“You gonna drink that, or put it in a frame so you can admire it?”
Kirk sighed and put the glass on the desk. “Sorry. It just doesn’t appeal tonight, for some reason.”
“Hmmm,” McCoy said in his best open-your-mouth-and-say-ah tone. For a little while, there was silence, silence that went on long enough so that Jim almost started to relax.
“That damn Vulcan drives me up a wall, but I gotta admit – the ship is quiet without him. Too quiet.”
Jim leaned back in his chair and tried hard to mask his dismay. How the hell did Bones invariably know exactly where to stab his scalpel so that it cut straight at the heart? “Yeah,” he said noncommittally. “It is.”
McCoy took a small sip from his snifter and then set it down on the desk, adjusting it several times until he apparently got it right where he wanted it to be. Interlacing his fingers, he stared down at his hands briefly before skewering Kirk with another piercing gaze. “In fact, I never thought I’d say this, but it’ll be good to see him, even if it is just for a couple of hours.”
Kirk pushed at the base of his glass with one finger, causing the brandy to dance and flash. “What he’s doing is important,” he finally said. “I’m sure he thinks it’s worth the time away from the mission.”
McCoy’s eyebrow rose. “I’m not so certain about that. If I’m recalling correctly, he didn’t want to participate at all at first – not until one of his friends talked him into it, telling him what an honor it was to be chosen and how he was the perfect person for the job, how the project might benefit mankind in lots of great and wonderful ways.”
“All of which is true,” Kirk said a little sharply.
“Yeah, maybe. I just don’t think Spock was all that taken with the idea, that’s all.” McCoy picked up his glass again. “And it’s kind of ironic, too.”
Jim clearly was expected to ask, so he did, even though he knew McCoy was setting him up. “What’s ironic?”
“That the same friend who talked him into going has been moping around like a lovesick puppy ever since he left.”
It was a good thing that Jim had set his glass down before, because he surely would have dropped it. “I beg your pardon,” he managed to gasp. “Like a- a- what did you say?”
“You heard me. Like a lovesick puppy. By ‘puppy,’ mind you, I mean more of the cocker spaniel variety than any of the larger breeds – the kind that has that perpetually woeful expression and those oversized brown eyes that make you want to say ‘Awwww’ every time you look into them. The sort that manages to look homeless and left out in the rain even when he’s lounging on a velvet cushion.” Apparently pleased with his analysis, McCoy took a good-sized swallow of brandy and sat back to observe Kirk’s reaction.
“You’re psychotic,” was all Jim could manage, right before the blush set in.
“Maybe. But there’s medication for that. Lovesick, on the other hand – that there’s no pill for.”
Kirk didn’t know whether to laugh or glare, so he did a little of both. “Look, you may be a good psychologist, but that doesn’t mean that… ”
“That doesn’t mean that I could ever presume to figure out the inner workings of James T. Kirk, full time Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise and part time demigod,” McCoy finished for him. He sighed and put his feet up on the desk. “Look, Jim, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or even a trained psychologist – to see that you’ve got a thing for a certain Vulcan science officer. The real question is: what are you going to do about it?”
Kirk decided he needed a drink after all. After two quick swallows and a long, thorough study of the glass, he said slowly, “And let’s say - just for the sake of argument - that you’re right. What would my psychologist suggest I do about it?”
“First of all, let’s get this straight: I’m talking to you as a friend, not as a shrink. And I hate to put it in these terms, but the logical thing for you to do is to tell him.”
Kirk grimaced. “Just tell him. That’s your advice.”
“He’s a Vulcan.”
“Yeah, I noticed that,” McCoy said dryly. “The pointy ears kind of gave it away. So what?”
“So you know how he feels about any kind of emotional display. I can only imagine how he’d react.”
“How do you imagine he’d react?”
Kirk shook his head. “Nothing extreme. Just get all stiff and polite and distant. Then probably…” he looked away, frowning. “Probably request a transfer.”
“He might surprise you,” McCoy said quietly.
Kirk gave him a sharp look. “What makes you say that? Don’t tell me you think you’ve got his inner workings figured out, too.”
McCoy swung his feet from the desk and leaned toward Jim. “I know he was reluctant to leave, even for a few months. That tells me plenty.”
Kirk shrugged. “Well, then you got a lot more out of that fact than I did. There are dozens of reasons why he wouldn’t want to take time away.”
“Really? Well, I can’t seem to come up with more than one. Let’s face it: it’s the most exciting project to come along in decades if not longer. To have the chance to take part in it, much less to be selected to lead the team like Spock was – well, that’s got to be just about the pinnacle for any scientist. So why didn’t he want to do it? There’s no professional reason not to – and that means his reason must have been personal instead.”
“Too bad Spock isn’t here to listen to your logic,” Kirk said sarcastically. “I’m sure he’d be impressed. But even if it’s granted that his reluctance wasn’t caused by professional considerations, there are still countless personal reasons he could have.”
“I count exactly one,” McCoy drawled. “And it’s sitting right across from me.”
“C’mon, Bones. You’ve been holding out on me – you must have gone through a bottle or two of this stuff before I ever got here.”
“Nope. I’ve just been watching you – both of you – for a long time now. When you’re in the room, his eyes are on no one but you. He listens to every word you say as if it were the most fascinating stuff he’s ever heard. He talks about you when you’re not around.”
Kirk smiled. “I suppose he tells you he thinks I’m really cute.”
“No. He tells me – and anyone else who’ll listen - what he thinks you would do in any given situation. I’m telling you, he worships you. It’s like you’re his compass, or maybe his anchor.” McCoy took another sip and then fixed Kirk with a hard stare. “And I’ll tell you another thing.”
“You hurt him when you urged him to take part in this project. He thought you wanted to get rid of him.”
Kirk made an impatient gesture. “Damn it, nothing could be further from the truth and you know it. I would always prefer to have him here – yes, I admit it – here with me. But it’s about damn time that Starfleet acknowledges what a treasure they’ve got in Spock. No other Vulcan has his experience and his success working with humans. No other scientist alive can match him for sheer intellect. No other person I know has such a fine sense of ethics – and let’s face it, with a project like this, that’s the most important thing of all.”
“So you’re telling me you think he’s really cute.”
Kirk rolled his eyes, but had to laugh. “Well, yes, that too.” His expression became serious as he added, “I was proud that they chose him. He is the right person for the job, and he deserves more than just to be a faithful, anonymous second in command for the rest of his life.”
McCoy shook his head. “Your capacity for projecting your own desires on others just floors me sometimes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did it ever occur to you to ask Spock what he wants out of life, instead of just deciding for him? I really don’t think he gives a shit about prestige or power. He wouldn’t have fought so hard to get here in the first place if this wasn’t what he really wanted. But he doesn’t want to disappoint you either, and when you made it so apparent that you wanted him to lead the project, he didn’t feel he had any other option.”
Kirk got up and started to pace about the small confines of McCoy’s office. “Well, it won’t be the first time either one of us has had to make a hard choice between personal desire and duty. Maybe I did push him when I shouldn’t have. But there is a larger good at stake here, too.” He swung toward McCoy. “Think of it, Bones, what this project might mean. The ability to enhance an individual’s memory beyond anything we can imagine. The ability to learn faster, retain more – progress farther than we ever dreamed possible. That’s pretty awesome stuff.”
McCoy gave him a disgusted look. “What the hell is wrong with just moving on like we’ve been doing – at the pace nature intended? You mark my words – we keep trying to be gods instead of just plain human beings, and we’re in for a fall - a hard fall. And I’ll tell you another thing: I don’t care what kind of miracle formula that team concocts – I like my brain just the way it is now. It may not be perfect, but it’s all mine, and it’s not gonna be adulterated with any Mimor VI, or whatever the hell Roman numeral they’re calling it by now.”
Kirk eyed him speculatively. “You’re pretty brutal tonight, you know that?” He put his hands on the desk and leaned over to scrutinize McCoy. “I don’t think Mimor VI or my love life or lack thereof is what’s on your mind at all. What’s really bothering you? I know a little bit about your inner workings, too, you know, and I can tell when something’s getting to you.”
McCoy looked away, grabbed his glass and took another slug. “Portner,” he finally said, without looking up.
“Ah.” It was a sigh of understanding, and of sympathy. Jim sat back down, and said earnestly, “You did everything you could. It was just one of those flukes.”
McCoy glared at him. “That’s exactly what’s bothering me. I did everything I could – for her and for the rest of the landing party, and it worked. On most of them. Christ, it wasn’t like it was some mystery disease. It was just a plain old, everyday virus – one there happens to be a perfectly decent treatment for. You tell me why the one who was planning to get married next month was the very one who couldn’t shake it off – who died from it with no reason, except random, stupid, bad luck?”
“I know you hate to lose a patient. I hate to lose a crewmember, too. But...”
“But nothing,” McCoy snapped. “There isn’t one word you can say that will make it right. Do you know that woman was able to talk right up until the day she died? And that every day she told me how much she loved her fiancée, how she couldn’t wait for the wedding, how badly she wanted kids?” He leaned forward, and Kirk could see tears in the sharp blue eyes. “I even knew what kind of flowers she was going to have, and that her little brother was going to be the ring-bearer.” He set his glass down on the desk with a shaky hand. “Do you know how much death I’ve seen since I’ve been on this blasted ship?”
“I’ve seen people burned, beaten, cut into pieces. I’ve seen people whose flesh has been eaten away by diseases too horrible and painful to contemplate. I’ve seen them chewed up and swallowed by hungry aliens. I’ve seen them blasted into nothingness by phaser fire. Ninety percent of the killing, we do to ourselves, and it makes me sick, but I can almost accept it as part of the human condition. It’s the other ten percent that makes me so mad. And so… damn it all, so scared shitless.”
“The other ten percent?”
“The part that the universe does to us. The random happenings. The flukes, as you call them. Like Portner.”
Kirk frowned. “But that’s a part of the human condition, too. Hell, that’s a part of just being alive at all. It’s a dangerous universe, and in the back of our minds we know something terrible could happen at any moment. That’s the very thing that makes life so precious.”
McCoy took one last swallow and set his empty glass on the desk with an air of finality. “I’m glad to hear you say that.”
“Because you and Spock are in a particularly dangerous profession. The odds are that either your good luck, or his, will run out someday, just like Portner’s did. Only she told her fiancée how she felt about him before she died. She at least had that at the end.”
A flash of a memory coursed through Jim’s mind: Spock, glossy head bent over some particularly fascinating scientific data. Spock looking up from his work, straight at Jim, with that tiny if-you-call-it-a-smile-I’ll-deny-it curve of the lip. That smile never failed to make Kirk’s heart leap, because he knew that Spock never showed that side of himself to anyone else in the universe but him. It was like being entrusted with something infinitely precious and fragile, to be the recipient of that smile. And it’s been way too long since I’ve seen it, he thought, his throat constricting with a longing so intense it felt very much like grief. What if I knew I would never see it again? If Spock were gone, or if he were dead? What then?
“You’re right,” he said quietly to McCoy. “I know I’ve got to tell him – I’ve put it off too long already. I’ll… I’ll find a way to get him alone tomorrow, and I’ll talk to him.”
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, glancing at the clock. The Enterprise was just a few hours away from Sigma Scorpii and the tiny, unobtrusive science station Alniyat B that orbited there, where Spock and his team of fifteen scientists were toiling away at the Mimor formula. Jim closed his eyes. A clear vision of the Vulcan’s beloved face came to him instantly: the beautiful sculpted cheeks, the dark, compelling eyes… the sensual lips, the ones Kirk so often had thought of kissing. Unconsciously, he leaned forward, intent on the lips… but the vision blurred and faded, leaving behind nothing but a piercing ache within his chest.
“Spock,” he whispered, allowing the feeling of crushing loss to sweep over him for a bitter moment before he opened his eyes and sternly brought himself back to reality. Look at you, sitting here mooning like this, he told himself harshly. Pull yourself together, and get on the bridge where you belong. Swiftly he rose from the bed, confident that he’d feel better once he became ensconced in the day’s routine.
“Good morning, Captain.” Sulu’s cheerful grin greeted Kirk as soon as the turbolift doors opened. “Three hours and twelve minutes to arrival at Alniyat B, sir.”
Kirk gave a general nod of greeting to his crew and slipped into his command chair. “Very good, Mr. Sulu,” he said to the helmsman. He settled back into his seat and added, “Four days ahead of schedule, but we’ll trust that Mr. Spock won’t mind.”
“I’m sure he won’t, Captain,” Uhura chimed in, smiling. “He must be a little homesick by now – he’s been gone more than three months, after all.”
“We were lucky the Exeter offered to deliver the Saranian colony’s medical supplies,” Sulu said. “If we’d had to do it, we’d just be leaving the Meropian system now.”
“Yes,” Kirk said meditatively. The atmosphere on the bridge was jovial, almost festive. It was amazing how much his quiet, reserved first officer had been missed, how anxious the crew was for word of him. He glanced around the bridge, noting that everyone was smiling. He wished he felt the same way, that he could shake the persistent feeling of uneasiness that continued to dog him. He frowned slightly, and turned to Uhura.
“Lieutenant, as soon as we’re within range, advise the station of our approach. Their security’s tight – I want to give them ample warning so nobody there gets trigger happy.”
“Aye, Captain. I estimate we’ll be able to make contact within half an hour. I’ll let you know as soon as I get a response.”
A yeoman approached Kirk with a series of reports for his signature. He gave them a cursory glance and then signed them wordlessly; cognizant that the familiar blips and beeps of the bridge consoles did not soothe him as they usually did, but instead seemed to heighten his already anxious mood. What is wrong with you? he asked himself. Are you really that jumpy about talking to Spock? He knew the answer without really thinking about it: the alarms that were going off inside of him were too loud, too insistent, to be caused by simple nervousness.
There was something wrong out there.
He leaned forward in his chair, studying the view screen intently as if it would offer a clue. But there was nothing out of order. No enemy ship, no mysterious alien life form. Just stars, multitudes of them, passing by slowly, inexorably and peacefully. Kirk drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair and fretted.
The minutes crawled by.
Kirk had spent enough hours of his life with his back to Uhura to be able to read her voice with uncanny accuracy. Something in her tone made him swing around and face her, his brow creased with anxiety. “What is it?”
Uhura’s beautiful dark eyes were troubled. “I’ve been trying to raise Alniyat for the past forty-five minutes, sir,” she replied. “They are not responding. I don’t understand it – we should be well within range.”
“A problem on this end?”
“No, sir. I’ve done a thorough check. If they are not receiving our message, the trouble must be with them, not with us.”
“All right, Lieutenant. Keep trying.”
Kirk looked toward the helm. “Mr. Sulu.”
“Increase speed to Warp 8. Calculate new time of arrival.”
Sulu’s agile fingers flew over his console and the mighty engines of the starship hummed in response. “Warp 8, sir. Estimated time of arrival now… one hour, seven minutes.”
Kirk got up and made his way to the science station. Biophysicist Celina Alvarez, a quiet, dark haired woman with large serious eyes, had been filling in for Spock since the first officer’s departure for the Mimor project. Kirk remembered that Spock had highly recommended her, saying that she possessed “a most commendable combination of brilliance and dedication,” high praise indeed from the reserved and demanding Vulcan. And Alvarez certainly had performed more than adequately on the bridge, a fact that Kirk had already noted in her personnel file. But he still wished Spock were sitting in her place, a thought that he resolutely dismissed as unfair as soon as it entered his mind.
“Lieutenant Alvarez,” he said quietly, “initiate long-range scanning. Notify me immediately if you detect anything out of the ordinary.”
Alvarez’s soft brown eyes met his, concern apparent in her expression. “Aye, Captain. Do you… do you think something has happened at the station, sir?”
Kirk hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “It’s probably something as simple as a breakdown in their communications equipment,” he told the scientist. “But it’s always best to err on the side of caution.”
“Yes, sir,” said Alvarez, her brow furrowed. Silently, she bent over her console, studying the sensor output with a steady concentration that reminded Kirk poignantly of his first officer. He clamped down on the feeling of anxiety that swept over him and proceeded to pace about the bridge, partly to dissipate some of his nervous energy, partly to increase the odds of being nearby if any of his officers had any information.
It was Alvarez who reported first.
The biophysicist would not have made a good Vulcan: the tension in her voice was palpable. Kirk was at her side in an instant. “What is it?” he asked tersely.
“Scanners are detecting what appears to be debris, sir – from the direction of Alniyat.” She looked up at the captain, her face bathed in the cobalt light of the screen. “Primary elements are aluminum, tritanium and duranium.” She hesitated, glanced down at her screen again, and then met Kirk’s eyes.
“Assess,” he said automatically, though he knew quite well what she would say.
“Most probably a wreck of some kind, sir. A vessel that broke apart or fell under attack, or…” her voice trailed off. “Or possibly Alniyat itself.”
Kirk’s mouth was a straight grim line. “Could this be space trash from some long ago battle or accident?” he asked.
Alvarez shook her head. “I’m afraid not. Its rate of dispersal indicates that it is the result of a fairly recent incident – perhaps only three or four hours ago.”
“I have picked up no distress signal from the station or from any nearby vessel,” Uhura said. “No response to repeated attempts to contact, either.”
Kirk took a deep breath. “Put the view screen on extreme magnification,” he instructed. “Mr. Sulu, go to yellow alert, deflectors on full.”
Though Alvarez tended her console with single-minded dedication, it was the view screen that gradually rendered up the story of the death of Alniyat B. The crew watched in total silence as huge twisted lumps of metal floated within range, followed by smaller unidentifiable bits of offal, chunks and strands and cables that floated with deceptive serenity across the sea of space.
And in the background, Alniyat B.
Kirk craned forward, eyes narrowing as he studied what was left of the station. When McCoy had first seen the structure, he had snorted and called it a “glorified baby rattle.” And even Spock had been forced to admit that the doctor’s assessment was rather apt: the station consisted of two orbs connected by a relatively narrow cylinder. It was a simple, eminently practical design, with no wasted space. One orb housed the research labs; the other contained sleeping quarters. The connecting cylinder, Kirk recalled, held the galley and a small recreation area.
Now, one of the orbs was gone, and the end of the cylinder to which it had once been joined was warped and charred. Blown completely away, Kirk thought, his mind reeling giddily. Just… totally gone. And the scientists? Spock? He licked his lips. “Alvarez,” he said, without taking his eyes from the screen.
“The dormitory area, sir,” Alvarez reported, a little shakily. “I am unable to ascertain what type of weapon was used, but…” she hesitated in an effort to get her voice under control, and then continued, “sensors do not indicate that there are any survivors, sir. However, life support systems still function on the remainder of the station.”
