.

"No - no, I can - I can do it."

Jan stood back. He slowly took off the shirt he had on and picked up the yellow one from the bed. He stood holding it in his hands for a moment. He traced the insignia with one finger and seemed to be lost in thought. He shook his head slightly then with a sudden, quick motion, thrust his arms into the sleeves and pulled the shirt over his head. His hands moved quickly to the collar and closed the opening. She hadn't noticed a zipper and wondered how he'd done it. But, before she could ask, Jim had picked up the pants - then he looked up at her with a slight smile. "Turn around, Jan."

"Oh, Jim, I'm a nurse!" she laughed.

"No! I won't put them on unless...."

"Oh - all right." Jan turned and looked out the window. She heard a rustling behind her and smiled to herself. He must be, feeling better if he were becoming modest.

Finally she heard him say, "All right," and she turned back. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling on the long boots. They tucked up under the legs of the pants - again his fingers seemed to know how to fasten them.

"There," he said, standing up. "Is that right?"

She caught her breath. He looked like a different person. He stood easily, lightly balancing on the balls of his feet. His fists were planted on his hips and he looked - he looked as though this were the way he'd always dressed. Only his hair was disarranged. Jan reached into her uniform pocket and took cut a comb.

"Here, Jim, comb your hair," she said, smiling at him.

"Sure," and he quickly drew it through his hair. She'd often helped him before and now stood watching him, as he easily did it himself. Soon his hair was smooth, except for one stray lock that fell over his forehead as though it had a mind of its own. She'd tried before and had found that no amount of combing would make it stay in place.

"You look fine, Jim," she said happily. It was going to work. Surely someone would recognize him now. "Come along, we'll go over to Doctor Wright's office, and the photographer will take your picture."

The halls were rather empty and only one or two people stopped to stare after Jan Hamlin and the oddly dressed man walking quietly beside her. When they entered the Doctor's office, two men got up and turned toward them. One had a camera slung around his neck and a bag of equipment hanging from his shoulder. The other had a notebook, in which he'd been taking notes. Both men stared openly at Jim.

"This the guy, Doc?" the reporter asked.

"Yes, this is. Jim. We call him Jim Doe."

"Yeah - well, okay - Pete - where do you want him for the shot?" Better get a full-length one so that outfit'll show. What's he supposed to represent anyway, Doc?" The reporter talked as though Jim wasn't able to hear him.

Jan put her hand on Jim's arm. He was trembling and she could tell he was fighting for control. "It's all right, Jim. Just relax," she said quietly.

"Mr. Blair, if you'll please try to talk quietly - you're upsetting the patient," Doctor Wright said coldly.

"Oh - yeah - sorry. Come on, Pete, let's get it over with."

The cameraman pointed to a blank wall in the office. "Have him stand over there. Then I can get a good, clear shot."

"Go ahead, Jim," Jan urged. She was hoping the excitement wouldn't be too much for him. He moved slowly to the indicated place and stood looking bewilderedly at them.

"Wait - wait a minute," Jan begged the cameraman. She moved to Jim's side. "There'll be a light - a bright flash. Don't be afraid, it won't hurt you."

"All right, I won't. Don't go away, Jan, please?"

"I'll stand right here. You look at me," she said, moving back a few steps.

The photographer raised his camera and flash and snapped the picture. Jim started at the light but didn't cringe. "Okay - one more."

"Stand still, Jim," Jan called. "He's going to take another one."

Again the flash. This time Jim didn't move.

"Good. Very good." Doctor Wright moved around his desk and spoke to Jim. "That's all for now, Jim. You may go back to your room now with Miss Hamlin. Maybe we can talk sometime."

Jim looked at the gentle-faced man. His eyebrows drew together in concentration. "Who - are you?" he asked.

"I'm Doctor Wright, Doctor Leonard Wright, Chief of Staff here."

"Doctor - Doctor," Jim said slowly then his voice rose sharply. "Doctor Leonard - Bones? Doctor Leonard McCoy. McCoy? Not You're not McCoy - where is he?"

"Jim," Jan hastened to his side and took his arm, "Come, let's go back...."

"No!" He pulled away from her grasp and backed away from her - from all of them. "I want to know. Where is Bones? What have you done with him? He's my Chief Medical Officer - not you, Doctor Wright." He seemed to be completely rational; he didn't shout or cry, he just snapped out the words as though he expected an answer.

"Jim, what are you talking about?" Wright asked. If he could keep the patient talking, maybe they'd learn something important.

"If Doctor McCoy isn't here then where's Nurse Chapel? Or Doctor M'Benga? One of them must be here."

"No, Jim," Jan said quietly. "That was the other place, remember? We talked about it yesterday." An idea struck her - he was remembering so well - maybe now was the time to ask: "What is your name? James...?"

"I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the..." he stopped. An expression of absolute and total horror came over his face. He clutched at his head with both hands, and with a scream of pain sank to his knees. "Spock! Spock! Help me! Help me-a-e-e!"

The 20th Century doctor, nurse, and newspaper men had no way of knowing that Captain James T. Kirk was reacting to a form of post-hypnotic suggestion implanted in his mind by a band of aliens, extremely savage examples of a race known in the 23rd Century as "Klingons." The trigger was his name and rank. The Klingons hadn't known of the diminutive "Jimmy"; Jan's use of that name had, in a way, healed part of his tortured brain - taken him back to his childhood and had rebuilt the broken cells and nerve patterns. She'd helped, more than she'd ever know.

But now, the full force of the agony caused by the Klingon Mind-Sifter struck him again. The trigger words had set off visions of unspeakable horrors and fears that no mind could withstand, along with impressions of excruciating pain. The result was devastating. Kirk became violent; orderlies rushed into the office at Wright's call, wrestled the screaming man to the floor and into a straitjacket. He was dragged, helplessly tethered, back to his room. Nurse Hamlin, tears streaming from her eyes, was excused and Doctor Wright escorted the newspaper people to the main entrance.

"This'll make a great story, Doc," Reporter Blair gloated. The photographer had snapped one more picture, one of the strange man who called himself "Captain James T. Kirk," struggling on the floor with three orderlies holding him down.

"I'd rather you didn't use that final picture," Wright said as the men turned to leave.

"And spoil the story?" Blair laughed. "No chance!"

The next day there was a feature article on the front page of the local paper. A headline screamed: Who Is This Man? Under it were two pictures: one full-length of a good looking man, dressed in an odd costume. The other showed the same man thrashing around on the floor, his face drawn into a grimace of pain and horror, being forced into a straitjacket by hospital orderlies. The story accompanying the pictures played up the oddness of the man's behavior - how he called himself Captain James T. Kirk; how he'd asked for a Doctor Leonard McCoy, who he'd said was "his Chief Medical Officer." It told how the hospital had checked all of the military and the FBI, with no results. It finished with the request that anyone knowing who this man might be should contact the hospital.

The story was picked up by the press associations and given rather wide coverage. Other reporters who tried weren't allowed to see James Kirk. He was in restraints and under sedation. His condition was as bad as when he'd first been admitted.

Several days went by - a week. No, one came forward. There were the usual crank calls, but nothing that was of any value. The excitement died away. One or two news magazines carried the story then, as old news always is, the story was forgotten.

Jim Doe's name was changed to James T. Kirk in the hospital records and his strange clothes were returned to the storage room. Everything was as it had been before.

***

The Enterprise continued her mission. Things didn't get better, but they didn't get worse, either. The crew had become accustomed to its new Captain, and duties were performed efficiently.

Doctor McCoy and Engineer Scott had become close friends, and they spent much of their off-duty time together. One day, as they sat in a Rec Room having coffee together, McCoy said, "Scotty, I just realized - I haven't thought about Jim Kirk in - in almost a week."

"Aye, Len, I find meself doin' that, too - forgettin'. The memorial service last month seemed to put an end to my hope of ever findin' him, or hearin' of him again."

"I guess that was it," McCoy agreed moodily, staring down into his cup. He heaved a sigh. "If only we knew what'd happened. Then we could accept it."

"Aye." Scotty sipped his coffee, lost in thought.

Ensign Pavel Chekov was sitting near them at one of the reading viewers lazily going through an old history "book". He'd been studying some Old Earth history lately - Captain Spock had criticized him once too often about his faulty Old Russian history, and he was going back to the old records to see who was right.

Suddenly he slapped at the switch controlling the moving tape and reversed it. He peered closely at the page, turning up the magnification. He gasped - looked up and saw McCoy and Scott nearby. "Mr. Scott! Doctor McCoy! Come here - look at this!" he called, excitement causing his voice to rise.

"What is it, Chekov?" Scott asked, getting up and moving across to peer over the Ensign's shoulder.

"Look at that picture-- the two men standing just at the edge of the crowd!" Chekov pointed at the viewer and its lighted screen.

Scott and McCoy bent together, looking closely at the figures. The picture depicted a group of men looking at an old piece of military equipment. A man dressed in an old-style uniform was pointing out details and a group of men was looking on. At one side, but clearly visible, were two men - men with dark, bearded faces.

Scott caught his breath then exclaimed, "Spock has to see this!" He snatched the tape from the machine and set off on a dead run for the bridge, followed closely by McCoy and Chekov.

The trio burst out of the turbo-lift and hurried down to Spock's chair. The Vulcan Captain looked up, surprised. Scott and McCoy hadn't been on the bridge for many days. He could see the excitement written on their faces.

"Spock - Mr. Spock!" McCoy almost shouted.

"Captain Spock, Doctor."

"Oh - yes - sure, Captain.... Oh, Hell, Spock! Look at this." He took the tape from Scott's hand and thrust it into Spock's. "Look!"

"And just what am I supposed to look at?" Spock asked, an eyebrow starting to climb in question.

"Mr. Chekov has found a picture you must see. Put it on the big screen, please, Spock!"

"Since it seems so important to you gentlemen, I will look at it. Mr. Chekov." Spock gave the tape to him and the Ensign hurriedly inserted it into a slot at Spock's old station. The screen lit up and pages of an old book started to appear as Chekov ran through the tape. At last he came to the picture he wanted, sharpened the focus and zeroed in on the two faces he'd found. "Look, Captain," he said excitedly. "Do you see what we see?"

