DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen A. Bates and is reprinted from Illusions #1, published by Checkmate Press, April 1987. Checkmate Press is the property of Karen A. Bates. This story is Rated R.


Karen A. Bates

The landing party materialized some distance away from the encampment, depending on the twilight hour and their location to protect them. Reports of possible Klingon interference with the natives and natural resources of Ardala needed to be verified before 'Official' Federation intervention could be justified. Ardala was just one of many planets located within the nebulous sector of space known as the Neutral Zone and as such, fell inside both Federation and Klingon influence. The Federation had been the first to discover the rather large, but basically insignificant world some years past, almost by accident. Possessing only lythrium as an immediate commodity, exploration and consequent exploitation had been filed away for 'future' reference.

Kirk mentally cursed the paper-pushing bureaucrats who had ordered this expedition, while directing a silent deployment of landing party forces. The village lay in a valley surrounded on three sides by sheer rock cliffs and the fourth by a rock-and-grass strewn slope with scattered tree-like vegetation, providing the Enterprise group with concealment for the moment. Figures could be seen below as small ants milling about within the large group of dwellings, but nothing more distinct was visible at this distance. Wilkins and Thomas could circle from the left, Abrams and Szinggin from the right. With a little luck and the protective cover of darkness, they would be able to get close enough to uncover any kind of Klingon plot.

//Why was it,// Kirk wondered as he slipped several yards on some loose shale, //the Enterprise always managed to get these assignments? Why not one of the other starships? No, the admiralty argued, that would never do. The Enterprise was experienced in this kind of thing, therefore, it was most expedient in terms of time and manpower for the Enterprise to undertake the mission.// Kirk could just see the bobbing head of the Undersecretary as he busily explained all the wherefores and how-tos of the 'situation', as they conveniently called it, in rambling and redundant sentences. //It was important, he explained, the Klingons not gain yet another planet in this area of space. The insignificance of the planet is secondary to the sheer loss of a planet on the tally sheets of the Federation. The only 'logical' course of action open at this time is for the Enterprise to investigate certain 'rumors' and, if necessary, squelch these stories.//

Kirk muttered a few more obscenities under his breath as he lost his handhold for the umpteenth time. //Logical! Logical that it's always my men that go out there and get their lives wasted cleaning up the garbage Central Command makes in the course of their 'diplomatic' paperwork. Tally sheets! Hell, they care more about what color ink their reports are signed in than whether the natives of Ardala are being utilized to mine lythrium for the Klingons!// Stopping behind a large outcropping of rock, the Captain checked in with the other two groups. Abrams and Szinggin were in position and hidden from sight about 500 yards above the camp; Wilkins and Thomas were still trying to descend the far side of the slope and were some fifteen minutes from their prescribed position. He and Spock now had a clear view of the camp from their vantage point and the First Officer was taking advantage of it by scanning with his tricorder.

"Captain, readings indicate possible subterranean activities bearing 63 mark 2. There are insufficient data registering at this distance to ascertain ... wait ... near the left side by the cleft ... definite Klingon readings. Seven .. ten of them, sir."

Kirk flipped his communicator open. "Kirk to Enterprise."

"Scott here, Captain."

"Definitely Klingons here, Scotty. Any sign of them up there yet?"

"Negative. Everythin's clear. Not a ship within sensor range. Still can't break through the lythrium interference to get a clear scan of the surface."

//No Klingon ships in range. Odd, very odd.// "Keep scanning and let me know if there's any change. Kirk out." They had Klingons on the surface, possible mining operations being conducted in the valley below them, but no cruisers in the area. Most unusual. Situations like these gave Kirk a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. His communicator buzzed insistently.

"Captain," the voice was low and hushed."Szinggin here. We're picking up some weird readings on one of the scopes. Irregular power emanations. They weren't there a minute ago ... getting stronger and more regular."

Wilkins cut in. "We read 'em too. Can't quite pinpoint the source with all this lythrium around here ... somewhere down in the camp, it looks like."

Kirk shot a quick glance at Spock. "Confirmed, Captain. There is indeed something from the encampment generating a signal of magnitude."

"What is it?"

"Unknown. It appears..." The rest of his remark was unheard as the three Enterprise groups clutched their heads in agony, eventually falling to the ground, unconscious.

* * *

"I don't remember anything like this being listed in the survey report made on Ardala, Mr. Spock." Kirk punctuated his comment by pulling at the chains holding his arms to the stone wall of the large cavern. The six were all awake by now, and each was similarly confined facing the opposite wall where a group of Klingons were likewise chained.

"The survey you refer to, Captain, was made six years ago, on a routine mapping mission. As I recall, the only information obtained on the natives was that they were basically peaceful, with religious practices possibly dependent on some sort of cyclic pattern, but the data was incomplete because of the short amount of time spent on the planet." The Vulcan ignored Kirk's expression of anger at what was obviously a slipshod survey, and tested his own chains again.

"If only we could figure out some way to get free of these chains and away from this damned lythrium..." Kirk was interrupted by a movement from the Klingon Commander across from him.

"There is no escape, human," the Commander spat at him. "Do you think we have not tried?"

"What do they want?" Kirk decided to temporarily put aside his animosity toward the Klingon in hopes of obtaining information that might lead to an escape.

They heard a scraping sound and a translucent native entered, haughtily throwing the equipment, taken from them while unconscious, into a pile not far away, but certainly out of reach of any of the captives. Smiling cruelly, he plucked a colored stone from a pouch on his belt and carefully scratched a mark on the wall next to a separate group of marks. Studying each of the bound humans in turn, keeping his gaze longest on Spock, he abruptly turned and strode out, a scraping noise accompanying his exit.

"What was all that about?"

"Our captor has indicated there will be one less of us by tomorrow morning."

"Then each of those marks ..." He left the question unfinished.

"Represents one of my men, human. Soon yours will follow."

"What about your ship? Aren't they looking for you?" Kirk kept his tone calm and under control. All was not yet lost.

"Those damn savages destroyed my ship!" The Klingon jerked at his chains. He visibly calmed himself and recited the tale as if in a trance. "We came here to mine lythrium, as is our right." He shot the Enterprise crew a defiant stare, then continued. "We were somehow captured. The next we knew, it was night, and the landing party was tied to poles in a semicircle around a large stone. The savages were all around us in a large circle, hands joined, chanting some barbaric ritual. They untied one of my men and forced him to contact the ship. How they understood, I do not know. They chanted louder and louder and my ship became a shining star that burned so bright ... then they laid him on the rock and tore him into little pieces."

"Telepathy of some sort, Captain," Spock suggested quietly.

"But why now? And why such barbarism among people that were surveyed as peaceful?"

"The original survey indicated a possible cyclic pattern to their religious practices. Perhaps there is something indigenous either to the race or their planet which propagates erratic changes in behavior at certain times," he extrapolated, reaching for an answer, any answer, to reassure Kirk.

"Which means they'll probably follow the same pattern and try to destroy the Enterprise tonight, also killing whoever contacts her." There was an undercurrent of rage in the Captain's voice. "The ship has first priority. Under no circumstances will we contact it while in captivity."

"We have only the word of a Klingon," Spock reminded him gently.

