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 Nuages Five, published by Checkmate Press, 1986. Checkmate Press is the property of Karen A. Bates. This story is Rated PG-13.


Karen A. Bates

A lone figure stood on the transporter platform, a large traveling case the silent witness. It was funny how one's whole life could be so compactly nestled into a single container. All the hopes and dreams of things that might have been, all the things that were, all the things which were yet to be. A time of saying goodbye, not yet the time to say hello.

Christine Chapel looked around the tiny room one last time, storing the vision of emptiness carefully away for future reference. With a brief nod of her head, the transporter chief took the final step in separating Christine from the Enterprise.

* * *

<< "Hey, Chris." Uhura's voice rang eerily through the maze of the lab where Christine was working. The doctor carefully replaced the caustic testing material into the storage container and answered with a noncommital "over here."

"I've never known anyone so difficult to find as you are when you get all wrapped up in one of your 'projects'. What is it this time? Heaven only knows!" Uhura exclaimed. Christine smiled vaguely in greeting, bringing a frown to her friend's normally cheerful face. "What is it, Chris?" The somber tones showed concern behind the question.

"Nothing, just a long day in the lab," Chris replied. Uhura looked skeptical but let it pass, deciding not to press the subject.

"I came by to tell you about the survey team's findings on Cylus 4." The communication officer's excitement returned as she told Christine about the discovery of a rare metal, important to deep space communications systems. Christine was caught up into Uhura's mood, leaving her work unattended for the first time. The strange luminescent substance from the planet sensed the lack of attention and used the opportunity to dispatch small particles into the air. Most died instantly away from the main being, but the ones landing on Christine's uniform found refuge in its chemical composition and lived.

A quick look at the chronometer made Uhura realize how late they had talked and she dashed out of the lab, hoping the Captain was on the surface. As the doors opened, she walked rapidly to her console, aware of Kirk's eyes following her guilty movements. She was saved further embarrassment by an emergency signal from the planet surface.

With one hand cupped around the receiver in her ear, Uhura relayed the message. "Landing party reports two dead, cause: unknown. Mr. Spock requests immediate isolation and quarantine sterilization procedures." She paused momentarily. "Sir, transmission is fading." Her voice was calm as her fingers raced over the board. "It's gone, sir. I can't reach them."

"Transporter room, lock onto landing party's last known coordinates and prepare to beam up. Uhura, contact sickbay and have them standing by with isolation shielding." >>

* * *

<< Three life support systems hummed quietly in the otherwise silent room. McCoy stared blankly at the most recent report on his clipboard. Lt. Davers, deceased. Cause: unknown. The same words repeated over and over in each succeeding file; only the names kept changing. Twelve deaths and five still lingering, awaiting their turn.

"Bones, I need answers."

"I don't have any, Jim." There was an edge to McCoy's voice.

"Twelve of my crew are dead and you keep telling me you don't know any more than when it all started. We have fourteen medical labs on this ship and you can't find anything?" The frustration held in check so long erupted.

"Blast it! Don't you think we're trying? I can't cure something I can't determine. We can't find it in the 'scopes. It doesn't respond to anything we've tried. It just doesn't exist." The angry words hung heavily in the air between the two men.

Kirk stopped the bitter retort as his eyes caught sight of the Vulcan. Over Spock's head, the indicators were hourly climbing downward. Forty eight hours since the first death and still they were no closer to the cause or cure.

McCoy followed Kirk's eyes. "We're trying," he said softly. >>

* * *

<< A hand brushed wearily across a damp forehead, wiping back the wisps of hair that had slipped down into her eyes. Tape after tape and still nothing correlated with the symptoms. Christine stared at the silent computer and cursed the uncooperative machine. One more readout of NO CORRELATION, SYMPTOMS DO NOT CROSS MATCH DESIGNATED DISEASE and she was personally going to pull the plug on it. Looking up from the viewscreen on the console, she caught sight of Ensign Parker, one of the new nurses. //I wonder if she's the one they were talking about--in love with the First Officer--dumbest thing I ever heard of. Imagine falling for that walking computer...// Christine felt a chill go up her spine as she realized the thoughts were not her own. She shook her head. Exhaustion could make you imagine anything.

