DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Juanita Salicrup and is copyright (c) 1978 by Juanita Salicrup. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Galactic Discourse #2, Laurie Huff editor. 1978.

The Ninth Circle

Juanita Salicrup

(Editor's Note: This is the scene we didn't see in "Operation: Annihilate").

McCoy snapped off the vision analyzer with a sense of despair. He looked down at the lean, impassive face of the First Officer, thinking that if it were possible, that face was even less readable without the animation ordinarily lighting the deep eyes. Whatever secrets Spock had possessed, whatever emotions he could not allow himself to convey in words or gestures, even the twinkle of dry humor -- all had shone forth from those eyes.

The eyes are windows of the soul. McCoy had heard that somewhere. It had never been truer of anyone than of Spock. Often the windows of a tormented, riven, bleeding soul. Sometimes the windows into the enormous wells of gentleness and compassion inside the man. Always, the only real clue to what he was thinking -- or feeling. Over the years he'd learned to control his facial muscles, composing them into an almost perfect mask. But his eyes -- his eyes said things prohibited to his lips.

Until now.

Henceforth, they would read as blankly as onyx. And Spock would be locked forever within himself, giving the watcher no signpost clues to the pathways of his soul.

"Well, Doctor?" The bass voice was composed, maddeningly calm.

McCoy bit his lip and shook his head. Then he remembered Spock couldn't see him and mentally kicked himself.

"Nothing, Spock. I'm -- sorry," he said with husky gentleness. Sorry ?! God almighty! Sorry isn't a tenth of it -- not a hundredth!

"It is no one's fault, Doctor. I took the risk willingly. The price will be paid -- also willingly."

Damn that telepathic sensitivity! McCoy snarled inside himself. Here he sits, calm as a glass of milk, and I've destroyed his life and career! Why won't he blame me?!

"Spock, listen -- I--"

"Doctor, there is no point in rehashing it. What was done had to be done. We must go on from here. I must learn to live with this. You, I believe, are currently required to assist the Captain with the decontamination program.?

"Yes." It was wrenched from McCoy. He didn't want to leave it at this. Wouldn't. "Spock, I -- I'll be back in a short while, as soon as I'm finished."

"Yes, Doctor." There was a certain listlessness there. Was it getting through to him that a blind First Officer had less future than a snowflake? McCoy watched the fine-boned face. Nothing. A wall of stone.

"Christine!" McCoy tossed over his shoulder.

"Doctor, that is unnecessary," protested the Vulcan, his face turning blindly toward where he thought McCoy should be. Like all blind people, his sense of direction was a little off. Blank eyes "looked" past the doctor.

"It is, Spock. I can't leave you alone." He touched the thin, blue-clad shoulder to soften the words.

Chapel was at his elbow in a moment. "Yes, Doctor?" Good. Her voice was just right, professional, detached.

"Uh -- stay with Spock, will you? I have to assist Captain Kirk."

It would have been difficult to say whether the silence that stretched out when he'd gone was more painful for the sighted Christine or the blind First Officer. Spock sat still, his face the more frozen with its now expressionless eyes. Chapel grew nervous and fussed a bit around him until at last he turned toward her.

"Nurse." His hand groped toward her and she caught it with her own. With gentle deliberateness, he withdrew his hand from her grasp. He could not see it, but he was certain she blushed.

"Yes, Mr. Spock?"

"It is not necessary for you to do anything for me. I do not require your attentions. You have, I am certain, more important duties--"

"Mr. Spock," Christine's voice was surprisingly firm, even to her. "Doctor McCoy told me to remain with you while he is gone. You may be my superior officer, but I take my orders from him."

"I see," he said softly and clasped his hands together in his lap, head bowing slightly.

"Mr. Spock--"

He raised his head again. "Yes?"

"I -- I'm terribly sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?"

A moment's pause. "Yes. There is."

"What is it?"

"I should like to be left alone for a while."

Stung, Christine protested, "But I've already told you--"

"I shall not move. I require nothing at the moment. Should I find myself in need of assistance, I will call." When he sensed her hesitation, he added, "Please --"

"All right, Mr. Spock. I'll be right nearby."

He inclined his head gravely, a gesture of dismissal.

She nodded and he heard her retreating footsteps with a mixture of relief and loneliness. He regretted that he had never been able to reach out to her, to return in kind that which she offered, but it was too late for that now... too late. Too late for so many things. The thought brought a nearly unbearable flash of agony all unbidden.