"We must be prepared in the event he is telling the truth," Kirk answered tensely.

"And what of us?" Abrams asked cautiously.

"We, Mr. Abrams, are expendable."

"You'll die, one at a time, as we have," the Klingon taunted. "They'll put a mark on the wall where you can see it for a time, then they'll come in and drag someone away to die."

"Surely the Enterprise must be looking for us by now," Wilkins objected.

"As long as we're shielded by the lythrium, the sensors won't be able to lock in on us." Kirk paused for a moment. "We're on our own.

Nothing was said for a long period of time, each prisoner caught up in his own thoughts. It was nearly morning before several of the natives came back and dragged a struggling Szinggin and one of the Klingons away. The heavy stone door cut off all sound from the outside, all sound except to one whose ears were more sensitive than most. The ceremony was lengthy and Szinggin died slowly.

The next day was an unceasing barrage from Kalen and his men on nearly every aspect of the Federation, interrupted by the arrival of gruel and water that was fed to the prisoners by hand. Later they were each taken to a back chamber and allowed to walk around.

The Klingon harassment was merciless. "Earther, how easily the rest of your crew has forgotten you!" Commander Kalen jeered. He had quite freely volunteered his name. "In fact, they are far away by now. And I always thought humans," the title dripped with derision, "were the most soft-hearted sentimentalists in the galaxy. I was wrong. They are not soft-hearted, they are cowards."

There was a rash of sniggering among the Klingon crew at their Commander's touch of humor. To laugh while facing death marked them as men, to make others suffer at the same time was a rare treat. "What? No comment? No brave words from the great Captain Kirk? Or maybe Commander Spock has something to say in the defense of his beloved leader? You look surprised, Captain, that we know who you are." Kalen chuckled again. "Who among Klingons has not heard of Kirk and his elf-eared First Officer?" Kalen waited to let his words sink in before continuing. "We have even heard that one of you prefers the company of his Captain to that of women. Tell me, Kirk, is that really true?" Seeing that he had everyone's attention, Kalen turned to the man next to him and spoke sotto voce. "It is no wonder their ship left them to die, these men who are not men."

Kirk refused to let himself be baited by such blatant lies, preferring to expend his energy trying to find an escape. The communicators, phasers, and tricorders were still lying in a heap scant yards away, but they were totally inaccessible from their positions. According to what Kalen had said the first evening, the Ardalans should have had one of the Enterprise group try to contact the Enterprise, but Szinggin and Abrams had been taken and the equipment left behind. His sixth sense was not happy with the facts thus far, but without further information, there was nothing he could do. Kirk allowed his eyes to meet Spock's and found the same dissatisfaction in them.

That night two more Klingons and Wilkins were removed from the cave. Spock shifted his position slightly, trying to ease a cramp in the small of his back caused from sitting so long inactive. The short periods allotted to them for bodily functions and stretching of their legs were hardly sufficient for the tasks. He narrowed his eyes to mere slits and surreptitiously watched his fellow prisoners.

Thomas was becoming increasingly restless from the captivity and the prospect of eventual, and to him, inevitable bloody death. Kalen, the only remaining Klingon, seemed less apprehensive about his fate and more concerned with constantly harassing the Enterprise crew. Perhaps Klingons were fatalists of a sort, and knowing that he was to die, Kalen instead chose to use his remaining hours making the others miserable. Spock almost smiled at the thought. It had been his past experience that the Klingons would be the last race to give Lady Fate the time of day. No, there had to be some other reason for it.

The pieces didn't start falling into place until the early hours of the morning, when Thomas and Kalen were dragged away.

"Die, Earthers, in your cowardly ways! Your men are all gone, and your ship will soon be a flaming star!" Kalen laughed roughly as his chains were removed. "A Klingon always dies a glorious death, but you, you will scream and beg for a mercy that does not exist!"

Spock waited for the door to scrape shut before speaking. "Captain, it is a trick."

"Huh? What are you talking about, Spock? The Ardalans have killed four of my men, and you're telling me it's a trick?" Kirk was shouting. The blank expression on Spock's face stemmed the tide of Kirk's anger. "Sorry, Spock, I guess Kalen was beginning to get to me. Why do you think it's a trick?"

It wasn't the first time Kirk had taken out his anger and frustration on Spock, but that didn't make the experience any more palatable or pleasant. Why could not this human learn control? The wish was useless and Spock knew it, so he dismissed the thought, and applied himself to the question. "Commander Kalen has been misleading us. We have been told his ship was destroyed and his men eliminated by the natives."

"There was no sign of Klingon battle cruisers in the area ..."

"That we know of, but we have now been confined here for 59.7 hours with no sign of rescue."

"If they just wanted the Enterprise, why the elaborate bit with the cave down here, why not just kill us and be done with it?"

"I do not believe it is the Enterprise they want."

"'They,' referring to the Klingons," Kirk said dryly.

"Of course." Spock appeared surprised Kirk was even considering the Ardalans as the antagonists. "I have been reviewing the survey tape and tricorder readings obtained shortly before our capture, and I am convinced the answer is buried somewhere beneath the lythrium."

"Do you mean that figuratively or literally?"

"Assume for the moment, Captain, there is a deposit of pergium, or dilithium, perhaps, somewhere below the lythrium lode. Rather than risk a confrontation and possible war, would it not be more logical to drive the Federation vessel away from the planet long enough to firmly establish a military base and begin a mining operation which would make the returning starship the aggressor, thus placing the Klingon in the right?"

"Back up a minute, Spock. First off, you're forgetting four of my men have been killed down here. Secondly, what do you mean, drive a starship away?" Kirk was annoyed with Spock's rather cavalier appraisal and allowed it to show in his voice.

"The Klingons are using the sacrificial practices of the Ardalans as the means of destroying the Enterprise landing party," Spock answered the unspoken question. "The Klingons who were kept in here and then removed did not die. Only our men were put to death by the Ardalans." He stopped a moment before continuing. "Kalen knows you will not risk the ship and will warn it away from possible attack from either the Klingons or the Ardalans, thus leaving the planet wide open for intervention from the Klingons."

"And we're close enough to the neutral zone to let them get by with it, assuming they succeeded. But there haven't been any indications of deposits other than the lythrium."

"Correct. However, it is not uncommon for the blanketing properties of a mother lode to eradicate sensor readings of other deposits in the area, especially one this size. Pergium has been known to appear with lythrium," he added.

"That still doesn't get us out of here."

"Kalen is convinced there is more between us," Spock said, referring to the Klingon's words .. . 'one of you prefers the company of his Captain to that of women,' "and will be depending on that to influence our actions."

"That's crazy. Kalen's smarter than that. No starship Captain is going to go that far out on a limb with a situation as touchy as this without more to go on than some rumor." Spock's silence bothered Kirk and some of Kalen's words echoed in his mind. //'All your men are gone, Kirk, except one. Maybe they left him to keep you company, but -- he always keeps you company. All those long and lonely nights ... Such tales we hear of his loyalty to you, Kirk. Tell me, how did you train him so well, to come to your beck and call?

