Legal Disclaimer: All Star Trek characters and entities in this story are property of Paramount; anything original is mine. I'm not making money on this.  This is an Alternate Universe which may or may not comply with aired Star Trek canon. I'm being honest about it up front, because it also does not comply with my Shayla universe, which really makes me twitchy. That said, I hope you enjoy it.

No Future, No Past
by DebbieB

The heart may freeze or it can burn.
The pain will ease if I can learn
There is no future, there is no past.
I live each moment as my last.
Jonathan Larson, Rent

The mess hall was deserted this time of day. Phil Boyce watched as Number One finished her lo mein in silence. It had been that kind of meal.

"You up for a brandy after dinner?" he ventured.

"What?" She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten he was there. "Oh, sorry, Phil. Can't tonight."

"Another date with Spock?"

His gentle chide was greeted with an icy stare. "You know how rumors get started, Doctor." She laid her chopsticks across the empty plate. "We are just..."

"Friends?" Boyce supplied.

"Why does it always sound dirty when you say it?" Still, she smiled an almost imperceptible smile. "Poor kid. He's going through culture shock. You'd think after three months, he'd be more comfortable, but he's not adjusting well."

This caught Boyce's attention. "Something the ship's doctor should be aware of?"

"Phil, don't make this a major issue. Spock needs a mentor, and he's turned to me. I'll do what I can to help him acclimate; he'll be fine in no time."

Any other person would have let it drop, but Phil Boyce was not any other person. "So what do you two do during these acclimation sessions?"

"If you must know," the first officer said coolly. "I'm teaching him Sereda's Broom."

Boyce groaned, squeezing his temples between thumb and forefinger in a mock expression of pain. "Oh, jeeze, not that game again? Why do you insist on dragging it out and forcing it on every unsuspecting rube who comes within two parsecs of you?"

Number One grinned. "Spoken like a man who's never even gotten through Level One."

"You are a menace," he growled. "If ever I need approval for a Class Three psych exam on you, I'll just whip out a copy of that damned game."

"Bad loser," she chastised, gathering her tray to leave. "Gotta go."

As she headed for the disposal, Boyce called out into the empty hall, "So what did Mighty Spock, Boy Genius score?"

She never answered his question. She just shook her head as she walked through the door.

* * *

"You're thinking like a Vulcan," she murmured. "In this game, the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line."

Spock frowned into the monitor as a harsh alarm sounded.

Game over.

"It appears I have failed once more," he said softly.

"You're doing fine. It's a difficult game. I should know. I designed it, and it still takes me three or four tries to get past the fallout shelter." She leaned back in her chair, stretching in the muggy heat of his cabin. He'd offered on more than one occasion to lower the heat, but she declined. So many things on the Enterprise were not designed with Vulcans in mind; he might as well be comfortable in his own quarters. But that didn't stop her from tugging at the collar of her tunic.

"If you are uncomfortable, Commander…"

"No, I'm fine. Do you want to play another game?"

Spock shook his head. "Perhaps another time. Tonight…" He hesitated, his face less composed than normal. "Tonight, there is something I wish to discuss with you."

Something in his tone captured Number One's attention and she responded evenly, "Of course, Spock. Is anything wrong?"

If anything, her response seemed to make him even more uncomfortable. "I wish to thank you for the…guidance you have provided me in my time on the Enterprise."

"You're welcome, Spock. I've enjoyed our time together."

"As have I," he said, a little too quickly. "I have been studying the…interactions between my human crewmates. I am afraid that my…my lack of interpersonal skills has hampered my efficiency."

Number One shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She didn't like the direction this conversation was taking. "I've had no complaints about your performance."

"My work performance is adequate. But there is more to life aboard a starship than work. The human crewmembers…form relationships which allow them to function as more than simply coworkers. For example, you and Dr. Boyce share a camaraderie which far exceeds the demands of your positions."

"Boyce has been a thorn in my side since our days on the Potemkin, Spock. It takes time to establish that kind of rapport with your crewmates." She smiled, placing a light hand on his. "Give it some time."

Spock grasp her hand just as she was pulling it back. "If you could help me, I would be in your debt."

Her jaw dropped slightly. "You want me to help you establish a social life on the Enterprise? Uh, Spock, I'm not exactly the person…"

"I have experienced a great degree of…satisfaction in our interactions. You are human, yet your personality is logical and composed. We are, as you would say, well-matched."

"I…don't think I'm following you, Spock."

"I feel it would be logical to establish a more…" This time, he did look away momentarily. When he met her gaze, Number One felt a shiver down her spine. "I feel it would be logical to establish a more intimate relationship."

"Excuse me?" That was not what she had expected to hear him say.

"I have studied the history of human military establishments. Historically, officers in committed monogamous relationships are favored above unattached officers. Therefore, it would not only be valuable experience in interaction, but a sensible career choice for both of us."

"Spock, are you serious?"

"I have done comprehensive research on human sexuality, female sexual needs, and the psychological needs of the human female. I believe that, with a minimal amount of instruction on your part, I could fully satisfy you physically.'

"Okay, this conversation needs to stop, Mr. Spock." Number One felt the blush forming at the base of her neck. This couldn't possibly be happening. And Spock couldn't possibly be so naïve as to not understand the implications of what he was doing.

"I would be willing to give you a demonstration of my technique if you…"

"No!" She bolted upright from her chair as Spock followed her lead.

"Commander, have I offended you?"

She had no idea how to handle this. In all her years as a fleet officer, this was the first time a junior officer had seriously propositioned her. At least, when there was no alcohol involved. "Spock, I am…" She groped for the words. "Flattered by your offer. But I thought Vulcans participated in arranged marriages?"

"That is correct. But my marriage to T'Pring is not scheduled to take place until I reach the age of maturity in thirteen years. Given the average length of human relationships, I do not fear it will be an issue." He closed the gap between them, and Number One stepped backwards until she was against the wall. "Our partnership could be mutually beneficial, Number One." He leaned forward, his right hand flat against the wall above her shoulder.

As his lips were barely brushing hers, Number One slinked out of his grasp. She managed to get a table between her and the misguided suitor. "Mr. Spock, you are in direct line for command of this ship. I am the first officer. While I am intrigued by your offer, given our positions a relationship between us would certainly cause a conflict of interest." She was holding him back with the flat of her hand now.

Somehow, apparently that got through to him. The young Vulcan paused, then a slight tinge of green spread over his quickly-tightening features. "Of course, Commander. Your judgment, as usual, is impeccable." Any emotion that showed in his eyes disappeared almost immediately. "I apologize for…"

"No," she said as the complete awkwardness of the situation came crashing down about her. "I really should be…"

"It is late," he agreed, stepping back to allow her access to the door.

"Yes, um. I'll see you on the bridge," she offered as she slid through the barely-open doors. Once safely in the corridor, she leaned against the wall. "Oh, my gods," she choked. Boyce was definitely not going to hear about this one.

* * *

Twenty-three months later…

"Captain, when you mentioned this planet was unstable, you didn't do it justice." Number One had to yell into the communicator to be heard. CM573-b was hardly the garden spot of the universe. The tremors were coming more frequently, and the air was choked with soot and ash.

"Just get the readings and get out of there in one piece, Number One. Pike out."

Number One turned to her small team, Spock and a security guard, and a geologist, and shrugged. "You heard the man. Spock, Tomson, I want you to take that ridge over there. Ming and I will cover this stretch. Stay close, and don't hesitate to request beam out if something goes wrong."

Spock nodded. Despite the heat and commotion, he was the picture of Vulcan composure. Number One hated to admit it, but she sometimes missed the excitable young man of their earlier missions. Once the two had started off, Number One turned to Ming Sobhen with a muted grin. "Care to join me in a little volcano-jumping?"

The young woman laughed. "I'd love to, Commander," she yelled over the latest blast. "But I don't know if I meet the requirements."

"I'm told the local volcano deity is very lenient." She began trudging up the rocky path.

"Swell."

* * *

She didn't see the quadruped until she was almost on top of it. Number One stopped short. According to initial scans, whatever life was hearty enough to survive on this planet had hightailed it for the low country when the mountain began to rumble three days earlier. This little guy didn't seem in a hurry to leave; in fact, he was frantically digging at a spot in the jumble of rocks blocking her path.

Number One leaned over to scan the furry beast, no bigger than her fist. It paused as she neared it, staring at her with crazed eyes. "What's the matter, little guy? What is so important that you're here instead of with your friends in the low country?"

The animal paused. A chill crept down the first officer's spine. It was almost as if he understood what she was saying. Aside from high hormone levels, the animal was physically fine. She reached out her hand, palm up, in the most non-threatening fashion she could. The creature pulled back, then slowly moved in to sniff her hand.

She felt the puncture as the next tremor hit. Number One yanked back her hand, tucking it against her stomach as she crouched low and waited for the tremor to pass. When she looked up, the animal was dead. She looked at her hand, which was still tingling, but could find no wound. A lightheadedness overwhelmed her and she curled back into a ball for a moment.

When she could finally think again, she did the only thing she could do. She began to dig.

* * *

Her fingers were beginning to bleed, but Number One didn't slow her pace. She had to get through, she had to make the hole bigger. Another tremor. The sound of rocks falling in the distance. No time, no time! Dig. Must break through.

Distraction. Who could think of talking at a time like this? Girl. Woman. Uniform. Calling her name. Too much to do, to much to do. She pulled out her phaser and shot the bothersome child. Had to get through.

The phaser was warm in her hand. She began to laugh. She aimed the weapon at her spot in the rocks, firing a steady blast. Rock and debris scattered in the wind, and the opening widened. Inspiration. Carefully maintaining her aim, she crept backwards until she was at Ming's side. She pulled the weapon from the dead girl's hand and doubled her assault on the rocks.

Blue. White. Number One screamed in excitement and raised the settings on both weapons. Close. Close. The gap was widening. The door was opening. Just a little more and…

Distraction. Vulcan. Spock. No, too close. Can't stop. A little wider. A little more.

Tremor. Falling. No! No, must separate. Trapped. Trapped. Door closing. Trapped. All is lost.

* * *

Fourteen years later…

It was days like this when Christine Chapel questioned her decision to remain aboard the Enterprise. Patient charting had been the bane of every nurse's existence since the dawn of history. Patient charting in addition to putting up with McCoy's foul mood qualified her for automatic sainthood.

The process was quite simple. Starfleet asked Kirk to do something he didn't want to do. Kirk took it out on Spock and McCoy. McCoy (and Spock, she suspected) took it out on his subordinates, i.e., the head nurse.

"Nurse, do you have those first quarter updates complete?"

"You bellowed, sir?" she muttered under her breath. "And technically, it's Doctor, but we won't split hairs."

"Nurse Chapel, did you hear me?"

"Yes," she called into his office as she quickly transferred the data to a padd. "I'll be in with it in a moment."

"Never mind," he said as he emerged from his office. Judging from the scowl on his face, his mood hadn't improved. "Damn bureaucrats. They wouldn't know a hangnail from an impacted colon, but God forbid we get these reports in a day late."

What do you mean, we? Chapel thought, handing him the padd with her most professionally bland expression. "First quarter updates, sir."

"Thank you, Nurse."

Doctor, was her mental correction.

McCoy gave the charts a cursory glance and handed the padd back to Chapel. "Approved," he said gruffly. "I'm going to my cabin for a drink."

Chapel raised an eyebrow. She couldn't help rubbing it in. "Have you decided what to wear for the coronation on Shakan'ha? I hear they don't want Starfleet personnel wearing uniforms. It would violate local mores."

The glare he shot back at her could have cut through a six-centimeter thick wall of solid ice. "Nurse Chapel, I do not need you reminding me of the Shakan'hi mores. I have had three days of intensive lectures from Ambassador Bienvenue on the topic, not to mention seventeen messages a day warning me against this infraction or that. My head is filled with all sorts of wonderful Shakan'hi information, and if I'm lucky, I have enough bourbon in my cabin to kill off any affected brain cells before I go to sleep tonight."

