DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of KarraCaz and is copyright (c) 2003 by KarraCaz. This story is Rated R.



Chapter 1: The Game Begins

She was in the garden trying to forget her terrible anxiety in some useful occupation when T'Pahsen found her. The young khamsamah was out of breath, panting from her exertions in the mid-day heat, when she eventually burst through the shrubbery of the wild garden, her large eyes wide and not a little curious.

"Noble lady," she began hurriedly, suppressed excitement coloring her voice. "I regret this disturbance but there is a message. Will thee not come?"

T'Pavan straightened from her pruning, slim fingers tightening convulsively about the pao bloom she still held as she met her maid's inquisitive gaze. She kept her own voice level with some difficulty, intent on controlling her pounding heart.

"Be calm, child," she admonished brusquely, her own state of mind far from that admirable condition. "Who wishes to speak with me? My husband?"

"No, lady, it is not the Lord Semnek." She lowered her eyes at the abrupt rebuke, so unlike her mistress. "It is the innastran'i, the stranger who called yesterday. He would not give his name."

T'Pahsen glanced up from beneath sooty lashes before hurriedly seeking the ground once more. "He wished to speak only with thee, Lady. No other would do."

Apprehension sent a shaft of fear stabbing through T'Pavan's abdomen as her heart plunged sickeningly, a premonition of danger, not for herself but for T'Pavahna, the child-of-her-flesh, born only five short years ago.

"Lady, are thee not well?"

The anxious voice of T'Pahsen forced its way past her uneasy thoughts. Absently, T'Pavan stared down at the crushed flower she still held in her fingers, knowing that her whole world had just broken apart beneath her feet. With an effort of will, she inclined her head, the words coming stiffly to her lips. "Go back to the house, samah. I will follow. And samah ... thee will speak of this matter to no one else. Do thee understand?"

The khamsamah bowed from the waist. "I serve only thee, Lady. None shall hear gossip from my lips."

T'Pavan acquiesced with an inclination of her head as the young Nevas'asharn girl turned away, the double anklet rings she wore chiming faintly in the hot, motionless, air. Of course, she spoke the truth, T'Pavan realized, for there was no one more loyal than T'Pahsen. Yet she was aware how quickly rumor could spread. Everyone knew that she had been at variance with Semnek, her husband, and half-brother, even before T'Pavahna's birth. She could well imagine that this news of an unknown inamoratos who had called twice in two days would enliven the palate of even the most jaded of court gossip. Such rumor would normally have been beneath her contempt but now she could not allow the least tittle-tattle connected with her name. As long as her caller and his business remained a secret, she would have nothing else to fear. She only had to comply with her instructions and T'Pavahna would be returned. For that she would do anything, risk all that she had, just to keep her only child safe from harm.

Schooling her face into an expressionless mask, she walked through the considerable grounds and enclosed gardens, oblivious of the burbling fountains and tinkling wind chimes that stirred idly as she passed by. However, as she pushed beneath the luxuriant vines that formed a natural archway into the spacious courtyard, she could not prevent the wild thudding of her heart. With inherent grace, she advanced across the flagged terrace, where water cascaded into a deep, rectangular pool. Despite the darkness of her soul, her eyes still sought out Es'sarhan's dome where it reflected the hot, orangey sky above.

T'Pahsen held the door for her as she passed from the colonnade into the cool shadows of the entry hall. The marble underfoot felt wonderfully real and solid as she paced with measured tread into the large central lanai, crossing to the comcon unit revealed now from behind its beautifully painted screens. T'Pavan's abstracted gaze swept over the young khamsamah. "Leave me, T'Pahsen. Be assured I will call if there is need."

"Noble lady." The girl bowed, departing on soundless feet. T'Pavan watched for a moment as her maid disappeared into the inner fastness of their quarters before slowly reaching out with an unsteady hand to the controls of the comset, none of the roiling emotion she felt allowed to show on her urbane features.

Enigmatically, she stared at the face that was quickly forming, loathing it on sight. Even in Human guise, the Klingon was readily identifiable -- to her at least.

"I believe you are now ready to discuss a certain matter that could prove important to us both, Madam." The thin lips smiled without warmth.

T'Pavan inclined her head, unaware of the anguish that burned within her eyes or her pale and desperate face. "It seems I have little choice in the matter, ser--"

"If you have any regard for the safety of your child, you will listen most carefully. Any failure in carrying out these instructions will not be kindly met. You understand?"

"I understand."

"Good. Your orders are, by any means at your disposal, to persuade the Federation Starship Enterprise to be diverted to this planet."

T'Pavan tensed, unable to keep the surprise from her voice. "The Enterprise?"

The other nodded. "This ship is known to you, of course. We are aware that the Vulqangan First Officer, Spock, was a one-time friend. When the ship arrives, you will ensure he is separated from his companions. This will not be too difficult, I assume."

T'Pavan smiled, a small, bitter parting of the lips. "Thee puts great store in a friendship that died long since. What if the task proves more complicated?"

"Remember your daughter, Madam. The Vulqangan must be made amenable at whatever cost. Do as you are bidden or the child will certainly suffer. You will be contacted again with further instructions."

"Wait," T'Pavan cried as the Klingon reached to disconnect the comlink. "How do I know that my child still lives? Before I do as you order, I want proof of her well-being."

Which was not strictly necessary as the birth link between mother and daughter told her plainly that Vahna at least was still alive. However, she needed to see, to reassure herself with all her senses that her child was unhurt.

The swarthy, impostor Human sneered in contempt at her weakness. "Very well."

Instantly the scene shifted and T'Pavan's heart leaped tremulously as the face of her only daughter replaced that of the Klingon. The child, little more than an infant, stood straight-backed, dark head held high, pretending an indifference that her mother knew she did not truly feel.

A fierce, protective tenderness rose in T'Pavan's breast as she noticed the determined set of the small chin, the solemn eyes rimmed with shadows. "Are thee well, child?"

"I will try not to shame thee, M'aih. Please do not be afraid. I am being very brave." A tremor shook the small lips and her voice wavered. "However, I would like to come home soon."

Unexpectedly the screen darkened and T'Pavan cried out. "No, please. I must have a little longer. Vahna! Vahna!"

The Klingon reappeared. "As you see, Madam, your child is unharmed. It will be up to you whether she remains that way. Do not fail us in this."

The connection was disabled and the screen darkened, leaving her with the memory of her frightened, courageous child and her own sweeping desolation. For a long moment, she stared at the blanked screen unable to consider past the nightmare thoughts. However, necessity forced her into action. Numbly, she struck the gong-like chochin with its felt-covered hammer, summoning khamsamah T'Pahsen into her presence once more.

The girl came as soundlessly as she had left, on slippered feet. "Noble lady?"

T'Pavan roused herself gradually, a plan evolving with painful reluctance. "I wish an audience with my consort. Arrange it, samah. There must be no delay."

Chapter 2: Spock

James T. Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise, stepped briskly from the elevator and onto the bridge of his ship, immediately registering the disquiet on the lean, ascetic face of his Vulcan First Officer, Spock.

"You look worried, Mr. Spock," he said with a wry grin, not altogether joking. "What's the problem?"

Startled by Kirk's approach, unusual in itself, Spock turned reluctantly aside from the main viewing screen as he slipped smoothly out of the command chair.

"Problem, Captain?" He raised an expressive eyebrow, his face serene once more, as he made way for Kirk. "I am aware of none. Standard orbit has been achieved and the Nevas'asharn High Council is awaiting your arrival at the beam down point."

"Very well." Kirk nodded, his gaze lingering on the scene of the hazy, copper-colored world pictured on the forward viewscreen, which had so intently held Spock's attention. "Have the artifacts been transported aboard yet?"

"No, sir." Spock shifted position, standing at ease with his hands clasped loosely in the small of his back. "Ambassador Sustek wished to present them to you personally on behalf of the Heir and her consort."

"Is that necessary?"

"I believe the collection is thought to be unique -- and therefore priceless. The Nevas'asharn have never previously allowed them off-planet, although there have been frequent requests." He frowned, staring ahead at the viewscreen. "The Federation is unusually honored, Captain. I also suspect they are nervous at the privilege."

"I daresay," Kirk murmured, smiling lazily. No doubt, the reason why Fleet had insisted on the Enterprise doing simple freighter work. "You've been to Nevas'ashar before haven't you, Spock? I noticed your father, Ambassador Sarek, was the Vulcan envoy here some years ago."

One of Spock's winged brows ascended quizzically as he shot Kirk a sideways glance. He had never felt obliged to reveal his intimate family background, although he was aware that such details were contained on his service record. Now, the proximity of Nevas'ashar, holding so many unforgotten and painful memories, made him even more disinclined to divulge information he considered strictly private. However, he could not ignore Kirk's request.

With obvious reluctance he admitted, "That is correct, Captain. I spent several vacations here as a child, usually during school recess. As Nevas'ashar is the sister planet of Vulcan, it is a matter of Tradition that someone from home sits on the Council."

"You have relatives here, or friends, perhaps?"

The pause lasted a fraction longer, Kirk noted with amusement, aware that he was teetering on the brink of Spock's personal data boundary.

"Negative, sir."

"Uh-huh." Of course it was a fallacy that Vulcans could not tell lies, but on the other hand, Spock was sometimes congenitally, painfully honest. He flicked the First Officer a covert glance, trying to penetrate the expressionless mask. As far as he knew, only a very few had tried to get through Spock's natural reserve, and most had been caught out at first base. However, for whatever reason, the two of them had become fast friends. Yet, it did not seem to make any difference how hard he tried to reach Spock these days; there always seemed a barrier between them. Even now, in the midst of the bridge crew, Spock was just as isolated as if he was a million miles away. Kirk was ready to respect his First Officer's wish, if that's the way he wanted to play it, yet he had known a different Spock, and the momentary unease he had surprised on his friend's face forced him to go on probing, however much he trespassed on forbidden ground.

"It was also a Vulcan colony world, I understand?" Kirk thought he detected the merest flicker of resignation in Spock's brown eyes at this further question, but the answer came, as he knew it would.

"Also correct, Captain. Vulcan did colonize Nevas'ashar. However, that was long ago, after the reformation of our world. Unfortunately, the first Nevas'asharn did not share Surak's regard for the mastery of emotion. They elected to leave Vulcan and settle a world where they could continue in the old ways."

"Oh?" Kirk propped his chin in one palm, resting his elbow on the arm of his chair enabling him to look Spock squarely in the eyes. "Now that is a revelation, Mr. Spock."


"That there's a black sheep in the Vulcan family."

"A black sheep, Captain? I fail to see what a Terran ruminant of undetermined color has to do with Vulcan." Spock managed to look thoroughly perplexed without moving a single muscle.

"It's an old Earth saying, Spock." McCoy, hearing the tail end of the conversation as he entered the bridge, put two and two together and, as usual, made five. "Literally, it means a disreputable member of a social group. A reprobate if you like."

He grinned lopsidedly down at Kirk who merely shrugged, leaving the conversational ball in Spock's court. The First Officer considered the explanation before returning the serve.

"I do not 'like', Doctor," he said dryly. "And it does not apply in this case. The Nevas'asharn are definitely not disreputable, as I understand the term. They are, however, inclined toward emotionalism."

He frowned, winged brows drawing together. "In that respect they are very much like Humans. It can be disconcerting."

"That I'd really like to see!" McCoy grinned. "I'm almost beginning to like the idea of beaming down with you, Jim. You're sure they're not like ordinary Vulcans, Spock?"

He made the term 'ordinary Vulcans' sound like a dirty word.

Spock failed this time, however, to rise to the bait. "Quite sure, Doctor McCoy. I am quite confident you will both find your visit a rewarding experience."

"You're not coming with us?" McCoy asked in surprise. "With Nevas'ashar being so close to Vulcan, I would have thought you'd jump at the chance to stopover."

Again, Kirk noticed that fleeting look of unease cross Spock's usually enigmatic features, but it was so quickly masked he was sure no one other than himself could have seen it. Was Spock's recent introspection something to do with the planet beneath them? Now that he thought back, Kirk was sure it had only begun when Spock had learned they were to visit Nevas'ashar. He fended McCoy off as best he could.

"I have already granted Mr. Spock permission to stay aboard and finish off some research, Bones. However, if you change your mind, Spock, you have our coordinates?"

"Indeed, Captain."

"Very well. You have the conn, Mr. Spock." He pushed himself out of the chair, heading for the elevator with McCoy at his heels. Before the doors snapped shut he saw Spock turn back to the viewscreen, his eyes looking inward at some private memory even Kirk was not allowed to share.

* * *

Spock was in the Science laboratory when, some hours later, the in-ship communicator buzzed insistently for his attention. Mildly irritated at being disturbed, he flicked the channel open.

"Spock here."

Uhura's voice came clearly through the speaker grid above his head. "Mr. Spock? I have a caller from the planet who would like to speak to you. Shall I patch you in or transfer it to your private line?"

Spock looked up from his computer console, a frown gathering between his eyes, suspicions aroused by something evident in Uhura's tone. Practical jokes, a predilection of many Humans, had been played on him before.

"Is it the Captain?"

"No, sir, Mr. Spock." There was now open speculation in the Lieutenant's voice. "The call is from T'Pavan, Ambassador Sustek's daughter. She says she's a personal friend."

Spock tensed abruptly and it was a long moment before he found sufficient composure to attempt a reply. He took a deep breath, seeking balance, steadying himself. "Put the call through to my quarters, Lieutenant. I will take it there."

Chapter 3: T'Pavan

He materialized on the curve of clean red sand that formed a barrier between the heavy, viscous water of the sea and the ragged hem of a young forest rimmed with flame trees and dark, glossy moonflower vines. For a moment Spock leaned against one of the rough, white trunks, the feathered leaves five meters above his head, gazing out at the shimmering depths of the sheltered lagoon, that stretched calm and flat before hitting a submerged coral reef on the very edge of sight.

Moving from beneath the tree into the breathtaking heat, he again became aware of the rich, formal Vulkhanir clothing that he had elected to wear. The heavy and ornate material felt strange after the everyday, easy familiarity of his uniform but he knew quite well why he had chosen it. For one of the few times in his life he declared openly his rank as a Vulkhanir, the fact that he belonged to a Family quite as illustrious as any on Nevas'ashar. Not only was he Spock, the Vulcan First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, but also Spock s'kahri ansh'oune t'sarek, the son of Sarek, child of Skon, child of Solkar. Somehow, on this day when he would meet T'Pavan again, that knowledge assumed a new importance.

Tall and solitary, he strode out onto the sands, his steps sure and unhurried, following the curve of the shoreline. It was, how long, since he had last visited this strand? Of course, he knew the tally exactly, six years three months and four days. If asked, he could have quoted the passing time down to hours, minutes and even seconds. It had been nightfall then, and a haze of stars had shone brilliantly against the velvet backdrop of the sea. He stopped walking abruptly as the past rose up to confront him, the memories vivid, unclouded by time, the humiliation of that last evening having lost none of its mortification.

Breathing deeply, he began to walk again, pushing the obstinate thoughts away, sensitive to the knowledge that he must not allow the past to influence the forthcoming reunion with T'Pavan. Surprised by her call to the ship, nevertheless only at that point did he fully realize how much he wanted to meet her once more, although he was quite prepared to forego a visit planetside solely because of her presence there. Undoubtedly that had a great deal to do with his stubborn Vulkhanir pride, but he was also aware of how much influence T'Pavan still retained, how deeply she could still wound him for, despite all that had happened between them, his regard for her had not altered. An ancient proverb of his mother's came to mind; pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall! It was a particular favorite of hers -- and one she found delight in quoting -- especially in connection with Sarek and himself. However, if he was on the road to destruction, he went freely if not altogether with a sense of prudence.

He turned from the narrow strip of sand, careless of the hot sun beating down upon his scalp and shoulders, moving as agilely as a mountain sehlat among its native hunting grounds on Vulkhanir, taking the evasive path through the flame trees until the city of Orkhas'asar opened up before him. Constructed upon a long string of islets, reefs and shoals, the remains of a great chain of submerged mountains, Orkhas'asar was, as the name suggested, a place where stone combined with water in a mysterious blending. The city was built around wide boulevards with imposing statues and impressive fountains as focal points. A circular municipality, the streets were concentric, intersected with high causeways, radiating out from a central point like spokes of a giant wheel.

Spock walked along quiet, tree-lined canals, and through promenades where motorized traffic never ran, responsive to the calmness pervading the streets and which he drank deeply into his agitated soul. He needed this tranquillity after the long, weary years away. His eyes swept the cool, clean lines of pale stone, shining behind the constant hazy cascades of fountains, reminded of his home city ShiKahr, although Vulkhanir could not boast such an abundance of surface water. Crossing over onto a bridge, he leaned against the parapet, watching the bright, gossamer sails of a skimmer as it passed beneath him. The child steering the craft was obviously a professional and noticing his interest, she laughed up at him, shouting a greeting. Spock nodded in response, a little shocked by a freedom that would never have been possible on Vulkhanir, reminded once again of his own gracelessness.

With growing apprehension, he turned away from the canal into the winding lanes fronted with grand public buildings, heading for Es'sarhan, the Red Fortress, which was T'Pavan's residence and royal city all in one, the hub of Orkhas'asar, and where all the major streets converged. He chose to walk in the shade, the air about him redolent with the fragrance of flowering ysleta and tsinan vines that grew among many other native and off-world varieties in the parks, alamedas and other open spaces, piquantly spicy, assaulting his nostrils with an odor that was a constant reminder of the last time he was there. The sound of water was all about him, splashing from the fountains at every intersection, lapping at the canals stonework, swirling with slow determination around the bridge ramparts, and if he stopped to listen, he could even hear the faint, whispering, susurration of the sea. It was weird and wonderful, strange and familiar all at once, as if he wandered in some mystical dream, the portents clear if only he was able to decipher the warning. Spock felt his heart skip a beat, his pulses abruptly thundering as, with the thought, he ascended a flight of steep steps and found himself fronting a decorative gate, one of five he knew of and less public than the other four, shaped by a thrusting tracery of interweaving metal leaves, an access to Es'sarhan's extensive grounds. He stopped to read the deeply etched inscription decorating the sidewall, Keh'sarin Es'sarha, the name of the dwelling within the walls, the name of the Family that owned it, on a parity with the most ancient of Families that still ruled Vulkhanir.

And I am a trespasser here, he thought ruefully, who once presumed that the half-human son of a noble Vulkhanir father had rights that in reality did not exist.

It was the voice of reason, one he knew it was wise to heed but he continued to ignore the admonition, swayed by the overriding and totally illogical need to see T'Pavan once again. Knowing himself a fool, he pushed at the gate that opened at his touch and stepped inside, halting for a moment as the automatic keeper scanned him, found him safe, and allowed him to continue unmolested about his business.

A faint tinkling of wind chimes drifted softly on the hot breeze, the only sound apart from the predictable rush and burble of a nearby fountain, and the drowsy buzzing of insects that flew drunkenly from one pollen-laden flower to the next. In the baking heat under the sun, Orkhas'asar was a boiling pot but here at Es'sarhan was an oasis of shade and coolness.

With dark shadows sliding across his skin, Spock took the path he knew would lead him to the stronghold, his step measured and precise, until finally he pushed under an arch formed by a trailing ghefwe, the scarlet flowers huge and papery. From there, he entered a wide, paved square where a rectangular pool surged with the slow rise and fall of moving water. Trees in circular beds of watered earth bordered the pool; crimson bwi with their large silvery green leaves; flowering pao bushes; the glowing moonflowers, all enclosed on three of the courtyard's sides by a wide, shady, cloistered walk, above which the red fortress shimmered, glowing like a banked fire, its domed vermillion roof glittering against the burnished sky.

Containing his mounting unease, Spock crossed over to the poolside, absently gazing down at the slowly moving water. It was opaque, dense, unlike the water of Tehr'a, and only vaguely mirrored his reflection. The scent of flowers was heavy in the air, the faint sounds of the city so far away beyond the high walls that he could almost forget that it existed. Once, he had imagined all that held reality for him was contained in this place, permeated with so many memories of the past; memories of his childhood spent with T'Pavan; a place where he had once thought, for so brief a time six years ago, that he had actually caught hold of that elusive condition Tehr'n's knew as happiness.

At the thought, he straightened hastily, attentive to the fact that he was prevaricating, his subconscious deliberately evading the moment when he would have to face T'Pavan. He rubbed his hands over the rich material of his ornate sirwal, throat suddenly dry, and with the air of someone going to his own execution, ascended the three broad steps that led up to the colonnaded walk of the citadel.

The porter showed him into a spacious room austerely furnished, and exactly as he remembered it from his previous visits. A few bright rugs were scattered on the tessellated floor, accenting the plain beauty of stone walls, bare except for two original images he recognized as the work of Solkar, the paternal great-grandfather of both himself and T'Pavan. There was a low table set near a recessed fire-pit, a black lacquered cabinet against the far wall and a few scattered floor stools -- but mostly space and sunlight. It was the room of an ascetic, simple, unadorned, a reflection of its owner.

From somewhere nearby there came the sounds of someone strumming a lyrette, the chords soft and accomplished, steeped in melancholy, the hands playing the strings those of a skilled musician. Such mastery was given to few and Spock did not require the sudden sweet voice that soared through the quiet room to recognize the artiste. For a long moment, he stood entranced, listening as the notes burst upward, a cascade of pure melody, subtly vocalized, so desolate in expression that he wondered at such grief. The phrase, repeated twice, altered to an even purer form as the well-known voice weaved a magic cloth of sound, plucking music from the very air, changing it to something absolute, supremely fascinating and complex, holding him in thrall. Eventually he was released from the spell as the melody died slowly away and he came back to the world to find himself fronting a small statuette carved in ebenie, the hard white wood of the flame tree. It was the image of a young boy dressed in hunting straps, a lirpa balanced in one outstretched hand. He knew without a doubt that it was himself and hesitantly reached out a finger to trace the small figure, his mind absorbed in the far-reaching implications of its presence there. Drawn against his will to the spring of his own being, the hard old wood like satin beneath his fingertips, he stared at the figurine uncertainly. So taken up was he in remembrance of that boy he had once been that he failed to notice for a moment that he was no longer alone. It was only some minute shift in the air, or perhaps the faint rustle of fine cloth against stone that alerted him and he turned swiftly, heart suddenly molten, pulses hammering violently in throat and temples.

T'Pavan stood regarding him, framed in a rounded archway, dressed in a clinging gown that left the creamy jade skin of her arms and one shoulder bare. It was austere enough but still rich, and swirled around her like gossamer mist, allowing the emerald sheen of her undertunic to glimmer through.

She indicated the figurine with an inclination of her head. "Does it bring back fond memories, Spock-neha, or would thee prefer to forget the past?"

Her movements as she entered the room had the unmistakable quality of nobility, the absolute conviction of one who has never had to use caution or humility in her dealings with other people, and she met his gaze with an authority that came only by birth.

Spock, ignoring the question, raised his hand in salute, eyes fixed firmly upon hers, meeting her on equal terms, his inner turmoil hidden from any but the most intensive scrutiny.

"Greetings, Keh'sarin T'Pavan. I come to serve."

And if she had expected a somewhat less formal greeting, her disappointment was not obvious. Nevertheless a small, rueful smile mocked his courtesy, flickering at the corners of her generous mouth, her eyes aglow with what Spock took to be ironic amusement. She was extraordinarily beautiful, he observed less than dispassionately, even to someone who was notorious for failing to notice such ephemeral distinctions. Her skin was pale and delicate against a sweep of ink-black hair tumbling loosely over that one bare shoulder, held only by a fragile coronet of gold wires studded with tiny green gemflowers. Her features were patrician and finely cut, her deep-set green eyes brilliantly aware, but there was also something ruthless, even slightly cruel in the look she bestowed upon him, a determination that belied her slender body and warned him to be cautious.

"I am honored by thy service, cousin," she said finally. "But once we met with less protocol. I would prefer that, at least, had not changed."

Conscious of his gaze upon her, she moved over to the statuette, idly traced the smooth outline as Spock had done. Of course, her fingers knew it intimately line for line and feature for feature, but since she had made it there had been little chance to compare the carved face with that of the living. The likeness was there, she was pleased to note, although she had carved a boy not yet grown. Spock was now a man, and further a man who had found in measure the certainty he had lacked even six years before. That pleased and saddened her at the same time.

"Thee did not accompany thy Captain when he attended us. My father was disappointed at thy absence."

"There were duties aboard the Enterprise that needed my attendance."

"Of course." The devilish glint was in her gaze as she turned to face him, searching his features for any chink in his awesome defenses, wanting to be sure of him, although still reluctant to lead him into the trap that she so skillfully baited. Fiercely she reminded herself of T'Pavahna, knowing that she must proceed with the charade, that she had little choice. Spock was a man, capable of taking care of himself and Vahna was only a child -- her child! She inclined her head, lowering perfect lids over her wide-set electric green eyes. "It has been a long time."

"Six years, three months and four days."

"So," she murmured softly. "And in six years, three months and four days thee has still to forgive me."

Spock's expression did not alter. "I am at a loss, Keh'sarin. Was there something to forgive?"

When she laughed, it was without humor. "An illogical question, Spock? If thee felt there was nothing to forgive why, in all these years since we last met have thee not sent me word? We were friends from childhood. More than friends. Six years ago that ended. By thy choosing."

Spock's eyes hooded, concealing anything of his innermost thoughts. When he replied his words, spoken without inflection, nevertheless revealed the injury she had done him. "The circumstances of our last meeting -- and subsequent parting -- was reason enough. We are what we are, T'Pavan. I did not see that quite so clearly then. Thee always had the ability to cloud my judgment."

He looked away, unable to continue the pretense, his dark eyes confused, his thoughts in disarray as if he had suddenly awakened from some disturbing dream. "It was erroneous for me to come here. No useful purpose can be served. I will return to the Enterprise."

"With no cho'wa, harmony between us?" T'Pavan kept her voice level with an effort, but the mockery was plain. "Would thee so insult the House of Es'sarhan? Have I so disgraced thee, cousin?"

It was a challenge Spock could not ignore with impunity. Protocol had to be observed, the game of m'hekteth, of honor, had to continue in the Traditional Way, both of them conforming to the rules that governed each movement and each phrase, and protected their individual integrity. Spock inclined his head in acknowledgment.

"I apologize for my impropriety, Keh'sarin." Vulkhanir calm disguised his bitter anguish. "I have foolishly disrupted the serenity of the House, thy kah. For that I ask forgiveness."

T'Pavan solemnly met his gaze, her reply obligatory, a ritual politeness. "The fault was mine, cousin. In the Family all is silence. No more will be said of it."

She lifted both hands, palms out, her expression dispassionate. Hesitating only fractionally, Spock placed his own palms flat against hers, feeling the jolt as their flesh contacted but refusing to let his full alarm show.

"Spock, parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched. I have been waiting."

His reply was distant, cool and aloof, but it was only his well-schooled reflexes that kept his agitation in check. "T'Pavan, parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched. We meet."

"It is time for us to talk, Spock-neha. I would be honored if thee would be my guest. If it is convenient."

Again there was no way in which he could refuse. "Of course."

They ate in the flagged court, the heady scent of the many night-flowering blooms heavily fragrant in the cooler evening air, the only sound that of the fountain as it spilled languorously into the long pool beside them, playing an elemental refrain of peace and harmony that soothed both their troubled spirits. For the moment, as they sat over the remains of the meal, their differences were of little consequence and there was a tranquillity between them where before there had been none.

T'Pavan, her green gaze remote in the soft radiance of the globe lights adjoining the pool, bowed to Spock who sat seiza opposite her, and poured another thimble of potent sheekuya into the translucent bowl, leaving her own empty as before. She offered the beverage with both hands, her right forefinger and thumb delicately holding the bowl out to him, the little finger of her left hand touching the underside -- her movements a ritual performance, as carefully choreographed as those of a dance.

Spock took the proffered fruit wine with equal composure, appreciative of the fragile beauty of the bowl as he raised it to his lips, enjoying the smooth bite of the mellow liquid as it slipped down his throat. He offered the bowl back and once more T'Pavan bowed, filling it from the decorative china flask she kept nearby. She had served him throughout the meal, graceful and attentive as she assisted him, making sure he was given the choicest delicacies from the many small dishes arranged on the simple lacquered table that lay between them. She sat back onto her heels, surrounded by the plumb cushions strewn about the stone flags, eluding Spock's watchful gaze as the stubborn memories refused to be pushed aside. However, feeling the strength of his scrutiny she started out of her dark thoughts.

"Will thee take more prusah kisan, or some khabitah, Spock-neha?"

He declined courteously enough. "No, I thank thee, T'Pavan. I have grown unaccustomed to such fare. Thy hospitality shames my appetite."

Again she bowed low, reaching out to strike the chochin with its felt-covered hammer. The bell-like chime pulsed, summoning the maid and even before the sound had fully died away into silence, T'Pahsen had appeared. The girl flicked a stealthy glance in Spock's direction.

"Noble lady?"

"Please take these things away, samah. Bring a carafe of riman. Also more sheekuya, the flask prepared earlier, if you will. And fruit."

Quick and unobtrusive, the girl cleared the dishes from the table, stacking them with skillful ease before carrying them out. Spock and T'Pavan both, waited in silence, reluctant to acknowledge the ending of the meal, the ceremonial performance that had been a gesture of unity between host and guest. And yet, Spock sensed beneath T'Pavan's outward self-possession a growing restlessness, a mental agitation that was increasing moment by moment as the evening wore on and for which there was no logical explanation. His own expression composed, at least on the surface, he continued to observe her, his senses aroused beneath the mask he assumed, remembering the circumstances of his last visit to Nevas'ashar.

* * *

Six years, three months and fourteen days before, the Enterprise had reached Altair VI, only for Spock to realize that the ardor of pon-farr, the instinctive Vulkhanir mating urge, had continued to escalate. Despite T'Pring's Challenge and his fight with Kirk -- which he believed should have alleviated the manifestations of the plak-tow, the blood fever, bringing his body chemistry back to normal -- the tensions had slowly increased until the imbalance was again acute.

McCoy, on the alert for any such reaction, took the problem straight to Kirk who was right to worry as he confronted his subdued First Officer. "Would it help if you went back to Vulcan, Spock?"

Spock answered in the negative, his eyes shadowed and defenseless. "T'Pring will not accept me, Captain. Especially now that she is aware I won our combat through trickery."

McCoy bristled. "That 'trick' just happened to save Jim's life!"

"I meant you no insult, Doctor." Spock murmured. "But honor is prized more highly than life on Vulcan. I cannot -- will not -- ask this of T'Pring."

Appeased, McCoy nodded in understanding. In Spock's shoes, he would not have trusted T'Pring with his stamp collection, never mind his life. "If she's out, what about somebody else? There must be a woman you know who would ... who could..."

Kirk fixed him with a venomous stare that would have dropped a charging Gorn at twenty paces. McCoy flushed, embarrassed. "Damnit, Jim. I was only trying to help."

Spock looked attentively at his hands clasped tightly together on the briefing room table and relaxed his fingers by force of will alone. He had always been a reserved, quiet boy and his passage through the cruel years of early childhood on Vulkhanir had left its scars. Unlike his father, most Vulkhanir parents indulged their children to a certain extent until they passed through Kahs-wan. While he had been subject to a strict regime of training from the moment he could talk and understand, his contemporaries had the freedom to exercise their opinions, which they did to a substantial degree, especially when the subject under discussion was himself. His mother was a Tehr'n, and to his peers he had been an emotional Earther, unable to control any number of childish passions. He had tried to prove them all wrong by becoming more Vulkhanir than was the staunchest member of his father's race, at least outwardly, but they had seen through him. Spock reassured himself by adhering to the conviction that intelligence would prevail over bias, which also proved a false assumption. It was apparent on innumerable occasions that many of his peers and tutors were skeptical of his abilities. They expected him to fail and yet, when he succeeded, it was because his Earth blood had given him an unlooked for advantage. The situation was not conducive to long term friendships with either sex.