It was Lieutenant Uhura, who had swung around in, her chair and was staring at the screen who said it, "Klingons! Captain Koloth and his aide Korax. We mot them on the Space Station when...." She paused, her large eyes staring at the two faces they all remembered so well. "But what...?"

"What are they doing in my history book, near that Old Earth military wehicle?" Chekov finished for her.

"Mr. Chekov, what is the date of publication of that book?" -Spock asked, his voice even and calm as ever.

"Ah - let me see..." Chekov glanced at the label: on the tape case. "It says - 1953, Captain." He looked up at Spock, "But, sair, how can that be? The Klingons don't know how to go back in time - do they?"

All eyes turned to Spock. The only sound to be heard on the entire bridge was the hum and click of the automatics. Spock steepled his forefingers, and, putting his elbows on the arms of his chair, closed his eyes.

No one moved. After a moment Spock reopened his eyes and looked once more at the screen. Then he spoke softly, but everyone heard him. "So, that is why they did it."

Voices burst out on held breaths: "Who did what?" / "Who?" / "What does he mean?" / "The Klingons?" / "Spock!"

Spock looked around. Again silence fell. "Doctor McCoy, Engineer Scott - Chekov - Uhura," he swung around to face them. Uhura got up and moved to stand beside McCoy. That was the only motion. No one else moved; the tension could be felt, pressing in on all of them. Spock drew a long breath and finally spoke: "I believe I know where James Kirk may be," he said quietly, "and why."

"Spock!" McCoy exploded. "What do you mean - may be?"

Spock drew in another long, shuddering breath, closed his eyes again and began to speak, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper. "I believe - that James Kirk is trapped in the past. I believe - that he was captured by those Klingons; that they drained his mind by using their Mind-Sifter, thereby learning the secret of going back in time. I believe they did - in fact - go back and took James Kirk with them." He opened his eyes and stared straight at Leonard McCoy. "I have known part of this ever since the night Jim disappeared. Doctor, I heard him crying to me - for help - in my mind. I could do nothing to help him."

McCoy flared, "Why didn't you tell me?"

Spock winced ever so slightly. "You would not have believed me, Doctor."

McCoy's mouth, which had been open to shout at him again, closed. A look of sadness, of understanding compassion, crossed his craggy features. "No," he said softly. "No, I wouldn't have."

Much later, the door of McCoy's quarters swished open to reveal Captain Spock. "May I talk to you, Doctor?"

"Of course, Spock. Come in," McCoy said gently.

"I regret to disturb you, Doctor. I know you need to be rested and ready for the events ahead. However, I wish to - to explain...."

"Spock, you don't have to explain anything to me. I understand. You did what you thought best. I've told you that repeatedly."

"But still - I wish - I must - be sure you know why I acted as I did," Spock insisted.

McCoy smiled. "Spock, we've known each other a long time. Don't you know by now that I know some things about you? Once I realized what you'd learned about Jim, when I finally got through my thick skull what it was you were living with - don't you think I understood? My God, Spock! What I can't understand is why you didn't break. I would have - I couldn't have gone on as you did. I should've known something was wrong but I was too pig-headed to see it. Now, I know you were making us all hate you so that we wouldn't think about Jim so much. I'm the one who should've come to you. I'm the one who should say 'I'm sorry'."

"That is not necessary, Doctor. You acted as would any human who has suffered a great loss. I knew that, I only regret that I...."

"Look, Spock, let's forget it. We have a big job ahead of us. Let's concentrate on that now," McCoy broke in.

"Agreed. One thing more though - Bones. We may not find Jim. He may, in truth, now be dead. If, by some - miracle - as you humans term it, he is alive, he might be better off if he were dead. I have told you what the Mind-Sifter can do. He has been, if alive, living in primitive conditions for over a year.

"He could not have received proper care. I have checked and have found that the care given mental patients in those times was most limited. There is a very great chance that he has not received any care at all. If he is alive, and if we find him, you must prepare yourself for this: he will not be the Jim Kirk you and I once knew."

"I know that, Spock. I've known it ever since you told us those Klingons used the Mind-Sifter on him. I can face it - now. I just have to know, to know whether he is alive or dead. If he's alive, we'll bring him back and he'll receive the best care our technology can give him. If he is - dead - and we can prove it, we'll know it's so and can learn to accept the fact." McCoy sat quietly for a moment, lost in his thoughts then he looked up at Spock and smiled. "Spock," he said. "I'm glad you came. I've wanted to tell you - to thank you - for not letting me transfer off the Enterprise. I hope we can forget this past year. I'm trying to. It's foolish for us to dwell on it."

"I agree, Doctor. It would be - illogical." A small smile quirked the corner of Spock's mouth.

"I thought you'd say that, Mr. Spock!" And Leonard McCoy laughed, the first time he'd done so in over a year.

***

The sound of the transporter beam faded, and two figures had appeared on a quiet city street. At 3:00 A.M., the street was completely deserted. The time and place had been carefully plotted; it would never do for the residents of this city and this time to see two men suddenly appear out of nowhere. In about two hundred years, it would be a common occurrence and no one would take more than a passing notice.

The year was 1954 and the month was December. It was cold - very cold. The two men were dressed warmly, the time and customs had been thoroughly researched. The men had undergone several weeks of the most intensive preparation. They'd studied what seemed to be miles of tapes; been instructed by the best authorities available; had practiced, rehearsed, slept with "Teacher-tapes" attached to their heads. They'd worn the strange clothes of the period every day, in order to be comfortable in them. They'd eaten the foods of the period, some of which were quite different from what they were accustomed to. They were as ready as they'd ever be.

Doctor Leonard McCoy and Ensign Pavel Chekov moved off down the dark street. The Enterprise was in synchronous orbit far above them. Implanted in their arms were the Subcutaneous Transponder devices that would enable them to be located and beamed back aboard without having to carry open communicators. They each had a communicator - McCoy had two - one in a secret compartment in his "doctor bag," an antique, according to him, that had been duplicated in the Enterprise's shops. A doctor of the 1950's, however, would've been quite puzzled by the contents.

McCoy also carried a "suitcase," as did Chekov - clothing synthetizers were a thing of the future in 1954, and they had to carry extra clothing with them.

They hadn't chosen an Earth city at random. This was the second time men from the Enterprise had appeared on Earth in a relatively short period of time. Nor had they used the 'Guardian of Forever', even though the period of the 1950's hadn't been blanked out to that alien artifact. Their mission - the possible rescue of a valuable Starship Captain - had been judged important enough to prompt the Federation authorities to allow the usually forbidden technique of returning physically to the past via a starship.

The first time the Enterprise had gone into the past, two very shaken Klingons had been snatched bodily from the location they'd been traced to in Old Russia. They'd spent some very uncomfortable hours on the Enterprise and then had been taken off to another starship and held incommunicado, while the Enterprise had once again disappeared in time.

James Kirk's exact location couldn't be learned, the Klingons only knew that it was near some big city in the center of the North American land mass. They couldn't, even under a mind-probe by a reluctant Captain Spock, pinpoint the area closer than a 500-mile radius. No, they didn't know if he was alive; he'd been "alive" when they'd last seen him, stumbling, running, falling, running again down a road, pursued by a strange vehicle topped by a flashing red light. They'd gotten out of there and back to their ship as soon as possible. From there they'd moved to the other large land mass on Earth, where they'd been found by the men of the Enterprise.

Despite an extensive search, no sign of the Klingon ship could be found. It was thought that perhaps its crew might have spotted the Enterprise during its first trip into time and had returned to the present, stranding Koloth and Korax in the past. There was no way of knowing, except that experts finally came to the conclusion that the ship might have been destroyed in its attempt to return - for no further record of any Klingon time trips via starship was ever found.

It was decided not to try to find James Kirk at the time of his first being put on Earth. There were too many unknowns. Whatever he'd experienced had happened as far as the future was concerned. Thus, it could not be completely erased from his subconscious; returning him too soon would only compound any trauma. It was thought that possibly he might in fact have been cared for, since research had revealed that the vehicle the Klingons had described had been a "police car." Surely they would have taken care of him; records showed that the police had worked closely with the doctors of that time. After much discussion, it was decided to set the time for the search as it would have been had time passed normally.

So it was that McCoy and Chekov returned to Earth a year and two months after James Kirk had been put there by the Klingons. A large city in the center of the 500-mile radius the Klingons had described was chosen. McCoy, of course, went because his medical skill would probably be needed. Chekov was chosen, most logically, by Spook, partly as a reward for having found the clue to Kirk's whereabouts - mainly because, of all those closest to Kirk, he could best be spared. Sulu and Scott were needed to keep the Enterprise in the proper place in time and space. Spock couldn't go; his alien appearance could never be explained away again, as it had once before, as being, the result of a "childhood accident". No, if James Kirk was to be found, Leonard McCoy and Pavel Chekov would have to do it.

The two men walked slowly along the street. They were looking for a hotel. They had to have shelter from the cold and a base from which to operate. Then lights moved over them. A vehicle was turning the corner they'd just passed. It drew up beside them and stopped. A light was flashed in their faces and a gruff voice asked, "You guys lost?" The door of the vehicle opened and a burly, blue-coated figure stepped out.

"Why, yes, I reckon you would say so, sir," McCoy said, in his most charming manner, letting his normally slight Southern accent broaden. "I'm a doctor, and Mr. Chekov here is my assistant. We're lookin' for a hotel...."

"How'd you get here?" he was asked.

You'd never believe it! McCoy thought. "We've been walkin' for some time, sir. Our - automobile," he said the word very carefully, "wouldn't function properly, and I'11 admit, sir, we're lost!"

The policeman, for such he, was, looked as though he wasn't really sure, but he said, "It's possible, I guess. No cabs around here. Come on, get in. My partner and I will give you a ride. What hotel do you want?"

"It doesn't matter, sir," McCoy said casually. "One of the better ones will do fine."

