DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen Bates and is copyright (c) 1981 by Karen Bates. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Fermata, 1981.


Karen Bates

Ensign Joseph Tarnelli strode down the corridor toward his quarters, his silent footsteps echoing hollowly inside his brain. Oblivious to the activities and people around him, he urged his feet ever onward to their goal. When the door slid shut behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief as the rest of humanity was cut away from him by the simple use of a wall.

Images and memories kept flashing into his mind as he puttered around his cabin making preparations. A childhood spent in the streets of Dinjon, while his mother plied her trade ... his years at the Academy struggling to achieve recognition ... the part of his life devoted to his wife Sharma, the interval after she left him, two months into their marriage, for another man ... his time now on board the Enterprise...

The realization and decision that there was really no point in going any further had been reached after long thought and deliberation. Tarnelli fiddled absently with the cassette tape in his hand; disposal of his personal effects had been carefully recorded on it and would be momentarily fed into the computer.

When at last he felt all was in readiness, Tarnelli retrieved the phaser hidden deep in his desk drawer two weeks prior. It had been relatively simple, in the confusion of an attack planetside, to conceal his weapon and later report it as lost or destroyed. Tarnelli dialed the setting to maximum, just short of overload; there was no need to endanger anyone else's life.

* * *

With his customary efficiency, Spock chose a shortcut through the crew decks, on his way to the bridge. He'd been down in the computer access tubes since late yesterday afternoon unraveling an input problem that had ultimately resulted in a series of burned out core circuits. There were only 3.7 hours left in this duty shift, before he could escape to the relative solitude of his cabin. A nice quiet stint at his bridge station would be a pleasant respite, after fighting with those circuits in tunnels built for dwarfs. Setting the day's troubles aside, Spock turned his mind away from the Enterprise, his many faceted duties and felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders.

* * *

Glancing quickly around the room to assure all was in order, then satisfied that it was, Tarnelli raised the phaser into position. As the brain sent the signal for a motor response, Tarnelli's perception of reality altered and time slowed down to almost a standstill. He could feel the acetocholene flowing between his synapses, the nerves sending the last order to which his finger would respond. When at last the index finger started depressing the firing button, the mental energy, so long in building, came to a peak. As the stream of death emerged from the phaser, Tarnelli released the energy contained in the melange of thoughts and memories with a triumphal burst. The bolt struck at last and the internal shout of "I'm free!" echoed into the cosmos.

* * *

Outside in the corridor, the only telepath within parsecs was thrown against the bulkhead by the force of Tarnelli's freedom.

* * *

<<Joey ducked into the nearest alley as he ran through the streets of Dinjon. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of pursuit as his classmates hounded their quarry. He fought back the tears and anger as his ten year old mind asked the eternal questions, "Why me?" Why couldn't he have parents just like everyone else? The free educational services provided by the state for the children of government employee made it possible for Joe to attend school with all the other children while his mother pursued her job as one of the more elite "call girls".

Dinjon's totalitarian system had taken over every aspect of its citizens' lives, from the most prestigious to the most decadent. Yet, there was still the ageless stigma attached to those who had to leave blanks on the state registration forms under Father. Under the protective umbrella of some of the most powerful men of Dinjon, Joey's mother was sequestered from much of the ridicule and scorn so amply heaped upon her only son.

The chanting behind him grew louder as the older boys caught up with him. "How many did she sleep with today?" "Son of a whore." "Now he's bawling." "Crybaby, crybaby, Joey is a crybaby. Crybaby, crybaby, Joey is a crybaby..."

Stumbling backwards away from the half dozen youngsters taunting him, Joey slipped and fell to one knee. As he came to his feet, the biggest bully punched him in the chest with his finger. Already angry and pushed to the point of no return by this ceaseless harassment, Joey threw a punch in return. The scuffle was short lived and Joey was left on the sidewalk with a bloody nose and black eye. The shouts and jeering faded as he limped the reset of the way home.>>

The finger on the phaser began its downward stroke.

<<Each day the patter would accompany him home. "Bastard, bastard, bastard..."

* * *

//"B'aastan, B'aastan..." Human, human. Spock stiffened his spine even further and fought back the unVulcan tears that threatened to overwhelm him. The son of Sarek, Ambassador of All Vulcan, would not shame himself in front of his fellow students. To a little five year old boy, the differences made by having a human mother were apparent but not always clear. Why couldn't his father have married a Vulcan so he could be like everyone else? Spock could already picture Sarek's stern visage and hear the pronouncement of judgment as he walked in the door with dust stains and a livid bruise obtained by fighting ... again.

Amanda watched helplessly as her only child walked proudly and defiantly up the ornate walkway, the tones of derision stopping just beyond the property boundaries. No Vulcan child would be so rude as to trespass onto private grounds, but that didn't stop them from tormenting the one who was different.

Later that night, still chafing from Sarek's harsh lecture on deportment and responsibilities, Spock turned away from the viewscreen, showing the assigned reading from the Book of Surak, on the merits of conforming for the sake of peace, to make a vow to himself and the complacent i-Chaya resting at his feet. "I will show them someday what it means to be truly Vulcan."//

In sickbay, the overhead monitors moved a notch lower.