“Life support systems still function,” Kirk repeated, quietly. “But no life to support.” The words did not make it seem more real: Spock could not be dead. The universe could not be that cruel - to send the Vulcan unprotected into frozen space while Kirk was light years away. It could not be. “Uhura,” he ordered, his throat dry, “I want Scotty and McCoy in the transporter room immediately. Sulu, you have the conn. Alvarez,” he flung over his shoulder just before he entered the turbolift, “continue sensor analysis. Notify me right away if you find anything significant… anything that will lead us to whoever – or whatever – did this.”
The turbo doors swished shut before Alvarez’s “Aye, sir” had passed her lips.
Kirk knew full well that the attack on Alniyat B was almost certainly motivated in some way by the research that had been going on there. He therefore ordered that the landing party be beamed into the second, intact orb of the station, directly into the lab itself. If there were answers – and there had better be, he thought grimly – they would be there.
As the shimmering of the transporter coalesced into three solid human figures, the first thing that the starship captain became aware of was an acrid, sulfuric smell. Its source was not hard to trace: the main computer of the lab had been hit with what appeared to be phaser fire; it sat lifeless and blackened in the center of the floor.
“Scotty,” Kirk said, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the noiseless room, “take a look at that. See if you can salvage any of the data.”
Scotty shook his head. “Aye, sir – I’ll try. But I dinna ken how much luck I’ll have, sir. It looks like it was blasted by someone who knew just where and how tae hit it.”
As Scotty inspected the burned-out computer and Bones wandered the perimeter of the area with his tricorder, Kirk scanned the room. Except for the computer, everything was in perfect order. Of course it would be, he thought. Spock would make sure that everything was in its place. He studied the uncluttered consoles and lab tables, frowning. Every single workspace was totally devoid of data files and notes. Everything was clean and bare. Except…
A far corner of the room attracted his attention and he moved over to it. On the floor was a blackened, melted pile of… what? Kirk knelt down and touched the formless mass, finding that it was still warm. “Data files,” he whispered. But why? If the station had been attacked because of the Mimor formula, then why would the attackers destroy information about the very thing they had come to get? He bit his lip, pondering.
Something in Bones’ voice caused Kirk to look up sharply at the doctor, his muscles tensing.
“I found these… in there.” With a gesture of his head, McCoy indicated an open door off the lab, at the same time offering a small bundle to Jim, who reached out automatically to take it.
Dully, Kirk looked down and realized that part of the bundle was Spock’s meditation robe. On top of it was an old-style book, bound in black.
“It’s Spock’s,” McCoy informed him softly. “Some kind of journal he was keeping, I think.”
Jim tucked Spock’s robe under one arm and flipped the book open. The Vulcan’s precise, upright handwriting filled the pages; for a moment, Kirk’s vision blurred. He shut the volume resolutely; there would be time enough to look at it later, when he could better handle it. Whenever that might be, he thought, trying to fight away the knowledge that the journal might be the last of Spock’s thoughts that he would ever have.
He walked over to the open door and peered in.
“He must’ve slept in there,” McCoy informed him, behind his back. “It’d be like him, wouldn’t it? To keep himself separate from the others, and right on top of all the work.”
“Yes,” Kirk said absently. The bed was meticulously made, the room both sparse and cell-like. It was easy to picture Spock in that room, kneeling in his meditation robe, looking just as austere as his surroundings. “But,” he said slowly, a tiny ray of hope dawning, “if he slept in here, then he most likely wouldn’t have been in the other section of the station when it was hit.”
“Jim,” McCoy said warningly, “I know what you’re thinking, but the odds are…”
Both men turned to face the engineer, who was hunched on the floor in front of the computer, surrounded by a litter of parts and panels.
“I canna retrieve any o’ the research data, sir. It’s just like I thought: whoever melted this thing down knew just what he was doin’.” The Scotsman held up a thin, oblong box. “But this little gem is intact, and it might just tell us what kind o’ mischief went on here.”
Kirk walked over to him and looked down at the box. “The security transcript?” he asked the engineer.
“Aye.” Scotty smiled up at him. “We should be able tae play it back once we’re on the Enterprise, sir. Maybe it’ll show us what happened tae the scientists and Mr. Spock.”
Kirk nodded solemnly. “What happened and why. Good work, Scotty. We’ll…”
“Enterprise to Captain Kirk.”
Kirk flipped his communicator open. “Kirk here. What is it, Sulu?”
“Captain, Lieutenant Alvarez has picked up on an ion trail that leads directly away from the station. It looks like it must’ve been generated from whatever vessel made the attack.”
“Can you get enough of a read on it to follow it?”
“We think so, Captain. Alvarez and Chekov are trying to plot its course right now.”
“All right. Notify the transporter room that we’re ready to beam up. Let’s see if we can hunt them down.”
The bridge was humming with efficiently channeled energy when Kirk resumed the command chair. “Report, Lieutenant Alvarez?”
“The computer has identified the ion trail as having been generated by an Orakkian Fightercraft, a small but heavily armed type of vessel capable of a maximum speed of Warp 7.”
“I was on a ship like that once,” Kirk said slowly, “back when I was at the Academy. It had been captured in a skirmish near the Cinnasian territorial border. I remember they had the entire Tactical class tour it. I even got to try out the controls, in fact. It was very different than any federation vessel I’d ever piloted.” He cast an inquiring glance at Alvarez. “But what do we know about the Orakkians themselves? If I recall correctly, they didn’t exactly have the reputation of being the warm and welcoming type.”
Alvarez nodded. “The computer describes them as a politically neutral species, with no known alliances either within or outside the Federation. Apparently, they are willing to sell their ships to the highest bidder, no matter what the cause.”
“Politically neutral,” Kirk mused. “Then it isn’t likely they themselves have a personal stake in any of this. It’s a possibility that some other species purchased the Orakkian ship and used it to attack Alniyat.” His eyes narrowed. “Have you been able to trace their path?”
“Yes – we should be able to follow them.”
“Then do it, at the fastest possible speed.” Kirk was already moving toward the turbolift. “Uhura, call all senior officers to the briefing room.” As he passed Sulu, he put his hand on the helmsman’s shoulder and said quietly, “All but you, Sulu. There is no one else I trust as well to follow this trail. Don’t lose them: I’m counting on you.”
Sulu swallowed and gazed up at his captain solemnly. “Yes sir. I- I won’t let you down, sir.”
“I’ve set the recording tae start play about half an hour before the computer was blasted, sir,” Scotty told Kirk.
“Very good, Mr. Scott. Let’s have it.”
Almost as one being, the assembled officers craned forward to watch as the security tape from Alniyat B began to display the last moments of activity in the research lab. The briefing room monitor flickered once, and then offered up a view of two Vulcans, who were staring intently into a monitor of their own. The younger Vulcan, whom Kirk did not recognize, was seated. Behind him stood Spock, one hand on the back of the seated man’s chair, leaning forward to take in whatever data the screen displayed.
“Analysis?” Spock’s deep voice inquired.
The unknown Vulcan shook his head and frowned. “Kopec waves are still off, though not quite as badly as before. But look here…” he pointed at the screen.
Spock nodded, his face impassive. “Indeed. It is an improvement, thanks to your painstaking calculations. But not yet good enough. Not by, as the humans would say, ‘a long shot.’”
The young Vulcan sighed and rubbed his forehead. Odd, Kirk thought. He’s a lot more expressive than any Vulcan I’ve ever seen. I wonder what his story is? “How many times can we go over this?” the Vulcan muttered. “How many different ways are there to tinker with it? And every time we get closer, but not close enough.”
Spock replied calmly, “There are an infinite number of ways to change the formula, as you are well aware. It would be unconscionable to try this particular version on any sentient being, however. There would be a 92.6 percent chance of…”
The younger Vulcan smiled wearily and shook his head. “I know, I know. Of permanent psychosis. Or maybe even death. I understand – but will Whitbeck?”
Spock stiffened. “Dr. Whitbeck is bound by the same rules of ethics as any other scientist here – and by my orders. His reaction is irrelevant.”
The young Vulcan stared up at Spock, concern evident in his eyes. “Is it?” he inquired softly. “The other scientists listen to him. He’s been insinuating for some time now that we’ve been delaying on purpose – that we actually came up with a workable formula weeks ago, but that we’ve withheld it.” He frowned again, hesitated, and then forged ahead. “He’s told the others that he’s so confident the last formula was viable, he’d even be willing to try it himself.”
Spock reached over and picked up a small vial of fluid, turning it thoughtfully in his hand. “Impatience,” he said, “is an undesirable quality in a research scientist. I shall make the decision, if any is made at all, about who will test the formula.” He held the vial a little higher, allowing the younger Vulcan to study it. “And this version,” he said in a tone of flat finality, “is not fit for human consumption… not even for Dr. Whitbeck.”
The younger Vulcan smiled, and then laughed softly. “Not even,” he repeated. “Well, then I guess he’ll just have to…”
The sound of a massive explosion obliterated his sentence, rocking the lab and nearly knocking Spock off his feet.
“What was that?” the young Vulcan gasped, wide-eyed, as Spock clutched at the back of the chair for support.
Spock moved quickly across the room to another monitor. “We are under attack,” he informed his companion, as he peered into it. “Alniyat’s defense screen has been deactivated. The hull at the opposite end of the station has been breeched.” He crossed to a locked cabinet, swiftly keyed in a series of numbers, and opened it, drawing out two phasers.
“Attack?” gasped the Vulcan, thoroughly at a loss.
Spock tossed a phaser to the younger man, who caught it automatically. “Take it and hide yourself,” he instructed. With no further ado, he adjusted his own phaser and fired directly at the main computer.
“Mr. Spock! Our research!”
“…Will have to be duplicated later, if possible,” Spock said grimly, aiming at another section of the computer. “Whoever is attacking us can have only one motivation: the Mimor data. We must not allow them to have it.” He glanced quickly at the Vulcan. “Hide yourself,” he instructed again.
“No – I won’t leave you,” the Vulcan insisted.
“Then gather every data file you can find and destroy them,” Spock ordered. “Quickly.”
As the younger Vulcan rushed to obey, Spock methodically fired at the main computer, blasting into it section by section until it was a smoking, useless mass of metal. As he leveled the phaser for the last time, the door to the lab swished open. A group of humanoid creatures, a full head taller than Spock and heavily armed, raced into the room. Kirk had just enough time to take in the shiny black of their uniforms, the flash of their weapons, the ominous whine of their rifles.
Spock and the other Vulcan slumped to the floor, their phasers clattering as they dropped from slack hands.
A female, apparently of the same species as the large humanoids but about half their size, strode into the room. She coolly surveyed the scene, frowning as she saw the wrecked computer. Kirk was instantly reminded of a wasp: she too was clad in closefitting shiny black, and her curvaceous form, though tiny and not precisely unattractive, somehow projected an aura of danger. Her face was rather narrow, her skin extremely pale - a cold moonstone color offset by glittery jet eyes and a wide, nearly lipless mouth. Kirk felt a chill; his every instinct told him that this was someone capable of great ruthlessness.
As the large humanoids waited respectfully, almost timidly, the wasp-like female walked over to Spock’s prone body and nudged it with her foot. “Spock,” she stated softly, her voice a dry rustle in the quiet room. “Whitbeck described him well. Ifftahn,” she said to one of the humanoids, who bowed slightly in acknowledgement, “if you can manage it without schzetching up like our painfully inept comrade here…” she gestured with her small head toward another of the humanoids, who cringed fearfully and stared at the floor, “I would greatly appreciate it if you would remove this one and take him to the ship. Be gentle with him at present – he is the leader, and judging by the state of that computer, he may be our only route to the Mimor.”
“Yes, Admiress,” the large humanoid replied, and picked Spock up in his massive arms with as little strain as if the tall Vulcan were a child.
“What about the smaller one?” asked another of the black-clad beings. “Bring him also.” As the humanoid scooped up the younger Vulcan, she added, as if to herself, “It is unfortunate that only Vulcans remain. It will doubtless make interrogation more… challenging. But perhaps we can use one to make the other talk.” Her lashless eyes narrowed as her attention turned to the humanoid she had previously chastised, who had not yet dared to look up from the floor. Moving over to him, she suddenly reached up and grabbed his head by his shaggy coarse hair and pulled him down until their eyes met. “And why, Krahll?” she queried softly; her thin mouth an inch from his face. “Why is it that there are only two scientists left?”
“Because I erred,” the humanoid whispered.
“Because you erred,” she repeated, with deceptive gentleness, and twisted her fingers more tightly in his hair. “You erred. A harmless-sounding word. But your error was not harmless, was it, Krahll? It was a schzetching krejmar – a disaster. Wasn’t it, Krahll? Wasn’t it!” Tiny flecks of saliva flew from her mouth and landed on Krahll’s unfortunate cheek as she hissed this; Kirk could see her hand shake with the effort of clenching Krahll’s mane so closely.
“Yes,” whimpered Krahll.
“A simple, gentle strike, aimed just so,” the female spat, relentlessly. “Enough to take out their communications, that’s all. How much easier could it have been? Whitbeck did his part – deactivated their defense screen just as he promised. But you did not do your part, did you, you stinking wad of beshnum?”
“No, you did not. You hit the wrong spot – too hard. Far too hard… and what happened? Tell me: I want to hear you say it!”
“The hull was breached,” the cringing humanoid replied.
“And thirteen scientists were sucked out into space. Human scientists, you metnarhk - who could easily have been persuaded to tell what they knew. And what have we left now?”
“Just two, Admiress.”
“Two Vulcans!” she snarled, and forced the humanoid’s head around to face the computer. “And this! What of this?”
“Destroyed,” Krahll responded.
“Because your stupidity gave them warning,” she said with sudden, dangerous calm, and finally released her huge captive. Stepping back from him, she said, “In only a few short days, the Klingons will rendezvous with us and expect us to hand over the Mimor they’ve paid so handsomely for. How much do you think our lives will be worth if we are not able to provide it, or the formula, to them?”
Krahll did not answer, but gaped helplessly at his tormentor.
“Precisely as much as yours is now,” she stated emotionlessly, and touched a button at her waist.
The Enterprise’s officers flinched at what they saw next: the ruggedly built humanoid seizing his head, a high-pitched scream shrieking from his contorted lips. As he dropped to his knees and writhed in obvious agony, the female watched silently, no trace of pity on her face. Under her impassive gaze, the suffering humanoid drew in a shuddering breath and convulsed as amber blood, half-clotted, began to flow from his nostrils and trickle from his mouth and eyes. Between the being’s fingers, which clutched at his large hairy ears, a thick gelatinous fluid started to seep.
The humanoid collapsed upon the floor, twitching spasmodically as the waves of anguish claimed him. He looked up at the female and tried to speak… To plead for his life or for an easier death? Kirk asked himself, sickened. But all that came from the doomed creature’s mouth was the froth of blood and saliva, and one last, shuddering exhalation of breath. He arched once, stiffened, and finally became still.
The female regarded him silently for a moment, and then looked up at the other humanoids. “There are no second chances,” she told them quietly. “Remember that. Ubrhan, bring him – we will jettison him out into space to join the scientists he so stupidly lost to us. The rest of you, search this section. Find anything you think might be the Mimor, or might allow us to formulate it. We may yet be able to turn this catastrophe into triumph.” With that, she turned on her heel and exited the room, followed by the three humanoids who had been ordered to carry Spock, Krahll and the young Vulcan. The rest of the group started to scour the room; Kirk frowned as he saw one of the tall creatures spot the vial that Spock and the Vulcan had been testing earlier, and scoop it up.
“Computer, stop tape,” Kirk ordered. He folded his hands in front of him, mostly to stop them from shaking. Swallowing once to moisten his dry throat, he surveyed his somber-faced officers and finally asked, “Well?”
McCoy said slowly, “Spock’s alive. That’s the good news, Jim.”
Kirk answered, “Yes. He’s alive – he and one other scientist. But in the hands of someone who seems to be nothing short of a monster.”
Uhura asked, “What sort of beings are they, sir? I’ve never seen anything quite like them.”
“That’s our first question,” Kirk agreed grimly. “Alvarez, I want a full computer analysis of this tape. Find out what species we’re dealing with, where they come from. Check the biographical data on the Alniyat scientists as well: who is the other Vulcan who’s been taken captive?”
“I can tell you that last already, sir,” said Alvarez. “I checked the roster of scientists while you were investigating Alniyat. There was only one other Vulcan, besides Mr. Spock, at the station. His name is Sihtek. Computer,” she ordered, “Relay biographical information of Sihtek, member of Alniyat B scientific team.”
“Working,” announced the computer’s tinny voice. “Sihtek, biophysicist and mathematician. Born 2235. Son of Synlek and T’Linna, dissidents who left Vulcan for Earth in the year 2229. Graduated from Abbott-Bardin University and the Federation Institute of Biophysics, with a doctorate from the latter in 2256. Commendations include Romanova Citation for Innovation in Applied Mathematics; Unrich Fellowship awarded in 2253 and 2254; Federation Appointment to Veldonn IV Academic Seat; Selected for…”
“Computer,” Kirk broke in. “Sihtek’s parents – Synlek and T’Linna. What type of dissidents are they?”
“Working,” announced the computer again. After a short pause, “Synlek and T’Linna reject the teachings of Surak of Vulcan. They established a private educational academy on Earth in 2231, the Ek’rak Betan, founded on the cultivation of both the intellect and of emotions. Academy is in existence today, with a student population of…”
“Computer, stop,” Kirk ordered. He turned to Alvarez. “Get me the rest of the details – everything you can find out about the attackers, Sihtek, and this Whitbeck.”
Kirk sat back in his chair and said slowly, to no one in particular, “Well, in a way, we’ve lucked out. We already know a lot about what happened.” He began to tick off the facts on his fingers. “We know Whitbeck was a spy who not only helped these aliens attack the station, but was also in a position where he could have given them some information about the Mimor formula as well.”
“Information that was perhaps too optimistic based on what Spock and that other Vulcan were saying before the attack.”
Kirk nodded at his C.M.O. “Right. And that’s not good news, because it means that these… kidnappers… expect that Spock’s going to be able to hand over a working, usable formula. And it doesn’t look like it’s possible for him to do that, even if they could convince him somehow.” He looked down for a moment, trying not to think about what means they might employ to bend his first officer to their will. Determinedly, he continued with his list. “We know what type of craft they’re in, and we have a trail to follow. We have a visual on the attackers, so we’ve got a good chance of identifying them without too much trouble. We know what they want, and why they want it.”
“Aye,” Scotty growled. “I knew from the start the Klingons’d be behind this.”
“But,” Uhura said, slightly perplexed, “why would the Klingons be so intent on Mimor? I thought their interest in scientific research was pretty much limited to developing weapons.”
Kirk opened his mouth to reply, but McCoy beat him to it. “Mimor is a weapon,” he stated flatly.
“I don’t…” Uhura began.
This time, Kirk was first to answer. “If Mimor worked, it would provide the user with an exponentially enhanced memory. That means, quite simply, that information learned would not be forgotten, no matter how much time went by, or how much additional information the brain was asked to process.” He began to pace around the room, his hands clasped behind his back in a strangely Spocklike gesture. “Mimor could allow those who have access to it nearly unlimited intellectual ability. The ability to advance technologically…”
“As in designing better ships and weapons,” Uhura said.