He and Chekov climbed into the police car. They'd recognized the man as a policeman from their training, and McCoy didn't, hesitate to accept his offer. Very shortly the vehicle drew up to a large building, which had a lighted sign over the entrance, a sign reading "Statler-Hilton." (Forerunner of our Stiltons, McCoy mused to Chekov later on.)

Thanking the policemen, McCoy and Chekov entered the hotel lobby, where a sleepy room-clerk assigned them a room. McCoy signed the register with a flourish. "Leonard McCoy, M.D., and assistant." He gave his address as that of his own home in Georgia. He doubted that anyone would check. They didn't.

Soon he and Chekov were settling into a comfortable room. They immediately contacted the Enterprise by communicator and informed Spock of their whereabouts. They told him they'd "call again in the morning."

They examined their surroundings with interest. The room was large, quite comfortable and warm, after the chill outside. Chekov was immediately entranced by an old-fashioned "TV" set in one corner of the room, but he couldn't get it to operate. Although the cathode tube lit up, it only buzzed.

"It probably doesn't work at this time of night, Pavel," McCoy said. He'd stretched out on one of the beds and found it most comfortable.

"I suppose not, Doctor," Chekov gave up trying and moved restlessly around the room. He looked out the window, couldn't see much. It was still dark. He prowled into the adjoining bathroom and tried out the fixtures there. "Primitif!" he sneered. "How can people live like this?"

"Well, they did - no - do.... You know what I mean," McCoy yawned mightily. The excitement and the frantic activity of the last weeks had tired him. He soon dozed off. Chekov pulled a chair over near the window and sat looking out at the sleeping city. He wondered what would happen - would they find Captain Kirk? He hoped so; James Kirk had been very patient with him, had helped him in many ways during the several years he, Chekov, had been a member of the crew of the Enterprise. He'd been the last one to see the Captain. Over and over in his mind he'd. re-lived that few seconds of time - when he'd seen the Captain entering the jet-cab with the pretty, dark-haired girl.

Kirk had been laughing; Chekov had thought he'd seemed a little unsteady on his feet. A man with them had had his hand under Kirk's elbow as if to steady him. Just before Kirk got into the cab, he'd looked up, had seen Chekov, and had waved gaily at him then he'd climbed into the cab - followed by the man - and the cab had rushed away.

Chekov had gone over and over the event with Spock and with other officials: "Had the Captain said anything?" - No. "Was he drunk?" - No, not really. "What did the others look like?" - He'd explained. "What else did you notice?" - Nothing. On and on.

Pavel Chekov wanted to find Captain James T. Kirk - find him alive - find him well - more than anything he'd ever wanted in all his young life.

He looked over at the bed where McCoy lay snoring gently and grinned to himself. "Ve make a strange pair, the doctor and I," he thought. He couldn't remember when just the two of them had gone on a mission. Maybe, just maybe, they could do it....

He stretched and yawned and then he, too, lay down on one of the beds and went to sleep.

***

Jan Hamlin came back from her month's vacation feeling rested. She'd taken it very late in the year, in December. She'd spent the time visiting friends in Florida. Since she'd been lying in the sun and relaxing, she'd become accustomed to seeing tanned faces and bodies. Now, she was shocked by the paleness of the patients and even of the employees around her.

As her duties took her through the wards and floors of the institution, she gradually became re-accustomed to the gaunt, pale faces she saw. Most of the patients couldn't eat properly and tended to be underweight. They seldom went outside during the winter months, thus many looked pale and ill.

At last she reached the room she'd almost dreaded to return to - the room where the man who'd called himself James T. Kirk was confined. She hesitated to go in. She'd wept night after night over what had happened the day the reporters had come. She blamed herself for the whole thing. If only she hadn't asked him his name. He'd improved so much, until the awful moment when he'd said, "I am Captain James T. Kirk" and had fallen into whatever horrible nightmare those words had invoked.

She'd looked in on him once or twice before she had left, but he hadn't known her, nor responded to anything she'd said. He'd been fastened securely in a heavy straitjacket, and she hadn't been allowed to remove it. The doctors had insisted he would injure himself or someone else if he weren't restrained.

Now she drew a deep breath to steady herself and entered his room. Someone else was there with Jim - Frank Thomas, the orderly who was supposed to take care of the helpless patients' physical needs. He did, after a fashion. After all, once in a while the doctors did check on him.

Thomas was an ignorant, cruel sadist. Jan knew this, and she'd reported him several times for mistreating patients, but she never could prove it. He knew of her efforts and only laughed at her.

When she entered the room, Thomas was tormenting Jim, offering him water then pulling it away.

"Frank!" Jan exclaimed. He jumped guiltily, managing to spill the water all over Jim.

"Oh, Hell, Miss Hamlin! Look what you made me do," he said, all innocence.

"I saw what you were doing, Frank. Is that how you're taking care of Jim - by torturing him?"

"Miss Hamlin, what a thing to say! Why - I wouldn't harm a hair on your Superman's pretty head," he leered at her.

"Get out of here, Frank," she said in disgust.

"Why? So's you can cuddle...?" He insinuated.

She whirled on him. "Get out!"

"What if I don't? I'm doing my job; let's see you prove I'm not...."

"'Prove it?' Look at him!" Jan said vehemently. "You call that 'taking care of him?' I'll bet you haven't changed his clothes in days."

"So what? He doesn't care - he doesn't know the difference."

"Frank!" Jan's shock and outrage burst forth. "How can you be so cruel? I saw what you were doing."

"Who me? Cruel? Nah, I was just havin' a little fun...."

Jan moved up close to Thomas, her eyes blazing. In a low, even voice more expressive of her rage than any shout, she said, "Frank Thomas, you leave him alone or I'll - I'll have you fired!"

He retreated a step from her fury. "Don't threaten me, girlie," he snarled. "You've tried that before, and where'd it get ya?"

"Nowhere, but if I ever see you mistreating this patient again.... One way or another, I'll get you. Now - get out of here!"

"Yeah, yeah - I'm goin'." He started for the door.

"And don't come in here again. I'll see to it that someone else is assigned to this wing. That I can do."

"Go ahead - I can't stand this loonie anyhow," he blustered as he stamped out the door.

Jan didn't waste any time looking after him. She turned to Jim, who was cowering in a far corner of the room. "Jim? Jimmy? Don't be afraid. It's Jan," she said quietly, putting out her hand towards him. Her heart sank, he just stared wildly at her. Arguing with Thomas in here had been the worst thing she could have done, but it was too late to change that now. She looked closely at him and gasped.

He looked terrible. When he'd been admitted, he'd weighed about one hundred eighty pounds. He'd been tan and in generally good physical condition, in spite of his mental state.

Tears flooded Jan's eyes. Even the day the reporter had come, Jim had been looking so well. He'd been eating properly and, although he was thin, at least he wasn't too far below the norm for his height. Now Jan realized that he couldn't weigh more than 130. He was deathly pale, his face gaunt and drawn. His hair was a wild tangle, and he hadn't been shaved in days. Jan knew something had to be done or he'd be so weak that even a slight cold might prove fatal. She wondered why the doctors hadn't put him in the infirmary. Probably Thomas hadn't reported his condition.

While these thoughts flashed through her mind, she moved slowly toward Jim. He pressed ever closer into the corner, the old familiar whimper growing, panic starting to build within him. She stopped. "Jimmy, I won't hurt you. Please. Let me help." She held out her hand open - palm up.

He stopped pressing into the corner. His eyes seemed to come into focus. He looked at her, at her hand, took one faltering step toward her.

"J - Jan?"

"Yes, Jimmy. Jan."

He knew her! She put out her other hand, opening her arms to him.

"Jan - you - you came back!" Taking another halting step toward her. She could see a dawning of intellect in his eyes. He started moving faster. Just as he almost reached her outstretched hands, his foot, clad in its worn old slipper, skidded and slipped on the water Thomas had spilled. Jim stumbled, lost his balance, couldn't compensate because of his bound arms, and fell crashingly to his knees at Jan's feet.

"Jim!" she cried, sinking down beside him, throwing her arms about him, and she cradled him to her.

"Jan?" he whimpered. "Help me?" He lay his head against her shoulder.

"Yes, Jim, yes," she crooned, rocking him slightly in her arms. He was sobbing softly, like a child and kept saying over and over: "You came back. You came back." She didn't hear the door behind her open. She was murmuring to Jim, smoothing his hair and holding him close.

"Miss Hamlin!" a loud voice exclaimed, right behind her, making her jump. Her sudden motion, and the voice, startled Jim, who cringed back in fear.

Before Jan Hamlin could turn her head, she heard another voice: "Oh, my God!"

Twisting her head around, Jan saw two men standing behind her. One was Doctor Wright, who'd spoken first. Another man, fairly tall, with dark hair beginning to turn gray and with a kindly, craggy face, was staring at her - no - at Jim! His eyes showed his shock and perhaps deeper emotion; even as she looked, a mist formed in them, dulling their blueness.

For an instant no one moved. She continued to kneel, clinging tightly to Jim, who once again was whimpering with fear. Jan began murmuring to him, "Sh - sh, Jim - they won't hurt you - I won't let them hurt you."

"Miss Hamlin," Wright said again, moving to take her arm.

"Wait - just a minute, Doctor," the other man said and came quietly to kneel down beside Jan. "Miss Hamlin," he said softly. "Please, let me speak to him."

Something in his voice, in his manner, told Jan that he meant no harm to the frightened man trembling in her arms. There was a gentle sadness in his voice, as well as a ring of authority that made her trust him. Sinking back on her heels she released Jim, who immediately started to shrink away.

The man beside Jan reached out and put both his hands on Jim's shoulders, gripped them tightly and said in a soft voice, "Jim. Look at me, Jim. It's Bones. I've come to take you home, Jim. I'm here - Bones - I'm here. You're safe now."

Jim's head came up slowly, he seemed to be listening, his eyes tried to focus. "Bones? Bones? Where...?"

"Here, Jim. I'm right here beside you. Look at me, Jim," he said sternly, shaking him a little.

Jan drew in her breath sharply. Had she been wrong to trust this man? She put out her hand and touched his arm. "Who are you?" she asked.

