DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of M. L. "Steve" Barnes and is copyright (c) 1978 by M. L. "Steve" Barnes. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Pastaklan Vesla #5.



THY BROTHER'S KEEPER

M. L. "Steve" Barnes



The bridge was unusually quiet. Except for the hum of equipment and the occasional murmur of softly delivered reports, there was little sound. Underneath the surface calm, though, was the strain of almost unbearable tension. Somewhere out in deep space was an enemy ship. And the Enterprise was seeking it with all of her silent and invisible eyes and ears. It had been like this for two days; everyone was on alert.

The turbolift doors slid open, their whine sounding loud in the silence, and Doctor McCoy stepped out. He, at least, looked completely relaxed. He sauntered over to the Captain's chair and rested a friendly arm on its back.

"Why not come down for a break, Jim?" he asked. "You've been on duty for twelve straight hours. Those Klingons will wait."

Jim Kirk gave his old friend the benefit of a wan smile.

"That's just it, Bones. I don't want them to wait. If they slip through our defenses and get a chance to strike again, the results could be disastrous. From all reports, this new weapon they have must be deadly."

McCoy sighed and shook his head sadly.

"The ultimate weapon, huh? Don't we ever learn? Practically every star system has developed one in its history."

"Well, this time it was the Klingons' turn. And, we can't let them into Federation Territory to use it again."

"Do you know what it is? How it operates?"

"No, Bones. There have been two reports of unprovoked attacks and neither time was there any clue as to what happened. Each time the log of the ship under attack simply made a notation that they had had contact with the Klingons. Spock turned full scanners on the hulk of that freighter we found. The ship itself wasn't even harmed. But everyone in it was dead. The Federation is still investigating that other ship. The re-con teams haven't been able to find out what happened and the medical men don't seem to offer much help."

"Well, I can understand that. From the tests I took aboard the freighter, I would say it isn't very likely we're going to come up with the answer very soon. Massive damage to the cortex and cerebrum. Almost as though an electrical charge of tremendous voltage had gone through their brains. But, what puzzles me, Jim, is the way we discovered them. It looked as if the whole crew had simultaneously gone insane. Most of that crew died at their shipmate's hands. I can't explain it."

"So far, we haven't caught up with them, but we will ... we will!" There was a grimness about Jim Kirk that McCoy found distressing; one of the Captain's old friends had commanded the freighter.

Kirk spun around to face the library computer station. He was impatient and restive.

"Spock?"

The Vulcan turned from a last look into the blue glow of the scanners and shook his head.

"Nothing, Captain."

"Keep on it. Full scan."

Spock's quiet gaze shifted to lock briefly with McCoy's. Then, with what appeared to be almost a sigh, he returned his attention to his scanners.

Lt. Uhura swung about to face the Vulcan's back.

"Mr. Spock, I have a personal message for you. It's from your hone planet of Vulcan."

Spock straightened and his unreadable face consulted Kirk silently. McCoy wondered that the Captain ever knew what was in that alien mind. But, apparently, they had developed their own kind of telepathy over the years, for Kirk nodded, slowly.

"Go ahead, Spock. It's quiet up here for now. I'll call you if anything changes. Chekov, take Spock's station."

The Vulcan headed for the turbolift.

"Put the message on my private band and pipe it down to my quarters, Lieutenant," he said over his shoulder.

McCoy watched the doors close behind the First Officer, his curiosity barely at bay.

"Now, I wonder what that's all about..." he muttered.

* * *

Spock had no premonition of trouble. Perhaps, because his mind had been so concerned with the Klingons, his usual telepathic powers were at a low ebb. He was unprepared for the words that poured out at him from the view screen. Indeed, he failed to grasp total message. Only bits and pieces filtered through his almost human shock.

And then her face appeared, so familiar and so loved. "...please come home. I need you, Spock."

The message ended and the screen went blank. He sat silently for awhile, his mind slowly emptying, turning away from the painful memories.

He drew himself together and consulted his chronometer. A day to reach Vulcan and the ceremony of Ta-Koola tomorrow. By using a shuttlecraft, he could reach Altair VI and from there get a passage home. He could just make it. The Ceremony was as logical as all others on Vulcan. It was stylized and formal, with dignitaries and all the pomp they required. Attendance was expected, almost mandatory. His absence would be such a breach of manners that all of Vulcan would never forgive it. He must go. And, perhaps his presence would be a small help to her. She had had so little from him in the past.