With a sigh, she stood up and headed for the door for a quick cup of coffee to clear her mind before starting the next batch of tapes. As she walked down the corridor, it felt like everyone was staring at her. Stiffening her shoulders, she refused to give in to the urge to look back and see if it was true.

Coffee in hand, she stopped by sickbay to heck on the survivors. Two orderlies were gently removing yet another one of the figures as she entered. Time was running out. When the room had emptied, Christine approached the unconscious Spock. She stretched out her hand toward the still features, then stopped. //She is here. I feel her presence.// Bewildered, she drew back and focused on the monitor over his head. No change in the readings, yet... //Why is it some people can come so near and one doesn't realized they are even there and yet a few can be felt at a distance? It is not logical.//

Christine stepped back even farther, startled by the realization that she had been reading his mind. //This is crazy,// she told herself firmly. //I can't read people's minds!// Her hand trembled slightly as she rubbed her tired eyes. >>

* * *

No one was at the planetside station to greet her. It was 3:00 in the morning, but it made no difference--what mattered time anymore? The universe had seemingly stopped revolving for Christine Chapel once she had left the Enterprise.

"Dr. Chapel, I presume." A balding, middle-aged man swept into the room and took her hand in greeting.

"Dr. Donnale." Her new associate was the esteemed Alvin Donnale, microbiologist of award winning caliber. Of course, his credentials were impressive in their own right, but couldn't possibly compare to Spock's. //Stop it.// Donnale chattered on as they walked to her new quarters, but her mind wandered its own path. When they finally reached the door, she bade him good evening and soon stood inside, bag at feet, staring at her new 'home'.

//Well, Christine, you've really done it. You've left the Enterprise behind you. In the morning, you are going to walk out this door and start a new life. Meet new people, maybe even some interesting men.//

* * *

Interesting men. The phrase still stuck in her mind several months later as her eyes unconsciously slid to the man seated at a nearby table. He felt the gaze and found himself looking into a pair of blue eyes. Christine blushed and quickly found her untouched food fascinating. A shadow fell across her plate. With a nod, he indicated the vacant seat across from her. Sliding into the chair, he introduced himself as John Dening, astrobiologist.

The rest of the meal passed in a fog. When she returned to the lab, not one word of their conversation could she dredge up from her memory. Alvin Donnale broke into her reverie, bringing reality back into focus.

"Dr. Chapel, the results from that last cycle test are inconsistent with the projections laid out by the computer..." His voice droned on as Christine shut him out.

//Inconsistent with the projections laid out by the computer,// she mimicked. Always the blasted computer, can't anyone do anything around here without having some stupid machine holding their hands?

The excitement of devoting herself to planetside research had dimmed considerably since her arrival. //Until today.// Until today. //Stop it! You're just in a slump right now. Bored, you mean,// a little voice echoed

"...do the sequence again..."

//...for the twelfth time...//

"...computer readout..."

//...stupid machine...//

"...results yet this evening..."

//...he has such green eyes...//

"Dr. Chapel! Are you listening to me?!"

* * *

ONE A.M. Christine handed the latest results to Donnale.

"At last!" He scurried away to his desk, leaving Christine free to depart.

A tiny chink, a small breakthrough in an impossible project. She should be thrilled, instead, she just wanted a sandwich and cup of coffee. Why didn't she enjoy her work any longer?

She looked at the industrious little man huddled over his console. //HE always found answers in the computers, they seemed to work especially for him.// With a shrug of her shoulders, Christine left the lab.

* * *

<< The lateness of the hour gave the room an even more ponderous feeling. She had found the answers at last, but it was too late for most of the landing party--only Spock remained, poised on the brink of death. The serum had been administered and all they could do was wait.