“Right. But a workable Mimor formula means more than that in terms of power. Provide it to a certain population, and that population thrives. Withhold it, and that population is left behind.” He rubbed his forehead, suddenly weary beyond description. “The species or the organization that can make the decision about who gets to use it holds a weapon as powerful as any we’ve ever encountered.”
“There’s only one problem,” McCoy drawled. “There is no workable Mimor formula.”
Kirk studied him solemnly. “Exactly. And that’s why it’s vital that we get to Spock and Sihtek fast. If their kidnappers find out that the last version of Mimor didn’t work, they may well decide there’s no reason to keep them alive. Scotty,” he glanced at his engineer. “I’m going to need all the speed from your engines that you can give me.”
Scotty nodded. “You’ve got it, Captain.”
“All right. Let’s do this, then.” Kirk headed toward the door. “I’ll be in my quarters – I want to go through that journal that Spock was keeping to see if there are any more answers there. Notify me immediately if we come within range of the craft, or when you identify the kidnappers.”
Kirk sat at his desk and placed the journal before him. He looked at it for a long time, trying to gather the courage to open it. Spock’s meditation robe lay in his lap. There was no real reason for Kirk to have kept it with him: it was his first officer’s personal property and, unlike the journal, did not have the potential of harboring any useful information. But Jim had found, when he passed by Spock’s quarters on the way to his own, that he could not bear to part with it. He held it close to him now, inhaling the familiar, beloved scent of his friend. “I’ll find you,” he whispered. “I’ll take this entire galaxy apart piece by piece if I have to – but I will find you. Just… survive until I can reach you. Just survive – that’s all I ask.”
He lay the robe down carefully in his lap, opened the journal, and started to read.
Kirk knew Spock better than anyone: he had come to understand, over the course of their shared duty together, their quiet talks, their many chess games, that there was much more to his first officer than others realized. Beneath the veneer of impassivity and cold logic there was a complex, multitalented and sensitive being. Kirk was not surprised, therefore, to find that Spock’s journal turned out to be as many-sided as its author.
Granted, much of it – the majority of it – contained notes about the Mimor project. Mathematical formulae, theories, and meticulously drawn diagrams filled page after page. Kirk quickly skimmed over these sections, searching instead for observations Spock might have made about life on Alniyat, among the scientists.
And the observations were there, scattered throughout the journal - and from them, Kirk quickly found out that Spock had had his hands full trying to keep order among his team members. Apparently, just about everyone selected for the project had egos at least as large as their brains, and as time wore on without a viable formula in sight, conflict seemed to erupt. Spock wrote:
I walked in on a verbal confrontation today between Whitbeck and Sihtek. Whitbeck alleges that Sihtek’s last calculations are in error, and that Mimor III therefore is safe enough to be tested. He is convinced that one of the team members should be selected as the subject for the experiment. When I entered the lab, he was imparting this opinion to Sihtek in an unnecessarily loud tone of voice. Sihtek heatedly defended the accuracy of his calculations, and appeared to be preparing to strike Whitbeck. I fear that it is unfortunate that Sihtek’s parents chose not to follow Surak’s path of logic: their son is a brilliant mathematician and scientist, but is unrestrained in his passions.
I was forced to intervene. When I checked Sihtek’s work myself, I found no errors, whereupon Whitbeck accused me of giving preferential treatment to Sihtek because he is a Vulcan. I am concerned about Whitbeck’s mental state. I fail to understand why he is so determined to announce that the project is a success, when all available data shows that it is not.
Kirk frowned. He was convinced that Whitbeck had been a Klingon plant from the start. The man obviously had somehow been relaying information to the kidnappers, and had also found a way to shut down the station’s elaborate defense system before the attack. Had Whitbeck pushed for testing the Mimor on a living being because he was feeling the pressure of a Klingon-imposed deadline of some kind? Had he actually convinced himself, out of sheer desperation, that Sihtek had bungled the calculations, and that the Mimor was in fact usable?
He shook his head. Whitbeck was dead, his frozen body floating somewhere in space, thanks to the very kidnappers with whom he’d allied himself. There would be a thorough Starfleet investigation, Kirk knew, after this whole nightmare was over. He’d leave it to the experts to figure out what Whitbeck had hoped to gain, or feared to lose. Right now, Kirk had more pressing business: to find Spock – alive – and to bring him home safely.
He continued to read, and found that Whitbeck’s outspoken accusations about Sihtek and Spock had begun to have an effect on the others on Alniyat. Spock made several references to “the humans” seeming to be uncomfortable when he joined them in the recreation area of the station; more and more, he began to write about working alone with Sihtek in the lab, long past the time the others had left to eat, or socialize, or sleep.
As Spock’s contact with Sihtek increased, so apparently did his admiration for the young Vulcan. He made numerous references to Sihtek’s unorthodox but ingenious approach to their research, and admitted several times that the young Vulcan had come up with ideas and solutions that never would have occurred to him. He seems to think in bursts of insight that appear to have little basis in logic, but which nearly always turn out to lead us in the correct direction, he noted at one point. He added ruefully, His parents doubtless did him a disservice by denying him access to the Vulcan mental disciplines: he would certainly have found more serenity by following Surak’s teachings. However, I must admit that his thinking is both freer and more creative than that of most Vulcans. He even appears to have an imagination. I cannot deny that at times this sort of thinking is to the benefit of the research. And it does make him a most interesting conversationalist, as well. I find myself grateful that he is a part of this team: this time away from the Enterprise would be even more difficult without him.
Kirk found that Spock shared his and McCoy’s apprehension about the possible political and economic ramifications of a successful Mimor formula; in fact, as the journal entries progressed, Spock more and more often referred to Mimor as a potentially dangerous substance. The Mimor formula as it exists now could cause death to the individual who attempts to use it, Spock wrote, toward the end of the journal. But the Mimor formula that might exist – if this project is successful – could do far more extensive damage. I must hope that the Federation will use it wisely and equitably… but I fear that may not be the case. If it is not, I shall always regret my part in the formula’s development. Indeed, I find that I am deeply troubled by that thought.
Kirk looked up from the journal and stared into space. This is what I talked him into, he thought to himself, full of bitter self-recrimination. I pushed him into leaving his home… his family, the people who love and appreciate him – to work on a project he didn’t believe in, amongst people who didn’t care about him, in a place that wasn’t safe for him. And for what? Recognition? Prestige? Another medal to store in his safe?
His hazel eyes darkened in anguish. Swallowing against his misery, he looked down at the book and read the final passage:
Sihtek came to me today and wished to share my bed. To my shame, I found that I was tempted: he is both intelligent and attractive. Moreover, there is a quality of enthusiasm, a certain liveliness, which while perhaps not appropriate in a Vulcan, nonetheless is appealing. Sihtek would be, I think, a most agreeable companion. However, there is something in the way he looks at me that makes me believe he would want more from me than just physical release. He would want to know me in the most essential way: he would want to bond with me. And of course, I could never allow that to happen, because if I did, Sihtek would learn of the void that is within me, and he would realize that he could never fill it. That knowledge would cause him great pain, I think – pain he does not deserve. It was therefore only logical that I tell him “no.”
Still, I was tempted. He is brilliant, passionate and fascinating. He reminds me very much of Jim.
Kirk closed his eyes and clutched the journal and Spock’s robe to his chest, overcome with pain. All those words I never said to you. All those times I had the chance, and never took it. And the emptiness inside you… if I had known. If I had only known, there is nothing I wouldn’t have done; nothing I wouldn’t have given you. Please let it not be too late.
Spock woke to the sensation of cold metal beneath his right cheek and a throbbing ache in his head. He stirred and opened his eyes, frowning slightly when he found nothing but a flat gray wall inches from his nose. He struggled to sit up and discovered that his legs were fastened to the floor by irons.
When he surveyed his surroundings, he saw Sihtek’s motionless form lying just a few feet away. Spock reached over and grasped the younger Vulcan’s shoulder and shook it gently. “Sihtek,” he called, in a whisper.
Groaning softly, Sihtek reluctantly came awake and looked about in confusion. “Spock.” Where are we?”
“I believe that we are in the hold of some type of vessel,” Spock informed him. “I am able to discern the sound of engines approximately 4.3 meters beneath us.”
Sihtek tilted his head. “Yeah, I hear it too.” He looked at Spock, his memory of what had happened on Alniyat returning to him. “We’ve been taken prisoner, I take it.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose slightly. “Our leg restraints do seem to indicate that.”
Sihtek looked down at his legs and rolled his eyes. “Oh, wonderful.” He grimaced at his companion. “I didn’t even realize - my head hurts so badly.” He scanned the cramped confines of the hold, and said speculatively, “I wonder if they got any of the others.”
Spock shook his head. “It is unlikely, at least not in the sense that you mean. At the time of the attack, the others would almost certainly have been in the dormitory area of the station, precisely where the hull was breached.”
Sihtek shuddered. “Dead, then. Sucked out into space.” He looked at Spock, his black eyes large with horror. “Suffocated and frozen. The most horrible end imaginable.”
Spock hesitated, and then said evenly, “Perhaps not.”
Sihtek studied him for a long moment. “You think something worse awaits us,” he said, tightly.
Spock’s face softened; he felt a rush of protectiveness toward Sihtek, who suddenly looked impossibly young and woefully vulnerable. “I do not wish to frighten you,” he said gently, “but it is my belief that our kidnappers will be intent on reclaiming the Mimor data that we destroyed. Since the other scientists are almost certainly dead, you and I are the only two people left who can provide them with it.”
“So they’ll do whatever it takes,” Sihtek said.
“I fear that is the case. It is unfortunate that you were taken with me. I know that regret is illogical, but still… I do regret it.”
Sihtek’s dark eyes suddenly flashed fire. He retorted vehemently, “Well, I don’t. You know how I feel about you. Did you honestly think I could ever just run and hide while they dragged you away?” He glared at Spock. “I could never do that – would never do that.” He bit his lip and looked at the floor. “I don’t care what happens. I can stand it - as long as I’m with you.”
Spock swallowed, oddly touched by Sihtek’s illogical outpouring of emotion, but also shaken by the sudden, fierce yearning the young Vulcan’s words engendered in him. You are so like him, he thought, his throat tightening. He struggled to squelch the thought as soon as it came upon him: it was vital that he maintain control. When he could speak calmly, he said to Sihtek, “I have a suggestion.”
Sihtek looked up at him inquiringly.
“If we are tortured, I shall be less vulnerable because I can employ mind control techniques to dull the pain.”
Sihtek raised his chin defiantly. “I might surprise you,” he said.
Spock shook his head. “I do not question your courage. But it is a physiological fact that your breaking point will come much sooner than mine. Although I do not know who has taken us, it is essential that people who are capable of such violence do not gain access to the formula or the means to make it.”
“But it never worked in the first place.”
“No. However, we were close. What we know about Mimor would provide them with enough of a blueprint so that they could, in a fairly short period of time, develop a workable formula. We cannot allow that to happen.”
“So what’s your suggestion?”
“I think that it would be advisable for me to meld with you and remove from your memory all that pertains to our research.”
Sihtek was aghast. “Remove? You mean… just… take it away from me?”
Spock took a deep breath and placed his hand on Sihtek’s arm. “I know the thought is painful. You have worked exceedingly hard on the project; indeed, your contribution has been vital. But you know as well as I how many different ways a successful formula could be abused.” He paused for a moment, and then asked, “Have you ever been tortured?”
Sihtek shook his head.
“I have been,” Spock said softly. “I ask you to trust me.”
For a brief time, Sihtek’s internal struggle was apparent: fear, anger, reluctance and indecision all flitted across his face in quick succession. But finally, he looked Spock directly in the eye and said simply, “I do trust you. Do whatever you have to do.”
Spock considered the young Vulcan for a moment solemnly, and then nodded. “Very well. Please clear your mind as much as possible.” He waited until Sihtek closed his eyes, and then touched the other man’s face lightly at the meld points. “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts…” he whispered the ancient words as he concentrated on allowing his mind to flow into Sihtek’s.
He went slowly, with the utmost care, for he knew that Sihtek was unaccustomed to this sort of link. He fully anticipated resistance on the young Vulcan’s part, even fear, as he pushed past the boundaries of Sihtek’s selfhood and into the central part of his being. Such resistance was normal and instinctive; Spock was ready to encounter it and to deal with it gently and patiently until it had diminished enough for him to gain entry into Sihtek’s memory and accomplish his purpose.
But as he hovered at the boundaries of Sihtek’s selfhood and then gradually pushed through, he was startled by the vision of a door flying open wide to reveal beyond the unsealed portal a shimmering, shifting pool of light and water and fire. Sihtek: undefended, fearless, fully exposed. Spock tried to move back, unwilling to delve so deeply into the other man’s self when much shallower contact would suffice. But Sihtek would have none of it: Spock could feel the Vulcan’s curiosity, and then acceptance and delight swirled all around him, bearing him up in a living current that carried him toward the door.
Spock! You’re inside of me! I can feel you… and see you! How beautiful you are!
Sihtek’s thoughts telegraphed excitedly across the link, telling Spock once and for all that his instincts about Sihtek had been correct: the young Vulcan not only desired him but was in love with him, and was fully prepared to give and take all. A tiny seed of panic began to grow inside of him; he was cognizant, too late, that Sihtek’s psi abilities were considerable in spite of his lack of training in the Vulcan disciplines. He felt a stronger, more enduring link start to form spontaneously; the current began to carry him with dizzying speed toward the portal. Hurriedly, he reached out to slow himself, cognizant that it was imperative that he accomplish his purpose quickly and then end the meld, before he was taken through the door and into a bond that could not be broken.
As soon as he thought this, sorrow was all around him; the current slowed and then stopped. Of course, Sihtek’s voice filled Spock’s brain, heavy with sadness. Forgive me. I’ll try to help. Just show me what to do.
With relief, Spock pulled back, away from the door, and touched instead Sihtek’s recent memories, sifting gently through them until he had found all those pertaining to the Mimor and extinguished them. Then he withdrew, gradually and carefully, until he once again was Spock, alone and individual.
As he returned to himself, he found dark eyes staring into his with a gaze nearly as penetrating as the meld itself. “That was unbelievable,” Sihtek breathed. “I think I could be joined to you like that forever.”
As he uttered the words, Spock felt resonating within himself awe, adoration, and a longing that was so intense and so bittersweet that it took his breath away. He shut his eyes, fighting an odd sense of disorientation that quickly turned to dismay as he realized what was happening.
The feelings that were whirling inside of him were not his: they were Sihtek’s.
Kirk leaned over Alvarez’s shoulder and tried to peer past her into the science station monitor. “Well?” he asked impatiently.
Alvarez shook her head. “The first planet is Type M, sir. Sensors indicate a wide variety of plant and animal life, but no apparent technological development.”
“What about the other one?” Alvarez bit her lip. “I’m unable to obtain much data about that planet, sir. There is a large amount of actinite just under the planet’s surface; it’s making reliable sensor readings impossible.” She looked up at Kirk. “The planet is almost identical in size to Earth,” she informed him. “Therefore, gravity should be about the same also. But a breathable atmosphere? Or intelligent life of any kind? I can’t tell that – not from the conflicting sensor readings I’ve been obtaining.”
Kirk said slowly, thinking out loud, “So which one do we search? The one that we know can sustain life? Or the one that we know nothing about?”
Alvarez hesitated, and then said, “The presence of actinite seems a bit… fortuitous, sir – at least from the point of view of kidnappers.”
Kirk’s lips quirked into a grim smile. “In other words, a planet that can’t be scanned by sensors makes the perfect hideout.” He turned from Alvarez to study the bridge’s main view screen; the two planets in question, lit by their shared suns, hung peacefully in space, though they fairly brushed the edge of the Neutral Zone. He scrutinized the one they had not been able to scan, noting the planet’s abundant white clouds and what looked like green continents underneath. It looked a lot like Earth, but Kirk knew from many years of hard experience that frequently the places that looked the most innocuous were in fact the most deadly. Without the use of the sensors, this place’s true nature would be hidden until – and unless – a landing party took a look at it firsthand. Which meant that any landing party could be in grave danger from the start, with or without the presence of the kidnappers.
Finally, he turned back to Alvarez and said softly, “If Mr. Spock were on the bridge, I would ask him for his best guess. What’s your best guess, Lieutenant?”
Alvarez smiled slightly. “If you’ll forgive the expression, sir, the one we can’t scan is the most logical choice.”
Kirk nodded. “Then that’s the one we head for.”
“Establishing reliable transporter coordinates will be difficult if not impossible, sir – we simply don’t know enough about the planet’s surface to determine a safe place for beam down.”
“We’ll have to use the shuttlecraft. Let’s face it – the best we can hope for under these circumstances is a visual, and the best way to do that is to fly low over the surface until we spot something that looks out of the way.” Kirk tried to keep the frustration from his voice; he was all too aware that a visual search could be a lengthy – and perhaps futile - process.
“What is it, Uhura?”
“Our communicators are very likely to be unusable, given the effects of the actinite.”
“I’m well aware of that, Lieutenant.” The words came out much more sharply than he intended, and he was instantly ashamed. “Sorry – I didn’t mean that. I’m… I’m just worried about Spock, and the other scientist.”
“Of course, sir.” Uhura’s smile was both gentle and understanding; Kirk felt a rush of gratitude toward her and the rest of the bridge crew, who had cheerfully worked for long, sleepless hours as they chased the kidnappers’ ion trail to this isolated and nondescript section of space.
Kirk took a precious second to smile back at her, and then addressed Mr. Scott, who was manning the engineering station. “Scotty.”
“You have the conn. I’ll lead the landing party. If we don’t return in…” he thought quickly, and then continued, “four hours, I want you to warp out of orbit and get a safe distance away. Then contact Starfleet command. Give them all the information we have, and follow their orders.”
“Scotty.” Kirk’s tone of voice broadcast clearly that he would brook no argument; his engineer reluctantly fell silent. “We’re on the border of the Neutral Zone, and the Klingons are due to arrive any moment now. When they come, they could bring one battle cruiser – or a fleet. I don’t want to risk the Enterprise in an all out battle if she’s outnumbered five to one. She’d win it of course – but at what cost?”
Scotty glowered, but his love for the Enterprise won out, as it always did. “Aye, Captain – I see your point. Verra well, then – four hours. And good luck, sir.”
Spock leaned against a corner of the cell and tried to tighten his mental control against the waves of anguish that were sweeping over him.