With eyes that were not quite as clear as before, Spock rose and went to request the necessary leave.

* * *

Spock was in the turbolift returning to the bridge when the Red Alert went off. All thoughts of the message he had just received were temporarily wiped from his mind. Brain at attention, he stepped from the elevator into chaos.

The navigator and weaponry men were down. They were lying strangely still, and Spock immediately dismissed them. Jim Kirk was on his feet in front of the main screen, hands clenched over his face, and echo of a terrible cry dying on his lips. As Spock started to move towards him, he saw McCoy frantically wave him to one side.

"Spock, watch out! He's out of his head. He doesn't recognize anyone!"

Just then, Kirk lowered his hands and, for a moment, Spock looked into absolute madness. The eyes were unrecognizable as the captain's, the face contorted. As the Vulcan hesitated, uncertain how to approach, Kirk leaped at McCoy, his hands clawing at the medical man. Again, a wordless cry of inhuman pain was torn from his throat.

As Kirk reached McCoy, Spock reached the Captain. He was behind him in a cat-like move and, his hand reached swiftly for the apex of neck and shoulder.

Kirk spun on his heel and, as he lost consciousness, his eyes filled with disbelief, stared into Spock's.

The Vulcan caught him as he fell and he gently lowered his Captain to the deck. He saw McCoy moving to the aid of the fallen man.

Spock strode to the command chair. Uhura was in front of it, her mouth agape, her eyes wide with fear. He pushed her aside, none-too-gently, and hit the intercom switch.

"Security... send a team to the bridge."

McCoy had bent briefly over the Captain. He rose now from beside the other two casualties and crossed to Spock.

"Security, Spock? The Captain needs medical help, not the brig!"

"Doctor, should he revive in the same condition as he was a moment ago, you will need all the restraints you can muster to keep him in Sickbay." He paused and glanced toward the two fallen men. "Ensigns Bowman and Schultz?"

"Both dead. And, from the looks, they died the same way the crew of that freighter did."

Spock spun on his heel.

"Chekov, you were at the scanners. What happened?"

"The Klingons, sir -- they slipped in with incredible speed." The Russian's face was pale, his hand unsteady. "I barely had time to warn the Captain. He ordered the main screen on ... And, then it happened."

"What happened, Mr. Chekov? I must know exactly what transpired."

The ensign gulped and hesitated. At last, he found his tongue.

"Some ... some kind of beam, sir. I didn't see it. I had turned back to the scanners, watching for a phaser burst. But, instead I saw the bridge light up around me. Almost at the same instant, the sensors recorded a tremendous surge of energy."

"Energy, Mr. Chekov? What type of energy?"

"Unknown, Mr. Spock. It failed to match any known power the sensors are programmed for."

"He's right, Mr. Spock. It was a beam." Uhura had regained most of her composure. "My back was to the screen, but the whole bridge glowed for a second."

Spock revolved to face the rest of the bridge crew.

"Did anyone actually see this light?"

There were murmurs of denial.

"Dr. McCoy?" The Vulcan faced the medic who had returned to Kirk's side,

"No, Spock. Sorry. I was just heading for the turbolift. My back was to the screen also."

Spock sighed and drew his lips into a tighter line.

"Then we must assume, until facts prove otherwise, that the Captain and the two dead men were the only ones looking forward into the viewscreen at the time the light beam struck." He looked up as the Security team entered. "There is your answer, Dr. McCoy. Begin your research on the Captain from that premise. As our only survivor to date, he may hold the solution. We must know what that energy was."

"Spock..." McCoy began in protest. He felt unable to use Jim as a guinea pig.

The Vulcan looked directly at him. His gaze did not waver and McCoy saw no alteration in his expression.

"I know, Doctor," he said quietly. "But he is our only clue so far. Try to help him." He moved away, his manner again brisk. "Chekov, where are the Klingons now?"

The Russian had already returned to his post, anticipating the First Officer's wishes. "They simply made a run on us, sir, and then retreated. Their course is seven mark three, three. I make their speed to be ..." He stopped and looked up at the Vulcan, his face showing incredulity. "Warp Nine, sir!"

The Vulcan was at his side immediately, bending over the scanners.

"Impossible, Ensign. The Klingons could not attain that speed with their present power source and engines." He bent over the scanner and fiddled with the adjustments. At last, he straightened and punched a button on the computer console. "Computer, run an analysis on sensors and provide data as to their present reliability."