* * *

"Are you trying to tell me there was nothing in his psychological profile, or any of the standard testing procedures that would indicate a potential suicide?" Incredulity mixed with anger as Kirk confronted his Chief Medical Officer.

"What I'm saying, Captain, is that it's *possible* for someone of Tarnelli's rationality and determination to fake the tests if they are somewhat familiar with them. According to his records, he was an assistant tech on Gamma VI at the Academy for the Study of Behavioral Sciences," McCoy returned testily.

"All right. Granted, it was feasible that Tarnelli could have bypassed the tests, but the questions still remains, what happened to Spock?" Kirk paced the floor in frustration. "Nearby crew claim Spock was thrown against the bulkhead while passing Tarnelli's quarters. Now I'm asking you, what's the connection?"

"I don't know, Jim."

* * *

<<The grades and next assignments were posted on the official information board at 1300 hours. No one paid Joe any attention as he shouldered his way out of the crowd of students and walked back to his room. He was ranked in the top percentile and his first ground assignment prior to space duty was the prestigious Behavorial Sciences Academy on Gamma VI.

Joe figured his roommate Michaels was out celebrating with everyone else, now that final grades had been posted. The years at the Starfleet Academy were behind him. No more loneliness and isolation, he had achieved great things at the Academy, life would be better now.

His eye caught sight of an official looking envelope propped up on his desk. Michales must have picked up the mail today, he mused. Turning the missive over in his hands, the government seal of Dinjon came into view. "Probably an 'official' congratulatory letter of approval." Tarnelli chuckled at the thought. He'd come to the Academy to escape Dinjon and here they were going to pat him on the head for a job well done. On the other hand, maybe he'd go back for a visit before reporting to Gamma VI. Show them all how the bastard child Tarnelli had excelled and get the recognition he deserved.

The parchment came free of its restraints. "Due to the combined factors of your mother/guardian's death two weeks ago and your graduation from a Starfleet institution, the Government of Dinjon hereby revokes citizenship and visiting privileges." His mother dead? The room grew hazy as he remembered how she looked when he'd left for the Academy. So pretty and alive, now dead and gone to him forever. Like every child of Dinjon, and even now, he could recite the registration form's last paragraph: "At the death of their single parent/guardian, illegitimate children will become custody of the State until majority, at which time all rights of citizenship will be revoked." Revoked. Just a fancy way of saying goodbye.>>

The finger pressure started the firing mechanism.

<<Several hours later, Michaels came home to an empty room. All signs of double occupancy had been erased with only a single parchment lying in the waste basket.>>

* * *

//Spock folded the small note from Amanda carefully into the small cache of belongings situated in the middle of his bed. The silence from Sarek was almost deafening. He had been as dead to Sarek and Vulcan from the moment he'd gone. Now in his moment of achievement, graduating at the top of the Academy class, there was only a brief word from Amanda and an empty room to help him celebrate. Why couldn't Sarek understand his need to leave Vulcan and its narrow attitudes behind and find a place where he could be accepted for himself -- not just the halfbrreed son of the great Sarek. Spock's grades showed academic achievement; the solitude of his room spoke of failure at being accepted.//

The monitors dipped even lower.

//With a face devoid of any expression or feeling, Spock picked up his bags and walked out of the Academy, never looking back.//

* * *

"...last of the lab reports, Captain. All the results are negative." The early morning hours were reflected in McCoy's voice as he gave his report to Kirk.

"All right, let's ignore the results and assume it's nothing physiological that would show up in a test."

"I'm listening." McCoy had run out of answers and ideas and was willing to try anything at this point. He watched as Kirk paced the small room starting a sentence or two, but never finishing the thought. McCoy snapped his fingers. "Tarnelli committed suicide and there's a possibility, a slim one, that Spock just might have been caught in the fallout."

"What are you talking about?"

McCoy warmed up to his subject now that he had a foothold. "Fallout -- the residual mental energy resulting from an act of self-inflicted violence." Seeing Kirk's puzzlement, he elaborated further. "Several years ago there was some research done on the topic of suicide, not the causes but rather the results of the action itself. Not much data could be obtained, but the consensus was an enormous amount of energy accumulated at the point of death that just exploded into nowhere. Spock's a telepath -- what if he was caught in that explosion?" The doctor frowned slightly as he realized the import of his own words.

Kirk grasped the implication immediately. "Those thoughts would be so powerful even Spock wouldn't have any defense, especially since he was unprepared."

"So now he's doing what Tarnelli did, committing suicide. And there' not a damn thing we can do about it."