Chapel managed to hide a smug grin. At least she could look forward to six days with him off-ship. He'd be a bear when he returned, but she took what she could get.

Kirk to Sickbay. Doctor McCoy, I need you on the bridge.

"Somethin' wrong, Jim?"

We're being diverted to CM573-b.

"Never heard of it." McCoy didn't notice the curious look on Chapel's face. "Does this mean we're gonna have to miss the coronation?"

Two Starfleet officers were killed there fourteen years ago by an unknown energy phenomenon. A satellite monitor was placed in orbit around the planet at the time. It just contacted us. The phenomenon has reappeared.

"And we're being sent to investigate?"

Correct. I want you on the bridge in ten minutes, Bones. Kirk out.

McCoy's entire body seemed to lighten and a huge grin covered his face. "Well, Chris. Looks like I'm needed on the bridge." He winked and left her alone in Sickbay.

Chapel managed to stagger back to her desk. She wasn't certain…she'd have to look it up. But something told her that her day just took a turn for the worse.

* * *

Spock's expression was, if at all possible, even less expressive than usual. He sat opposite Kirk and McCoy in the briefing room, impassively filling his fellow officers in on the details of CM573-b.

"We were assigned to gather data on volcanic activity in the planet's eastern continent. Number One led the party, which consisted of myself, a security guard, and a geologist. Number One and the geologist, Dr. Sobhen, took one route, and the security guard and myself took another. About twenty minutes after we separated, I heard phaser fire. The security guard and I went to investigate. We found Dr. Sobhen dead and Number One standing over the edge of some sort of dimensional rift. Before we could do anything, a tremor hit, and Number One fell into the rift. It closed after her, and our efforts at reopening the rift were futile."

Kirk leaned his chin on one fist, nodding thoughtfully. "Any idea what was in that rift, Spock?"

"We were unable to get any real data. It appeared to be a form of plasma energy, unlike any I had encounter before or since."

"The geologist was found dead. Was it the energy rift?"

Spock stiffened visibly, then shook his head. "No. It was a phaser wound to the chest. We speculate…" he hesitated just a brief moment. "That her phaser dislodged during the tremor and went off accidentally."

Kirk's eyes narrowed, but at Spock's remote expression held his comments. "Well, whatever that rift is has been closed for fourteen years and decided today to reopen. Maybe we can find some clues as to what really happened down there."

Spock said nothing.

* * *

Her hands were shaking as she logged in to the library computer. "Computer," she said harshly. "Identify the Starfleet officers killed on CM573-b."

The officers killed were Lt. Commander Shayla Ross, first officer of the Enterprise, and Dr. Ming Sobhen, assistant chief geologist, both under command of Christopher Pike.

Chapel logged out without a word. With a deep breath, she leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. She could still remember the day the message arrived. Dear Dr. Ross-Chapel. It is with great regret that we inform you of the death of your daughter, Lt. Commander Shayla Ross on planetoid CM573-b. Her service to Starfleet was exemplary and her sacrifice in the performance of her duty will be honored. Lt. Commander Ross has received the Medal of Valor for her contributions to Starfleet, and a memorial will be created in her honor in the Federation Cemetery. Our condolences to you and your family.

Blah-blah-blah. She hated those official notices.

* * *

Half an hour passed before McCoy returned to Sickbay. As much as he hated diplomatic missions, he still had a problem with this diversion. Two officers dead from this energy vortex, and it picks today to reappear. Something in Spock's tone, or lack thereof, set off warning signals in McCoy's brain. Jim was concerned too, although they hadn't had a chance to discuss it in any detail.

"Chapel?" No answer. He found her at her station, staring blankly at an empty computer screen. "Christine?" She didn't look at him. Her face was dark, eyes cloudy and distant. "Miss Chapel, are you okay?"

She nodded at the computer, still not making eye contact with him. "I'm taking a personal day, Doctor. I was just waiting for you to return."

"Are you feeling okay?" He reached over to a nearby medkit, preparing to grab a medical tricorder. She stopped him with a wave of her hand.

"I'm not sick. I just need a day off. It's part of my benefits, and I'm taking it." Quickly rising to her feet, she reached the door in a few determined steps.

"Chris…" He thought for a minute she wouldn't turn. When she did, her face was as devoid of expression as Spock's had been in the briefing room.

"Is there a problem with my taking a day, sir?" she asked briskly.

McCoy scratched the back of his neck. Technically, there was no problem with her taking a day off she'd so diligently earned. But… "No, not at all, Miss Chapel. I'll call in Nick to cover for you. See you in the morning."

She left without another word. McCoy stood there for a long moment. "Anything you wanted to talk about, Chris?" he asked the closed door.

* * *

Spock struggled to focus his thoughts as he made his way towards the astrophysics lab. The data from the satellite drone were coming in quickly; he wished to learn as much about the phenomenon on CM573-b as possible in order to prevent further incidents.

He turned a corner and entered a waiting turbolift, startling a preoccupied Christine Chapel. A moment of awkwardness followed.

"Nurse."

"Mr. Spock."

The turbolift door slid shut with a soft hiss, and Spock turned his body forward. "Astrophysics lab," he said evenly.

"We're going to CM573-b." Chapel's simple statement cut through him like a knife.

"That is correct."

"That's good news." Irony was obviously a gift the head nurse possessed in abundance.

He turned to her, careful to keep his tone neutral. "I realize this must be difficult for you, Nurse."

"No." Her voice lost much of its aloofness, turning openly sarcastic. "No, Mr. Spock, this is a pleasure cruise."

He nodded. "I grieve with thee. I considered her a mentor…and a friend."

Something in his words must have affected her, because Chapel turned suddenly, lowering her head. "You got it all wrong, Spock. I barely knew her."

He attempted to speak, but she cut him off.

"She left home to join Starfleet when I was four. Because of our family situation, well, let's just say we didn't set a place for her at Thanksgiving."

Spock did not know what to say. He was saved the trouble of forming a response by the opening turbolift doors. Chapel exited without another word.

Spock drew in a deep breath, repeating the same mantra he'd spoken since hearing of the developments on CM573-b. Guilt is illogical. Guilt is illogical.

* * *

Change brought awareness.

Light. Dark. Movement. Touch. Memory.

Awareness brought time.

Time awakened pain.

Biabani! Biabani

Biabani brought Sheiranna. Sheiranna brought protection. Protection destroyed time.

* * *

Jim Kirk reread the log entries from the first mission to CM573-b. Two crewmen dead, one by phaser wound. Mysterious energy rift that disappeared and reappeared fourteen years later.

He hated assignments like this. Whatever killed those two crewmen could kill again. He'd instructed long-range sensor scans the moment they'd entered the system. Hopefully, the technological advances in sensors over the past decade and a half would provide information Chris Pike didn't have.

Now if only he could get some information out of Spock. In four and a half years, he'd gotten to know his first officer well enough to know when he was lying.

No, not lying. Purposely withholding information about crewman Sobhen's death. Why? To protect Commander Ross? Spock was many things, loyal being at the top of the list. Would he lie to save her reputation?

Kirk pulled up the file on Shayla Ross. Exemplary record, not a bad mark to be found. Medal of Valor, consistently high efficiency ratings, glowing testimonials from Academy professors, crewmates and superiors. A credit to the uniform.

She had listed almost no personal data other than that required. A name drew Kirk's attention to the sympathy letter sent at the time of her death. "Dr. Leslie Ross-Chapel," he murmured. A synapse fired, and suddenly things began to fall into place. "Computer, bring up biographical data on Dr. Leslie Ross-Chapel."

The information immediately appeared on his screen, accompanied by a picture of a woman who was a dead ringer for Nurse Chapel. He thought back to Christopher Pike's journey to Talos IV and wondered why it hadn't struck him sooner.

He flipped back to the picture of Number One, shaking his head. They had to be related.

"The plot thickens," he muttered as he started reading the biographical data on Shayla Ross's mother.

* * *

The dulcet melodies of Hildegard von Bingen echoed through Chapel's quarters as she lay staring at the ceiling. A thousand years had passed since the abbess had committed these words to music, but still they resonated through Christine's body as fresh as the day they were written.

Her eyes were heavy. She closed them.

Chapel had studied the biology of music. She knew the physical responses sound produced in people. Given a little prep time, she could produce countless data supporting music as a therapeutic devise.

It didn't matter. The soprano's voice washed over her. O vos felices radices cum quibus opus miraculorum et non opus criminum per torrens iter perspicue umbre plantatum est. Oh, you fortunate roots with which the work of miracles and not the work of crimes was planted.

Latin was still taught in medical school. A long-dead language from an ancient race. But somehow, no modern language seemed to carry the soul and passion it held. "Oh, you fortunate roots," Chapel whispered.

Her reverie was interrupted by the door chime. Half-tempted to ignore it, Chapel snapped off the music and said, "Come."

She was only mildly surprised to see Captain Kirk enter her quarters. "Captain."

He took in her emerald robe, loose hair, and bare feet in one smooth glance. "I hear you're not feeling well, Miss Chapel."

"I wasn't aware you made house calls, Doctor." Her attempt at humor belly-flopped into the awkward silence that followed. "Is there something I can do for you, Captain?"

"I read the biographical data on Commander Ross." He hesitated, then continued. "My condolences, Nurse. I was unaware of the family connection."

Chapel forced a hint of bravado into her voice. "The nuclear family died out with the woolly mammoth and CD-rom drives, sir. I barely knew my sister."

"Still, to lose a family member in such…"

"Is there a point to this conversation, Captain Kirk?" She hated the harshness in her words, but she was on her own time now. She didn't feel like playing the official Starfleet sympathy game.

Kirk lifted an eyebrow. "I know this must be difficult for you. But I wanted to give you the opportunity…" He shook his head. "No, the option of joining the away team investigating the phenomenon."

"Sir, that's very kind of…"

"Christine, I need a medical officer down there. If you don't want to go, just say the word. But if you…if you want to, for whatever reason, the spot is yours."

Chapel was torn. She knew what Kirk was trying to do. He was a decent man, and he cared about his crew. He probably thought she needed closure or something.

Before she could respond, he took one of her hands in his. "We will reach CM573-b in about six hours. If you want to go, let me know by 1100 hours." When she nodded, Kirk left the room without another word.

She stood there for a moment, just watching the closed door. Then, silently, she turned back to the bed, lay down, and turned on the music.

O lons purissime, in quo consideratur quod Deus alienos colligit et perditos requirit. Oh purest fountain, in which it is seen that God gathers the strangers and seeks out the lost.

But what to do with the lost who cannot be found?

* * *

Chapel didn't know what possessed her to take Kirk up on his offer. Maybe a sense of duty to her mother. That seemed as good a reason as any. The nurse had arrived early in the transporter room. She needed time to clear her head before proceeding any further with this.

She leaned against the wall, ignoring the nameless ensign who stood behind the control panel. All she could see was her mother's face.

There was no denying Leslie Chapel had been a formidable woman. A force of nature, some of her coworkers had called her. Young Christine had never known for certain whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to be a force of nature.

But it didn't matter. Dr. Ross-Chapel was "Mom" to Christine, and that's how she remembered her. Tall and striking, with a penchant for changing hair color and outdoor sports, she had been Christine's very first hero. She could remember long days scouring the woods with her mom, learning about herbs and medicinal plants, racing (and always losing) down steep, rocky paths. No matter what Christine tried, her mother encouraged her.

To hear relatives talk, it hadn't always been that way. Long before Chapel could remember, the relationship between her mother and elder sister had been less serene. Chapel's step-father told of the fights they had when he married her mom. How Shayla took it hard, how she felt betrayed, how she took the first opportunity to leave home and never bothered coming back.

That was the fairy tale life in the Chapel household.