"Working," said the monotonous voice. Then, almost instantaneously, it replied, "Present reliability of sensors is well within standard operative norms. Correction factor less than .0002..."

"Acknowledged." Spock turned slowly back to meet the bridge crews' astounded gaze. He watched gravely while the bodies of the two men were recovered and Kirk carried below, McCoy at his side. Chekov glanced up at the Vulcan's expression. As usual, he got nothing for his efforts.

"What does it mean, Mr. Spock?" he finally asked.

"It simply means, Ensign, that the Klingons have discovered a new power source. Or perhaps..." He stopped and a look of intense concentrated crossed his features.

"Yes, sir?"

"Unable to form a hypothesis at this time, Mr. Chekov. We do not have sufficient data. I suggest that we pursue the Klingons and attempt to remedy that situation." He looked at the new helmsman who had slipped unobtrusively into place. "Fix your course from Mr. Chekov's readings, helmsman. Warp Factor Eight."

"Yes, sir."

"Lt. Uhura, contact Star Fleet Command and inform them of the new developments." He seated himself in the command chair.

Uhura completed the call, then relayed a terse message to Spock.

"Sir, we are to pursue the Klingons and overtake them at all costs. You are instructed to use your own discretion in case of an encounter."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." He leaned forward, eyes glued to the viewscreen.

Uhura got up and moved closer to the command chair. She had a sudden need to feel humanity near her, even if it was only Spock with his remoteness.

"Mr. Spock..." Her voice was low. "Do you think the Captain will be all right?"

"We must leave him in the good doctor's hands, Miss Uhura ... and hope for the best."

She was startled at his use of the word "hope" and glanced quickly at him. He was staring straight ahead, his face frozen into an immobile mask. He appeared unaware of her regard.

She felt words tremble on her lips, a need to communicate with this silent man. Then she signed and started to turn away.

"Yes, sir," was the sum total of what she finally said.

He suddenly stiffened and, for a few minutes, she saw his eyes close. Just as she was about to ask him what was wrong, he opened his eyes and spoke softly.

"Lieutenant, please contact Vulcan for me on the personal frequency. Inform the High Council I will be unable to attend the Ceremony."

She hesitated, waiting for him to say more. When it became obvious that nothing more was forthcoming, she did as he had ordered. Uhura felt as if she was in a nightmare; nothing was making any sense at all.

* * *

Four hours passed, and then five. The sensor trace of the Klingons was growing faint as they pulled away. Spock ordered Warp Nine over Scotty's violent protests.

Another hour passed. Scott called the bridge, the angry burr practically making him unintelligible. Spock gave no sign that he was perturbed by the engineer's words.

"Mr. Scott, I am aware of the problem. But, I am also aware that the Klingons cannot maintain this speed for long periods, either. The design of their ship precludes that possibility. It is my belief that with you as our engineer, we should outlast them."

Scotty broke off communications, muttering: "Vulcan flattery; it's like a sledge hammer!"

Spock contacted sickbay.

"How is the Captain, Doctor? And, have you discovered the problem?"

McCoy's sigh was audible even over the intercom.

"I was just about to call you, Spock. He's conscious, but I have to keep him sedated. He's out of his head, a raving lunatic... And, yes, Spock, for your statistics, I think I have come up with the answer."

There was a long stretch of silence.

"Doctor, I'm waiting." This from Spock.

"Well, as close as I can figure, it's a beam similar to the projections you received from the Medusan Ambassador. Sort of an electrical scrambling of brain patters -- extremely painful and it causes instant insanity." McCoy paused and his voice sounded weary as he resumed speaking. "There's my diagnosis, Spock, for all the good it does Jim."

"It is of some value, Doctor. Thank you." He started to break contact.

"And, what about Jim?"

"I am confident that you will find a solution, Dr. McCoy. Let me know if I may be of any help."

"As a matter of fact, I think you can be. Can I see you down here for a moment?"

Spock's look consulted Chekov. The young Russian shook his head.

"I can spare a moment, Doctor, if you will be brief."

"I'll be brief..." McCoy's voice was suddenly heated, but he apparently mastered his anger. "I'll see you in sickbay. McCoy out."

Spock leaned over the chair and contacted the Science Labs.