He had barely endured his own torture by using every mind rule he knew against the pain that had been inflicted by the slim silver torture wand wielded by the Admiress. “Created by the Tyrennians,” she had told him before the torment began. She had held the shiny shaft up in her small pale hand and added, “A people who know the value of pain.” And then she had proceeded to touch him with it, repeatedly, on his face, and on his arms and on his chest… and waited, with icy impassivity, for the anguish to fill him. And it had filled him – filled him with raging, excruciating fire – each time the device had touched him. He had been forced to throw up every shield, to pull back within himself until he nearly could not find his way back again, in order to bear it without breaking, without sobbing out to the Admiress an answer to every question she had asked.
And now it was Sihtek’s turn.
Spock shuddered as another fierce blaze of pain burned through him, and tried to block the sound, deep inside his head, of Sihtek’s desperate voice screaming his name. He had endured his own torture without breaking. But he was finding it to be impossible, thanks to the link between them, to block out what was happening to Sihtek at this very moment. He shut his eyes, remembering how the humanoids had thrown him back into the cell, angry because they had learned nothing from him, and had then turned their attention to Sihtek. He had felt the young Vulcan’s terror as Ifftahn had told him, “Your turn now, Small One. Perhaps the Admiress will smile upon me and allow me to question you myself. I would enjoy that very much, I think.”
In spite of his fear, Sihtek had raised his chin defiantly, his black eyes blazing with fury. “Fuck you, you bastard. And fuck the Admiress, too.”
Ifftahn had thrown his head back and roared with delighted laughter. “He’s a little ragharra tiger,” he told the others. “Sharp claws and a sharp tongue.” As the others guffawed, the huge humanoid had eyed Sihtek appraisingly. “I see we will have to handle you with care. We wouldn’t want to get scratched, after all.” And they had dragged the young man away, ignoring his futile struggles, and still laughing.
Spock frowned as he became aware that Sihtek’s mental cries had fallen silent. He reached out through their link and discovered, with a mingling of relief and concern, that the young Vulcan had passed out. Spock did not call to him: it was preferable that Sihtek remain unconscious as long as possible, he decided. As long as he was not awake, he would not suffer. Silently, Spock waited.
After what seemed like days, Ifftahn appeared with the apparently lifeless figure of Sihtek in his bulky arms. Deactivating the force field with a push of a button at his belt, he dropped the unconscious Vulcan roughly onto the floor of the cell; Spock heard the young man’s head thump against the hard surface and cringed slightly, but did not dare to try to assist. The huge humanoid stood impassively for a minute, ignoring Spock, but eying Sihtek’s still form speculatively. At last he stepped back, silently reactivated the field, turned on his heel and left.
As soon as he was gone, Spock lunged forward and knelt on the floor beside the Vulcan. “Sihtek.” He frowned as he regarded the extreme paleness of the man’s face; carefully, he drew the young scientist up until Sihtek’s head lay in his lap; with infinite gentleness, he ran his slender fingers over the young man’s temples, wincing as he felt the residue of agony, the aftermath of the kidnappers’ brutal torture.
Sihtek’s dark eyes opened and stared upwards vacantly for a long time. His lean frame convulsed with shudders; his fists clenched and unclenched spasmodically as tears of pain dampened his long eyelashes. “Spock.” He drew a long, quavering breath and finally said, “I’m glad. I’m glad you took what you did from me, or…” He shut his eyes in shame, “Or I would have told them everything I knew. Forgive me. Please forgive me.”
Spock leaned forward, his brow creased with a nameless emotion that might have been pity, or something darker. “There is nothing to forgive.”
“I cried – do you know I actually cried?”
“I know. I heard you in my mind.”
“I screamed. I couldn’t help it. I screamed – and I begged them. But they didn’t stop. Not until they were sure. And when they were sure – when they realized I really didn’t know anything – then they finally, finally quit. But not before they’d made me beg some more, just for the pleasure of hearing me do it.” Sihtek looked up at Spock and said bitterly, “Tell me: What’s all this for?”
Spock was taken aback by the question. “For?” he repeated.
“We’re not going to get out of here, are we?”
Spock was silent. For once, he was not inclined to calculate the odds of their making a successful escape, for Sihtek was correct: the chances were very slim indeed. Instead, he told him, “We may yet find a way. Our captors may become overconfident and make an error. If they do, you and I may, with skill and some luck, overcome them.” He paused when Sihtek’s mouth twisted into a cynical smile; without thinking, he continued to caress the young man’s temples – to soothe which of them, he did not know. “If not…” he continued, and fell silent again.
“If not?” Sihtek queried, when Spock did not continue.
“Captain Kirk will find us.”
Sihtek shut his eyes. His expression was utterly devoid of hope. “It’s an awfully big galaxy. Just how do you think he’s going to know where we are?”
“He will look for us until he finds us. He will not cease.”
Sihtek’s voice was wistful. “He loves you.”
Through their half-formed bond, Spock felt the bitterness of the young man’s sadness and jealousy at the same time that Sihtek’s words made his own heart soar with hope. He quickly quelled the illogical response, and replied emotionlessly, “He will consider it his duty to search for us. He would do the same for any crew member.”
With a lurch, Sihtek struggled to a sitting position. Swaying slightly from pain and dizziness, he nonetheless met Spock’s gaze levelly. “But you love him. I saw that – when we melded. I still see it in your eyes, right now. I- I even feel it in my own heart.”
Instinctively, Spock looked away, unwilling to let his face betray him any further.
Sihtek smiled a smile full of regret. “If you love him, and he doesn’t love you back, then he’s a fool. Is your captain a fool?”
“No. But he…”
Sihtek leaned forward and clutched Spock’s arm. “I will tell you this,” he said vehemently. “If you were mine and someone took you from me, I would rip this galaxy apart, planet by planet and stone by stone, until I found you again. Is that the way he’s going to look for you?”
“Yes.” To his own surprise, Spock realized he knew the truth of this with utter certainty: that was exactly the way that Jim would look for him, when he learned that Spock had been taken.
Sihtek looked down at his hand, which still lay upon Spock’s arm, contemplating it silently until finally he nodded. Reluctantly, he drew his hand away and said to Spock, “I should be noble, shouldn’t I? I should love you so much that all I want is your happiness, no matter who you find it with.” He looked away and said harshly, “But I’m not noble. It hurts. It hurts that he loves you – and it hurts worse… so much worse – that you love him.”
“I am…” Spock began, but stopped when he heard a noise in the corridor, outside the force field. He and Sihtek rose to their feet, ready to brace themselves against whatever fresh torment might arise.
It was the Admiress, flanked by two of her guards. Slowly and deliberately, she walked up to the force field and peered contemptuously at the two captives. “You think you told me nothing,” she said calmly, in her dry, whispery voice. “But in fact, I learned a great deal.” She turned her attention to Sihtek, who managed to meet her gaze with apparent boldness. “It seems that you do not have the information I require. You therefore have no value as an informant.”
Spock felt black terror grow cancer-like inside his belly – his own fear or Sihtek’s, he could not discern. Nevertheless, his voice was calm. “It is logical, then, to release him,” he told the woman.
The Admiress smiled thinly. “I fear that you do not understand the situation, Spock. I have made a promise to the Klingons. If I am unable to keep that promise, I will not only lose valuable allies and protectors… I will lose my life. I am, to put it quite bluntly, desperate. Logic means very little to the desperate – I’m sure even a Vulcan like you can comprehend that.” She considered Sihtek again, and continued, “I say you have no value as an informant. I do not say, however, that you have no worth at all. I believe you may well be priceless, in fact… in another capacity.” She paused. “Your friend, I am convinced, has all of the information I need. Unfortunately, he has chosen to use his most impressive control techniques to withhold it from me.”
She clasped her thin arms behind her back and began to pace in front of the entrance to the cell. “Everyone, even a Vulcan, has a price he is unwilling to pay. I have only to find it – a simple enough task.”
She faced Spock, looked up at him, and said with cold self-possession, “Ifftahn has served me very well over the years; he is, in truth, my most valuable soldier. He obeys me without question, guards me well, and faithfully does my bidding. Occasionally, I reward him.” She cocked her head. “He has become quite intrigued – indeed, I would even say ‘fascinated’ - by your friend Sihtek. He has asked me for a special favor, in fact… and I have decided to grant it. You need not waste your time trying to guess what he has requested, because you will soon see. In fact,” her mouth twisted in a parody of a smile, “you will watch it all, unless you decide to tell me what I need to know.”
Kirk piloted the shuttlecraft Galileo himself, scanning the surface of the planet with keen eyes, searching for anything that might indicate the kidnappers had landed on the surface. Determinedly, he did not think about the magnitude of his task, but dwelled instead on the factors in his favor: a surface covered with lush green grass but no dense, concealing forests. A largely flat landscape, devoid of jutting mountains and plummeting gorges. A binary star system that ensured plenty of daylight everywhere on the planet. Maybe enough to tip the balance in our favor, he thought …actinite or not. If we’re lucky. If we search the right place first, not last.
Beside him sat Dr. Leonard McCoy, who glowered and fidgeted with all of the nervous energy of a caged Ainian Carnibird. For the time being, Kirk screened him out as well. He knew the doctor hated the shuttlecraft almost as much as he despised the transporter. He also knew that McCoy was just as dedicated to finding Spock as Kirk was himself, and that virtually nothing would have kept the doctor from being a part of the landing crew. That knowledge comforted Kirk as much as anything at the moment; more even than the presence of Security Officers Weaver and Doyle, who made up the rest of the party.
“Just two others?” McCoy had queried, under his breath, to Kirk before they’d launched the shuttle.
“The fewer people, the greater the chance of maintaining the element of surprise,” Jim had told him. “Right now, they shouldn’t have any idea we’ve been able to track them. And while the actinite keeps us from using our sensors on them, it’ll also make them blind as well. It may give us the chance to sneak into wherever they’re hiding and overwhelm them before they even know what’s happening.”
Bones had rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sounds nice and simple,” he had retorted. “Perfectly safe, too.”
McCoy squirmed in his seat for the twentieth time and said to Kirk, “So exactly who or what are we looking for, anyway?”
Kirk did not look away from the view screen. “Subrans.”
“Alvarez identified them as Subrans. They’re a warlike species of humanoids that hail from the Haedii III system. What they lack in redeeming features, they more than make up for in utter viciousness.” Kirk said this last grimly; he’d been far from reassured about Spock’s fate once Alvarez had briefed him about the type of beings they were dealing with.
“That’s a shock,” McCoy muttered. “They seemed like such nice people on the tape. Especially the female.”
“The Admiress. Yeah, from what Alvarez said, she’s about the worst of the worst. She’s got a rap sheet about a thousand parsecs long, everything from extortion to shipjacking, to…” he swallowed, remembering what Alvarez had told him. “To mass murder,” he finished quietly. His hands tightened on the controls of the helm as he fought against the sickening knot of fear that tightened in his stomach for the hundredth time that day.
“The Hysselites on Kitalpha IX.”
“My god,” McCoy breathed, appalled. “That was an entire civilization, wiped out in a matter of hours – some kind of a deliberately planted plague, wasn’t it? They think she had something to do with that?”
“They know she did. She was convicted of it in absentia – by the time anyone knew what was happening, she’d crossed over into Klingon territory, where she was granted sanctuary. She’s apparently been working for them ever since.”
“Birds of a feather…” began McCoy, but stopped when he saw Kirk lean forward. “What is it?”
“That’s just what I’m asking myself,” Kirk said, pointing toward the view screen. What’s that look like to you?”
McCoy leaned forward, his eyes narrowing as he studied the screen. “Definitely not a natural feature of the landscape.” As the image grew larger, he said, “A craft. It’s got to be.”
Kirk nodded. “I think so, too. Let’s take a closer look.”
Carefully, he piloted the shuttle in toward the object, until they were almost directly overhead. “The Orakkian Fightercraft,” he stated. “They’re here, then – and my guess is they’re not far away.” He scanned for signs of a structure, pursing his lips as he found instead a rounded hummock on the flat ground, near the alien ship.
“And my guess is they’re not going to be rolling out the red carpet for us,” McCoy retorted nervously. “Do we really have to just hover here like this? I don’t just feel like a sitting duck – I feel like a sitting duck with a target on its back.”
“Relax, Bones,” Kirk said, nevertheless flying the shuttlecraft some distance away. “The actinite works both ways. Did you see that little hill near their ship?”
“I think they’re in there – underground. Unless they’ve got some totally unheard of technology, they won’t be able to use their sensors to spot us any more than we can sense them.” He frowned. “On the other hand, if they happen to come up to the surface, they’ll be able to see our shuttle, unless I can find some place to land it where it’ll be hidden.”
Kirk quickly found that the relatively level surface of the ground below them was much more conducive to search than to concealment. After scanning the area for several minutes, he finally announced, “Well, it looks like this is the best we’re going to be able to find. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but better than nothing.” He slowed the shuttle, aiming for a small depression he’d found in the midst of a veldt.
“That doesn’t look deep enough to hide us very well,” McCoy pointed out, dubiously.
“It’s not,” Kirk acknowledged. “But we’re far enough away so that they’ll have to look pretty hard to spot us in the first place. And this will at least lower the profile of the shuttle so it’s not sticking up quite so noticeably.”
He lowered the shuttle carefully into the depression, and then checked the panel in front of him. “It looks like we’re in luck – the atmosphere’s breathable.”
“That’s good,” chimed in Doyle. “We won’t have to be bogged down by the envirosuits.”
“Exactly,” Kirk said. “All right, everybody – let’s get out of here. We’ve got a little bit of a walk ahead of us to get back to the Fightercraft. Set your phasers on stun… and be ready for anything.”
Spock fought with all of the desperate strength of one who had nothing to lose, though he knew it was illogical, and though he knew he was doomed to failure from the start. He fought for himself, certainly, because he could not accept his own helplessness against the rough hands and the brute force of his captors. But he fought mostly for Sihtek, because he thought he knew what was about to happen to his friend, and it both sickened and panicked him.
Behind him, he could hear Sihtek struggling with equal desperation; he felt the young man’s rage escalate with every step they took down the corridor of the kidnapper’s hideout. He heard one of the humanoids – Ifftahn? – laugh and then whisper something, and heard Sihtek gasp out a curse in response. He intensified his own resistance, but found himself dragged steadily down the hallway; he finally was picked up bodily and carried into a nearly empty room, where he was flung into a waiting chair and quickly immobilized with restraints.
Breathing hard and straining against his bonds, Spock watched as Ifftahn and three of the others dragged a kicking and flailing Sihtek into the center of the room. Ifftahn effortlessly drew Sihtek against his massive body and held him motionless. Without taking his eyes from his captive’s face, he inquired, “Your orders, Admiress?”
Spock felt a cold hand fall upon his shoulder and barely restrained a shudder at the unwelcome contact. “This is so very unnecessary, Spock,” a dry voice whispered in his ear. “Unnecessary, wasteful… and easily prevented. All you have to do is tell me how to duplicate the Mimor formula, and I will show him mercy.”
Spock looked into eyes that were as completely devoid of mercy as any he had ever encountered. Nonetheless, he entreated her urgently. “Do not allow your men to do this, Admiress. He is innocent – he has no part in this.”
“But I fear that he does,” the Admiress told him, with fake regret. “In fact, he is crucial. I ask you again, Spock: Tell me how to duplicate the Mimor formula.”
“I am begging you,” Spock said harshly. “Let him go. All of this is for nothing – the Mimor project was unsuccessful. I have no formula to give you.”
The Admiress’s face grew hard with icy rage. “You are lying. Whitbeck told me you had the key.”
“It was Whitbeck who lied,” Spock said earnestly. “I am telling you the truth – Mimor does not work.”
The Admiress’s thin mouth compressed even further; her jet eyes glittered with angry malice. “Very well,” she told Spock. “It appears you have made your choice.” She looked up at Ifftahn, who awaited her word impatiently. “My orders?” She shrugged with elaborate unconcern. “Your pleasure.” She stepped closer to Spock, her hand still resting upon his shoulder. He felt her fingers bite into his skin in anticipation and could not restrain a shiver, this time, as he realized the Admiress was taking cold pleasure from what was about to happen.
Ifftahn grinned. “Thank you, Admiress. I assure you – it will be my pleasure.” He looked at his comrades. “Make him kneel,” he instructed, and shoved Sihtek into their waiting hands.
The humanoids obediently shoved Sihtek onto the floor, whereupon Ifftahn grabbed the Vulcan by his dark silky hair and pulled his head savagely toward him until Sihtek’s face was even with the Subran’s bulging crotch. Ifftahn grinned lasciviously and shoved his hips forward, cramming his hard erection against Sihtek’s mouth. “Would you like a taste?” he asked, laughing, as Sihtek fought unsuccessfully to draw his head away. “But first things first, Small One. I have waited long for you – and I intend to have you pleasure me in quite another way right now.” With surprising speed, he dropped to the floor in front of Sihtek and claimed the Vulcan’s lips in a brutal kiss. When he drew away, he told Sihtek, “Ask me for mercy, Small One, and do the things I tell you to do – and I shall go slowly when I take you.”
Sihtek’s eyes narrowed with hatred. “I ask you for nothing,” he spat defiantly. “And you will have nothing from me, ever - least of all my obedience.”
Ifftahn glowered, suddenly furious. “As you wish,” he grated, and said to the others, “Strip him.”
Spock barely recognized his own voice it was so strained. “Please, Admiress – let him go. I was the leader of the team – the responsibility is mine. He is guiltless, he knows nothing of the Mimor – there is nothing he can offer you. Let him go.”
The Admiress regarded him with an amused expression. “The responsibility is yours?” she mocked. “Do you then offer yourself in your friend’s place?”
Spock barely hesitated. “Yes,” he whispered. “Spare him.”
The Admiress tilted her head. “You Vulcans are so pathetically selfless,” she noted. “But I must decline your generous offer… for now at least. I cannot risk having you damaged. And it doesn’t appear that Ifftahn would take kindly to a substitution at this late date, anyway.” She turned her attention back to the center of the room; involuntarily, Spock followed her gaze, and then quickly averted his eyes, sickened.
Sihtek was naked; face down on the floor, with his arms restrained by two of the Subrans. Ifftahn knelt between the young Vulcan’s splayed legs. He had unfastened the front of his shiny black uniform, allowing his oily, stiff organ to spring free.
Spock felt cold fingers at his temples, forcing his head around to face the center of the room. “The whole idea is for you to watch, Spock,” a dry whispery voice reminded him. “That’s why I’ve gone to all this trouble in the first place.”
Reluctantly, he opened his eyes, and instantly felt his gorge rise at the sight before him. There had been precious few times in Spock’s life when he had been unable to think, unable to employ his super efficient brain to find a brilliant, miraculous solution. But now he found that he was utterly paralyzed. He searched his mind desperately for any action he could take, only to realize with sick certainty that there was simply nothing he could do that would stop this unthinkable thing from occurring.
Ifftahn grasped Sihtek’s hips and drew the struggling Vulcan toward him.