It was not until he had left Vulkhanir and joined Starfleet that he discovered Tehr'n women responded to him in a quite illogical way. Given the opportunity, they had a predilection for 'mothering' him or alternatively, seemed to believe he was the ideal focus for all their problems. Some, even when aware of his distaste at being touched, let their hands and bodies brush 'accidentally' against his, or behaved in a blatantly amorous manner that was inexplicable to his understanding. The more aloof and distant he behaved, the more abandoned they became in pursuit. Although he had found such behavior fascinating in the first instance, it had quickly become only an irritant. He could not reciprocate. In that at least, he was truly Vulkhanir. Without the imperative of pon-farr, there could be no joining, and while in that condition, a Human woman without the mind bond to sustain her, would not be strong enough to withstand either his sexual appetite or the mental assault that was likely to accompany it. Reluctantly he had to admit, "There is no one, Doctor."

Yet, even as he mumbled the words, a recollection buried for over eighteen years, burrowed its way into his conscious mind. Turning from the two pairs of watchful Human eyes, he examined the memory of the one person who might conceivably welcome him. Vulkhanir could not help him, nor any woman of Earth, but Nevas'ashar could, Nevas'ashar and T'Pavan.

He cried the name silently within, producing a sudden lurch of his heart, a tightening of his stomach muscles as heat abruptly burned along his nerves. He closed his eyes, a tremor shaking him as he recalled her voice; saw her mirrored within the darkness of his inner gaze. And fierce, violent hunger enveloped him in a vortex of sexual craving and desire. The sensation passed slowly, leaving in its wake the pain of absence, of incompletion.

"Spock, what is it? Have you thought of someone?"

Confused by the power of such raw emotion, it took a second or two before he dared answer, composing his voice with a supreme effort. He met Kirk's gaze briefly, finding only concerned warmth, a profound sympathy, in the hazel eyes.

"There is someone I knew in childhood. She may be sympathetic to my ... malady. However, our mission takes precedence, Captain. I cannot leave Altair at this time."

Kirk exchanged a swift, knowing glance with McCoy before pushing himself to his feet. "For once we'll do very well without you, Mr. Spock. You may be the best First Officer in the Fleet but even you aren't indispensable. Go and get your gear together. By the time you're through, we'll have some travel arrangements sorted out."

Within a matter of hours, Spock found himself comfortably berthed in a private cabin on board a small, independent Altairan freighter bound, quite astoundingly, for 40 Eridani, home space. It was only then Spock realized he had given Kirk the wrong impression. However, it proved a simple matter to persuade the freighter's captain to put him down on Nevas'ashar instead of Vulkhanir as Kirk had instructed.

Yet, once more on firm ground, and despite the coiling tightness within him, he did not try to seek out T'Pavan immediately. He knew that she would discern his affliction as soon as they met, could not help but perceive the agony that burned along his nerves, scorching blood, mind, and soul. He needed time to come to terms with what was happening, to think things through as far as he possibly could, before putting himself completely into the hands of a girl he had known in a different life time.

Therefore, he made for the mountains, tramping the rocky ridges and high slopes crowned with the abundant flame trees, the native flora ablaze with crimson and gold. He camped out beneath the stars hoping that exhaustion would bring peace, but his shame, the fear of rejection yet again, would not allow him to rest. Indecision goaded him. So many years had passed since he had last seen T'Pavan and he could not rely on the sporadic correspondence they had exchanged when he had first attended the Academy. His memories of her could be false, or she could have changed significantly. Even if she was still that same girl-child he had called friend, would she understand why he had come to her, or dismiss him with contempt, humiliated by his presumptuousness? He could not know until he saw her again. Then it would be much too late, for he was rapidly running out of time.

The night wore on as he fought himself, the need so long dormant, growing stronger, powerful, and impatient. Finally, he could no longer deny that he desired T'Pavan as he had never desired T'Pring, that he must have her or die. With that knowledge uppermost, he quickly made his way back towards civilization, his mood reckless, intent on his purpose, and uncaring now of the consequences.

He retained enough wit to realize, however, that he could not intrude unceremoniously upon her unannounced, with the dust, sweat, and weariness of the backwoods upon him. T'Pavan was Keh'sarin, Heir and First Consort, born to rule Nevas'ashar as her mother had done before her. She could not do other than consider it an insult if he should turn up on her doorstep like a vagabond.

Unlike Vulkhanir, the Nevas'asharn welcomed outworlders and it was not difficult to locate a place that offered lodgings. The room was sparse, tiny, but he needed little more than a sleeping dais and washing facilities. The concom unit he found hidden from direct view, proved a bonus. Once he had scrubbed himself clean, he dressed in the simply tailored sirwal, kibr, and shintiyan that was stowed away in his hand luggage, and finally turned to the con. He sat down, placing his hands over the code buttons, smooth, and cool beneath his fingertips, hesitating even then. He shook off his indecision, panic-stricken, punching in the numbers he needed to make his connection before he had time to vacillate further. A chime-tone sounded and although the screen remained blank, the cultured voice of a woman asked, "Who is calling?"

He answered with stiff formality. "Spock, son of Sarek, First Officer of the Federation starship U.S.S Enterprise. I would speak with Es'sarha Keh'sarin T'Pavan."

"One moment, Spock, son of Sarek."

There was a pause, and Spock leaned his hot forehead against the coolness of the com screen while he waited for T'Pavan to answer his call. His fingers were shaking and he ruthlessly used his strength of will to quell the tremors. He jerked upright as the remembered voice, thrilled and somewhat breathless, sounded beside his ear.

"Spock-neha, can it really be?"

The silver oblong of the screen shivered and disappeared. At first sight of T'Pavan's face, Spock could not stop the fiery pleasure surging through his veins, startled at the change in her appearance. He caught his breath, imprinting on his memory the shape of her face, the texture of her skin, the vibrant color of her green eyes. The last time they had met, on the eve of his departure for Starfleet Academy, she was still a half-wild, boy-like creature, indulged by her parents, headstrong and spoiled, so very different from any he knew on his homeworld. He remembered how generous she always was with him, how honest, and kind-hearted.

"Spock-neha," she repeated. "Are thee really a First Officer? Where is thy ship? And why have thee not come to Es'sarhan? Father."

"So many questions, lady," he interrupted swiftly, hiding the agony that sight of her had caused. "Must I answer them all now?" She smiled, her whole face alight, open, and eager, but he could not smile back. He ought to have known that he could not hope to conceal anything from that penetrating cat-like gaze. Without warning, she leaned closer to the screen, eyeing him with speculation, reading everything from his too rigid stance, the drawn and weary look of his face.

"Attend me, cousin, if thee will, and we will talk further. Es'sarhan welcomes thee, as always."

Spock inclined his head, gratified for her continued understanding, even after so many years, thankful that the empathy they once shared continued as if never interrupted. "The honor will be mine."

Admitted without question to an inner chamber on his arrival, the murmur of voices and the occasional sound of polite laughter floated into him. There were strains of music, a single thread of melody, lingering on the twilight air. Impatiently he stalked the room like a caged le-matya, distracted by the idle party chatter as he waited for T'Pavan, wondering how he could say what he must, ask what he had to ask, while she was occupied with other guests. Anger burned slow and hot, spiraling into murderous rage as he distinguished the obvious male cadences over the lighter intonations of female voices. Insane with fury, uttering a wild, animal cry, he sprang across the room, the thought of T'Pavan surrounded by rivals a spur to his abrupt and violent intentions.

From the far side of the chamber rose a flight of broad steps and T'Pavan appeared in the arch at the top of them, just as he reached it. To his eyes, she seemed to glow in the light from the room beyond. Over a white gown of finely pleated, transparent linen, she wore a long, sleeveless sirwal of emerald silk. A deep pectoral of crystal beryllium, set into silver, hung at her neck, and a high diadem of the same silver and emerald crowned her cloud of dark hair. Spock stopped short, the madness ebbing slowly as she looked down upon him in silence and he gazed back unmoving.

He had never seen her looking the way she appeared that evening, like a great Keh'sarin of ancient days, calmly majestic, her eyes appraising as she gauged his expression, the coiled spring tightness of his body. She was aware of his affliction, of course. He read the intimate knowledge from her impassive, patrician features, the way she greeted him with courteous understanding withholding, for his sake, the usual light embrace of fingers and palms while he fought the shame that washed over him in a hot tide, seeking a measure of composure. "Cousin, I welcome thee to my home."

"I am disturbing thee, lady." His voice was hoarse, his breath still rasping jerkily in his throat, aware of her in every cell of his body, intoxicated by her nearness. "Thee already has guests to attend."

It came out as an accusation, and he groaned inwardly at his own insolence and audacity, waiting for the contempt that must surely follow. Yet, she continued to look at him in gentle consideration, her generous lips curving in a tender smile.

"Acquaintances of my father, Spock-neha. Do not fear that we will be disturbed. Soon they will be gone."

"Gone?" he echoed, trying to escape the tendrils of confusion that wrapped him round.

"Thee has perhaps forgotten that it is chamsat'ash-ur. As you know, it is one of my father's rare pleasures to attend the first ash-ur'i performance."

Spock belatedly recalled past memories of chamsat'ash-ur, his own attendance of the ceremonies that culminated in the ancient drama of the ash-ur'i. The performance was long, lasting through the night, divided into five or six individual parts. Like meditation, immersion in ash-ur'i was to transcend the ordinary, the everyday, to lose oneself in the All. It was an experience few missed.

"Forgive me," he said, his hands nervously clenching into fists. "I was unaware of how far I had intruded. Thee must accompany thy father, of course."

The brilliant emerald eyes penetrated his disintegrating self-control, noted his lack of conviction. "Is that what thee really wants, Spock-neha?"

Spock flinched, too far gone in the blood madness to lie with any sincerity. His voice a tormented whisper, he admitted reluctantly, "No, T'Pavan I want... want..."

"Do not explain, cousin." She hushed him gently. "Kaiidth. What is, is. Come, there is food prepared for us. As for the rest -- we will take care of that in due time."

He followed her out into an open court where myriad stars shone out of a clear sky and the air was thick with the heady scent of flowers, still uncertain that she fully realized his dilemma. Globe lights flickered, illuminating a rectangular pool, and a low table set with food, luxuries he had not tasted for many years. But he was not hungry for food. He sank down upon a cushioned floor stool at T'Pavan's direction, accepting the bowl of sheekuya she handed to him, draining it in one gulp. And when it was empty, she filled it again, and again, responding in the way she had been taught from childhood, binding the demon that lurked behind his eyes.

"T'Pavan, I do not have the right to ... ask this of thee. We are not bonded."

Her eyes were tranquil, inviting him to sink into their cool depths, quench the fires that burned his soul. "Thee is friend to me, almost-brother. Should I forsake thee in thy need?"

"I am ashamed of my need," he whispered anxious and disturbed, his voice vibrating from the intensity of his emotion. With a groan of despair, he lowered his head, refusing to meet her steady gaze. "T'Pring challenged my right of bonding. She would not accept me."

"I know of what thee speaks, Spock-neha. No more needs to be said of it. Within the Family all is silence." In one flowing movement she was on her feet, extending a hand to him at last. "Let us walk the sands of Es'sarhan, Cousin."

Afraid to hope, Spock lifted his face, intensely aware of her in the hazy light, the fullness of her mouth, and the quick beat of the pulse at the base of her throat, the way her breasts lifted and fell at each quickened breath, the scent of her skin. But mostly he was aware of her heat, the tangible warmth that impelled his urgent nefandous desire. Shivers ran deep within him. His condition was known and accepted. T'Pavan, though still a child in many ways, was neither repulsed nor afraid. The plak-tow burned in his eyes, in his face, as he rose to his feet and took her proffered hand.

He could not control the shudders that constantly shook his lean frame as they walked hand in hand through the gardens of Es'sarhan, the fever escalating at the touch of her flesh upon his own. His blood resounded to the rhythm of his pounding heart, filling the very air with its booming double beat, a throbbing, heavy sound that threatened to overwhelm him.

As they reached the sands, T'Pavan loosed the vice-like grip of his fingers about her hand to slip free of her sandals and he followed her lead, only half aware of what he did, bereft at the abrupt severance. The shoreline was deserted, the sand still warm from the heat of the day, and the torpid phosphorescent waters of the sea hissed and surged around their naked feet as they wandered through the surf.

"Does thee remember, cousin, how first we met?" The sound of T'Pavan's voice came as a further shock and Spock was torn out of his chaotic self-absorption, trying to make sense of her words.

"I ... remember," he said thickly, his voice so husky with repressed longing that it hurt his throat.

"It was the Feast of Children, Ienh'ssel, and thee stowed away in Cousin Sirak's flyer because thy father had forbidden thee to attend." She laughed softly, tenderly, glancing up at him, her eyes luminous in the starlight, a little wild, a little sad that such days were gone.

In answer to that look, Spock moved closer to her side, without conscious volition, almost touching. "T'Pavan."

Her name seemed dragged from him, huskily deep, almost a plea, but she was not yet ready to hear.

"Thee entered the boat race through my teasing, although thee had never been aboard such a vessel before, and fell into the canal. Semnek was jealous and refused to rescue thee and so it was I who jumped in and pulled thee from the water."

At mention of her half-brother, her steps faltered and she turned towards Spock, her face suddenly childlike, imploring, acutely sensitive to him, of his warm breath stirring her hair, the hot and spicy fragrance of his skin, the feverish heat of his body subtly penetrating her thin layer of clothing. For a long moment, she stared up into his face, her imagination taking her down paths she had never previously wanted to tread. The sea at their feet sang an insistent, insidious rhythm and T'Pavan's pulses echoed it.

"Spock, I want thee to take me. Take me, now."

Spock's voice cracked with emotion, his heart leaping in a response so deep it was almost pain, the words torn out of him as all his barriers shattered into nothing.

"Lady, I do need thee." He shuddered as she swayed against him, driven by instincts she barely understood, sliding her fingers over his chest, insinuating them inside his robe, fumbling inexpertly at the closure of his kibr to caress his hot, hair-roughened skin.

Her touch wrenched an immense, deep-throated groan from him, yet he remained rigid, his hands balled into fists at his sides and T'Pavan realized that he was still holding himself in check despite the frenzy of plak-tow that ignited his brain and blood and heart, terrified of losing what little control he still retained. She looked wonderingly into his tense, weary face, her eyes skimming the angular points of his cheekbones, his gold-flecked brown eyes beneath the slitted lids, glazed and cloudy with passion.

"I am not afraid, Spock-neha," she whispered huskily as her hands glided up his rib cage, his skin on fire under her caressing fingertips, knowing it for truth as her concern dissolved in the furnace of his ardor.

His heart thundered in reply, rapid and uneven beneath her hands. "The madness, T'Pavan, I ... will do thee injury."

"Thee will not," she encouraged softly, with gentle concern. Locked together now, close but not close enough, their clothes an unbearable barrier, she felt him tremble. "I want thee, Spock-neha. I want all thee can give. Take me as thee must."

Her words undid all his determined resolve. With a feral cry, he swung her effortlessly up into his arms and carried her swiftly down the beach to where a secluded pavilion lay hidden among a stand of blood trees, known to them both since childhood. Lowering her onto a soft bed of leaves and drifted sand, blown in by the sea breeze, his trembling hand glided the length of her throat, along the sculptured plane of her shoulder, pushing at the pleated linen that covered her breasts. His fingers explored her flesh, urgent, hungry, and she stirred against him, reaching for his cheek, his temple, forming a tentative link between them. The soft folds of her gown settled around her hips, strange fires burning under her skin as he stroked her from breast to thighs, his touch fervent and intense. Inflamed by his caress, she embraced him in return, aware of her own ingenuousness, yet her naïve touch only served to arouse him more.

T'Pavan pushed his robes aside, a strange confidence surging through her, as she pulled him closer, the abrasive hair on his lean chest tantalizing her exposed nipples. His body was completely bare now and T'Pavan had a vague memory of tearing his robes apart to enable him to shrug more easily out of them. His skin gleamed in the starlight and she felt her remaining shyness evaporate as she explored his flat stomach, the thick pelt at the apex of his thighs. He groaned feverishly as she reached to stroke the flesh of his lower back, hands sure and unhurried, inciting the endocrine glands that lay just beneath the surface of his skin, and which produced the specific androgen that compelled his retracted genitals to descend.

She played him as she would her ka'ithirah, a finely tuned instrument, and he shuddered in response, reacting to her touch. She kneaded him with all her strength, running her fingers down his spine, over the smooth, velvety skin of his buttocks, and squeezed his burgeoning scrotum. Sweat streaked the skin of his chest and abdomen, matting the covering of hair into tight curls. His face was dark with blood, his pupils dilated. His genitals swelled and pulsed as she continued to stroke him.

Spock plunged into her at last and T'Pavan's mind exploded in a confusion of pure energy, an assault that swept through her female core in a howling firestorm. The unconstrained force battered at her unmercifully, thundered through her blood, roared in her ears, smothered, overwhelmed, and threatened to devour her. Waves of coruscating fire flared through her veins as she melted in the raging volcanic fury of his need, her identity reeling on the brink of oblivion.

It was a warning, a danger signal she could not ignore, and with a supreme effort, she isolated a fragment of her consciousness from the primitive compulsion that engulfed them both. While she cried out, blazing in the flames of their joint ardor, part of her psyche watched from a distance, observing with concern as Spock, in complete thrall to the plak-tow, arched above her, his spine bowed, his face a fierce mask as waves of frenzied pain-pleasure absorbed him.

The intellectual, remote processes of her mind remaining apart, came to her defense, binding the elemental demon, focusing the incandescent energy, and redirecting it into safer channels. As he strained for an end, teeth exposed in a violent grimace, she moved with him, feeling the hard urgency of his body, the expected pain flaring arrow-swift and piercing through her abdomen. She heard his hoarse throbbing cry vibrate through the pavilion as he reared up once more, eyes mere slits, before he finally collapsed, his chest heaving, breath coming in huge gasps.

He pulled away from her instantly, groaning her name as he buried his face in his hands, fighting his way free of the nightmare. However, she refused to part from him and caressed his shoulder, teeth grazing the smooth verdant skin, the beat of his heart like the pulse of the universe under her hand.

"Forgive me," he managed hoarsely. "Forgive me, T'Pavan."

She was amazed that he could combat the blood fever enough to talk. "There is nothing to forgive, my t'hy'la."

T'Pavan kneaded at the stiffness in his shoulders, her hands gliding along the bony protuberances of his spine, caressing and stroking the taut muscles of his lower back and the long, lean flanks. He stirred under her fingers, the hunger to possess her again gnawing at him, his body consumed by fresh desire. He tried to keep it within the bounds of his control but lacked the strength. His hands trembled on his knees as he attempted to disguise his growing unrest but T'Pavan was aware of his agitation. She clung to him, feeling the hard urgency of his flesh, the need that she did not wish to deny. "Thee must take me again, Spock-neha."

He knew it for the truth, though it was difficult to admit to the fact. Gently, she turned him to face her, reaching for his temple, initiating the mental linkage that enabled them to share sensation, their minds joining as their bodies came together with a fierce intensity, driven by a wild concupiscence. They were no longer separate bodies, one heartbeat thundered between them, and the throbbing passion of their union built toward a mutual orgasm rocking them with a violent delirium that neither of them could restrain.

Their last mating as morning approached set in motion a savage urgency, T'Pavan's body matching Spock's in the fierceness of need. They clung together as the night waned and the shimmer of dawn illuminated the pavilion, his breathing a twin to hers, their bodies poised on the edge of an excruciating pleasure that increased from moment to moment until, at last, T'Pavan cried out his name, the sound wrenched from her in a primal scream. He clasped her to him as the storm of feeling slowly subsided and they slid together into calmer waters, exhausted and replete.

* * *

Spock struggled up from his thoughts of the past, abruptly aware that T'Pavan had just spoken to him.

"I asked only if thee would perhaps take more sheekuya now, Spock-neha," she murmured placidly, lips curved in an eloquent smile. He became conscious that they were alone again. The maid had produced the wine and departed, all without him being aware of it. Still enmeshed in his memories, he accepted the sweet, fermented essence and swallowed it, mindful of his throbbing heart and dry throat, his pounding blood suffused with heat. Again, she offered the wine, her fragrant perfume carried to him on the light breeze, her cat-like eyes glowing as if she was aware of his thoughts.

Spock closed his eyes, opened them again, befuddled, and light-headed. "Thee should not serve me now. It is undignified."

"Should I not?" she asked, apparently unconcerned, holding the bowl out to him, filled with riman now, and when their fingers accidentally brushed, he jerked away as if shaken by her touch. T'Pavan, seeing his reaction, felt her heart turn a little in her breast, knowing that her own fragile calm was a charade, and that if she did not act soon all would be lost. As it was, countless times during the meal she had been on the point of confessing everything, of asking for his aid, but the knowledge that T'Pavahna's life was at stake kept the words unsaid. Spock had no reason to help her now and even if he did not refuse outright, he would demand details from her that she would find politically as well as socially embarrassing. The truth would cost too high a price, one that she was unwilling to pay. The game must continue to its inevitable conclusion. Kaiidth. What was, was.

Yet, looking at him with the lamp light making deep pools of his dark eyes, she knew quite clearly what had possessed her on that night six years ago, the naïve madness which had made her throw all caution to the wind, grasping childishly at a few hours of stolen happiness that Tradition would soon deny her for the rest of her life. She had not taken the time to consider what impact her gift would have on Spock beyond the moment, she had known only that she wanted him as he wanted her, and that she would not be vetoed in that desire.

When he had asked her to be his bondmate, it had the affect of icy water dashed into her face. Of course, she ought to have realized, knowing Spock and his ubiquitous sense of duty, that once he had committed himself so completely and intimately he would not be able to walk away and let go as he should, as he must.

Even if he had not realized it then, T'Pavan had known that he could never truly belong to anyone, least of all herself, despite what they had shared. He was his own creature, not free to give himself to her or anyone else. He had been struck with wanderlust, the need to travel, and would never be content with the role of husband and father, encumbered with the irksome duties of a planet-bound existence. His life was his ship, his Captain, and the obligations of a first officer in the Starfleet.

Looking back, T'Pavan appreciated that she could have shown Spock more kindness when she refused him, but she had been a child, as torn by divided emotions as he was. Nevertheless, she had hidden behind her rank, behaved with arrogant insensitivity when she had rejected his offer.

"Thee is a good man, Spock-neha, friend from childhood, almost-brother. Nevertheless, thee has forgotten who I am. I cannot become thy consort or thy bondmate."

She had watched as shock made him recoil, his back stiff with sudden tension, bewildered by her imperious tone.

"I do not understand, Keh'sarin."

"In two days I go to the appointed place in Chennoch to be joined with Semnek."

He had looked back at her in despair. "If this is so, why did thee welcome me, knowing that I had no prospect, and that I could not refuse the gift thee offered? Thee knew how it was with me, T'Pavan."

"Was I to ignore thy need? Should I have condemned thee to die in madness and pain?" She faced him beseechingly, one hand raised in a gesture of supplication.

"I do not want Semnek. I am afraid of what our bonding will bring. However, because I am Keh'sarin and also Es'sarha, Heir and First Consort, that is my fate. Kaiidth. I wished to comfort thee and therefore gain comfort. Was that so cruel, Spock-neha?"

Her eyes pleaded with him for understanding but he would not hear. He had pushed himself to his feet, put distance between them with one faltering step after another, but she had known, as he would eventually come to recognize, that wherever he went, however much space he put between them, he would never be truly complete again. Spock was a part of her as she was a part of him and some fraction of each of them would always be achingly aware of the other, whether they were desolate or content, wretched or euphoric. Not even death could separate them now. Although they were not bonded, something irrevocable had formed between them, their old empathic relationship widening into something more, ancient, and deep, forged in the fiery blaze of plak-tow. So it had been in the Beginning, and so would it be for all time.

"Perhaps as the son of a mere Vulkhanir noble, I lack good manners in not taking joy in thy gift as thee expected, Lady. I am a proud man, and thee must give me time to rediscover the respect I once held for myself."

He slipped into his robes, picked up his sandals, and dismissed himself from her company with a perfunctory inclination of his head. T'Pavan watched him depart with his lean back ramrod straight, stiff under her gaze as he strode back up the shimmering beach, the wavelets brushing sympathetically over his bare toes. That same morning he took his leave of Nevas'ashar to rendezvous with the Enterprise, abandoning her to the lingering tangle of emotions and the knowledge that she had lost him forever. The scars on her soul had by no means healed fully even now. Spock ... parted from me and never parted, always touching and touched.

Now the wheel had turned full circle and here they were again, the betrayer and the betrayed, playing out a further bout in the Great Game, where there could be no victor.

She offered him the sheekuya out of the new flask, and he took it, tasting the pleasant coolness ... and the hint of something else, a subtle tang, foreign to the sweet wine of Vulkhanir, a bitter, slightly acrid flavor. Spock paused, the bowl still held to his lips, analyzing the aftertaste of it on his tongue. T'Pavan was sitting very still, watching him.

"There is something in the wine."

"It is gagny'soJ s'Hinmai, a soporific. Thee has heard of it, perhaps?"

"S'Hinmai?" he repeated, eyes widening in surprise. Translated from the original Klingon it literally meant 'damned food from the s'hin,' an intriguing little aquatic vertebrate that puffed itself up to beach ball size when endangered. The Klingons regarded the fish's testes as a delicacy but its liver and ovaries contained a potentially lethal toxin that spread through the flesh unless deftly removed. At least two hundred Klingon males died from s'hin poisoning each season. A highly diluted derivative was in use as an effective sleep-inducing medicine throughout the Empire and beyond.

"Why?" Spock asked, breathless and disorientated, his voice slurring, his hand unsteady as he tried to place the bowl on the table. It fell from his fingers when he swayed drunkenly, shattering into fragments on the stone flags of the court.

"It was ... necessary." Though spoken softly, T'Pavan's voice reverberated through Spock's skull, crashing through his head like the wind tossed surf upon the cliffs at Chennoch.

"I do not ... understand." He raised a trembling hand to one temple, head spinning as he staggered clumsily to his feet. For a moment, one long frozen moment, when the flags seemed to be slipping from beneath him, he looked into her face. It seemed to him strangely calm, composed, and serene, the electric green eyes unaffected by his dilemma. "What has thee done, T'Pavan?"

Above him, the starlight shook and dissolved, transformed by a deeper lividity that engulfed him whole. He called out her name a second time but it was too late. The air roared in his ears, and a light burst behind his eyelids while he whirled in confusion, dragged down into the waiting darkness until Spock, the son of Sarek, was no more.

* * *

They came just after the temple bells sounded the twelfth hour and she waited for them, kneeling in the darkness, Spock's head cradled against her breast. The servants had all gone, leaving her quarters empty and deserted. Furtive and ill at ease, she heard them in the darkness, fearing even now a trap. Yet, there were no traps. For her enemies she had kept perfect faith! The thought made her smile sardonically, welcoming the twist of remorse sharp as a knife blade as she gently eased Spock onto the flags, rising to her feet as someone softly tried the doors to the court. There was a hurried, whispered question, followed by a brusque command before they opened wide. The Klingons entered Es'sarhan as if they belonged there, sure now that she had not played them false and she met them with contempt, hating herself no less than she did them. They came and looked upon Spock lying defenseless before them, indifferent to him, seeing only a means to an end as she had.

"So, it is done. My Lord will be pleased, Noble Lady," the Klingon sneered mockingly at her. "The Vulqangan is a great prize."

"What do you intend with him?" T'Pavan asked, displaying a disinterest she did not feel.

The Klingons grin widened. "We shall not harm him, Lady ... overmuch. We must wait and see if his Captain feels the same."

He reached inside his tunic and took out a small hide pouch, tipping a tiny, faceted crystal onto the palm of one dark, calloused hand. "This is a transputer and once implanted in your Vulqangan friend, he will have to obey ... or lose his sanity. A cruel price to pay for a few sweet words from a pretty woman, would you not agree, Lady?"

T'Pavan's face remained enigmatic, though she could feel her fast beating heart, thumping unevenly. "It may not work with him."

The Klingon laughed a low, sardonic chuckle. "Have faith, Noble Lady. It will work well enough. We have tested this little device too many times for it to fail us now."

He signaled imperiously to his men and they lifted Spock between them. As T'Pavan watched, he stirred feebly, his eyelids flickering as he moaned, fighting towards consciousness.

The Klingons eyes widened in interest. "Does he try to resist even now? We must be swift about our preparations. Take him away."

He bowed swiftly to T'Pavan, a brief, derisive salute. "Farewell, Lady. Do not look so afraid. You have my Lord's word that your agreement with him will be honored. When we are sure of our prize, your daughter's welfare is assured. Sleep well."

And she was alone once more.

Chapter 4: Enterprise.

Spock stepped from the transporter pad of the Enterprise, his expression remote and tight-lipped, still impeccably dressed in his formal Vulkhanir attire.

Ramos, the young transporter ensign moved from behind the console as if to meet him, dark, Latin eyes, speculative. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Spock."

"Ensign." Spock's eyebrow arched as he returned the young crewmember's regard, rather less warmly. "Have the Nevas'asharn artifacts been transported yet and is the Captain aboard?"

"Yes to both questions, sir." Ramos grinned, his eyes full of mischief. Ship's scuttlebutt had been rife over the last couple of days since the First Officer's precipitate departure planetward. Somehow, news of Spock's unusual call had circulated at unprecedented speed through the all-talk channels of the Enterprise, and only someone who was blind, deaf or brain damaged would have missed the comprehensive and wide-ranging gossip that had engaged everyone's attention from then on. Ramos, lucky enough to be the one to beam Spock back up, knew he was going to be in demand from a bevy of female crew who would want to know the least little detail, from what the Vulcan was wearing to how he appeared, either happy or sad, dejected or in high spirits. Though how Ramos was supposed to know that he had yet to determine. No doubt he would find a way if it kept his audience sweet.

"The Captain was just inquiring about you, Mr. Spock. He was worried when you failed to check in--"

Failed to check in? The First Officer's expression did not change and yet, behind the façade, Spock felt a shiver of unexpected disquiet provoked directly by Ramos' comment. There was a noticeable increase in his heart rhythm, and a sudden shift of perspective as all his attention focused on the young ensign. The transporter room and all its fixtures dimmed and he felt an overriding and wholly illogical panic as he continued to stare at the boy standing uncertainly before him.

"Mr. Spock, are you okay? What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Spock echoed flatly, suddenly aware of his clothing, the heaviness of Vulkhanir robes instead of his Starfleet uniform. "Nothing is wrong, Ensign."

Unreasonably, inexplicably his fear increased, became a ferocious sandstorm that raged about him until he was unable to think. His mind stuttered in anguish trying to make sense of what was happening to him but the terror was too acute. His breath hammered in his throat as he shuddered, swayed, and rocked forward on the balls of his feet. He thrust out an unsteady hand, grasping at the edge of the transporter console, clinging to it for support.

"You're unwell, sir. Let me get Doctor McCoy--"

Spock straightened, stared at him out of deep-set, satanic eyes, his winged brows drawing together in a frown. "I said there is nothing amiss, Ensign Ramos."

"I heard you, Mr. Spock, but I still think--"

Spock's expression hardened perceptively, his voice assuming an inflexible edge that Ramos had never heard before. "You are not required to 'think', Ensign. Do I have to remind you who is in authority here?"