They didn't talk a lot about Shayla. Christine had looked through the family albums, stared into the dark-haired girl's picture, wondering what it would be like to have a sister. And no matter where she went, some teacher somewhere had known Shayla.

Chapel laughed softly. "Talk about spending your life in a shadow," she said. The ensign gave her an odd look, but said nothing.

A swish of the transporter room door prevented any further reverie. Mr. Spock and Sulu entered, carrying full gear. Chapel felt her stomach drop. The one time James T. Kirk decided to delegate an away mission, and he had to choose today?

She nodded silently to the two bridge officers, then moved to join them on the transporter pad next to Sulu.

Hikaru Sulu leaned over, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You okay, Chris?"

She smiled and nodded. Great. Now the entire ship knew.

* * *

Spock led the way to the rift. It had opened only a few feet away from where they had lost Number One. He motioned to Sulu and Chapel to follow, avoiding eye contact with the latter as he did so.

Guilt is illogical.

Of course, he'd followed the logical path of inquiry the first time he'd seen Christine Chapel. Her resemblance to his former first officer was too close for them not to be related. He knew she'd left home to pursue a career in Starfleet, possibly against the wishes of her mother. He'd also noted that neither Number One nor Miss Chapel had listed any siblings on their official Starfleet profile.

This more than anything else kept him from pursuing the matter with Nurse Chapel. If Commander Ross had been estranged from her family, it would be inappropriate for him to discuss her.

Estrangement was a subject Spock knew altogether too well.

Once Miss Chapel had expressed her…interest…in him, the subject seemed even more awkward.

A flash of blue-white caught his attention, and Spock snapped his thoughts back to the job at hand. The rift was small, no larger than a child's hand. He nodded to the others, warning them to move cautiously.

For a moment, all he could hear was the wind and the sound of tricorders gathering data. Then Christine Chapel's voice broke the silence.

"Mr. Spock! Sulu! I'm getting…" The words simply hung there in a cloud of disbelief.

"What is it?" Sulu sprinted to her side, arriving only seconds before Spock.

"I'm reading a life sign," she said. Her blue eyes bore into Spock's as she clarified. "A human life sign."

"That's impossible." Sulu scanned the rift with his own tricorder, then shook his head in disbelief. "The reading is confirmed, Mr. Sp…"

"Spock to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise."

Enterprise here. What is it, Spock?

"Please scan the area two meters northwest of my signal. Are you reading a life sign?"

Wait a minute…yeah, Spock. We're reading it. There's a lot of distortion.

"Can you lock onto the reading with the transporter beam?"

Working on it. Spock held his breath until Kirk's voice came back over the comm. We've got a lock.

"Beam directly to Sickbay." As an afterthought, he added, "It would be wise to erect a force two security field in Sickbay. Just in case." He did not look into Chapel's face. At this moment, he'd rather fall into the rift himself rather than look into those blue eyes.

* * *

"Christ a-mighty," McCoy swore as he hustled his staff into gear. She'd appeared on a biobed, screaming like a Banshee and struggling against anybody who tried to hold her down. "M'Benga, get her sedated."

He almost didn't see Kirk, Spock, and Chapel rush into Sickbay. "Bones, how is she?"

"Swear to God, Jim, if you don't give me at least a little warning…" He stopped at the ashen look on Chapel's face.

"It's her," she whispered, staring at the near-mirror image finally succumbing to the sedative Dr. M'Benga had administered.. "It's Shayla."

* * *

She woke only once in the days that followed. Staring up through the haze, she saw her mother looking down at her, a worried look on her face.

* * *

"You should get some rest, Chris." McCoy looked up from the chart to see his head nurse shake her head.

"I'm okay."

He put the padd down and crossed the short distance to her side. "First lesson in medical school: double-shifts help nobody. Unless, of course, the CMO orders them." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "How are you, kid?"

Chapel pulled a professional demeanor over her obvious fatigue. "Her readings are stabilizing. I'm still a little concerned about the…"

"I read the charts, Nurse. I was asking about you." His steady blue eyes finally broke through her resistance.

"I'm holding up. This wasn't what I was expecting."

"I'll bet." McCoy noted her carefully modulated tone, the slight edge behind the words she tried so hard to keep neutral. "It's pretty amazing."

Chapel's next words were so quiet he almost didn't hear them. "She looks so much like Mom."

* * *

Time. She felt time again.

Again. She felt again once more.

Time. Again. Motion. Sound. Warmth. Light.

Shayla.

She felt Shayla again.

* * *

Spock stared at the flame pot. His fingers steepled before his chin, he leaned into the fourth meditative pose. To no avail, he found. Calm was elusive today.

Three days had passed since Commander Ross's miraculous recovery. The rift had immediately closed behind her and exhaustive planetary scans had failed to reveal any other fissures. They were scheduled to leave the system in six hours.

He drew in a long breath and blew out the orange-red flame. Perhaps sleep…no, sleep would be just as evasive as meditation. He pulled out of his position, rolling slightly onto his knees before standing.

"Computer."

Working.

"Load game 'Sereda's Broom.'"

Loading. Do you wish to continue existing game?

"Yes."

Loading level four.

* * *

BiabaniBiabani. It hurts, Biabani.

She reached out for him. Out for the calming energy of his touch. I feel, Biabani. Please make it stop. Make it go away.

Please, Biabani. Biabani!

* * *

Chapel was already slamming the comm unit by the time M'Benga reached Shayla's side. "Sickbay to McCoy. We need you down here now."

McCoy here. What the hell's goin' on, Chris?

"She went into full code. No warning."

I'll be right there.

She sprinted back to M'Benga's side. Shayla's bio-readings were fluctuating wildly. Chapel forced herself into a kind of tunnel vision out of sheer self-defense. She lost herself in the situation, depersonalizing and detaching into the fiercest depths of professionalism. She fought back fear and memory, fought back guilt and anger.

"Come on, Commander." M'Benga was chanting over his patient now. "You didn't come all this way to die on me now."

"Blood pressure dropping." Chapel didn't recognize her own voice. "We're losing her."

"Ain't over till I say it's over, Chris. Ten cc's of cordrazine."

Her eyes widened, but Chapel didn't argue as she administered the stimulant. There was an almost imperceptible moment when time stood still, then the readings began to stabilize. "Pressure rising," she whispered.

Neither of them were quite prepared when their patient opened her eyes and said quietly, "Biabani's gone."

* * *

Kirk rushed into the turbolift just as it closed. "Sickbay," he said, nodding to Spock quickly.

"May I assume you've heard?" the Vulcan questioned dryly.

"You may assume. Spock," Kirk phrased his next statement cautiously. "I know you and Commander Ross were close."

If possible, Spock assumed an even more Vulcan expression than the one he normally wore. "She was my senior officer."

"And we both know how loyal you are to your senior officers, don't we?" It was a leading question. Kirk knew in his gut that eventually the issue with Crewman Sobhen's death would have to be addressed. He knew that Spock was holding something back. And he knew by the silence in the turbolift that his first officer wasn't going to tell him anything without putting up a fight.

The door slid open with a faint hiss, depositing the two officers just outside Sickbay. "Well, Spock," Kirk said with a forced light tone, "I look forward to meeting your Number One."

* * *

She hadn't aged a day. Number One looked in the mirror with a combination of horror and wonder. Doctor McCoy had isolated her immediately, trying to limit the stimulus she encountered during her first hours of consciousness. She was on the Enterprise. Not Chris Pike's Enterprise; that was an era that had ended long ago. But the Enterprise nonetheless. She breathed in the feel of it, noting changes in her immediate surroundings that promised countless wonders once she was well enough for a full tour.

Fourteen years. Fourteen years since she'd first set foot on CM573-b, since her first encounter with the Sheiranna.

"You shouldn't be sitting up." A deeply feminine voice interrupted her thoughts. Number One lifted her smoky blue eyes until they were face to face with the speaker.

Tall, blonde, athletic. From her pips, she was a lieutenant. Science blue, medical division. Number One raised an eyebrow at the ridiculously short skirt and impractical boots, but said nothing. It was the woman's face that captured her imagination. "Do I know you?"

"I'm the ship's head nurse," she replied. If not for the strikingly familiar human face, Number One would have sworn the nurse was Vulcan. At least, she had the inflection of a Vulcan; no emotion could have made it through that simple phrase alive.

"I see."

"You don't know me, do you?" It wasn't a question. It was an accusation. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

"I thought I dreamed you. I thought you were…"

"Your mother? Yeah, I suppose we look alike. You look like her, too, Shayla."

"Christine," she whispered.

"Christine Chapel," she responded, with emphasis on the surname.

Of course. Christine. She would have been about 21 at the time of the accident. Now here she was on the Enterprise. The universe had an odd sense of humor. "You've grown up."

"It happens."

Shayla leaned back into the biobed as Christine waved a medical scanner over her head and upper body. "Head nurse? I thought you were going to medical school."

"I did go to medical school," Christine corrected smartly. "This is just a temporary career detour."

"I see." She didn't, of course. This woman was a complete stranger wearing her mother's face, a stranger who obviously had a big axe to grind. Shayla felt tired, much too tired to try to figure out how to deal with this situation. Too much was happening right now, and it was all a little overwhelming.

She heard the door to Sickbay open, and lifted her head slightly to see who had arrived.

"Spock!" At last, a familiar face. She would have wept with relief right there, if he hadn't spoken in such somber Vulcan tones.

"Commander."

A youngish man in command gold stood between Spock and McCoy. Blond-brown hair. Handsome, if you went for that type. "Commander Ross, I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise. It is a great relief to find you unharmed." The Enterprise's new captain.

New, of course, being a relative term. For all she knew, Captain Kirk could have taken over the ship three days after her disappearance. But she pasted on her most professional demeanor, difficult to do flat on her back in Sickbay. "Captain. I am in your debt." She couldn't help notice Christine dissolving into the background, slipping away silently as a shadow. Her sister. Number One's head began to throb.

"We've done a thorough scan of CM573-b, Commander," Kirk continued. "It appears the rift is completely closed."

She nodded. "The Sheiranna would have wanted to ensure that there was no further accidental contact."

"Sheiranna?" He was too quick to pounce on that information. Something was up. She knew almost instinctively that in Kirk's mind she was suspect. Suspected of what, though?

"The Sheiranna are the life forms that inhabit the 'rift,' as you call it."

"I see. Doctor, how long do you estimate before I can debrief the commander?"

McCoy scowled. "If by debrief you mean pick her brain for every bit of information regarding the planet and the Sheiranna…"

"Bones."

The nickname, spoken with a mixture of humor and impatience, struck a chord in her. A pang of memory cut through Number One as it occurred to her that she was on a completely different ship, with a completely different crew. Who knows what had happened to Chris Pike. And Phil? He would be in his late 70s now. The reality of the situation, the remembrance of time began to suffocate her as her breath grew short and labored.

McCoy was at her side immediately. "Breathe deeply," he barked. She followed suit, forcing the air into her lungs as he counted to four, then releasing it slowly as he instructed. She began to calm slightly as the attack passed. She was shaking. Trembling was a better term.

Time was a terrifying thing.

* * *

Sickbay was dark. McCoy knew he should get some rest. All his barking at Chapel had finally gotten her back to her cabin. It was only now that he realized how exhausted he was. In a few minutes, he'd…

A cry from the beds caught his attention. In a moment, he was at Number One's side. Trapped somewhere between sleep and waking, the brunette struggled against an invisible predator. He roused her gently, catching her hand as instinct kicked in and she swung in self-defense.

"It's okay, darlin'," he murmured, his voice smooth as good Kentucky whiskey. "It's just a dream."

She calmed, her breathing slowing as she became more alert. "Bones?"

There was such longing in that single syllable. McCoy felt his heart breaking as he whispered, "You're in Sickbay. You'll be alright."

She seemed more lucid now. "Dr. McCoy."