“I don’t care what happens. I can stand it - as long as I’m with you.” Sihtek’s words came back suddenly to Spock, making him realize, in a flash of insight, that there was in fact one small thing he could yet do to help Sihtek. Spock swallowed, and with compassion in his eyes and in his heart, flung open wide the link between him and Sihtek.
I am with you, he projected to his friend, at the same moment that Ifftahn savagely thrust himself into Sihtek’s unprepared entrance.
Sihtek gasped, and for a moment Spock swayed dizzily as he experienced, through the link, the brutality of the Subran’s assault. He could feel the punishing cock within himself, felt Ifftahn’s cruel hands on his own hips and hot, ragged breath upon his own neck. He heard in his own ear Ifftahn’s boast, “You are mine now, Small One. You exist for my pleasure alone.” The Subran’s rigid sex withdrew, only to ram back into Sihtek with a force that left Spock reeling. But Sihtek’s angry defiance was unshaken: he told Ifftahn, through clenched teeth, “No one owns me. I give you no part of me.” The words of the other Vulcan echoed loudly in Spock’s mind, causing his throat to tighten with some complex, unnamed compound of emotions – admiration and grief, combined with sickening fear.
I am with you, he told Sihtek again, silently and urgently. I will not leave you. Survive this. Don’t taunt him, or he’ll kill you.
Sihtek’s response was a jumble of gratitude, love, trust and fury, a flood of overwhelming passion that swept through Spock, leaving him bewildered and disoriented in its wake.
“By Okraharr, you are tight,” panted Ifftahn, as he thrust again into the young Vulcan’s snug passageway, his voice thickening with his looming orgasm. His thick, bruising fingers bit into Sihtek’s flesh as his movements became more frantic and less controlled; Spock felt the Subran’s bulky organ swell even more and then jerk spasmodically within its taut sheath. With a grunt of pleasure, Ifftahn came, spending his thick seed deep within Sihtek.
Black poison filled the heart of Sihtek as he lay beneath the Subran’s heaving body. His eyes filled with tears of sheer hatred, tears that dimmed Spock’s vision as well. Spock shut his eyes tightly to keep them from falling, but he could not keep Ifftahn’s voice from falling inside his brain: “Release him. I want him to look at me.”
The other Subrans let go of Sihtek’s arms, and Ifftahn took the young Vulcan by the shoulders and effortlessly flipped him over. Sihtek was forced to look up into the smiling face of his tormentor. “Most pleasurable,” Ifftahn told him, kneeling by the Vulcan’s side and still breathing hard from his effort.
For once, Sihtek’s expressive face was stony. Slowly, he lowered his gaze from the Subran’s face to his broad torso, his dark eyes pausing when he beheld a glint of metal from beneath Ifftahn’s chest sash.
Spock stiffened as he realized what Sihtek was thinking. No, he told Sihtek.
“I never had a Vulcan before,” Ifftahn continued, “but I believe I have just acquired a taste. I wonder if your friend over there would feel as good.” He glanced meaningfully over at Spock, and grinned wolfishly.
Protectiveness, love and dark wrath boiled out of Sihtek as he lunged for Ifftahn’s sash. “You’ll never touch him,” he snarled at the startled Subran, drawing his hand back in the same quick instant.
Spock saw a flash of metal. “No!” he yelled, just as Sihtek plunged the blade of the commandeered dagger hard into its owner’s chest.
There was a mighty roar. Maddened by pain and rage, the massive Subran grabbed Sihtek by the neck and wrenched with all of his strength.
Spock heard the sickening snap of bone, but he never saw Sihtek sag lifelessly to the floor or Ifftahn’s anguished death throes. A sharp stab of agony at the severing of the link left Spock slumped senseless in his chair, blind to the widening puddle of amber blood on the floor and deaf to the angry screams of the Admiress.
The entrance to the passageway was both crude and potentially treacherous: a simple opening in the hilled-up earth, beyond which nothing was visible. Little more than a meter in height, it would force anyone who entered it into a defenseless crouch.
Kirk frowned. “Not exactly what I would have chosen,” he said to no one in particular.
“No kidding,” McCoy replied, eying the aperture with trepidation.
Kirk shrugged. “Well, we didn’t come all this way just to stand here and stare at the ground.” He looked at the group. “Have your phasers at the ready at all times. If in doubt, fire first and ask questions later.” He stepped toward the entrance.
“What is it, Weaver?”
“I believe standard procedure is for Security to enter first and last.”
Kirk studied the security officer. Weaver was a diminutive woman with the slender arms and legs of a ballet dancer. But Kirk always made it his business to know his crew: he remembered that Weaver was a quarter Nekkarian, a genetic legacy that bestowed upon those fragile-looking limbs both iron strength and breathtaking speed. Those qualities, Kirk recalled, had taken everyone by surprise last month at the impromptu martial arts contest Deck 3 had organized in an attempt to beat the boredom of routine patrol. Weaver had bested everyone but Ensign Phaef, a Sargasian who was more than triple her size.
Kirk had thought of that contest when he had chosen Weaver for this mission: he had the utmost faith in her very considerable abilities. Nonetheless, he answered her reluctantly; he always hated the idea of a crewmember taking a risk in his place, even if it was her job to do so. “All right, Weaver – I see you’ve been boning up on the regs in your spare time. Go ahead. Doyle, you take up the rear.”
Weaver nodded. “Thank you, sir.” Ducking, she entered the murky opening, with her three companions in tow.
Kirk reached out his hand instinctively as he entered the near total darkness, finding cool stone at his fingertips. His other hand tightened instinctively on his phaser; it made his skin crawl to be so blind and so vulnerable. He heard Weaver’s careful steps ahead of him; vaguely, he wondered if Nekkarians had superior night vision.
As if reading his mind, Weaver whispered, “I see some light not far ahead, sir. Be careful, the floor slants down here.”
Cautiously and as quietly as possible, they worked their way toward where Weaver had spotted the light source, coming finally to a place where the narrow corridor widened into a circular area. Overhead, light beamed down upon them with unpleasant brilliance: Kirk squinted against its onslaught, attempting to make out the details of their surroundings. A few meters in front of them lay a door - not a simple dirt opening this time, but a formidable-looking piece of engineering with a complicated code panel. How the hell are we going to open it? Kirk thought to himself, scanning the perimeter of the area warily. He could not make out anything beyond the circle of intense light… and he didn’t like it. The hairs rose on the back of his neck.
“Anyone think to bring a skeleton key?” McCoy asked uneasily.
Doyle cleared his throat. “Er, I might be able to do something with it, sir.”
Kirk’s eyebrows rose. “Really. You… know how to pick locks, Lieutenant?”
Doyle flushed slightly. “Kind of, sir. I mean… it’s sort of a hobby.”
Kirk smiled. “I see. Well, if you took it up because you thought it might come in handy someday - I’d say this is the day. Go to it.” He stepped aside to allow Doyle access to the code pad.
“If you wish to enter, you have only to ask.”
All four of them spun around at the sound of the harsh voice, which came from outside the circle of light. Weaver raised her phaser first; a piercing blue beam lashed out from the darkness with lethal accuracy. The tiny security officer was vaporized instantly.
“Do not move,” the voice instructed, but Doyle was already firing toward the source of the ray. He, too, dissolved in a dazzling cloud of cobalt.
Kirk’s phaser was on the way up, but he froze: the second ray had come from a different direction. More than one of them, and we’ll never hit them in the darkness, he thought, and put his hand out to quell McCoy’s counterattack.
“Drop your weapons,” the voice instructed.
Grudgingly, Kirk allowed his phaser to fall to the floor. Beside him, McCoy followed suit.
A huge Subran strode forward, his weapon leveled. He pointed at McCoy’s tricorder and medikit. “Those, too,” he ordered.
McCoy glared, but detached the items and dropped them to the floor.
“Back up,” the Subran commanded.
Kirk and McCoy took a couple of paces backward, and watched as the humanoid scooped up the castoff equipment. Two more Subrans emerged from the shadows, weapons leveled at the men. The first alien went over to the door and quickly punched several of the keys on the control panel. The portal slid open soundlessly in response, revealing a corridor of shiny white walls that was a stark, polished contrast to the rudimentary earthen opening that had led them there. The Subran gestured with his head. “Inside,” he said.
Slowly, Kirk obeyed. McCoy followed him. Their guards trailed behind, their heavy boot steps a wordless threat.
“Right,” the Subran instructed after they had walked several meters into the interior. Kirk and McCoy complied.
“A man of few words,” McCoy murmured.
“Quiet,” Kirk instructed.
“Right,” the Subran ordered again. The two men veered again to the right.
“Where are…” Kirk began, but stopped mid-sentence when he spotted, at the end of the corridor, the telltale distortion of a force field. He felt a weapon prodding at his back and took the hint, moving toward the wavering screen and trying to peer past it as he neared it. Beyond its fuzziness, he could just make out something on the floor of the cell.
Horror and hope rose within him at the same instant. “Spock!”
The Subran who had been giving the orders pressed a control on his belt, dissolving the field. “Get in,” he told Kirk and McCoy, and watched impassively as the two men obeyed. As soon as they stepped in, he reactivated the field.
Kirk and McCoy barely noticed; they both raced over to the curled up form on the floor, dropping to their knees as they saw that it was indeed their Vulcan friend.
Spock was in a fetal position, his arms clasped tightly around his knees and his eyes clamped shut. For a terrifying moment, Kirk was certain he was dead. “Spock! Spock!” He looked over at the doctor. “Bones…?”
McCoy frowned. “He’s alive, but his pulse is very slow, at least for him. He seems to be in some kind of shock. I don’t…” He stopped when Spock gave a low moan.
Kirk leaned forward and laid his hand on Spock’s head. “Spock,” he said gently. “We’re here. We’re here. Wake up – talk to me.”
“No,” Spock whispered. His face contorted.
“It’s all right,” Kirk told him. “We’re here now. It’s all right.”
Spock’s eyes opened. “No. Not you… I can’t….” He shook his head from side to side, obviously in great distress.
Kirk opened his mouth to reply, but McCoy cut in. “Where’s Sihtek?” he asked, his keen eyes studying the Vulcan’s face.
Spock’s expression became totally blank. “Dead,” he said, flatly. He shut his eyes again and turned his face away.
McCoy had not let go of Spock’s wrist. He looked up at Jim. “His pulse is a little stronger now. I think he’s gonna be all right, but I’d feel better if I knew what caused this. I don’t see any sign of physical injury, so I’m guessing it was some other kind of trauma. Damn their black shiny hides for taking my medikit,” he muttered, as an afterthought.
“Psychological trauma?” Kirk asked. Sheer rage started to boil up inside of him.
“We were linked…” Spock whispered, “when he was killed.”
“Linked?” Kirk asked. “You mean… you bonded with Sihtek?” He fought hard to keep his tone neutral: every element of his body and mind protested against the thought that Spock might have joined himself to another.
Spock shook his head. Gathering his strength, he finally struggled to a sitting position, with McCoy’s solicitous assistance.
“Not… a bond, exactly. A link. I melded with him, and it formed… spontaneously. When I ended the meld, the link remained. I was not able to break it – not until he died.”
McCoy frowned in concern. “A link but not a bond. How long were you linked? How deep was the connection between the two of you?”
Spock shook his head. “Do not fear, Doctor. It was relatively superficial. I do not, in fact, believe Sihtek was even aware of it, until the very last. My life is not in danger… not from that, at least.” He said the last with uncharacteristic bitterness, and added softly, looking at Kirk. “You should not have come.”
Kirk locked eyes with him. “I had to,” he said simply.
Spock’s gaze faltered first. “I could have endured this,” he said, very quietly, “if you were safe.”
“We are all going to get out of here alive,” Kirk said, his voice ringing with determination. “I have two of the best minds in Starfleet here with me right now – we’ll think of a way.”
Spock did not look up; his voice was hollow with despair when he spoke. “You do not understand. You have not seen…”
The sound of footsteps approaching from outside the force field interrupted him.
The slightly blurry forms of the Admiress and two of her guards appeared at the perimeter of the force field. “Ubrhan.”
Instantly, the force field dissipated. The Admiress regarded her prisoners silently for a moment as Ubrhan and his counterpart stood watch, weapons trained.
Kirk stood up, every muscle in his body hard with tension. Behind him, he heard Spock and McCoy rise also; he sensed them flanking him protectively.
“You must be Captain Kirk. How very considerate of you,” the Admiress told him calmly, “to appear just as my hostage supply was running dangerously low.”
“Unless you want to take on all of Starfleet, you had best release us immediately,” Kirk said, his eyes narrowing in fury. “My ship is orbiting this planet right now – they’ve already contacted the authorities.”
“Really?” the Admiress said skeptically, her black eyes widening slightly. “You must have a very unusual communication system if you are able to circumvent the effects of actinite.”
Kirk opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off. “It doesn’t matter - I have no intention of remaining in the neighborhood. I am going to get the Mimor formula, turn it over to the Klingons, and return to their territory with them. Starfleet can, in short, go and schzetch themselves.” She took a step closer to Kirk. “Of course, your friend here has made this whole process most distressingly difficult. He has even tried to claim that he has no formula to give me… that the Mimor does not work.”
“That’s true,” Kirk said slowly. “Spock and Sihtek were discussing it, on Alniyat’s security tape.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Spock give him a sharp look.
The Admiress tilted her head. “Indeed? If that is the case, it will be highly unfortunate for all of us, most especially the three of you. You will forgive me however, if I do not believe you – at least not until I have proof.” She held her hand up, displaying for the first time a spray hypo. “This contains what I think is the last version of the Mimor. I have saved half of what we found; given time, which unfortunately I do not have, I could analyze it and possibly duplicate the formula without Spock’s assistance. But of course, if the Mimor is ineffective, it would not be worth the effort. I have decided to use half of it to help me determine my next step.”
Kirk felt Spock tense beside him.
“I think you will be a most suitable test subject,” the Admiress told the captain.
“I’d love to help you out,” Kirk told her, with exaggerated pleasantness, “but I must decline.”
“I am not in the habit,” the Admiress said, her black eyes glittering with contempt, “of giving choices. You will assist me.” She glanced back at her guards. “See to it.”
Spock made a movement toward the Subran closest to him, but the Admiress coolly drew her own weapon from her belt and pointed it at McCoy. “This man,” she said, “is superfluous.” She looked at Spock, who froze in his tracks. “You will both step back from Captain Kirk. Get up against the wall.”
“Do it,” Kirk told them, eying the Admiress’s weapon.
“Now, Spock – that’s an order. You too, Bones.”
The Admiress waited until the two officers complied. “A wise decision,” she told Kirk, as she adjusted the spray hypo. She stepped up to him and with no further ado, pressed the hypo against his upper arm and drove down the plunger. Spock and McCoy’s eyes locked as they heard the hiss; Spock looked away first, his face reflecting more misery than Bones could ever recall seeing upon the Vulcan’s features.
Kirk shrugged. “It doesn’t look like your experiment’s going to get you anywhere,” he told the Admiress. “I don’t feel a thing.”
She was unmoved. “Whitbeck said the effects would most likely not be immediate.” She reattached her weapon to her belt. “I must go and make preparations for our departure from this place. I’ll have my men check on you frequently.” She paused, and then glanced at Spock. “I’m not sure what your captain’s life means to you, Spock – but I will give you a little time to contemplate that question. The next time you refuse to tell me what I ask, his life will most certainly be forfeit – and in a way that will make you understand that Sihtek was treated with mercy after all.”
She turned and left with her two guards in tow. With a low hum, the force field spread across the entrance of the cell, obscuring the Subrans in a green toxic veil.
It took Kirk all of ten minutes to understand that Spock and Sihtek’s dire predictions about the effects of Mimor VI were dead on. It began with a rush of warmth deep within his skull, a not unpleasant sensation that was quickly followed by vertigo so extreme that he needed to lean against the wall of the cell in order to remain upright.
Strong Vulcan hands grasped his arms instantly; he found himself being eased gently to the floor. He did not try to resist: his limbs would not have cooperated anyway.
McCoy was at his side in an instant. “Jim! What is it?”
“I… I don’t… I’m not…” Kirk fell silent, unable to put his words or his thoughts together into any kind of coherency. The very floor beneath him seemed to shift and scatter, leaving him feeling as though he were falling and flying at the same time. He shut his eyes and tried to concentrate enough to inform McCoy of this, but his half-formed idea slipped away as inexorably as sand gripped too tightly in the fist.
From parsecs distant, he heard McCoy’s voice, demanding, questioning, accusatory, and the deep, inflectionless rumble of Spock’s reply. He tried to open his mouth to tell Bones that this was not Spock’s fault, and to reassure them both that he would be all right.
The memories began.
The feel of sharp sticks and dead leaves beneath his bare feet. The smell of rotting corpses on war-torn Marrigus 9. The whine of the Enterprise’s engines, pushed beyond their max during some long-past crisis. The warmth of Spock’s arm, brushed against his own in the turbolift. Sam’s laughter, pealing down from the highest limb of a box elder tree.
At first the images came in fairly orderly procession, one forming as soon as the previous one faded. Kirk watched, fascinated, as bits of his life – long relinquished recollections, random pieces of thoughts and sensations and sounds – paraded in vivid detail before his mind’s eye. He did not hear McCoy calling to him, did not feel Spock shaking his shoulder with uncharacteristic urgency. He only heard and felt the memories, the vital and the mundane, the glorious and the dismal, the important and the inconsequential.
A heavy weight seemed to settle behind his eyes, and he became aware that the fragments were coming to him more rapidly, the next forming before the earlier ones had left, a flickering, chaotic jumble of sights and sounds and sensations, flapping and twisting and yelping within his brain. A cool round stone in his hand. The smell of gardenias. The metallic taste of blood in his mouth. The deafening crash of an explosion. The coarse hairs of a horse’s mane sawing into his fingers. The lash of a whip on his back. His own birth.
Kirk arched and then stiffened, helpless beneath the onslaught, overwhelmed at experiencing every separate fragment of his life all at the same moment. His mouth fell open.
He began to scream.
“My god! What the hell is happening to him?” McCoy demanded, nearly in tears at his own helplessness.
“I believe,” Spock said quietly, “that it is psychosis, induced by the Mimor.”
McCoy uttered a stream of curses, directed simultaneously at the Mimor, its creators, and the Subrans who had taken his medikit. “May every last one of them rot in hell forever,” he finally concluded, and glared at Spock. “I don’t suppose you’ve got some secret antidote hidden away in your back pocket?” he demanded of the Vulcan.
“No,” Spock said dully. He leaned over Kirk, reaching for the human’s temples.
McCoy grabbed him. “What in the name of all that’s holy do you think you’re doing?” he barked.
“I am going to meld with him,” Spock told him, “to try to alleviate the formula’s effects.”
“You are out of your ever lovin’ mind,” the doctor grated, his sharp eyes fairly igniting. “You barely survived the last meld you pulled. You’re just about as pale as a Bakinese laboratory mouse, and probably three times as weak. And you’re gonna jump right into another meld – with someone who’s psychotic?”