Ramos' jaw dropped in surprise. He came stiffly to attention, his eyes directed forward. "No, sir, Mr. Spock."

The First Officer paused, growing disinterested, aloof, and cold, as he looked the Ensign over. "Very well. I shall excuse your insubordination this time. Inform the Captain of my arrival. I shall report for duty in precisely fifteen minutes. Is that understood?"

"Aye, understood, Mr. Spock. Sir." And Ramos only began to breathe freely again when the First Officer finally left the room.

Spock found himself outside the transporter room door although he could not recollect leaving. The corridor was deserted and he leaned back against the support of the bulkhead, his heart rate increasing from fast to frantic as his robes once again attracted his attention. Somber colored, heavy and substantial, the sirwal lapped his booted ankles, reminding him of -- of --

A strange burning, prickling sensation washed over his scalp and Spock rubbed at his temple, clenching his teeth as an explosion detonated deep within his cranium, followed by a further violent stab of pain that made him lurch dizzily. Intense fear swamped him again, and he suddenly realized that he faced a terrible menace. He was unsure of what it was or where it came from, only knowing that he must flee or perish where he stood. It was irrational, even perverse, but the terror allowed him only one thought. Escape or die.

From then on he was insensible to everything around him as the ship faded away and he plummeted through a nondescript location, robes flying, long legs carrying him heedlessly along. It was day shift and there must have been other crewmembers in the corridors that he shunned, or evaded, or sidestepped, but he did not remember. He reacted only to the need for escape, blind and deaf to all but the fear that pursued him.

Minutes later when the haze cleared, he found himself slumped against the door of his quarters, knees drawn up to his heaving chest, arms crossed protectively over his head. His throat ached, his mouth was dry, and he was at a complete loss as to how he had arrived there. Gradually the panic diminished, his heartbeat steadied and he found himself breathing almost normally. He raised his head, blinked, and looked wearily around at his darkened cabin. The weighty material of the sirwal was smooth beneath his fingertips.

"Computer," he said, clearing his dry throat, his voice strained and husky as if with disuse. "Bring up the lights, Vulcan normal daylight."

Instantly, bright, ochre-colored light bathed the room. The relief he felt was almost immediate and he pushed himself to his feet, ashamed and embarrassed by the slight tremors of disquiet that still shivered deep within him. He strode over to his desk, sat down before the computer station. His robes, the heavy material of the sirwal, he felt sure, had been the trigger to his devastating terror. However, he had no idea why such insanity should possess him?

Why should the sight of his own Vulkhanir clothing overwhelm him with such horror? Baffled and confused, he strained to remember the scene in the transporter room but it remained unclear, as insubstantial as a dream -- or nightmare, he conceded somewhat ruefully. What had he been doing there, dressed as he was, and out of uniform, beaming down or beaming back from--

He almost had it, but an abrupt tingling across the top of his scalp warned him not to pursue that line of thought. Quietly, he began to recite aloud the forty-fifth prayer of T'Lala concentrating on the sonorous ancient Vulkhanir words of the chant celebrating calmness and serenity, while at the same time manually accessing the records of Doctor McCoy's interspecies cyclopaedic medical dictionary. He found the entry he was looking for without difficulty. It told him no more than he already knew, and yet to see the words in hard print proved alarming. He read the close-written information while his lips continued to chant the rhythmic mantra of his home world.

"Fugue: a pathological amnesiac condition during which one is apparently conscious of one's actions but has no recollection of them after returning to a normal state. This serious personality dissociation, characterized by leaving home or known surroundings on impulse, is a condition usually resulting from severe mental stress and may persist for as long as several months."

The back of his neck was suddenly damp, but his fingers remained steady on the computer control. A brain tumor was his initial prognosis, a familiar affliction endured by the typically cerebral Vulkhanir, and one easily eradicated by a simple mind technique if caught early enough. It needed only an hour of undisturbed meditation for him to enter a shallow healing trance and deal with the disorder. A solution that would, moreover, eliminate any need for the involvement of Doctor McCoy. With a definite course of action outlined, he stripped off his robes, folding them into a neat pile at the end of his bed, before heading for the sonic shower. Minutes later, with precisely thirty seconds to go before his fifteen-minute deadline, he entered an empty turbolift, dressed in a fresh uniform, his hair immaculately groomed, ready to resume his duties on the bridge.

* * *

"But Jim, you must have noticed it yourself," McCoy complained to Kirk a few days later, with the Enterprise headed back towards Starbase 12 to deliver her priceless cargo of Nevas'asharn artifacts. "Spock is definitely acting irrationally!"

"Come on, Bones," Kirk objected, smiling at the worried look on his Chief Medical Officer's expressive face. "Spock irrational? That's almost a contradiction in terms."

"I know, I know." McCoy grinned wryly. "It sounds unlikely even to me -- but there is something wrong."

"His medical checked out I take it?"

"His most recent medical checked out. He was, as always, in perfect/perfect health," Bones acknowledged. "Let's just say I have a hunch where your Vulcan first officer is concerned. And I've learned to trust in my intuition over the years -- especially when it relates to Spock. Believe me, Jim, something's way off the line."

Kirk sighed deeply, ran a hand through his hair, letting his fingers rest on the back of his neck. He looked up finally, the amused glint still in his hazel eyes.

"You think this has something to do with his -- uh -- visit planet-side."

"He was gone two whole days and without checking in. Definitely 'unSpocklike' behavior, wouldn't you agree? And not even mention of a logical reason why. I tell you, I don't like it, Jim. Not one little bit."

Kirk smiled. "I still don't see how two days on Nevas'a could have affected him. Although, I guess, he has been a little more distracted than is usual--"

"Distracted," McCoy exploded, setting the glass of brandy he had been nursing, onto Kirk's desk. "He's been downright broody ever since coming back on board. And what was he doing down there, that's what I want to know? I got the impression the last place he wanted to be was on Nevas'a. Or was it in connection with that all-important research of his?"

Kirk pulled at an ear lobe in sudden embarrassment. "I made a few -- uh -- discreet inquiries about that myself. It seems Lieutenant Uhura had a message from the planet soon after we left. Spock took it in his quarters."

"Oh?" McCoy's sharp blue eyes widened. "Did Uhura know who it was?"


McCoy leaned forward in his chair expectantly. "So, who was it?"

"Apparently an old friend from way back," Kirk replied innocently.

"I didn't know he had any!"

"Bones, really."

"Are you gonna tell me or not?"

"T'Pavan. The Ambassador's daughter."

McCoy gaped. "A female friend? The Heir to Nevas'a? Now that would explain a lot -- if Spock were anybody else! As it is--!"

"You're letting your prejudice show, Doctor," Kirk laughed. "But I agree, I can't exactly imagine my erstwhile, unemotional First Officer going hoopdie-swoop over any woman. Not in two days! Spock's too -- too--"

"Logical?" McCoy asked, grinning ingenuously.

"That's -- the word." Kirk grinned back, then frowned, "You really think he's gone broody?"

"He's got all the symptoms." McCoy's answering chuckle was irreverent. "He's not eating. Can't sleep, if his prowling around the ship is any indication, and what about these damned battle drills he keeps springing on us all? I've not had a good night's sleep myself for days. Half the ship's crew is on a charge because of him -- and the other half are walking on eggshells waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm telling you your crew is getting spooky, Jim."

"It's gone that far?" Kirk asked. Now that he thought about it, there had been more than the usual glassy-eyed, shell-shocked junior officers left in Spock's wake.

"Yep, it's gone that far," McCoy agreed, twirling a thimbleful of liquor around his glass.

"Surely it's too soon for--?" Kirk refrained from putting his daunting suspicion actually into words. However, McCoy wasn't about to hum and haw on the essentials.

"The beginning of pon-farr?" He shrugged. "Who's to know? After the last time I just don't want to take any chances."

Kirk sighed again, rubbing a hand across his forehead. "Have you spoken to him about this?"

"God knows I've tried," McCoy answered. "So far he's given me the run-around. Last time I cornered him, he had the Vulcan gall to accuse me of persecution!"

Well, on that he might just have a point, Kirk thought. Aloud he said, "I gather you want me to have a word."

"You betcha, Captain, sir!" McCoy was abruptly cheerful again as he swallowed the last of his brandy in one satisfied gulp. "A fatherly chat from you might just tip the balance."

"Bones, he's six years older than I am!"

"In age, maybe." McCoy grinned. "But we're talking experience here, Jim."

"Get outta here, Doctor!"

"Okay, I'm going." He pushed himself to his feet, sauntered over to the door, and paused. "Uh, don't forget, Jim --"

"Hmmm?" Kirk was already reaching for the intercom that would connect him to the bridge.

"Be gentle with him, huh?"

Kirk groaned in mock disgust. "Bones!"

"Don't worry, Captain. You'll do just fine. I'll be waiting in sickbay--"

However, when Kirk finally got through to the bridge, Spock was no longer there. It was Uhura in the center seat.

"Uhura, this is Mr. Spock's duty watch, isn't it?"

"Aye, it is, Captain. He left the bridge--" She paused to check, "five minutes ago."

"Did he give you a reason, Lieutenant?"

"No, sir. I thought -- that is, I assumed, he was acting on your orders, Captain."

"How did he seem, Lieutenant?" Kirk asked seriously. "Was he preoccupied, or -- anxious?"

"Now that you mention it, he did seem more thoughtful than usual, even a little vague, sir."

The frown creasing Kirk's forehead deepened. "Put out a general call, Lieutenant Uhura. I want Mr. Spock to report to sickbay immediately."

"Aye, sir."

* * *

Somewhere at the back of Spock's mind, there remained the memory of leaving the bridge while still officially being on duty, but the information was meaningless to him. Deep in his own introspection, his eyes curiously unfocused, he strode deliberately into Engineering and without haste, made straight for the control computers that stood partly screened from the rest of the department by a grilled partition.

Unobserved by the night crew, he slipped quietly behind the screen and began to unscrew the panel on one of the primary consoles. With a look of intense concentration on his lean and pallid features, Spock's long fingers played like a virtuoso over the closely packed banks of the central processing unit's selectors, sequences and regulators while the computer continued to hum busily, relays clicking and beeping as his new instructions were assimilated without question or alarm. Outwardly, nothing changed; the telltales on the main boards went on blinking normally, the Enterprise deviated not one iota from her scheduled course; the note of the engines remained constant. However, thanks to Spock, the ship was a time bomb primed to explode, a bomb at the command of the Klingons.

Spock straightened from his task his eyes refocusing as the fugue passed and he was once more aware of his surroundings. He stared at the uncovered console, his heart freezing in sudden cold terror, knowing instinctively what he had been about. A cry escaped him, cut short as pain discharged inside his skull, and he fell to his knees, his hands pressed to his temples as he tried to make sense of what he had done.

A voice shouted inside his mind -- escape or die -- and everything around him started to dissolve. He knew that he could not stand before it long, his resolve swiftly melting, as panic swooped in to claim him. Although not a fanciful man, his heart hammered so hard against his lower ribs that he half believed it would burst through flesh and bone. With a groan of despair, he reached back in among the connections and thyristor switching loops, his fingers trembling, his eyes dazed with pain, working blindly, fighting against the compulsion that held him.

Drained, shivering with more than cold, he fixed the panel back into place. As he pushed himself to his feet, rubbing the back of his neck where pain coiled and twisted footsteps sounded behind him.

"Mr. Spock?" It was Montgomery Scott, the Chief Engineer, none too pleased apparently at the First Officer's intrusion into what he considered personal territory. "I didnae see ye enter."

"That is because you weren't meant to see me, Mr. Scott." Spock's brow arched as a brief smile touched his lips. However there was nothing humorous about the look in his eyes. Dark and unwavering, they fixed menacingly on Scott.

The Chief Engineer's lips pursed, Scottish burr hardly noticeable, but anger quite plain. "Oh, I wasnae, was I? And what is that supposed to mean?"

"Your Department's results in the last series of battle drills have been sadly lacking, Mr. Scott. I came to find out why."

"You were spying?" Scott's voice was no longer angry, it was outraged. "Why, you green-blooded excuse for a--"

Spock's eyebrows flared upwards as Scott choked on the rest of what he was about to say. "Please, continue, Mr. Scott. I understand how Humans need to 'blow off steam', especially when frustrated by events. Is that not correct?"

Scotty's lips tightened. It wasn't just steam he wanted to blow off. Not that the First Officer would particularly miss that part of his anatomy, although recent gossip on the all-talk channel had intimated otherwise! However, he knew that Spock was only waiting for the slightest excuse to put him on a charge. Most likely working on it right then from the expression -- or lack of it -- on his face. One more rash word from him and he would see only the inside of the brig for the next few days.

He wondered silently what was wrong with the First Officer. The Vulcan certainly had acquired a devil on his shoulder since returning to the ship. Perhaps his behavior was due to 'woman trouble' as scuttlebutt none too discreetly implied, although Scott could not quite believe in that explanation. Spock had never before been swayed by any female as far as Scotty knew, though the First Officer had a strange effect on many of them, Nurse Chapel being a case in point with her daft infatuation. He had always thought that a serious waste of a good woman, often wondering why Spock continued to let it go on. It would only need a word or two to end Chapel's misery and let her move on.

However, Nurse Chapel apart, though they had never become friends, Scott had more than a sneaking regard for the Vulcan. He was a perfectionist, like Scotty, who had little patience for what he considered indolence, ineptitude, or carelessness. The First Officer could be scathing on occasion, and if he caught some young crewmember shirking their responsibility, he made sure they knew about it -- exactly as Scott would do. But to run the whole ship ragged with drills and sneak inspections and then to come down to Engineering to spy on his Department as if he was still wet behind the ears--! That he would not abide.

If that's what he had truly been about. Scotty's eyes narrowed as he thought back to the start of the encounter. Spock had been doing something to the control computer, had he not? Abruptly suspicious, his glance slid past the First Officer to settle on the primary console panel.

Spock's eyes smouldered out of his hawk like face; his lips thinned to a bloodless line, Mephistopheles incarnate. "Is there something more I can do for you, Mr. Scott?"

All the First Officer needed, Scott thought, was a pair of horns and a pitchfork, and he could almost believe he had died and gone directly to Hell. He shook off the fancy and cut directly to the point. "Don't give me any of that bullshit about battle drills, Mr. Spock. You were fiddlin' wi' control. Deny it if ye can."

Spock surfaced as if from a bad dream to find himself in what appeared to be a heated conversation with Chief Engineer Scott, heated on Scott's side only he trusted, groaning inwardly, for he could recall absolutely nothing of the conversation so far.

"Control--?" he repeated, hoping that Scott would elucidate further. What was happening to him?

"Aye, Mr. Spock, ye were fiddlin' wi' control. Ye heard me the first time, I'm thinkin'. What were ye about when I chanced across ye just now?"

Abruptly, Uhura's voice, sounding over the intercom, cut through the tension. "Bridge to Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock, please acknowledge."

Massaging the back of his neck and ignoring Scott, Spock crossed to the wall unit. He punched the control. "Spock here, Lieutenant."

"Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk orders you to report to sickbay immediately." Her voice was crisp, business-like, without any emotional overtones. "Doctor McCoy is waiting. Uhura out."

The illogical fear returned with a vengeance, overwhelming him with even less warning than on the previous occasions -- the ones he was able to recall at all. In an instant, his attention focused entirely on the speaker grid as the room faded out, diluting into vagueness. Terror rushed at him from out of the murk, stark wings of apprehension, thrashing wildly about him --

Spock heard himself whispering the words of T'Lala's prayer as if it were a talisman against the dark.

Sho'eyb chiorehn angsar ikat,

Essar sujatah' sondeth rai-mai,

Tsoi ryhas moha ridh asaht,

Pailinh kantha chah'karavai.

Oblivious to Scotty watching, he leaned his forehead against the cool metal and plastic of the bulkhead, pressing the heels of his hands against his throbbing temples, his scalp on fire. Escape or die, the cry rang in his ears.

Footsteps came echoing out of the fog as Scotty crossed the deck, still suspicious but concerned by the First Officer's evident distress. "What ails ye, man?"

Spock frowned, eyes scrunched shut, enmeshed in a torment of shame and confusion that was rapidly dragging him into the depths.

Worried, Scott reached out as if to touch him on the shoulder, although he knew how the Vulcan felt about that. "Are ye ill, is that it? D'ye need help gettin' to sickbay?"

Scott's voice reverberated through Spock's skull, resounding in his ears. He jerked away from the reaching fingers, staggering back against the bulkhead.

"Do not touch me, Mr. Scott."

"Verra well, I'll not be lendin' a hand where it's not wanted, y'ken. However, ye canna continue as ye are. I'll be sendin' for Doctor McCoy."

Dizzy, bemused, the roaring in his ears growing louder as his panic increased, Spock fought against the rising tide of psychosis.

"No." He clenched his teeth on the word, vaguely aware of the thin sheen of sweat on his face, of his jagged breathing, T'Lala's Way repeating in his mind.

Once thee know when to withdraw thee has strength.

The moment thee has strength thee can be serene

After thee has liberty thee can reflect.

As soon as thee prepares thee can attain thy purpose --

He had to find a way to stop the madness. It was certain he could not continue as he was. Reluctant to admit the truth, Spock realized he needed Doctor McCoy's help. Wrenching himself away from the bulkhead, he focused on Scotty.

"Thank you, Mr. Scott. I am quite able to make my own way to sickbay--"

"Are ye sure, man?"

"Quite sure." He swayed, steadied himself, voices whispering sibilantly within his skull, thinking only of the curious stares, the busy mouths that would spread this news throughout the ship should anyone see him. Aware of Scott's eyes on his retreating back he made it to the exit and from there to the turbolift. The doors whooshed shut behind him as he reached for the control horn, his knuckles yellowing at the tightness of his grip. He snapped out a single command.


Scotty waited until the Vulcan disappeared into the corridor before moving to the wall communicator. Hesitating briefly, he finally reached for the control button, uncertain whether he was overreacting.

"Scott to bridge."

Kirk had just arrived from his quarters. "Yes, Mr. Scott."

"Captain--" Scotty paused, shaking his head as he recalled Spock's strange behavior, before continuing hurriedly. "I thought ye ought to know--"

"Know what, Scotty?"

"I found Mr. Spock in Engineering, sir. He didnae look in the best of health and I believe he may ha' meddled with the computer, Captain!"

Kirk closed his eyes, opened them again, his thoughts racing. "Are you sure about that, Mr. Scott?"

"As sure as I can be, sir. I found him near the primary console and he wouldnae explain what he was doin'."

"Is Mr. Spock there now?"

"No, Captain. He said he was goin' to sickbay -- as ordered. He wouldnae let me help him, sir."

"Uh-huh." Kirk thought that over for an instant. It sounded very like the Spock he knew and he retained a slight hope that his First Officer was still marginally in control, though if he was suffering from the effects of another pon-farr, it might be tenuous at best. "Very well, Scotty. I'll handle it from here. Kirk out."

* * *

Spock clung to the control horn with both hands, the only thing keeping him on his feet as countless white-hot needles pummeled up the back of his neck, over his scalp and across his forehead. Voices muttered and mumbled inside his head but he refused to give into the fear and panic.

"The mind rules," he intoned thickly. "There is no pain. No -- pain."

The mist gathered around him as the turbolift greyed out, dissolving at the edges of his sight, until the shadows consumed him. The voices had grown raucous, guttural, and harsh. Run, they cried as one. Run or die. He groaned as the pain escalated, his chest heaving with the effort of breathing, his heart drubbing against his lower ribs, swift and irregular. The control horn tore out of his grasp as he slid to his knees, and he realized weakly that he must get behind the pain, that his sanity depended on finding out what was happening to him. Yet even as he tried to impose order on the chaos, the agony tripled, forcing him towards the darkness that waited to drag him down.

"McCoy--" His shout reverberated in the enclosed space of the lift, shocking him back from the edge of madness. Shuddering, still on his knees, he reached blindly for the control horn and twisted it. Instantly the elevator shifted from the vertical to the horizontal, carrying him the length of the ship. Again, he cried out McCoy's name but it was weaker, less defiant and the voices were gaining strength once more. The blackness was closing in, whittling away at his flimsy command.

"No, I am Vulcan. The mind rules. There is no -- is no pain." It was a useless catechism, powerless, ineffectual, and yet he knew that if he gave in now he would be lost. McCoy was his last hope. If he could only reach the Doctor in time, he would have a chance.

Desperately, he visualized the doors to sickbay, held on to his image standing before it. The Doctor was waiting for him he knew, would be anticipating the moment when Spock came wholly under his authority and could be humiliated under the guise of professional obligation. Spock had always abhorred the ritual of his three monthly physical, avoiding it with any and every excuse until the Chief Medical Officer had virtually ordered him to attend. The First Officer sometimes wondered if the barrage of tests was entirely necessary. It was as if McCoy was deliberately looking for some illness and, if truth were told, actually disappointed when Spock was pronounced in perfect health. At least now, his time would not be wasted.

The turbolift stopped. Spock uncurled from the foetal position he had assumed, struggling wearily to his hands and knees before climbing unsteadily onto his feet. He was just a few short steps from sickbay now and as he stumbled, exhausted and trembling, into the corridor, he was immeasurably grateful that the Enterprise was on night status and there were no prying, inquisitive, Human eyes to record the manner of his passing.

With both hands splayed against the bulkhead, he edged systematically towards those very important doors. Shudders wracked him from head to foot and his breathing came in ragged gasps. He was moaning softly, unable to stop, as those inner voices yammered and cajoled. The nearer he got to McCoy's office the worse the pain escalated until it was beyond even a Kolinaru adept's ability to keep in check, and Spock was tired, so very tired --

* * *

Doctor Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, glanced up at the chrono on the far wall for the fourth time in five minutes, wondering yet again what was taking Spock so long to arrive. On the screen before him were the Science Officer's full medical records from the time he had first joined Starfleet. To say the least, comprehensive they were not.

McCoy shook his head, scanning the entries with a swift and practiced eye. He was now reminded that Spock only had twenty-eight teeth as he lacked one pair of back molars; his brain case was approximately 0.2 cm thicker than that of a typical Human, although his actual brain was the same overall size and thickness.

Spock's eyes were less acute in daylight but more efficient at night and were protected by a clear inner nictitating membrane that filtered out harmful radiation, heat and dust -- all present on his home planet. Ears and nose were developed specifically for filtering sound and air in Vulcan's higher gravity and thinner atmosphere.

His heart was located where one normally found the Human liver, leaving room for the somewhat larger lung assembly and beat, in a normal rest state (normal for a Vulcan that is), 242 times a minute. Blood pressure was 80/40, systolic over diastolic. The First Officer's blood was a copper-based compound and green in color, utilizing the low oxygen, low atmospheric pressure conditions on Vulcan to the best advantage.

All very good as far as it went, but the records told him nothing about Spock's state of mind or what neuroses might conceivably affect him. Apart from pon-farr, the Vulcan had very rarely been ill; at least to McCoy's knowledge. The three-monthly checks had merely confirmed that he was in perfect/perfect health. There had been injuries, of course. No long-serving officer in the fleet, dealing with jeopardy on a daily basis, could have escaped a few knocks and breaks, and Spock had been no exception. Those incidents, all fully recorded, along with McCoy's personal notes on Spock's use of the healing trance, made the doctor's presence superfluous once the First Officer had instigated it.

The Vulcan had made it plain, on more than one occasion, what he thought of McCoy's treatments, not to mention his qualifications, and the doctor derived a distinctly anomalous pleasure at this chance to aggravate him. Spock would certainly not be pleased by the order to report to sickbay, McCoy decided in gleeful anticipation.

He grinned lopsidedly as he thought about the First Officer's likely reaction. He knew that to an outsider, his response to the Vulcan appeared antagonistic, even hostile, and certainly, their relationship was a hard one to define. Philosophically, they stood in opposite camps. McCoy, though he hid it behind a gruff façade, was a dyed-in-the-wool Humanitarian, while Spock actively pursued any means to rid himself of his own Human qualities, eschewing those character traits that marked him out from a full-blooded Vulkhanir. It was as if Spock purposely challenged the Human crew, and McCoy most of all, to make him appear less Vulcan than he was.

And McCoy wasn't slow in accepting the gauntlet thrown at his feet. Both officers indulged at every opportunity in teasing each other unmercifully, but serious arguments were rare, although sometimes it was hard, even for them, to tell whether their enmity was real or feigned.

Not that I'm going to let that, or any other consideration, get in the way of my professional diagnosis, he thought grinning wickedly. He had always thought a little suffering was good for the soul and, oh boy, was he about to make Spock suffer!

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it, he thought, just as the doors opened and the errant First Officer stalked in, a panther in humanoid appearance. Lean and with an austere elegance, Spock was most definitely on the hunting trail.

"You wanted to see me, Doctor."

McCoy rose from the chair, coming from behind his desk to lean nonchalantly against it, arms crossed in front of him. "Well, well, Mr. Spock, so the Enterprise has finally managed to spare you at last. I expected you half an hour ago. Come on in, the equipment's all ready."

Spock straightened his shoulders and for one breathless moment subjected McCoy to the piercing scrutiny of deep-set, burning eyes. "Doctor McCoy, if I am not mistaken my last medical was only 2.4 months ago."

McCoy regarded the First Officer with amused tolerance, pleased that he had the upper hand and wanting Spock to know it. "I've been waiting to see you ever since you returned from Nevas'ashar, as you well know, Mr. Spock. You aren't getting away that easily."

A spasm of some description crossed the First Officer's face, quickly masked. Anger, McCoy wondered, or more likely pain. He weighed up the signs of deterioration in Spock's physical condition without difficulty, noting the deathly waxen-yellow tinge of his skin, the haunted quality of his eyes and the dark shadows beneath them. There had been some weight loss, not much, but enough to give the First Officer's features and frame a gaunt appearance, a look of abstinence, or self denial. His face was now all angles and dark shadows, disconcerting and somehow, sinister.

"Nevas'ashar?" Spock repeated, staring into the distance his eyes unfocused, his brows gathering in a frown. McCoy had noticed the same thing happen with increasing frequency over the last few days. The First Officer seemed entirely unaware of the temporary fugue state, but McCoy was almost sure that whatever was causing it, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the onset of pon-farr.

"You were gone for two days," McCoy prompted softly.

Spock blinked and rubbed at the back of his neck before refocusing on McCoy, feeling as if he were looking at two images, one vague, dreamlike, the other sharp and well known. Baffled, disorientated, he decided to bluff it out. "You are mistaken, Doctor. I never left the ship."

"Do you want me to show you the transporter logs? Your visit is documented -- and so is your return." McCoy ruthlessly squashed any compassion he felt for the Vulcan, knowing that Spock was immune to his bedside manner -- and would not appreciate his efforts anyhow. "What happened down there, Spock? Don't you remember?"

"I -- did not leave the ship," Spock protested, but it was half-hearted, uncertain.

"Yes, you did. You were gone two days and you didn't check in."

"Come to the point, Doctor. You do have one, I assume."

Spock's voice, deceptively quiet had acquired a menacing quality, McCoy had never heard before.

"You having an emotional reaction, Spock?" McCoy chided, his expression hardening, unwilling to let up on the pressure just yet. "You know as well as I do that something happened to you on Nevas'ashar. Something you aren't too keen to have anybody know about."

"Even for you, these are paranoid fantasies, Doctor."

"Humor me, Mr. Spock. Or I might take my paranoid fantasies straight to the Captain."

Spock sighed, irritated by McCoy's continued insouciance, and shook his head in denial. His memory was quite clear. He had been doing research in the Science laboratory and had never left the ship. And yet, there was a fleeting recollection of -- of --

He reached for the memory, trying to hold onto the images that formed in his mind's eye. His heart started to pound, his pulses raced as he concentrated on the fleeting inner visions, unaware of McCoy who watched so intently. There was pain, bone deep, arching through his skull. He recalled shadowy figures seen through a haze of muted, bluish light, wavering and insubstantial, as if he were under water. The atmosphere was thick, choking, and it was hard to breathe. Hands clutched at him rough and insensitive; tight fetters held him down, cutting into his flesh, while harsh voices whispered, whispered -- words he could no longer remember clearly.

The First Officer shuddered, the blood draining from his already ashen features as he teetered on the brink of understanding. The throbbing started up, a fiery blaze across his scalp and he withdrew hastily, letting go the elusive thread of understanding.

His eyes narrowed on McCoy. "Do as you please, Doctor McCoy. Go ahead and advertise your incompetence to the Captain, if that is what you wish. I have nothing to hide. Now, if that is all--"

Unexpectedly, McCoy grinned. "Nice try, Spock, but it's not going to work. I already have the Captain's authorization on this. Either you submit gracefully to a full med scan -- or I call security and we do it under restraint from the brig. Your choice."

Spock's eyes glittered from beneath hooded lids but McCoy knew he had just played his ace. The First Officer would back down -- if only to save himself from the indignity of immobilization while McCoy carried out his examination.

He capitulated with reluctance, mouth thinned. "Very well, Doctor. I submit to your assessment. For all the good it will do you."

Cheerily, McCoy nodded. "Go through and undress. I'll be with you as soon as I wash up."

* * *

On the bridge, Kirk leaned forward in the command chair, frowning in apprehension with no option than to believe Spock had, indeed, blown a fuse. It was far too easy to overlook the fact that even Vulcans had their vulnerable spots. His First Officer was usually such a paragon of virtue, it came as a shock to realize that he could go off the rails like anyone else now and then. On Vulcan Kirk knew, Spock would still be considered little more than an adolescent, and if he had suddenly discovered a libido with a girl on Nevas'a, his reaction might not fall into any known pattern.

Remembering his own adolescence, the raging hormones and resulting angst, he could well imagine the Vulcan having some serious trouble adjusting. Certainly, altering the computer was not beyond his capabilities, though why he should want to tamper with control was still a mystery.

"Lieutenant, disengage computer control and switch to manual systems."

"Aye, sir." Sulu's hands ran an impromptu arpeggio over his boards as he followed Kirk's order. The reaction was immediate and startling. A klaxon began to scream fitfully.

Sulu turned in his seat to glance back at Kirk, raising his voice above the sound of the alarm. "Sir, we can't disengage. The computer won't respond."

"Damp that klaxon," Kirk yelled and the sound cut off instantly. Kirk sighed in relief, reaching for a button on the arm of his command chair. "Computer control, come in."

"Working." The voice was light, female, but mechanical.

"Release the helm to manual systems."

It took less than a second for the answer to come back. "Unable to comply."

Kirk's voice hardened slightly, although he knew the machine would not respond to his Human emotions. "Computer, this is the Captain. On my voice command, you will override all previous instructions and release the helm. Voice command."

The computer hummed softly, checking its thousands of systems, but to Kirk it appeared as if the machine was thinking over what he had said. He let out his breath in a long sigh of pent up tension as the computer replied once more.

"Unable to comply. Any attempt to override will result in the total destruction of the Enterprise. Computer control can only be disengaged on the specific order of Commander Spock."

So, there it was, the worst-case scenario. This is turning out to be one hell of a night, he thought as tension gripped the bridge personnel, stunned by what they had heard.

Would pon-farr have affected Spock to such an extent? And what would he accomplish by taking over the ship? Did he have some misplaced belief that he could return to Nevas'a?

Kirk groaned, torn between his friend and the welfare of his ship, but with only one line of action open to him. Swinging his chair in Uhura's direction he ordered quietly,

"Lieutenant, contact Security. Mr. Spock is to be placed under immediate arrest and taken to the brig."

Uhura caught her breath, eyes widening in surprise, but she complied with the order. "Aye, sir."

As she turned back to her boards, Chekov pivoted in Spock's chair at the library computer, his slight Russian accent strained. "Kepten, sensors are picking up readings of another wessel."

Kirk looked at him sharply. "Configuration, Ensign?"