"Leonard." He leaned over to brush a strand of cocoa-brown hair from her eyes. She looked up at him with such softness, so much confusion and helplessness co-mingled in those dark blue eyes. "Call me Leonard."

She smiled. "Leonard."

* * *

Jim Kirk rubbed his eyes hard. He knew he'd have to question their guest about the geologist's death, and that was a discussion he didn't want to have. Something wasn't right, something just didn't click with Spock's story.

He'd put off the questioning, under the justification that Commander Ross time to recover from her ordeal. She'd been through a hell of a lot. According to McCoy's readings, she'd been a form of suspended animation controlled, if Ross was right, by the Sheiranna themselves.

He'd been patient. But he had no intention of being idle. Christopher Pike was Starfleet, right down to the cell membranes, and the answer was somewhere. All he had to do was find it.

"Computer, show me the autopsy report from crewman Ming Sobhen."

That information is classified.

Classified? Why on…Kirk tapped his fist slightly against the desk. "What level classification?"

Level two.

"I have level two security code, computer. Why are you denying me access?"

File is encrypted.

"Un-encrypt it. Captain's orders."

Please verify security clearance.

Kirk rolled his eyes. After all this time, you'd think his own ship would recognize him. Still, he provided the necessary information. After digesting it, the computer reluctantly opened the file for him.

As he began reading, it became very clear to him why Chris Pike had not wanted this information available to the general public.

* * *

Leonard had been right. She was starting to feel stronger. The nightmares came less frequently. He'd even talked about releasing her to one of the VIP cabins, a thought which mortified Number One. VIP? she'd laughed. I'm just a grunt like the rest of them.

Now if only she could get Christine to stop treating her like she was toxic. "You can't avoid me forever," she said gently.

The object of her attention busied herself across Sickbay, poring over yet another chart. She purposefully ignored the comment, burying herself in her work. The image struck Shayla somewhere deep inside. Please, don't tell me Chris grown up to be a carbon copy of all the Ross women, she pleaded silently. Avoid the issue. Throw yourself into your career. Be strong. Be tough.

"You already did that one."

Christine snapped her head up from the chart. "Do you need anything, Commander," she asked curtly. "If not, I have work to do."

"You're avoiding me. I have excellent eyesight. That's Chekov's Alluvian flu. You did that one this morning." Shayla could almost feel the ice cloud forming as her sister smiled a most professional and discretely insincere smile.

"Very observant. Now, if you don't mind, I'll get back to charting the additional information necessary to complete the file. Unless, of course, you have a problem with that, Commander?"

She sighed. "No. No problem with that," she said, rolling over onto her side, her back to her sister. Nothing ever changed.

* * *

Kirk was already starting his chicken salad sandwich as Spock walked into the briefing room followed by Bones and Number One. The commander looked pale, but otherwise fit. He noticed immediately the protective stance McCoy had acquired in her presence. Swallowing his bite of sandwich, he stood. "Gentleman, Commander. Please have a seat. Help yourself to some lunch before we begin."

"Fancy." McCoy let out a low whistle. "All this just for little old us?"

Kirk grinned. "Hey, we gotta eat, don't we? I hope you're comfortable in your new quarters, Commander."

"They're wonderful, thank you. A bit extravagant, but wonderful nonetheless." She flashed him a small smile. "I've never slept in the VIP quarters before." Her voice was smooth, almost as calm as the woman he remembered from the Talosian transmissions. But there was a vagueness in her eyes that hadn't been there before.

Spock and McCoy sat as well, flanking the commander, one on each side. He noticed neither had gotten any food. They looked like well-wishers at a firing squad.

So much for casual.

It was Number One herself who got down to business. "So, Captain. It looks like I'm finally strong enough for the interrogation."

"This is simply a debriefing, Number One."

"All this for a simple debriefing, Captain? Come now. I may have spent fourteen years in suspended animation, but I know when I'm under suspicion."

"Why do you say that," he asked. She was sharp, perhaps sharper than he anticipated. "You're not under arrest. You're free to move about. Hardly the privilege one would give a suspect."

"Yes, lovely accommodations in the VIP quarters which, if I remember correctly, have tighter security than a 17th century harem." She leaned onto the table, her arms folded loosely in front of her. "Captain Kirk, you are a smart man. I'm an unknown crewman who's spent fourteen under the influence of mysterious aliens. Of course I'm suspect. If the tables were turned, you'd be in the brig." Another smile. "No offense."

"None taken." Kirk met her smile with one of his own. So the gloves were off. Spock and McCoy were glaring at him, each with varying degrees of protective anger. Somehow, he got the impression this woman did not need their protection. "Computer, begin official recording of debriefing, Commander Shayla Ross."

Recording.

He turned back to the woman before him. If she was nervous, it certainly didn't show. "Tell me about the day you were taken by the Sheiranna."

"I wasn't taken, so to speak. I was…" She struggled for the appropriate word. "Caught."

"Caught?"

"Snagged," she added. "Accidentally. They didn't mean for me to go through the rift. In fact, my presence in their realm was excruciating for them. They wanted me out as much as I wanted out."

"Would you describe the Sheiranna as hostile?"

"No. The Sheiranna live in a dimension completely different from ours. It's not a matter of hostility so much as sheer incompatibility. They cannot survive in our dimension."

"But apparently you can survive in theirs."

"Only with the Sheiranna's help." She pulled away, tucking her folded arms tightly across her chest. For a moment, he could see a flash of…what? Pain? Fear? "Captain Kirk. Imagine a creature was trapped in your brain, alive, frightened, struggling. The only way you can remove it was to keep it calm, create an opening, and coax it through that opening. You don't want that thing dying in your brain. You don't want it struggling. You just want it out of you."

"Is that what it was like in the Sheiranna's dimension," McCoy asked in horror.

She nodded. "Pretty much. The rift was opened accidentally. Biabani…the entity I came to describe as Biabani…was trapped when it closed again. He bonded with anything he could to survive. First plant life, then a small animal. It wasn't until he bonded with me that he had any chance of reopening the rift and getting back."

"This creature bonded with you?" Kirk asked, quietly noting that Spock had not spoken once in this entire time.

"The Sheiranna are energy-based creatures. They have no way of surviving in our physical world. They must find an energy matrix with which to bond, or they will simply dissipate." She shrugged. "I was the matrix."

"Tell me what happened when Biabani bonded with you? Was it painful? Did you still have a sense of yourself, or did he completely take over your thoughts and will?"

"I don't remember much of what happened. He was in so much pain."

"This creature was male?"

She shook her head. "We don't have the language to describe them. Again, they are energy-based. No gender. No language, even. They communicate…the closest thing we have is music."

"Fascinating," Kirk took a sip of coffee. Once he'd swallowed, he continued. "Commander, please describe the firearm you were carrying at the time of the incident?"

"Excuse me?"

Smile. Calm. "A simple question, Number One. What sort of phaser were you carrying at the time of the incident?" Spock's back stiffened. A sure sign Kirk was getting somewhere.

"I was carrying a personal phaser, model X-G724."

"And was that phaser standard issue at the time of the incident?"

"Jim, what the hell are you getting at?"

"Patience, Bones. I have a reason for this. Answer the question, Commander. Was the X-G724 personal phaser standard issue at the time of the incident?"

"No, Captain. It was a prototype being tested in the field."

"Who on the ship carried the prototype?"

"Captain Pike and myself."

"That's all? No one else?"

Her eyes were dark and clear, the color of the ocean. She didn't even blink. "No one else, sir."

McCoy glared at him, but said nothing. Kirk wished Spock would say something, offer some rebuttal. But the Vulcan remained silent, stoic.

"Commander Ross, what was your relationship with Ming Sobhen?"

Her expression wavered slightly, a confused look flashing quickly across her eyes then vanishing. "My relationship? Um, none really. She was the assistant chief geologist. I knew her record and work history, but we didn't have any sort of personal relationship. I hardly knew her."

"Are you aware of the circumstances of Dr. Sobhen's death?"

She nodded, her eyes darkening. "I read the records. She was accidentally shot by her own phaser."

"You don't remember the incident?"

"All I remember from that time is the pain and fear Biabani felt, the desperate need to return to his own dimension. Everything else is a blur." She leaned onto the desk. She looked pale.

"Jim, you're pushing…" McCoy warned.

He ignored the warning. "Commander Ross, are you aware of the peculiarity of X-G724's phase variance?"

"Not really."

"I did a little research. The X-G724 produces a phase variant with a slightly higher frequency than those commonly in use at the time of the incident. I took a look at the autopsy report on Dr. Sobhen, which was, I might add, encrypted with a level two security lock." He leaned forward to make his point. "Were you aware, Commander, that Dr. Sobhen was killed with an X-G724?"

Her face turned completely white. Kirk saw the realization of his words spread across her face like wildfire. He ignored McCoy's protests and Spock's raised eyebrows, concentrating instead on her reaction.

She hadn't known. He knew it in his guts. She didn't remember a thing.

"Oh, my god," she whispered. "Oh, my god."

Still, he had to do his duty. "Commander Ross, I am placing you in ship's custody pending a full investigation of the incident on CM573-b. Mr. Spock, I want every senior officer involved in the original investigation on this ship within 48 hours. Given the circumstances, we won't be able to question Chris Pike, but I want the rest…"

"Under what circumstances?" Number One's eyes widened as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy turned to each other with concerned looks. "What circumstances?" she repeated. "What happened to Captain Pike?"

Kirk felt his stomach drop to his feet. Great. Just great. Not only did he tell this woman she was a murderer, he'd opened the whole Christopher Pike can of worms. Looking at the dark-haired woman just opposite him, Jim Kirk began to wish he'd never heard of CM573-b.

* * *

He stormed into Sickbay with only one thing to say. "I don't want to be disturbed. No exceptions." Then Christine watched as McCoy disappeared without another word into his office.

She debated whether or not to follow him in, but the sudden banging and thudding and swearing from behind the office door deterred her from that course of action.

"I take it the meeting went well." M'Benga's voice in the doorway startled her. Chapel whirled around, dropping the padd she held.

"He's in a great mood," she muttered as the doctor crossed the short distance between them to retrieve her fallen padd.

"I saw them taking the Commander back to the VIP quarters. Didn't look too happy."

"Saw who taking her back?" Her eyes narrowed. "What have you heard?"

"Nothing. But those two red shirts were keeping a fairly close eye on her."

Chapel stared at M'Benga in disbelief. Shayla? She was going to get some answers, and it was going to be soon.

* * *

She ignored Sulu and Uhura's surprised look as she strode purposefully off the turbolift onto the bridge. Kirk was in the center chair, and Spock was nowhere to be seen.

"Miss Chapel, I did not request your presence on the bridge."

"Your security officers denied me access to Commander Ross's quarters. Do you want to tell me why?"

Kirk leaned over, propping his chin on one hand as he said, sotto voce, "Miss Chapel, now is not the time…"

"Captain Kirk, I demand to know why my sister is in custody." Chapel didn't soften her tone or her stance one bit.

Kirk eyed her tiredly, then nodded. "Uhura, you have the bridge." He stood, motioning Chapel to accompany him to the turbo lift. "Nurse Chapel, please come with me."

With a deep breath, Christine Chapel pivoted on her toes and, again avoiding the curious stares, followed Kirk on to the bridge.

* * *

The dulcet melodies of Hildegard von Bingen echoed through the VIP quarters as Number One lay staring at the ceiling. A thousand years had passed since the abbess had first committed these words to music, but still they resonated through her body as fresh as the day they were written.

If she closed her eyes and held her breath just so, it almost reminded her of Biabani.

Fourteen years of blinding mental energy. Now she felt hollow, alone and too quiet.

"You are not going to start crying again," she hissed, rolling over onto her stomach as hot salty tears stung her eyes.

Burying her head in her pillow, she caught an almost imperceptible scent of honey in the air. It had to be her imagination. But it didn't matter. It brought back her father.