How incredible was this process called life. Its vagaries how unexpected and swift. In a single fleeting instant all that had been was no more, and that which had never been was given birth. Truly incredible.

Despite his will to wish it otherwise, thoughts of his lost and newborn lives intruded. There was an old Earth saying that one's life passed before the mind's eye in that instant preceding death. Experiencing the phenomena now, Spock reflected that it wasn't limited to time before death... It also occurred afterward. For surely he'd suffered a kind of death.

Bright images, made brighter by the blackness in which he dwelt, danced before him. All of Vulcan's harsh, demanding beauty -- the sights, sounds and smells of home ... the fairness of his mother's face, the stern majesty of his father's ... Starfleet Academy, its long, low white buildings and drill fields nestled in the green American valley and spread out over the plains beyond ... the silver-white beauty of NCC-1701 as she hung like a jeweled lamp in the darkness of space ... the places he'd been, the beings he'd encountered ... and the faces: Christopher Pike, Number One, Philip Boyce, Leonard McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Uhura, Chapel, Chekov ... the roll call spun past, each name with its accompanying face, its memory and separate feeling. And at last, to begin and end it, that single warmest memory -- the ambergold aura of James T. Kirk, wearing that special, nearly smiling, always understanding, sidelong glance that would remain forever strongest in Spock's mind. This man had taught him friendship and brought him love. Whatever warmth he expressed now, he knew -- but for Kirk -- would never have surfaced in him.

And now it was all over ... past, lost, gone ... though never to be forgotten.

The pain which had lurked behind his thoughts swept over him, a storm of agony that showed the depth of his own loneliness.

Control! he ordered, but his mind refused simple cooperation. Bitterly, he thought that surely a Vulcan, a true Vulcan, would handle this trauma far better than he. His years among humans had not prepared him for so swift a return to his own people, who would neither comprehend nor approve his loneliness and sense of loss. The only ones who would understand were here, and all too soon he would be gone from them for always.

How brief a time...

The sound of footsteps broke into his reverie and he lifted his head, ears reaching out to identify the new arrival.

"Excuse me, sir," the medtech apologized as he entered the room. "Just a few duties to take care of," he explained.

"I see. Proceed." The First Officer waved a hand and fell to brooding once more. The technician watched him as he worked, curious and sympathetic. Christine had sent him to keep an eye on the commander, and though the order had mystified him at first, he understood it now. Spock looked haunted.

The Vulcan sat silently, arms folded, head bowed and slightly tilted to one side. Aware of the corpsman and his ill-disguised vigilance, Spock ignored the man and lost himself in contemplation once more.

Vulcan. Yes, he was Vulcan -- now again Vulcan as once he had been before he'd set his signature to the application which had riven his peace with Sarek.

His father. What would he have to say? Would Spock even be welcome back in his father's house? Seventeen point three Federation Standard years had passed since his fateful life decision and the schism between them. Would proud, stubborn Sarek, Ambassador for all Vulcan, close the gates of the ancestral home to Spock? Or would he dutifully make some small place for the prodigal, and never cease to remind him -- non-verbally at least -- that if he'd followed the path his father had prepared for him he would not now be blind ... and dependent.

The thought chilled Spock, who shivered visibly. The forgotten corpsman saw and offered, "Sir -- would you be more comfortable in bed? A thermal coverlet would be warm..."

Spock stiffened with revulsion at the sympathy in the man's voice.

"No, technician!" he snapped, rather more harshly than he'd intended. He could sense the offended withdrawal, and hastened to make amends.

"I regret my sharpness... Yes. Perhaps it would be better if I were to lie down. I could be left alone safely then. And you could resume your duties elsewhere... Also-- (he could almost see the man's mollified expression) -- a coverlet would be most welcome. I am grateful."

"Very good, sir." The man bustled around, helping Spock into a diagnosbed, settling him comfortably. Then he bent to remove the service boots. At the first touch of his hands on the shining leather, the outraged Vulcan sat up.

"Just what do you think you are doing, corpsman?" he inquired icily.

Startled, the man swung around to face the blind officer, fumbling for an answer.

"Uh -- sir -- your boots," he stammered lamely, blanching at the almost fierce look on Spock's lean face.

"I am entirely capable of removing them myself, Ensign, I assure you," the Vulcan grated.

"Er -- yes, sir. Of course, Mr. Spock. I -- I'm sorry..."