//'So, Spock, how does it feel, to be on the leash of such a great man as your Captain? He must serve you well to remain ever so near...'//

"He certainly harangued on it long enough, but I figured it was just his way of being 'humorous.' You don't think he actually believed..." The words trailed off. "Okay, let's assume they take both of us out at the same time. One of us has to get to the communicator and contact the ship. I'll distract the guards long enough for you to grab one and make a run for it."

"Negative, Captain. I have the greater strength and am also expendable, which you, as the Captain, are not. I shall attempt to detain the guards long enough for you to escape through the rear of the cave. There should be an exit several hundred yards past the small room they take us to exercise in, as I felt a slight draft from the passage beyond. As soon as you are beyond the confines of the lythrium cave, it will be possible to contact the ship and have yourself beamed aboard."

"Forget it, Spock. I'm not going to leave you behind." Kirk's voice left no room for argument.

"You have no choice. The Enterprise must be warned and the Federation must be made aware of the situation. Logically, you must make every effort to escape, regardless of anything else."

Spock's voice had a tone in it Kirk had never heard before. Was it resentment, anger? Kirk knew he must be imagining any such thing. Spock was incapable of feeling anger at having to do his duty. The choice to remain behind had been his, and it was, of course, the logical scheme. Kirk hated to lose any of his men, but it was especially difficult to face losing Spock. Efficient, loyal, and trustworthy, and yes, a friend, but there was no other alternative. The Enterprise came first.

The rest of the night and the next day passed slowly, with no sign of food, water, or exercise. Skin became further irritated and bled from trying to break free of the chains, and their bodies became stiffer and less responsive from lack of mobility. When the Ardalans did come late that night, the routine was slightly different. Ropes were fastened to their arms and held by several natives before the chains were removed, and they were taken out one at a time, removing any chance of a joint effort toward escape.

Kirk was nearly blinded by the torchlight illuminating the area surrounding the cave entrance. His eyes had become accustomed to the dim lighting of the single torch and had trouble adjusting to the brilliance. For long moments, he could do nothing but stare at the bound form of Spock tied to the altar rock, could hear nothing but the monotonous chanting of the Ardalans as they swayed hypnotically, eyes fixed on the lone sacrificial figure. A native came toward him and bowed, head to the ground, holding one of the communicators in the air as an offering to Kirk. Another advanced on Spock with a large-bladed machete, laying it to the Vulcan's mid-section The choice was clear: contact the Enterprise, or face the consequences. There were no Klingons in sight, only the Ardalans.

Kirk struggled to break free of the bonds tying him to the hefty pole, scant feet from Spock, but they proved too much for him. The knife cleanly sliced through the uniform fabric and stripped Spock bare in seconds, leaving him exposed to the chilled air. Lifting the blade with both hands to some unseen deity above, the executioner chanted something, then laid the blade aside. One of his hands dipped into a nearby pot and came up glistening with red liquid. Starting with Spock's face, he traced an intricate pattern over the entire body, often replenishing his fingers with more of what appeared to be blood. The native in front of Kirk never moved, never changed his position of servitude, offering the communicator. Finishing the design, the executioner plucked a smaller knife from his belt. Starting at the navel, the blade followed the design, cutting in just far enough to draw blood. Kirk watched in fascinated horror as the green blood mixed freely with the red liquid, making a new and more intricate pattern on the lean form.

"You see, Captain, I told the truth." Kirk heard Kalen's voice in his ear as the Klingon stepped forward from shadows thrown by the rocks. "The Ardalans do have the power to destroy." Flames from the torches cast dancing shadows on his face, dark eyes glittering with insanity. Kalen swayed, then balanced himself by laying his hands on Kirk's shoulder. The natives ceased their chanting for a moment, all movement stopping, as they watched Kalen from behind paint-streaked faces that showed no emotion. Kirk's guards were close by, holding the restraining leash loosely as Kalen looked Kirk straight in the eye.

"What are you talking about, Kalen?"

The Commander hooked a battered finger in front of Kirk's face, motioning him to lean forward and listen carefully, then he glanced around as if ensuring their privacy. "It was a game," he whispered loudly. "Yes," Kalen nodded, "a game. We came and conquered them, made them slaves to mine the pergium and lythrium. They made excellent subjects for the Empire for several months. But do you know what happened?" Kalen left the question unanswered as he switched topics abruptly. "Your Spock was right. It was a trick. We couldn't stop them, couldn't stop them, couldn't... Always chanting, louder and louder. He was right. My men weren't killed and yours were. Do you know how they were killed, Captain? Just like they're killing your Spock. They're telepathic that way, you know. My ship has disappeared. Last night was to have been your night. You would have been brought out, made to contact your ship, ordering it away. Only ..." Kalen stopped and watched a thin trickle of blood run down the alter, pooling in the dust below. "Only they came for us. We couldn't stop them. We couldn't stop them ..."

Kirk tore his eyes from Kalen, who had lapsed into incoherent babbling, to study the faces around him. What had they gotten themselves into? None of this made any sense whatsoever. The Klingons had conquered them, yet it appeared now it was Kalen who was the captive. It had been a Klingon trick in the cave, to convince the Enterprise Captain that the natives were capable of destroying the ship, in order to make Kirk send the ship away, halting any kind of Federation intervention; now Kalen claimed his cruiser was indeed missing. Abrams, Thomas, Wilkins, and Szinggin had been brutally murdered, and Kalen's men spared, but now they were nowhere to be seen. And what of the native still holding the communicator before him? If he contacted the Enterprise, would it allow the natives the access Kalen said they needed to destroy it? Or would there be a chance for her to escape unscathed, leaving Kirk and Spock on the surface? Could he risk ordering Scott to beam them up, certain the natives could do no damage as a consequence? What if he took no action? Could he stand there and watch Spock suffer, watch him die, knowing his words could stop it, knowing his own fate would be the same?

"They killed them all, all of them, one after the other, and I had to watch ..." The guards yanked on the leash and forced Kalen away from Kirk, tying him to another post some distance from the altar.

As though nothing had happened, the chanting resumed, robbing Kirk of his concentration by its hypnotic quality. The small knife hovered near Spock's groin and the Ardalan's free hand gently caressed and fondled the exposed testicles and penis. Kirk felt his own body respond to the incongruous actions of deliberate arousal after the bloody prelude.

Spock felt the hand and fingers touch and rub, toy with him, but could do nothing at this point to stop the response. The prolonged agony from the knife had required every ounce of strength and concentration to control the pain and reduce the bleeding. His body played traitor to the mind as the knife-wielder gradually coaxed the organ into erection.

Suddenly Kirk understood. "NO!" he screamed. The blade halted midair. He nodded toward the communicator. The gamble had to be taken. //Please, Scotty,// he pleaded, //run when I push the evacuation signal. Spock. I'm sorry. It's the only way.// One hand was freed. He picked up the communicator and flipped it open, pressing a single control. The action was completed, the order given. There would be no rescue, no last-minute salvation from emasculation and death. A priority evacuation signal could not be ignored or overridden.

The chanting grew louder as the knife began its descent again, moving slowly. Everything grew hazy and disappeared. The next thing Kirk saw was the transporter room, the flashing light of the red alert signal. Spock lay nearby, the Ardalan still standing over him, knife in hand.