Kirk wrapped his arms tightly about his chest and began to whimper, rocking rhythmically as if to comfort himself. Spock flinched, and said harshly to McCoy, “What alternative do you suggest, Doctor? That we do nothing? That we allow him to remain like this?”
McCoy swallowed, instantly defeated. “No,” he said quietly. “Of course not. If there’s a chance, even a small one, then I know you have to take it. I just…” he looked away, unwilling to meet the Vulcan’s eyes. “Be careful,” he said, lamely.
“Of course,” Spock said distractedly, already focusing solely on Kirk. His slender fingers quickly sought and found the meld points; gently, he held his captain’s head as he initiated the meld.
“My mind to your mind…” he did not have to say the words; in truth, he barely even thought them. He knew Jim’s mind well: he had melded with his captain enough times, and their selves were so well attuned, that he could join with him almost effortlessly. He closed his eyes, and slipped, with all the easy confidence of one who knows the path blindfolded, past the barrier of Kirk’s selfhood…
… and straight into a blaring, teeming, nightmare.
Spock gasped as he was plunged directly into the vortex of Kirk’s unleashed memories, immersed in sound and light and sensation too abundant and too intense to bear. He could hear Kirk’s voice, alternately screaming and sobbing, but could discern no direction in which to turn to find his friend. Blinded and lost, he called out. “Jim!” There was no response, only the soul-splitting screams, coming from all around. “Jim! I am here! Come to me!”
Spock began to search frantically, without a landmark and with very little hope. “Jim! I am here! I can’t find you! Come to me! Let me help you!” He sent the thoughts out in imperative, desperate little bursts, shoving his way through the whirling chaos, looking for anything that resembled Jim, casting aside ruthlessly anything that got in his way. “Come to me! Let me help you!” He called again and again, fighting frustration as time and again there was no answer.
Finally, he felt inside of himself a question: wordless, half-formed, so tentative it barely had existence. Excitement rose within him. “Yes! Jim! It is I! Can you find me?”
The question grew stronger, took on sound. “Spock?”
Joyfully, Spock answered. “Here! Can you come to me?”
“I… I can’t stop it. I can’t…”
“I know,” Spock responded soothingly. “Find me, and I’ll help you.” He felt Jim’s presence then, closer and more pronounced than it had been, and began to reach out toward it. He touched at last a familiar essence. “Jim.”
“Spock. I… I… can’t…”
Spock envisioned himself wrapping his arms tightly around Jim, drawing him close in a protective embrace. “Will you trust me?”
“Always.” Though still distressed, Jim answered instantly; Spock thought he felt the human relax somewhat.
“Then… you must give your thoughts completely over to me. You must let me guide your mind.” He hesitated, knowing that what he was asking would not in any sense be easy for Jim to accept. “You must allow me to control.”
He felt Jim falter then, and waited, fully expecting an angry denial. But instead, golden warmth began to spread all around and over him: Love. Acceptance. Boundless trust. Gratitude. “Yes,” was Jim’s simple response.
Nearly overwhelmed by relief and by the depth of the faith that Jim had in him, Spock slipped more deeply into the meld. When he had linked with Sihtek, he had searched only for the Vulcan’s recollections that involved the Mimor, and when he had found them, he had erased them. He could not do that in this case, because it was the entirety of Jim’s experiences that was causing the unbearable dissonance within his captain’s brain. To obliterate the whole would be to obliterate everything that made Kirk himself. The best that Spock could do was to lend his captain his superior Vulcan control and combine it, through the meld, with Jim’s stubborn human will. He believed that by blending their strengths, it would be possible to mute the clamor of the memories enough so that Jim would be able to function for a short time longer.
…after that, he could not bear to think about.
Resolutely, he put his fear for Jim aside and concentrated on the task at hand.
“Spock! Come on, Spock – that’s enough! Snap out of it! Spock!” The harsh voice crackled in his ear, accompanied by a hand at his shoulder, shaking him roughly. Spock frowned and then blinked, pulled back to reality by the persistence of the annoying sound. He turned his head, and looked directly into the worried blue eyes of the Enterprise’s chief surgeon. For a long moment, he gaped silently, completely dazed.
“Damn you to hell for pulling these stupid Vulcan stunts,” McCoy fussed, fretting over Spock and the captain all at once. “One of these days you’re gonna try one of those damn melds and you’re not gonna come back. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get you to snap out of it?” He glared fiercely at Spock, and then studied Jim, who was beginning to look around him as if trying to figure out where he was. “Well?” McCoy asked, his voice dropping.
Spock opened his mouth, but it was Kirk who answered. “Better,” he told McCoy. “It’s not gone, but it’s… softer. I can think - if I concentrate.” He looked at Spock. “Thank you.”
Spock did not return the human’s gaze; his voice was heavy with self-reproach when he answered. “It was the very least I could do. After all, had I not…”
Kirk stopped him by laying his hand upon the Vulcan’s arm. “Don’t,” he ordered. “None of this is your fault. If anything, it’s mine, for sending you to Alniyat in the first place.”
“I’d love to sit here and watch the two of you heap blame on yourselves,” McCoy cut in dryly, “but don’t you think our time would be better spent trying to figure a way out of this hellhole? I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about that Admiress I can’t quite warm up to – I’m not anxious to spend anymore time with her than I absolutely have to.”
Spock did not answer him; he was cocking his head, listening intently to something outside of the cell. “Footsteps,” he informed Kirk and McCoy, and hesitated, assessing. “Only one guard this time. Usually there are at least two.”
Kirk fought to concentrate; the endless procession of memories was still clogging his senses. In the back of his mind, he felt Spock tighten his control and the pandemonium faded somewhat; he flashed his first officer a grateful look. “Our best chance?” he asked.
Spock nodded. “And perhaps our last,” he informed his captain, somberly. He was well aware that if the Admiress decided the Mimor was worthless, she would consider their lives to be as well.
“All right,” Kirk said slowly. “Let’s see if we can get him inside the force field.”
“He will be coming to check on the Mimor’s effects,” Spock said hastily. “Lie against the far wall. McCoy and I will block his view of you and attempt to pique his curiosity about your condition.”
McCoy shot Spock a quizzical look, but followed the Vulcan’s lead in kneeling at Kirk’s side and leaning over the prone human as if fascinated by what he was observing.
Spock heard the footsteps stop outside the perimeter of the force field. “I never would have predicted anything like this,” he told McCoy calmly, but loudly enough so the Subran guard would be able to hear with no trouble. “It is really quite remarkable.”
“It sure is,” McCoy answered back, a little tentatively. “Uh, I guess I can say I’ve seen everything now.”
“Yes,” Spock agreed, feigning unawareness of the Subran’s presence. “I must confess that I am most surprised. My tests did not indicate that any of this would occur – not to this extent, at least. What is your medical opinion?”
McCoy’s eyebrow shot up in a fair imitation of Spock’s, but he rallied quickly. “Well, it’s hard to say,” he ventured. “I’d really need my tricorder to make an accurate analysis, but it looks an awful lot like…” he hesitated, and then took the plunge. “…Spontaneous Maasymmianitis.” He resolutely ignored Kirk’s surreptitious glare: Maasymmianitis was a sexually communicable disease that resulted in hair loss and halitosis.
Spock nodded sedately. “My thoughts exactly, Doctor. Most unfortunate.” He paused for a moment, listening for movement outside of the cell. Hearing nothing, he decided to up the ante. “It would doubtless be wise of us to conceal this reaction from the Admiress if at all possible,” he told McCoy. “Perhaps if we turn his face to the wall…”
The force field suddenly ceased humming. “Not so fast, Vulcan. What are you trying to hide?”
Spock jerked around as if becoming aware of the Subran for the first time. “It is of no consequence,” he told the humanoid quickly, acting as guilty as possible.
The Subran glowered, and advanced toward the trio. “Move away from him,” he ordered, reaching for his weapon.
Spock sprang from the floor directly at the Subran and swung hard with his closed fist. The blow connected with the massive humanoid’s jaw just as McCoy kicked him viciously in the ankle. Howling with pain, the Subran tottered, coming dangerously close to losing his balance. McCoy kicked him again, this time just behind the knee.
The Subran started to topple sideways, directly into Spock’s waiting nerve pinch. With a strangled cry, he slumped to the floor. In one fluid motion, Spock grabbed his weapon just before it hit the ground and reached for Kirk with his other hand, pulling his captain to his feet effortlessly. Without a word, the three men darted down the corridor toward freedom, glancing wildly about them as they ran in case the Admiress’s men were waiting to attack.
They were lucky, to a point: they encountered no guards in the hall, though with every stride they fully expected to hear the whine of the Subran’s deadly weapons. Instead, they found another obstacle, one that threatened to be more obdurate yet: the door with the code pad, shut tightly in their faces.
“Shit,” McCoy said, speaking for all of them.
Spock frowned slightly. “I fear,” he said, raising the Subran’s weapon, “that we shall have to attempt to blast through it.”
“Wait,” Kirk said quietly. “I… I know…”
Spock lowered the weapon, comprehension lighting his face. “Yes,” he said, and stepped back, shutting his eyes in an effort to help Kirk concentrate.
“What?” McCoy demanded, completely at a loss.
Kirk ignored him and stepped up to the code panel.
“The sequence,” Spock explained. “He saw one of the Subrans enter it.”
McCoy watched, amazed, as Kirk effortlessly punched in the complicated sequence of symbols. The door obediently slid open. “How in the name of…”
“The Mimor,” Spock said shortly, and reached out and guided the astounded doctor through the open portal.
With their hearts in their throats, they navigated through the dark, narrow earthen passageway that lay beyond the doorway. Spock went first; his Vulcan eyes better able to see in the near pitch black of the tunnel, with Kirk in the middle and McCoy following closely behind. They piled into each other when Spock stopped unexpectedly several meters from the outlet.
McCoy peeled himself off from Kirk and uttered a muffled curse. “What’re you doing?” he demanded harshly of Spock.
“They are aware that we have escaped,” Spock reported. “I can hear them behind us.” He surged on ahead, increasing his speed.
Kirk and McCoy followed blindly, trying not to trip and reaching out to trail their hands against the walls for guidance. “It just doesn’t get much better than this, does it?” McCoy grumbled. “Wedged into a filthy tunnel no bigger around than a Grux’s colon with a pack of rabid Subrans snapping at our heels. Remind me to tell you I’m busy next time you put together a landing party, Jim.” He was still muttering when they finally reached the egress.
Half tripping in their haste to put distance between themselves and their pursuers, the three men staggered out into the daylight, shielding their eyes in the sudden brilliance of the planet’s twin suns.
Spock’s heart sank when he scanned for the Galileo and saw how far away it was. Too far, he thought to himself, calculating quickly that the Subrans would be within range before they were halfway to the craft. Seeing no alternative, he did not express his dismay, but began to head toward it, determined to hope for the best.
“No.” Kirk’s voice stopped him in his tracks.
“Their vessel,” Kirk instructed, making for the Orakkian Fightercraft.
Instinctively, the two men followed him. They were just feet from the door when five Subrans piled out of the hideout’s entrance, followed by the Admiress. Spock saw one of the guards point toward them; he took quick aim and fired, disintegrating one of the humanoids and throwing the others into momentary confusion.
A hand grasped his elbow firmly. “Come on,” McCoy grated, “before you miss all the fun.” He hauled at Spock’s arm, yanking him into the vessel’s opening, and shut the door with an exaggerated sigh of relief.
Kirk was already at the controls; he stared down at the complicated panel of lights and buttons, looking slightly dazed. Concerned, Spock slid into the seat next to him. “Do you know how to pilot this craft?” he asked Jim quietly.
“Yes. At least, I… once… I know. I just can’t…” Kirk’s hazel eyes, troubled and searching, locked with Spock’s.
Spock took a deep breath and touched Jim’s temple, intent on helping the human focus only on the relevant memories needed to pilot the ship, and to ignore the bedlam of all of the other recollected data that was jamming his thoughts.
“Now would be a really good time to take this thing up,” Bones urged frantically. As if on cue, the ship rocked with the impact of the blast of one of the Subran’s weapons.
Jim’s face lit up. “Of course,” he whispered, and pushed up a lever on the left hand side of the helm. With all of the confidence of a veteran Orakkian pilot, he guided the ship off the ground and into a steep ascent. The graceful, swift craft responded beautifully to Kirk’s seemingly expert hand, jetting through the cloudless sky with frictionless speed until it broke finally past the outer edge of the planet’s atmosphere and into space.
“Thank god,” McCoy said fervently, sinking back into his seat in relief.
“We should not be too sanguine,” Spock warned the doctor, while maintaining physical contact with Kirk by resting his hand upon the human’s shoulder. “They are certainly following us, and we have only a few minutes’ lead time. I estimate a 98.7% chance that they will reach us before we are able to make contact with the Enterprise.”
McCoy made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “You just couldn’t let me enjoy the moment, could you?” he groused.
Spock did not answer him: he was too worried about Jim. Through the link, he could feel the massive amount of willpower his captain was employing in fighting the effects of the Mimor. Spock also was devoting a considerable amount of his own mental resources in order to help Kirk to maintain control. But he knew, too well, that the link between them was a temporary and tenuous solution.
He studied his captain with eyes full of wretchedness. Mimor VI, the substance that he had toiled to create, had admittedly been kind to them twice. It had enabled Kirk to remember the coded sequence that had released them from their captivity. And it was responsible for Kirk’s ability to recall how to pilot this alien craft now.
But the price it would ultimately extract from Jim was far too high. Spock looked away and stared numbly at the view screen as the nameless stars flew by. It was said that Vulcans lacked imagination. Spock knew this was untrue, because he could imagine at this moment one thing, clearly: Jim’s brilliant, fascinating mind descending into irreversible madness, torn into useless fragments by the very substance Spock himself had brought into being.
Scotty was worried, an emotion he was used to feeling whenever he was forced into sitting in the command chair for any length of time. “Nearly four hours wi’oot a word,” he muttered. “Where the divil can they be?”
“The actinite is still wreaking havoc with our sensors, sir,” Alvarez reminded him. “They could be out there, but until they’re within visual range, we’ll have no way of knowing.”
“Aye,” acknowledged Scotty dourly. He glared at the view screen, which was stubbornly rendering up nothing but the arc of the planet below them and a scattering of stars in the background. Not a trace of the Galileo anywhere. He fidgeted, all too aware that in a few short minutes he was going to have to take the Enterprise out of orbit, as per Kirk’s orders.
“Sir,” Sulu said slowly, his eyes also focused on the screen, “over there – at the right – am I making it up? Or is that…”
“The Galileo,” Scotty breathed, breaking out into a grin as he saw the small point of light making its way steadily across the screen, toward them. “Aye, laddie – it’s got to be. The captain’s come through again, just in the nick o’ time.”
The entire bridge crew relaxed as a unit: every man and woman present stared at the screen and heaved a collective sigh of relief. The landing party would be coming home safely – and right under the wire: the glowing point, making steady progress across the backdrop of space, was proof.
It was a full thirty seconds before Scotty leaned forward with a frown. “What in the name o’…?”
Sulu nodded. “I see it, too, sir. It looks like…”
“Another craft?” Chekov broke in, craning at the screen intently.
“Deflectors up,” Scotty ordered tensely. “Yellow alert.”
As the alert sounded, Scotty quickly assessed the possibilities:
Two small ships, unrelated to the events on Alniyat, just happening by the area of space where the Enterprise was waiting for its captain…Not likely.
Two small enemy ships, closely related to the events on Alniyat, making an escape from the planet below…A possibility.
The Galileo, with an enemy ship in pursuit.
Scotty glowered. Because this third option was the worst case possible, he considered it the most likely. “Have phasers ready,” he instructed Chekov.
“Phasers ready, sir.”
There was a tense silence as every member of the bridge crew focused on the view screen, each person trying to assess the situation. As the dots increased in size and detail, however, Scotty broke into a grin. “Well, I’ll be…”
“I don’t believe it,” Alvarez said slowly. “The Orakkian Fightercraft.”
Sulu started to grin as well. “Pursued by the Galileo!”
Scotty shook his head in wonder. “Leave it to the captain, every time,” he said, pride evident in his voice. “He’s got ‘em on the run, all right!” He turned to Uhura. “Contact the Galileo, Lieutenant. Let them know we stand ready to assist.”
“Aye, sir.” Uhura bent over her console, but soon looked up and shook her head. “They don’t appear to be receiving my message, Mr. Scott. All I’m getting back is static.”
Alvarez spoke up. “The effects of…”
“Aye, I ken, lass,” Scotty growled. “I’ll be glad when that actinite is behind us. It’s a pain i’ the…” He broke off his sentence when he saw a thin bright beam flare out from the shuttlecraft, straight toward the Orakkian craft. Seemingly at the last minute, the little alien ship dipped expertly, barely escaping the phaser’s beam. “Nearly had ‘em,” he muttered. “Well, the Galileo’s weapons are child’s play compared to what the Enterprise can dish out. Lock phasers onto that Fighercraft, Chekov. We’re gonna knock ‘em clean out of space.”
Kirk had his hands full. The Galileo had suddenly appeared behind them and had been closing the distance between the two ships with alarming speed. Kirk was reluctant to increase his own speed too much; he did not have enough faith in his piloting expertise in this strange craft, especially not with the Mimor’s clamorous distractions eating away at his attention. When the shuttle fired at them, he evaded annihilation by the narrowest of margins, and on sheer instinct alone. He exhaled deeply, his hands tense and white on the controls. “Too close. We’ve got to hail the Enterprise, so they can beam us out.”
Spock shook his head. “I have been attempting to do so, but they evidently are not receiving. It is therefore logical for them to assume that we are, in fact, on the Galileo, not on this alien vessel.”
Kirk struggled to comprehend the import of what Spock was saying; he had the half-panicked feeling that his control was starting to slip. “You mean… they think we’re in pursuit?”
Spock frowned, his eyes full of concern. “It is worse than that. They will assume that this craft carries the kidnappers, and that you have fired upon it. They will of course be preparing to back you up.”
“Back us up… as in firing on this ship!” McCoy groaned, suddenly understanding.
“I fear that is the case,” Spock said. He warned Kirk, “If you attempt to return fire, it is a virtual certainty that Mr. Scott will order an attack upon this vessel.”
“And we have no way of telling them we’re here, and under attack ourselves,” Kirk said, fighting to think clearly. “No way of letting them know…” He made a lightning fast adjustment at the helm as another phaser bolt jetted out from the Galileo, missing them by what seemed like inches. He looked at the view screen, at the image of the Enterprise that had seemed so reassuring just seconds ago. “They can’t hear us - but they can see us,” he said. His jaw clenched in determination. “Hang on,” he said grimly.