He looked over his shoulder at her. "I'm his friend, Miss Hamlin, an old friend. My name is Leonard McCoy, Doctor Leonard McCoy."

She remembered something Jim had said in Wright's office. At that time, he'd confused Doctor Leonard Wright with a Doctor Leonard McCoy. He'd called out for "Bones" - just before she'd asked his name.... "You are Bones?"

"Yes, he calls me that."

Jan turned back to Jim, who was still trying to focus. There was a look of bewilderment on his face. His lips kept forming the word "Bones". She leaned closer to him and said, "Jim, he's here. Bones is here, Jim. Look." She put her hands on either side of his face and turned it gently towards McCoy. "Speak to him again, Doctor," she urged softly.

"Jim!"

"Bones? Bones?" Jim looked into McCoy's eyes and recognition slowly dawned. "Bones!"

"Yes, yes, Jim. Bones. I'm here!" A huge grin lit McCoy's face.

"Oh, God," Jim breathed.

"No, not God, just me...." McCoy's voice broke, his tears - of joy clearly visible now.

"Help me, Bones," Jim said, trying to get up.

McCoy and Jan stood. Between them, they assisted Jim Kirk to his feet. McCoy gasped. "What is this barbarous thing you have on him, nurse?"

"Why - it's - it's an ordinary straitjacket, Doctor," she said, surprised that he didn't recognize it. "But," she hurried on, "I wanted to take it off, and they wouldn't let me...."

"Get it off him - now!" McCoy ordered.

Wright stepped up. "Ah - now, just - a minute, Doctor McCoy. Do you really think she should?" He protested. "He's violent - he'll hurt someone...."

"He'll hurt anyone?" McCoy snorted. "In his condition? Look at him - what have you been doing to him?" he flared, letting his temper getting the best of him.

Wright bristled. "We've been doing the best we can - Doctor!" his voice also rising in anger.

Jim cringed, shrinking away from the anger in their voices. McCoy noticed, turned to Wright, and said, "We're frightening him. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have criticized. Please, may I have some time with him alone? Would you leave, please?"

Wright hesitated a moment but he was a good man, though an overworked, frustrated one. He understood and bit back the retort he might have given. "All right, I'll be outside the door if you need me."

"Thank you, Doctor. Oh, will you send in Mr. Chekov, please?"

"Certainly. Coming, Miss Hamlin?"

Jan nodded and started after the administrator. "No," cried Jim. "Jan! - don't go - don't go."

She stopped and looked at McCoy. "Please, Doctor McCoy, he seems to like having me...."

"By all means then, stay, Miss Hamlin. You can show me how to get this - this thing off of him." McCoy fumed.

"Certainly, Doctor," Jan said briskly, the good efficient nurse. She immediately began to undo the buckles and straps, as she'd wanted to do ever since coming into the room. She had the ugly thing off almost before Wright left the room and had turned to put it on the bed when the door opened again to admit a young man. He looked around, a frown creasing his young face then his eyes fell on Jim, who was standing in the middle of the room, rubbing his arms.

"Captain! Captain Kirk!" Chekov exclaimed.

James Kirk screamed, turned, and flung himself into the farthest corner of the room, where he tried desperately to hide, cowering down into the corner, curling his arms over his head.

Chekov stood dumbfounded, unable to move while Jan and McCoy rushed to Jim's side.

"Nurse," McCoy cried, "what happened?"

"The young man called him 'Captain - Captain Kirk.' This always happens when he says or hears that name or the word 'Captain,' she explained quickly.

McCoy dropped to his knees beside Jim, fumbling with the unfamiliar latch on the bag he carried. Once he had it open, he quickly snatched out an instrument, adjusted something on it, and pressed it against Jim's arm. There was a hiss and almost immediately Jim quieted, relaxed, slumped against the wall. The suddenness of his reaction was a shock to Jan. "What did you do, Doctor?" she asked in astonishment.

"I just gave him an ordinary tranquilizer, Nurse," McCoy said, not even looking at her.

"An 'ordinary'.... Doctor, I've never seen anything work that fast!"

McCoy looked up quickly then - he'd made a mistake! "Oh.... Well, yes, I guess - it isn't an ordinary drug, it's something I've been experimenting with, that I've had good results from," he stammered. She was still staring at him, at the hypo-spray in his hand.

"And that?" she persisted. "You injected him right through his shirt."

"Not 'injected,' Nurse. Pressured in - also an experimental technique. It should be standard equipment shortly. Look," he changed the subject hastily, before he did any more harm, "Let's get him up out of this filthy corner. Help me, please," he ordered, taking Jim's arm and helping him to his feet.

Jim Kirk was quiet now, didn't resist as they led him to the bed and sat him down on the edge.

All this time Pavel Chekov had stood rooted just inside the door. The Captain's violent reaction to his greeting had shocked him terribly. Even though he knew Kirk had been subjected to the Klingon Mind-Sifter, he had no idea he would be like this. He'd never seen a mentally deranged person; there were only a very few in his time, symptoms were recognized early and treatment usually given easily and quickly, preventing most serious mental illnesses. He knew of the hospital planet where Kirk and Spock had had that strange experience with Garth of Izar, where the very few incurable patients were kept, but he hadn't seen the place himself. Now, to see this man whom he admired so much looking and acting like this! It was almost too much for young Chekov.

It had been a difficult week for him, and for McCoy, too. But McCoy had been back on Old Earth before, to an even earlier time, so wasn't as shocked and confused by the primitive conditions as Chekov. They'd begun their search in the city where they'd materialized. Their first day had been taken up in obtaining "money," as credits were called in this era. They'd gone to a large gem, or "jewelry" store near their hotel and had sold some uncut diamonds for "cash." McCoy had some documents that had been synthesized on the Enterprise, saying that the stones were part of a family estate. There had been no difficulty and they'd received a large sum for the stones. Chekov had been impressed by the thoroughness of the research of the computers and the specialists aboard the Enterprise. They could have synthesized the money, but that would have been illegal and Star Fleet Command wouldn't have allowed it. The diamonds were from Earth originally, therefore, they wouldn't reveal anything unusual if they were ever analyzed.

Chekov and McCoy had spent the rest of that day becoming accustomed to Old Earth. The next day, they'd started a tedious search, checking through endless records in hospitals, and other institutions, as well as with the city police and other agencies. Nothing.

The publicity about a man wearing strange clothes and calling himself a "Captain" a short while before was unknown to McCoy and Chekov. The officials they talked to hadn't taken note of it; no general bulletin had been released to police departments, so there was nothing in their records. This type of thing happened often and was soon forgotten.

Their search probably would have been fruitless, if Pavel Chekov hadn't wanted a haircut. He didn't really need one, but he was intrigued by the "Barber Shop" off the lobby of their hotel. He stopped one morning as they were going out and stood for a moment looking in through the window at the men swaddled in large cloths, sitting in strange chairs having their hair cut, being shaved and generally being tended to. Pavel's eyes were attracted to a pretty girl, who was doing something to one man's hands. He realized he just had to have this one Old Earth experience and persuaded McCoy to go in with him.

All the chairs were taken and they saw other men waiting along the wall in small chairs, reading papers and magazines from a pile on a table.

"Guess we'd have to wait, Pavel," McCoy said. "Maybe we'd better go."

"Ah, please, Doctor. Just this once?"

"Well...." McCoy hesitated. What harm would it do? Chekov would have something to tell his friends about later. "All right."

They entered and took seats to wait. For a while, Chekov had been interested in watching the various procedures then, becoming a little bored, he picked up an old magazine, as the other men did, and started looking through it. He chuckled to himself now and then at the primitive cars and airplanes he saw in the pictures. He was leafing quickly through the pages when he suddenly stopped, gasping audibly.

"Chekov - what is it?" McCoy said, turning to him.

"Doctor - look!" was all Chekov could say, holding up the page for McCoy to see. There - gazing out at them was James T. Kirk, complete to his Star Fleet Captain's uniform and insignia. A thin, bewildered-looking James Kirk, but it was him - even to his name under the picture.

McCoy snatched the magazine from Chekov and quickly read the article. It told briefly of the strangely dressed man, who'd appeared from nowhere and who was now a "raving maniac" in an institution in a city very near the one they were presently in. A second picture, which brought a gasp from McCoy, showed the same man struggling on the floor, being "subdued" the caption said, by several men.

"It's him, Pavel!" McCoy exclaimed. "We've got to get to him, fast." He hurried to the place where he'd seen the customers paying for the services they'd received and asked if he could buy the magazine in his hand. The girl behind the register looked at a man nearby. "Is it okay, Mr. Webster?" she'd asked. "Sure - give it to him - it's a month old," the man had said, wondering why two men would get so excited about an old magazine.

McCoy pressed a bill into the girl's hand and he and Chekov hurried from the shop, leaving a puzzled girl staring at the $10 bill in her hand. The manager had laughed, "Keep it, Trudy. If they're dumb enough to pay that much for it, it's their loss."

McCoy and Chekov immediately returned to their room, packed then checked out of the hotel. They then took a walk in a nearby park. When they reached a point where no one could see, McCoy contacted the Enterprise. Only a surprised squirrel, who'd been expecting a handout, saw them disappear in the sparkle of the transporter beam.

After a conference with Spock, they'd again entered the transporter and had soon reappeared in the other city, materializing in a patch of woods on the grounds of the huge old mental hospital named in the magazine article.

A short time later, they were talking with Doctor Wright, explaining that they'd been out of the country and had only just heard that a missing patient of Doctor McCoy's might be the man whose picture they'd seen in an old magazine.

Wright had been a little skeptical, for there had been a few false claims. McCoy showed him records of Kirk's background: a man obsessed by the Navy, with strange ideas about new types of uniforms and ships, who'd been humored by allowing him to wear a uniform he'd designed himself, who'd somehow disappeared from McCoy's private hospital. Eventually, Wright believed their story.

He checked McCoy's synthesized identification carefully. Finally convinced he'd taken them to see James Kirk and had found him sobbing in Nurse Hamlin's arms....

McCoy's voice brought Chekov out of his pensive state: "Pavel! Come here, please."