Ignoring the attempted apology, Spock reached down and removed his boots swiftly and gracefully. With a gesture that was almost disdainful, he held them out to the technician, who had to reach for them, and then lay back on the bed. Swallowing hard, the man placed the boots to one side and reached up to adjust the mediscanner panel for Spock's physiology. He threw a light thermal air coverlet over Spock and after the Vulcan assured him he would be quite satisfactory, left him alone.

Almost grateful to depart, Spock mused. A natural human reaction to disability ... Perhaps not only human...

He reflected on the dispassionate and slightly disapproving reaction probable from his Vulcan people, not so much for his blindness as for its cause. Like his father, many had thought his decision to enter Starfleet precipitous and unwise. Well, its lack of wisdom was hereby proven in one brutal stroke.

With that action, I once again proved myself my mother's rather than my father's son, and this has been the ultimate result of such behavior. Vulcans would have it understood that these are ever the just desserts of those who would flout tradition and parental will. He sighed. The thought brought an unbidden face into sharp focus -- the sweet, still lovely, blue-eyed face of the single woman in the galaxy whom Spock loved with all the fierce, secret, unreserved passion of his hybrid heart -- his mother, Amanda. Unconsciously, he twisted in pain at the thought of her sorrow over his accident. He wished fervently that he could spare her the agony, and knew it was precisely her love that would cause her suffering. For as long as she lived, his human mother would ache for each wound inflicted on her precious and beloved son.

The surge of pained anticipation scalded his soul and he fought again for Vulcan control over a wave of burning, raw emotion. With an effort, he finally contained himself, casting about for some thought to lead him away from the inner vision of Amanda's face streaked with tears. Fleeing the tormenting thought, his mind lit on another image, also female, also bound to his now somewhat barren future -- T'Pring.

And how would T'Pring react? Never more than merely obedient to the duty of their bonding, she had not been pliant, nor inwardly warm to his half alien nature. He'd never been entirely comfortable with the judging look in her wide, beautiful eyes. She was not pleased at the prospect of being obliged to mate with the rebel who had scorched his family with disgrace by ignoring his father's wishes and entering Starfleet.

He was not so naive that he did not realize she was only pacified by the wealth and prestige of his clan, the honor of his father's position, and the grandeur of the ancestral home that would one day be their heritage. No. He was not so foolish that he was not aware that the material gains were made additionally attractive by the imagined prospect of those long periods when he would be absent on Starfleet duty and she would be chatelaine of his family's considerable holdings.

He wondered dully what her reaction would be to the reality of having the anticipated absentee husband suddenly thrust upon her a cripple. Knowing her family's shrewd mercantile reputation, he suspected she might well appeal to the council to free herself from a bonding to one who would never be able to live an entirely normal life. He did not blame her. They had never learned to know one another, and it was likely she would be glad to have the excuse to choose freedom.

Spock turned his thoughts to his prospects if T'Pring succeeded in gaining her freedom. Bonding arrangements for the simple purpose of saving the male's life had been made in certain exceptional cases. Stinle, who had been mangled in a laboratory accident and then had his limbs replaced with bionic units ... and Somair, the blinded physicist who lived in virtual seclusion in the L'langon foothills -- both had been rebonded by concilar decree. There were others, Spock knew. Few had ever wed the women in question -- and the choice was always given the woman under the circumstances.

No one wishes to be shackled to, much less freely embrace, the half living, he reflected with a touch of bitterness.

He thought of Somair again, sternly reproving himself for his emotional reaction. Special computer and laboratory equipment arrangements had been made for the scientist, and he lived a productive and useful, if lonely, existence. Certainly Spock could expect some similar arrangement to be made in his case. The prospect brought on a most un-Vulcan shudder and he clutched at the air coverlet, grateful for its enveloping warmth.

Weary with painful contemplations, he was considering the benefits of light meditation when the sound of familiar footsteps intruded on his solitude.

Instinctively, he turned his head toward the sound.

"Doctor McCoy?"

"Yes, Spock. It's me." The doctor's voice sounded uncharacteristically somber -- and old. Spock frowned.

"How is the decontamination proceeding?"

"It's on schedule. I just set up medical teams to wait in the transporter rooms for immediate beamdown when the job is complete. There'll likely be a lot of people down there in need of treatment."


There was silence a moment and then McCoy bit his lip. He came closer to the bed where Spock lay, not really relaxed, sightless eyes fixed on the gray-blue ceiling.