Pulling her knees into her chest, she could taste the crusty bread as it crumbled onto her tongue and lips. She could hear her father's laughter, his offbeat humor that only she seemed to understand. She could smell him in the fabric pulled taut against the pillow.

The fabric was wet. Tears.

She tried not to think of the inquiry. She tried not to think of Chris Pike. She tried, and couldn't, picture Ming Sobhen's round face.

She wanted to go home.

* * *

"I don't believe it. There must be some mistake."

"Miss Chapel, I don't like it any more than you do. But the facts are quite clear."

Chapel laughed, a sound wholly lacking in humor. "Captain, she's a dead woman. That is a fact. A dead woman alive again, and you're accusing her of murder." She shook her head. "It makes no sense."

"I have not accused her of anything, Christine. But facts were covered up. An investigation…"

"Fact may have been covered up, sir, but not by my sister. Why are you doing this? What could you possibly have to gain by this?"

A deep voice answered before Kirk could respond. "The truth, Miss Chapel." Spock stood in the doorway.

"The truth?" She divided her gaze between the two men, complete fury washing any sense of rationality from her thoughts. "She has no memory of the events. Even if that crewman was killed with her phaser, she had no responsibility. You saw the readings yourself. That creature, that Sheiranna had complete control over her. You can't possibly…"

"That is enough, Miss Chapel." Kirk's voice was like a knife. For good or bad, it stopped her rant long enough for him to get a word through. "I did not want you to see her until I had a chance to talk with you first. Of the record, I agree with you. I don't think she knows anything about what happened to crewman Sobhen. But somebody, somewhere covered up evidence and distorted the facts. I want to know who and why." He turned a long, meaningful gaze at Spock, who raised a single impassive eyebrow. "Would you care to enlighten us, Mr. Spock?" It wasn't a request.

The Vulcan hesitated, obviously debating his course of action. Finally, though, he sat down at the briefing room table across from Kirk. "I do not know, Captain. Upon our return to the ship, I was debriefed, then removed from the case."

"Any reason why?"

Spock looked vaguely uncomfortable, but continued. "While trying to reopen the rift into which Number One fell, Lt. Thomson and I were trapped in another rock slide. My leg and two ribs were broken, puncturing one of my lungs. I was confined to Sickbay for the duration of the investigation. I did not know of the phaser variance until you mentioned it today."

"But you knew something wasn't right, didn't you, Spock?"

"I had no data to justify such a supposition, sir."

"Who led the investigation," Chapel said quietly.

"Captain Pike himself," came the almost inaudible response.

* * *

McCoy hated bullying security guards. They had a tough job, and he didn't want to make it any harder on them. But he was not about to let them stand between him and his job.

"I don't care what your blasted orders are, ensign. I need to see my patient, and if I have to sedate you to do so, I will. 'Chief Medical Officer' is what it says on the business cards, gentleman. My orders override even the captain's."

"In the case of a medical emergency," the security guard started, then reconsidered when he saw the look on McCoy's face. Somehow, he didn't think it would be possible to prove this wasn't a medical emergency, at least not before McCoy made good on his threat to sedate him. The poor beleaguered ensign looked at his partner on the other side of the doorway, shrugged, then nodded McCoy in.

He walked into the darkened anteroom of the VIP quarters, surprised to hear music playing. A feminine voice floated on the waves of a chant, ethereal and otherworldly. He almost didn't see her in the large chair that dominated the room. Her legs were folded beneath her, and she rested, eyes closed, against the cushions. He thought she was sleeping until she spoke in a low, tranquil voice. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"Uh, yeah." McCoy crossed the few steps to the small sofa, sitting at one edge. "Yeah, it's very nice."

"Does he want to question me again?" she asked.

"No. No, um, I was just…" Why was he here? Her readings had been fine before the meeting. She had another scheduled check-up in the morning. There was no logical reason for him to be here. "I was worried about you."

"Don't," she whispered.

"You've had a lot of surprises in the last few days. A lot of things dumped on you, any one of which would be hard to take."

"Don't." She pulled her legs more tightly under her, turning away from him. "I appreciate your concern, but just…don't, okay?"

He slid off the sofa, moving to kneel at the side of her chair. "No one thinks you murdered that girl, Shayla."

She lifted an eyebrow in a eerie impersonation of Spock at his most Vulcan. "I do."

* * *

Spock did not know how to phrase what needed to be said, so he simply told the truth. "Number One has been located on planet CM573-b. An investigation has been opened into crewman Sobhen's death. Your presence is required on the Enterprise."

He stopped the recorder. A dull pain was forming behind his eyes. Focusing on a point just beyond the computer, he performed a mental exercise to relieve the tension. It didn't help.

She had been on board for several days now. And aside from that first time in Sickbay and this afternoon's debriefing, he had not visited Number One at all.

Guilt is illogical.

Yes, guilt was illogical. And like illogical things so often do, it perpetuated itself. He felt guilt from fourteen years ago. Guilt for not being fast enough, brave enough, logical enough. Guilt for watching her die and being able to do nothing to stop it. Guilt for feeling selfish pain at her loss, for mourning the friend she had become. Guilt because even now he felt a twinge of curiosity, of desire to know her. Guilt because those desires he'd had for the one sister, he did not have for the other. Guilt because that other sister felt desire for him.

He felt guilty for feeling guilty.

Guilt was not a Vulcan tendency. No, that was his Human half exerting itself. Each wave of emotion instigated a secondary wave of guilt for the first. Each fresh wave hammered home his own inadequacies.

His guilt kept him from visiting Number One, talking to her, reassuring her. And that inevitably led to more guilt.

"Guilt is illogical," he whispered into the silent cabin. Then he turned back to the computer, and started the message from scratch.

* * *

McCoy was coming out of Shayla's quarters as Chapel rounded the quarters, armed with the captain's permission and a healthy dose of indignation. She paused slightly at the sight of the doctor, wondering why on Earth he had gone to her cabin.

Before she spoke, he saw her and waved her to his side. "Chris."

"You've seen her?"

"Yeah. She was pretty shook up. I gave her something to help her sleep."

Chapel nodded toward the closed door. "Is she sleeping now?"

"Yes. God, you look awful. When did you last get some sleep?"

"Ten minutes before you last did." She looked down at the tips of her boots, noticing for a moment that they needed polishing. "What did she say?"

"She doesn't remember a thing about the incident. She blames herself." McCoy scowled. "Damn it, Chris. You saw those readings. Those were just the residual affects of contact with the Sheiranna. There was no way she could have been rational during a full-fledged bonding." He paused, lowering his voice as a pair of ensigns walked slowly by. "Little pitchers," McCoy muttered.

"We need to pull records of her brain wave patterns from the personnel archives. Transpose them against the readings we took just after we beamed her up. With enough time and a good algorithm or two, we can calculate the exact…"

"Not we," McCoy said gently. "I'm taking you off her case." Her entire face elongated, eyebrows shooting skywards in surprise. "I should have never let you work on her in the first place. It's a conflict of interest, and…"

"I'll remind you, Doctor McCoy, that my PhD is in biomedical research. I know more about neural biochemistry than 90 percent of the medical staff."

"And she's your long-lost sister." He put an arm around her, leading her away from the overly curious security guards. "Chris, this is not a reflection on your skill."

"No, it's a reflection on my inability to control my emotional response." Her eyes were dark and fiercely defensive.

"It has nothing to do with your skills, your emotion, or you at all. You're her sister. It doesn't matter that you haven't seen her in twenty-five years. It doesn't matter that you give her the cold shoulder in Sickbay. It doesn't matter that you resent the hell out of her, if that's the case. What matters is that you are her blood sister, and no tribunal is going to take any research you do seriously in this matter." He caught his breath, realizing how loud his voice had gotten, how pale she had gotten. "Chris, I know you have issues with this woman. Those are for you two to sort out. But if we don't play this by the book, and I mean strictly by the book, you may not get the chance to have that storybook ending."

She glared at him. He was right. She hated him for it, but he was damned right. "I'm sorry," she said, choking slightly on the words.

His warm blue eyes caught hers, and he put a single hand to her shoulder. "Chris, you need to get some distance from this. I've never seen you like this. You're one big walking contradiction. First you're indifferent, then you're downright mean. Now you're bustin' down doors to get to her."

"I know," she whispered. "I…I don't understand it. I'm angry. I'm confused. I'm scared she'll go away. I'm scared she'll stay." She squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to cry here in the open where any passing crewman could see. Crying in the corridors did nothing for her already shaky reputation. "Can I see her?"

"Not now. I'm gonna walk you back to your cabin. You get some rest, and you can see her in the morning."

For once, she didn't fight him.

* * *

"You can't do it, Doc." Claudette Dunnagan let out a frustrated sigh as Phil Boyce continued packing. "I'm serious. Call them; let them know what's going on. You don't have to go."

Boyce stopped to catch his breath. When the hell did throwing a few things in a duffel bag become hard work? "I do have to go, Crazy Horse. If it's her…"

"We don't know that for sure."

"Spock does," he said as he began to catch his second wind. "And if he believes it's her, then I believe it's her."

She shook her head, silver-red curls brushing against her cheek and throat as she sat down, resting her hand on the duffel. "You can tell them. Explain to them. They'll make accommodations for…"

"No." He tugged the bag away from her. He didn't catch her eyes. "I have to see her. I gotta make sure it's really her."

"Please wait," she urged. "Wait for her to come to you."

Phil Boyce hefted the bag over his shoulder. With one last look at his long-time friend, he said, "I don't have the time." And he walked out the door.

* * *

He stared at the door. The guards did nothing to indicate his presence was unwelcome or even noticed, for that matter. They simply stood at their posts, staring ahead with bland professionalism.

If only he could muster that same indifference in himself. Three days had passed since the initial debriefing. She had spoken to Kirk on two subsequent occasions, revealing in succinct yet scant detail the events leading up to the death of Dr. Sobhen. She had described, to the best of her ability, the experience she'd had with the Sheiranna. She had undergone numerous medical and psychological evaluations.

She was, to all intents and purposes, debriefed.

All of the evidence and testimony leaned toward exonerating Number One of any guilt in the death of Ming Sobhen. For that, he was quite grateful. The only surviving member of the initial investigating team was Dr. Boyce, who was scheduled to rendezvous with the Enterprise in less than twelve hours.

How the doctor would respond to allegations of a cover-up, Spock could not predict. But that would be dealt with soon enough.

At the moment, he had a more pressing concern.

He needed to face Number One.

* * *

Shayla leaned back in the chair, rubbing her eyes fiercely. It didn't feel like fourteen years had passed. But according to these technical manuals, she had definitely missed the better part of two decades.

"Well, look at it this way," she muttered to herself. "At least he's letting you study. Would he give you access to technical data if he seriously thought you were going to use it to destroy the ship?" She grinned. "No, not likely."

To her credit, she was feeling better about the whole Ming Sobhen affair. Once the shock wore off, that is. In explaining to Kirk what she remembered, what she had gone through, it began to sink in that Shayla had no more blame in what happened to Ming than a phaser would. She was an instrument, a weapon, used by a crazed Biabani in his attempt to get home.

That she'd understood. Her retelling of the experience with the Sheiranna brought back full-force those furtive moments of awareness. Nothing could erase the terror, the feeling of being trapped in a world completely unsuitable to her. Had she been able, she would have killed in that state. Easily. Without preamble or remorse. Why should Biabani be any different?

She folded her arms across her chest, a faint memory of Biabani's song in her mind. No, she'd said with all conviction. The Sheiranna were not bad. They were not hostile or destructive. Just different.

A part of her had touched that world and would never be the same again.

Her thoughts drifted back to the technical manual before her. It might have been in a foreign language, for all she understood it.

"What the hell do I do now?"

The door chimed before she could answer. "Come."