Christine felt uncomfortable, for the first time, in sickbay. Small niggering wisps of thought bombarded her as fatigue overcame her finally.

//She is here. I feel her--a long sentinel watching. Always she watches. The serum is working, my body is responding. Yet, she stays. She will not depart from me as T'Pring would never have stayed.

//T'Pring--even as I speak your name do I feel the fires burn within. Your beauty so overwhelming as I gazed upon you for the first time in these many years. Vulcan, my home. It kept and trained you well, T'Pring.// Images of the rugged orange landscape mingled with the incessant chiming of the windbells.

Christine stirred uneasily as Spock's impressions and memories inundated her. The disdainful looks of pity from the rest of the marriage party, the sun glaring overhead, the burning, unslaked desire coursing through his very pores. //Betrayal. You have betrayed me, your beauty blinded me to the truth. Am I so less than a man you cannot bear to look upon me? T'Pring, I feel the fires dying. Your logic so cold it chills my soul. So beautiful. I can see you yet. The embers still glow with desire for you, my wife.// >>

* * *

Christine shook off the vestiges of the picture that remained in her mind of a place she'd never seen and a woman she didn't know. Would the past always haunt her so? Was there no respite to be found in the passing of time and distance?

The solemn face staring back from the mirror belied the inner turmoil. Resolutely, she fastened the pin in her hair.

//To hell with Spock and all his women.// All those years she had spent waiting for a sign, a single indication that he even noticed her and there had been nothing. She had always thought it was because he was Vulcan, that he could not be interested in any woman. He had even paid more attention to that little twit Droxine than he ever had her. Oh, yes, even that small escapade had come to the surface for her to see in his mind.

Christine stood back and stared at herself long and hard in the mirror. //What's wrong with me? Am I that ugly? But I can't be that hideous,// her common sense argued back. //Others have found me desirable.//

Her mind raced back to earlier times when she had reveled in the love of Roger Korby. One of the most brilliant scientists in the galaxy, yet he had found her both intellectually and physically attractive. //Why did you have to leave me behind when you went out into space that last time? I would have gone with you gladly. You'll never know how lonely I was without you. The months turned into years and I searched for you. When we found you, though, my first thoughts were whether you would forgive me for letting Spock take your place in my heart. In many ways I didn't regret your final death, for to me you had been dead for years. I felt free at last, I no longer had to feel guilty for loving someone else. Only, he didn't love me. He never really knew I existed. I was the albatross around his neck on board the Enterprise. The one for whom everybody felt both pity and scorn when they thought I wasn't looking. In some ways, Roger, I don't think I'll ever forgive you for going away and forcing me through all these years of hell. On the other hand, though, I might never have finally grown up as I have these last months. You see, it wasn't because he was a Vulcan that he kept away from me. It was me. There were always countless women for the taking because he was so attractive and such an enigma, and dumb me didn't realize he was actually doing some taking. Oh, no, Christine, he wouldn't do anything like that. He wouldn't lower himself to dally with just anyone, he's better than that. Hah, wasn't that a laugh. He's probably having himself a wonderful time this very minute.//

Oh, well, it really didn't matter anymore. She'd finally done the one thing she should have done after that dreadful, embarrassing scene while in orbit around La Pig. That one still hurt. To have spilled her guts to the one man who couldn't have cared less, then to have the final humiliation of hearing him say he was sorry. Sorry. Sorry because of the way she felt, or sorry he couldn't find it within himself to return the same to her? Another pin was jabbed into place.

//I don't care. He's out of my life for good now. I have my own project, no more Dr. Donnale waving his bloody computer sheets at me telling me what the results should have been... And I have John.// A smile touched her lips in anticipation of seeing him in a few hours. A peaceful morning of isolation with her microscope, then an afternoon away from the lab in the domed botanical gardens with John.

It had been difficult for her at first. The sterile environs the Enterprise and endless frustration, because of Spock, had taken much away from her. For too long she had been first a nurse, then a doctor foremost, and a woman second, hiding away the part of her that yearned to be treated as desirable. The hours with John made her feel like a real person once more, not an automaton fulfilling a role either as just physician or scientist.