"I want the Science Labs to work full speed on making goggles similar to those used against the Medusan. They are to be brought to the bridge as soon as completed. Bridge personnel are to wear them at all times while on duty." He rose and said to Uhura, "Lieutenant, I will be in sickbay if I am needed. I will be back as soon as possible." He strode to the turbolift and was gone.

* * *

McCoy glanced up from a tape he was viewing, as Spock entered Sickbay. He thought the Vulcan looked a little haggard, but that might have been a reflection of his own state of mind.

"Has there been any change, Doctor?" the First Officer asked.

"No change. I'm getting worried, Spock. If this keeps up, Jim will die. The body can take only so much strain and then it simply ceases to function. He's getting very neat to that point."

Spock said nothing. His eyes were resting on the still figure in the room beyond. McCoy could not be certain what he read on that face, but it looked to him very much like indecision.

"You said I might be able to help, Doctor. In what way?"

"Spock..." McCoy had a nagging idea at the back of his mind, a faint glimmer of hope. "Do you remember the thing Miranda did to you when the Medusan Ambassador drove you insane? A sort of mind meld that brought you out of it. Do you know how to do that type of mind touch?"

The Vulcan's body stilled, until even his breathing was imperceptible to the doctor. He was suddenly as motionless as a statue, held in rigid control. McCoy could not help thinking it was a beautifully quiet way to expressing tension.

"Yes, to both questions." His voice was as steady as always.

"Well, couldn't you use it to help Jim? I mean, couldn't you reach him and pull him out of this? It may be his only chance!"

The First Officer made no reply for a moment. Just as McCoy was about to repeat the question, he finally answered.

"No, Doctor. It would be impossible."

"Why? Because Jim's human? You're half human and it worked on you."

The Vulcan exhaled a slow breath.

"That has nothing to do with it, Doctor. I ... am simply ... not able to do it." He turned abruptly and was gone before McCoy could find his tongue.

Outside Sickbay, in the empty corridor, the Vulcan leaned for a brief time against the supporting wall. His face altered slightly and, for a second time that day, his eyes closed. After a moment, he drew himself erect and, with his shoulders squared, proceeded down the corridor with a measured stride.

* * *

As he reached the bridge, the Science Labs delivered the protective goggles. Under the Vulcan's watchful eye, everyone on duty donned them.

Scotty called at that moment to report the warp engines were showing signs of definite stress with breakdown imminent.

Just then, Chekov turned around and said excitedly, "Mr. Spock! The Klingon vessel has slowed! Her warp engines have failed!"

The Vulcan leaned over the intercom switch.

"Nurse them along, Mr. Scott," he urged. "We are drawing within range of the Klingons."

"They could blow at any minute, Mr. Spock," the Scot protested. "And I've no need to tell you the consequences!"

And, shortly he called back.

"That's it, Mr. Spock. You are now the captain of an impulse driven ship! The warp engines won't be operational until we get a complete overhaul."

Spock sat back to lace his fingers together in a steeple before his face. Uhura and Chekov exchanged glances. What now?

Chekov took another careful look into the scanners, and a grin broke out on his face.

"Mr. Spock! The Klingons! They've almost stopped! Indicators show their impulse engines are barely able to operate!"

"Helmsman, steady as she goes." The First Officer leaned forward intently. "Try to close the gap between us. Chekov, stand by those scanners. Let me know the minute they launch a phaser attack."

Time inched by slowly. They closed on the Klingon ship bit by bit. Within two hours, they were within phaser range. Still, the ship ahead did not turn and fight. Spock permitted his eyebrows to escape his control, and then he frowned. He got up and went to Chekov's side.

"Mr. Chekov, will you run an energy scan on that ship? I want to know the status of her phaser banks."

"Yes, sir." The Russian made a few rapid computations. He then looked at the Vulcan, his face showing surprise. "She... she doesn't seem to carry any armament, Mr. Spock. My energy readings on her are too low to account for anything but her engines and the unknown source of the beam."

"I see," Spock mused. "My half-formed hypothesis was correct, Ensign. Their weapon is the Medusan beam. Fascinating."

Chekov consulted his scanners again.

"The Klingon vessel has stopped, Mr. Spock. She's turned, at bay."

"Everyone, please do not remove your goggles. I am about to contact the Klingon ship visually." He seemed unaware of the surprised looks from the crew as he strode to the command chair and gestured to Uhura. "Lieutenant, open a channel to that ship."