Her eyebrows lifted slightly as Mr. Spock entered her quarters without a word. "Well, look who decided to make an appearance," she murmured.

He stood there stiffly. She immediately regretted her sarcastic tone, but said nothing to alleviate the tension in the room. Spock, her protégé, had studiously avoided her since the moment she'd come on board. And now there he stood. All proud and Vulcan and silent.

Did he begrudge her the fear? Did he begrudge her the confusion?

Did he think her a murderer?

When it became obvious he wasn't going to initiate the conversation, she said, "You're not here to make small talk. Why don't you just say what you have to say and get it over with?"

He nodded slowly. "That is…a logical request."

Her grin was less than authentic. "The old girl still has it, doesn't she?" A raised eyebrow. At that moment, Shayla would have killed for a glimpse of the old Spock, the uncertain Spock, the boy who'd gone from awkward seduction to cherished friend. Instead, she got this Vulcan. Her attempt at levity fell on deaf ears. Sighing, she said, "What did you want to say, Mr. Spock?"

His face, if anything, became stiffer and less expressive. Then he said three words that shocked her to the core. "I am sorry."

It took a moment to digest that. "Sorry for what?" she murmured. "For ignoring me all this time? For…"

"I am sorry."

Shayla sat back in the chair, her arms folded across her chest. "What are you talking about?"

She could tell he was struggling. A part of her was sorry for the pain she saw seeping through that Vulcan mask. This couldn't be easy for him.

On the other hand, it was no Sunday afternoon picnic for her either.

A silence hung between them. Number One fought the urge to fill that silence with words of peace, with gestures of exoneration. She didn't want to let him off the hook that easily. A wave of anger surged through her. Irrational, unnecessary, and yes, illogical anger. And right now, Spock just happened to be in the path of that tidal wave. "I asked you a question, Mister. Is there a specific reason you are sorry, or is it just an overall descriptive term?"

His hoarse reply cut straight to her heart. "I…am sorry," he whispered.

As swiftly as it had arisen, the anger in her transformed into something different, something deeper. She fought a vicious urge to cry. Tears burned just behind her eyes. Oh, gods, she thought.

Kirk to Spock.

"Saved by the bell." Her words fell flat.

Spock walked to the communications board near the entrance. "Spock here."

The long-range shuttle has just docked in Shuttle Bay Two. Please meet me there.

"Understood." Spock disconnected the link, then turned a helpless look toward his former mentor. "Dr. Boyce will be on that shuttle."

She nodded. "Then I guess we're going to Shuttle Bay Two."

* * *

He couldn't feel his hands or feet. Damn. It was progressing. Phil Boyce stood unsteadily, waiting for the hatch to open, ignoring the concerned looks of the shuttle pilot. Breathe, he thought to himself. Get the circulation going, as much as you can. Breathe.

A hiss marked the opening of the hatch. The shuttle bay was bigger than he remembered, bigger and brighter. He squinted slightly as the hatch opened completely. Kirk and Spock stood there, just inside the bay entrance. He took a step outside, scanning the room for her.

She stepped out of a shadow. Eyes the same. Hair the same. Same concerned expression. Something different. Something…lost. She stepped after Kirk and Spock, who crossed the distance to greet him. Her eyes never left him.

There was a moment of silence as Kirk and Spock watched him and Number One watch each other. Finally, Boyce quirked his mouth upward in a half-grin. "Never could let me get the last word in, could you, Tiger?" Then he collapsed.

* * *

"M'Benga, get him started on plasma. Chris, take a retinal and find out what's got him." McCoy only half-registered her one-syllable assent as he ran the bioscan over Boyce's unconscious form. This was nuts. He'd suffered a minor aneurysm in the shuttle bay, nothing major. He should be stabilizing now, but his blood vessels were bursting out of control. "Can you get him stabilized?"

"Getting there," M'Benga muttered without missing a beat.

"Chris, you got that retinal?"

"Patching it through to Starfleet Medical now. Gimme a second." She gasped softly. McCoy didn't bother taking his eyes from his patient.

"What did you get?"

"Advanced Ueland's Syndrome."

That got McCoy's attention. He paused just slightly, cocking his head in her direction. "Nurse, are you positive?"

"Positive. He entered stage three last month."

"Damn."

M'Benga turned a questioning look at his superior officer. "Suggestions, Doctor?"

McCoy hesitated. What on earth could he say? "Make him comfortable. That's the best we can do."

* * *

"It's a rare tissue disorder. Attacks the vascular system, weakening the blood vessels until the patient bleeds to death internally."

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "The first case of Ueland's Syndrome was treated in humans approximately two decades after the advent of warp drive. It affects one in twelve million."

Kirk paced McCoy's office, one fist gloved in the palm of his other hand. "What can you do about it, Bones?"

"There's not a damn thing I can do about it, Captain," he shot back. "There is no cure to Ueland's Syndrome. There is no treatment for Ueland's Syndrome. And there is no reason in God's green earth this man should have been on an interstellar flight with a third stage case of Ueland's Syndrome."

Kirk felt the sting of accusation in his CMO's voice. "Boyce is an experienced physician. He must have known the affect space flight would have on his condition."

"Maybe he just didn't care,' McCoy retorted. "I mean, what's a few months more or less when you're facing court martial?"

"Doctor.." Kirk kept his voice neutral. The situation was already volatile enough. He needed to…

Security to Captain Kirk.

He held his arguments for a moment, flipping out his communicator instead. "Kirk here."

Captain, this is Ensign Taggert. The prisoner has…

"If you mean Commander Ross, please refer to her as such." Kirk ignored the cutting looks from both McCoy and Spock.

Yes, sir. Commander Ross has requested to see Dr. Boyce. I wanted to clear it with you first.

Lowering the communicator, he asked McCoy, "Bones, is he strong enough to have visitors?"

The look of complete exhaustion in McCoy's eyes was chilling. "It has nothing to do with strong enough, Jim. Let's just hope he lives long enough for her to make it to Sickbay."

* * *

The steady drone of the Sickbay monitors provided an eerie counterpoint to Boyce's shallow breathing. Shayla sat next to the biobed, staring at this ghost of the man she once called her friend. His lips were blue and swollen, fingers and toes black. A spider web of veins crept blue through his rice-paper skin. His eyes were bloodshot and distant.

"It's you, isn't it, Kitten?"

"Don't call me Kitten," she whispered, pressing the flat of her hand upon his chest.

Boyce laughed, coughing hard with the effort. "It's you. I didn't believe it. I can't believe it."

"You need to rest."

"I need to talk. This is the part where I reveal the secret plot, my death bed confession. Don't step on my lines, Tiger." His voice was scratchy with pain, but he continued. "Don't look at me like that. It doesn't hurt at all. Your friend McCoy has me so full of painkillers, I can't feel a thing."

"Liar." She felt the tears burning her cheek. "Your secret plot, Doctor?" Shayla caught her breath on the words. "Tell me the truth, Phil. What happened? Why did you cover it up?"

His coughs became louder, more insistent. A crimson tear formed at the corner of his eye. "We didn't know what happened. The evidence was inconclusive. We couldn't prove or disprove anything."

"So you covered the entire thing up?"

"We couldn't…Chris and I just couldn't do it. We couldn't destroy your reputation without proof, and we didn't have that proof."

"Damn it, Phil."

"Hate me if you want, kiddo. We did the best we could." He paused to catch his breath. His words were becoming less coherent. "Chris…Chris took it hard. But Spock, he was devastated. You shoulda…" His words dissolved into incoherence as another wave of pain overcame him.

Shayla watched him, his face marked and feverish against the biobed. This couldn't be happening. "Phil," she whispered. "They said you came from Centauri. Did you see…"

"Crazy Horse. Yeah. She's good. Fine." Another fit of coughs. "Before you ask, Casie's fine too. She's a teacher."

This caught her by surprise. "A teacher? She's only…"

"Twenty five. Bright kid. Whizzed through medical and psych, then aced the educational track in under three years. You should be proud."

Her eyes lowered. "Did you…did you tell her about me?"

Boyce winced. "Damn headache. Feels like someone's whacking on my head with a machete. No. We didn't tell her. Wanted to make sure first."

The alarm on the biobed went off. Shayla watched in horror as the diagnostic monitors plummeted. "Doctor!"

McCoy hurried into the room, followed by Kirk and Spock, and then Christine. He ran a scanner over the older man then, turning to Chapel, shook his head. "He's coding." She nodded and deactivated the biobed. The readings dropped immediately and Boyce was suddenly, completely, devastatingly immobile.

Shayla watched in horror. "Why aren't you doing anything? He's…"

McCoy's voice was soft. "He specifically indicated he did not want to be revived in the case of a code."

"No," she shook her head furiously. "Christine, you can't…"

"In the case of a terminal illness, Shayla, we are bound by his request. It was in his official medical records. Dr. McCoy verified this with him as soon as we got him stabilized. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry!" She fell back into the chair she'd dragged to Boyce's bedside. "You're sorry?" Pressing her face into the palm of one hand, she wrapped the other arm across her chest and began to cry.

McCoy's slow drawl cut through the silence surrounding the moment. "I think we need some time alone, gentlemen."

Kirk and Spock nodded their assent and quickly vacated the room. After a questioning moment, Chapel left as well.

McCoy quietly folded Boyce's hands over his chest, then drew a sheet over his face. This Number One watched through slitted eyes.

"He shouldn't have come," she asserted.

"No, he shouldn't have." McCoy turned the corner of the bed, lowering himself to kneel before her.

"He shouldn't be here."

"No. He shouldn't."

Shayla rocked back in forth absently. "I shouldn't be here."

He put a hand out to hers. Her palm was moist with tears, but her fingers felt cold. "That's not really a choice you have. You're here."

"I don't want to be here," she whispered.

"I know." He raised her cool fingers to his lips, kissing them gently. "I know, darlin'. I wish there was something I could do about it, but there isn't."

She began to cry again. "I want to go home. But I have no idea where that is."

* * *

Christine Chapel was glad to find the mess hall deserted. She'd chosen this hour for that exact reason. Of course, the gnawing in her stomach complained about the delayed gratification of eating dinner four hours past her normal time. Her heels tapped against the floor as she crossed to the nearest replicator. It was an odd sensation.

She punched her pass code into the replicator and stated, "Chinese spare ribs, fried rice and a double order of egg rolls."

The computer whirred slightly, then replied in a coldly mechanical voice, That request exceeds your caloric intake requirements for the current daily cycle by twenty-three percent.

Chapel took a deep breath. "Computer, medical override of nutritional monitoring program for crewman Chapel, Christine R."

Please state authorization.

"Chapel, Christine R. Head Nurse."

It is not advisable for you to override nutritional monitoring program. Are you sure you wish to do this?

Chapel counted to three. It was strongly advisable that she get a plate of spare ribs and fried rice in front of her before she decided to reprogram this replicator into an Etch-A-Sketch. "Yes, computer. Override program."

Working.

Another moment, and her Chinese food appeared steaming before her. "Thank you, computer."

"One does not thank computers, Miss Chapel."

She whirled around to find Spock standing behind her, a bemused expression on his saturnine face. Her entire body tightened at his presence, but she did her best to hide it. "You're out and about fairly late in the evening, Mr. Spock."

"I wished to inform you of the developments on Commander Ross's inquiry." He eyed the heaping mound of food on her plate warily. "However, if this is an inopportune time…"

She smirked. "Would you care to join me, Mr. Spock?" She nodded to the nearest empty table, and waited as he sat opposite her before picking out a choice spare rib. "I hope you don't mind if I eat while we talk?"

"Since I interrupted your meal, it would be illogical to find offense in your continuing to eat."

The spare rib stopped, mid-air, halfway to her mouth. It took every bit of muscle control she had not to roll her eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Spock."

They sat awkwardly for several moments, Chapel eating, Spock watching. When it became apparent that he did not know quite how to begin, Chapel dabbed a bit of sweet and sour sauce from her chin and prompted, "You were going to tell me about the updates on Shayla's inquiry?"