Later, as she was standing in the gardens, the same train of thought came back to her. So intent was it, she nearly missed John's words.

"... marry me. Be my wife."

//He really loves me. I can be secure forever. He's intelligent, charming, witty and handsome. And I'm not getting any younger. Why not? Face it, Christine, there won't be many more chances for something like this. You've already thrown away enough of your years on a man who didn't care, why not spend the rest of them with someone who does? A man like this doesn't come along every day on this godforsaken outpost of a research station. I can say yes and be content the rest of my life.// As she started to speak, the image of another wedding, another wife came into her mind. His wife had publicly humiliated him and made him kill a man because of forces he couldn't control. She remembered the degradation he had felt in front of T'Pau by being the first man divorced by the Kalifee in thousands of years of recorded history.

She looked into the eyes of the man who loved her. "Yes."

//T'Pring, my wife.//

* * *

<< The particles shifted their positions as Christine dozed on, oblivious to all but Spock's memories. Their time in this alien territory was limited; soon they would need to return to their own world.

//Icy winds. Cold, so cold. You found us out there on the frozen tundra. The light of your smile, the touch of your hand. I can still feel the softness of your skin, the rustle of the furs as we made love. Why did you have to remain behind? Did you bear my child as you hoped? Perhaps McCoy was right, maybe I did regress to the days of my forefathers, but you were so beautiful, so tempting.// A frigid blast of arctic wind. //Zarabeth, I cannot leave you. Let him return alone.// The anguished cry came from deep within the Vulcan. //How can I choose? If I stay he dies, if I go, you will be gone to me forever.// The image of a sun going nova superimposed the vision of her face. //Zarabeth.// A single tear fell from his eye in remembrance. //I love you.// >>

* * *

The Vulcan firepot glowed in the corner, the sole light in the otherwise darkened quarters. Unfinished reports lay neglected beneath his elbows.

//Why did she leave?// His question was answered by silence. Cylus 4 had been found to have sentient life after all and the Enterprise had soon finished its mission and departed.

//She is gone.//

Their next stop had been Beta Cygnia, a rather isolated research station, where Dr. Chapel had requested an immediate transfer from the Enterprise. The Captain had been unable to find grounds for refusing the request and she had left in the night, never to be seen again.

//She is gone.//

How often over the years he had cast her from him. Always she had been there, silent in the love he knew she bore for him. On Vulcan, he thought himself purged of all through the Kolinahr, but when he'd returned, she was there once more. Vejur had taught him much, but still he had brushed her aside. Why did it always take such violent measures to bring about realization? Why had he not seen the truth before?

//Christine, I love you.//

But she was gone.

* * *

"Approaching Beta Cygnia, Captain. ETA twenty minutes." Uhura's voice was cheerful as she anticipated seeing her friend again after all these months. Christine's last tape had mentioned a special man in her life.

No one noticed Spock stiffen at her words. The battle within still raged. Would she listen to him or would she turn her back to him as he had her so many times?

The station was nearly deserted due to the lateness of the hour. Directions given soon led him to an out of the way corridor. Spock stood outside her door, uncertain of himself. He started to turn away then stopped. With a firm gesture, he pressed the buzzer. No answer. He had turned away for the second time when the door opened.

"Mr. Spock?" Unbound hair framed her face above a hastily donned robe.

"Dr. Chapel ... Christine, may I come in?"

Confused, she stood aside.

//He's changed,// she thought. //Not so much physically, oh, a little thinner, perhaps, no, it's more than that -- something inside.// She toyed absently with the engagement ring newly installed on her hand. //Why is he here?// Christine found herself running over the possibilities with almost clinical detachment.