As the screen cleared, a dazzling burst of energy burst over them. The bridge was flooded by a million fragments of dancing, pulsating light. Even with the goggles on, Spock was forced to turn his face away until the incandescence began to die. The brilliance faded slowly, and he was permitted a look into the Klingon bridge. Their old nemesis, Commander Kalman, glared back. His crew wore an approximation of their goggles.

"Spock here, commanding the Enterprise. Your craft is unable to develop warp speed and we have you out-gunned."

Kalman's lip lifted in a faint sneer.

"The only thing that puzzles me, Vulcan, is how you managed to escape the beam. What spy told you of the goggles?"

"No spy, Commander. It was a logical deduction. You have no defense against us now. I hereby call for your surrender."

A shock ran through the Enterprise bridge crew. They had not expected Spock to request surrender. After the unwarranted attack that had left two men dead and the Captain injured, they were in no mood to take prisoners.

Kalman ignored him for a moment.

"And where is the great Kirk, Mr. Spock?"

"Our Captain was injured in your attack on us. That will be one of the charges you face."

"Oh, no, Spock, Klingons do not surrender. The attack on the Enterprise may have been a mistake on my part. We are here in Federation territory to test the effectiveness of our new weapon, in secrecy, if possible. When I found that I had the Enterprise within range ... well, the temptation was too great to deny. Your Captain will die, of course."

Spock did not reply to this. He leaned forward and spoke to the Klingon. His voice was insistent.

"Commander, I urge you to surrender. I have surmised your secret. Except for the Medusan beam, for which we now have a defense, you are without weapons. That is how you were able to achieve such speed. Your armament was channeled into your engines."

"A gamble, Spock. A calculated risk. We are here on a quick trial run through the Federation territories. We might have succeeded, if it were not for the Enterprise."

Spock's eyes were remote behind the goggles. He seemed suddenly detached from the whole matter, his manner that of preoccupation. He leaned over and touched a button.

"We will not surrender, Vulcan. Do not do anything foolish!"

"Mr. Scott, prepare tractor beams."

Kalman broke into sarcastic laughter.

"Put those tractor beams on us, Vulcan, and I will blow this ship up and take the Enterprise with us. I have the power. We have a self-destruct mechanism on board. And do not attempt to transport us out of this ship. I have only a skeleton crew of forty aboard. I will gladly sacrifice them to keep us out of your hands."

"Commander, I urge you to be reasonable. You cannot escape us and you cannot attack us. Surrender now or I will be forced to disable your ship and perhaps kill your entire crew."

"No surrender is possible, Vulcan."

Spock fell silent. His face, if anything, had become more frozen than ever as he listened to the Klingon. If his crew was puzzled by his actions and hoped to read some sign of conflict there, they were doomed to failure. At last he said slowly, "Commander, it is not the way of a Federation vessel to attack an unarmed ship without first exhausting all recourses. I will give you one hour to surrender."

Kalman laughed again, his dark eyes glittering.

"We have reached a stalemate, Vulcan. Further communication is useless."

The image faded from the viewscreen.

Uhura swung around in her chair.

"The Klingons have broken off contact, sir," she said.

Chekov could not hold his tongue any longer.

"Mr. Spock," he began in protest. "The Captain would not let them escape unpunished! We..."

"They will not escape, Ensign," Spock said quietly. "Helmsman, do not let that vessel move away from us. Hold our distance." He rose and crossed to the turbolift. "We shall see if an hour does not persuade them." His eyes rested on the empty viewscreen and then he glanced at Uhura. "Lieutenant, I am going to see how the Captain is doing. Please keep me informed of any changes."

* * *

McCoy cornered him as soon as he entered Sickbay. "Spock, Jim is dying! I can't do anything for him. It will have to be you or nothing. And you'd better hurry!"

"Doctor, I am in command of this ship at present. I cannot, even for the Captain, take time from my duties to help him. Jim would understand." The Vulcan moved away and pretended to study a file on McCoy's desk.

"Well, I don't! Why can't you help him?" McCoy was furious. "Time isn't the important thing to you right now! I heard what you told the Klingons. You've got an hour! And you're the only help Jim has! This ... this Medusan beam is similar to what happened to you. You, of all people, should know what he's going through." He broke off and glanced down. "Spock!" Dumbfounded, he watched the Vulcan put an unsteady hand behind him. The First Officer met the medical man's eyes and defied his curiosity.

"That's it, isn't it, Spock?" McCoy's voice was suddenly deceptively soft. "You're afraid, aren't you? You've been through this once, and now you're afraid of it!"