"Uh -- Spock..."

"Yes, Doctor?" The elegant head turned toward him again.

"Look... I -- I wanted to say I'm sorry...That is -- I want to apologize."

"That is unnecessary, McCoy. It was my choice, a scientist's choice. I said as much earlier."

"I know you did...but I blame myself..."

"I am aware of that, and if I could do anything to convince you that you bear no guilt in this situation, be assured that I would do it swiftly."

McCoy swallowed with difficulty. "Damn it, Spock! I can't stand your compassion -- if you want the truth! If that were me on the bed, I'd -- I'd--"

"You would be saying much the same thing I am now saying ... in your own inimitable way," Spock interrupted gently.

"Maybe. Maybe. I dunno. I've thought about it real hard over the last half hour and -- Hell! I always knew I wasn't the man you are ... but this proves it! I'd really feel better if you'd rail at me, call me an incompetent ass -- anything!"

"Would you, Doctor? I think not. In any case, I could not live easily with the knowledge of causing you pain with an unjust castigation when I am the one who decided upon the course of action and committed myself to it."

"Well," the doctor said huskily, "I'm going to have to live with the punishment anyway..."

"A regrettable human tendency to don a hair shirt at the slightest provocation..."

Spock's attempted lightness fell flat.

"Listen, Spock ... I'm not like you, a Vulcan. I can't put this aside and say to myself 'better luck next time.' If each man has to live in his own private hell, then this is mine, knowing what I did to you in a moment's carelessness. Don't try to tell me to pass it off."

"I would not so insult your intelligence, doctor. I merely suggest the reference to 'hell' is, perhaps, too harsh a judgment for yourself. If I am correct in my recollection, there is no reprieve from your 'hell,' is there?"

"No. There's not," McCoy said thickly. He cleared his throat. "But you wouldn't know about such things, would you, Spock? I mean -- hell, or carelessness. They're both alien to you."

For a moment, Spock was silent. Then in a voice pitched so low that McCoy could scarcely hear it from only a few feet away, he murmured, "Alien to me? Oh, no, McCoy. I know the borders of hell better perhaps than even you, for I travel its confines each day of my life. Today, I have descended to its ninth circle."

The doctor choked and turned away, eyes filling with treacherous tears. A look of ineffable sadness passed over Spock's angular face.

"Bones..." he said softly. "Please -- do not do this to yourself ... not on my account. That I should cause your humanity to torment you so would bring me ... great pain..."

Hastily, the physician drew a disposahank out of his medical coat and blew his nose. He gathered his careening emotions.

"Sorry. Only human, you know," he muttered with an attempt at lightness to relieve the tension.

"Yes. I know," Spock replied gently. "You are always recommending that I become more human. May I be so bold as to recommend that you consider becoming ... perhaps more Vulcan? At least concerning this? ... For your own good?"

With a hint of the old fire between them, McCoy asked, "Is that supposed to be some kind of a crack?"

Spock sighed audibly. "No, Doctor. Despite your mistaken assumption of my motives, I do not enjoy prodding at you. And I am not trying to insult you now ... nor to punish you. Can we not, even at this juncture, finally abandon our pretenses? I do not wish to hurt you. You have, after all, proven yourself a friend."

McCoy was startled, briefly warmed, and then felt doubly guilty. "That's very hard to take right now ... all things considered." His voice was heavy again.

Spock closed his unseeing eyes. "Nevertheless -- it is so ... and I must acknowledge it."

He opened his eyes again, "looking" toward McCoy, and suddenly his face contorted in pain. His body arched and he gave a small, stifled groan, hands reaching to cover his eyes.

"What is it, Spock?! What's the matter?" shouted McCoy, leaping to his side.

"Eyes -- pain! Like daggers!" Spock writhed in McCoy's grip, rubbing at suddenly streaming eyes. His head whipped from side to side as McCoy grabbed his hands.

"Leave them alone!" the doctor snapped, struggling to hold him from twisting off the bed. Over his shoulder, he bellowed, "Christine! Get in here -- quick!"

The nurse dashed in. Eyes on Spock and the mediscanner above the bed, its pain indicator fluctuating wildly, McCoy muttered, "Damn it! There shouldn't be any pain! None! You're blind and the cell creatures have been purged from your system!"

He turned to Chapel. "Here -- you hold his hands. Don't let him touch his eyes." To the pain-wracked Vulcan, he said, "Spock! Try not to fight her so much! And lie still! I have to take a reading!"