* * *

McCoy stood in the semi-darkness of sickbay and examined his surgical handiwork on the sleeping Vulcan. Years of experience and a gentle touch with the latest equipment left little trace of the damage done to his body, and even those markings would fade shortly. Because Spock had controlled the bleeding processes, there hadn't been the added complication of enormous blood loss, which would have debilitated a human. Turning to leave, McCoy encountered Christine on her way in for a routine check as she completed her rounds. "Has the lab come up with anything yet on those blood samples from the native, Chris?"

"Not yet, Doctor. I'll let you know as soon as something comes through. How is he?" she asked, nodding toward Spock. After assisting with the surgery, she had been busy with other duties.

"Sleeping. Hopefully for the rest of the night. Let me know when he wakes, I'll be in my office, trying to make some order out of my desk."

She waited until the office door had shut behind him before moving to the bedside, reading the monitors with a practiced eye. How peaceful he looks, lying there. Without touching his skin, she traced several of the lines left by the surgery, puzzled by the pattern they made on his face. //What happened down there, Spock? Why did they do this to you?// Chris clenched her outstretched hand in anger. //Why is it always you that has to suffer? Why is it we're always having to put you back together every time some stupid mission goes wrong? Why can't someone else take the risks instead of always you? Why can't Kirk be hurt for once, instead of you? Yes, I know, he gets hurt often, but not like you. You're always protecting him, does he do the same for you?// A sound from the other room caught her attention and she quickly left Spock's side to investigate it, leaving him to sleep in undisturbed solitude.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 8143.2.

The Enterprise has left the Ardalan star system, on a heading for Starbase 6. Highest commendations for Lieutenant Abrams, Ensign Wilkins, Security Officers Szinggin and Thomas, who gave their lives in the performance of their duties, to Commander Spock for bravery, and to Lieutenant Commander Scott, whose quick action saved two lives, and the ship.

* * *

Scott sat in the empty briefing room, waiting for Kirk to be released from Sickbay. Ardala was now four hours behind them, and the Captain would be coming through the door momentarily to get the 'unofficial' official report on the Enterprise's activities while he was on the surface. There was no way Kirk was going to believe...

* * *

"Mr. Scott, " Sulu half turned in his chair to deliver the news,"sensors show a Klingon battle cruiser coming into range."

"Open hailing frequencies, Lieutenant Uhura." Great. Now, on top of losing contact with the captain and his landing party, there had to be a cruiser nearby. Well, that clinched it for Scott. Contact or no contact, this was definitely a Klingon vessel, and it was definitely interfering with his ship, not to mention, making it impossible to lower his shields to beam search parties down to locate the errant group.

Uhura's calls elicited no answer from the cruiser, which had by now closed on the Enterprise. "Try the Captain again, Lieutenant."

"No response, Mr. Scott. Still trying to make contact with the Klingon vessel." She let her eyes linger a moment on the engineer in the captain's chair, and the sight of Chekov manning Spock's station before returning her attention to the monitors at her own station. The Enterprise rocked gently as the Klingon fired at her. It was a warning shot, not intended to do any real damage. "So, laddie, that's how you want it, eh? Mr. Sulu, fire a warning shot in return, let them know we mean business." The viewscreen lit up as the order was carried out. There was no response from the vessel, but it did not retreat.

"What in blazes is going on?" McCoy demanded, suddenly at Scott's elbow beside the command chair. The engineer didn't remember him entering the bridge, but he was obviously here now.

"Message coming in, Mr. Scott," Uhura broke in.

"Put it on the screen." The lines of a fighting ship dissolved into a young Klingon ensconced in the central position on the Klingon bridge. His lip curled into a sneer as he studied the view on his own screen. Earthers. Captain Kalen was down on the surface to oversee the mining operations while his ship stayed behind Klingon lines, making periodic journeys to Ardala, this last time depositing Kalen for a time to gather information for an official report to the Emperor and his council. But this Federation ship was now in the way, prohibiting him from picking up his captain and the raw supply of pergium to be processed behind the borders of the neutral zone. If he left, the Enterprise would have complete access to Ardala and Kalen and the pergium would be detected, giving grounds for possible hostilities, which they were ordered to avoid at all cost. If Kalen had already been discovered, he would be in trouble for not patrolling the zone adequately, allowing the Enterprise unchallenged access to Ardala. If he fired and damaged the enemy ship, there would be hell to pay for starting a war the Empire didn't want to fight at this time. If he didn't fire with serious intentions... Perhaps if he could make things sufficiently unpleasant, they would be forced to leave, as they undoubtedly did not desire a legitimate confrontation.

"I am Commander Illnan. What is your business here?"

So that was how he wanted to play it, Scott thought to himself. What was the saying? A good offense ... Two could play that game. "This is Lt. Commander Scott. State your intentions."

A pregnant pause ensued. "You have five of your minutes to vacate this space before we open fire."

"We're not going anywhere."

Illnan let the five minutes drag by, hoping the bluff would work and the Federation ship would depart. The last digits changed, showing the time allotted had passed. The ship had not altered position. Now what? He gave the order for another volley, not caring if the translator picked it up. The figures on the enemy bridge steadied themselves as the strike hit. With a downward motion of his arm, the transmission was broken and each ship's screen went blank.

Scott found McCoy's pacing across the upper platform between Uhura and Chekov distracting as he tried to organize his thoughts. "Any word from the Captain yet, Lieutenant?" At Uhura's negative head shake, he faced the viewscreen once more. 'Well, we wait." Several hours passed. Scott was in engineering replacing a vital coupling that had shorted out for no particular reason. The calibrating tool flew out of his hand as the deck beneath him shook violently. "Damn! Smith, give me a hand here." Moving to the side to allow the technician access, Scott was able to extricate himself and hit the intercom switch. "Scott to bridge. What's happening?"

Uhura's voice filtered through the heavy thrumming of the engines. "They've opened fire again, another warning shot. No appreciable damage, no casualties." Great. He was the only one who could recalibrate the coupling timer, a vital mechanism that couldn't be left untended, yet he was in temporary command of the Enterprise, responsible for giving orders and making decisions, which also couldn't be delayed. Why did Kirk always insist on taking Spock with him, leaving Scott in charge?

His jumbled thoughts took only a second. "Mr. Sulu, return fire, half-power, then change position to put some of the planet between us and that idiot over there." Damn Klingon, taking potshots at us, he grumbled. "Hand me that spanner."

If Illnan had not been on the bridge, he would have been pacing the floor by now. Why hadn't Kalen reported in? The agreed-upon rendezvous time was eight hours overdue and the sensors couldn't locate anything through that lythrium blanket. He gripped the chair firmly as the ship heaved beneath him. Why didn't that Federation ship leave? Surely there had been some small amount of damage this last time ...What could possibly be keeping them here? Unless ... could they also have a landing party on the surface and find themselves unable to retrieve them, due to the proximity of his own ship? Or maybe they were simply playing a waiting game with him, daring him to back off first, thus leaving Ardala open to the Federation, along with the pergium deposits. The latter seemed more likely to Illnan. Earthers were a shifty race, not to be trusted.

"Commander, Disrupter Room reports substantial damage to the firing sequence modifiers."

"What? How?"