* * *

<<"What are you talking about?">>

//The upheld hand stopped the hammer midstrike.//

<<"I said I was leaving you.">>

//"She chooses the challenge."//

<<"I heard you but I don't understand." His Sharma, beautiful Sharma, was leaving him. Life on board the Excelsior had ceased being a hell from the moment he had met her. The three months of engagement and two of marriage had done much to fill the enormous cavity of emptiness in his life. Now she was leaving...>>

//The years of waiting, to be accepted into Vulcan at last, albeit through marriage.//

<<My transfer came through today.">>


<<"Why?" are you doing this to me?>>

//"Explain" why you have destroyed me.//

<<"Why what?">>


<<"Why you're leaving me, transferring off the ship." what have I done?>>

//"Why you chose Stonn over me." am I so less than a man in your eyes?//

<<"It was a mistake to ever marry you. You're too different and I've decided I don't really want to spend the rest of my life with someone like that.">>

//"You have become much known among our people, Spock, almost a legend. And as the years went by, I came to know I did not want to be the consort of a legend."//

<<"I'm still in love with Robert, and he still wants me.">>

//"Stonn wanted me, I wanted him."//

<<"He can have you then. Go away, I never want to see you again." leave me alone, just as I was before you came into my life.>>

//"Stonn, she is yours." there is nothing left now. I have killed my Captain and divorced my wife.//

Energy streamed from the phaser.

The life support system took over all the body functions one by one as they failed.

* * *

Christine Chapel stared at the papers in her hand, unseeing as the voices in the other room invaded her thoughts. Kirk and McCoy could discuss and argue it all they wanted, but the fact still remained they couldn't do anything. There wasn't anything anyone could do. The monitor at her elbow changed readings as the electronic equipment took over more and more of the effort to keep Spock's body alive. Knowing she would be submitted to one of McCoy's eternal "keep hoping" remarks did nothing to discourage Christine from relieving the night shift nurse and taking over the stint herself. Oh, well, soon it wouldn't matter anymore; by morning he would be dead anyway. The life support unit could only do so much before even that, too, became extraneous.

The paper in her hand crumpled tightly inside her fist as she vented her anger against a man she barely even remembered seeing. How dare he take Spock's life so freely? Who did he think he was? All right, take your own life, but leave others alone. Just a young ensign fairly new to the ship, she perused the nearby report, six weeks on board. Still furious, she rose to her feet and walked around, keeping an eye on the telltale monitor.

*Calm down, you're not helping yourself or Spock by getting all mad.* A voice inside answered anger with anger. *Why can't I get mad? I have every right the world to be angry. The man I love is lying in there dying right now because of some stupid idiot who couldn't face reality. Probably thought life should be handed to him on a silver platter or something. Well, life isn't like that. Only a coward gives in so easily.*

A tear slipped down her face as she watched the readings change, yet again on the readout. Frustration from inactivity took over and she decided "to hell with it", the machine could be monitored just as well first hand as remote control.

* * *

<<The Enterprise. The most prestigious starship of the fleet and it was all his. Tarnelli glanced down at his orders one more time to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Sure enough, in black and white: The Enterprise. Time had passed slowly as he'd waited on board the Excelsior till his transfer had come through. Sharma had left the ship the day she'd walked out on him and the cabin's emptiness had been no help to him in trying to forget her. Enough. He was free of her now and was moving onto better things.

Better things, he reflected bitterly. Ha, that's a laugh. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't fit into the camaraderie. And that pretty yeoman, Alice Thompkins, doesn't even know I'm alive. Sharma, why did you do this to me? Any minute now she'll come walking through here with her clipboard, get my signature, smile and walk on. You still loved him, yet you married me. Why, Sharma, why? That's the third time she's turned down my invitation for dinner. I was too different, not enough man for you, right, Sharma? There she goes out the door -- you probably think so too, don't you? Dinjon said I wasn't good enough. Said it right on the State certificate of registration; Bastard Tarnelli they called me.

Joe cocked an eye at the chronometer. Almost time to go off duty. Soon he would be free of all this. Free of Dinjon. Free of Sharma. Free of the Enterprise.>>

The energy bolt struck and the cosmos accepted him as one of its own. Joseph Tarnelli was at last free.

* * *

//One Vulcan in an entire crew of humans was difficult; they couldn't seem to understand him. Even with a sympathetic captain like Christopher Pike, the differences were all too pronounced. Solitary meals, a lonely cabin, a computer for company, on or off duty ... There was only so much communication and fulfillment that could be obtained playing chess with a partner whose logic was even more perfected than one's own.

The new Captain doesn't seem much different either, Spock thought ruefully. After Gary's death he had turned to the new physician who happened to be an old acquaintance. Stop it, you are behaving in a very unVulcan fashion. //

Christine placed his motionless hand lightly in her own.

//A chess game? Of course, Captain. T'Pring, I burn for thee. No, I am half human, spare me this! It would be illogical for us to protest against our natures, don't you think? Art thee Vulcan or art thee human? Your face is wet. T'Pring, what have you made me do? My name is Christine. There must be some part of me in you. Some part I can still reach. Checkmate. Having is not so pleasing a thing after all. The touch of your hand... Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out. They are my friends, I am permitted this. I came to know I did not want to be the consort of a legend. Release me from all this! T'Pring, I am free of you. I am a man now, Sarek, I don't need your approval. The Enterprise... the touch of a hand ... the touch ... I must ... I must ... I must ... a hand ... the touch ... along?? ... feel the touch ...//

The readings slowly moved upwards.


(Original idea conceived by Ann Crouch)