“God, I hate it when you say those two little words…” McCoy’s complaint was cut off by the severity of the ascent of the craft: a steep, breathtaking climb that went beyond vertical, into a half loop. The ship’s artificial gravity could not catch up; had the men not been strapped into their seats, they would have fallen on their heads. At the top of the loop, Kirk rolled the craft back until it was right-side up.
McCoy blinked, and realized that the climb and the loop had reversed the direction of the Fightercraft: they were now facing away from the Enterprise, toward the Galileo. “What in the name of…”
“I just sent a message to Sulu,” Kirk said with some effort, ‘that might just get past the actinite.”
“Prepare to fire, Mr. Chekov,” Scotty said tersely. The Fightercraft had just escaped another seemingly failsafe phaser blast from the Galileo; while he had to give grudging compliments to the skill of the craft’s pilot, he had no intention of standing by idly and letting the kidnappers escape – or worse, to allow them to obliterate Captain Kirk and the landing crew.
“Ready to fire upon your order, sir,” Chekov said obligingly.
Scotty opened his mouth to give the order, but in front of his eyes the Orakkian craft shot nearly straight up, rolled and reversed direction; it was Sulu’s voice, not Scotty’s, that yelped across the bridge. “Sir! Wait! I… I don’t believe it!
“Wha’ i’ the devil are ye blatherin’ aboot, Sulu?” Scotty demanded, his accent thickening with his consternation.
“Sir, Captain Kirk is piloting that alien ship,” Sulu reported firmly. He spun around to face the command chair, desperate to convince the skeptical Scotsman. “What he just did… it was an Immelmann, sir.”
“An Immelmann Turn. It’s an old World War I maneuver, a way of using velocity and gravity to change an old style airplane’s direction fast. The captain was just telling me about it not two weeks ago – he’d read about it in one of his antique history books, and he wanted to know if I’d ever heard of it.”
Another phaser blast came from the Galileo, but it slid harmlessly beneath the belly of its target. Scotty frowned. “Are you sure, lad?”
Sulu swallowed, all too aware of how costly an error might be. “I can’t imagine,” he said, “that anyone else would even know about that maneuver, sir. I’m… Yes, I’m certain that Captain Kirk is on that ship.”
Scotty nodded. “All right. Can you get us in between those ships, and get a tractor beam on the Galileo?”
“Aye, sir. It’ll be a tight fit, but I can do it.”
Scotty nodded again. “Let’s do it, then. Once the shuttle’s immobilized, we’ll try to get close enough to the Orakkian ship to beam Captain Kirk and anyone else he’s got with him aboard.”
One small lock of Jim’s hair seemed to be intent on going its own way. Spock reached out and very gently curled the wayward tuft around his forefinger and stared down at it for a long time, his face so full of unguarded tenderness that McCoy felt he was intruding and had to look away. Finally, Spock released the curl, but kept his hand upon Kirk’s forehead. “Prognosis, Doctor?” The words sounded calm and cool, but were belied by the obvious stress upon the Vulcan’s chiseled features.
McCoy took a deep breath. “I was just about to ask you that,” he replied. When Spock winced, he added with unusual mildness, “This is not your fault, Spock. I only meant that you know a lot more about Mimor’s effects than I do.” He shrugged unhappily. “I honestly don’t know where to start, or what to expect. He’s sedated, or he’d probably be like he was…” His voice threatened to break; he swallowed and continued, “…like he was in the transporter room.”
Spock shut his eyes, unable to erase the sight of Kirk collapsing, clutching his head and writhing in agony on the transporter platform. Spock had had to withdraw from the link at that point, or he would have gone mad too – though the guilt he felt at abandoning Kirk, in truth, had almost had the same effect. Spock had done his duty, because it was the logical thing to do and because Jim would have wanted it. He had assumed command. He had overseen the recovery of the Galileo, watched stoically as a small army of security personnel, tense as coiled springs and armed to the hilt, stormed into the shuttle, only to come out moments later to say that all on board were dead. He had listened to the report of their investigation, nodded wordlessly when they told him that the Admiress had apparently taken her own life after she had killed her men. She had been found on the deck of the shuttle with a dagger in her chest, her own small hand upon its hilt, drenched in amber blood like that that had poured out of the side of Ifftahn.
When Spock heard this, he had the somewhat disembodied thought that he should feel some satisfaction or at least some relief. But he had felt nothing but numbness. His voice had been toneless when had ordered Scotty to take the conn and get the Enterprise far enough away to get through to Starfleet Command. The engineer had given him a smile that was meant to be reassuring and had told Spock that he’d see to it. Spock had not wasted time answering; he was already on the way to Sickbay, where his heart had been since he’d first returned to the ship.
Now he listened as McCoy asked, “Do you know of any way to treat this – any chemical substance that might counteract the damage?”
“No,” Spock said, his hand still upon Kirk’s head. “If I had access to the computer on Alniyat and the data it once had, I could perhaps develop an antidote – given time… and what you humans call luck.” He did not look at McCoy. “But of course, I destroyed the computer and its data.”
McCoy moved closer to the Vulcan and put his hand on Spock’s arm. “You had no choice,” he reminded his friend.
“Neither did Jim,” Spock replied, his voice harsh.
McCoy shook his head. “Well, it’s obvious to both of us that he can’t command the ship in this condition. All I can really do for him here is to try to keep him comfortable. If he’s going to have any chance of recovery, of captaining the Enterprise again, we’ll have to get him somewhere where they can…”
“…You are about to suggest that he be placed in a psychiatric facility,” Spock interrupted.
McCoy frowned. “I don’t like the idea any better than you do,” he told Spock quietly. “But we can’t let him go on like this. It isn’t what he would want… and I don’t think you or I could endure it, either.” He looked up at the Vulcan, his sharp blue eyes full of compassion. “I wish I could just fix him, put him back the way he was. But I just don’t have the knowledge to do that.”
Spock finally removed his hand from Kirk and turned and faced the doctor. “Let me take him,” he said.
McCoy’s eyebrow shot up. “Take him? What do you mean?”
“Let me take him to my quarters and try to help him.”
“And just what do you think you’re going to do for him? You tried to help him already, and it only worked for a short time. What more can you do?”
Spock hesitated. He did not want to tell McCoy what he intended to do: he was certain that the doctor would not approve. On the other hand, Sickbay was McCoy’s realm; the feisty surgeon was the ultimate authority here, and Spock would be obliged to follow his orders. He sighed. Suddenly he was weary beyond measure. “I can bond with him,” he told McCoy.
McCoy frowned. “Forgive me if I’m being obtuse, but didn’t you already try that?”
Spock shook his head. “No. I linked with him only. It was both temporary and relatively superficial. What I am proposing is a permanent bond.”
McCoy stared at him. “Permanent?” he repeated. “As in irreversible? As in for life?”
Spock fully expected McCoy to boil over into shocked indignation, but for once the doctor remained calm. “Why do you think you could cure him if you bonded with him?” he asked, looking closely at the Vulcan.
Again, Spock hesitated. “In the link, I was able to give Jim access to my control techniques. This allowed him to filter out some of the distractions of the unrestrained memories that were evoked by the Mimor. He could function, as long as we both could concentrate enough to maintain the link at a certain level. But the link needed to be consciously maintained, which meant that if one of us had to think too hard about something else – such as evading phaser fire, as an example – the link weakened and the memories took over. A bond is different. Once it is formed, it will be effortless to maintain. He will always be able to access my mind, which of course has not been affected by the Mimor. And I will be able to access his – on a much deeper level than before. I may therefore be able to help him re-compartmentalize his mind… to put the memories, in effect, back where they belong.”
McCoy shook his head. “You may be able to,” he repeated. “And what if you can’t? Won’t you then be permanently bonded to someone who is in continual mental torment? And won’t that mean that you will be as well?”
Spock clasped his hands behind his back. “Yes,” he replied quietly. “But I am willing to take that chance.”
McCoy’s eyes started to snap, but he maintained control. “All right,” he said slowly. “If we allow that it’s your right to make that decision – which I’m not sure I’m buying, by the way - then let me ask you this: What about what Jim wants? He’s in no shape to have any say in this at all, is he? Is it ethical to bond with someone who can’t say yes or no?”
Spock turned away from the doctor then and looked down at the seemingly peaceful form of his captain. “Jim cannot speak for himself,” he told the doctor. “It is therefore left for you and me to do our best to decide what he would have us do. He would, I think, expect no less of us.” He returned his gaze to McCoy, a tiny trace of defiance flashing across his face. “Do you believe that he would prefer to be committed to a psychiatric institution?”
McCoy shut his eyes, defeated. “No. I know he wouldn’t. He trusts you, and he’d prefer to be in your hands. But he would not be happy about you taking this chance… and neither am I.”
“It is my right,” Spock replied, very quietly, his gaze not wavering.
Reluctantly, McCoy nodded. “Yeah,” he said resignedly. “I guess it is. What do you need from me?”
“Your orders to have him taken to my quarters and to have us both placed on medical leave.”
“How long do you need?”
“I’ll place you on leave for that long, but you’ll have to check in with me within twenty-four hours. If you don’t, I personally will bring a small army to your door to break it down.”
“An unpleasant prospect,” Spock acknowledged with a trace of his customary dry humor. His face softened. “Thank you, Leonard.” He turned to leave.
The Vulcan stopped in mid-stride and waited without turning around.
“He loves you. He told me that – the night before you were taken. He was going to tell you when he got to Alniyat.” McCoy hesitated. “What I’m trying to say is, I think you’re doing the right thing.”
Spock found that he could not speak. He merely lowered his head once in acknowledgement and left the room, grateful to hear the door swish shut behind him.
Spock looked at Jim for a long time, trying with little success to put aside the most illogical indecisiveness that gripped him now that the time had come to initiate the bond. If he was truthful with himself – and he always tried to be – McCoy’s question about the ethics of bonding with someone who could not consent had cut more deeply than he had allowed the doctor to see. He knew what he felt toward Jim – knew that this mercurial, fascinating, at times illogical human was in fact an essential part of his own self. He had known this, as surely as he knew the periodic table of the elements, from the first moment Kirk had stepped aboard the Enterprise. He had tried to deny and then to ignore that truth, but the fact was that it always was with him, buried deep within him, whether Kirk was at his side or far away. From Spock’s point of view, then, a permanent bond would change very little: it was merely a logical extension of what already immutably existed.
But from Jim’s point of view?
Spock swallowed. Sihtek had told him that Jim loved him; just half an hour ago, McCoy had said the same thing. But Spock knew too well that the spectrum of human love was nearly infinite in its shadings.
Jim loved him as a brother and as a friend, and apparently, if McCoy could be believed, as something more.
Did he love Spock as a bondmate?
Lying next to Jim in the still, dark quiet of his quarters, Spock could not escape the fact that he, an unemotional, logical Vulcan, was afraid… no, terrified. He was terrified of his own memories, of Sihtek and of Ifftahn and all that had occurred on that hell-filled planet only a few short hours ago. He was terrified of Mimor VI, of what it had done and would do to Jim, unless he could find a way to block its effects. He was terrified of madness with Jim and of sanity without Jim.
And he was terrified of one thing more.
Spock shut his eyes. If Jim should hate him because he was trapped in a bond he did not want…
With deep disgust, Spock noted that his hands were shaking. His weakness was indeed unforgivable – he had made the decision, and it was a logical one. To question and to second-guess was un-Vulcan – it was, in fact, shameful.
With a deep breath, Spock reached for Jim’s temple.
The hours wore on. On the bridge, Scotty oversaw the Enterprise’s progress, as ordered by Starfleet Command, toward Starbase 9. In his office in Sickbay, McCoy poured himself a tall glass of bourbon, stared at it for a long, long time, and then walked away. Both men tried hard not to look at a chronometer; both men failed with disheartening consistency. The ship itself was quiet and subdued. The Enterprise flew… and time crawled.
Jim’s eyes opened.
The first thing he saw in the dimness was Spock’s face, very close to his. The Vulcan apparently was sleeping but did not look peaceful; there were deep furrows between his brows and his eyes were clenched shut tightly, as if to keep out some terrifying sight. Studying Spock closely, Jim realized how very gaunt and drawn he looked. He reached out and put his hand on Spock’s shoulder, frowning with concern. “Spock.”
There was no response at first, and Jim called again. This time, Spock’s eyelids fluttered and his lips parted slightly; he murmured something Jim could not make out. As Jim leaned toward him to call his name a third time, the Vulcan’s eyes flew open and stared deeply into his, black and fathomless and full of apprehension. Jim felt the same apprehension tingle through his own body; the words he spoke were meant to calm them both. “It’s all right.”
“Jim. You are… well?”
Kirk frowned, remembering in a rush the agony of the unleashed memories that had literally brought him to his knees in the transporter room. “Yes,” he said, in a voice full of perplexity. “I am.” He looked at Spock. “You did something, didn’t you - to my mind – to make it all stop.” He frowned again, trying to remember. It was like trying to recall a dream several hours after waking: there was something there, he was sure, but the details were elusive.
“Yes,” Spock whispered, and again Kirk felt trepidation flood through him.
His eyes widened. “You melded with me again, didn’t you? I can still feel it. You’re anxious, and I can feel it inside of me.” He smiled. “But before, it just made it quieter. This time, it’s gone. You freed me of it – I can think again.” He shook his head in wonder. “You always find a way, don’t you? Just when I need you the most, you appear and work your miracle.”
As soon as he said this, the unease within him increased, nearly to the point of pain. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Forgive me,” Spock whispered.
“For what? For saving me?”
“For the manner in which I saved you.” Spock’s eyes sought his, half pleading and half apologetic. “I bonded us. I thought it was the only way.”
Jim reached out and touched Spock’s cheek, very gently, and quickly frowned at the way the Vulcan flinched at his touch. “So you bonded us. Why are you so upset?”
“You do not understand.”
Kirk sat up on the bed and stared down at the Vulcan. “You’re right: I don’t. We’ve melded before, and frankly, I’ve always loved it. Why are you acting like this is some kind of horrible violation? It isn’t. You bonded with me, and you saved me. End of story.”
“No,” Spock said harshly. “It is not the end. There is no end.” He sat up and faced Kirk. “The bond is permanent.”
“Permanent.” Kirk said it as though he were testing the word out, flexing it to check its strength.
Jim was silent for a moment, assessing what Spock had just told him and measuring it against the feelings that were swirling around inside of him. “Then… that’s why I can feel what you’re feeling.”
“Yes,” Spock said again.
“And it will always be like this? It won’t fade away, like it does when a meld is ended?”
“No,” Spock told him. He took a deep breath. “In fact, it will doubtless strengthen, as time goes on. But there are techniques we both can learn to, in essence, tone down its effects.”
“And you can feel, right now, what I’m feeling, too?”
“And it can never be broken?”
Spock hesitated. “A Vulcan healer could possibly sever it. But it is a long process, and not without serious risks to both people involved.” Spock did not allow himself to analyze why he was so reluctant to impart this information to Kirk - whether it was unwillingness to place Jim at risk, or unwillingness to lose the bond. He would meditate on the question later, he resolved. He continued, “The only other way is through death.”
Jim leaned toward him, his golden eyes speculative. “Let me ask you this,” he said slowly. “If something happened to you – if, for instance, you were kidnapped like you were on Alniyat. If you were taken…” he almost said, “taken from me,” but quickly altered it to, “taken away… would I be able to use the bond to find you?”
“Probably,” Spock said. “At the very least, you would know with certainty whether or not I was alive.”
Spontaneous joy and relief poured out from Kirk and into Spock, a warm golden cloud of delight that buoyed Spock up at the same time it completely dazzled him. “Thank god,” Kirk breathed fervently, gathering the stunned Spock into a close embrace. “Thank god.” He murmured into the Vulcan’s shoulder, “You can’t imagine what hell that was, to see Alniyat’s debris scattered all over space, and to think you were a part of it – that I’d lost you forever. And now… you’ll never be taken from me that way again.” He pulled away and looked at Spock with sudden resolve. “There was something I was going to tell you, as soon as I got to Alniyat. It’s this.” He leaned forward and touched his lips to Spock’s mouth, kissing him with all of the love and the longing that he had stored within him for countless months.
It should have been a sweet kiss; in truth, Spock had desired Jim’s mouth upon his from the very first time he had laid eyes upon the human. He had lost many hours of sleep, and even more of meditation, thinking about that mouth, how it would feel to kiss it and to be kissed by it. And now those lips were indeed upon his mouth, and the kiss was truly happening.
It should have been sweet. Spock began to shake uncontrollably.
Jim broke the kiss and pulled away, eyes widening. “What is it? What’s wrong? I thought…”
Spock found he could not speak; he clasped his arms about himself to try to control the trembling, and shook his head. “I can’t…” he finally managed, but could say nothing further.
Jim took Spock by the shoulders, gasping at the onslaught of emotions that rolled over him as soon as he did so. “You can’t,” he repeated. “You can’t kiss me – or you can’t tell me what’s wrong?” His eyes narrowed as he picked up on a flash of memory, through the bond. “What happened on that planet?” he asked, in a voice tense with worry and with emerging anger.
Spock shook his head again. “Don’t ask me,” he finally whispered, “to tell you that.”
Kirk took one of Spock’s hands and laid it upon his chest. “You bonded me to you,” he reminded the Vulcan. “And I love you. Trust me: share this with me.”
With a tiny noise of defeat, Spock rested his head on Kirk’s shoulder. He knew that even if they had not been bonded, if Jim had thought something was hurting Spock, he would employ every weapon in his vast arsenal of persuasion to ferret it out and to help Spock defeat it. And now that Kirk was joined to him, there was simply no choice: Jim would find out, one way or another, whether Spock voluntarily let him see or not. Bracing himself, he allowed himself to remember the horrendous events on the planet, beginning with his torture, and Sihtek’s, and ending with the unspeakable thing that Ifftahn had done to Sihtek, and - through the link - to him.
The images flowed from him into Jim; the bond was already strong, perhaps because of all the times the two of them had melded, or perhaps because their minds were so compatible. Spock felt Jim’s heart start to pound when he began to understand what had been done to both of the Vulcans. The human’s arms wrapped tightly around him as if they could form a shield to keep all further trauma away; within the close embrace, Spock began to feel some degree of calm; his trembling lessened.
When he had finally conveyed to Jim all that had occurred, the human took a shaky breath. “I will never forgive myself,” he said huskily, “for sending you away… and into that.”
“You could not know,” Spock whispered, with his head still upon Jim’s shoulder. “The blame rests only upon the Admiress and Ifftahn.”
Jim held Spock even more closely. “Ifftahn,” he growled. “I’m grateful to Sihtek for killing the bastard. He deserved to be cut apart and worse – for what he did to you both.” He brushed his lips against Spock’s hair. It was a gesture of pure protectiveness, a strange counterpoint to the rage that was boiling within the human’s heart. Kirk was silent for a long time; Spock could feel his bondmate’s turbulent thoughts and emotions, but for some reason was not disturbed: he knew that all of Jim’s wrath sprang from love for him, and he found it immeasurably – though illogically - comforting.