"Yes." He nodded too quickly. "Due to the events of the past twelve hours…"

"You mean Dr. Boyce."

He hesitated, then nodded. "Yes. Dr. Boyce. It is illogical to continue with the investigation."

"What good is an investigation if all the investigatees are dead?" Chapel was startled by her own morbid humor. But she continued eating as if she'd said nothing.

"The captain has decided, based on Commander Ross's testimony and the medical data provided by Dr. McCoy, to clear Number One of any liability in the death of Dr. Sobhen."

"I'm sure she'll be relieved to hear that." Chapel closed her eyes, a sudden wave of fatigue washing over her. The image of Shayla, the unflappable, legendary Shayla, crying over the body of Phil Boyce came back with startling clarity. It cut her. It reminded her.

"Miss Chapel?"

She pulled herself together, hiding behind a mask of austere professionalism. "Thank you for telling me, Mr. Spock. I don't want to keep you."

His brown eyes were unfathomable. "I have no plans."

She lifted a single eyebrow. "Would you care to join me in a plate of contraband Cantonese?"

"I have already eaten." But he made no move to leave. He simply sat there.

"Ohhhkaaay." She turned back to her spare ribs, which were getting colder by the minute, and began nibbling on another.

"Miss Chapel…"

Here it comes, she thought. "Yes?"

"I am…concerned about the welfare of Commander Ross. The captain has cleared her of any liability, but there are still those who will find her actions suspect. Her transition back into Starfleet may be…difficult." He looked about as uncomfortable as a Vulcan could look.

Chapel swallowed a forkful of rice. "And you're discussing this with me why?"

It was his turn to lift the eyebrow. "You are a trained medical professional. Your experience could provide insight into how to proceed."

She stared at him for a long, long moment. Her next words surprised her. "Why haven't you visited my sister during all of this?"

"Excuse me?"

"You have referred to her as your mentor. And a friend. You 'grieved with thee.' Yet in all this time, you haven't said one word to her outside of official business. Why?" Her voice clattered against the empty room, hard and dry.

"I…I felt it was inappropriate, given the nature…"

"You avoided her like the plague. Why?"

He was so still, so quiet. She almost thought he would get up and walk out the mess hall, leaving her question hanging unanswered in mid-air. But finally, his low voice cut through the silence. "I did not know what to say to her."

"Explain."

His jaw tightened. He said nothing.

Chapel dropped her fork across the plate. It made a loud, clanking noise. "Look. You interrupted my supper. You sought me out, not the other way around. The least you can do is answer my question. Why have you been avoiding her? I can understand you avoiding me, but her? She 's your mentor, your friend. I grieve with thee, remember? You worked side by side. You played chess together. You were the last person to see her alive." She stopped suddenly as he stiffened. A slow realization dawned on her. "You were the last person to see her alive," she repeated softly. Her eyes dissected his barest expression. "You were the last…person…" She nodded slowly. "To see her alive."

His face was the distilled image of stereotypical Vulcan stoicism.

"You watched her die. You stood there, at the edge of that precipice and watched her die."

He nodded. "When I arrived at the scene, I saw the expression on Number One's face. It was like no other I had ever seen. She was…transfixed. I was startled." He sounded like he wanted to choke on the word. "For a moment, I was unable to respond. I…"

"Panicked."

"Yes."

Her sigh came out louder than she'd intended. "Oh, Spock."

"My hesitation cost Number One fourteen years of her life. Had I not reacted emotionally, had I been more efficient in the performance of my duties…"

"She probably still would have been sucked into that Sheiranna vortex for fourteen years. And you might have been killed." Chapel felt the words more than heard them. "You are no more responsible for her death than she was for Ming Sobhen's. It was an accident. A tragedy. And holding on to guilt about it is, well, for lack of a better word, illogical."

"I am aware of the illogic, Miss Chapel."

"Mr. Spock, my mother died when I was a third year medical student. I came home after my evening classes to find her sprawled out on the floor. Massive coronary." She shook her head. "Spock, coronaries are routine. Life-threatening, but routine. I should have had her stabilized and off to the med center without the slightest hitch. But I froze. I stood there, in a panic, for a full minute before I could even think of moving. By the time I got my shit together…" Her voice caught in her throat. "At the time, I couldn't have known about the complications. I got her as stable as I could, contacted the authorities, and she was off. She died on the table."

"I am sorry," he murmured.

"For years, I blamed myself. I froze up. I dropped out of medical school and changed my focus to research. I didn't want to ever have another life in my hand. I couldn't bear that responsibility." Her blue eyes were dark with remembered grief. "Until Roger disappeared, nothing in the universe would have gotten me back into an operating room. But the only way I was getting on a deep space vessel was as a nurse, so a nurse I became. I finished my RN so fast it would spin your head. The point is, I moved on with my life. I got over my fear and guilt."

"And that is why you have never gone back to complete your medical degree, even though you discovered the whereabouts of Dr. Korby almost three years ago? Because you 'got over it?'" His voice was calm and devoid of emotion.

Chapel cocked her head in surprise, but had to concede his point. "Maybe we both need to stop blaming ourselves for things we have no control over."

"Perhaps," he said softly.

* * *

Kirk nodded. "I wanted to let you know personally, Commander."

"Thank you, Captain. And I appreciate your offer."

"Nogura owes me a favor. He'll see to it you're reinstated and brought up to speed." His boyish smile faded. "I'm just sorry I had to put you through this."

Shayla's expression was placid. "You did what was required, sir. I would have expected nothing less from you." She wanted him to leave. The shuttle was leaving early in the morning, and she knew it would be hard enough to sleep. But he was trying so hard. She knew he'd only done his job. "And again, I appreciate your helping me get re-established in Starfleet."

They stood there awkwardly for a moment, each trying to out-polite the other, until Kirk said, "Well, you have an early morning. I'd better let you get some rest. If you need anything, please let me know."

"Yes, of course. Thank you, Captain Kirk." She led him to the door with barely-concealed gratitude. When he was gone, she leaned hard against the door and let out a heavy sigh. "Computer, music."

Please specify.

"Something relaxing. Western European, twelfth to thirteenth century."

A soft monastic chant filled the room, deep and sonorous in its simplicity. Number One inhaled slowly, allowing the music to wash over her before pushing the security lock on the door. For the first time since being released from Sickbay, her "bodyguards" had been relieved of their duties.

Her uniform came off in stages, each piece dropping to the floor as she made her way to the shower. Her innate sense of orderliness was studiously ignored as she set the shower to water. Hot water. She stepped into the pulsing stream face first, breathing out hard to clear the spray from her nostrils. Pressing both hands flat against her face, she pushed the water through her hair, allowing her fingers to brush through the thick, dark waves as she leaned back to expose her throat to the water. It felt so good. Something as simple as a water shower felt so incredibly good. She tried to feel each drop as it crashed against her jugular. She swallowed hard, reveling in the near-discomfort of her stretched neck and back muscles.

It had been so long since she'd felt anything at all.

She tried not to think of Phil. She tried not to think of him at all, but his face kept appearing before her closed eyes. He had been the closest thing she'd ever had to a brother. He'd teased her, prodded her, forced her to do things no one else had dared even suggest.

It was hard to distinguish the tears from the spray of hot water. She knew what he'd say if he could see her right now. He'd say she was being foolish. He'd say that a few months was worth it to see her again. He'd say 'thanks for letting me watch you take a shower.'

Number One choked on her own laughter. It made the tears come that much harder.

He would have told her to move on.

That nobody lives forever.

That she had an obligation to live her life as fully as she could. That she'd been given a rare and precious gift.

She pressed her forehead to the shower wall and sobbed.

* * *

Chapel took a deep breath and pushed the buzzer. It was a moment before she heard Shayla's invitation to enter. She walked in to the VIP quarters, surprised to find her sister dressed in a shimmering silver bathrobe, hair soaking wet.

"I'm sorry. Did I come at a bad time?"

Shayla rubbed a towel through her thick, brown hair. "No, not really. I just got out of the shower, but…" The words dropped off into an awkward silence. "No, it's not a bad time, Christine. What can I do for you?"

"Well," she stammered. Why was this so hard all of a sudden? She'd rehearsed the entire scene in her mind, all the clever, poignant words that would bridge a thirty-year gap and make the Ross family whole again. Now, when faced with her only living relative, Chapel couldn't even begin to think of anything to say. "Um, I heard about…I heard you're…"

"Off the hook?"

She smiled. "Yeah. I'm glad."

"So am I."

"Yeah." Chapel looked around the quarters, hoping for any inspiration which would help her end this clumsy silence. "If you need anything, supplies or clothes or anything, I'd be happy to…"

"Oh, no, that won't be necessary." Shayla rubbed the back of her neck with the thick towel she'd just used on her hair. "I'm going to be on the shuttle back to Alpha Centauri in the morning."

A lump formed in Chapel's stomach and forced itself into her throat. "Tomorrow? Isn't that…I mean, why Centauri?"

"Phil." Shayla looked away, a darkness clouding her blue eyes.

Chapel felt the lump plunge back into the pit of her stomach. "Phil. I'm so very sorry for you. I know he was a good friend."

"It's not just that." Her sister gestured to the love seat. "Please. Sit." She waited for Chapel to sit down, then joined her on the couch. "Christine, there's a lot we don't know about each other. I…" Her hesitation piqued Chapel's curiosity, but she didn't push. Things were too fragile now, too new to risk it all breaking apart again. "Chris, I have somebody on Centauri," she said finally.

"You're married?"

Shayla's laugh was as spontaneous as it was unexpected. "Hardly. No, Chris, I…" She floundered helplessly, struggling for the words to say what she wanted to say. "There is no easy way to explain this."

"Try me."

"Okay. Long story short. Twenty five years ago, my Academy roommate found out she couldn't have children. I donated an egg. That egg is now a schoolteacher named Cassandra on Centauri." The words came out in an embarrassed jumble. It occurred to Christine for the first time that her sister was blushing.

"You have a daughter."

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

Chapel phrased her next question carefully. "Does she…know about you?"

"Does she know about me, am I her mother? Or, does she know about me, that I'm alive?"

"Both." Chapel was glad she was sitting. "Either."

"Yes, she knows I'm her biological mother. Crazy Horse and Rashad were completely up front about that from the beginning."

"Crazy Horse? You donated an egg to somebody named Crazy Horse?"

This brought a smile to Shayla's face. "Claudette Dunnagan. Crazy Horse was a name Phil gave her after she…never mind. It's a long story."

Chapel narrowed her eyes. "I'll bet."

"Anyway, Phil didn't want to tell Casie about me until he was sure."

"Seems like a sensible move."

Shayla looked around the room, finally focusing her gaze on the computer terminal. "Would you like to see a picture of her? I had a lot of time to…catch up while I was confined to quarters." She stood, then pivoted on her right foot to face Chapel. "I know about Mom. I'm sorry."

Chapel stood also, closing the gap between them to put a hand on Shayla's arm. "She was very proud of you."

Shayla placed her own hand over Christine's. "I wish I had handled it differently. With Mom."

"She wasn't the easiest person. It's in the past."

A slow nod. A moment. Then Shayla quickly turned her attention back to the computer. "Cassie's a teacher. Can you believe it? Twenty-five years old." She tapped a series of commands into the computer, and the image of a dark-haired young woman flashed onto the screen.

"Wow," Chapel murmured. "The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. She looks like you."

"Do you think? I think she has my mouth, but she looks more like Rashad."

"She has your eyes, too." Chapel stared at the picture. This was so completely weird. She was standing in the VIP quarters with her dead sister, looking at a picture of a niece she never knew she'd had. The words rushed past her lips before she had time to stop them. "Shay, I've treated you badly. I don't know why I did it. It's not your fault. None of it's your fault, and I'm so…" The tears choked off the rest of her confession. Shayla held out her arms, and the two women embraced. It was clumsy and fierce and wonderful all at the same time.