Chekov swallowed. "It is a Klingon battle cruiser, sir."

Kirk unclenched his fingers from around the arms of his seat, rubbing at a suddenly throbbing temple. "That's all we need right now."

Although the Empire and the Federation weren't officially at war, the peace was an uneasy one, kept only by the treaty forced on both sides by Organian intervention. "Mr. Chekov, activate deflector screens, sound the yellow alert. I want phasers on standby. If there's going to be trouble I want the Enterprise to be ready."

The alarm blared throughout the ship and Kirk pictured his crew scurrying to their assigned stations. It looked as if Spock's recent training in battle readiness was about to pay off after all. Then Sulu turned to look at him, his face inscrutable.

"Sir, phasers are inoperative," he said flatly. "Computer control refuses to function -- unless on Mr. Spock's express orders. The Enterprise is defenseless, Captain."

Kirk drew back in surprise, unable to believe what all the facts were telling him. Could Spock really have set us up? He brought his fist crashing down on the arm of the command chair in frustrated rage. "Damn, Spock. What's he trying to do to us?"

* * *

"Well, Doctor, what is your prognosis?" Pushing himself up on his elbows, seemingly uninterested by the whole operation, Spock looked McCoy full in the face.

"Hold still," McCoy returned testily, thrusting the First Officer squarely back onto the med couch. "How do you expect me to get any readings with you jumping about all over the place?"

Inwardly sighing, he ran over his findings for the third time but despite cross-checking the results of every test in the book -- and a few that weren't -- Spock still appeared to be completely healthy. McCoy found no disease, injury, or congenital defect that would account for the Vulcan's increasingly odd behavior lapses. And yet, McCoy was unable to forget the new, and worrying, indirectness to the Science Officer's beta and theta waves, plus the imbalance in the medial reticular system. The trouble could be psychological. Given the symptoms, a diagnosis of incipient schizophrenia would be the most rational conclusion, but McCoy found that to be wholly unbelievable. Therefore, if it wasn't physical or psychological it had to be --

"You been having trouble sleeping lately?" he asked unexpectedly, already knowing the answer.

Spock, who had stoically endured all the cranial scans, EEG, sonograms, tissue biopsy and blood tests, plus a lumbar puncture -- which despite modern techniques and sophisticated technology, still proved a harrowing procedure -- tensed as McCoy reached for his feinburger.

"My duties--"

"Aren't that heavy!" McCoy supplied sarcastically. He grunted in disgust at Spock's attempt at evasion and picked up the instrument, sweeping it over the prone First Officer's body whose sudden restiveness tautened abruptly into rigidity.

"Relax," McCoy directed, puzzled by Spock's reaction as he swept the scanner higher, over the Vulcan's chest, throat, and face. He saw it almost at the same time as the scanner picked up the discrepancy, the innocuous beep-beep changing to a continuous warning note. McCoy's eyes narrowed in thought.

"Any signs of blurred vision, or giddiness?" he asked, intent on the tiny, triangular cicatrix just above the Vulcan's mastoid bone, pale against the surrounding darker skin; a good piece of surgery, unnoticeable unless you happened to be looking for it.

"Negative," Spock answered tightly.

"Any vomiting?"

"No -- Doctor."

"Uh-huh." McCoy gently touched the scar tissue with the tip of his index finger. "What about headaches?"

Spock jerked upright, his face twisting with pain.

"Hmm, I seem to have hit a tender spot there. Hurt much?"

"Only for a moment." Although Spock's voice stayed detached, McCoy recognized the tension in the First Officer's lean body.

"Okay, you can sit up now, Spock." Ignoring the eyebrow raised in inquiry, he watched as the Vulcan swung his bare legs to the floor.

"Well?" Spock asked at last.

McCoy frowned. "You want my evaluation of your state of health?"

"I assumed that was why Starfleet employed you, Doctor. And why I was subjected to your particular brand of -- mumbo-jumbo."

"Well, Mr. Spock, you may be interested to learn that my 'mumbo-jumbo' has provided quite a few 'fascinating' details about your condition."

He grinned quickly as Spock flashed him a meticulous withering look, one the Vulcan had schooled to perfection.

"Okay. There's been a marked change in your behavior since returning to the ship. You've been reclusive, cantankerous, and tense. Food has lost its appeal and you've not been sleeping. Even when you do snatch an hour or two, it's usually broken by violent nightmares-- Right, so far?"

Spock's eyebrow rose at McCoy's use of the term 'cantankerous' but said only, "Go on, Doctor."

McCoy's blue eyes were watchful, attentive as he continued, "There have been long periods of mental confusion, absent-mindedness that almost borders on amnesia, accompanied by severe pain seizures that leave you incapacitated for minutes at a time--"

Spock did not deny any of it. "And -- the cause?"

"Do you need to ask?"

"You have mentioned Nevas'ashar several times. My return to the ship." Spock grimaced as fiery needles pierced his neck and scalp, a foretaste of what would happen if he did not leave well alone. "I still have no definite recollection of going there--"

He explored the ache behind his ear, the place where McCoy had touched him only moments before, fingers gently searching. Something had been done to him on Nevas'ashar. But for what purpose?

"Someone has tampered with -- with my mind." The throbbing worsened and Spock grasped at his temples, biting at his lower lip in an effort to stop from crying out.

"Yes," McCoy agreed, giving Spock only enough information so that he was able to work the whole thing out himself. "There's no indication of intracranial pressure, no cerebral bleeding. It's not a brain tumor, or any physical illness. Nor are the symptoms caused by neurosis."

Spock choked back a groan, the taste of blood in his mouth as his teeth worried at the flesh of his lower lip, feeling his senses blur as sickbay opaqued into greyness.

"An implant, then," he ground out, thickly. "Something -- beneath the ear?"

"You're getting there!" McCoy had him by the shoulders, the only thing that kept him upright. "But why, Spock? Why? You have to remember."

The First Officer shuddered as the throbbing within his skull swelled to an unbearable level, his face contorting in agony as he fought to summon up hidden memories. He raised a trembling hand, tried to push McCoy away, but no longer had the control or physical stamina. Instead, his fingers caught at the doctor's tunic, balling the cloth into a tight wad at the shoulder.

"Fight it, Spock!" McCoy urged as the high collar pulled against his throat. "You have to fight the pain."

Spock shook his head from side to side, clinging to McCoy, gasping for breath. Someone was sobbing inarticulately nearby, a low keening, and the First Officer realized belatedly that it came from him. Horrified, he compressed his lips on the sound, burying his face in the hollow of McCoy's neck to stifle the noise he was making.

Suddenly, a memory pulled free from the miasma that was quickly overtaking him. He grasped at it, breaking forcefully through into his cerebral cortex; unmindful of the damage he left behind -- to find himself caught in a familiar nightmare. He could not see much; the light was dim, the atmosphere moisture-laden, and thick. It was difficult to breathe and he was choking violently. He knew that he was dying, that he had been poisoned. Then two men came close. Klingons. Spock recognized the swarthy complexions and bone-crested foreheads that extended almost down to the bridge of the nose. Both were in uniform, the thickly armored leather and steel regulation issue of the Empire. They talked to each other as if he was unable to understand and he gradually realized that they were medical technicians.

The scene blacked out, replaced with another. He was strapped down, unable to move, although he could breathe again. He felt vulnerable, weak, and powerless, unable to resist as one of the Klingons prepared a hypo and injected him with it. Spock grew disturbed, light-headed as they hooked him up to various instruments, but he was able to hear for a time even when his sight had faded completely away.

"We must work swiftly. This Vulqangan is strong, even when poisoned by the devilfish."

"The transputer is ready for insertion. Once in place he cannot resist."

"I doubt you not, QriljaHoh. However, we will wipe his memory for -- security. Our Lord will not suffer any incompetence. If we make a targ's dinner of this, it will be our skins on display."

The dream faded, as did the harsh Klingon voices, and stark terror enmeshed Spock. It reached for him as he shied away but he knew he would never escape and he faced the fear as he faced all the other terrors of his life. He stopped and turned, surprised to find himself looking into McCoy's face, open and easy to read, concerned now for the welfare of his patient --

"Enterprise -- in danger, Doctor. Warn -- Jim. Now. The Klingons --"

"What kind of danger, Spock?" McCoy asked, his blue eyes fearful, still holding the First Officer by the shoulders. "How are the Klingons involved? Have they done this?"

"Yes. I -- believe so -- You must -- hurry before -- before --"

Unexpectedly, the doors to sickbay flew open and Nurse Chapel hurried in, followed by two security guards. Both of them were equipped with phasers, which they immediately leveled on the First Officer.

"What is this?" McCoy demanded of his senior nurse, turning to face the interlopers, but it was Ch'uan, one of the security men, who answered, sounding apologetic.

"Captain's orders, Doc. Mr. Spock is to accompany us to the brig."

"You must be mistaken, Ch'uan," McCoy growled. "This man is in no condition to leave sickbay right now."

"Sorry, Doctor McCoy," the other guard, Santana, interrupted. "There's no mistake. If Mr. Spock needs treatment, you'll have to do it in his cell."

"At least put the phasers down. This is a sickbay, not a shooting gallery."

"No can do, Doc. Please, Mr. Spock, sir. If you'll finish getting dressed--"

Spock had already pushed himself off the med couch and was tugging on his black uniform pants.

"Very well, Ensign." He picked up the black tee shirt and slipped it over his head, tucking it neatly into the waistband of his trousers, leaving his hair tousled as if he had just woken from sleep. With deft fingers, he quickly smoothed the errant strands into immaculate order. "Nurse Chapel. Doctor."

"Spock, I can't let you go," McCoy protested. "I have to remove--"

However, the First Officer was already halfway to the door, his stride measured and leisurely, careless of the phasers still aimed at him, his previous anguish gone as if it had never existed. "Doctor, please do not interfere. The Captain's orders must be obeyed."

When the red alert shrieked throughout the ship, Spock reacted immediately, unaffected by the raucous sound. Lashing out at Santana, he knocked the security guard to the floor, and instantly reached for Ch'uan's neck. The guard slumped, his phaser skittering out of his hand as Spock's long fingers applied the Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock bent quickly, picked up the phaser, and backed towards the door.

"Spock--" McCoy took a step towards the First Officer but faltered as the dark eyes fastened on him to the exclusion of everything else. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise in a primal response, as if he were a chimp cornered by a leopard. He swallowed noisily, found his voice. "Fight it, Spock. You've got to fight it--"

However, the First Officer was already out the door and running hell for leather down the corridor, McCoy wiped from his memory as though the doctor did not exist.

Chapter 5: Kor.

"Kepten," Chekov said quietly, "the Klingon ship is moving to intercept."

Sulu stared over his shoulder at Kirk. "It's almost as if they know we're disabled, Captain. As though they were expecting it."

Kirk frowned. Was it remotely possible that Spock could be responsible? Had the Vulcan finally broken, tipped over into madness, the strain of being pulled two ways, of being neither Vulcan nor Human, too much for him? How could he dismiss Spock's tampering with the control computers coupled with the abrupt and mysterious appearance of a Klingon battle cruiser way off its usual space routes? It could not be a coincidence, however much he might want to believe that. But why would Spock play Judas for the Klingons? Why?

He turned to Scotty who had come up from Engineering summoned by the red alert to his station on the bridge. "Could we outrun them, Mr. Scott?"

"Wi' the control computers as they are -- and no deflector screens? We'd be committin' suicide, skipper!" Scotty said, bluntly, shooting down the forlorn hope that still existed in Kirk's mind. "Thanks to Mr. Spock, there's no way we can get clear wi'oot bein' blown to kingdom come."

Kirk nodded, repressing a doleful sigh, as he watched the alien ship suddenly blossom into view on the forward screen. There was no mistaking the sleek lines, the powerful shape of the Klingon bird of prey, but was Spock to blame for its appearance there?

The bridge speaker, erupting into sound near his elbow, shattered any remaining hope on that score. "McCoy to Captain Kirk."

"Kirk here, Bones."

"Spock's attacked the security team you sent down to sickbay, Jim! He's escaped with a phaser and is probably headed your way." McCoy hesitated for an instant, and then continued. "Watch out for yourself, Jim. He could be dangerous."

This time Kirk did groan. He closed his eyes, massaging the tightened skin above his nose. "All right, Bones. Message understood. Get up here as soon as you can. It sounds as if we might be needing you."

He flicked the communicator off and turned to Lieutenant Uhura behind him.

"Lieutenant, you heard that. Put out a security alert on all decks. I want Mr. Spock apprehended. Use phasers, on stun, if necessary."

Uhura relayed the message before turning back to him, her face calm.

"Captain, I'm receiving a message from the Klingon ship. Putting it on visual now, sir."

Seven pairs of eyes swivelled from their various boards and duties to gaze at the main screen as the face of a humanoid quickly formed. Older than Kirk, his features were vaguely oriental in cast, with thick, bifurcate brows shading eyes that were dark and inexorable. A shoestring moustache decorated his upper lip, accentuating its thinness; the face was cruel, subtly chosen by its owner, it ably reflected a being that would neither expect, nor give in return, the slightest quarter. Kirk recognized the quasi-human features of the Klingon immediately. It was Commander Kor, an old adversary.

"NuqneH, qIrq HoD. Teskas tal'tai-kleon." Greetings, Captain Kirk, and compliments to an honored opponent. The Klingon smiled, apparently genuinely pleased to see him again. "A rare, if not altogether, unexpected, pleasure."

"No doubt, Commander," Kirk said, straight-faced. "I can't say the same."

"Come, come, Captain. Surely you do not still hold what happened on 'orghenya' against us?"

Kirk brushed at an imaginary speck of fluff on his spotless trousers. "No, Commander. I was thinking more on the lines of Sherman's Planet and, uh -- that small incident on Ceres. Not to mention--"

"DochwI, trivialities, Kirk, of little consequence. I am surprised that you bear such a grudge yourself."

His eyes wandered purposely over Kirk's shoulder, intent on inspecting the bridge personnel. "I had anticipated meeting your yaS wa' DIch, once again. The Vulqangan, SpoquH, is it not?"

Kirk managed to cover his shock, thoughts boiling. Had Kor knowingly meant to confirm his worst fears? "My -- First Officer -- is occupied elsewhere, Commander. However, I shall most certainly pass on your -- regards. Now, as the Enterprise is engaged on Federation business, I would appreciate knowing your reason for this interception of my ship."

"Captain, please! You are as aware as I that your ship is trespassing in territory claimed by the Imperial Klingon Empire. I remind you of condition two-four-zero of the 'orghenya'rojmab, section three which states quite categorically--"

"Commander," Kirk butted in as Kor drew breath. "Commander Kor, I am acquainted with that particular section of the Treaty, especially condition two-four-zero. However, the Federation regards this quadrant of the galaxy as free space. As far as I am aware--"

"Captain, I will not waste time on futile arguments. I must comply with the instructions as laid down by my superiors, and our respective governments. You have invaded Klingon territory and by the terms of our treaty, I have a legal right to seize and hold your ship. If you should persist in denying that right, I have no choice but to destroy you."

So, it was out at last. Kirk's stomach knotted but he very much doubted that Kor would go through with his threat of destruction. The Klingons wanted his ship, and badly, if the trumped up excuse about territory violation was anything to go by. Kor would not jeopardize an acquisition such as the Enterprise -- especially if Spock had everything already in the bag. That part had to be a bluff.

"Is this a formal declaration of hostility, Commander Kor? If so, I remind you that--"

Kirk turned in his seat as the turbolift doors opened. Spock stood on the threshold, a leveled phaser held chest high, his dark eyes narrowed, the pupils hazed.

"Lieutenant Uhura, deactivate the main screen."

Instantly the screen dimmed the Klingon Commander's interested face replaced by the familiar star pattern, the menacing shape of the Klingon battle cruiser superimposed over it.

Kirk rose to his feet, took a hesitant step towards his First Officer, dumbfounded by Spock's tormented expression, thrusting Kor and his threats away. This man was far more important to him. "Spock --?"

Abruptly the phaser swung in Kirk's direction. "Stay where you are, Captain."

Was there a note of panic there, Kirk wondered, a flicker of unease, some awareness of what he was doing? "Spock, you're ill. Let me have the phaser before you hurt someone--"

"No further, Captain." Spock's grip tightened around the butt of the phaser. It wavered as a violent tremor rocked the First Officer. One hand reached for the base of his left ear as Spock fought some inner struggle. "The Enterprise -- has -- has -- just violated Klingon space. They must be allowed -- to come -- aboard."

"That's untrue, Spock. Think about what you're saying." Kirk took another careful step in Spock's direction. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chekov rise slowly to his feet, a tiny transceiver clutched in one of his hands.

"No." Spock barked the word out, his face twisting. "Please, Captain. The ship is in danger."

"Yes, Spock, it is. However, you know I can't let the Klingons board. My duty is to the Federation, to this ship, and my crew. As yours is. Give me the phaser."

"Duty? " Spock murmured, frowning in confusion, both hands now rigidly locked around the weapon he held out at arm's length. His gaze did not waver; his pupils so dilated, there was hardly any white visible.

Kirk had now gained the top step out of the command pit. One lunge would do it. He glanced at Uhura who had risen to her feet and, inch by inch, backed off. Chekov was watching Kirk, ready and waiting for the word. "Give me the phaser, Spock."

"Ni'irsh! Kroykah, Kirrke ra'el," Spock cried out in Vulcan. "Ni'irsh, ha'kh!"

"Uh, Mr. Spock, I understand that it's not your fault. Just give me the phaser and everything will be all right." Kirk tried to sound reassuring, lowering his voice, the sweat trickling down his back as he stared directly into the eyes of Azazel, this dark angel who had once been his friend.

He wavered, made as if to lean against the top rail to give them both a little time, but at the last moment yelled, "Now, Chekov--"

As Chekov lobbed the transceiver in a powerful overarm throw, striking Spock on the brow, Kirk hurled himself at the Vulcan, carrying them both up against Uhura's console. Kirk had both hands around Spock's wrists and slammed them against the board once, twice, and then again in rapid succession. The transceiver had opened a cut just above the First Officer's right eye. It was bleeding freely, but that did not seem to hamper the Vulcan at all. Spock was taller by several inches, his reach was longer, and his strength, despite the stress of the last few days, had not diminished. His face was expressionless as he twisted Kirk's hands back with the minimum of effort, until the phaser again centered over the Captain's heart.

"Spock," Kirk gasped anxiously. "Spock! Don't."

With one last tremendous effort, he tried to turn aside the weapon but Spock's fingers were already positioned over the firing stud. Kirk's horrified gaze was transfixed on the First Officer's face as the beam caught him in a deadly red glow. For an instant, he held onto the Vulcan's wrist, the light gradually fading from his eyes, before crumpling heavily to the deck.

McCoy burst onto the bridge at a dead run, the phaser whine still ringing in his ears as he knelt beside Kirk's lifeless body. It was a moment of tableau that he would remember for the rest of his life; Spock, the phaser still hanging limply from his fingers, blood streaming down his face, looking as though he was still caught up in a particularly ghastly nightmare; Uhura wide-eyed with shock; and Sulu half risen from his chair. Chekov, over by Spock's library station, had frozen in the act of lobbing a fastball.

"Doctor--?" The First Officer brushed the heel of a palm over the blood on his face, staring down at Kirk.

As McCoy hurriedly checked for any life signs, he heard Scotty request two security personnel to come to the bridge. He looked up into Spock's bewildered eyes, his fierce blue glare like a brand. "He's dead, Spock. You've killed him."

The First Officer swayed, caught at the pit rail as McCoy's words shattered the spell that had fallen over the bridge crew.

Chekov stirred slowly, his young face crumpling into a mask of grief as he finally realized what had happened. Balling his fists, he charged the Vulcan, his voice a raw scream. "Murderer! You hev killed the Kepten--"

Spock, apparently stunned by all that had happened, reacted with his instincts, knocking the boy aside and bringing up the phaser.

"Spock!" McCoy yelled hoarsely and grabbed for the First Officer's arm, swinging him around, knocking the phaser aside. "Isn't one death on your conscience enough?"

The Vulcan shuddered, stumbled back against Uhura's console as McCoy took the phaser away and sank heavily into the vacant seat, his disbelieving eyes returning to Kirk's prone body. Sulu and Scotty dragged Chekov back to Spock's library station and made him sit down. He continued to protest loudly until Scotty laid a firm hand on his shoulder.

"Easy now, laddie. Causin' a brawl won't be helpin' anyone. Be a good lad now and just sit quiet."

"But the Kepten is dead, Mister Scott. Mister Spock has killed him!"

Spock turned his head stiffly to look at Chekov, the turbulent emotions of the Humans rife about him, finding it hard to collect his thoughts. McCoy, abruptly by his side, reached into his med-pouch, and attended the seeping, bloody wound on Spock's forehead. When the First Officer eventually spoke up, his voice was flat, lifeless. "Ensign Chekov is right. I will, of course, surrender myself into Mr. Scott's hands until the Enterprise reaches Starbase 12--"

He was unexpectedly interrupted when the ship jerked sideways, yanked powerfully askew by some outside force. Sulu turned back to his station as Uhura was summoned to her boards by a message from Engineering. She turned concerned eyes on the First Officer before speaking directly to Scotty.

"Mr. Scott, there's a report coming in that life support has been terminated on the lower decks. The control computer will not respond and manual systems are inoperable."

"Tractor beam confirmed emanating from the Klingon battle cruiser, Mr. Scott," Sulu reported quickly.

An instant later, the raucous scream of the red alert klaxon erupted into the already tense atmosphere on the bridge, followed by the computer sounding the alarm.

Intruder alert. Intruder alert. Intruder alert.

The intercom on the Captain's center seat squawked for attention and Scotty crossed over swiftly to attend to it.

"Bridge, Scott speaking."

It was Chief Kyle. "Mr. Scott, we're being attacked by the Klingons. They've overrun main transporters on decks ten, fifteen and twenty-three."

Kyle's voice rose. "There's no way to confine them, Chief. Emergency bulkheads won't close. They've got a clear route direct to the bridge."

Scott shook his head and sighed, glancing meaningfully at Spock, now flanked by security guards, Hietala, and Chavannes. "All right, laddie. Shut down your controls and fall back to engineering deck four. That should hold 'em for a while. We'll see what else can be done from here."

He switched off the com with an even deeper sigh, knowing that without the control computer he would need to pull several rabbits out of a very deep hat if they were to get out of this one without further injury. Hands on hips, he turned to look fully at Spock, his usually good-humored face dour and aggrieved.

"You've really screwed us to the floor on this one, have ye not, Mr. Spock?"

When Spock did not reply, his glance went to McCoy and something unspoken passed between them.

"Chekov," Bones murmured softly, stooping down beside Kirk's limp form. "Help me get the Captain to sickbay before those Klingon scavengers get their hands on him."

With a savage look at Spock, Chekov nodded soberly. Gently, they gathered Kirk up in their arms and bore him off into the turbolift. Once they were gone, Scotty took over.

"Mr. Hietala," he indicated the tall, red haired, security guard standing over the subdued First Officer. "Please secure, Mr. Spock. I canna take the chance of him runnin' amok again."

He turned to Sulu. "I want ye to take Chavannes and Hietala down below. The Klingons might have boarded but they're goin' to ha' to fight for the privilege! Hit the armory first, then auxiliary control. We ha' to get life support back on line."

Scotty was turning to Uhura even as the three crewmen entered the turbolift.

"Lieutenant, I want ye to contact all those crewmen who managed to stay free. They're to rendezvous with Sulu. Engineering and auxiliary control are to be held at all costs. I don't want those slanty-eyed goons gettin' near my engines--"

At last, he let his gaze travel back to Spock who looked stunned and sick, his hands cuffed to the pit rail. "And in the meantime, I think we ha' somethin' to discuss, Mr. Spock? Let's start with computer control--"

* * *

It soon became plain to Sulu that he had very little chance of completing Scott's orders. The Klingons were everywhere and as he, Hietala, and the diminutive but feisty Chavannes slipped evasively from one hiding place to the next, using maintenance tunnels and Jeffries tubes, it was startlingly obvious that Kor had given them the fast shuffle. Klingon soldiers already guarded many of the key points; corridors and turbolifts leading to the bridge were rapidly being closed off as well as Engineering, which was heavily surrounded. Could Spock really be responsible for selling them out? If so, he had done his usual, exceptional work.

Aware that nothing could be gained by continuing, Sulu signaled the retreat, only to find that they had been outflanked. He stared anxiously at the six heavily armed Klingons who were slowly moving in on them. All three Enterprise officers backed away as the Klingons came on, but there was nowhere to run.

"As someone once said, the best defense is a fast offense, sir!" Ensign Chavannes said her voice low as she stared wide-eyed at the advancing Klingon guards.

Sulu nodded, his face inscrutable, his obliquely slanted eyes, shining. "Are you suggesting we attack, Ensign?"

"Nothing to lose but a few teeth, sir!"

Sulu glanced at the redheaded Hietala who shrugged. "I'm keen if you are, Mister Sulu. Do Klingons have any weak points? Any place to aim in particular?"

"No," Sulu replied shortly. "Klingons have two of everything, so I've heard."

"Uh-huh, as I thought. So, what are we waiting for?"

Briefly, the helmsman grinned, clapped both security guards on the back, and launched himself at the nearest alien.

"Ki-aaaiii!" The ancient battle cry of Sulu's warrior ancestors echoed challengingly in the enclosed space. With controlled fury, the two security officers pitched in beside him, using hands and feet with incredible skill. But the sudden bolt of actinic blue light, narrowly missing Sulu, warned them of the danger they faced. Outnumbered and seriously outgunned, they had to drop back, fighting a rearguard action as they retreated to the turbolift. It was obvious they could not return to the bridge. Sulu made his decision quickly.

"Engineering, deck four," Sulu panted breathlessly as the doors shut with a soft whoosh, carrying them swiftly downwards.

* * *

On the seventh deck, still carrying Jim Kirk's body between them, McCoy and Chekov entered sickbay. Nurse Chapel, with an anxious look at the Chief Medical Officer, followed them through.

"Doctor?" She queried. "What's happening? Is Mr. Spock--?"

McCoy thrust her aside, guessing at the question and ignoring it as he and Chekov gently eased Kirk's lifeless form onto one of the med-couches. He knew of Christine's feelings for Spock, though she had never confided in him. He did not want to tell her what had happened on the bridge.

"I need your help, Nurse. We haven't much time. In around fifteen minutes or less, this ship's going to be swarming with some very mean Klingons."

"Klingons? But Doctor--" At a complete loss, she glanced at Chekov, but the boy studiously avoided her gaze. "What's happened to the Captain? Was it the Klingons?"

"Nurse," McCoy snapped ruthlessly. "I haven't time right now to answer questions. Prepare a hypo for coradrenalin. That should do the trick."

"Yes, of course." As she turned away to get the hypo, McCoy activated the diagnostic panel and studied the readings carefully. Chekov followed his gaze, his jaw dropping.

"But -- he is alive, Doctor. The Kepten is alive."

"You noticed that, huh, Ensign? Given enough time, I might make a doctor of you, boy," Bones grumbled, dryly. "Nurse, where's that hypo?"

Christine was at his elbow instantly. At a nod from McCoy, she held the hypo to Kirk's neck and administered the fast acting drug. The readings on the diagnostic panel fluctuated as they continued to watch and, within minutes, the Captain began to stir feebly. McCoy allowed himself a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Gods looked kindly upon Starfleet surgeons and their commanding officers.

"Jim? Jim, can you hear me?"

Kirk groaned as consciousness started slowly to return. There was a tingling in his extremities and across his chest which made breathing excruciatingly difficult. He moved and the tingling became pins and needles, which rapidly spiraled into severe pain. With an effort, he forced his eyelids open, wincing at the sudden brightness of sickbay lights.

He swallowed thickly as McCoy came into his field of view. "Bones, what -- what happened?"

"Take it easy, Jim. Right now you're lucky to be alive."

"Kepten, are you -- unhurt?" Chekov asked his face anxious as he bent solicitously over the medcouch.

Kirk moved cautiously, ignoring the wave of nausea and giddiness that he knew were the after effects of a phaser stun, and balanced precariously on the edge of the bed before swinging his legs to the floor. "I -- think I'll live, Ensign. Although right now, being dead might well be preferable."

He groaned again, swaying drunkenly as he tried to get to his feet and McCoy pushed him back down on the couch, keeping a firm hand on his shoulder. Kirk wiped at the film of sweat on his face with shaking fingers. When he finally looked up at McCoy his eyes were haunted. "Bones, Spock tried to -- kill me."

"I know, Jim," McCoy said, betraying his anxiety for the first time. "But he doesn't have much control over what's happening."

"Explain?" Kirk demanded, sitting up again.

"When I examined him, I found a new scar just below the ear. Spock's been through some recent surgery. I guess it took place on, or around, Nevas'a while he was absent from the ship."

"What kind of surgery?"

"Now you're asking." McCoy shrugged eloquently. "Have you heard about the mind control revolts--?"

"Vaguely. Modern history isn't my strong point." Kirk frowned, then his face cleared. "Spock's been fitted with a behavior control implant?"

McCoy's eyebrow rose as he nodded. "I'd say it was similar to our own senceiver implants but with one basic difference -- Spock was totally in the dark about what was happening to him."

"Doctor McCoy, do you mean that Mister Spock vill not remember shooting at the Kepten?"

"He'll remember all right, Ensign. The shock will see to that." He looked guiltily at Kirk. "Spock thinks you're really dead, Jim. And half the crew with him by this time."


"I had to play it that way. Spock wouldn't lie to save his own life." He shrugged at Kirk's appalled look. "The Klingons can question him till they're blue in the face and he'll still come up with the same answer, Captain Kirk is dead. And if Chekov's reaction is anything to go by, lynching your First Officer is top of the list on the crew's agenda."

"Can Spock take that sort of pressure in his present condition?"

McCoy rubbed a thumb worriedly over his bottom lip. "I don't know the answer to that one, Jim. The shock could push him over the edge. He's on the verge as it is. Alternatively, it might just tip the balance in his favor. He's fighting the implant's commands. Who knows, now he's no longer in the dark, he might be able to counteract the device."

"He's aware of it you say?"

"Yeah. I was going to remove it when those gorillas from Security burst in."

Kirk sighed deeply. Bones was right to be angry but there was no other option. Spock in berserker mode was not a pleasant thing to consider -- as he had found to his cost. However, the Klingons would definitely not put up with any defiance, and if Spock fought back now--! It was well known that Vulcans did not stand up well to any sort of mind control, reprogramming, or rehabilitation. They were far too aware of their own personalities to submit easily to an imposed behavior pattern. Not many had gone to rehabilitation, but those who did had not survived. Spock, though half-human, was that much closer to his father's race that the outcome was predictable. He would die if the Klingons pushed him too far.

Kirk absently gnawed on his thumbnail. He was free at Spock's expense and could imagine what the Vulcan was experiencing, believing that he had murdered his Captain and friend. Yet, while Kirk remained at liberty, he had more of a chance to get them out of the jam they were in.

There was a flaw, however, in McCoy's strategy. Kor was an astute and clever being. He was going to be extremely suspicious of Kirk's supposed death, whether or not his First Officer appeared to believe the validity of it. The Klingon Commander would want to see Kirk's body. However, McCoy had thought of that, too. By the time Kor got around to visiting sickbay, Kirk would already be packed away in the large stasis container used to store fatalities until they could be shipped home, the Enterprise' dead box as some wit had named it.

Kirk smiled deprecatingly. "Shucks, Bones and I don't even have my thermals on."

McCoy grinned lopsidedly, crossing his arms in front of him, before sobering. "You've got to hide someplace and pretty soon before the Klingons get here. I'd sooner you weren't on the premises when that happens. Any ideas?"