"Oh! I am sorry, Doctor, I vas just...."

"Pavel, speak to Jim. Don't use his full name, just speak quietly to him," McCoy instructed.

Chekov looked down at the man sitting there. For a moment he couldn't speak, couldn't trust his voice.

"Please, Pavel, say something. Jim always liked you, remember?" McCoy said urgently.

"Ah - yes - hello - Jim, how are you?" That's all he could think of, not much, but it served. James Kirk's head came up. He looked at Chekov's face, squinted a little to see better then, "Mr. - Mr. Chekov?"

"Yessir, it's me," Pavel didn't dare say more, but he was thrilled to see a slow smile spread over the Captain's face.

"Are you going to navigate us back to the Enterprise - back home, Chekov?"

Pavel shot a look at McCoy, who nodded.

"Yessir, I'll lay in the course -- as soon as Doctor McCoy says you are ready," he said with a happy grin.

"Good - good," Kirk said. "Stand by, Ensign."

"Aye, aye, sir," Chekov stepped back to a position near the door and waited - a thrill of excitement running through him. They'd found the Captain, and he'd been the one to discover the vital clue! He was sure that nothing that ever happened to him after that would be as satisfying. They would take Captain Kirk home now; everything would be all right again.

Meanwhile, Jan Hamlin was looking back and forth from one man to the other. Of course, she had no idea what they were talking about, hadn't heard McCoy telling Wright about the patient's "obsession with the Navy." McCoy saw her confusion and explained in a few brief words.

"Oh," she said, "I see -- that explains...."

"Yes, I thought it would," McCoy replied.

Kirk was sitting quietly between them on the edge of the bed, smiling to himself, completely relaxed. McCoy's shot had done more for him than all the treatments he'd received since he'd been brought to the hospital.

Now, McCoy said to Jan, "I'd like to examine him, Nurse."

Jan Hamlin was immediately all efficiency, rising quickly to her feet, ready to assist. "Yes, Doctor. Do you want him taken to the infirmary?"

"No, that won't be necessary. Help him to lie down here on his bed...." He paused, looking down at the bed for the first time. "Nurse! Look at this bed. It - it's - filthy!" His gentle face showed his outrage. "So this is how you've been taking care of him?"

"Doctor - please. I've been away. I only entered this room about five minutes before you did. I was shocked, too. The orderly who was on duty here isn't very conscientious. I'm having him removed from this floor. He - he isn't a very good worker, Doctor...."

"Yes - so I see. Look at his clothes - is this how patients are dressed here?"

"Yes, Doctor." Jan's face started to redden. Obviously this man came from a new or private hospital where good help could be hired, clean new clothing provided.

"Barbarous!" McCoy snapped. "Can you get me a clean cover for this bed and clean clothes for him?"

"Of course, Doctor." Jan started away then paused. "Are you planning to take him away with you?"

"Just as soon as I can."

"Do you want the things he was wearing when he came here? He was wearing strange clothes...."

"Ah - yes - that would be a gold shirt, black pants, and black boots?"

"Yes."

"Well - yes," McCoy knew that Kirk's uniform was out of place, out of time here. "That would be fine. He would want to take them with him."

Jan Hamlin hurried away. As she left, Doctor Wright stepped into the room. "Everything all right, Doctor?" he asked.

"I've seen cleaner hospital rooms - Doctor!" McCoy snapped.

"Ah - yes - well...." Wright was embarrassed, tried to explain. "Good help is so difficult to get these days. You know how it is. We can't pay much; most of the help here just put in their time. I know it, but what can I do? The State won't raise my budget..." He spread his hands helplessly. "I do the best I can, with what I can get."

McCoy nodded. "I believe you do, Doctor Wright. I've heard of places like this...." He paused. Careful! Don't make any more mistakes! "Let's hope that before long the importance of helping patients like Jim and the others here will be realized. I'm sure there'll be a time when these hospitals won't be needed." He wished he could tell Wright just when that time would come.

"Yes, that will be a great day for all mankind," Wright said. He looked at Jim, who still sat quietly on the bed. "He seems quieter now. What do you think?"

McCoy turned to look at Kirk, who smiled up at him. "I believe I can help him, Doctor Wright. I'm going to give him a once-over, and if I feel he's strong enough, I'd like to take him with me."

"Where?"

"To a small, private clinic in - ah - Georgia, near my home there. You probably haven't heard of it."

"We're going back to the Enterprise," Jim said.

McCoy moved over to stand beside him. "Yes, Jim, that's right, the Enterprise." He looked at Wright and winked. Wright caught on, or thought he did.

"Ah, yes, Jim. The Enterprise is a beautiful ship."

James T. Kirk, Captain of the United Space Ship Enterprise grinned at him. "You said it!"

Wright turned back to McCoy. "Of course, Doctor McCoy, I'm sure it can be arranged. I'll have the necessary papers drawn up - oh - the name and address of the clinic, please?"

McCoy turned to Pavel Chekov. "Pavel, you have all that information, why don't you go along with Doctor Wright so there won't be any delay when I'm finished here?"

"Yes, sir," Chekov had been briefed on this and knew what to do and say. He and Wright left.

McCoy turned back to Kirk and quickly ran his medical scanner over him, completing his examination just before Jan Hamlin returned. When the door opened, he dropped the scanner into his bag and was taking out the old-fashioned stethoscope he had there. His quick reading of the scanner had told him all he needed to know of Jim's poor physical condition, now he'd have to put on an act for the nurse's benefit.

Jan had the bundle of Jim's things and clean sheets for the bed. She also had clean clothes for Jim to put on.

McCoy had Jim stand up then the nurse quickly and efficiently stripped the old bedding and remade the bed while McCoy helped Jim out of the old filthy clothing he had on. He was horrified when he saw how thin and rundown Jim was; he wished he could call the Enterprise and beam him right out of there, but he had to play out the charade a little longer.

Jan had the bed fixed now and they urged Jim to lie down. McCoy, using the stethoscope, checked him over. Using his own "invention," the hypo-spray, he administered another shot, more relaxant, several drugs that Jan Hamlin would never hear of, vitamin concentrates and tissue rejuvenators that wouldn't be invented for years to come. The relaxant made Jim drowsy, and he soon dozed off.

"We'll let him rest for a while, Nurse," McCoy said. He sat down on a straight chair near the bed and put away his equipment.

Jan stood looking down at Jim. Everything had happened so quickly. Now it suddenly struck her: He would be gone soon. This doctor would take him away. She was glad Jim would finally be cared for properly, but - she wouldn't see him again, and - it hurt. She turned to McCoy, "Doctor McCoy, please, can I go with you and help take care of him? I have nothing to keep me here, no family, no - nothing. You'll need someone on the journey...."

McCoy was smiling, but shaking his head. "No. Thank you, Nurse, but, no. Mr. Chekov and I will manage nicely. There's no need...."

"But, Doctor! At least tell me where you're going. He likes me - I could come to see him I - I think I've helped him.... Please." Her voice broke a little and her eyes filled with tears.

McCoy looked closely at her and said, a bit brusquely, "Nurse Hamlin - you're not being very professional about this."

Jan sank down on her knees beside the bed and gently took Jim's hand in hers. She looked up at McCoy. "I don't feel very professional, Doctor. - I'm sorry. I didn't mean - I didn't intend to - to...." She started to cry softly.

McCoy understood. "Miss Hamlin, you love him, don't you?" he asked gently.

"Yes - oh, yes," Jan sobbed, his sympathy destroying all her reserve. "Please, please, Doctor McCoy. Let me go with you!"

"I only wish I could," McCoy said honestly, "but...."

"I'll go anywhere, travel any distance - please!" Her voice was rising, she seemed to be getting a little hysterical.

McCoy stood and moved over to sit on the edge of the bed. Jim moved restlessly. "Miss Hamlin, you could never travel far enough to get where we're going. I'm sorry, it's impossible." His voice, too, had risen; he had to reach her over her sobs.

Jim began to moan, to stir restlessly. McCoy put his hand, on Jim's shoulder to quiet him, but he began to murmur, to mutter. At first, the words were unintelligible, just sounds. Suddenly and very clearly: "Spock! Help me, Spock! The Klingons - they - they want Spock! They'll take - take over Earth! I can't - I must not tell them.... It - it hurts - they'll change history, Spock! The pain oh, God! I can't - I can't stand Spock! Help me!" He started up, struggling against McCoy's restraining hand, as his voice began to rise toward a scream. McCoy reached into his bag, snatched out his scanner and ran it over Jim's body, took a fast reading then quickly used the hypo-spray again. Jim fell back limply and again seemed to be in a deep sleep.

"Damn those Klingon monsters!" McCoy muttered. "As soon as we get back in space, I'll...." He broke off, suddenly aware of what he was saying, wishing he could choke the words back. But it was too late. Jan Hamlin was staring wide-eyed at him, at the scanner and hypo-spray in his hands, at Jim.

She stood up and moved away from the bed, fear and panic growing in her expression. "I know - I know!" she blurted.

"What do you know?" McCoy challenged.

"You - he - both of you - and that other man. Jim wasn't talking about our Navy.... You aren't a real Doctor - those things you're using, there's nothing like that around here!- maybe not on all of Earth! I've read about those - those UFO's everybody's been seeing.... Either I'm going insane - or else - or else you're...!" Her eyes were becoming wild, she looked as though she were going to scream.

McCoy cursed himself silently. If he'd kept silent, hadn't used his scanner, he could have said Jim was delirious. But, no, he himself had also talked about Klingons, space, and space ships. He had to do something, the nurse was moving toward the door. He moved quickly after her, took her arm, even as she shrank away from him.

"Miss Hamlin, please, don't be afraid. Listen to me!" Again, the ring of authority in his voice reached her. She stopped, turned to look at him.

"I'll tell you.... Only, please, try to understand. We're not here to hurt you. You're right. Jim, Pavel, and I aren't from here - from - now. We're from your future." He paused, giving her a chance to comprehend what he was saying.

"From - from the - future? What...? How...?"

"Yes, Jan - you don't mind me calling you that, do you?" He smiled broadly at her.