The officer cringed slightly under Illnan's scrutiny. "Apparently one of the lower technicians misfed the data and cross-circuited part of the main board. It should be repaired within three to four hours, sir."

Illnan delivered a scathing speech expounding on the incompetence of certain officers and their underlings before sending the poor officer back to his duties. What next could go wrong? Kalen, he thought, where are you?

Commander Scott was at wit's end. For three days, it had been a Mexican standoff neither side giving ground. Every few hours, one or the other of the ships would fire at the other, each time a little more aggressively, but not quite so far enough as to be considered worthy of an all-out fight. Scott had even gone so far as to contact Illnan to request some sort of truce to allow them both to lower their shields long enough to retrieve their respective landing parties

Illnan's reply: He would consider it.

There was considerable tension on the bridge as they waited for Illnan's answer. It had been three hours since the last contact. Word should be coming any moment. McCoy paced furiously, stopping every now and then to stand beside the command chair, other times near Uhura, the rest of the time hovering over Chekov's shoulder as he continued trying to break through the lythrium interference. The ensign was feeling the strain of monitoring the planet nearly round the clock. It was not required of him, but he felt it to be his responsibility, as Spock's 'official' bridge assistant, to do the job just as his superior would, even if it meant taking double shifts to maintain constant sensor surveillance.

There was a yelp of anguish from Uhura as a loud dose of feedback came through her ear receiver. In his haste to make sure she was not severely injured, Chekov accidentally hit the 'lock' switch of the sensors into the 'off' position, allowing the scanners to stray from the position where the landing party was last known to be. After a few moments of commotion, order was restored, and Chekov returned to his station, leaving Uhura to rub her ear in discomfort behind him. She eyed the console with distrust and vowed to tear the entire thing apart, piece by piece, until the recalcitrant connection was found and repaired.

Chekov busied himself resetting the coordinates to align the scanners again, having discovered his blunder. Unfortunately, Scott chose that moment to request an update on the readings. In his haste to comply, the Russian managed to hit a couple of other switches, and a thin puff of smoke appeared. Correcting the problem immediately, Chekov apologized profusely, and supplied the data.

Scott caught the implication of Chekov's words and knew he was blaming himself for being inadequate to the task ... which wasn't really true, but he was too tired to be rational. Feeling the need to reassure both himself and the crew, Scott said quietly, "I know, laddie. I wish the captain and Mr. Spock were here, too."

Chekov smiled weakly. "I can hear Mr. Spock's lecture now ..."

"Mr. Scott, a message coming in from the Klingon ship."

"Put it on, Lieutenant."

"I have considered your idea and fend it unfeasible," Illnan said harshly. "You will leave this sector immediately, or accept the consequences." The screen went blank.

As if in answer to Illnan's statement, Uhura's board lit up with sparks. Only seconds later, the Klingons opened fire, this time employing full force. The Enterprise returned fire and several volleys were exchanged. Suddenly, the Klingon vessel exploded, blinding everyone on the Federation bridge with its brilliance.

"Mr. Sulu?"

"I don't know. They were just firing, when -- they blew up."

"Damage reports."

"Decks 9, 12, and 13 report extensive damage. Direct hits to the shuttle bay, Engineering reports impulse engines are damaged, transporters are out. Estimated time of repair -- eight hours."

For the next eight hours, the crew of the Enterprise worked furiously to make the necessary repairs that would enable then to send a rescue party to Ardala. Scott could already hear the disbelief in Kirk's voice as he tried to explain the wildly improbable series of events prohibiting the Enterprise from rescuing him; the Klingon ship and its stubborn commander, the communications board blowing up, the shuttle bay doors taking a direct hit, transporter malfunction -- repairs completed scant minutes beforee the evacuation signal had come through. Talk about a gamble the moment the signal was received, he'd ordered everything within a ten foot radius beamed up and the ship to warp out of the system.//

* * *

The briefing room door opened, and Kirk entered. There was no way Scott was going to believe any of this ...

* * *

Spock eased his uniform on, careful of the healing tissue covering most of his body. McCoy had been reluctant to allow him to return to duty, but Spock had ignored him and left sickbay at the first possible opportunity. The knife patterns on his face and hands were still visible and would be so for some time, but McCoy had assured him they would fade completely.

The scars within him would take longer to heal. Sexual humiliation in front of Kirk was difficult, if not impossible, to accept. That he had lost control and allowed himself to become aroused was totally inexcusable behavior for a Vulcan. To have Kirk witness that shame made it even worse.

A cold flash rushed through him, its intensity forcing Spock to brace himself against the wall. His hands shook as he straightened, tugging his uniform into place. Perhaps he'd been hasty in his efforts to return to duty. Still chilled, he turned the thermostat up and lay down to rest for a short time.

* * *

Kirk leaned back in his chair, enjoying the view on the screen. There was something very special about the stars. Ardala was a day behind them now. It was too bad the deaths of his men and the memories couldn't be as easily left. McCoy had reluctantly allowed Spock to leave sickbay on the condition he rest in his quarters. Jim could still see the bloody patterns traced on the Vulcan's body, the mixture of green blood and red liquid mingling freely. Preliminary lab reports on the liquid taken from Spock's body and the Ardalan's blood showed elements present that defied analysis. There was no evidence of toxicity in Spock's blood, although the Ardalan liquid had obviously entered his bloodstream. Still, if there was a problem, McCoy would contact him immediately.

Kirk's more immediate concern was Spock. The Vulcan had been unwilling to speak of his experience while in sickbay, which Jim interpreted as Spock's way of requesting time to sort things through for himself. When Spock was ready to discuss Ardala, Kirk would listen. In the meantime, he would allow Spock his privacy.

* * *

Christine muttered under her breath as the computer spit the data back at her, unanalyzed. This was becoming worse than annoying. This involved Spock, and whether anyone else liked it or not, she was concerned about him. Perhaps a newer sample of blood would be helpful to compare with that taken immediately on his return to the ship. There were trace elements in Spock's blood which matched the Ardalan's blood, but other than that, she had little to show for her efforts. Gathering up her materials, Christine went to sickbay to obtain another sample from Spock.

Finding his bed empty, she tracked down McCoy in one of the adjoining labs. "Where's Mr. Spock?"

"He belongs in sickbay, was sent to his quarters, and is probably on his way to the bridge by now," came the disgruntled reply. "Why?"

"I wanted a new sample for analysis."

"Good idea. Having any more luck than I am breaking it down?"

"No," she admitted, "that's why I wanted a comparative sample."

"Contact the bridge. If he's not there, try his quarters," McCoy suggested. "And Chris, stop back here to do the work-up. I'll keep at it in the meantime."

"Will do." //He must be worried,// she decided, //to let her go to Spock's quarters instead of going himself so he could continue in the lab.// Leaving her data for McCoy to look through, Christine grabbed a portable med-kit and left sickbay. Winding her way through the corridors, she stopped at Spock's door. Pressing the buzzer, she waited for a reply. Her last-second check with the bridge before leaving sickbay had told her he was not there; therefore, he must be in his cabin. She signaled again, but there was still no response. //Well, here goes nothing,// she said to herself, while manually overriding the door's locking mechanism.