The Vulcan did not change expression; he merely looked through McCoy.

"And what about that ship full of Klingons?" McCoy asked, his words short and sharp. "We've caught them and still you've made no move to attack. By rights you should have blown them out of the galaxy the minute they came into range!"

"Doctor, that is a completely defenseless ship out there. I am attempting to negotiate their surrender."

"Surrender? Spock, are you out of your pointed-eared skull?" McCoy was fast reaching the point of total exasperation. "That ship just killed two of our crewmen and put the Captain in Sickbay fighting for his life. You should retaliate immediately! And leave no survivors!"

"As a Vulcan, Doctor, I cannot consider vengeance."

McCoy's blood pressure shot sky high. He practically shouted the First Officer down.

"Then, as a human consider justice, Spock!" He choked down his anger and said grimly, "You are half human, aren't you? Despite the fact that you have ice water instead of blood and no heart to speak of ... you are half human!"

Spock gave him the benefit of a long, unreadable stare.

"Yes, Doctor," he said at last. "I am indeed half human -- a condition I have often lived to regret. But, I fail to see what bearing that has on the matter."

McCoy was struck by something in the Vulcan's tone of voice. It was absolutely devoid of expression, totally emotionless. Even for Spock, it must have been a strain under the circumstances. The doctor considered the manner of the man. Something about him was puzzling to McCoy. In all the years he had known Spock, he had never known him to vacillate. He might choose the wrong solution in an attempt to be logical, but it was unlike him to not act at all.

"What is it, Spock?" McCoy asked quietly. "Are you finding that it isn't as easy to command as you thought? That you might not be the man for the job?" When the First Officer made no answer, he went on. "And what about Jim? He's your closest friend. He's been like a brother to you." McCoy decided to apply a little pressure in the Captain's behalf. "We have a quotation on Earth that may interest you. We say that every man is his brother's keeper. How do Vulcans feel in such matters?"

Spock's face was a complete mystery to McCoy.

"No one is free of obligations."

"But, you intend to postpone yours, is that it?"

"Doctor." There was a trace of impatience at last in the First Officer's voice. "I will do what I must in the order in which I must do it." He moved to the door. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have duties to perform."

McCoy stared at the empty doorway in disbelief. He, of all people, was most cognizant of the relationship between the Vulcan and Jim Kirk. If the situation were reversed, Jim would do anything in his power to save Spock. McCoy had always felt that the Captain's feelings were reciprocated by the Vulcan until this very moment.

Uhura's voice on the intercom broke the silence.

"Dr. McCoy, is Mr. Spock there? I have a message from Vulcan for him. It's T'Pau herself, Doctor."

"No! No, he's not here!" McCoy snapped at the voice in helpless rage. He strode to the wall and cut the intercom off. "...and they can take the whole planet Vulcan and stuff it!"

* * *

Uhura's message reached Spock in the corridor. He asked that it be switched to his quarter and went to face T'Pau.

That inscrutable face with its rigidly controlled expression appeared on the screen.

"Spock."

"T'Pau. I greet thee in the ancient way." His hand rose and fingers paired. She returned the gesture and her looked bored into him.

"Spock, thy family tells me thee has refused to return for the Ta-Koola. Does thee intend to insult thy father?"

"My father," he began quickly to stop her next words, then found it difficult to go on. "...would understand that my duties require my presence here. I cannot come, T'Pau."

Her heavy lidded eyes were almost reptilian as they glittered with her thoughts.

"Spock, I speak now not as the life-long friend of thy father, but as the head of the High Council. Does thee realize the gravity of thy refusal?"

"I do, T'Pau." How could it be otherwise? Was there anyone better acquainted with the exacting code expected of Vulcans than he? Through the long bitter years he had come to know it quite well.

"I will speak to the Council on this matter at a later date. It will not bode well for thee that thee refused my personal request."

"It is your prerogative and duty to do so, T'Pau."

She looked at him intently, perhaps noticing an undercurrent of tension in him.

"And do I understand that the mission thee is now on is one of reprisal?"

"We seek the surrender of the ship that killed two of our crewmen and injured the Captain."

"A mission of violence when thee should be here for a Ta-Koola. I see a great inconsistency in thy execution of our peoples' teachings, Spock."

He did not answer. There was no answer.

"Then thy decision is final?"

"It is, T'Pau."