"No - no, of course not," she replied automatically, "but...."

"Jan, I can't explain it to you, you couldn't understand, but does that make us monsters in your eyes? Look at me - am I so different from other men you know? Look at Jim. You said before that you love him - does it matter when he was born? I know you're frightened, I don't blame you, but think, Jan. What is there to be frightened of?" McCoy continued to smile gently. She seemed calm was listening to him, looking from him to Jim and back again.

"No - no - I guess. But - I don't understand. How...?"

"Of course you don't, Jan," McCoy chuckled. "It's hard for me to understand, and I'm supposed to know how we did it. Pavel and I - and others - have been looking for James Kirk for a long time. I can't tell you the details, you couldn't comprehend, but know this much: Jim is a very important man, so important that hundreds of lives were risked by our coming back through time to find him. Now, we have to take him back, back to his own time, to his own life. He will be cured. In his time - our time - there are only a tiny handful of people who can't be cured, and even they are helped and cared for by the finest doctors in the galaxy...."

"'The galaxy'?" she asked, her eyes widening.

"Yes, Jan, the galaxy. Man has reached the stars in James Kirk's time - in my time." Now he'd really done it! But at least she was listening to him and not running screaming down the halls. He continued: "I shouldn't tell you these things, Jan. I shouldn't take the risk of changing history by telling you. You say you love Jim Kirk?"

She hesitated. He knew she was weighing her love against this new, awesome knowledge. She moved slowly back to the side of James Kirk's bed and stood looking down at him. Could she love a man who was alien to her, to all she knew? He hadn't changed. He was still the helpless, sick man she'd had to care for, for so long. His arm was hanging down over the side of the bed. She stooped and took his hand, gently lifting it back onto the blanket. "Yes," she said deliberately. "I still love him. What you've told me makes no difference."

"Then, you must promise me that you will never tell anyone what I've told you today. For his sake, you must let him go and protect our secret." McCoy said sternly.

She turned to look at him, a light of hope in her eyes. "Take me with you! You say you'll take him back, take me, too. Doctor McCoy, please! I'll go - anywhere, do anything, just to be with him."

"No. I doubt if you could ever adjust to our time just as he couldn't adjust to yours. Jim has his own life to lead, Miss Hamlin."

"Is - is he married? Is there someone else?"

McCoy smiled ruefully. "No, he isn't married, and there isn't anyone - no woman. He has another - interest, you could say a love - his career, his...." He stopped. He'd said too much, far too much, already.

Jan began to cry softly. She knelt down beside Jim, took up his hand and pressed it to her cheek.

McCoy sighed. He'd done all he could. He would have to talk to Spock.

***

"We've sent for an automobile to come for us, Doctor Wright," McCoy explained. "It'll arrive in about half an hour. It's such a lovely day, my patient seems quite relaxed now. I think if you'll lend me Miss Hamlin, we'll take a little walk in the sunshine. Is that all right with you?"

Wright smiled and nodded. "Of course. All the papers have been signed. I'll say goodbye now, Doctor McCoy. I have an important meeting that I must attend."

Wright shook hands cordially with McCoy and Chekov then turned to James Kirk, who was standing nearby with Jan Hamlin. "Goodbye, Jim. I'm glad your friends have come for you. I hope you'll be better soon."

"Thank you, Doctor Wright. I'm sure I will," James Kirk said quietly.

Wright was surprised at the change in the man, who an hour or so before had been a cringing, whimpering mental wreck. Now, dressed in a clean suit, he looked and acted as normal as any of them. Wright wondered, but he'd seen stranger things happen. Before the day was over he had almost forgotten the man who had called himself "Captain James T. Kirk." He became just one more patient, one Wright didn't have to concern himself with further - there were so many more....

Jan Hamlin led the way out through the big main entrance and down the wide stairway leading to the main drive.

"We'd like to walk over that way - past those trees," McCoy said. "There's nothing over there, Doctor."

"I know. That's why we want to go there."

"Oh. Do you have a - a - flying saucer there?" she asked timidly.

McCoy laughed. "No, oh no. We don't need one." At her puzzled look, he continued: "We have a better method."

"Oh."

They'd been walking slowly across the dry grass and soon came to the giant old trees. The December sun was quite warm; there was no breeze, and it was quite comfortable, despite the winter season.

McCoy turned to Jan. "Miss Hamlin. I can't impress on you enough the importance of your silence about who we really are. If you say or do anything to change history, we might very well cease to exist."

She stared wide-eyed at him. "What shall I do? I don't know if I can behave normally, knowing what I do." Her nerves were on such a thin edge that she began to cry.

Jim was standing near her, quietly looking around at the wintry scene. A faint glow of color had appeared on his cheeks from the cool air and he seemed to be very calm. Hearing Jan's sobbing, however, he became restless, looking back and forth between McCoy and the nurse. "Jan? Why are you crying? Don't cry. Please, don't cry," he moved to her and put his hand on her arm, real concern showing in his manner.

Jan tried to stifle her sobs. She turned away and seemed about to leave. Jim held tightly to her arm. "Don't go, Jan. Please. You can't leave me. What will I do without you?"

McCoy stepped forward. "Jim, listen to me. Jan shouldn't come with us. Think, Jim!"

"No! I won't go away and leave Jan. Why can't she come with us?"

McCoy realized that Kirk probably didn't realize they were "back in time." He knew that if he tried to explain it to Jim now, he would become more confused than he already was.

"Wait a minute, Jim," the doctor said softly. "Let's talk to Spock. He'll know what to do."

"Spock - of course! But - where is he, Bones?" Kirk looked around. "Spock isn't here...."

"He's on the Enterprise, Jim. I'll call him; you stand right there with Jan. Miss Hamlin, please, take his hand. I don't know what will happen when he hears Spock's voice," he said quickly, drawing out his communicator.

"Who - who is 'Spock'?" Jan asked. "And - what is that?" indicating the communicator.

"Spock is - a friend, and this is a - kind of radio," he explained, flipping up the grid. "McCoy to Enterprise. Come in, Spock."

"Spock here, Doctor. Have you found...?"

"We have. He's right here beside me."

"Are you prepared to beam up, Doctor?"

"Ah - well - almost, Spock, but we have a problem here. I don't really know how to solve it. There's a young woman - a nurse .... Through my stupidity, she's discovered who and what we are. She's standing right here with us, and Jim won't leave her!"

"Let me speak to him then, Doctor McCoy," Spock ordered.

"Ah - no, sir, I can't do that." McCoy spoke quietly, but urgently, turning away from Kirk and directing his voice into the communicator. "Spock, he isn't himself...." McCoy prayed silently that the Vulcan would understand.

"That does present a problem, Doctor." Spock paused then, "Where are you now?"

"We're outside of the building, in a grove of trees about one hundred fifty yards from the main entrance."

"Can you move further from the building - where you cannot be seen?"

"We're out of sight now, in these trees, Spock. Why?" McCoy asked. "I am coming down...."

"Spock! Do you think that's wise?"

"It will be wiser than bringing the woman here, Doctor. You might prepare her for my - different appearance."

"All right, I'll try. McCoy out." He turned to Jan. "Miss Hamlin, I want you to understand.... Mr. Spock is coming here to join us. He's - ah - well - he's an alien...."

"A what?"

"He's a man from another planet. He's somewhat different from us.... Not much - don't be alarmed," he said hastily, as he saw what could be the return of panic in her eyes. "Look," he hurried on, "help us, please. Jim may become excited; I don't know what Spock's appearance will do to him. They were - they are good friends, but the Klingons knew it. They may have thought of the possibility of their meeting.... Would you take Jim over there a little way? I'd like to talk to Spock."

"Yes, Doctor. Come Jim. Let's go over by that lovely old pine tree, see? There are cones on it, just like Christmas decorations...." She had taken Jim's arm and was urging him away from McCoy.

"But...." Kirk hesitated, looking back at McCoy.

"It's all right, Jim. Go with her," McCoy urged. He tried not to let the worry he felt creep into his voice - worry about what Spock's arrival would do to Kirk. He'd find that out soon enough - the sound of the transporter beam was beginning to build....

Jan swung around at the sound, in time to see the sparkle of materialization begin. She stood transfixed, watching a figure grow, build, and solidify into a man - dressed in the same type of clothing that she'd seen on James Kirk. She felt Jim's hand tighten on hers; it began to hurt, taking her attention away from the man who now stood talking quietly to McCoy.

"Jim - Jim! Please, you're hurting me." She tried to pull her hand away, but he wouldn't let go. She looked up at his face. It was twisted into an expression of anger - of rage! "Jim! What is it?"

"He's wearing my shirt!" Kirk growled, starting towards Spock and McCoy, dragging Jan along with him.

"Doctor McCoy!" Jan cried.

McCoy and Spock looked up and saw James Kirk rushing at them, uncontrollable fury written in every move.

"Jim, stop!" McCoy shouted.

"Why is he wearing my shirt?" Kirk cried. Letting go of Jan, he threw himself bodily at Spock, pounding at him and tearing at Spock's gold uniform shirt.

Spock easily warded off the blows, caught Kirk's hands, and held them. "Jim, stop it," he said softly.

"Why are you wearing my shirt?" Kirk shouted. "I'm - I'm the Captain...!" The agony hit him again. Kirk screamed and sank to his knees, the old familiar look of unbearable horror on his face.

Spock bent. Placing his long fingers on Kirk's shoulder, he pressed the one spot known only to Vulcans. James Kirk slumped. Spock caught him, took him bodily in his arms and lifted him up - holding him as one would a child.

Jan Hamlin stood staring for a moment then, looking up at Spock, gasped, "What did you do to him?"

Spock turned to look at her, and it was then that she noticed - saw the "difference" McCoy had spoken of - knew that this - person who stood before her was different - was alien to her understanding. She gasped again and turned pale.

McCoy quickly stepped to her side and slipped one arm around her, steadying her. "Don't faint on us, Miss Hamlin. Jim's all right, he isn't hurt. Spock just - well, put him to sleep. He'll come out of it in a few minutes." He spoke quietly while Jan regained her composure. She looked up at Spock again, in time to see an expression of profound sadness cross the face of the tall, thin, odd-looking man holding Jim easily in his arms. An expression which quickly vanished, to be replaced by a mask of non-emotion when he saw her looking at him.