As expected, the door remained closed. After a few seconds of debate within herself, she went down the corridor to a main intercom and contacted the captain, requesting a search for Spock. The wait for the reply was interminable, but finally Kirk's voice wafted through the intercom. "Intership sensors indicate that Spock is in his quarters. We can't raise him by intercom. Use medical override. I'll contact McCoy and meet you there. Kirk out."

Wasting no time, Christine keyed in the override and entered a blast furnace. Palming the light switch, she moved to the bed, where Spock lay beneath a heavy quilt. Scanner readings went wild, so she pulled the quilt back to check by hand and eye. The knife pattern on his face was a brilliant scarlet, the skin a pale, almost translucent hue. Tugging on his shoulder to turn him from his side onto his back, she was startled to see his eyes open suddenly. Her question of concern was stopped by his fingers wrapping themselves tightly around her throat.

* * *

Kirk burst from the elevator, traversing the distance to Spock's quarters at a dead run. Something was dreadfully wrong, he could just feel it in the pit of his stomach. Seeing McCoy approach from the opposite direction, Kirk slammed his palm on the override, barely waiting for the door to open before rushing inside. McCoy was only a step behind him as they entered the sweltering heat. The cabin was a shambles, furniture and personal belongings tossed helter-skelter through the interior. McCoy flew to Christine, who was sprawled on the floor, even as Kirk was thrown against the wall like a rag doll by an unseen assailant. Shaking his head to clear it, Jim fought back while his mind sorted through the images to ascertain his attacker's identity. Leonard wasted no time in grabbing his hypo, pressing it into the Vulcan's shoulder from behind.

"What in the hell?" Kirk gasped, rubbing his bruised throat. His friend was barely recognizable through the brilliant scarlet pattern and odd skin pigmentation. "What's wrong with him, Bones?" He noticed Christine Chapel not far away, still sprawled on the floor.

"How is she?"

"Dead. Her neck was snapped," came the bitter response. "She came for a blood sample." McCoy ran the scanner over Spock's now-still form. "He's out cold, but I can't say for how long. None of the readings make any sense. I need to get him to sickbay immediately." Kirk punched the intercom, ordering a security team and sickbay personnel. He knelt beside Christine, lightly touching the discoloration on her throat. Why had this happened? He had never understood her unrequited infatuation with Spock, but she'd been an excellent nurse with an impeccable record. Now she was dead, killed by the one she'd loved. Such irony, it seemed.

* * *

James Kirk, Personal Log:

Services were held today for Christine Chapel. She came to space in search of the man she loved, Roger Korby, and died at the hands of another man she came to love. A startling epitaph for anyone. Her body is in storage for burial on Earth, per her request.

Spock is gradually slipping away from us. He is transforming into an Ardalan before our eyes and we are helpless to stop it. The labs are working around the clock in search of an antidote to reverse, or at least slow, the process. So far, attempts have proven futile. Spock has become a raging madman and McCoy has been forced to keep him heavily sedated to keep him from breaking free of the restraints.

* * *

"It was something in that liquid the native had on the knife when he sliced up Spock," McCoy monotoned wearily. "The biocomp can't trace it. I can't even isolate it, because it's merged with his own cell structure so completely."

"What about the one in the brig?" Kirk pressed, grasping for any straw of hope.

"We've run every test in the book and even some that aren't. Nothing."

"Is he going to die, Bones?" It was painful to even suggest it.

"It could be worse -- maybe he won't die."

* * *

//"We can't hold out much longer, Spock."

"It is necessary."

"The madness is spreading too fast," she insisted.

"As long as the body is sedated, we have a chance."

"And when the sedation wears off, what then?"

"It will be as it was when I brought you here." The Ardalan madness was an insidious enemy he'd been fighting, first alone, then with Christine's help, since the knife cuts had introduced it to his system.

"Why did you do it? Why did you pull me from my body?" The question had been plaguing her since it happened.

"I could not allow you to die at my hands, even through the madness that controls the physical self."

"But I am dead, my body is dead. I can never return to it."

"I am sorry," Spock replied sadly. "It may have been a mistake to bring you here, inside of me. If you prefer, I can release you from this place."

"You would be alone again, fighting that thing without help." She was tired of being terrified, of battling for survival on this mental plane of her existence, but she couldn't give up yet. He had waged the war alone before her arrival, and since, and had to be exhausted by now, even though he refused to openly admit it. Spock had done what he thought was right by saving her essence, but now she was trapped with him in this nightmare.

"Forgive me, Spock, I'm being selfish."

"No apology is necessary," he answered stiffly. "I feel it coming. Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be."//

* * *

James Kirk, Personal Log, supplemental.

Interrogation of our Ardalan prisoner has been extensive over the last three days. So far, we have verified the cyclical pattern of their religious practices, but the contents of the liquid used on Spock remains unknown. Our captive insists the secret belongs to the 'shaman' of the tribe, shared only with the one he trains to someday take his place. Long range sensors indicate an unknown power source emanating from Ardala, prohibiting us from establishing orbit and returning to the surface for more information. Our hands are effectively tied.

McCoy is more optimistic, however, than he was a day ago. He's found the readings improve with a heavier sedation. It's not a method he likes to employ, but the alternative is even more unpleasant.

Crypto has been working on the design carved into Spock, confident there is a meaning to its pattern. They've joined with the interrogation team, using the prisoner as a Rosetta stone. All we can do now is hope.

* * *

//"How much longer, Spock?"

"We have made progress." How could she feel so exhausted when she had no body to wear out? Besides, in all actuality, Spock was controlling everything. She merely followed his orders, did exactly as he said. She wasn't even sure she was doing any good, but he seemed satisfied.

"McCoy has increased the sedation to a level that inhibits the madness. It is a matter of time before the antidote is found and administered, eliminating the threat completely."

"What will happen, then?" What will happen to me? was the question behind the question.

"That will be your decision."

"MY decision? I'm inside your mind and body," she reminded him. "I can't stay here forever. You have a life of your own, one that doesn't include an extra person rattling around in your head. I'm dead, technically, in case you've forgotten." Christine chuckled softly. In a short march of days, she'd come to accept her death and now calmly discussed it with Spock, as casually as if it were the weather. The initial anger at being murdered had been replaced with a sense of destiny. The constant struggle against the Ardalan madness had forced her to reconsider her feelings and accept the situation. Railing against the circumstances would change nothing and could perhaps make it worse, as it might distract Spock.

"Your presence here was not of your own choosing." He was puzzled by her reaction. "Why do you find this humorous?"

"You don't want to know."

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure you'd understand."

"Allow me to determine that." Christine could be so stubborn and exasperating at times. Still, she was not as he'd expected. The outward appearance and actions belied the inner self completely. The infatuation he'd run away from ran deeper than he'd imagined. It was a genuine caring and affection that transcended the ridicule from others and aloofness from him. Her concern was real, her emotions solid.

"I just had the fleeting image of you making love to some woman with me looking over your shoulder. " She paused. "Well, you asked."

"Indeed." He stopped to ponder her words. It was not something he had really considered.

"I'm sorry. My mind takes some strange turns."

"How would you react to such a scenario?" he countered quietly.