"Thee is putting thy duty as a Star Fleet officer ahead of thy allegiance as a Vulcan, Spock." There was a note of finality in her voice. She required his acknowledgement of the facts.

"I have no choice," he said. "At any rate, I could not return in time now."

Years ago, he thought, I had no choice. Even then I chose Star Fleet over Vulcan.

"Thee serves a human commander well, Spock. Has thee forgotten that thy mother is human, too? Her need is great."

He resisted the temptation to avert his head only by force of will. He was surprised that T'Pau would use such tactics. Again he had no reply.

At last, she broke the silence.

"I must leave now to prepare for the ceremony, Spock. I regret thee has made such a choice."

Automatically, his hand came up to form the traditional sign.

"Live long and prosper, T'Pau."

She studied him quietly for a moment. Was there a brief softening in that hard expression? He could not be sure.

"Live long and prosper, Spock."

The image faded and disappeared. With his face set in its accustomed lines, he returned to the bridge.

Dr. McCoy was there ahead of him. He eyed Spock warily from behind a pair of protective goggles.

"There's nothing more I can do for Jim," he said quietly. "I decided to come up here to see what was so important that you didn't have a spare minutes."

Spock gave no sign that the words meant anything extraordinary to him.

"Please see to it that your presence does not interfere with the efficiency of the bridge crew then, Dr. McCoy."

"Never fear. God forbid that your efficiency rating should suffer because of a medical problem." He lounged back against the railing, his eyes frosty.

"Mr. Spock!" Chekov's voice was strained. "The Klingons have just engaged their impulse engines. They are preparing to leave!"

Spock did not order an attack, as the whole crew had expected. McCoy found himself staring at the Vulcan in consternation. What was wrong with the man?

"Open a communications channel to them, Lt. Uhura," the First Officer ordered. "Commander Kalman, this is Spock of the Enterprise. I ask you again that you surrender. Do not attempt to run from us. Enough lives have been lost."

"We shall take our information back with us, Mr. Spock. Perhaps one day we will develop a beam for which you have no defense." Kalman's voice was mocking. "Klingons do not surrender, Vulcan! If you try to stop us, I will make a run on you and blow both this ship and the Enterprise to bits! Our destruct mechanism is powerful!"

Despite his promise, McCoy moved to the First Officer's side. For the first time, he understood a little of what the Vulcan was undergoing. His voice was soft as he spoke.

"Well, Spock, there it is. It's them or us."

The Vulcan's hand moved steadily to the chair arm.

"Prepare photon torpedos. Fire at my command." He looked up to concentrate on the Klingon ship on the viewscreen.

The enemy vessel was beginning to draw away. Faster and faster, she widened the gulf between them. Soon she would be out of range, bearing with her the deadly forerunner of even deadlier devices.

The Klingon ship was well past the point where she would be a threat to the Enterprise. McCoy was certain that Spock had waited too long. Then, he gave the expected order.

"Fire!"

Twin balls or fire raced toward the other ship. They surrounded it and there was a a bright flash. The ship stopped its progress and began to drift in space.

The Bridge crew cheered and gave vent to some quiet rejoicing.

"Sensor report, Mr. Chekov." Spock was straining forward, his eyes intent on the disabled ship.

"Impulse engines destroyed. Casualties heavy. But there are still some lifeforms on board. They have survivors, Mr. Spock."

Whatever Spock might have said then was wiped away by a tremendous burst of light from the Klingon ship. One minute it was there before their eyes, the next it had vanished in a sheet of incredible flame. Blank space stared back at them, with stars where the Klingon ship should have been.

"They ... they used the self-destruct mechanism, Mr. Spock," Chekov said in a low voice.

The tension seemed to drain out of the Vulcan's body. He sat back in the command chair and, for a moment, let his eyes dwell on the deserted viewscreen.

"You did all you could, Spock," McCoy murmured. "You tried to save them."

The Vulcan did not answer. Instead, he rose and depressed the intercom button.

"Mr. Scott to the bridge. You have the con. My presence is needed in Sickbay." He straightened and his eyes met McCoy's. "Will that be satisfactory to you, Doctor?"

"I think so, Mr. Spock, if you hurry."

He was talking to empty air as the turbolift doors closed behind the Vulcan's back.

* * *

A few hours later, McCoy stood by Kirk's bed. The Captain was almost himself again, rapidly regaining strength.

Kirk shifted his weight and half sat up. He was beginning to find Sickbay beds a nuisance, a sure sign he was almost well.