"Engineering," Kirk said at once. "If I can reach the lower levels, the only one who'd find me down there would be Scotty."

"Kepten, I vould like to accompany you," Chekov said solemnly.

"And I'll be glad to have you along, Ensign." He slapped McCoy playfully on the shoulder before finally breaking away. As the door slid open, he hesitated on the threshold.

"Bones, if you get the chance, look out for Spock. He's going to need somebody--"

"I'll do my best, Jim. Take care of yourself--"

"You can count on it, Doctor. Good luck!" And he slipped through the door after Chekov.

Wearily, McCoy glanced at his nurse, one eyebrow raised. "Well, Christine, any ideas what we do now?"

She gazed back at him, calm now. "I guess all we can do is wait, Doctor."

"Yeah," McCoy said softly. "I guess we do at that."

* * *

The command chair of a Class One Starship is traditionally situated in the center of the bridge and, surrounded by the various stations, is the focal point for more than eight thousand different operations that allow the ship to function. The man who monitored those functions usually controlled the ship.

Commander Kor was now that man aboard the Federation ship U.S.S. Enterprise, but he knew that he did not control her for SpoquH, the Vulqangan First Officer, did that.

Kor let his mind wander again over that first triumphal moment when he had stepped out of the turbolift onto the alien bridge, his thoughts recapturing the tense atmosphere that he had sensed among the Hu'man gathered there.

"Who commands here?" he asked, his eyes sweeping over the closed defiant faces of the Hu'man crew. A number of eyes swivelled to where the First Officer stood, head bowed, face a mask of stone, sandwiched between four of Kor's Klingon guard. However, it was Scott, the Chief Engineer, who stepped forward, turning his back on the unresponsive Vulcan, bitter contempt etched in the dour lines of his features.

"Lieutenant Commander Scott in temporary command--"

Kor had nodded at that, a grim smile lifting the corners of his hard mouth, missing none of the insolence, but letting it pass, his eyes still on the bruised and battered face of Spock. It was hard to believe that Kirk, his adversary of old, was dead; yet, the stunned reaction of the crew and the ease with which his troops had taken over the ship had gone partway to convincing him. However, it was not until he had viewed the amorphous corpse lying in the vaults of the medical section that he had allowed himself to believe entirely.

To Kor's warrior mind, it was a pity that Captain Kirk had died so ignominiously. He had been a worthy opponent, someone of his own breed, a laudable antagonist. His demise at the hand of his own First Officer was a stroke of fortune Kor had never looked for, although it had certainly made his takeover of the 'entepray' so much easier.

At last, he had returned Scott's rebellious gaze. "Indeed, your command will be temporary, Lieutenant Commander."

He stepped down into the well of the bridge and let his fingers run lovingly over the black leather of the command chair, aware of the many eyes that watched his every move, enjoying their animosity, prepared to stoke the fires of antagonism and antipathy he felt.

"You are now prisoners of the Imperial Klingon Empire, against which you have committed an act of war. I claim this ship in accordance with instructions laid down by our respective governments. It will be of great interest to my Homeworld. The High Command has long waited to examine such a vessel."

Scott balled his fists in outrage. "There's nae been an act o' war on our part. The Organian Peace Treaty--"

"Silence." Kor smiled hollowly. "Any attempt at escape will be treated severely -- and quite unpleasantly. Do I make myself clear, Lieutenant Commander Scott?"

"Aye, I catch ye drift. But ye'll nae get awa' wi' it." He resisted the impulse that urged him to swing out and knock the infuriating smile off Kor's ugly Klingon face, knowing that retribution would follow, not just for him but also for all of them.

"But I already have, Lieutenant Commander. With the help of your First Officer there, my tokhe straav', how could I fail?" Kor smiled thinly as the Vulcan slowly raised his head to stare at him from baffled, pain-bruised eyes. "Now all that remains is for us to set a course for home. I believe you will like it there!"

Leisurely, he took the center seat and studied the information panels that circled the bridge. In design, it differed only slightly from his own command vessel, kyakH'ta, the Conqueror. Federazhon personnel were feeble and effeminate compared to his Klingon crew and needed the comfort of easy chairs and pretty decoration. In contrast to kyakH'ta, the bridge of 'entepray' was a palace of space and extravagance but he was aware from past experience that motive and firepower were similar in both ships. However, the capture of the vessel was still of incalculable value. Once they arrived home and were free to study it, the Federazhon technology would be added to their own and possibly change the whole balance of power. It was an exhilarating thought, and one that canceled out all the defeats the Komerex Klingon had suffered at the hands of the upstart Hu'man in the past.

However, his exultation was short lived. No sooner had the prisoners been taken to the holding area, the brig as the Hu'man called the area, than his yaS wa' DIch, Kurosh, had reported serious difficulties with the control computer. It would respond only to the commands of the Vulqangan SpoquH. Meanwhile the Enterprise was traveling in a wide parabola, going nowhere, and at warp six.

Somehow, Spock had betrayed him, gone against the commands of the transputer implant despite the intense pain and threat of insanity such an action ultimately created. How, Kor knew not but he recalled that once before, the Vulqangan had managed to trick him into a false sense of security. Then it had been the mindsifter, a distasteful but useful piece of instrumentation, which had been considered quite infallible -- until used on Spock. Could the transputer somehow be defective? However, it had worked so admirably, for so long, and the First Officer had done exactly what they had required him to do. Yet, what other explanation could there be?

For an instant, Kor sat silent and unmoving as he glared at the main viewscreen in front of him where his own vessel was pictured following in the wake of the Enterprise. He was more than aware that time was running out, that if the Federazhon ship did not put space between herself and this quadrant of the galaxy very soon, the prize was lost and his mission over. It needed only one passing freighter to come along and the game would be up. He could not allow that to happen.

* * *

The Vulqangan was lodged in a cell on his own, more a precaution to protect him from the Hu'man than to aid any plan of Kor's. But the First Officer seemed unaware of the privilege as he sat on the bare floor, withdrawn and uncommunicative, his back against the wall furthest from the entrance, forehead bowed on his up-drawn knees. Kor watched him, a hollow smile of amusement lifting the corners of his narrow lips, arms crossed over his chest as he sat back on the single bunk, his legs stretched out before him.

"Come now, Commander Spock." Kor's voice was gentle, consoling, but a spark of cruelty ignited within the slitted pupil of his eyes. "Why do you resist? You are the only one who controls this ship. You owe these Hu'man nothing, and your position can hardly be strengthened with your Starfleet Command now that qIrqHoD is dead."

That last touched a nerve, Kor noted casually, as he had meant it to, and he watched as Spock retreated further into his self-imposed isolation, fingers tightening about his knees as a tremor shook his rigid frame.

"Will you not help me, Commander? We have infinite resources and all the time in the Universe to indulge them." Kor spoke in the same soothing way, considerate and sympathetic, yet conveyed his deadly message. "We can afford to go gently about our negotiations, or again there are more cruder ways and means. What will it be, Mr. Spock? The option is yours."

When there was still no reply, Kor nonchalantly pushed himself to his feet, turning his back on the Vulcan, staring out through the transparent force field into the cell opposite where the rest of the Enterprise's officers were lodged. It was a subtle insult, but a significant one, and had not been lost on the First Officer.

He stretched leisurely, arching his back, hands on hips, displaying his unconcern at the vulnerability of his position; and behind him came an infinitesimal sound, one he had prepared for, the creak of boot leather, the rustle of cloth against cloth. Kor turned unhurriedly to see the Vulcan braced on one knee, palms flat on the floor, muscles bunched in readiness as he prepared to attack.

"Please, Commander, don't let me stop you." Kor looked at him sternly, reaching for the disruptor he carried at his belt. "You may even be fortunate enough to bring me down. However, I will certainly take you with me."

Spock hesitated as if willing to take that chance, before he settled into his previous position on the floor, his head tilted back against the wall, eyes closed.

The manner of Kirk's death had set him adrift in a strange and perverse sea, without an anchor or a friendly shore to which he could cleave. Everything around Spock was unclear. He needed solitude to come to terms with his Captain's death and the part he had played in it. If he joined in Kor's game, gave in to his demands, the Klingon might leave him alone; allowing him the space he so desperately needed.

It would have been easy enough to submit, all it needed was one command to the control computer yet, despite everything, his dignity would not allow him to acquiesce. Whatever Chekov, Scott, McCoy, or any other member of the crew thought, he was no traitor. His oath to Starfleet and the Federation was as important to him as it had ever been. The obligation he owed Kirk went beyond any oath he might swear. Enterprise was an element of Kirk, part of what he was, and Spock was prepared to do his utmost to save the ship from Klingon desecration. His passive resistance had served well so far. The ship was going nowhere without his assistance. He stood squarely between the Klingon Commander and what he most prized -- possession of the Enterprise. It was not the healthiest of positions to occupy.

Voice creaking with fatigue and disuse, he said, "As a mere tokhe straav', tai' Qor, I bow to your superior knowledge in this matter."

Kor bowed mockingly at Spock's faultless reproduction of Klingonaaze, remembering his words to Scott on the bridge. "Yet my slave has proved unwilling, after all. Is that not so, quv' Spock?"

"Indeed, Tai'. I am unable to help you further."

"Undoubtedly you are trusting in your command training. I would remind you that it did not help before, Commander. For many days you have been under my complete control, obeying each order I gave with such meticulous diligence that I wondered where your loyalties really belonged."

Kor smiled with genial scorn. "GhoS DaH jiH lIj." Come now, I mean to have your help.

"That particular method will not work again," Spock said, throatily, opening his eyes to stare at the Klingon, feeling his heart speed up, his lean shoulders taut as he shrank a little more into himself. Strain had tightened his face into a gaunt mask; the skin pulled closely over the bones, with deep grooves etched each side of his mouth. His words were mere bravado, nothing more, for he was not sure of anything, not even his own will. If he could be forced into turning traitor, compelled into using a phaser against his Captain without the means to resist, how could he know what else he was capable of doing? He shivered involuntarily and Kor laughed.

"That may well be," he agreed, his smile dark, voice like watered silk. "However, we have time enough to test the assumption. Are you certain you cannot help me, Commander? Just one small directive to the control computer, a second of your most valuable time--"

Kor's smile offered an ironic sympathy; yet, a demon lurked in the depths of his eyes. "Think, Commander Spock. Only a few words and you will be taken from this cell fed, warmed, and lodged in a better place. Tell me and spare yourself."

Spock's soul burned as he considered what was to come, the methods Kor would use to achieve his assistance, but there was only one choice open to him. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry and managed to croak out,

"jiH ghobe' soH qaH tai'Qor. " I cannot help you, Commander Kor.

"Very well," Kor murmured softly, as if aware of Spock's answer all along. He gestured towards the company of guards standing outside the force screen, just out of sight. "Take him to the KyakH'ta and prepare him. Our gama'Vulqangan wishes to be a hero after all."

He turned to look down at Spock who continued to lean against the wall of the brig. "Truly, I regret what is to come, Commander Spock. However, if you should change your mind at any time--"

"Qo'tai' Qor. That will not happen."

Two of the guards seized him by the arms and hauled him to his feet. They thrust him, stumbling weakly, out of the cell and past his former shipmates. Someone booed, and then a jeer went up, gaining in volume, following him out of the brig.

"Judas! Judas! Judas!"

From there, they herded him quickly towards the transporter room. Two of the Klingons carried thin, electronic goads, the kind that fired a considerable electrical charge on contact. At the least sign of reluctance on Spock's part to move in the required direction, the guards prodded him across the shoulders or in the small of the back. It was not unlike a kick from a charah, the horse-like ungulate of Vulkhanir. After the fifth time, when the jolt had thrown him to his knees, knocking the breath from him and leaving him numb from top to bottom of his spine, he refrained from being difficult and went where directed.

They materialized in a small, darkly illuminated chamber where another four guards waited. Kor, apparently was taking few chances with his obstinate prisoner. The atmosphere was dense, thick with moisture, and Spock was abruptly reminded of his recent, recurrent nightmares, of being held captive, of drowning in air so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. He drew in a breath, gasped as his lungs struggled to adjust, staggering as an indifferent guard jabbed at him with a goad.

An outlandish journey began through a series of narrow corridors indistinctly lit with an obscure, blue glow. When his captors stopped before an open shaft that appeared to drop into the bowels of the ship, Spock hesitated. There were no handholds or rails but he could not believe that Kor would allow him to escape by falling to his death.

"Hoch blng," one of the guards said, and prodded him in the side with the goad, indicating the duct.

"jIyajbe'." I do not understand, Spock replied, his toes on the edge of the drop as he looked down, although comprehension slowly dawned.

"Vulqangan Ha'DibaH blng," the guard snarled and prodded him twice in quick succession.

The shock knocked the breath out of him and forced him over the brink where a column of air whisked him downwards. At some other time, he might have found the experience exhilarating, as it was the sickening plunge only served to disconcert him more. Another party of guards were waiting at the bottom where they surrounded him again before marching off down another series of dark passageways, stopping before a single, unmarked door.

The entry opened automatically and he was roughly pushed into a large, grimy room filled with smoke, clear of furnishings apart from certain barbaric instruments that stood about the walls. Spock's breath plumed in the freezing air, which appeared to be several degrees colder than the rest of the ship, and the heat-loving Vulcan realized that Kor intended to make the experience as uncomfortable as possible both psychologically and physically for him. He looked about, eyes already adjusted to the gloom, intent on a long, low brazier raised up on a platform several inches higher than the surrounding floor that glowed with the only warmth in the chamber. Beside it stood an imposing Klingon. Seven feet tall, and almost as broad, naked to the waist, his thick hide gleamed dully in the light of the smouldering flames.

"HIghoS, Vulqangan," he ordered in a resounding, cavernous, rumble and the guards accompanying Spock dragged him nearer. The Klingon stared at the First Officer gauging what it would take to break him to their will, before nodding tersely, his thick lips curling back to show jagged, sharpened teeth. He grinned humorlessly and barked out another command.

"Nga'chuq." At a motion of his hand, the guards pinioned Spock's arms and proceeded to cut away his uniform until he was utterly naked.

Another command boomed out in Klingonaaze. "Qhuy'cha."

This time, Spock was hauled onto the platform where metal chains suspended from the ceiling were clamped forcefully around his wrists. Without ceremony he was heaved into the air and a three foot spreader bar bolted between his ankles, dragging his feet down. Spread-eagled in midair, he revolved slowly for a while until the slight movement was halted by another thick chain, fastened to the bar between his legs, and drawn tight through a bolt on the platform. He was now directly above the smouldering brazier, his feet only inches from the glowing coals and he could feel the heat striking upwards, burning the sole of each foot, his calves, and inner thighs. The heavy bar bolted to his ankles prevented any movement and he set himself to endure as it too, began to absorb heat. In contrast, the frigid air of the rest of the room was bitter against his back and flanks, making him shudder against his will, lacking the strength or serenity to regulate his thyroid and hormonal systems. Yet he knew this was only the start; there would be much worse to come if he continued to thwart Kor's plans for the Enterprise.

As if the thought had the power to conjure up the man, Kor was suddenly in the room, staring at him, his eyes aglow with that hollow light Spock had come to know well. The Klingon Commander trailed slowly around him, openly admiring the taut flow of hard muscle beneath the verdant skin, knowing that he looked upon the body of a warrior, and a splendidly proud one at that. Spock's body was in good condition, despite his recent weight loss, exceptionally fit, strong, and looked after well. Somberly, Kor faced Spock, considering what it would take to defeat the Vulcan who suffered the thorough inspection in silence.

"So, Commander Spock, we begin. You know, in theory perhaps, the use of these instruments here. They are barbaric, outmoded perhaps, but you appear to be impervious to our more -- up to date methods of persuasion. In the past, I have found pain a most suitable inducement for gaining cooperation and I assure you that sura'Qul is a master of his art. He seems to get a great deal of practice one way or another."

He looked down at the brazier with its flickering coals and the metal brand pushed deep within the flames. It already glowed crimson. Hands on hips, he studied the hot iron, the motif that would soon be seared into flesh, imagining the stink of burning meat permeating the air. He looked again at Spock.

"You have a good body, one in which you obviously take a certain pride, such a pity to spoil it. But I see from your face that pain has no fear for you. You are trained to withstand it. Even if I bring you to your knees, you will still remain silent."

"Correct," Spock affirmed, although the croak that came from his parched throat was hardly recognizable.

Kor nodded, circled him soft footed. "I thought so. Commander, you are a very stubborn man but also something of a challenge. I have never had a Vulqangan so completely in my hands before."

He frowned in thought. "Of course there are many ways of inflicting pain, with subtleness and delicacy or brazenly and without taste. How do you feel, I wonder, hanging there naked? Vulnerable perhaps, embarrassed maybe. Or do you feel humiliation? Vulqangan are such an imposing race, so superior and haughty, but also unduly reserved, modest in their conduct, so concerned for their dignity and worth. It is strange how clothing can maintain that sense of self-respect and confidence, would you not agree?"

Kor's voice had acquired an ominous quality. Calm and soft-spoken, there was a wealth of hidden meaning behind his words. He stared, hard eyed, mercilessly at his captive.

"There are those among my crew, QolleH'yeI, who would find you extremely interesting."

Anyone far less observant might have thought the First Officer remained unmoved, but Kor witnessed those small changes that told him otherwise, the flickering of an eyelid, the slight flaring of nostrils and tightening of the abdomen, all such clues furnished him with the information he sought.

"You are familiar with the word, I see. I commend you on your knowledge of our language, quv' SpoquH yaS wa' DIch. This has been a long voyage you understand, and unlike the 'ejyo'Federazhon, our resources for recreation are -- limited." The demon mask was serene. "For the last time, Commander, latIh qaSpa'jih."

From some reserve of inner strength, Spock managed to keep his voice steady, although his heart pounded at what he now knew was to come. "Qo'jIH soH qaH tai'Qor."

"You cannot help me, or you will not, Commander? As to that, we shall see. Don't keep me waiting too long. Unlike you, I am not a patient man."

He turned swiftly to sura'Kul waiting beside the brazier in silence. "Brand him with my mark and keep me informed of your progress. If he dies before I have what I want, it will be your carcass up there in his place."

* * *

It was a strange mechanized world in which Kirk and Chekov found themselves, their footsteps hardly audible above the droning hum of the gleaming power stanchions and computerized generators that towered above them in the dim half-light.

The lower levels of the Engineering deck were a maze of passageways and anonymous aisles that criss-crossed and double backed on each other in the vast complex that housed the nuclear energizers, and which powered the Enterprise.

They were no longer alone. Kirk had managed to find and reunite those small pockets of his crew that remained free and undetected when the Klingons overwhelmed the ship. His small resistance group now numbered thirty, but mostly consisted of cadets, yeomen and ensigns, the more senior officers having been swept off into confinement. The exception being Sulu, with his two man team, who had managed to reach the lower decks, as Kirk had, when the first assault had occurred.

They had been right to head for Engineering, though. Slipping from shadow to shadow, they were safe from any but the most extensive search, a search that Kor could not afford to mount. Kirk knew that in the Klingon's shoes his first action would have been to get the hell out of the area, and fast. Yet, that was obviously not happening. He stopped and listened to the muted sounds of activity, the beat of his ship, more familiar to him than that of his own heart. The Enterprise was drifting in space, going nowhere. That had to be Spock's doing, he decided, a last ditch effort by the Vulcan to save the ship even when under duress by the Klingons. It was typical of Spock that he would place himself in that much jeopardy, believing that he was ultimately responsible, and that it was his singular duty to save them from the predicament he had created. Undoubtedly, the result of stubborn Vulcan pride, Kirk thought worriedly, a conceit that might get his First Officer killed. Kor would go to any lengths to fulfil his mission, and one obdurate Vulcan would not stand in his way for long.

Kirk had to find out what was happening and he could not do that by remaining hidden. The time had finally come to take the offensive. He had done skulking on his own ship. Life support was the first priority. Once that was in his control, he would have a weapon, and a reasonable chance of success. He split his forces into three, Yeoman Varol and Lieutenant Sulu taking the first two groups, with himself leading the smaller third.

"You all know what to do," he cautioned as they prepared to go their separate ways. "Keep to the crawl ways and ventilation system as much as possible. The prime targets are engineering control and the armory. No heroics please, people. If you meet up with a substantial force, just hit and run -- and wait until reinforcements arrive."

"Reinforcements, Captain?" Sulu asked, startled.

"You heard me, Lieutenant." He grinned tightly. "I have a feeling there's going to be a mass breakout from the brig."

Sulu grinned back in understanding. "Aye, sir. We'll rendezvous as arranged, in life support."

Kirk nodded grimly as Sulu quietly led his group from their hiding place among the giant power struts towards a vent opening, grille-covered and innocuous, that was placed in the bulkhead nearby. It took less than three seconds to remove the cover. Kirk watched until the last crewman had disappeared inside before turning to the yeoman, young and pretty, crouching beside him in the darkness.

"Your turn, Yeoman. Good luck."

She smiled, a flash of white in the gloom, her eyes shining with excitement, and maybe a shade or two of anxiety. This was only her second tour and she had hardly expected to be given command so early in her career. "Thank you, sir. We'll do our best to free the ship."

Kirk gently touched her on the cheek. "I'm sure you will, Yeoman. Take care now."

Then she was gone, her group following in a tight knot. They're all so young, Kirk thought soberly as he watched them out of sight. Nevertheless, Spock had trained them well and he knew that he could count on each one of them to do their utmost to liberate the Enterprise. Kor was in for a few surprises. He just hoped they were in time.

He turned back to his own hand picked party of four and with a silent nod gestured them to make for the door. They reached it without mishap and managed to put the bored guards to sleep without any noticeable outcry before slipping out into the corridor, heading directly for the detention area and his imprisoned officers.

* * *

"That is enough."

Kor's voice came through the sound of pounding blood in Spock's ears as he wrenched away from the relentless stroke of the electronic whip, his spine arched like a bow in torment, teeth clenched on the scream that worked in his straining throat. But the anticipated explosion as the thin strip of galvanized metal contacted with his already flayed and bloody back, never came. The lash froze in mid-stroke as sura'Kul straightened from his endeavor, regarding his Commander dispassionately, his own skin gleaming with the effort he had already expended on the shackled prisoner.

"It should be taken further, Lord. This one is unusually strong-willed but in another hour, perhaps two, the fight will have gone out of him."

"No, sura'Qul," Kor murmured calmly. "You underestimate this one's stubbornness. He will not talk, and in another hour, perhaps two, he would have departed far beyond our reach. I value your profession but I need him in a reasonable condition. Take him down."

"I hear, Lord," Kul rumbled grudgingly and Spock was removed from the shackles, aware of little else until he was set on his burned and blistered feet, where he struggled to remain conscious, trembling violently as the blood rushed back into his stiffened limbs.

Unable to stand, he sank to his knees, gasping as one of the guards roughly seized his hair and forced his head back. At Kor's command, a cup was thrust at him and he gulped at the water it held, anxious to get as much of it down his throat before it was snatched away again. But, for some reason, Kor allowed him to drink his fill, staring at his stricken prisoner in silence, and Spock realized, with only the slightest tremor of apprehension, that Kor had abandoned none of his earlier intention. He had cut short the ordeal by corporal punishment, not out of compassion but because he had calculated that particular method would gain him nothing. A change of heart did not check his brutality, only a desire not to waste time.

Kor studied him now, almost as if he had read that thought in Spock's eyes. The smooth, dark skin stretched over high cheekbones, gleamed fitfully in the dim, reddish glow from the brazier, the deep wells of his eyes bright with tender amusement. From out of the folds of his tunic, he removed the thin, cylindrical shape of a hypospray with a spare clip, handing both over to the equally watchful Kul.

"So, Commander, I ask again. Will you help me?"

Spock swallowed the last of the water, taking the time to glance about him, realizing that the room, empty except for his company of guards just a moment before, was now full of Kor's crew. All male, they watched from out of the shadows, feral eyes gleaming, faces brutish with expectation.

Understanding very well what Kor intended, Spock let go of every dignity except that of defiance. Flinging himself to his feet, he hurled the empty cup into Kor's face, whirling instantly to seize the nearby guard. With practiced ease, he applied pressure to the junction between neck and shoulder until the Klingon collapsed. Before the guard hit the floor, he reached for the brazier, unaware of the hot metal as it scorched the skin on his palms and forearms. Raising the grate with Herculean strength, he tossed it at the advancing sura'Kul, not waiting to see the result as metal and hot coals scattered all over the platform. He dodged the grasping reach of another guard, heading for the door, knowing that he had little chance of reaching it and that even if he did, there was nowhere he could go to escape Kor's offensive plan. His one hope was that someone among Kor's crew would panic and cut him down with a disruptor. Unlike Starfleet regulation phasers, Klingon disruptors did not have a stun facility. However, it was a vain expectation. Kor's enraged shout could be heard over the roaring howls of his squad, warning them that if the Vulqangan died, so would they all.

Within a dozen feet of the entrance, he was finally overpowered as some huge warrior knocked him off his feet and another pinioned his arms behind his back. He continued to lunge and twist, flinging himself back and forth like a maddened sehlat, wearing himself out uselessly in an effort that could gain him nothing. Yet, in the end he did get something out of his struggles, a frenzied, distraught numbness, that robbed his mind of its sharpest awareness as he was forcefully stretched out and immobilized.

"'oH vam lIj puj'ata, quv' SpoquH?" Is this your weakness? Kor asked gently, as he bent over Spock's prone body, taking the First Officer's jaw in one unyielding hand so that he could not turn his head away.

Denial snarled inside Spock's head as he stared unwillingly into the ruthless eyes that continued to search his face. Yet, he recognized the truth of Kor's observation. This was indeed his Achilles' heel. He could endure the knowledge that he was both traitor and assassin, though the awareness would haunt him interminably, but he could not bear the thought of being used merely to satisfy the transient carnality of the KyakH'ta's crew. He was unable to halt the shudders that ran through him as his rebelliousness finally crumbled. Spock went limp as he stopped fighting and the tautness left his body, seeing the triumph on Kor's face.

"Qapla Daq mirqH joH'a'." Success at last, Lord, Sura'Kul breathed beside Kor's ear.

"Help me and you will be spared all further unpleasantness," Kor said, his eyes alight. "I do not wish to force you into such an act but if it becomes necessary, I will not hesitate. Do you understand?"

"jIyaj," Spock agreed wearily, his voice hardly more than a whisper. He understood very well. And because he was unable to submit to Kor's demands or tolerate the thought of being used in such a way, he took the only route left open to him. A faint exhalation escaped his lips as he turned his thought and will inward, reaching for calm, for tranquillity, and the force to do what he must. Everything inside him slowed. His blood ticked softly in his ears. His heartbeat stuttered, and then stopped, his lungs faltered, collapsing inwards. The pulse hammering at his temple throbbed no more.

Kor's expression changed from exultation to outrage as he watched the intelligence in the First Officer's eyes rapidly diminish, fading quickly, as Spock shut down his internal organs one by one, preparative to taking his own life.

"Qu'vatlh!" Kor's curse echoed through the room as he straightened urgently. "He thinks to escape me. Do not delay, sura'Qul, inject him with the qoH'qayn."

As the Klingon inquisitor held the hypospray to Spock's throat, Kor struck the Vulcan across the face with the back of his hand, putting all his vigor into the blow. Spock's head rocked with the strength of it. Again, Kor hit him, and again.

Spock came back from death with a start. He inhaled deeply of the air, abruptly convulsing as his heart started to beat. He stared at Kor from a vast distance, without comprehension as life returned, unable to grasp the implications, still under the belief that he was dead. Then he saw once again, the dimly lit, smoke-filled room, felt the glacial air against his tortured flesh, and knew what had occurred.

Kor's eyes pierced him, the smile no longer so amused, and yet there was a new appreciation in their depths, a respect that bordered almost on admiration.

"Do not think you can cheat me by dying, quv' SpoquH. That is no longer your decision. If I so wish, I can remove your skin inch-by-inch, layer-by-layer, until all that is left is a bloody, mewling lump of flesh. I can sever each finger and toe, joint by joint, or slice off your ears, and your nose as well as your lips, and eyelids. You might be insane by the end but you would still be alive. Then and only then, would sura'Qul rip your heart from your body and eat it in front of you. The targs will feed on what is left. Give me what I want and I might let you die quickly."

Beset by uncertainties, Spock looked past him in bemused despair at the hulking shape of sura'Kul who smacked his lips and laughed, realizing that it was no bluff. Kor had the means to keep him alive through whatever torment he chose, however diabolic, until his will, agonized by what he thought was coming next, would betray him. Although he could withstand pain to an astonishing degree, there was a limit to his resilience. A time would emerge when his spirit was subjugated, when his nerves would stand no more, and he cried out for an end. Then Kor would have him and the Enterprise both. Until that time came, however, he knew he must preserve his remaining honor as a Vulkhanir and bear himself with all the dignity he could muster. And so, with no voice left to answer, Spock remained silent.

"Do not continue to provoke me, Commander," Kor said, signaling to sura'Kul who again produced the hypospray. "I have told you my patience is not indefinite. You will cooperate. One way or another I will have what I want. Now, I will leave you in the hands of my crew. And -- afterwards -- there is someone for you to meet, an old friend."

Unable to resist, Spock felt the hypo discharge against his throat and soon after, a strange agitation overtook his limbs. The pain of the weals across his back and the burns on his limbs took on a more sensual aspect, transmuted into a fiery pleasure as the drug heightened his awareness. Every nerve ending was twice as sensitive, twice as responsive, leaving him vulnerable and exposed as the Klingons moved closer. As the calloused hands closed about him, Kor stood back, preparing to leave, meeting the Vulqangan's pain-filled eyes, seeing the undeniable anguish there, although the First Officer's expression remained composed, the habitual mask in place. "This will stop now if you wish it, quv' SpoquH. Change your mind. Save yourself."

He saw the hesitation, slight though it was, glimpsed the indecision, and held his breath, but when the answer came it was not the one he wanted.

"qaSlaHbe'." Sir, I cannot.

"Ha', Ha', bIjangDI'Doghlaw' jatlIj jay'laHbe'." Come, come. You answer with an idle tongue.

"It is the only answer I can give, tai'Qor. The stars will speak first."

"As to that we shall see. I suggest you do not resist what is about to happen. choSuvchugh'oy'lljDaghur neH. Struggling only makes it hurt more." He turned to his waiting crew. "TaghDaH. Begin now. Spare him nothing. I want to hear him scream."

* * *

Spock, sprawled naked on the bare floor of the cell that enclosed him, shivered uncontrollably as his teeth chattered in the sub zero temperature, his arms pulled in tight against his chest and both knees drawn up in a futile attempt to stave off the cold. At the back of his parched throat there was a bitter, chemical taste, a reminder of the drug Kor had forced upon him during his interrogation.

He bit his lip, as hot on the heels of that memory came another, much harder to endure. Anger pounded between his temples at the remembrance of the impudent, brazen hands upon his pliant flesh, the rough caresses, and the ardent mouths.

Diminished by the aphrodisiac drugs forced on him, his inherent morality withdrew in shame and abhorrence, while the impassioned beast within was liberated to commit the perversions demanded of it. The thrusting bodies were eager to demonstrate his lasciviousness, to pleasure and gain pleasure from him, both from his fervor and from his utter degradation. That part of his mind that remained at a distance, remote from the affects of the stimulants, had borne the abuse, retreating within his consciousness, unable to escape into death, crying out in silent anguish, until Kor finally called a halt to that stratagem, ready to begin another--

Exhausted, he tried to collect himself, slipping in and out of reality; unable to think through the cold and the pain, yet grateful for the respite he had so unexpectedly been given. It was another of Kor's maneuvers, he realized. The Klingon captain had mentioned something about a friend, an old friend, waiting to see him, someone from the ship, perhaps? McCoy was the only one he could think of who would be likely to go to him on the KyakH'ta, and only because the doctor would have little choice in the matter.