"I don't know," she replied, startled by the bluntness of the question. "I guess it would depend on whether I was participating, or just a spectator." Silence met her. "Spock, are you still there? Have I sufficiently put my foot in my figurative mouth?"

"I was considering your ... ideas."

"You're not seriously thinking..."

"There are always alternatives."//

* * *

"Spock was supposed to die, Jim, taking the 'demon' with him."

"Slow down, Bones, what are you talking about?" Kirk pushed his papers aside to make room for what McCoy thrust at him upon entering the captain's quarters.

"Crypto just confirmed it with the prisoner. Every four years, the psychic energy builds up, turning otherwise complacent people into murderous savages."

"Psychic energy?"

"For lack of a better description. An alien entity, if you will, coalesces. At the peak of this four-year cycle, the shaman performs a ritual, carving a particular pattern on the chosen victim." McCoy stopped. "Remember, Jim, the other men were killed. Spock was the only one carved up like this."

"Go on."

"Anyway, the design is one used to 'contain' the creature -- an unbroken pattern to bind it within the body."

"How does that explain the Klingon ship, or the emanations from the planet?"

"The creature's abilities are unlimited, according to the Ardalan. At the moment, the creature is contained within Spock, hence its powers are diminished."

"Great, just great," Kirk muttered. As if they didn't have enough problems already. "There's just one more thing, Jim."

"What?" More? There was more?

"In order to destroy the energy creature, the victim must die."

"There must be another way," Kirk's voice was firm. "We must find it."

"I'm open to suggestions." McCoy could feel the exhaustion permeating his body and mind. Spock's life in the balance, Christine's death, too many hours in the lab, it was all starting to tell on him. "I can't surgically remove an entity, it's doubtful I could drive it out chemically without harming Spock."

Kirk paced the floor impatiently. "We now know what it is, that's more than we knew before. You said the heavy sedation was helping. Could we take it a step further?"

"Wait a minute, Jim. Assuming we can coax the creature out of Spock's body, where will we put it? We're going to need another live host. What if we're wrong and it's released into the ship? That's an awfully big risk."

"The alternative is to let Spock die." Jim's reply was harsh. "I'm not ready to do that until we've exhausted every other possibility."

"There are always possibilities, Spock would say."

"It's up to us to find one, Bones."

* * *

//It was all a dream and when she woke, it would be gone. She'd shower, dress, and report to sickbay, just like any other day. Thank goodness none of this nightmare was real. Imagine, dreaming you were dead, of all things, and sharing consciousness with Spock!


The voice penetrated her thoughts. Must be the intercom, she rationalized dreamily.


"Spock?" Why would he be calling her? Then she remembered. It wasn't a dream, it was real. "I'm here, Spock."

"I require assistance."

Did she imagine relief in his 'voice'? "Tell me what to do." He felt tired to her, she could sense his mental fatigue.

"Stand guard and warn me if it approaches again."

"I understand."

Even though she knew it was a form of mental imagery, Christine pictured their adversary as a huge black shadowy figure with lightning bolts of energy which were hurled at them when it attacked. Spock had constructed a mental barrier, a shield against it, but it was only a matter of time before they could retreat no further, and would be destroyed.

It had been exciting, though, despite the danger. How many others could say they'd lived past death in the way she had? Christine knew she would be sorry to see it end, especially in such an ignominious fashion.//

* * *

"You can't be serious, Jim," Leonard objected.

"I haven't heard any better alternative, Bones. It's Spock or him."

"You're committing murder, Jim." McCoy spun back to face Kirk in fury. "Spock would never condone this, and neither can I."

"I'm not asking for your approval, Doctor, only your help."

"You can't even be sure this is going to work." McCoy tossed an angry glance at the monitors over Spock's head, noting the low readings. It was only a matter of time before the transformation was complete and the Spock they knew was gone. Maybe he was already gone and they just didn't know it -- or wouldn't admit it.

"We'll use the isolation chamber and a remote unit to perform the actual operation. The Ardalan will be completely under, he won't feel a thing."

"Have you consulted him at all about this?" Leonard threw back.

"As a matter of fact, Bones, yes." Kirk pulled a hand across his tired eyes. "I just came from there. He's terrified, but considers it an honor. That shaman must have some pretty good psychology going to convince people it's an honor to be sacrificed."

"The glory of death," McCoy muttered vehemently.

"It's him or Spock. Which will it be, Doctor?" Kirk was merciless in his quest for Spock's life. He knew how much it went against McCoy's grain to do anything that would cause pain, but Jim could find no other viable alternative.

"It'll take time to set up the isolation chamber and remote units," McCoy said grudgingly. He had no desire to see Spock die, either, but what would be the cost of saving him?

"How long?"

"Give me an hour."

"One hour."

* * *

Kirk was impressed by what McCoy had accomplished in an hour's time. Looking through the observation window, he could see the two men, strapped to parallel tables, equipment filling the rest of the area. Not wanting to expose anyone else to the entity, McCoy chose to control the remotes himself, which would carve on the Ardalan a pattern identical to that on Spock. Then, a new cut would be made on Spock to allow the entity exit. A small amount of Spock's blood, containing the creature, would then be introduced to the Ardalan, in hopes that the entity would transfer to the new, willing host. The process was so unreliable all they could do was to pray and hope.

"I've anesthetized the entire body area." Kirk could hear McCoy's voice over the intercom.

"Begin." The Ardalan felt nothing as the remote unit carefully slit the skin in the elaborate design meant to control his planet's creature. Unlike the shaman's, the machine's cuts were shallow and precise, there was no butchery or damage caused. Leonard hadn't seen it done the first time, but Kirk had and the memories it brought were bloody and vicious. There was a part of Kirk that wished the Ardalan could suffer as Spock had, but it was a fleeting anger, tempered by the knowledge that such pain would not bring back his men, would not restore Spock.

McCoy concentrated on his gruesome task, unwilling to let his attention wander for a moment. He refused to let himself imagine how it had been done the first time; the hours in surgery to clean up the result had been enough to tell him the story. The pattern was a unique design, completely covering the body, totally interconnecting. It took considerable time to duplicate the pattern, but at last it was done, and double-checked for accuracy. McCoy could see the terror in the Ardalan's eyes, but saw also a stern will to go through with this. "Done, Captain."

"This is going to work, Bones." Kirk wondered whether the words were mote for him or McCoy.

"Ready to proceed," came the strained answer.

A new cut was made in Spock's skin, breaking the pattern. All hell broke loose. The Enterprise rocked as the creature vented its fury over the prolonged imprisonment.

"Now!" Kirk yelled over the intercom, hanging onto a wall cabinet for dear life. His ship couldn't take this kind of pounding for long.

Leonard, strapped into the control section, was having his own difficulties. The shaking of the ship was also shaking the arms of his remote. Clamping an extra set of waldoes to Spock's arm, he used a different unit to draw blood, grimacing over the damage wrought by the shaking, in spite of the clamps. The Ardalan, now seeing what was truly involved in his shaman's ceremony, struggled to break free of the restraints, eyeing the approaching blood-laden waldoes with genuine fear.