"You know, Jim," McCoy mused. "Spock gave me a few bad moments for a while. He seemed reluctant to do the mind meld with you and I knew it was your only chance. For a time I had the feeling, as 'illogical' as it might be, that he was afraid. That his close call with the Medusan left permanent fear of such a contact."

"I don't understand, Bones."

"I just said that, didn't I? I don't understand it at all."

"The safety of this ship comes first. Spock know that. And he knew I wouldn't have it any other way. He had to do what he did."

"But, they had no weapons, Jim. They couldn't have harmed the Enterprise once we put the goggles into use."

"But Spock wasn't sure of that until he had direct contact with them. And then he was faced with making a command decision to fire on an unarmed vessel. That is not the sort of problem you can turn over to a junior officer."

"No, I suppose not. It was certainly hard enough for Spock to do."

"He is a Vulcan, Bones. I think we humans sometimes fail to appreciate what a difficult thing that is."

"I still don't see why he couldn't have spared the tine for you, though. There was a period of almost an hour when he..."

"I don't suppose he'd mind if I told you." Kirk paused and his voice became a little softer, his face filled with a myriad of expressions. "Spock received word that Sarek, his father, had passed away just as the Klingons attacked. I picked up a lot of his thoughts during the mind touch. It was a massive heart attack. Drugs failed to work and surgery was impossible. All the time Spock has been commanding this ship, he should have been there, on Vulcan, at the ceremony called Ta-Koola, with his mother. It's the Vulcans' final ritual. I think T'Pau may find his actions unforgivable. I hope not." Kirk stopped and considered this for a moment.

"You see, Bones," he went on, "a mind meld works both ways. I read his thoughts as he read mine. His mind is in turmoil. As long as he could keep it buried in his subconscious, under his control, he was all right. But he knew that once he let down the barriers to reach me, his inner thoughts would be free to engulf us both. He isn't himself. This type of mind touch is extremely dangerous. We might have both been killed and his state of mind did not help matters. That was a risk he couldn't take with the safety of the ship depending on him. He made the right decision. He made the choice he knew I would want." He looked up at the silent doctor. "After all, Bones, although Sarek and Spock had some constraint between them, they were father and son. And Spock is half human."

McCoy's expression was undergoing a change. Dawning awareness and confusion waged a brief war on his face.

"Are you trying to tell me that what's been wrong with Spock, his indecision on the bridge, his reluctance to help you, is because ... Spock's been grieving?"

"It would seem so, Bones. In his Vulcan way."

McCoy few a ragged breath and threw his hands out in helpless gesture. "Oh, Lord, Jim, the things I've said to him!" He spun on his heel and then gave Kirk a sharp look. "You stay in bed! I've got to go eat crow."

Kirk studied the deserted doorway as the doctor fled. His eyes had a faraway look. His thoughts were resting in a room a few decks above him.

Well, Spock, he thought, you've committed yourself. By the destruction of the Klingon ship -- your refusal to return to Vulcan, you've sealed your fate. You've finally come down off that fence.

The Captain rolled onto his back and his eyes closed wearily. Maybe now the path the Vulcan walked would be less stormy. He hoped so.

* * *

When McCoy reached the Vulcan's quarters, he found he was suffering from something very close to stagefright. A strong-willed man like the doctor hated to admit that he had been wrong. But, then again, he was fair enough to recognize a grave injustice. He buzzed at the door and was admitted.

The Vulcan looked up from where he sat behind his desk. Unobtrusively, he laid aside his lytherette, but McCoy knew at once where his thoughts must have been.

The doctor cleared his throat and began to speak, groping his way. "Uh, Spock ... I was just with Jim. He's almost recovered. He should be back on duty soon."

"I am pleased to hear it, Doctor."

"I knew you would be. Listen, Spock ... Jim told me about your father." He broke off, miserable and unhappy, then plunged on. "I liked your father very much. He was a great man. And, Spock, I am truly sorry about ... everything."

The still face studied him. The doctor was happy to see no rancor there, no resentment. Instead, there was that impression of distance. But, something crossed the deep-set eyes. McCoy could not recall a time when the Vulcan was forced to break his gaze away. But, he did so now. He looked at a point somewhere past McCoy's shoulder.

"I understand, Doctor," he said gently.

And, for the first time in his friendship with the Vulcan, McCoy was sure that he did.

THE END