Spock now had some internal injuries together with a broken rib or four, to add to the burns and welts from the flogging he had undergone. Klingons in lust mated with as much ferocity as they fought on the battlefield. The fresh wounds were not life threatening, but might impede his full appreciation of whatever Kor had next in mind.

He shuddered, though not from the cold now, remembering the Klingon's vivid description of removing his skin by slow degrees, aware that it could be done and that he would be kept conscious throughout the ordeal. There were apocryphal stories of similar atrocities on every world that had come within reach of Klingon dominion. If he felt it would achieve his objective, Kor might even go so far as to utilize McCoy for the surgery. To dissect him while still alive was the ultimate in hands-on experience an opportunity, since Kirk's death that McCoy, no doubt, would find quite tempting.

At that thought, Spock was not sure whether to be cynical or appalled. He wiped abruptly at his cheeks, finding them wet, and for the first time since coming aboard the KyakH'ta, cried out, his voice weak and rasping. Grief flared through him at what he had lost the knowledge infinitely more painful than Kor's treatment of him. He did not understand why he continued to struggle against the Klingon, why he was prepared to resist such brutality. His Captain was dead; the ship could not be saved, except by the direct intervention of some supreme deity in which he had little faith. He had forfeited friends, career, life, all except his integrity, and the moral obligation he owed to Jim Kirk, Starfleet, and the Federation. Honor and duty, the two watchwords that had served him well, sustaining him through the years of loneliness and the anxiety of being less than he ought to be, should have had little meaning, yet he continued to observe the burden of his heritage. It was as if his habitual devotion to a code of ethics, now under siege, was all he had to cling onto, all that was keeping him sane.

Fatigued beyond any weariness he had ever felt before, caught up in a shifting fog of hurt and despair, he was unable to resolve the conundrum and, mercifully, escaped for a time into troubled sleep -- only to be roused some time later by an intense, urgent whisper seeming to breathe right beside his ear.

"Spock? What have they done to thee?"

He stirred gradually, uncoiling his stiffened limbs, numb with cold as he turned to look at the owner of the voice. He blinked, taken aback, unable to believe what his eyes told him.

"T'Pavan?" he queried dazedly, unsure if she was real or a creation of his fevered imagination. Perhaps he was really aboard the Enterprise, safe in his quarters, his body pumped full of McCoy's bizarre concoctions and the memories of Kirk dying, his subsequent torture, and now this, was delirium, the product of some virulent illness. However, though he wanted to believe that, he knew it was not so. Even delirious, his mind would find it a huge challenge to conjure up the violent physical reality of the experience he had so far undergone.

"Cousin." She dropped to her knees beside him, her mobile features mirroring her shock and distress as she saw the blood and filth, the copious wounds and bruises that covered his body. On seeing the prominent Klingon emblem burned into the skin of his thigh, which had left the soft tissue inflamed and swollen, she had drawn in her breath.

"They told me they would not hurt thee. I did not want this for thee. Never this."

"T'Pavan--" Spock repeated in dismay, swallowing hard, all too aware of his nakedness, the state of his body. His lips were stiff, numb from cold; shivers wracked him continuously. "What does thee here? Thy presence gives me no peace. I am ashamed."

Instantly, she slipped off the voluminous outer robe she wore and quickly covered him. It was made of mai'she, a finely woven fibre, naturally warm, and light, imbued now with her heat and distinctly feminine scent. Spock felt the cold ease along with his embarrassment as it settled over him. However, he shuddered again as her fragrance reached him, catching his breath, provoked into fresh arousal by her nearness, the Klingon stimulant still surging through his system.

"It is I who am dishonored, Spock-neha."

"Thee? How so?" he asked, his thoughts chaotic, fearful, flinching from the suggestion of any new hurt. He searched her patrician face, which meant so much more to him than that of just a friend, anxious and bewildered by the confession until the memory surfaced belatedly of their last meeting, of the Klingon soporific in the sheekuya, realizing that the capture of the Enterprise had been planned from the start, along with his part in it. Who else but T'Pavan had the power, the resources, to divert the ship to Nevas'ashar? "I -- have killed my Captain, T'Pavan, given his command into the hands of the Klingons. I demand an answer."

She shook her head, trying to evade his question. "Does it matter, why?"

"It matters. Thee will answer T'Pavan." Somehow, he managed to heave himself up on one arm, reaching for her hand. Unmindful of the angry sores that covered his palm he took her slim fingers in his own.

"I cannot." However, something passed between them before she managed to free herself from his punishing grasp, a flicker of awareness.

"They have some hold on thee?" Of a sudden the fear that had receded came back to trouble him. He stared at her averted face, his brows drawing together in a frown. "Is it Semnek?"

She raised her head, her gaze scornful. "It is not Semnek. For all I know my honored consort is still on Nevas'ashar. He lives his life and I live mine."

"Who then? Tell me, T'Pavan."

She thrust herself up, away from him, pacing back and forth in the small cell, her breath hazy in the frigid air, rubbing at her arms to warm herself. "Do not think me proud of what I have done, Cousin. I am not. Perhaps I have earned thy censure, but they have what is dearest to my heart, more so even than thee is. It was a choice I had to make. One I did not welcome."

Spock, nauseated by her constant movements back and forth, unable to keep up with her quick strides, allowed himself to fall back onto the hard floor, a soft moan of pain escaping him as he closed his eyes.

"Who, T'Pavan?"

She came to kneel beside him again, pulling the robe considerately about his shoulders. When he did not acknowledge her, she sighed deeply and reached out to gently caress his cheek, startling him into opening his eyes.

He pulled in a shocked breath, clumsily releasing his arm from the creases of the robe to push her hand away, the drug Kor had given him making her touch like fire upon his fevered skin. "Do not--"

"Forgive me," she said contritely enough, but still caught at his fingers, bringing them to her face, her green gaze brilliant even in the dim light of the Klingon cell. "Have thee ever wondered, what the consequences of that night on the beach at Es'sarhan were, Spock-neha?"

Almost against his will, he reached for the katra points at temple and cheek that would give him access to her thoughts. She remained on her knees beside him, poised and self-possessed, while he plundered her memories of the past. The astonishment at what he found there was so great that Spock had trouble hiding his reaction to it. Emotion raged through him, startling and unlooked for.

"Yes, it is so, Spock-neha. They hold our child, our daughter, T'Pavahna. Now can thee understand the why of what I did?"

A daughter? No, it could not be. Yet, he sensed that T'Pavan believed her declaration to be true.

"Give the Klingons what they want, Spock," she begged him. "Save her for me, please."

So, another of Kor's strategies slowly came to fruition, perhaps one of the hardest to deny. Et tu, T'Pavan?

His voice was unsteady as he asked, "Where -- is the child?"

"On this ship." He saw the awakening hope on her pale and desperate face at his question. "They will not let me see her. She is alone, afraid, but courageous. Will thee not help her, Spock-neha?"

Spock stirred tiredly, trying to ease his many hurts, finding it impossible. It was difficult to think rationally. All his concentration focused on T'Pavan and the child he had never seen, never known, perhaps would never know fully now. A terrible realization suddenly occurred to him. Kor would, no doubt, be monitoring the conversation, would now be aware of the advantage he held, the leverage he could exert. While pain and humiliation had not worked on Spock, a threat to the child, or to T'Pavan, might have more effect. He closed his eyes, tried to ease the misery of his body, acknowledging the anguish while modifying its intensity. However, drugged as he was, control did not come easily and refused to obey the bounds he set. He knew what he must do but was reluctant to set it in motion. Weariness dragged at his limbs, at his eyelids, impelling him towards the respite of sleep, and part of him wanted desperately to surrender to the inclination, escape this new burden thrust upon him.

The meld had sapped his strength and he could barely turn his head to look at T'Pavan. He swallowed, his throat dry, trying to instill some conviction into the words he must utter, hoping she would hear more than he said, that the old empathy was still alive.

"Why should I believe this child is mine? Thee is bonded to Semnek."

T'Pavan stared at him, incredulity engraved on her features, drawn by anger and grief into a mask of severe beauty. "My bonding with Semnek was a sham. I already carried thy child. Give me justice, Cousin. I swear on my honor as Keh'sarin that, in this, I do not betray thee."

"Thee speaks of m'hekteth, T'Pavan. Yet thee has lied before," Spock's voice rasped harshly, deliberately severe. "I see no logic in believing thee now. This is a ruse of the Klingons. The Enterprise is of inestimable value to Kor. He will do anything in his power to acquire it."

T'Pavan stared at him, a deep disquieting spark coming slowly to birth in her green eyes, now as empty as glass, her face contorting fiercely in one dreadful convulsion of bitter understanding. "No, this is not so. Thee purposely deny the truth. Why, Spock?"

"I -- cannot bargain with the enemy merely because of one child, T'Pavan, even if that child is mine."

She raised a trembling hand to smooth back a wing of dark hair, gathering the shards of her shattered world together as she confronted him. "Thee will let thy own child suffer simply to defend a principle, is that it?"

"I have a -- responsibility to those four hundred crewman on the Enterprise and to the millions of lives they protect--"

"The Enterprise is but a vessel, not a living creature of blood and bone. It cannot die. The crew will not be hurt if Kor has his way. Where is thy duty to T'Pavahna, to thy daughter?" She had not heard the desperate appeal in his voice. Her rage swirled around him, battering him. "She is but five years old. Thy blood flows in her veins. What of thy responsibility to T'Pavahna?"

It took all of Spock's resolve to continue his charade. "It would be illogical for Kor to harm the child. He knows I -- will not be swayed by any such action."

"Do not humor me. Kor will do what he must to make thee cooperate. What is my child to him? He will use her and thee knows it. I beg thee, Spock. Don't let the Klingons hurt her."

"Kaiidth, T'Pavan--"

She knelt above him, her breasts heaving with a voiceless cry as though he had struck her a violent blow beneath the heart. For an instant, she stared at him, unwilling to believe that he would not give the aid she needed, coiled about her burden of shame and rage, love, and hate, like a wild beast about its death wound.

"Thee owes me a debt, Spock," she said, at last. "Twice now, I have saved thee from certain death. I ask for an accounting."

Spock's patience finally shattered, aware that Kor watched, listening to every word that passed between them, and that her continued naïveté endangered them all. The pent up fury that had grown since his arrival aboard the KyakH'ta exploded abruptly as he hurled himself up onto his knees, feeling something rupture within, only stopping himself from pitching onto his face by an outstretched arm. He straightened immediately, his chest constricted, the cords in his neck knotted with tension as he faced her. His breathing was fast and irregular; there was sheen of perspiration superimposed over the dried blood on his face. His narrowed eyes blazed.

"An accounting will be made but not here, not now, T'Pavan." His hands were shaking and he balled them into fists. "Speak of this no more. I will not listen. Leave me, now."

T'Pavan drew back from him, startled by his vehemence but fearless in her intent to hurt him as he had hurt her. "Very well, I will leave thee. Only tell me this before I go. Why does thee still live, Spock? Thee is quick to condemn my actions but what of thine? Thee says thee has killed thy Captain. If thee truly valued thy honor, should thee not have sooner died than continue with that shame? Perhaps it is thee who needs to search thy conscience, not I."

With crippled, clumsy movements, she pushed herself upright and crossed to the doorway, banging upon the metal with her fist.

Spock watched in silence as she blundered past the silent guard, who moved aside to give her passage, listening as her broken footsteps echoed in the corridor outside, growing ever fainter as she ran from him. He wavered on his knees, as the pain of what he had done darkened his vision and softened his bones, before they gave way beneath him and he fell in a heap of shocked flesh, surrendering to the black despair that surged up to greet him --

* * *

Kor continued to watch the silent, crumpled figure in the dark cell for a time, deliberating on the conversation he had witnessed, not quite believing his good fortune. The captive girl-child they had continued to hold hostage only to gain T'Pavan's full cooperation, but now it appeared she might finally be the solution to bringing the intractable Vulqangan First Officer to heel. Spock's daughter! It was an interesting piece of information, quite astounding, but would the Vulqangan submit if he threatened the child?

The only other alternative was to continue with the physical torture, a long and so far futile process. Spock had reserves of strength and determination that Kor had never met in any other being before and he knew that eventually the ever-resourceful First Officer would find a way around the drugs that were being forcibly administered and escape either into death or insanity when pressed too far.

If the child and her mother was Kor's only recourse against failure then he must use them. He could not believe, whatever noble sentiments Spock approved, that the Vulqangan would allow his own child to suffer the same persecution he had endured in order to protect the Federazhon ship. And even if T'Pavan lied and the child was not Spock's, Kor was certain the First Officer would not stand idly by while mother or daughter was injured. That was not in the nature of the man Kor had come to know.

He smiled tightly and reached for the intercom unit at his side. Instantly the small screen cleared and the face of his own First Officer Kurosh, solidified upon it, presenting a formal salute as he came stiffly to attention.


"What progress has been made?" Kor asked without preamble. Kurosh's jaw tightened, shifting uneasily, refusing to meet his Lord's gaze. He hissed softly in entreaty, knowing he had no good news to impart.

"pagh, joH." None, Lord, he admitted. "Without the Vulqangan, it is impossible to bypass the control computer. The ship is programmed to explode at any tampering."

Kor's lips thinned in exasperation. "As I thought. I command a ship of incompetents and fools."

He began to pace, pulling at his shoestring moustache. "Very well. It seems I must tease the child a little and see if our fearless Vulqangan is as dispassionate as he wishes me to suppose. Have the Hu'man physician, Qel'MaqHoi, report to his detention cell. He has some minor injuries that require treatment. I want him fully alert to everything that transpires. Take the girl and her mother to the interrogation room. Do not underestimate either of them, Qurosh. They, too, are of the Vulqangan stock."

"jIyaj, tai'Qor."

Chapter 6: Kirk.

The plan he had worked out was simple enough, perhaps too simple, and the odds were against them. Kirk stopped in the narrow crawlway and twisted awkwardly round. Sulu, Chekov, Chavannes, and Hietala were right behind him. They were all breathing hard in the hot, confined space, despite their individual levels of fitness. It had been hard going and he could feel his own heart thumping away, filling his whole chest cavity, pushing against his lungs and cutting off what little breath he had left.

"Pass the word, Ensign," he said to the young officer who had crawled up behind him, her face a pale blur in the general darkness. "Ten more yards and we'll be out of here. Once through that grille, split up and deploy. Move like hell."

The girl nodded, grinned, a quick flash of white teeth, as she pushed back the sweat-dampened tendrils of hair that had come loose from the usually neat chignon and were sticking to her grimy face. Kirk wiped at the drops of perspiration beading his own temples and upper lip, his shirt sticking to his back as he squeezed around again, knowing he must look far worse. With a muttered curse, he doggedly pressed on, feeling the skin smart on his hands and knees as he dragged himself through the restricted space of the conduit, promising himself that once the ship was back on course, he was going to try that diet McCoy was always going on about.

It had been particularly gruelling, ascending from Engineering using only the Jeffries tubes and service ways, but the tide had finally turned and the Enterprise was almost back in his control. He had freed the senior officers from the brig, apprehending most of Kor's men soon after, and Scotty was overhauling life-support trying to get the systems back on line. The odd Klingon contingent, however, still roamed free, something he intended to remedy shortly. Neither McCoy nor Spock was with the other officers when he liberated the brig. The doctor had never left sickbay, apparently, and Kor had removed Spock to his own ship some hours previously. It was not hard to understand why. The control computer was still repeating the same old catechism: Spock's specific order was the only charge it would obey; an order that had yet to be given or Kor would have high-tailed it back to Klingon space long since.

Kirk slowed, wiping at the sweat pouring from his hairline. He was almost on the grille that would let them out onto deck seven where he hoped to find one or other of his contrary officers. Three yards and still no sound from the corridor. Two yards and filtered light washed over his torn and dirty hands. Kirk stopped again and peered out of the grille, expecting a challenge at any moment. None came. Slowly he worked at the grille until it came loose and he could slip it free, letting it fall silently to the deck. With exaggerated care, he sneaked a quick look in both directions but the corridor remained silent and empty. He pushed himself out, followed quickly by his team, before replacing the grille, a little bent but not overly noticeable. The sounds of heavy footsteps around a far corner made them all freeze. At a whispered command from Kirk, they hurriedly backed up to the next intersection and tried to melt into the paintwork.

Before long, a Klingon came striding up the main corridor followed by two guards escorting a very recalcitrant Doctor McCoy. The guards were carrying some sort of pointed rod that they used to prod their obstinate prisoner and it did not take a genius to realize that the goad carried some sort of electrical charge. Despite being nudged several times, McCoy was going out of his way to hinder the Klingons from getting to their destination.

Kirk let them all pass before plunging out after them, Sulu and Hietala hot on his heels. There was a guttural cry of shock as the Klingon officer turned at the sound of running steps behind him but almost instantly, Kirk was under his guard, grasping at the arm that held a disruptor pistol, twisting upwards as he reached for the deadly weapon.

He saw the burly alien's mouth open, knew the warning scream was coming and went weak with despair and anxiety. Then he clapped his hand over the Klingon's mouth while clawing desperately for the pistol. The tussle could have lasted only seconds at the most but it seemed like a lifetime to Kirk as he slammed the Klingon back against the bulkhead, wishing that he knew how to use Spock's Vulcan neck pinch, but finding his fist a good substitute. The Klingon's skin was like rhinoceros hide and left his knuckles bruised and bleeding but eventually the weapon changed hands.

The other two guards were already unconscious, and Chekov with Chavannes' help, was stripping off the uniforms as a matter of course. Kirk grinned weakly at McCoy as he dragged the alien officer off balance with an arm around his throat. Quickly, he pulled the man into a nearby storage room where the guards were being wrapped with loving care in strands of insulation wire.

"Take it easy," Kirk admonished, wiping a faint trace of blood from a cut on the lip that he had sustained in the brief struggle. "I just want to ask a few, friendly, questions--"

He pushed the Klingon roughly against the wall, hearing the alien's ridged forehead thunk satisfyingly against the metal as Chekov and Sulu moved in to pin him down. He passed the disruptor to Chavannes, commandeering one of the electrical goads from Hietala in exchange.

"Bones," he smiled, soft and slow at the Chief Surgeon. "You okay?"

"Now I am!" McCoy grinned back with relief. He was sporting a fat lip of his own and what looked to be a spectacular shiner of a bruise beneath his right eye. "What took you so long?"

Kirk spared a look at his scratched hands and broken fingernails. "It's been -- a busy day. Perhaps we should keep the details until later. Where were they taking you?"

McCoy sobered immediately, his blue eyes worried. "Spock's been moved to Kor's ship. It appears that he's in need of medical attention."

"That doesn't sound too good, does it?" Kirk murmured, feeling his heart plummet. "Where on the ship is he being held?"

McCoy nodded at the Klingon who was now spread-eagled uncomfortably against the wall of the storage room, his back to them. "Ask him. He's the guy with all the answers, Jim."

Kirk regarded him seriously, his eyes plainly asking if McCoy really was all right. With a small, upward tilt of his lips Bones nodded, seeming to say don't worry about me, I'm fine. Not completely convinced, Kirk turned back to the prisoner, toying with the goad. "What kind of charge does this thing give?"

"Like being kicked by a horse!" McCoy offered dryly.


"Yeah, really."

"That would be on the lowest setting, then."

"Come again."

"Look." He showed McCoy the calibrations. "There're another three adjustments."

"So what do they use the last one on, a tIn Ha'DibaH?"

"Bones, I didn't know you spoke Klingon."

"I'm a real fast learner."


"Really." McCoy coughed into his hand. "Especially when I have an incentive."

"You think our guest over there needs an incentive, Doctor?"

"Maybe, Captain."

"Well, I think he does." He grabbed the Klingon by the neck of his uniform and twisted him round to face them. "Well, Klingon?"

The alien's lip curled in a sneer. "Do you expect me to answer, Hu'man? tIhIngan maH."

Kirk made himself smile pleasantly, his mind working overtime. The Klingons were no less well trained than his own crew. It needed time and effort before this one would talk. Time he didn't have if Spock was to be helped. He chewed on a thumbnail. Klingons weren't afraid of pain. Even if he gave this one a jolt that would have floored an elephant, he might remain tight-lipped. McCoy took a step nearer, obviously guessing his dilemma.

"Captain if I might make a suggestion."

"Yes, Bones."

"There is another way." His southern drawl was soft as he reached for his medical pouch and pulled out a hypospray. "We don't need any thumb screws or electronic whips. A coupla' shots of this and he'll be eating out of your hand for sure."


"Essentially it's a modified Klingon technique based on hallucinogenic drugs and hypnosis. Of course with such an unwilling subject we'll need to use a fairly high dosage--"

"Would that be dangerous?"

McCoy let his eyes roam over the three Klingons who were now all fully conscious and very alert. He grinned, his blue eyes glittering. "The drugs are addictive, sir. However, at the dosages we'll need to use I doubt they'll have chance to get hooked."

"But they'll tell us what we want to know before they die?"

"Oh, they won't die, Captain. However, their brains will probably turn into mush--"

"Mush, Doctor?" Kirk asked, innocently. "As in thick, soft, and pulpy?"

"You've got it in one, Captain."

"Maj! MajQa!" Good. Well done. Kirk smiled. "Very well, go ahead. But I want you to start on that one over there."

He swivelled abruptly on his heel to point at one of the Klingon guards, trussed up in the insulation wire, who had been showing increasing signs of agitation. The alien jerked back as if he had been burned, his pleading eyes looking at his superior officer, babbling something in Klingon. The officer replied curtly and Kirk did not need a translation to understand what was said.

Without a word, he stepped up to the man against the wall, jabbing him in the sternum with the goad he held. The Klingon fell to his knees, retching violently, that one blow changing him from commanding officer to an inanimate mass. "Who asked you, Mister?"

Switching his gaze to McCoy, who made no effort to help the fallen Klingon, he said harshly, "Get on with it, Doctor."

McCoy nodded and pulled a hypo from his med-pouch. He sauntered over to the tied crewman, his hands icy cold, yet with sweat running down his side as he wondered what would happen if the Klingon failed to break down. Jim had gone along with the deception but the hypo clip he fitted into the casing contained only a harmless vitamin supplement and not the hallucinating drugs he had mentioned. Yet, as he approached, the young soldier flicked an agonized look at his officer, once again restrained by Sulu and Chekov.

"yaS,'ulth? Jach SanwIj," the boy cried out as McCoy advanced upon him.

"Don't look for help there, crewman," Kirk barked out. "You're going to spill everything you know whether you want to or not."

The crewman started to sweat, the smell of his fear evident in the small storeroom as McCoy knelt beside him fiddling with the hypo clip. The soldier swallowed thickly but it was yet to be seen which he feared most, Kor's rage, or the threat of his brain turning to pulp. But the officer had apparently decided which way his subordinate would jump.

"bIjathIhHa'chugh qaHoh." If you misspeak, I will kill you, he screamed, bounding away from the wall. Chekov countered immediately using a vicious throat punch, followed by a left hand chop to the neck that could have felled an ox. The Klingon was knocked backwards, hitting his head on the wall as he dropped. Sulu knelt quickly and felt for a pulse.

"He's dead, Captain." Only Kirk saw the infinitesimal droop of an eyelid as the helmsman pushed himself back on his feet.

"Only good Klingon is a dead one, Mister Sulu," Kirk nodded, shrugging. "You did well, Mister Chekov."

He looked over at the other prisoners and McCoy.

"QaH lIj jiH je SoH DIch Daq taH. qan." Help me and you will be protected, Kirk growled in halting tIhIngan, not too sure if he had said what he meant. But the Klingons seemed to get the general picture.

"HitlhejQolneS. Qos." The answer came back with a snarl.

"What was that?"

"I think he said 'take a hike', Kepten," Chekov informed him straight-faced.

"Oh, did he now. Do'Ha'. That's unfortunate. Perhaps Bones can change his mind. How are you doing, Doctor?"

McCoy had finished calibrating the hypo settings, at last. The Klingons exchanged anxious looks. Green youngsters both, they had been promised glory and a clean death no doubt, not the lingering hell they thought was coming from the devilish, pale-skinned aliens.

"qay'be, JoH'a." It is not a problem, McCoy answered with a smirk, pressing the nozzle of the spray to the Klingon boy's neck but holding off the discharge.

The boy gulped air down into suddenly straining lungs, cursing foully. He groaned. "jatlh'jI. I will tell you what you want to know. Only keep your filthy physician away from me."

McCoy took the hypo away but turned his blue gaze full on the boy. "Watch your mouth, son. Didn't your momma teach you any manners where you come from?"

Kirk giggled suddenly, high pitched and infectious, and within seconds, to the amazement of the two Klingon captives, the Enterprise officers broke up with almost hysterical laughter --

Chapter 7: Spock

Spock jolted abruptly awake, still enmeshed in a nightmare of Kirk armed with a laser scalpel about to remove his skin. So real were the images that he searched the tiny cell, examining each shadow repeatedly with his eyes, half hoping the delusion true if it meant Kirk still lived. However, he was alone, although a pitcher of what he took to be water now stood some feet away, just out of reach. He stirred reluctantly, his entire body one huge throbbing ache, burning with fever, his throat dehydrated, and his tongue so swollen that it filled his whole mouth.

The water jug provoked him, as Kor no doubt intended. It would be drugged, he knew, but his all-consuming thirst outweighed even that knowledge. Torpid with exhaustion, he lifted his head and felt the void reach for him. He kept it off with only the power of his battered will, channeling the renewed agony that assaulted his abused body until gradually he was able to sit upright.

He straightened his sweat-chilled spine, feeling the bloody welts cut into his back break open at the movement, hugging his upraised knees as he shook with nausea. The queasiness passed as he stared unseeing into the fog-like blur and the distress faded little by little, giving him time to deal with his swimming senses, the sudden pounding of blood in his ears, and the leaden drubbing of his heart.

Time slowed as he weakly pushed himself over onto his hands and knees, his head drooping down between his braced forearms, too heavy to raise upright. Eyes shut; he eased himself forward, panting with the effort, until his reaching fingers found the jug. Too feeble to pick it up, he lapped at the sour liquid, ignoring the bitter tang, retching as it hit his empty stomach.

Spock swooned, his remaining strength draining away, feeling the drug course through him as he keeled over, doubled up in a heap, his breath rasping in his throat.

The rage surged in him at his own frailty, aware that he had little time remaining before Kor began a new tactic, one that would certainly involve T'Pavan and the child, his daughter if he believed T'Pavan. And how could he not believe? He had seen her thoughts, experienced her dread and fear, her reluctance to play Kor's deadly game. She was as much a pawn in that game as he was, obeying as he had obeyed, her crime no greater than his because she had acted with misguided awareness, from love as well as duty.

T'Pavan had not lied, but even if the child was not his own, it made little difference, his m'hekteth demanded that he help them. Equally, his honor also forbade he submit to Kor's demands. Consequently, his only recourse left was to escape from his prison, find the child and her mother, and get them away from the KyakH'ta. There was nothing more for him to consider, nothing else to remember or regret. His way was plain. Kaiidth, the future was all, for it was certain there was no changing the past.

Having made his decision, he composed his physical body as well as he was able, excluding his animal senses one by one, just as he had done in the interrogation chamber when he had sought death, until all that remained was the rhythm of his faintly beating heart. An unexpected peace swelled in Spock's breast as the pain receded and his respiration deepened. He floated, drifting, separate; summoning the latent energy of choi'renh, that same instinctive power that fueled the healing trance. Yet, instead of turning it inward to reduce his abnormally high body temperature or repair the damaged soft tissue, and internal injuries, he concentrated the looming force, readying his body and will for the ultimate struggle.

* * *

Sometime later he was jarred back to consciousness by the far away noise of thunder, the sound of metal vibrating beneath the thud of heavily shod feet. There were soldiers on the march, a Klingon patrol on its way to his cell. He listened intently, his perceptive hearing able to distinguish between the individual footsteps. There were three guards in the watch plus a fourth, not of the military, by the resonance of the steps. Was it T'Pavan sent by Kor once again to convince him of the need to cooperate? Spock's brows drew together in a frown. Certainly, the defense was the smallest in number that the Klingon commander had used so far. Because Kor believed the threat no longer existed, and that he was incapable of resistance?

Cease presuming, or anticipating, he told himself sternly, willing his body to relax. Rely on thyself, on the force within, on thy training. However, it was not easy to remain entirely still as the door to the cell creaked slowly open and the heavy, booted feet thudded towards him. He kept his breathing shallow, calling on the choi'renh to aid him as the three guards approached. The fourth knelt quickly and surprisingly gentle fingers touched his throat, feeling for a pulse.

"Is he alive?" a remote voice asked a voice that he had known in another place, another life.

"Barely. We've got to get him back to the Ent--"

Spock acted on reflex, reaching for the hand at his neck, twisting sideways, a foot placed expertly in the others solar plexus as he sent the startled man hurtling over his shoulder. He was on his feet in one fluid movement, the choi'renh flowing through him, potent and strong, as he grabbed for the next shadowy form, right hand grasping at the disruptor pistol while his left searched for the special contact point just below the clavicle bone.

The Klingon male gasped in fright, cried out abruptly. "Spock, it's me, Jim! It's Jim, Spock! Spock--"

His reaching hand froze as he spared a look at the Klingon's face; saw the hastily applied make-up and forehead prosthesis, recognized the features beneath. He staggered, the world turning under his feet, crying out wordlessly in shock and bewilderment.

"Captain --?" The question shuddered out of him in a trembling quaver, his voice on the edge of tears. Kirk caught him quickly as his knees gave way and he started to fall, gently lowered him to the floor. McCoy appeared by his side, the obligatory medical tricorder like an extension of his hand.

"I think my back's broken," he grumbled as he examined the First Officer. And Spock belatedly recalled the man he had sent crashing over his shoulder. Bones grinned ruefully. "At least your reflexes are still good, though I'd like to know how you did that in the state you're in."

However, Spock was still too traumatized for apologies or explanations. He continued to stare at Kirk, mentally reeling. He shut his eyes, opened them again, surprised that Kirk still knelt on the floor in front of him. With trembling fingers, he reached out and took Kirk's hand between both his own, holding on as if he was about to drown. His lips formed Kirk's given name but his throat closed on the word along with the lump that threatened to choke him. His chest felt unbearably tight as his heart lurched unsteadily against broken ribs.

"Yes, I'm alive, Spock. You aren't imagining it." Kirk brought his other hand to cover Spock's, tightening his grip in deliberate confirmation.

McCoy, tending Spock's injuries, spared them both a glance. "You'd better believe it."

Spock swallowed hard, the combination of Kirk's warmth, his Human touch along with McCoy's gentle ministrations, serving to undo him completely. Powerless to hide his response, the tremors shaking his battered body, he desperately tore his fingers from Kirk's grasp; burying his face in his hands as he crumpled with distress, dry sobs tearing unmercifully through him.

Startled, it was Kirk's turn to act on impulse. He glanced at Chekov and Sulu who, without a word, melted back into the shadows of the corridor. Gently, he reached out, took Spock tentatively about the shoulders, and drew him into the shelter of his arms. He caressed the Vulcan's hair with light, almost imperceptible strokes, its surface as sleek as a seal's beneath his fingertips, conscious of the deep wounds that marked his First Officer's back and shoulders. He could feel the incredible heat radiating from Spock's body even through the thickness of the Klingon uniform, could smell the slight but distinct and piquant fragrance of his skin.