Finally, Jim spoke. “I make this vow to you,” he said, with his lips still against Spock’s temple. “I will never ask you to give me anything that you can’t give me with total freedom… wholeheartedly. You’re alive, and you’ve been given back to me… and that’s all I ask now, or ever will.”
The relief that enveloped Spock at those words nearly left him breathless. Jim had accepted the bond – indeed, had even welcomed it. And he was not angry or even hurt that Spock had been unable to return his kiss – he understood. Spock closed his eyes in gratitude and sagged against the human, suddenly lightheaded.
“How long has it been,” Jim demanded suddenly, “since you’ve had anything to eat?”
Spock’s eyes flew open: it was a question that simply had not occurred to him. “I partook of a meal,” he said slowly, “two point eight hours before the attack on Alniyat.”
“Two point…? But it took us more than two days to find you. And it’s been… how long have we been here – in your quarters?”
Spock had to look at the chronometer – he had lost track of time. “Twenty-three point six hours,” he told Kirk.
Jim’s mouth settled into a determined line. “You are going to eat.” He slid off from the bed and moved over to the replicator. “I don’t suppose,” he said grimly, as he pushed buttons, “that the Admiress was kind enough to give you so much as a glass of water?”
“But you’re a Vulcan, and can go without drinking for six months to a year. Bullshit,” Kirk muttered, adding a tall glass of water to the tray that he was rapidly filling with food. He carried the laden tray over to Spock’s desk, set it down and glanced over at the Vulcan expectantly. Obediently, Spock got up and walked over to Kirk. His eyebrow rose: there was a gargantuan salad on the tray, along with a small loaf of warm coarse-grained bread, some type of elaborately formed pasta, a cup each of coffee and tea, and two steaming bowls of soup. The soup looked delicious: Spock realized that he was famished. He sat down in the chair that Kirk pulled out for him and began, with single-minded efficiency, to spoon up the warm broth.
Kirk smiled, sat down across from him, and started to work on his own bowl of soup. “Not bad,” he admitted, after tasting it. “Chicken noodle would be better, but since you wouldn’t touch the chicken, this is a good substitute.”
“Ta’vakh soup,” Spock said. His eyebrow rose a little more. “It is my favorite.”
Kirk’s eyes twinkled. “I suppose I knew that. Just another benefit of the bond.”
Spock lowered his gaze. Kirk’s capacity to adapt to any situation never ceased to amaze him. He had been so afraid that Kirk would both resent and fight against the bond - but instead, here he was, acting as if it were the most natural thing in the universe.
“Tell me,” Kirk said, cutting into his thoughts, “where we’re headed.”
Spock blinked, under the impression at first that Jim referred to both of them. Understanding quickly that he meant the Enterprise, he admitted, “I am not certain. Mr. Scott is in command. I told him to get the ship far enough away to contact Starfleet Command, and then to follow their orders.” He looked away. “I did not remain to find out what their orders were.”
“No,” Kirk said softly. “You came to me instead.” He shrugged. “Well, I guess that’s the first order of business, then – check in with Scotty and see how hard Starfleet wants to push this whole mess.”
Spock tilted his head in the midst of dismantling the massive salad. “The probability is that they will wish us to proceed to the nearest Starbase to make a full report, since the Admiress is no longer alive to make an escape.”
Kirk nodded. “That’s what I think, too. They’ll want to gather all the details and all the evidence they can, and then maybe go to the Organians to make a formal complaint against the Klingons for their part in this.” He sighed. “If they do what we predict, we’ll probably be docked for a while – you know how those investigations drag on.”
Spock pushed aside his nearly empty plate of salad and reached for the cup of tea. He warmed his hands with the steaming vessel for some time, staring down into the umber liquid as if he could divine the answer to his next question there. “The Mimor project…” he finally ventured.
“Is dead,” Kirk said flatly. “Along with fourteen scientists who worked on it. The data is gone – and in my book, that’s probably the best outcome the whole fiasco could have had.”
Spock hesitated, and then started to speak, but Kirk forged ahead. “I have your
meditation robe and your journal,” he told the Vulcan, anticipating his thoughts. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re both your personal property – not Starfleet’s.”
Spock had been privately worrying about the fate of the journal; he was fairly certain the Admiress had not found it on Alniyat, or she would surely have found a way to use it against him and Sihtek. He was torn between relief that it was in Jim’s hands – and that Jim apparently did not intend to turn it over to Starfleet… and sharp embarrassment at what he had written about Sihtek and Jim.
“Your personal property,” Jim emphasized to him, once again reading Spock’s thoughts. He looked down at the decimated tray of food. “Are you done?”
“Yes,” Spock answered.
Kirk nodded. “Good. I think we both should hit the shower, then, and then rest for awhile, once I check in with Scotty.”
Spock said, “I told Doctor McCoy I would contact him within twenty-four hours to let him know our status. He threatened that if I neglected to do so, he would break the door down.”
Kirk grinned. “That’s our Bones, all right. I’ll take care of it – you take a nice, long, hot shower, and come out prepared to rest. That’s an order.”
“Yes sir,” Spock said automatically.
The shower felt better than anything Spock had experienced in days. He lingered in it for an inordinately long time, letting its heat both soothe and cleanse him. Since he had watched and felt Ifftahn rape Sihtek, he had carried with him a poisonous sense that his body was tainted; he was certain he could smell the scent of Ifftahn’s sweat and seed upon him, and the thought sickened him. The shower lessened that sensation; he found that he was most reluctant to end it. Finally, however, he turned it off with a regretful sigh and toweled himself dry. Donning a soft black robe, he stepped into his quarters, wrapping the material tightly about him to keep in the heat.
Jim was seated at his desk, just shutting off the intercom. The starship captain’s hair was still damp and slightly mussed; his white terrycloth robe fell open across his chest, allowing Spock a glimpse of bare, golden skin that caused the Vulcan’s breath to catch in his throat. He quickly looked away, overcome by an illogical feeling of guilt.
Jim grimaced. “Well, Bones has been duly informed that we’re alive and kicking. He wants us both to report to Sickbay at the end of the forty-eight hour period for a full battery of psychological exams.” He glanced ruefully at Spock. “Apparently, he thinks I might have made your thinking go out of whack as well, since you bonded with me.”
Spock fought to make his voice sound rational. “Indeed?’ he asked, while thinking to himself, I believe he is correct. Kirk got up and walked closer to him, confirming Spock’s theory: the sudden increase in his pulse rate, the dizziness he felt when he cast a surreptitious glance at Kirk’s bare skin, could well be a precursor of madness. He swallowed, and lowered his gaze.
“Get on the bed,” Kirk instructed him.
“I want you,” Kirk said patiently, “to lie down on the bed. You need to rest.”
As if in a dream, Spock walked over to the bed, contemplated it for a moment, and then obediently lay upon it. Kirk came over and looked down on him. “Comfy?” he asked.
“Yes,” Spock said, lying stiffly on his back with his arms rigidly at his sides.
Kirk snorted softly. “Nothing worse than a prevaricating Vulcan,” he chided gently. “Move over so there’s room for me, and turn on your side, facing the wall. And try to relax.”
Spock hesitated, if anything tenser than he had been a moment before.
Kirk shook his head. “You don’t have to worry,” he told Spock. “I keep my promises.”
Spock’s face softened; suddenly, he was ashamed of himself. He slid over to make room for Jim, and then turned so his back faced the human.
“That’s better,” he heard Jim whisper behind him. “I’m going to rub your neck and your back – is that all right?”
“Yes,” Spock whispered, torn between wanting Jim’s touch and dreading his reaction to it.
Jim’s hands rested for a moment on either side of his neck, and then started gently to massage his shoulders. Kirk did not speak, but Spock could hear his thoughts just as clearly as if the human had whispered them in his ear: so glad you came back to me… never let you go again… belong with me… love you… love you… love you…
Kirk’s fingers massaged the taut muscles over Spock’s shoulder blades and then lower, to his lean wiry back, rubbing and circling and kneading. Instinctively, Spock arched in pleasure at the touch, instantly eliciting an answering current of gratification from Kirk. …likes that… soothe him… heal him… so beautiful… his skin beneath… the thoughts rained upon Spock, warm and infused with love, cleansing away the poison of Ifftahn’s assault more surely than the purest water. He could feel Kirk’s desire for him, a vein of passion running inextricably through the human’s gratitude, regard and love – but he could feel, too, how tightly Kirk controlled it. His lips parted and he gave himself over completely to the human’s hands, trusting fully that Jim would rather give up existence than hurt him.
He felt Kirk’s breath stir his hair. “You smell so good,” Jim murmured, aloud. “May I kiss you – here?” He brushed his lips just below Spock’s hairline, against the nape of his neck.
“Yes,” Spock breathed, shivering with pleasure at the caress that quickly followed. From light years away, he felt himself grow hard; he wondered vaguely how it was that Kirk could bring him so quickly and so easily to this state, when he had not been able to bear the thought of a kiss before.
“And your ears,” Kirk whispered. “May I kiss your ears?” “Yes,” Spock said again, and gasped when Kirk’s tongue flicked out against the sensitive flesh of the point.
Kirk reached around and brushed his hand against Spock’s chest. His fingers just grazed against one of Spock’s nipples, causing the Vulcan to bite his lip and whimper softly.
Jim froze. “Do you want me to stop?” he asked, concerned that he’d pushed too far too fast.
“Please… do not stop,” Spock managed to gasp, and felt the human’s relief wash over him.
Gentle hands grasped his shoulder, urging him wordlessly to turn over. Spock rolled over to face Kirk.
Jim traced Spock’s lips lightly with the tip of his finger. The human’s eyes, usually a fascinating, changeable greenish brown, were darker than Spock had ever seen them before. He stared into them, mesmerized, and saw within their depths both the human’s love and his uncertainty. “Yes,” he whispered, before Jim could even ask the question.
Jim leaned forward and kissed Spock on the mouth, cautiously until he felt the Vulcan’s mouth open willingly beneath his, and then more deeply. Spock felt the human’s cool tongue slip between his teeth; he claimed it with an eagerness that surprised him, consumed suddenly by the need to have more of this touch. How does he do this to me? he thought to himself, running his fingers through Jim’s still-damp hair, relishing the sensation of the human’s breath upon his face, and of his hands on his chest. It was a question, he quickly decided, that he would contemplate later: for now, all he wanted was more of the kiss.
Finally, Jim pulled away and smiled at the Vulcan. “We’ll say that was our first,” he said huskily.
Spock nodded solemnly, leaned forward and kissed the human again, gently and lingeringly. “Our second,” he informed Jim, and was rewarded by a ripple of amusement from the human.
Jim’s eyes flickered downward, and the next thing Spock knew, his neck and his collarbone and his Adam’s apple were being lavished upon by Jim’s soft, insistent lips. Cool, supple fingers glided over the muscles of his breast, tangled idly in his chest hair, quested until they found one of the Vulcan’s nipples. Jim tormented it with his thumb first, and then his lips and tongue and teeth, quickly eliciting another tiny whimper from Spock. Kirk answered with a torrent of love and desire. Spock had the sensation that he was being rolled about by that desire, like a small object in the ocean. He had no control over where the next wave might take him, but he knew Kirk would not let him sink: when the human took his inflamed cock in his hand, he thrust into the grasp with abandon, and something very close to joy. “You are so beautiful,” Jim said aloud, stroking Spock expertly until the Vulcan’s breath grew ragged in his throat. “So hard and so silky and so hot. I wonder what you’d feel like inside of me.”
A tiny needle of unease worked its way into Spock’s consciousness. “Jim…”
“Don’t worry,” Kirk said quickly, cutting off any further protest with a kiss. “That will happen… only when you’re ready. Tonight, let me give you this.” Before Spock could reply, he wriggled lower on the bed, grasped the Vulcan’s slim hips firmly, and slid his mouth over Spock’s rigid sex.
Spock was certain he would fly apart, the pleasure was so intense. He writhed and gasped beneath the human’s tantalizing, tormenting tongue, uncaring that his Vulcan control had burned away irremediably to ashes. He could feel, within his mind, Jim’s determination to pleasure him - to show him that he was safe, and cherished, and desired. …where you belong… Jim projected to Spock, over and over again, as he slid his lips and his tongue rhythmically over the Vulcan’s swollen organ. …where you belong…
And Spock knew within his core the truth of this, and acknowledged it silently to Jim. Throwing his head back, he thrust hard into Kirk’s mouth, crying out as his hot seed spilled from him, into the human’s cool moist throat.
For some moments, Jim played with Spock’s softening penis with his lips, teasing the last droplets of semen from its tip as his hands roamed almost absent-mindedly over the Vulcan’s lean hips and thighs. Spock lay dazed beneath his ministrations, fighting to regain his breath and some of his composure. Finally, he whispered, “Jim.”
With a reluctant sigh, Jim released Spock’s cock and slid back up on the bed until his face was even with the Vulcan’s. Stroking Spock’s angular cheek, he began, “You are…”
But Spock was intent upon tasting Jim – first his mouth - where he found his own essence remained - and then his smooth, golden, enticing skin. Unhurriedly, he ran his lips and his hands at will over Jim’s body, gratified to feel the human’s eager, almost frantic responsiveness to his every touch. At last, he took Jim’s rosy cock almost reverently into his mouth, catching his breath at the flood of sensation that spilled from Kirk into him. Using the bond to guide him, he pleasured Jim until he made the human arch and tremble and call out Spock’s name. When Kirk’s salty, thick fluid finally filled his mouth, he eagerly claimed all of the precious substance, and then pulled Jim up beside him and tucked the human’s head tightly under his chin.
Jim’s lips brushed once against his neck, and he thought of drawing Kirk even closer to him in response, but he found he simply did not have the energy to move. As if sensing this, Jim squirmed nearer to him, and threw his arm protectively over Spock’s chest. …safe… you’re safe with me… Jim told Spock sleepily through the bond.
…safe… Spock repeated back to him, just before he fell asleep, lulled by the beat of Kirk’s heart against his body.
Kirk leaned against the wall of the turbolift, thankful his shift was ended. After two weeks docked at Starbase 9 while depositions were filed and details were rehashed, the Enterprise was finally free again, and heading toward uncharted space. Kirk had practically jumped with joy when he’d received the orders: he was fed up with answering questions and with watching Spock being forced to go over every gruesome detail of the kidnapping. After fourteen days of that kind of treatment, uncharted space would be a welcome change: they couldn’t get there fast enough, as far as he was concerned.
Glad of the privacy of the turbolift, Jim closed his eyes for a moment. He was troubled by vague feelings of sorrow from Spock. For the past two weeks, they had spent every night together, and as Spock had predicted, their bond had strengthened. It had taken five of those nights before Spock had been able to enter Jim without memories of Ifftahn interfering. Jim shivered as he recalled the sensation of the Vulcan’s hard cock thrusting into him and filling him at last with heat and slippery seed. The sight of Spock’s face as he came inside of him had given Jim just as much joy as feeling the Vulcan’s orgasm roll through him across the bond – the knowledge that he had given that release to Spock was something that he would treasure as long as he drew breath.
The turbolift glided to a stop and Kirk disembarked; his brow creased in a little frown as he headed down the corridor toward Spock’s quarters. In spite of what had happened between Spock and him the fifth night and every night thereafter, Jim knew that his bondmate was not fully healed. That would take time and patience… and distance. Distance from Starbase 9, and distance from the Admiress and Ifftahn.
Kikr walked down the corridor directly to Spock’s door and stopped outside, calling to his bondmate silently. At Spock’s summons, he stepped inside, stopping suddenly when he saw that the Vulcan was sitting on his bed with the Alniyat journal open on his lap. When Spock looked up at him, Kirk saw infinite sadness and guilt in the beautiful dark eyes and momentarily was consumed with fury. Damn them all for making him relive that hell, he thought.
Swallowing his anger, he walked over to the bed and sat down beside his bondmate. “Sihtek?” he asked softly, divining the cause of Spock’s distress.
Spock looked down at the open journal and nodded. “It is not logical to wish for what is not,” he told Kirk softly. “And yet, I cannot help regretting what happened to him – and to feel that I should have found a way to stop it.”
Kirk placed his hand over Spock’s and was silent for some time. Finally, he said, “You wrote in that journal that he reminded you of me.”
Spock nodded. “It seemed to me that there were similarities. He was, as you humans would term it, ‘full of life.’ He was unconventional in his thinking. He was passionate about everything, and apathetic about nothing. And…”
“…And he loved you,” Kirk finished for him, very quietly.
“Yes,” Spock whispered.
Kirk took Spock’s hand and drew it up to his lips. After kissing it lightly, he asked, “Let me ask you this: Did Sihtek know that Ifftahn would kill him, if he stabbed him with that dagger?”
Spock hesitated. “I think he must have. Ifftahn was much larger and stronger than he; he must have known that the odds were great that Ifftahn would be able to kill him, even if mortally wounded.”
Kirk nodded. “I’m certain he knew.” He put his arm around Spock and drew him close. “So why did he decide to go ahead and do it anyway?” he asked.
Spock shut his eyes at the memory. “I warned him not to,” he told Kirk. “But…Ifftahn threatened to do to me what he had done to Sihtek,” he finally told Kirk.
Kirk said slowly, “And so he made his choice.” He turned to Spock and asked him, “What would you do, if someone like Ifftahn threatened to rape or kill me?”
Spock’s face darkened; Kirk could feel the tension in the Vulcan’s lean body. “I would kill him,” he told Kirk, without hesitation.
“Even if you knew your life would be forfeit?”
Kirk smiled. “Then, you must understand what he did, and why. I think you should accept his gift,” he told Spock gently. “He gave it to you gladly – even triumphantly. Accept it.”
“His gift,” Spock repeated, uncomprehendingly. “His death was… a gift?”
Kirk shook his head. “His love for you was the gift. He loved you fully, more than he loved his life. I think it earned him the right to make the choice he did.” Jim leaned his head against the Vulcan’s shoulder and said thoughtfully, “I’ve been given a precious gift, too.”
“Indeed,” Spock said. “What is it?” He fully expected his bondmate to tell him the gift was the love that he, Spock, had given him.
But the human surprised him, as he so often did. He suddenly clutched Spock to him tightly, almost desperately, and his feelings were so mixed that Spock could not tell, even through the bond, whether the embrace was joyful or sorrowful. “Time,” Kirk told the Vulcan fiercely. “I was given time.” The riveting, changeable eyes held Spock’s. “Time to put old memories in their place,” he told Spock, in a whisper. “And time to create new ones – with you.”
The Vulcan’s touch, on Kirk’s cheek, was infinitely tender; his hand slid down quickly to Kirk’s parted lips. “A gift, indeed,” Spock acknowledged, just before he leaned down and kissed Jim’s upturned mouth.