There was a lull in the shaking for a split-second, and McCoy used the opportunity to inject the blood from Spock into the Ardalan, fervently wishing there had been another way. He watched in disbelief as the Ardalan began to glow, acting as a magnet to the creature. The abnormal coloring drained from Spock's body as the glowing increased, scant inches away from the new host body. Gradually, the shaking decreased to mere tremors, then stopped completely. Sweating profusely, McCoy leaned back in the control restraints and breathed a sigh of relief. It was a short one, though, as he quickly unfastened the straps and left the small room, racing to Spock's side.

"How is he?" Kirk's voice came from over his shoulder as McCoy ran his scanner over the still form.

"Readings are low, but within normal ranges."

"The Ardalan?"

"As nearly as I can tell, transference was complete."

"Bridge to Captain."

Kirk left the isolation chamber, pressing the intercom in response. "Kirk here. What is it, Uhura? How's the ship?"

"Damage parties still reporting in. Sensors are now indicating a drop in power emanations from the planet's surface."

"Can we get close enough for transporters?" Kirk met McCoy's eyes in agreement. They did not want to be the instruments of the Ardalan's death, if possible.


"Ready transporter room, we'll be there immediately. Assume minimal orbit required for transporter and contact me when ready."

Kirk waited until McCoy administered a sedative, before helping to transfer the glowing Ardalan to a portable gurney. Removing his steri-gloves, Jim took one last look at Spock, now back in sickbay under M'Benga's care, before following McCoy to the transporter room.

Uhura's voice met them as they entered the transporter room. "In orbit, Captain. Standing by."

Leaving the body on the pads, both men left the area. Moving down the corridor to a wall intercom, Kirk contacted the bridge again. "Commence beam down to previous coordinates, then break orbit immediately. Bearing 378 mark 6, warp six."

* * *

//Christine cried out as the bolt struck her, feeling the laughter behind it as pain swept through her. Suddenly, there was a rippling sensation and she was propelled forward to follow the retreating creature.

Startled, Spock threw up a mental barrier, barely catching Christine as the creature was sucked out and away from them. They felt a whirlwind effect as the creature was pulled out of Spock's body and into the new host. Cautiously, Spock lowered the barrier, testing for any sign of the enemy.

"Spock, are you still here?" It was eerily quiet to her.

"I am here."

"Is it really gone?"

"The creature is gone. We must assume they found a way to remove it without harming my body." Leaving her behind, he ran a quick check of his body, taking control of it for the first time in days. It would take time to restore himself to full capacity, but at least now he was free to do so. "I find no vestige of the creature left in my system," he finally reported.

Relieved by the news, yet sad because it meant their time was over, Christine knew it was time to leave. "Spock ..."

"You seem sad. Why is this?" He couldn't read her thoughts, but the feelings behind them were clear. There had been a moment of happiness at his announcement, then sorrow.

"It's time for me to leave. I'm going to miss you." She hurried into the next sentence before he could interrupt. "I know it's not what you like to hear or acknowledge, but I'll say it anyway, because this is my last chance." Christine had no idea what he was feeling, let alone thinking, as his shields were too hard to penetrate. He could obviously perceive her emotions, but not her thoughts.

"It has not been unpleasant for me, Christine." He felt her chuckle. "What do you find so humorous this time?"



She laughed again. "I used to wonder if Vulcans had a sense of humor. Now I know. Thank you, Spock."

"For what?"

"For letting me know you, for caring enough to bring me here."

"It has been interesting," he acknowledged with a hint of a smile. "It confirms my suspicions of human illogic and irrationality."

"I didn't know you had a suspicious nature, Spock."

"I do not," he insisted gently. "Must you leave so soon?" He would miss her, more than he would have expected. Her presence was a comfortable one. She would leave a greater gap than she knew.

"Now that the creature is gone, I would be in the way. Besides, I don't think the Captain would appreciate me hanging around. He never did much care for me."

"He does not need to know."

"Oh, no! I just thought of something. What if charges are pressed against you for my death?" Christine was genuinely worried that Spock would be blamed for the creature's actions.

"It is doubtful such an accusation would be leveled at me, as it was obvious that the entity was in control at the time," he assured her. "In the meantime, Christine, my energy will be consumed with repairing my body."

"How much time will that take?"

"Approximately twenty-six point four three hours."

"Shall I leave now?" This was it, the moment she'd been dreading.

"Would you object to waiting until a later time?" He was worn out, depleted, his energy reserves exhausted. It was time to rest and allow his body to heal.


* * *

Captain's Log, supplemental.

Repairs have been completed and we are now en route to Katra Five for routine visitation and medical exams. I have advised Starfleet to place a quarantine on Ardala to avoid any further encounters such as we have had.

There is no way of knowing for sure, but it would appear that even the shaman didn't know things would get so far out of hand by placing the creature inside Spock instead of an Ardalan. We are fortunate not to have been completely destroyed.

Commander Spock is still in a healing trance. Dr. McCoy reports skin color has returned to normal and he expects full recovery from his ordeal.

* * *

Kirk pressed the button to stop recording, then thumbed the erase button. It was his third attempt, and like the previous two, didn't fully reflect the situation. There were so many questions that would remain unanswered. Had the entity destroyed Kalen's ship? Or something else? How would Spock react to the knowledge his body had been used to commit murder? Even the simple question of the Ardalan's fate after they beamed him to the surface would never be answered.

"Sickbay to bridge."

"Kirk here. What is it, Bones? Is something wrong?" His voice was steady, but his concern lay just beneath the surface.

"He's coming around."

"On my way."

Uhura traded smiles with Sulu and Chekov as Kirk practically ran to the elevator. Some things never changed.

* * *

"The odds of such a transference succeeding were astronomical, Captain," Spock said evenly, not bothering for once to give the exact figures.

"Not even going to quote them, Spock?" McCoy jibed. "Maybe that thing did more damage than I thought."

"I see no reason to remain here and be insulted," Spock replied stiffly as he gingerly put his weight on his legs for the first time in days. He was weak, but it would pass.

"Whoa! You're not going anywhere for a while." Leonard placed his arms akimbo.

"I'm seconding that," Kirk finally edged in. He was just glad to see Spock back to normal, despite the pattern of healing tissue still covering his face and body.

Spock sat down again, never showing the strain each movement took in his weakened condition. For once, he would oblige the Doctor -- but only for a short time.

"There's one more thing, Spock." Kirk was unsure how to tell him. "While the creature controlled your body, it killed Christine Chapel." He hurried on. "There will be no charges pressed, because of the extenuating circumstances." Kirk waited for a response, but none came. "Spock?"

"I understand, Captain. I grieve at her loss."

"Spock, how can you be so unfeeling?" McCoy exploded. "Doesn't it bother you that she died at your hands?"

"I did not kill her," Spock corrected him. "Do not confuse your human sentimentality with my expression of grief. The two are not synonymous."

"Damn it, Spock..."

"Save it, Bones," Kirk interrupted them, before it got worse. "You're looking for something that's not there."

Leonard stopped, hands slowly unclenching. "I know, Jim. Sorry, Spock. It's just that I'm going to miss her." A sad smile lit his face. "I can't even find the reports she was going to file for me before..."

Spock stretched his length on the bed, eyes closing. "They're in the bottom drawer of her desk, left side, third compartment." He smiled inwardly at the sound of her laughter.