Torn by the incredible internal conflict that raged within him, Spock concealed his face in the hollow of Kirk's neck, unable to fight against the light hold, the solicitous touch, only gradually assimilating the fact that Kirk was, indeed, very much alive, that it was no delusion of his own making nor some devious charade manufactured by Kor.

McCoy looked at Kirk over Spock's shaking shoulders.

"We need to get back to the Enterprise, Jim," he said softly. "His temperature is off the scale, even for a Vulcan. Adrenaline levels are dangerously high and he has numerous abrasions, serious burns, plus internal injuries. There's also an amalgamation of drugs messing up his body chemistry--"

Kirk nodded, but he continued to hold Spock for a little while longer until the sobs quietened and the trembling eased. "I'm sorry for the subterfuge, Mr. Spock, but it was necessary. It gave us the time we needed."

"Don't blame Jim, Spock," McCoy added. "He knew as much about it as you did."

"You can see the logic of what we did, can't you?" Kirk asked quietly, covering his own pain.

With an enormous effort, Spock recovered his self-control. He caught his breath, eased gently free of his Captain's embrace and sat up, avoiding Kirk's eyes, hurt and joy tugging at him. He scrubbed at his face, building his defenses link by link until every trace of emotion was erased.

"I ... appreciate that you were unable to predict -- my actions, Captain. I -- am relieved -- that you survived my attack." Yet, although he realized that they had been unsure of him at the time, unable to trust in his behavior, or what he would tell the Klingons, he could not help the Human part of him feeling saddened and disappointed. T'Pavan had felt unable to confide in him, and now these men also, the closest friends he had ever known, ever wanted. What did he lack, he wondered numbly, that could make others doubt him so much? "You have obviously been successful in regaining control of the Enterprise."

Kirk nodded, searching his First Officer's face, guiltily aware of his thankfulness that Spock seemed to be Spock again. "We were lucky that Kor underestimated our resistance and only left a small force aboard. Once our people were freed from the brig and seized life support, it didn't take long. There is, however, one small problem remaining--"

"The control computer," Spock supplied uneasily, realizing that he was still the pivot around which everything else revolved. His expression radiated the serenity of a Noh mask but the blood drained abruptly from his face leaving it looking washed out and papery. He clasped his hands together to stop his fingers from shaking too obviously, understanding only too well what it must have cost Kirk to leave the ship at such a time.

"You have it in one, Spock. Without the computer we are sitting ducks."

"And Kor won't hesitate to shoot us out of the water," McCoy completed the allegory.

"We need you, Spock."

Spock nodded but still refused to meet Kirk's eyes. The Captain exchanged a puzzled look with McCoy who shrugged, also at a complete loss by the First Officer's reluctance.


The Vulcan restrained the completely irrational and illogical urge to scream childishly back at them.

Why can you not leave me alone? Surely, I've exceeded expectations. The Klingons have hurt me, reviled, and dishonored me. Could you have asked as much from any other?

"I -- cannot help you, Captain." He heard McCoy draw in his breath, met Kirk's eyes at last; saw the disbelief, the reproach and felt the tremors begin anew.

"Why, Spock?" Kirk asked, keeping his voice calm, reasonable, wanting to know the answer. "Is it the implant? You believe that Kor might force you into turning against us?"

"Well, if that's all, I can have that out before you can say 'scat'," McCoy interrupted, reaching for his scalpel.

Spock swallowed thickly, his fingers reaching for the transputer buried in the flesh of his neck. "That is -- partly the reason."

"And the rest?" Kirk questioned, infinitely patient, while all the time his mind was on the Enterprise, on the minutes ticking away, the chance they were wasting.

Spock dropped his gaze, his face taut, still pale, aware of his Captain's urgent desire to return to his vessel, his mind crying out the name of T'Pavan, an echo of his desolation. He could not leave her alone and friendless at the mercy of the Klingons. There was much too much between them for that; love and hate, loyalty and duty. There was yet a debt to be settled, a debt of dishonor. The game was not yet ended for either of them.

"The Klingons hold other hostages, a woman -- and her child, Captain. It is impossible for me to leave without them."

Hard as he tried to hide it, the Vulcan's pain was evident to Kirk in every newly engraved contour and line of his features. The last hours aboard the Klingon battle cruiser had left an indelible mark on the First Officer, one that he would bear for the rest of his life.

"Lady T'Pavan, the Ambassador of Nevas'ashar's daughter?"

Spock frowned at Kirk's knowledge. "Correct, sir. However, I am at a loss as to how..."

"Just let's say a little Klingon bird told me a few things, Mr. Spock," Kirk said with a tight grin. "All will be explained in due course. Right now, we have to get out of here. Bones?"

McCoy already had the electronic scalpel standing by and calibrated. He felt Spock tense as he turned his head and saw the instrument

"It won't hurt, I promise," he said, misreading Spock's reaction. "You remember that time on Yonada, Spock? This device of the Klingons can't be too much different to that obedience instrument the Oracle used to control the People."

Spock's eyebrow arched, a mental picture forming of McCoy slowly removing his skin inch by painful inch, but shrugged it off; that was not going to happen now, it was in the past. "Very well, Doctor."

A few seconds later, McCoy held out the minute crystal in the palm of his hand, where it gleamed faintly in the dim light of the cell. "You wouldn't think such an insignificant piece of technology could cause so much trouble, huh, Spock."

"Indeed not, Doctor. Thank you for removing it at last."

"The pleasure's all mine."

Kirk pushed himself to his feet. "Well, if that's all settled, gentlemen. Let's go find where Kor keeps the women."

He extended a hand and smoothly helped Spock to his feet, supporting him quickly with an arm around the waist as he swayed forward. Spock did not reject the help but looked down at himself, one eyebrow raised in polite query.

"I -- am going to be somewhat conspicuous, Captain."

Kirk took in Spock's obvious lack of clothing as if it had only just become apparent. He opened his mouth, thought better of it, and shut it again, shrugging at McCoy.

"Suggestions, gentlemen?"

McCoy spotted T'Pavan's robe, picked it up off the floor. "This might stop him frightening any horses--"

Kirk nodded, playing along, aware that something had changed in his long-standing relationship with the Vulcan but not sure yet what it was. He felt a quiver of sensitivity, sudden unexpected warmth in his groin, the First Officer's heat palpable against his side, receptive to Spock's nearness, a subtle, understated reaction that nonetheless took him by surprise.

"You think it might prove an advantage in the long run, Bones."

"In what way, Jim?" McCoy asked, taking Spock's other arm.

"Well, even a Klingon has to be wary of a naked, berserker Vulcan, don't you agree?"

"And that's a fact," McCoy granted, with a wicked grin. He turned to Spock, solemn once more. "Can you walk?"

"I believe so. However, I hardly feel this is a time for frivolity, gentlemen," Spock murmured, having to concentrate on his body to stop it from failing him. Almost at odds with his better judgment, warmth crept around him at their banter, affection he had sorely missed, and wanted to continue.

"Why do you always have to be such a party pooper, Spock?" McCoy grumbled. "Enter into the spirit of the thing, for once."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "At the moment, I am finding the physical reality quite enough to cope with, thank you, Doctor--"

His back and internal organs were on fire as they steadied him between them, helping him slip the robe about his shoulders, before they headed for the door of his cell, and the corridor beyond, where Sulu and Chekov joined them once again. They stole like shadows through the dim reaches of Kor's ship, each step driving a burning nail through Spock's tortured feet and legs and abdomen. He drew on the choi'renh for strength, recognizing what it would eventually cost him as the hormonal levels in his bloodstream increased. Huge amounts of adrenalin flooded his muscle cells, stimulating his heart and liver, depleting his reserves of energy, vital for cell repair and the production of anti-bodies. It had the effect of making him light-headed, and dizzy, until he was relying entirely on Kirk and McCoy to guide him through the alien ship. Disorientated by their swift passage, he lost all track of time, keeping on his feet only by will power alone, aware that he was slowing them down.

They came to a drop shaft and Kirk held him close once more, the duct so narrow that only two could enter at a squeeze, ascending swiftly to an upper level. Nauseated, Spock could only shut his eyes and cling on until they reached the top. Chekov, who had gone first, helped them out, supporting him until McCoy and Sulu had chance to join them. Spock, wavering on his feet, opened his eyes to find the young ensign watching him.


"Mister Spock --I -- wish to take this opportunity to apologize."

"For what, Mister Chekov?"

"For calling you a murderer, sir." His slight Russian accent was only just noticeable. "And for hitting you with the transceiver, Mister Spock."

Spock rubbed absently at the yellowing bruise on his forehead. "Considering the circumstances, no apologies are necessary, Ensign. However, I do envy your reflexes -- and your aim."

"It was a googly, from the Russian game of cricket, Mister Spock. I will teach it to you, if you wish, when we return to the Enterprise."

"I -- will look forward to that, Ensign --"

The corridors were wider and brighter in this higher section, and each of them suffered agonies of fear that their hastily applied disguises would not pass the decisive test of confrontation. However, the ship continued quiet, untroubled but for the occasional, far away echo of footsteps or the quick bark of Klingon voices.

Kirk led them, guided by some inner directional sense and the knowledge he had gleaned from his young Klingon captive. The corridor walls were blank, unbroken by doors, and he hastily turned into a side passage only to be confronted by a dead end.

"Jim?" McCoy queried in a whisper, tensely waiting for the howl of an alarm that he had been expecting for some time.

"Back up," Kirk ordered. "We must have taken the wrong turning--"

Nevertheless, he was convinced he had followed his instructions to the letter. The only explanation was that the Klingon boy had played him false. He had to fight against an uprush of rage, using the vestiges of the emotion to sharpen every sense he had. There was only one way of tracing T'Pavan and the child now. Quickly he flipped the dial on his communicator, opening a channel to the Enterprise.

"Captain--" Spock broke in quietly. "Kor will be prepared for any eventuality, sir. If you use your communicator, he will trace our whereabouts and take the appropriate steps to recapture me."

"I know, but we're running out of time, Spock. We have to locate the hostages, and quickly."

"I --sympathize with your anxiety, Captain. There is a way, sir. T'Pavan is known to me. I -- may be able to contact her using the Vulcan mind meld."

Kirk searched his First Officer's impassive face, which had become hard and delicate, the bones standing out beneath the skin like carved stone. "Won't that be rough on you, after all that's happened? To be brutally frank, I can't take the chance of having a catatonic Vulcan on my hands, Mr. Spock."

"There is little danger of that, Captain." For the present, at least, Spock acknowledged tiredly. It was true the short-term benefit of choi'renh had already passed, leaving him close to collapse, but he was reasonably certain that he had the requisite stamina to complete the task. In any event, Kirk had no other choice.

The same thought had evidently crossed Kirk's mind, too. He continued to deliberate for an instant before making his decision. "I suppose when the going gets as tough as this, the tough just have to pray. All right, go ahead, Mr. Spock."

"Thank you, Captain. It may take a few moments to initiate contact."

It would be easy, all too easy, he realized in a flash of insight that left him shaking, for on that beach at Es'sarhan, T'Pavan had become his bondmate. Illogical, he thought vehemently, but it had to be so. There would have been no child otherwise. Moreover, his continuing awareness of her, even attenuated as it had been by time and distance, seemed to bear out the truth. They had been friends from childhood, lovers only on one occasion, but they were joined together for the rest of their lives. However, he could not allow that understanding to interfere with his present undertaking. In any event, his emotions were far too mixed to contemplate at such a time.

With Chekov's support, he moved over to the bulkhead and leaned his flank against it, turning from the huddle of uneasy Humans to raise one gaunt hand to his temple. Spreading his fingers over brow and cheek, he closed his eyes, seeking composure as he reached out into the darkness, mental shields wide open.


The response was immediate.

Spock. I hear thee.

The warmth of her recognition, overlaid by a deeper, primitive fear, was as real to Spock as if he had generated it himself.

Where are thee?

In answer, Spock received a muddled picture of a dark room which could have been anywhere on the Klingon ship. T'Pavan's fear intensified ten-fold.

Calm thyself, he urged, feeling his own heart pound in sympathetic terror, the sweat starting from every pore in his body. Are thee undamaged? Have they harmed the child?

We are both intact. But Kor will not hold off long. He means to torture us as he did thee. I beg thee again, Spock. T'Pavahna is thy daughter. Help the Klingons and save us.

The panic battered at his mind, but it was for the child she was so afraid, not herself.

Kroykah! T'Pavan, he remonstrated sternly, overwhelmed by the rush of turbulent emotions she was sending. I bring help now, but need information. Location of thyself and the child. Be clear. Remember thy training. I must see.

They will torture us, and through us, thee. Help us, Spock-neha. The dread raged about him like a wind-whipped sandstorm, tearing at his self-control, the thought of what was to come echoing and re-echoing along the linkage that bound them.

Enough. Be still, T'Pavan. Thee is not alone. Have trust. I will help if thee will allow it. His backlash of anger and resentment was surprisingly fierce and he felt her withdraw from him in shock, shielding her mind so that he could no longer reach her thoughts. It was his turn to pummel at her defenses until she allowed him entry.

I am dishonored. I have wronged thee, without pity. I do not deserve thy help. Why does thee not flee, escape while thee is able?

We are one, he sent at last, relieved to find her thoughts more ordered as if his anger had somehow brought her to her senses. Thy comfort and well-being are my own. I cannot leave thee now or ever, T'Pavan. Tell me where thee is being held.

Again, he received an image of the dark, smokey room but this time it was quite clear. He saw Kor standing impassive before the flames of the brazier, sura'Kul at his shoulder. Hazily, through his sense of memory and nightmare, Spock knew again the shapes of the torture implements around the walls, felt the pain of the electronic lash across his naked back, the humiliation of being exploited. At last, he knew where T'Pavan and their daughter were.

I am disgraced. The thought came to him mournfully, as if from a great distance, for T'Pavan had shared his loathsome recollections.

Thee could not have known to what lengths Kor was prepared to go. Kaiidth.

I should have known. Her mental voice was ashamed, penitent. Thee is cruel in thy graciousness, Spock-neha. Come soon, please. And take care.


He heard his name being called but the sound, over the pounding of his heart, was indistinct, faint, and barely audible. He guessed it was M'aih calling him for school but he was reluctant to answer her. He did not wish to get up. He just wanted to hide beneath the covers where it was safe, dark, and warm, where the other boys could not reach him. They did not like him, though he was uncertain why, and already, after only four days of acquaintance, the two ringleaders, Sepek and the younger Sofek, had become his bitterest enemies.


His name was repeated with more urgency and a hand touched him, though not M'aih's hand, feeling for his pulse. He stirred weakly, his eyes opening on a grey haze, and he had to blink several times before the nictitating membrane swept clear of his irises and he could focus.

"Ekahrin chai, gah'tath?" he queried breathlessly, in Vulkhanir. He was very thirsty, his mouth so dry that he could hardly rasp out the words. "Reth hemon shi'r a me'tas."

"Spock, what is it? Are you all right?"

He was slumped against the bulkhead, McCoy kneeling beside him, while Kirk stared anxiously down at them both.

"No, he's not, Jim." McCoy answered acerbically. "He's practically swimming in adrenalin. If that's not stopped, and soon, he'll be heading for a major heart attack. You've got to send him back to the Enterprise where he can rest, or I won't answer for the consequences."

Spock drew in a shallow breath, easing himself onto his knees, the corridor tipping and swaying alarmingly as his consciousness wavered. With one hand pressed against the wall, and with McCoy's help, he slowly pushed himself up onto his feet, gathering his strength, while vainly trying to hide his weakness. It was a moment or two before he could remember how to speak in Standard so they would understand him.

"That -- is -- patently impossible -- at this juncture, although -- I am --grateful for your concern, Doctor."

He closed his eyes, swallowing the bile that rose into his throat, his heart straining painfully. It was a physiological danger sign that he should not ignore. Yet, he aimed to do so, compelling his features into stolidity for the benefit of his Captain.

"I have -- located T'Pavan. She appears to have been taken to the -- interrogation chamber, with the child. Kor is there--" If only there was somewhere I could lie down for a while, he thought. He swayed, steadied himself, finding it unexpectedly difficult to breathe in the dense atmosphere. His heart was undeniably laboring, as were his lungs. Perhaps he had, after all, overestimated his stamina. However, he could not fool McCoy.

"Jim," The doctor hissed urgently. "We can't go on with this--"

"I am all right --" Spock said tightly, opening his eyes once more. He could see the doubt on Kirk's face along with the concern, and knew that McCoy's words were having their effect. "I -- will not --be sent back without --T'Pavan, Captain."

"She means that much to you?" Kirk reached out, steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. His touch communicated sympathy, recognition of Spock's need to complete this self-imposed duty.

"It -- is an -- obligation," he said simply, unable to elaborate. Kirk would probably understand the workings of m'hekteth, but he did not have the strength left to explain. To compensate for his disadvantage at T'Pavan's hands and regain his honor, he must demonstrate his own integrity beyond all doubt. The accounting she had demanded would be paid in full and T'Pavan -- or her Family -- would be the ones thus obligated. It was a predatory instinct of a fighting race, transformed into civilized conduct by thousands of years of Tradition. "We do not -- have much -- time. Kor intends to use --T'Pavan -- for my -- instruction. Once he finds I am gone --"

"There will be a general hue and cry." Kirk signaled to Chekov and Sulu, deployed at each end of the corridor they were in. "You have me convinced, Mr. Spock. I hope you know the way."

Spock inclined his head. Indeed he did. The route was indelibly printed on his memory.

"Then what are we waiting for?" Kirk moved in, gently eased an arm around Spock's waist, McCoy doing the same on his other side. "Gentlemen, let's move it."

Chapter 8: T'Pavan

The Klingons had come for her suddenly in the night, plucking her away from the comfortless cell where she had been lodged since her arrival aboard the battle cruiser. Still bemused with sleep, the two guards had found her quite amenable and, to her shame, she had followed almost willingly to the large, smoke-filled compartment, with its terrifying inquisitor and the implements of torture that he used in his trade.

She recognized what was about to happen as soon as Vahna came running to her out of the shadows, thankfully unhurt, although T'Pavan realized that would not last if Kor had his way. The guards, she noted, were alert, wary, positioned at the only entrance to prevent escape.

From somewhere she managed to find her dignity, hanging onto it, as they stood close by a brazier smouldering with hot coals, urged there by their captors. Hastily, she recalled the Klingon mark branded into Spock's flesh, saw afresh the livid welts incised into the skin of his back, and for the first time, knew his agony with her heart as well as her head. Fear had made her blood freeze and her bones turn to water, and beneath the cover of her gown, her knees shook as if with some disease. Nevertheless, she also realized that her terror was not evident to those around her. Only one of her own race would have sensed that her spirit quailed and her psyche cried out in panic.

It was at that point Spock's mind had reached out to her, his exhaustion, and illness very apparent, transferred to her through the link. She had also felt his anger, an emotion normally under his complete control, which told more than anything else did of his imminent collapse. Moreover, with that awareness had come the knowledge of the other atrocities the Klingons had practiced upon him. Her shame and humiliation could not help but exceed his own, aware that it was she who was responsible and must bear the ultimate blame for his anguish. However, he had promised help and she knew that he was somehow free and capable of keeping his word. It was a matter of honor with him, a matter of restoring cho'wa, harmony.

If she had been alone there, her own furious pride would have proscribed such help, the disadvantage she assumed in accepting. The same warrior blood flowed in her veins as it did in Spock's; from childhood, she had honed the skills of perseverance and tenacity, learned to direct the weapon of ke'arah, the empty hand, both to strike and in self-protection. Though tempered by thousands of years of non-aggression, unconstrained by Surak's teachings, if circumstances warranted it and given the opportunity, she was able to kill quickly and without compunction.

However, there was T'Pavahna to consider. The child was her first priority now as in the past. T'Pavan needed Spock and the help he brought with him to keep their daughter safe. If he demanded reparation, so be it, she would pay the price, whatever it cost.

The child in question stood at her knee, straight-backed, silent, and aware of their danger, but obstinately in control of her fear. It was one of her father's traits, acquired along with his hair and eyes, the stubborn determination, and resolute strength of mind that once made up was impossible to overturn. T'Pavan valued that quality in Spock, along with his integrity and loyalty. As their daughter grew older, it was obvious to those with eyes to see that Semnek had no claim on her. T'Pavahna was the manifestation of her true father.

Wordlessly, T'Pavan reached out, touched the small cheek, flexing her fingers to include brow and temple, letting her mental shields drop as the small face turned up to look at her. There was absolute trust in that gaze, the knowledge that T'Pavan would save her from harm, that she need not fear, for M'aih was there to protect her.

Be courageous, daughter. Help comes swiftly.

Is it my father, M'aih?

The child regarded her gravely and there could be no prevarication through the link, although T'Pavan might desire it so.

Yes, it will be thy father, and those who call him friend. Thee must be ready. Do all he says without question. Do not hesitate ... and if ought befalls me ... thee will remember thy duty, and that thee is of Es'sarha.

I understand, M'aih.

The child replied in acknowledgment of her mother's silent command, winged brows drawing together in a puzzled frown at the relaying of the tall and slender Vulkhanir pictured in T'Pavan's thought. She recognized his image from the statuette in her mother's apartments, the one T'Pavan had created with her own hands, though the projected image was an older, flesh and blood version.

Certainly, the representation was not of Semnek, her mother's consort and half-brother, who she had always believed to be her father. Though he was not a resident of T'Pavan's household, she had made his acquaintance on various state occasions, and once, recently, when he had sent for her privately in the company of khamsamah T'Pahsen, shortly before her abduction by the Klingons. Diffidently, she composed a suitably polite inquiry of her mother but there was no chance to present it as T'Pavan took her hand, squeezing her fingers in warning.

Ta-kha'et, T'Pavan's thought came.

Be brave, child-neha, for I believe it begins--

T'Pavahna's backbone stiffened apprehensively, drawing her head back to stare at the Klingon who confronted them. She knew who it was, from both her own awesome experience and that of T'Pavan; Kor the Commander of this dark, frightening ship, and the one who had first taken her away from the safety of Nevas'ashar, her own familiar world. In the glow of the brazier, his face leaped from out of the general gloom, eyes dark and fierce, like those of some devastating bird of prey. He inclined his head in a courteous fashion, acknowledging their presence.

"Madam, you are welcome here. I do hope that our -- negotiations will cause neither of us too much concern."

T'Pavan returned his consideration in the same manner, her face set in an icy serenity, cat-like eyes brilliantly afire. Gently, she ushered T'Pavahna behind the shield of her own body. "I would that I was elsewhere, Commander. However, I am grateful for being reunited with my child."

"Ah, yes, the child." He smiled hollowly, a mere parting of the cruel lips. "The likeness is excellent. Your -- consort must be a forgiving man. Or perhaps it is a custom among the Vulqangan--"

T'Pavan felt her knees soften with shock, remembering the bitter conversation in Spock's cell. Blind and deaf to everything except concern for her child, she had missed his warning, obvious to her now when it was too late. Her face remained tranquil, despite the shaft having found its mark. Instead, she returned his slight, mocking smile with a practiced one of her own. "Nevas'asharn and Vulkhanir have been known to intermate, Commander. It is not a secret practice."

He stared at her, the fires burning in his cold eyes. "It is not my policy to make war on women and children, Lady."

"Perhaps you regard us less than our menfolk, Commander. That, I believe, would be a mistake."

"Perhaps, Noble Lady. However, if I must, I will put it to the test." He watched her like a hawk, searching for any signs of weakness, yet found none. She faced him splendidly regal, composed and yet watchful, disallowing the considerable fear she must be suffering. He knew it must cost her dearly to trade words with him in such a way and at such a time. Whatever happened in this room, she could not win, for she had chosen to protect the child before the man, and in so doing, had probably thrown away all honor. Now, he threatened that choice, by endangering both and all. In a way, she reminded him of his own first mate, Qolzana, mother of his sons. It was regrettable that he must gauge the stately tranquillity with the methods available to him. Yet, he recognized where his duty lay. He would have the Enterprise, and he would have the Vulqangan SpoquH, even if he had to destroy this woman and her child in the process.

"Qorgh ghaH." Take her, he said to the flanking guards. They came readily, only hesitating to lay hands upon her without their Lord's precise order.

T'Pavan tensed as she heard Vahna's indrawn breath, feeling the small fingers reach for her hand.

"M'aih?" T'Pavahna murmured, ready to resist if she gave the sign, her face pale, dark eyes wild and wary, like those of an animal at bay. However, there was nothing they could do apart from gain the necessary time.

Stand fast, she warned silently. If the chance comes to escape, take it. Our rescuers are near. I feel them. Remember thy duty, child. Our Family is dishonored. One of us must prevail to see the debt settled. Does thee understand?

But they mean us harm, M'aih, the child protested, stubbornly.

Yes, but I do not mean to let them. We are of Es'sarha, remember this. We must not submit.

I hear thee, Mother.

The child's fingers tightened in confirmation about T'Pavan's own.

Kor, too, must have seen their resolve, for his mouth tautened into a narrow line as he signaled to the guards. "Separate them. I will take no risks of secrets passing beneath my nose."

T'Pavan refused to recognize him as she and T'Pavahna were torn apart. The guards pinned her arms roughly behind her back and dragged her over to the inquisitor Kul, who stood beside thick chains suspended from the ceiling. Fearfully, T'Pavan reached out with her mind -- and touched --


I -- am -- here.

The weary response was faint, his thoughts disordered and imprecise, the exhaustion unmistakable, yet his determination to help them was as strong as ever. Her reaction was immediate, forceful, and relentless as she flung her arms wide, thrusting off her captors, screaming with a primitive rage, "Run, child, run. Now."

So far, and a clutching hand found her long hair, jerked her head back painfully on her slender neck. Turning swiftly, she attacked, striking with predatory speed, aiming for the Klingon's larynx with the side of her hand, crushing his throat with one blow.

He fell, letting go her hair, and she heard Kor shout hoarsely, "Catch the girl."

There was the sound of running footsteps, the abrupt whoosh of a door opening and the next instant all was chaos and confusion as a further group of Klingons entered the scrimmage. Yet, these Klingons were unlike any that she had seen before. There was a burst of phaser fire, a yell as the remaining guards dropped unconscious to the floor. She ran for the entranceway, towards the stocky, fair-haired Human disguised as a Klingon officer.

"My child--?" she gasped, breathless, recognizing him belatedly as Spock's Captain, the captain he had supposedly killed.

"Safe, Madam," he proclaimed abruptly. "Quickly, this way, please."

He fired a further salvo into the melee, the phaser bursts giving them a few seconds of precious time to dash out and smash the locking mechanism. However, it would not hold for long.

The Human healer, Mahkoi, kneeling by Spock's prone form, was waiting further down the long corridor. Two more of Kirk's men, one carrying T'Pavahna on his hip, joined them. Already they could hear blows hammering on the locked door of the interrogation room. It would not be long before the noise attracted unwanted attention.

"Jim, what about the ship?" McCoy questioned anxiously.


"Scotty's waiting to beam us back. We've no reason not to use the communicators any more. The Klingons know where we are --"

"Bones, you've just earned that bonus Fleet aren't paying us." He flicked open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Come in, Scotty."

From somewhere not too far away there came the sound of running feet heading in their direction.

"Kirk to Enterprise. Mr. Scott, stand by to beam us over." There was no response from either his Chief Engineer or his ship, just the faint hiss and crackle of static coming over the miniature speaker. Kirk felt his stomach knot with anxiety.

"The Klingons must be jamming the signal." He spared a glance for Spock whose face was a sick shade of yellowish-grey, slick with perspiration; his eyes unfocused, with the iris almost hidden by the inner nictitating membrane. He did not look as if he knew what was happening; certainly, he paid no attention either to T'Pavan or to the child. His breathing labored in his chest, each inhalation, and exhalation sounding as if it might very well be his last.

Kirk looked at McCoy, who shook his head. "It's not good, Jim. I've given him something to counteract the adrenalin but he's about done in. We've got to get him to the Enterprise."

Kirk rubbed the soft pad of his thumb over his bottom lip in anxious thought, his heart contracting with fear and remorse. "Believe me, Bones, it's on the top of my agenda. We'll have to run for it. Head for the transporters. I'll take Spock. You see to Lady T'Pavan and the little girl. Chekov, Sulu, cover us as best you can. Let's move it."

He heaved Spock smoothly up into his arms and over his shoulder, feeling the slim, hard bones just under the Vulcan's skin, for his First Officer seemed to be losing bodily substance by the minute. Spock moaned softly, but made no other protest as Kirk steadied the extra weight and headed down the corridor at a stumbling run, McCoy followed with T'Pavan. Before too long the raucous wailing of an alarm erupted startlingly, a sound that penetrated to all parts of the alien ship.

"That's torn it," Kirk gasped, panting with effort, sweat running down his forehead, stinging his eyes. "Quick, this way."

However, it looked as if they were out of luck as two Klingon soldiers appeared abruptly ahead, no doubt in advance of a whole lot more. Kirk could not tell who was most surprised as Chekov yelled a warning. "Kepten, look out."

Sulu fired his phaser, taking one of the soldiers out. A second burst of narrow red light enveloped the second soldier who collapsed instantly. Frantically they turned down an upcoming intersection, Kirk guiding them as before, but from behind them came a savage yell and a bolt of actinic blue lightning flared over their heads. At least Kor seemed to want to take them alive. Chekov fired back with no such intention in mind.

McCoy, scooped up the child in his arms as Chekov brought up the rear. He saw Kirk stumble, hearing him curse before quickly recovering, but carrying Spock was taking its inevitable toll. Although the First Officer was naturally slim, he was a native of a world with a higher gravity than Terra, his bones and flesh were considerably more compact than any Human, and Kirk must feel as if he had the whole world on his shoulders.

"Hurry," McCoy urged them all. Sweat soaked his shirt, both from the sudden exertion and from fear. It dripped from his hairline into his eyes and he blinked it away, sparing a glance for T'Pavan who seemed unaffected as she ran lightly beside him. The child he carried, though very small, almost delicate in appearance, was heavy in his arms but as impassive and unruffled as her mother was. McCoy, on first seeing the girl, could understand why Spock had risked so much to rescue them, the old dark horse! His intuition appeared to be correct, as he noticed both T'Pavan and her small daughter's whole attention focused on Spock, their eyes never leaving him for long.

However, they also had nowhere left to go. Now that the alarm had sounded there was no way they could reach the transporters. The corridor stretched before them, each new intersection mocking them with a safety that never materialized. For the moment they evaded capture, but for how much longer.

Kirk was flagging, and as McCoy watched, he tripped and fell, sprawling awkwardly, the Vulcan tumbling from his shoulder. T'Pavan ran to him and knelt beside Spock as the First Officer stirred, opening his eyes to gaze up at her, the nictitating membrane withdrawing. Almost tentatively, she linked his fingers with her own.

"Spock, I would give thee strength if thee will accept it. My offer is without obligation."

He had no energy left to speak, fighting for each breath, and rapidly losing the battle, but his eyes narrowed in a look that all who knew him recognized, stubborn and wilful, uncompromising.

T'Pavan inclined her head, acknowledging his opposition but unwilling to accede to it. Her green eyes flashed, ruthless and more than a little cruel. "There is a time and place for intransigence and obduracy, but it is not here or now, Spock-neha. Are thee so anxious to meet with the All, that thee would rather die than accept my help? Would thee so desert thy Captain when his need is greatest?"

Nearby, Kirk pulled in a startled breath as he saw Spock flinch. "Madam, that wasn't necessary--"

She ignored the interruption. "Is it not the truth that living is far more complex than dying? Thy time is not yet, Spock. Let me share thy pain while I still can."

Kirk looked from T'Pavan to Spock and back again without understanding what was happening. "You're saying you can help my First Officer, is that it, Lady T'Pavan."