McCoy stripped off his overcoat and spread it on the ground. Spock laid Kirk down on the coat, and Pavel used his own to cover the silent figure. Spock then straightened up and turned toward Jan Hamlin, who shrank a little from his intense gaze.

"Miss Hamlin," he said quietly. "Doctor McCoy has told me that you love James Kirk. Is that correct?"

"Yes - yes. I do," she said firmly, her chin raised in defiance - of him and of her fear.

"I believe you do, Miss Hamlin. I also understand that you know about us - where and when we are from?" His eyes seemed to be boring into her, as though this strange being was seeing behind the mask of her face, reading her inner self.

Jan was frightened, but her love for Jim gave her strength to stand her ground - though all she wanted to do was run - far away, from whatever, or whoever this calm, quiet, but relentless being was. His quiet, deep voice continued:

"Miss Hamlin. Please do not be frightened. James Kirk is my friend. I can understand what he means to you; it is regrettable that you and he are from different times. In his own time, he is a lonely man. He needs...love, needs someone who cares, but his position as a Captain in the Federation Star Fleet denies him the right to give himself fully to any woman."

Spock paused, and Leonard McCoy shot a wondering look at him. He'd never heard Spock talk like this before. But he remained silent; he was sure Spock had a reason for talking like this, for telling Jan Hamlin even more about the future than what she'd already learned.

"Then, if he's so lonely, take me with you! I could..." she stopped when he shook his head.

"No. We cannot, for several reasons. It is highly unlikely that you would be happy in our time. You would be - out of place...."

"I could learn! Oh, please!"

"Yes, but...." Spock shook his head again. "Miss Hamlin, has it occurred to you that Jim probably does not love you?"

She winced. That had hurt!

"He - he likes me. He says he doesn't want me to leave him."

"That is not James T. Kirk talking, Miss Hamlin. That is a voice from a sick mind - an incredibly hurt and tortured mind - speaking. You have been kind to him; you have tended and cared for him. From what I understand, you are unusual in that you care for your patients. This is to your credit. If James Kirk recovers, and I have reason to believe that he will, he will be ever grateful to you but - would gratitude be enough? He might come to resent you, for he would be responsible for you - a woman out of touch with her own reality. Do you understand? If you really love him, you must give him up. You must forget James Kirk and all that you have learned about him, about us, and about the future."

"How can I? I can't forget him, or you, or Doctor McCoy - or that other man - all I've seen and heard today!" she cried.

"I can help you - forget," Spock said quietly, reluctantly, almost as though the words had been forced from his lips.

"Wh-what do you mean?" She was frightened again; did he mean to kill her? She drew away from him.

"Miss Hamlin. I will not hurt you. Doctor McCoy, would you please assure her that the mind-meld could not possibly injure her?" Spock said, turning to McCoy.

The doctor smiled gently at Jan Hamlin and took her hand in his. "Jan, I know you're frightened. I would be, too, in your position. Please, believe me when I tell you that Mr. Spock is the least violent, most gentle person I know, in spite of his strange appearance - and even I can't get used to that!" His eyes sparkled with what to Jan seemed an inner glee, a private joke. "Trust him; trust us. I'm sure you know what Jim means to us; we've both told you he's our friend. We certainly wouldn't harm someone to whom we owe so much - someone who has cared for our friend.

"What Mr. Spock proposes is called a mind-meld. I've experienced it several times. So has Jim. It's saved our sanity and our lives many times. Let Spock help you. It won't hurt. All he'll do is place his hand on your forehead. That's all - believe me."

His quiet words had been reassuring to Jan. She turned back to Spock. "Do you really think this will help Jim?"

"Yes, Miss Hamlin. It will, and you as well." The deep, quiet voice was reassurance in itself.

"Well..." Jan turned and looked down at Jim, who lay as if in sleep, on the ground at their feet. She felt a rush of love for the helpless man then a thought crept unbidden into her mind - was it "love"? Or was it - pity? A maternal-type love, as a mother would have for a child that depended upon her? Could that be it? No - no! She remembered again the time in the Fall, when he'd held her for a fleeting moment as a man, held a woman he loved, his kiss - that had been real love she'd felt then - whether he did or not.

She bent down and drew the coat more tightly over him, touched his cheek gently with her fingers. Then, drawing a deep breath, she stood again and said, "What do I have to do, Mr. Spock?"

"Nothing, Miss Hamlin. I shall do it all. Just let your mind go as blank as you can. Relax. Do not fear me. However, I have one question: Do you wish to remember your feelings for James Kirk, your experiences with him as a patient? Or do you want all of that removed from your memory, along with the knowledge that you have received of the future?"

"Can you do that?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"Then, please, let me remember him."

"As you wish. Do not fear me now. I am going to place my hand on your forehead. Please, relax; do not be afraid...." He could feel her tremble as his long fingers pressed gently against her. He closed his eyes....

Jan Hamlin felt very little. A calmness seemed to flow over her mind, the tension and strain of the day ebbed from her. She felt - a relief - something - something that had bothered her was drawn away. She could stop worrying about Jim now; he would be fine. That kind Doctor McCoy would care for him; he'd be all right.

Jan walked slowly back into the hospital. She'd miss Jim, maybe she'd be able to look in on him the next time she went to Florida.... She entered the big doors of the hospital and went back to helping people. She didn't hear the hum that sounded briefly behind the great old trees on the hospital lawn....

***

The Enterprise continued its regular mission for another six months. Then she was ordered to return to Star Base 11. Upon arrival, the Enterprise entered Standard Orbit and Captain Spock was ordered to beam down to commodore Mendez' office.

Commander Scott had the conn. He'd been Acting First Officer since the day they'd returned from Old Earth. Now he was sitting in the command chair, talking quietly to Sulu and Chekov, when Uhura spoke to him:

"Mr. Scott. I'm receiving a message from Commodore Mendez. He orders you to prepare to receive the Captain aboard." Her eyes widened. "Mr. Scott! He requests that you have an honor guard present and that you, Doctor McCoy, and - and Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov - and I attend!"

"What in the Blue Blazes does Spock need an honor guard for? Unless he's bringin' some VIP with him - aye, that must be it," Scotty shook his head. "Och! I'll niver understand that mon! Ah weell, come along, all of ye - Mr. Riley, ye have the conn," and Scott and the others trooped to the lift, replacements quickly slipping into their vacated positions.

The honor guard of red-shirted Security men, four in number, stood at ease before the transporter pad.

Scott, McCoy and the others positioned themselves between the pad and the control console. Lieutenant Kyle was at the controls.

"Just like that crazy Vulcan," McCoy muttered.

"Wha' do ye mean, Doctor?" Scott inquired.

"He could've told us what this is all about. I'll bet he knew before we even got back here!" McCoy turned to Uhura. "Did he get a private message, Uhura?"

"Doctor McCoy! Uhura said in a shocked tone. "That's privileged information." She drew herself up stiffly. "I couldn't tell you that." She stood staring straight at the transporter for a moment then, glancing around, she leaned toward McCoy and said in a loud stage whisper, "NO! He didn't." and burst into an infectious giggle that brought grins to all the faces assembled.

There hadn't been much joy on the Enterprise for almost two years, although since the day they'd returned from time with James Kirk, the mood had lightened a little. McCoy and Spock had been seen talking together, eating together, things that hadn't happened in the year before.

Only a few people had seen James Kirk when he was brought back aboard. Commander Scott had been instructed to clear the transporter room and the halls leading to Sick Bay. Kirk had been whisked into seclusion; the Enterprise had traveled at Warp 6 back to the Star Base. Once there, Kirk had been beamed directly to the base hospital.

Scott still shuddered at the memory of the pitifully thin, almost unrecognizable form he'd seen cradled in Spock's arms when the landing party had materialized. He'd told no one what he'd seen - neither had McCoy or Chekov. They only spoke about other things they'd seen and experienced on Old Earth before they'd found Kirk.

Spock, of course, kept his thoughts to himself. Scott knew that he'd spent most of the time the Enterprise was traveling to the Star Base at Kirk's side, but that was all he knew.

"The Star Base is ready, Mr. Scott," Kyle announced. Everyone stiffened to attention.

"Energize, Mr. Kyle," Scott ordered.

The whine and hum and sparkle of the activated transporter grew and built, two humanoid forms solidifying in the beams. Lieutenant Josephs, head of the honor guard, sounded his bosun's pipe, piping the Captain aboard, but the piping ended in a sudden squawk when Josephs' eyes focused on the men standing before him - Captain James T. Kirk, and beside him, dressed in his old familiar blue Science uniform, Commander Spock!

For a couple of seconds no one moved, no one spoke. Then, a broad grin spreading over his face, James Kirk stepped down from the transporter and said, "Isn't anybody going to say 'Welcome Aboard'?"

There was a very undignified welcoming aboard ceremony. Backs were pounded, hands were clasped - Uhura gave and received kisses; tears, cheers, and shouts of welcome echoed throughout the transporter room, leaked out into the quiet corridors, heads turned, bodies followed. Word spread like lightning throughout the great ship:

"Captain Kirk is back."

Many hours later, James Kirk, Leonard McCoy and Mr. Spock sat relaxed in Kirk's quarters, a bottle of Saurian Brandy on the desk. Even Spock had taken a small glass in honor of the occasion.

Kirk had toured the entire ship, greeting everyone he knew and meeting those he didn't; replacements, who'd come aboard while Spock was Captain. One or two of these wondered what all the shouting was about. After the new, to them, Captain moved on, they were told in long and careful detail by the old hands.

It had been a very emotional day for Kirk. Now he was exhausted. He lay back in his chair and luxuriated in the quiet and familiarity of his quarters. "Well, Bones, Spock," he said. "It's been a long time. I never thought I'd ever see this place again."

"Jim," McCoy said, "you don't have to answer if you'd rather not, but I've been wondering.... How much of what happened do you remember?"