Spock's breath came in deep gasps, but he forced control on his trembling body, finally lying still as McCoy bent over him with a small optical instrument.

The doctor adjusted the instrument, muttering testily about what sort of horrors Spock's unpredictable hybrid system had cooked up to torture him this time.

Gently he pried open one eyelid, feeling the long, lean body tense. "Tell me..." he prompted.

"Light! McCoy, I see light!" Spock's face was abruptly transfixed with something very like joy.

"Turn down the room lights, Chris," McCoy ordered as he switched his examination to Spock's other eye.

"Yes, Doctor."

In a moment, she was back at his side in the gloom.

"Get me a ten percent optalin solution, Chris -- and surgical swabs. I want you to bathe his eyes."

The nurse nodded, returning with the solution and swabs a few moments later. She saturated the material with the liquid and bent over the Vulcan. Tenderly, she began to bathe the green-rimmed eyes.

"Open them again, Spock -- slowly," McCoy ordered.

The Vulcan complied, blinking once.

"How is it?"

"Dim ... indistinct," Spock reported.

"Fine. Close them. Chris? Again; please."

The nurse repeated her actions, sharing the tension radiating from the doctor and the rigid man on the bed.

"All right. Open your eyes and tell me what you see this time."

Spock blinked several times. "There seem ... to be blurred images..."

"Again, Chris," McCoy directed. "A good dose this time."

Christine obeyed, soaking the deepset eyes with solution. When Spock opened them again, she found herself holding her breath and suspected McCoy was doing the same.

Spock blinked once, twice, three times ... his eyes fixed and staring. Chapel bit her lip, and McCoy shifted impatiently, anxiously.

One long eyebrow rose. "Doctor, you may resume breathing. I am fully functional once more."

McCoy's jaw fell open at a most unprofessional angle, and Christine gasped.

"How?" the doctor yelped. "That's all I want to know! Tell me how?!!"

Spock sat up with feline grace. "The natural superiority of Vulcan physiology ... proven once again." He addressed his remarks to both McCoy and Christine. "Though I had not remembered until now -- the memory lost perhaps in the confusion earlier -- the Vulcan eye is equipped with a special inner lid. To outward appearance, it is clear, and cannot be seen without certain detection equipment. It works somewhat on the principal of a one-way mirror, blocking out all visual images from inside, invisible from outside. It functions as a sort of sunscreen, if you will -- a natural protection against the harsh light of the suns on my home planet..."

"Oh -- really?" McCoy interrupted with deceptive softness.

"Yes," Spock assured him, warming to his role as medical instructor. "You see, under most circumstances, it would not be needed and would remain retracted. Under the impact of the light rays used in the chamber, it 'snapped' into place. My discomfort was caused by its belated retraction. Altogether a most remarkable Vulcan physiological fail-safe that--"

"That you forgot," McCoy challenged.

Spock looked momentarily uncomfortable. "Yes. However--"

"Well, if I were you, Spock, I wouldn't brag about Vulcan physiology. At the moment, the superiority of the Vulcan memory is in some question! You hadn't better brag about that!"

Chapel choked, withdrawing to dispose of the optalin and swabs before she embarrassed them both with her presense.

"Doctor, I believe I am due at my post," Spock countered, ignoring McCoy's potshot with supreme aplomb. He got off the table and reached for his boots.

"Are you asking me, or telling me, Spock?"

"I am asking, of course. I would not presume to override your authority as Chief Medical Officer."

"The hell you wouldn't!"

Spock halted in the act of pulling on his second boot. "Am I to understand that I am not permitted to go to the bridge?" he asked innocently.

McCoy pursed his lips, apparently considering the idea. Then he relented.

"No. You can go. Just as long as I go with you."

"Is that medically necessary, Doctor?''

"Well -- it won't be any help to you, but it'll be great for me," McCoy announced, bobbing up on his toes, hands clasped behind his back. "I can't wait to see Jim's face when you stroll over to the library computer!"

"Really, Doctor! I--"

"Just shut up and march before I change my mind and put you in quarantine!" McCoy warned, pointing Spock toward the corridor exit.

As the door snapped shut behind them, Christine Chapel dissolved into relieved chuckles. They were both obviously far too embarrassed by their late emotional scene to do anything but retreat behind their familiar masks now that things were back to normal.

"Normal," she sighed. "What a lovely word!"