She continued to look steadily at Spock, waiting for an answer, the green gaze cat-like in its intensity, not even glancing in Kirk's direction.

"Spock?" Kirk queried, kneeling on the other side of his First Officer's prone body. He saw Spock swallow hard, even that small movement an effort for the Vulcan. "Spock, she's right. I do need you. The ship needs you."

There was another burst of phaser fire, an answering salvo from the end of the corridor where Chekov was keeping the Klingons at bay. He could not hold out for long. Anxiously, Kirk looked up at McCoy and Sulu.

"Bones, take the girl and look for somewhere we can defend for a while. A storeroom, anyplace that has a door and we can defend. Sulu, go with them. Be quick about it we don't have much time."

"Aye, Captain."

"But what about you, Jim? We can't just leave you here."

"Go, Doctor. We'll be fine. Go."

He turned his attention back to Spock, aware that McCoy hesitated but refusing to acknowledge his presence. Eventually, McCoy got the message and followed Sulu, grumbling under his breath all the way, just loud enough for audibility. He took Spock's hand, held it much as T'Pavan did on the Vulcan's other side, signaling through touch his sincerity and earnestness, putting his heart on the line. He felt a tremor run through his First Officer in understanding. "Spock -- I don't want you to die. If Lady T'Pavan can help, I want you to let her. That's a direct order, Mister. I need you, Spock."

The impasse lasted only an instant but to Kirk it seemed like an eternity. Spock's fingers tightened on his own in reply, the slightest of pressures before the grip weakened again. Kirk glanced at T'Pavan, whose attention had shifted and was now focused on him, a small rueful smile lifting the corners of her generous mouth, and had the time to notice how incredibly beautiful she was.

"He says go ahead, do whatever you need to do!"

She inclined her head. "Thank you, Captain Kirk. I -- rather thought he might."

The smile faded as she turned back to Spock who had closed his eyes once more and placed her fingers along his cheek and brow. Softly, she began to intone some sort of incantation in her own tongue but Kirk, who had seen Spock do the same sort of thing on a number of occasions, could guess what she said. After an instant, he saw Spock's lips form the same words until they were in synchronization.

"Keh arah menemarah shier' a. Keh arah n'aechmi shier 'a."

Leaving them to it, he set off down the corridor where Chekov was still blasting away at an increasingly wary enemy. For the moment, he had the Klingons pinned down but the numbers were growing and it would need only a concerted rush to overwhelm Chekov's defense.

"Ensign, I'll take over here. Join Mr. Spock. See if you can assist him and the Lady T'Pavan. Doctor McCoy may have found us a bolthole. I want you to get them there as quickly as possible. Understood?"

"Aye, Kepten. Understood, sir."

Kirk watched the boy as he ran quickly back to Spock and T'Pavan. The First Officer was sitting up, apparently unsupported. Whatever T'Pavan had done, it seemed to be working in the Vulcan's favor. Kirk checked his weapons, ducking as a disruptor bolt flared over his head. Close, but not close enough. He hunkered down, haunches on heels, and with quick, deft strokes switched his own purloined disruptor to overload, using his phaser to keep the Klingons under cover. The soft whine of increased energy levels rose quickly in volume until it was a shrieking, eardrum bursting, sound. He waited, counting off the seconds, until his teeth rattled with the reverberation of barely contained power.

The disruptor, almost too hot to hold, burned his hand as he lobbed it overhand. He did not wait to see it come to ground, but thrust himself up on his feet and began to run. He had only gone a few yards when a huge explosion threw him forward. Kirk rolled with the blast, shot upright in one fluid motion and continued to jog after Chekov who had disappeared down a further intersection. When he caught up the boy had an arm around Spock's waist, supporting the First Officer with T'Pavan's help. Kirk took over without a word, welcoming the slight but heavy frame against his side with the assurance that it belonged there. Together they made it slowly down another corridor, turned a corner, and saw the open doorway. Sulu, McCoy, and the child waited there anxiously.

"We thought we'd lost you," McCoy rasped out. "What happened, Jim?"

Kirk shoved Spock and T'Pavan to safety together with the child and stood at the entrance of the room with Sulu and Chekov flanking him, their phasers levelled.

"I'm not too sure myself, Bones. Better check on Spock. T'Pavan's patched him up but it's probably only temporary."

"Captain," Sulu warned. "The Klingons are coming--"

"Get inside--" he ordered and fired a last barrage before McCoy grabbed him by the arm and yanked him into the room where the rest of the small party huddled. The door swished shut and unable to do anything more constructive, Kirk fused the lock.

"At least that should hold them for awhile," he murmured, almost under his breath.

McCoy standing at his shoulder agreed. "Yeah, but while they can't get in, we can't get out -- and the Enterprise is still at Kor's mercy."

* * *

Scotty, sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise, the familiar crew around him, could have sympathized. Unnerved by his impotence, he stared at the view screen before him, the sound of his beloved engines beating in his ears, unable to do anything but wait. The ship was still circling in space, going nowhere rapidly, and without Spock's ultimate command would continue to do so unless the Klingons intervened. Moreover, the only way they could do that was to blast them to kingdom come. As time wore on, he was certain that was how the whole sorry mess was going to turn out.

"Mr. Scott?" Uhura turned from her boards, cupping the spiral transceiver to one ear as she frowned.

"Lieutenant?" Scotty swivelled in the command chair until he was facing the puzzled communications officer.

"Sir, I've just picked up a transmission from the Klingon vessel. It was only fragmentary, but it sounded like the Captain--"

Scotty straightened in the chair. "The Captain? Are you certain, Lieutenant?"

"I couldn't take an oath on it, Chief Scott. The Klingons are continuing to jam the signal," she said guardedly. "But it sure sounded like him to me, sir."

"Could you locate it again?"

Her smile was quick but warm, her dark eyes sparkling with renewed hope. "I can try, Chief."

She turned back to her boards feeling the tension increase around the bridge as the rest of the crew turned to watch her. Quietly, competently, she traced the garbled signal back to its source.

* * *

Kor, his personal guards surrounding him, ran down a narrow corridor in the bowels of his ship, skidding to a stop as he turned a corner. Ahead of him, almost half of his crew seemed to be deployed in various fighting positions.

"What is happening?" he demanded of no one in particular. A soldier turned, saluting briskly.

"Lord, we have the aliens contained at the end of the corridor. They cannot escape."

Kor nodded, stifling his rage at this new setback. How had Kirk managed to find this one impenetrable room in the whole of his ship? Could it be his destiny always to be beaten by the Captain of the Enterprise?

"Get them out of there. I want that Vulqangan."

"To do that we will have to cut through the door, Lord. It is the only way in."

Kor exploded. "I know that, you fool. Do what you must. Blow it out if necessary, but I want the Vulqangan and I want him now."

The soldier saluted again, waved his men back as he aimed a powerful cutting tool at the metal. He watched with increasing satisfaction as the door started to heat up, turning red, as the beam began to take effect.

On the other side of that door, the fugitives watched in their turn as the only barrier between them and destruction resounded to a heavy onslaught of blows followed by the sounds of scraping, of fingers urgently testing the strength of the metal. Again there came a sudden hammering and a brutal voice, muffled but still intelligible, came through to them.

"What did he say, Kepten?" Chekov asked.

Kirk looked around at Chekov and Sulu standing nearby. McCoy was kneeling beside Spock who lay full length on the floor, conscious but still drawn and grey. T'Pavan and the solemn-eyed little girl looked on, showing neither fear or hope on their composed faces. However, Kirk was certain they were not quite as indifferent as they seemed.

"He wants us to open the door and surrender. If we don't, he'll cut through it."

Six pairs of eyes fixed on him immediately but Spock was the first to react as he pushed himself up on an elbow, obstinately ignoring McCoy who tried to restrain him.

"Spock, you're barely alive. If you want to stay that way just lay down and -- stay down."

"There is no -- time for that, Doctor." He caught his breath, swallowed before he could go on. "They want ... me, Captain. I am the -- only one of use to -- them."

"What are you saying, Spock? That we should give you up to them?" McCoy asked his tone belligerent.

"It is the only -- logical course of -- action left."

Kirk shook his head, smiling compassionately. "For once, I'm going to dispute your logic, Mr. Spock. Firstly, we need you just as much as the Klingons to get the Enterprise back into action. Secondly, and just as serious, if I happened to give you up, which I have no intention of doing, there is still no guarantee that Kor would let the rest of us go. In fact, it's far more likely that he'd use us to get you to cooperate."

"Your -- reasoning seems -- irrefutable, sir," Spock murmured weakly. "However, I see -- no other -- solution--"

He was hardly aware as McCoy gently squeezed him on the shoulder in reassurance. "Why not try the Enterprise again, Jim. We have nothing to lose."

Kirk nodded, looking back at the door behind him where the ominous sound of a laser whined. He flicked open his communicator as a thin wisp of smoke curled under the door.

"But it looks as if we might have a lot to gain, Bones." Almost tiredly, he started to call the ship.

* * *

"I have it, sir."

At Uhura's cry, Scotty turned expectantly in the command chair, grinning as he unclenched his fingers from around the chair arms.

"Verra good, Lassie. Contact the transporter room and ha' them lock on tae that signal."

A sigh of relief broke from numerous throats around the bridge as she complied with Scott's instruction. "Aye, Mr. Scott. Locking on now."

"Activate beams as soon as they're ready. I'll be down there if I'm required, Lieutenant."

* * *

The beams of the transporter caught them as the door slowly turned from red to white hot, the metal sizzling as it became molten, dropping in liquid globules to the floor. The pink dazzle enveloped them and they faded from view just as Kor stepped triumphantly through the ruined door into the abruptly empty room. Luckily, as Kor's wrath finally exploded they were far away, and an instant later found themselves in the main transporter room aboard the Enterprise with Scotty at the controls, waiting to greet them.

Spock clambered from the platform unaided, heading for the intercom. The sudden, enormous effort set free excruciating agony all over his torn and weary body but he gritted his teeth on the pain and forced it away for one last time. With nerveless fingers, he opened a channel to the computer.

"Control, this is -- Commander Spock." He swallowed convulsively, his voice a hoarse whisper, unaware of Kirk at his side, supporting him with an arm around his waist as he swayed on his feet. "Override -- all previous instructions. Disengage helm and main phaser banks. Move to -- move to warp -- warp--"

A wave of intense blackness washed over his senses as he rocked on his heels, and he barely had time to register the computer's affirmative before his knees gave way and he pitched sideways against Kirk who finished off the command.

"Computer, move to warp five."

A Vulkhanir does not faint, he told himself severely as his blood thundered in his ears and his heart seemed to tear apart. He smothered a cry as the pain surrounded him, engulfed him, and finally destroyed him, plummeting him relentlessly down into the dark.

Chapter 9: The Game Concludes

In the peace and solitude of his quarters, Spock ceremoniously bowed to T'Pavan who knelt opposite him, hands laid precisely on her thighs, head high, face serene, and heels tucked neatly beneath her. Between them and to one side stood a plain lacquered stand in black. Atop it sat a stack of three, tiny nested bowls and a wine flask. The porcelain was of the finest quality, paper thin, and ancient, prized possessions that Spock's Family had held for centuries. Without speaking, Spock removed the smallest bowl and held it out, offering it to T'Pavan. In silence, she bowed, eyes downcast, taking it from him in the proper manner, careful that their fingers should not meet. He picked up the flask and poured a thimbleful of the fruit wine into her bowl.

"This regards ana'sah katr'iha," Spock said in his soft baritone. "The connection between two who are one and which cannot easily be loosened."

"This is so," T'Pavan agreed, and lifted the bowl to her lips, sipping at the amber liquid once, twice and a third time, before offering it back to Spock. He took the bowl, holding it by the fingertips of both hands as she poured the riman for him and drank the wine in three slow swallows, inhaling the rich sweet fumes that assaulted his nasal passages and flamed against the back of his throat. When it was gone and only the taste remained, he set the empty bowl down and handed T'Pavan the middle bowl, filling it as before, the motion of his hands poised and elegant, his actions unhurried and deliberate.

"This regards ana'saha itah m'hekteth," Spock said into the silence. "An honored trust given and accepted which is deliberately betrayed."

The bowl in T'Pavan's fingers trembled and almost instantly stilled. She inhaled softly, taking a moment to compose herself once more. "This is so."

She drank the riman as before, in three slow sips and passed the bowl back to Spock without lifting her eyes. A tremor shook her fingers again as she poured the wine for him, but he made no sign that he had observed the weakness, remaining silent as he lifted the bowl to his lips and drank. He set down the middle-sized bowl before the first, reaching for the third and biggest, taking his time, lingering over the ceremonial pouring, his own hands quite steady although his head ached formidably and he felt the heavy, ornate material of the kibr and sirwal he wore pressing against the wheals that still marked his back. The robes, appropriately enough, happened to be the same ones he had worn on that fateful evening at Orkhas'asar, and he was quite aware that T'Pavan recognized the constancy. With such tactics did he play the game of m'hekteth, the Game of Honor.

"This regards ana'sa'ihnuhr keerthi' chai," he said, at last. "An obligation freely undertaken, but discharged at great cost."

The answer came, as it must. "This is so."

It had taken him all afternoon to prepare, mainly because he was still so weak and debilitated that the slightest exertion left him shaking and nauseous. However, despite all McCoy's protestations that he would bring on a relapse, the meeting with T'Pavan had to proceed, for the next day the Enterprise arrived at Nevas'ashar and she would disappear out of his life once again. Before that ensued they needed to discuss and decide upon certain issues, although they both accepted what those decisions must be. Inevitably, there was little choice involved, not for him and certainly not for her. M'hekteth decided all.

He recognized, of course, that his cabin was not the most perfect of settings for their meeting, but with many of his personal possessions brought out of storage for the occasion, and only the glow of the asenoi providing light, the faults were not too obvious. When finally convinced everything was in order, he had bathed meticulously and changed from his sleeping robes to those he now wore. Lastly, he had seated himself cross-legged on the low floor stool, the companion seat before him, awaiting T'Pavan's coming.

She arrived promptly at the appointed time, and he welcomed her as an honored guest, apart from himself, half lost in the contemplative trance that eased his mind and stilled his hands.

She bowed first to the pulsing asenoi in its niche, before making her obeisance to him; her head bent slightly forward, back straight and knees barely grazing the floor, both hands lightly touching the left hip. Suitably enough, she had chosen to wear robes of the palest blue, the color signifying grief. On the wide, flowing hem of the shintiyan, the sleeves and collar of the kibr, she had embroidered bands of white pao blooms, a task that must have taken her the many days that he had lain in sickbay, barely conscious and only half alive. She had cut her abundant wealth of beautiful hair into a severe style, straight across the forehead in a heavy fringe of blue-black above her eyes while the rest fell perfectly into a sleek bob that swung loose just above her shoulders.

With an air of serene concentration about him, he greeted her with the utmost formality. "Thee is welcome here, Keh'sarin T'Pavan of the House Es'sarha."

She straightened slowly, avoiding his direct gaze, bowing again as she began the ritual in the accepted manner. "This daughter of House Es'sarha is unworthy of thy attentions. I come only to serve."

He indicated the floor stool across from him and she lowered herself upon it, back straight, conscious of her dignity more so now than ever.

"Thy service honors us." Spock tried not to dwell on the reversal of their roles, though it was his right. By rescuing her at great risk to himself, even though she had knowingly betrayed him to the Klingons, he now held the advantage. If he so wished he could, quite lawfully, demand her in settlement of the debt, to become his property, his chattel, to do with as he so wished. However, to do such a thing would completely dishonor a woman of her status and position and as victor, he also had certain responsibilities.

To shame her utterly in that way would bring disfavor down upon his own head, from both his own Family and hers, thus he faced the problem of exacting justice, but of a precise and accurate degree. Accordingly, he had served her riman as host to respected guest, observing every custom and procedure, placing his concerns before her in the time-honored way, cloaked in a ritual that diverted any predatory aggression into a less hostile attitude.

T'Pavan having swallowed the last of the riman passed the bowl back to Spock but instead of accepting the wine she offered, he turned the bowl over, placing it with its two companions on the lacquered table. It was time for them to talk.

"T'Pavan, thee has played at m'hekteth and lost. Now I ask for an explanation."

She raised her eyes to his face, her hands clasped loosely in her lap, her posture as regal as ever. "That is thy privilege."

"Indeed it is," he acknowledged. "I took an oath to protect Federation lives, its property and interests, also one of loyalty to the Captain of this ship. Through thy actions, I am derelict in those duties. My honor is compromised. How shall I allow that to pass?"

"Thee must execute thy responsibility as thee deems acceptable," she stated calmly enough while she felt her heart thudding against her lower ribs, aware of his anguish, but powerless to make his task any easier. She had responded to a threat in the only way she knew how. In retrospect, her reactions were at fault. Kaiidth. Now she must bear the consequences. His tiredness was evident, and her heart bled a little for him but she gave no sign, made no move, waiting for the penalty he must exact.

"Very well." He hesitated for an instant, putting his thoughts into order, knowing what he must say. "We are bonded, T'Pavan."

The statement took her by surprise, though she ought to have expected it, and her icy serenity fractured for an instant, but she recovered swiftly.

"We are bonded, Spock-neha," she affirmed.

"Thee knew of this."

"I knew."

"And was it planned so, from the beginning, when thee -- learned of my need?"

T'Pavan met him look for look, her already wide eyes appearing huge, outlined as they were with powdered antimony and cyan that swept to her temples. Seeing the lines of pain incised into his face, lines that her actions had placed there, she felt an overwhelming contempt for herself, some dark place in her soul hungering for his antipathy as much as she hungered for his care. Yet she evaded the question with one of her own.

"Is this thy belief?"

He leaned forward, bracing a forearm against his crossed legs, studying her face. "Tell me it is not so."

Her eyes hooded at his scrutiny, her throat convulsing on a cry she was unable to release. He was right to question her motives; he had every reason not to trust her. When she spoke, at last, her voice was huskier than she wanted it to be, a little afraid to hear the answer to the question she posed, recognising its importance. "Does thee regret what we did, what we shared, Spock-neha?"

She felt more than heard his sigh, sensing his withdrawal, although his expression remained the same. "Would it matter to thee, T'Pavan?"

"When thee came to Orkhas'asar and asked for my help because T'Pring would not accept thee, I saw thy need. I did not wish thee to die. Thee was friend to me, Spock-neha."

"But thee was already promised to Semnek."

"That is so," she said softly, her heart swelling with remembered pain. "It was my duty to bond with Semnek. I am Keh'sarin and Tradition demanded that we join."

"Thee -- does not care for him?"

Her eyes glowed, electric green. "I cared only for thee. It has been so since we were children. Was it not also like this with thee?"

Spock did not answer but continued to search her face, his own expression guarded, wanting to believe, aware of the link that bound them, the understanding they had always shared. Yet, she had betrayed him, given him into the hands of the Klingons, knowing all the while of what cruelty they were capable. Had there been something more to her actions than just her desire to rescue their daughter?

T'Pavan was strong-willed and passionate, the fiery blood of the ancient ones still flowed in her veins unchanged by Surakian philosophy, though tempered by thousands of years of civilized behavior. That same fervor was part of what made her so fascinating to him. She had given herself as a gift to save him from death and he had rejected that gift by walking away without a word, affronting her honor. It shamed him now to think that he had lacked the largeness of spirit to accept without regret or offense what she had given; however, he had to admit that his thinking at the time was hardly logical. In the six years since their parting, she must have reflected on every word they had exchanged, each look, the slightest touch, reading into such things a thousand different connotations and implications, as he had continued to do ever since.

T'Pavan had never suffered defeat in her life. She was beautiful, intelligent, and talented, born into a powerful Family. No one had ever ridiculed or disparaged her or thought her less than she was. His rebuff must have wounded her deeply, possibly beyond forgetting, beyond forgiving. When the opportunity for revenge had materialized, had she used it as a way of hurting him back? Love and hate were emotions he had come to understand from his long association with Humans, even if they played no overt part in his own credo. He recognized how one might conceivably turn into the other given the right impetus. At the thought, a wave of fatigue and melancholy swirled through him, but he refused to let it sway him. Right or wrong no longer mattered, how they dealt with the predicament did.

"I believe thee was as unaware as I that we could join in kah. Our -- friendship must have precipitated the relationship." He pushed himself slowly up onto his feet, careful of his healing body as he turned from her to watch the smouldering crimson light of the asenoi flare and die, flare and die. "However we cannot deny that bonding, or its obligations."

"What would thee have me do?" she said, her voice low, muted, and he felt her eyes upon his back, estimating his reply, studying his posture, reading whatever there was to read from the small clues he could not hide from her. When he faced her again, he was careful to keep his demeanor impassive, while he battled with himself, torn between his responsibilities and his desires. T'Pavan blinked once slowly, before continuing to meet his gaze, composed and serene.

For a second time he lowered himself cross-legged to the floor stool opposite her, his eyes expressionless as they explored her face. Once more, he turned the porcelain bowl upright, held it with his former delicacy. "I desire that my daughter be recognized as such. Likewise, she will be educated in the Vulkhanir Way and learn all that my world can teach."

T'Pavan could no longer hold his penetrating gaze. On the surface it seemed such a small request, one any man might ask. Spock wanted T'Pavahna accepted as his child, taught in the traditional ways of his home world, yet if she agreed it would mean condemning herself. Once it became public that her daughter was not the offspring of her Royal Consort Semnek, he would disown her. T'Pavahna proved that they were not and never had been, bonded. Spock had the prior claim. It meant the end of her ambitions, for without Semnek, she could not rule Nevas'ashar. Neither would she have Spock. She had dishonored him before the eyes of the world, put his life and career at risk, and for her own gain, however worthy that gain had appeared. He had suffered greatly but with enormous fortitude. Now she must try to do the same, accepting his conditions without objection, giving way, though it came hard to her. Kaiidth. The wheel had turned full circle; the game had ended, and to the victor went the spoils. Carefully she picked up the flask of riman, poured a thimbleful into the bowl Spock held, watched him drink.

"It will be my honor, Spock-neha."

* * *

To see T'Pavan and her daughter off his ship, Kirk played the diplomat instead of the soldier and arranged a formal leave-taking, which necessitated the inclusion of a full honor detail. Spock, face quite impassive, giving absolutely nothing away, requested that he be part of it and Kirk had swiftly agreed, having intended to include the Vulcan First Officer as a matter of course. Like everyone else on board he had known about Spock's preparations for his tête-à-tête with T'Pavan the day before. It was a tight community, news traveled fast, and Kirk made it an aim that whatever current gossip was circulating through the ship it also came his way. Yet, the trouble Spock had employed, even to the unheard of lengths of taking his personal possessions out of storage, still came as a revelation.

He had jumped to the wrong conclusions and Spock neither thought it necessary nor felt obliged to disillusion him. Of course, whatever was whispered in the rec-rooms or discussed on the all-talk channels of the intercom, never reached Spock's ears either -- or not so that anyone noticed. T'Pavan's part in the situation just past was a matter for him alone. She would make reparation in the way they had agreed. The ship had slipped back into her customary routines and it needed only the departure of the Ambassador of Nevas'ashar's aristocratic daughter before normality could safely be said to have resumed.

Kor, beaten on all sides, had high-tailed it for home space even before Kirk had managed to get phasers locked on target and he was sure that despite the far reaching political implications of the incident, the matter would find its way into the muddy waters of the diplomatic channels and swiftly disappear underground. When that happened, he for one, would heave a sigh of relief. However, he was more than aware that his First Officer did not exactly share his opinion. Once or twice, Spock had deliberately collared him both in and out of sickbay, with a particular expression on his usually enigmatic face, which Kirk interpreted rightly as a case of ethical dilemma. He had managed to put the Vulcan off by fiendishly employing McCoy's cooperation and the delaying tactic that Spock needed to regain his strength before they discussed the matter. However, he could not stall the First Officer for much longer. Logic might absolve Spock from any guilt but his oversensitive desire for truthfulness would continue until Kirk settled the affair. Sleepless in the early hours of that morning, Kirk had mentally reviewed McCoy's report on the injuries Spock had sustained. He knew to what lengths Kor had gone to acquire his First Officer's collaboration and what Spock had suffered in defense of the Enterprise. The experience had already left its mark on the Vulcan both literally and symbolically. Kirk was damned if he would allow Spock to undergo a court-martial just for the sake of form.

Now, he looked over at his friend, attired in Starfleet dress uniform, intriguingly regal, alien and yet strangely akin, the symbol of IDIC winking on his lean chest, and felt again the warmth of genuine affection stir within his own breast.

T'Pavan with her small daughter close by her side had stopped to share a last few words before their departure. Watching them together, Kirk wondered how many others in the room had noticed the resemblance between Spock and the child. It did not need a genius to put two and two together and get five. Kirk was aware that the three of them were the center of attention as Spock gravely faced T'Pavan.

"Will thee remember me?" she asked softly in Vulkhanir, raising her hand to lightly touch the IDIC medallion. Whether she would feel bitterness toward him in the long years to come, none was there as yet, she felt only a profound sorrow.

His eyes searched her face for an instant. "I do not have that choice."

"No," she replied sadly. "All we have is honor and duty. Kaiidth. I suppose we should not expect more."

"Some believe that is enough."

She smiled poignantly, heart-breakingly beautiful, her face touched now as his was, with a true understanding of misery and anguish. "Yes, some may believe that. Perhaps even we shall again, in the years to come. The distance between us hurts me, Spock-neha. I would that thee trusted me still."

"Thee is my wife, T'Pavan." He raised his hands, held them palms out, and with an open look of wonder on her face, she placed her slender fingers against his own. There were no barriers between her mind and his, and they joined instantly. The link told each of them what they craved to know from the other and they parted reluctantly, abruptly aware of the silence that had fallen over the transporter room, of the many eyes that watched and inferred so much from the little they had witnessed.

"Mene sakkhet ur-sevah, Spock-neha."

"Peace and long life, Keh'sarin T'Pavan."

He stepped away, turning to the expectant child, and raised his hand in the Vulkhanir salute. After his meeting with T'Pavan the day before, he had spent a few hours with this daughter that he did not know, showing her the areas of the ship he thought she might find interesting. She was a receptive child, willing to learn, listening intently as he explained his role aboard the Enterprise. His quarters had appealed to her most, as eager to discover all about him as he was about her, apparently. He found that quite fascinating. "Live long and prosper, T'Pavahna. May we meet again soon."

She imitated his gesture, spreading her fingers without difficulty, her back straight, head held high. "It will be my honor, A'nirih."

He inclined his head, pleased that she had named him father, although he did not allow the emotion to show. "Daughter."

As mother and child ascended the transporter steps and took their places, he solemnly strode over to the console where Scott made room for him. With practiced ease, he quickly entered the coordinates, lifting his gaze for a last look at T'Pavan just as the shimmer took her. Her eyes remained on him to the last, her patrician features tranquil, and as she disappeared a ghostly echo of her voice resonated through his mind.

Spock, parted from me and never parted, always touching and touched, I will await thy return--

The room emptied of the bridge crew and honor detail except for Kirk and McCoy while Spock continued to stand at the transporter console, his head bowed, staring at his hands that lay lifeless now on the controls before him. McCoy shifted against the doorframe where he leaned, breaking the subdued tension in the room and Spock slowly raised his head to look at them both. McCoy softly cleared his throat.

"What -- will happen to her, Mr. Spock?"

It seemed to take a great effort for him to speak. "Nevas'asharn like Humans, behave as they are expected to, Doctor. T'Pavan will do the 'honorable' thing, no doubt."

Quietly he moved from behind the console to join them. "Which reminds me that we have something yet to discuss, Captain."

Kirk regarded him levelly, silently cursing McCoy. "We have, Mr. Spock?"

"Yes, Captain," Spock insisted. "I am guilty of a court-martial offense. Not only did I commit mutiny but I also tried to murder you."

"Murder me?" Kirk looked baffled, shrugged at McCoy, and rubbed pointedly at his forehead.

Spock regarded him attentively. "Are you unwell, Captain?"

"Uh, now that you ask, Mr. Spock, I think I must be coming down with something. I -- keep getting these -- memory lapses. Don't I, Bones?"

"You do?" McCoy asked, just before Kirk jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow. "Uh, oh yes, you do! A textbook case of sympathetic amnesia. Happens all the time to Starship Captains. A result of stress."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "Sympathetic amnesia, Doctor McCoy?"

"That's what I said, Spock." McCoy coughed in embarrassment, looking to Kirk to help him out.

"Yes," Kirk jumped in once more. "Strange isn't it? I seem to remember some things quite clearly--"

"What you had for breakfast," McCoy murmured sardonically. "What you'll have for lunch--"

Kirk jabbed him again, marginally harder, and smiled at Spock. "But if you say you want to be court-martialed, Mr. Spock--"

"I do not want to be, sir. I merely believe that you--"

"Well, I'm glad to hear it," Kirk butted in yet again. "After all, I'm going to look a prize schlemiel when I can't recall what I should be testifying against. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you, Spock?"

"Of course not, Captain. However --"

Kirk rolled his eyes heavenward as McCoy rocked on the balls of his feet, grinning lopsidedly at them both. Finally, Kirk met Spock's quizzical gaze, frankly and without prevarication. He reached out as T'Pavan had done, lightly touching the IDIC medallion on Spock's chest. "Forget it, Mister. The matter has been settled already!"

"You tell him, Jim," McCoy chortled only to receive a glare apiece as his reward.

"Doctor McCoy, this is no matter for--"

"Bones, you aren't exactly --"

McCoy raised an eyebrow mockingly as they both came to an abrupt stop. He folded his arms in front of his chest and looked from one to the other of them in amused tolerance.

"Isn't there a saying on Vulcan, Spock?" he asked cheerfully, ignoring the big freeze they were sending his way. "Somethin' about there always being silence in the family? Why don't you just give in gracefully and accept your lot in life?"

"The accurate wording is 'within the Family all is silence', Doctor McCoy. However, you may have a point--" He contemplated the two of them, these men who were his closest friends. Whatever had taken place previously now lay in the past, over and done with. All the private, unsupportable fears of having failed Kirk's trust and his duty, of dying alone in pain and humiliation, all of his many doubts could now stop. He was back where he belonged, in safe hands, sheltered by the Enterprise and her crew who were, indeed, his family. If he felt any guilt, it was his to determine, and his to resolve, in his own way and his own time. He thought of Kor's brand on his thigh, which he had not allowed McCoy to remove. It would be his reminder of what had transpired. Abruptly unsure of his own reasoning he half turned from them, hiding his face from their watchful gaze, conscious of how much it might be conveying to them in his confusion and frailty, for he was still absurdly weak from the long ordeal.

However, Kirk reached out a hand in open concern, touched him lightly on the arm before tilting his head, listening to the heart of Enterprise beating below them.

"She's a good ship, don't you think, Spock?"

Spock inclined his head in affirmation. "Indeed, Captain."

"Worth all we do for her? All the pain and anxiety, the sacrifice?"

For an instant, Spock returned his gaze, but he saw the man and not the ship.

"I -- have few regrets, sir."

Kirk smiled, drawing both his friends into the warm embrace of his considerable personal appeal, expressive hazel eyes alight as he remembered how T'Pavan had gazed at his First Officer in those last few moments before she had transported to the planet's surface. Was Lady T'Pavan one of Spock's regrets? He might never get to know and that was probably all to the good.

"I've got a reserve on a chess set in Rec Five. You up to a game yet?"

Spock glanced calmly at McCoy who nodded imperceptibly.

"Perfectly, Captain."

"Then what are we waiting for? Bones, you might learn something. Care to play observer?"

"If the offer extends to a bottle of good bourbon, I won't say no."

"Consider it done, Doctor." And together as they would always be together, they left the transporter room and started down the corridor.


The End