"Some of it, Bones. Funny thing - I remember very clearly how it all began. It's been - what? - almost two years? God!" He paused then continued, "I remember that girl, a pretty little thing. Somehow, I found myself taking her to dinner; we danced - I remember I'd had quite a lot to drink. I remember getting into a cab - there was a man, too. Don't know where he came from...."

"Chekov told us about him. He saw you, you know," McCoy said.

"So I've been told. I don't recall seeing him. I passed out in that cab...."

"Or you were drugged."

"Yes - could be. Anyway, the next thing I knew, I woke up on a Klingon ship. We were in deep space. They asked me, most politely at first, to tell them our procedure for going back in time. When I refused - they got rough. They gave me a choice - tell them, or they'd use the Mind-Sifter. I didn't tell them...." Kirk took a long drink from his glass and sat looking at it for a while.

"After that - well - I remember snatches of things - nothing of the trip back in time - nothing of leaving their ship. I remember a big building - I remember someone who helped me - a girl - woman, I guess, who was gentle and kind."

"That was the nurse we met, Nurse Hamlin," McCoy informed him.

"Yes. I remember - Jan. Hamlin? Was that her name? Funny, I don't remember that, guess I never knew it," he mused. "She was - good to me. I wish I could have thanked her - I think I could have..." he sighed, "but now it's too late." He stopped speaking and seemed lost in thought.

McCoy glanced at Spock and moved restlessly in his chair. He cleared his throat noisily and said, "I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't mean to bring it all back to you."

Kirk smiled quietly at him. "That's all right, Bones. Most of this is in my medical records. You'll get copies of them. The doctors went over and over it with me. They said it was better for me to remember what I could, otherwise, more than a year of my life would be gone." He refilled his glass, offered more to Spock who shook his head, gave McCoy a refill and once again leaned back in his chair.

"By the way," he announced, "I'm putting Pavel Chekov in for a promotion. I owe that boy my life - and my sanity."

"He deserves it, Jim," McCoy agreed. "If he hadn't spotted that picture of the Klingons...." He decided to change the subject. Kirk was becoming a little too quiet. He turned to Spock. "You could've knocked me over with a feather when I saw you standing there beside Jim in your blue Science uniform, Spock." he said, awaiting the inevitable response:

"Why should I attempt to strike you down with the horny epidermal outgrowth of a bird, Doctor McCoy?" Spock asked calmly, an eyebrow climbing into his hair.

"Why, you pointy-eared computer...!" McCoy flared. "You know what I meant!"

"Then, why did you not say what you meant, Doctor?"

"I did say what I meant...!" McCoy sputtered.

James Kirk lay back in his chair and howled. He choked and sputtered and laughed until the tears came into his eyes. McCoy and Spock turned to him.

"Ah - Jim," McCoy said then louder, "Jim! What's wrong?"

"Oh - ha - oh, my - ho, oh Bones! Spock!" Kirk sat up and wiped his eyes. "Now I know I'm home. You two idiots...!" He went off into another spasm of laughter.

McCoy grinned, turned to Spock and winked. A slight quirk lifted the corner of Spock's mouth - for him, a broad grin. It was the first time since James Kirk had disappeared that the two of them had entered into one of their famous "arguments".

McCoy turned back to Kirk and said simply, "We're home, too, Jim." Then, to Spock, "Would you tell me, Spock? I heard you announce to the crew that Jim was in command again - but why were you - ah - well - demoted?"

"I was not demoted, Doctor, because I was never really promoted."

"But - but - you were the Captain. You wore the stripes, the title was yours."

"In name only, Doctor. That was the understanding under which I took over command of the Enterprise - until the day that Jim came back."

"You mean, they didn't even offer...?" Surprise silenced him effectively.

"Yes, but I have told you many times, I do not...."

"'...wish to command,' I know. But, Lord! Spock, you've been in command for almost two years!"

"If I were a human, I would say that I 'disliked' it for two years, Doctor. No. I am quite - content - to be what I am, Science Officer and Second-In-Command to Captain James Kirk."

"Yes, but - look, Spock, why didn't...?"

The intercom on the desk bleeped and Kirk leaned over to activate it. "Kirk here."

"Captain, this is Nurse Chapel. Is Doctor McCoy with you?"

"Right here, Miss Chapel. Bones?"

"What is it, Nurse?"

"Doctor, Ensign Thomas of Engineering slipped on a ladder.... They think his leg is broken."

"I'll be right there." McCoy snapped off the speaker and got up to leave.

"No rest for the weary. Thanks for the brandy, Captain." He walked to the door then looked back. "Glad you're back with us, Jim." He smiled then left.

Spock stood up. "I, too, must leave, Captain. I have some things...."

"Spock, stay a minute more, please." Kirk said. "Sit down."

"Yes, sir." Spock reseated himself.

"This is the first minute we've had alone. I want to thank you," Kirk said simply.

"Captain, you do not owe me any thanks. I did what was necessary."

"No, Spock. You did much more. Commodore Mendez told me how you - you practically begged him to let you resign, so that you could search for me yourself. Now, for God's sake! Don't get embarrassed." A slow tinge of green had started to spread across Spock's face.

"Sir! Embarrassment is a human emotion."

"Sure - I know. So, why are you turning green?" Kirk chuckled softly and continued, "Look, my friend, it's time you and I stopped fooling ourselves. I know you have emotions, you know I know, so why not admit it? At least, in here," Kirk smiled, "I promise not to tell McCoy."

Spock didn't speak for a moment. He seemed to be struggling with himself then he looked into Kirk's eyes and smiled ever so slightly as he said, "Captain - Jim. I am what I am. I cannot change."

Kirk didn't insist. Even this much was a great concession. "I know, Spock. I hope you don't change - too much." He paused for a minute then, "When sanity began to filter back to me, finally, in that place I was in, I remember thinking of you, Spock. It was one of the first realities I remember, somewhere there was a - a friend I called 'Spock' - where, I didn't know, but somewhere. Then - when you did come, I acted so...." Kirk stopped, his turn to be embarrassed.

"Jim, that was not you - that was the Mind-Sifter," Spock said gently.

"Yeah, I suppose so," Kirk finished his drink and pushed the glass aside. "But, why did you ask to resign?" he asked.

"I knew those Klingons had you, but Mendez would not...."

"You knew?" Kirk broke in.

"Yes, Jim. I - heard you cry out to me when the Mind-Sifter's force hit you."

"I - I didn't know," Kirk said, "I - tried - not to weaken, but...."

"Jim, I have also been subjected to the - agony of the Mind-Sifter. I know what it can do. You could not help yourself," Spock said, compassion for what James Kirk had endured showing clearly in his eyes.

For a time silence fell between them as each remembered his separate Hell then James Kirk drew a shuddering breath. "I'm thankful you heard me, although I couldn't hope you would."

"I tried to tell Mendez," Spock explained, "He did not believe me. He thought you were dead, Jim. He offered me command of the Enterprise - as Captain. He would not let me resign. Since I had to obey, I took the command, under the conditions you heard me explain to Doctor McCoy." He sighed. "I again told what I knew when Mr. Chekov discovered the picture of the Klingons on Old Earth. Interesting - they believed me then."

Kirk leaned back in his chair and smiled, "Well, as long as you found me!" A thought struck him. "Spock - this idea that you could read my mind over a vast distance - what does it mean?"

"Does the thought disturb you, Jim?"

"I - don't know.... Do you - can you 'read me' all the time?"

"No, Jim. Very seldom. Not unless I am in - physical contact with you, as in the mind-meld. Nor would I if I could, for, it would be an invasion of.... No, it must have been the intense agony of the Mind-Sifter, your great need...." Spock hesitated.

"My great need for your help, my friend," Kirk added quietly. "It seems I always turn to you when I need help."

"As I have turned to you, Jim. It is because we - we need each other, that our minds are drawn together."

"Well, let's hope the occasion doesn't arise too often," Kirk said. "Anyway, I appreciate your wanting to give up your career to search for me."

"Captain, it was only my wish that Star Fleet would not lose the services of a fine officer...."

"Shut up, Spock! I don't believe you." Kirk grinned at him.

"Sir?"

"Never mind. I'm grateful. From what Mendez told me, everyone else gave up - even McCoy."

"But only after all searching had failed, Jim," Spock broke in quickly. "McCoy was the last to lose hope." Kirk realized that Spock was actually defending the doctor.

"Yes, I'm sure of that. Well, I don't feel any resentment. I probably would have given up, too. Still - thank you."

Spock nodded slightly, accepting what Kirk had said.

"Just one more thing, Spock," Kirk straightened in his chair. "The doctors told me what you did after you brought me back, how you used the mind-meld to erase the fears my name triggered in my mind - how you took that into your own mind and conquered it. I can never repay...."

"Jim - please. Do not say more. I did what was - necessary. I know how to overcome the effects of the Mind-Sifter. You did not - you could not." He stood then and Kirk did, too, stretching languidly. He was tired, but it felt good. He'd rested so darn much in the hospital, regaining his strength and health; they'd never let him get tired.

"I understand we will resume our mission now, Captain?" Spock asked.

"Just as soon as we're refueled and restocked, Spock. Then, it's back to the old grind."

"'Back to...?'"

"Just one of my old human expressions," Kirk laughed. "By now, you should know I'm full of them."

"Yes, Captain, you do seem to have one to fit every occasion. There is one, however, which I believe fits this occasion." Spock said solemnly.

"And, what is that?"

"'Welcome home, Jim.' Welcome home!"

-----

FH: Whew! I see what you mean. Looks like the hostilities between the Klingon Empire and the Federation are as great as ever. I don't see how the Organians' prediction will ever come true.

YOE: It takes time - and time is one thing that those Organians possess in abundance.

FH: Yeah, but you stated that your theme of this whole thing was that prediction. So, is it going to come true or not?

YOE: Eventually.

FH: Maybe so, but it looks like they're further from it than ever.

YOE: Wait and see....

FH: Sure. And in the meantime, what about the sequel to that other book of yours, THE MISFIT? Seems to me you said that this 'zine would have it.

YOE: Coming right up....

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