The rush of emotion dissipated just as quickly, leaving both of them shy and tongue-tied. Finally, Shayla said, "Do you want to meet her? Cassie, I mean?"

Chapel laughed. "Um, yeah. Of course. But maybe we should, um, break it to her slowly?"

"Good idea. It's hard to take on my side of this. I can only imagine how strange it must be for you and the others."

She squeezed Shayla's hands tightly. "Strange, but good, Shay. Very good." After a moment, they sat back down, a shy, silly atmosphere filling the room. "I'm so sorry you're leaving tomorrow. I feel like I've wasted so much time."

"It'll be okay, Chris. We don't have to end it here. I want to…" She grinned. "I want to know everything about you. Who you took to the senior prom. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Everything."

"Albert Johannsen. He had black hair, green eyes, and the sweatiest palms I've ever encountered. Chocolate mint chip. As for everything, that may take some time." Her smile was genuine now. "Do you know what you're going to do after Centauri?"

"Captain Kirk has offered to help me get back on my feet, as far as Starfleet is concerned. It'll be a challenge, but it won't be the first time I've faced tough odds."

"So you'll be in San Francisco?"

"Probably. Unless they've moved Starfleet Central when I wasn't around."

"No, it's still there," she laughed. "Do you have a place to stay?"

Shayla shrugged, then stretched her arm across the back of the couch. "I really hadn't thought that far in advance. I'm sure they must have some sort of Fleet housing available."

"How about the old place in Davenport?" Chapel watched as Shayla's eyes widened in amazement.

"The beach house? Is that still standing?"

"Mom left it to me in her will. I didn't have the heart to sell it, so I've been renting it out all these years. I'd love for you to stay there, if you want to."

Shayla shook her head. "Gods, Dad loved that place. He used to take us hunting for seashells. Do you remember? You were afraid of the foam, so he'd carry you on his shoulders."

"No. I'm sorry; I don't remember that. Jack was the only dad I remember having, really." The sadness in Shayla's eyes was painful to see. "I do remember some things about our father, but not much."

"You were so young. I suppose it would be hard for you to remember."

"I wish I'd known him."

"He was a good man. Very kind. Very strong." Shayla nodded, her gaze very far away. "You would have liked him."

Chapel pressed her hands into her sister's. "I want you to stay at the house. I'm sure you'll find him there, in every corner and doorway."

"Thank you," was the soft reply.

"Of course," Chapel added slowly, "there's one condition."

"What?"

"You'll have to put up with me as a housemate."

Shayla's eyebrows shot up. "I don't understand."

"I've decided to go back to finish my medical degree. With my doctorate and Enterprise experience, it's just a formality to get into Starfleet Medical school. But, I'll need a place to stay." She grinned broadly. "We might find out that we can't stand each other. But I'm willing to give it a try. It doesn't have to be permanent. And if it doesn't work out, well, we'll figure something out."

"That's very generous of you."

Her voice went low and earnest. "Our family shattered into little pieces thirty years ago. But it doesn't have to stay that way. I'm tired of being an orphan. I want my sister back." Her smile beamed as Shayla brushed a blond strand from her cheek.

"Okay. We'll try it."

"Good."

"So, what's with the hair?"

Their laughter was interrupted by a chime at the door. "Were you expecting someone?"

Shayla stood, a confused look on her face. "No. I swear, it's like the transporter pad at Grand Central Station." She turned back quickly to her sister. "That is still there, isn't it?" At Chapel's quick nod of assent, Shayla said, "Come in."

Spock entered the room to find Chapel and a very casually-dressed Commander Ross. His eyebrows raised, but he merely stated, "I hope I haven't come at an inopportune time."

Chapel shook her head quickly. "No, Mr. Spock. I was just leaving." She leaned over to kiss Shayla quickly on the cheek. "I'll see you off in the morning. I can give you the codes for the house then."

"Okay."

Chapel gave Spock a knowing look before exiting the room. "Good night, Mr. Spock."

Spock and Number One stood silently for a moment. The lightness in the air had departed with the head nurse. "Was there something I could do for you, Lieutenant?"

"No. I merely wish to tell you…." He paused, searching for the words. "I am relieved and grateful that you are well, Number One. Your loss was…difficult for us all."

"Well, it was difficult for me, too, Spock." She made no move to offer him a seat. There was still too much anger in the air.

He sensed it, and nodded patiently. "I realize the transition will be difficult. There are few precedents for this situation. But I have faith in your ability to transcend the obstacles placed before you."

She couldn't help but smile at his formality. "Nice to know some things never change, Spock."

He moved closer, a solemn look on his face. "I have changed, Number One. I am not the person you remember."

She lowered her eyes. "By this, can I assume that you no longer…that the offer you once made to me is no longer applicable?"

"My request to partner with you was, and still is, quite logical. You would make a superior mate." She looked up at him in surprise. "But the motivations behind that request…are no longer as pressing."

She couldn't help a mischievous grin. "Fickle."

"Hardly. But I have matured in such areas." She could have sworn he was teasing her. "I have also reached Level Four in Sereda's Broom," he added.

"No."

"Indeed." Stepping over to the computer, he punched in the commands to bring up the game. "In fact, on stardate 22781.6, I surpassed your personal best time by 3.48 seconds."

"You beat my record?" This was too much. "You beat my record?"

"Only after I stopped…'thinking like a Vulcan,' as you once put it." Spock offered her the chair. "The long-range shuttle for Alpha Centauri leaves in 6.94 hours. You have that long to reclaim your title." He paused, then added, "If you wish to do so."

She accepted the chair with a wary look. "I do wish to do so, Lieutenant." With a fierce look, she added, "You're going down, Mister."

The End

* * *

Epilogue: Two Years Later

Shayla pressed her big toe through the slatted boards of the deck, letting the sun warm her skin as the long muscles of her thigh stretched easily. The boards were synthetic, of course. It had been centuries since anyone used real wood to build houses on Earth. But it felt just as she imagined wood might feel. One could even get a splinter from it, if they tried hard enough.

She smothered a yawn, enjoying the luxury of a real holiday. It had surprised her more than anybody else when, after all those years of searching for her destiny in deep space, she'd found peace and fulfillment as a desk jockey on Earth. Maybe it was the fourteen years she'd been trapped in the Sheiranna vortex. After that, adventure seemed vastly overrated.

Steady days, standard two-hour lunches, and government holidays, on the other hand, were a welcome change from the life of a deep space first officer. She tried to remember the last time she'd worked a double shift, but couldn't.

Gods, she'd gotten lazy. And she couldn't be happier.

She gasped as a hand pressed itself into the golden skin of her inner thigh. "I thought you were asleep," she grumbled.

"Just resting my eyes, darlin'." Leonard McCoy stretched out like a barnyard tomcat, wriggling until his right arm lay spread across Shayla's exposed waist. He kissed her shoulder sleepily. "You gettin' hungry?"

She rolled on her side to face him, wrapping herself in his arms. "Not really. Too hot to eat." She kissed him lightly. "I could use another Saurian brandy, if you're making."

He didn't answer. McCoy busied himself instead with the elaborate ties of her sundress.

"Len." She knew if she let him get started, they'd never get anything accomplished. Not that accomplishment was high on her list of priorities, but somebody had to….

No, nobody had to do anything. She grinned, burying her face in his neck as she allowed him easier access. She grazed his hot skin lightly with her teeth, laughing as he groaned.

She heard him muttering something about "damn stupid dress." and laughed some more. Finally, he gave up on unfastening the dress and just slipped his hand under the fabric of her bodice. His hand was rough against her bare breast, and she yelped as he pinched the soft flesh.

"Ow," she pouted.

"Mmmm…" He started to say something when the sound of the French doors opening startled them both.

"Oh, for crying out loud. Do you two have to do that out here?" An exhausted Chapel stood on the patio doorway, barely concealing a look of bored sibling disgust.

Shayla was up in a flash, straightening her bodice as McCoy stumbled to his feet. "Chris, you're home," she said weakly.

"Happy Federation Day," McCoy offered.

But the newly-minted medical officer was not going for it. She started to say something, then just stopped, obviously too tired to formulate a suitable response. "Forget it. I'm going to bed."

Shayla caught an impish gleam in McCoy's eyes as he opened his arms in a broad gesture of welcome. "Aw, Chris. You act like you're not happy to see me!"

Chapel shot him a dirty look. "Who wouldn't be happy to come home after a double shift to find her ex-boss groping her sister on the deck of the family home?" But somewhere in the exhaustion, there was a hint of humor. She stared at the couple for a moment, then shook her head. "I'm going to bed. If there's any deity in the universe, I won't wake up for two weeks. If anybody calls, I'm dead."

"Got it." Shayla reached out to stop McCoy's next round of teasing. When her sister was safely inside, she pulled him into her arms. "Be nice to her. She's been working like a dog trying to get ready for the Enterprise's shakedown cruise."

"That Will Decker is a slave driver," he laughed, returning his attentions to the beginning of a tan on Shayla's shoulders.

"Oh, I heard you had your Simon LeGris moments as well, Dr. McCoy…."

"Me? I was a kitten to work for. Ask anybody." He pulled at a single tie with his teeth. "Let's go swimming. I want to see you naked."

"I thought you wanted to eat."

"I want to eat and see you naked." He grinned. "Hey, now there's an interesting thought… Damn, I love retirement."

The laughter pulsed through them both as they indulged in another deep kiss. "You never answered the question I asked you earlier," she murmured in to his shoulders.

"Sorry, hon. Yes, I will marry you."

She laughed again. "You know what I'm talking about. What happened between you and Jim Kirk? You've been avoiding the issue ever since you got here."

His eyes darkened, the only sign on his face that her words had any affect on him. "That's old business, sweetheart. Jim is doing what he thinks is right for him, and that's his affair. Me, I'm just an old country doct…"

"'Doctor. All you need is a patient and your two bare hands.'"

He scowled but only in jest. "You know, if you don't treat me nice, it's going to put quite a damper on the fun when I carry you off to my plantation home in the fair state of Georgia."

"Leonard…" she warned.

"I know, I know. Stop with the carrying you off talk. A commitment phobia can be treated, Commander. First, though, you have to admit you have a problem."

"You had a fight with Kirk. You stormed off. Spock disappeared somewhere on Vulcan. Stop evading the issue. Stop acting like nothing's wrong." Her tone was light enough, but she meant every word.

"Look," he avoided her eyes for a moment. "Look, Shayla, yeah. We had a fight. It ain't the first time that's happened. Jim and I need to cool off."

"Want to tell me what the fight was about?"

"Well, all you have to do is look at his pips to know what the fight is about. I mean, the man was born for command. Taking a desk job kill him."

"It didn't kill me," she said softly.

"No. No, it didn't. But you've walked a completely different road than Jim. And psychologically…"

"He's a big boy. There has to come a time when even you have to back off and let him make his own mistakes."

He sat on that thought for a long time before speaking. "You're right, of course. I can't live his life for him. I just…I just hate that it's all over." There was a catch in his voice. "It's been so much a part of my life. I hate seeing it die."

"Everything changes," she whispered, placing a tender kiss on his jaw. "You can't stop time." Her lips brushed his skin. "You need a shave," she murmured.

"I was thinking of letting it grow in. A beard is just what a good country doctor needs."

"But what about in the meantime? There's nothing more annoying than kissing a man with half a beard."

"You'll love it."

"They take forever to grow."

He kissed her deeply. "That's okay. We've got all the time in the world. There is no force on Earth that's gonna pull me away from you now."

* * * 

V'ger glided through the vast expanses of space, cognizant but unconcerned with the distances it traveled. Time was irrelevant. V'ger was timeless.

V'ger sought the Creator. V'ger sought the Creator's homeworld.

The third planet.

 

The End