She waited impatiently for Spock to say whatever it was he had come for, but the Vulcan was silent. He stood in the center of the room looking uncomfortable and Christine found herself doing the one thing she swore she'd never do -- comparing Spock and John. For so many years she had measured every man against him -- the ruler against which everyone kept coming up short. When she'd left the Enterprise, the ruler had been carefully tucked away -- not that it hadn't tried to come back out -- but she'd been fairly successful in keeping its use to a bare minimum.

The brilliant green eyes that had attracted her now seemed dull and lifeless next to Spock's deep brown ones. That intellectual mind, once so pleasing to her, now seemed one dimensional compared to the man who had melded with Vejur, the living machine.

The realization of what she was doing swept over her like hot coals. //How dare he come here? What gives him the right to just step in and out of my life as he damn well pleases?// The bitter words were nearly spoken aloud. //I'm happy here now. I'm engaged to a man who loves me dearly. Why doesn't he just go away and leave me in peace?//

//She's changed,// he reflected, trying to put his thoughts in order. // The sparkle is gone.// He chided himself. //There is no such thing..// Still... His attention was garnered by a slight movement of her left hand. //It is too late.// His shoulders slumped unconsciously in defeat. Spock moved to the door, there was no purpose in remaining. All had been lost by his many years of denial. He would have no other and at the next pon farr he and death would surely be united.

"Mr. Spock." Her words halted his motions. "Why are you here?"

//Why am I here?// he thought ruefully.

"It is of no consequence."

"Out of the blue, you happen to be here on Beta Cygnia and come knocking on my door at two o'clock in the morning and you say it's of no consequence?" The months of pent up anger gave her words a bitter edge. The outburst caught him by surprise and he blinked in shock at this abrupt turnabout in behavior.

"I am sorry to have intruded. Congratulations, I believe, is the correct phrase. Good evening."

* * *

<< Fluffy clouds that looked like dragons. Rainbows that scintillated pastels of unearthly shades. A soft head nestled on his shoulder in the shade of a lazy afternoon. //Omicron Ceti Three.// Even the name left a bittersweet residue on his tongue. //Leila. At last to touch you. No, I am not permitted... Yes, I can feel you, caress you... To revel in the joy of your kiss, to see dragons in the sky, to love you beneath the trees... Leila, sweet Leila, we have waited so long.// Anger, hatred. //Don't cry. I belong here on the Enterprise. I cannot love you. Vulcans cannot love. You say you have lost me, perhaps it is only that I have lost myself.// Fluffy clouds in the sky that looked only like clouds. Multi-colored rainbows were just a post-rain phenomena.

* * *

Drowsily, Christine came to her feet, barely noticing a rise in the indicators. //Leila?// She shook her head as if to clear it. She couldn't read minds, yet she had been reading Spock's. The idea of having invaded his privacy, albeit unknowingly, shook her, though not so much as realizing the content of those thoughts.

How could she, plain dull Christine Chapel, compete with the ethereal memories of Zarabeth and Leila? Or overcome the shame he felt when he thought of T'Pring with desire? The uselessness of her love struck home and the impact was more than painful.

//Face it, Christine, it's time to move on and find a new life. You can't compete against his memories.// Blindly, she stumbled out of the door, headed for her quarters, wanting only to leave the Enterprise and Spock behind her forever. >>

* * *

A tentative hand touched his arm as he turned away. The Vulcan hesitated in his step.

"Why did you come?"

"Why did you leave the Enterprise?" The flat tone was tinged with accusation and bitterness.

Christine drew back as if burned. With an unconscious gesture, she pulled her robe around herself tightly, folding her arms as she paced slowly across the dimly lit room.

"What difference does it make? It's done and that part of my life is behind me now."

"Is it?"

She whirled back toward him in surprise. The shadows obscured his face. For an unreasonable moment of panic, she felt cornered, as though on trial for her actions. The faceless judge, immobile as stone, stood in judgment, soon to pass sentence. //Guilty, guilty,// the voices mocked her.

"Of course. My life is here now, doing research."

//Liar, liar...//

Wordlessly, he slipped from the room.

Christine stretched out her hand into the emptiness.

//He is gone.//