Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1993 by Chris Dickenson. Originally published in Federation Classic #2, Deborah Baudoin, editor. Rated PG.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.
Number One shook her head and called up a written transcript of the lengthy subspace message, her slender fingers flying over the console. She leaned over Spock's hooded viewer, her ebony hair swinging forward to hide her face.
"This makes absolutely no sense," the first officer announced, her voice low. She wasn't speaking to Captain Pike, who sat behind them in the center seat, but rather to Spock.
The young Vulcan lieutenant took a deep breath and sighed. "I am aware of that."
Number One pulled back from the viewer,
turning her head to meet the Vulcan's gaze. She didn't much care for Spock's
tone. In fact, she didn't much care for Spock. The
"Do you have an explanation?" she queried coldly.
"None," the Vulcan said. "Given what little we know about the current situation on Yeuros Three, I would not presume to speculate."
That was another thing about him that bothered
her, she thought. He was cautious to the point of never offering an opinion on
anything. Sitting next to him in a briefing was like sitting next to
"Could it have been caused by an error in the telemetry?" she asked. The garbled messages that had just come from the observation outpost on Yeuros Three were eerie, disturbing, disjointed schizophrenic words and phrases. Number One might have suspected the problem to be caused by a universal translator going low on battery power; the problem was, the two scientists manning the outpost were Terran. Their reports and log entries had been recorded in Standard.
"Their telemetry unit has two independent emergency back-up systems," Spock informed her, calling a schematic to the overhead screen. "It was designed specifically for hostile conditions such as those on Yeuros Three and has been used on twenty-five research and colonial outposts for a period of eight point four solar years without a single reported failure."
"Then the odds are against it," Number One said, determined to ignore the irritating sing-song that the Vulcan fell into when she forced him to talk. His tone held all the barely-concealed exasperation a highly-educated professor might exhibit while lecturing a particularly dull pupil. A generous part of her granted that his tone might be because Standard was not in fact, his native language; still, his words irked a very small, impatient part of her.
"One chance in seven hundred fifty-five point three," he recited coolly. "Low enough to render any speculation academic."
"It goes without saying that you've checked every other obvious cause," she said, just a trace of sarcasm in her voice. "Like solar or ionic interference, fragmentation of the subspace field, relay malfunctions, or some kind of problems with our own equipment."
Spock eyed her with cold, calm brown eyes. "Indeed. The situation becomes more disturbing when one considers that the solar activity the Yeuros team was sent to monitor is currently at its most critical stage. If this is not merely a communication error, then months of meticulous scientific research could be rendered useless by a gap in the data."
"Your concern is touching, Mister." She allowed the words to escape her lips before withdrawing back into her professional facade. Number One stared at him, her dislike for him growing. What a cold-blooded creature he was. Not a word for the welfare of those two isolated scientists, just concern about the gap their compromised states might make in the data they were sent to collect. "Since I'm certain you've calculated it, what are the odds that they've lost their minds?" she blurted, and was rewarded by what she fancied to be a flash of surprise flickering over the usually saturnine features of the Vulcan.
"I do not have sufficient data to make a--" he began.
"Very well, Lieutenant," she interrupted, angry with herself for verbalizing the vague dread that had filled her when she'd looked at that garbled message, even if it had knocked Spock for a loop. Surely he'd considered it, she thought. He'd seemed to have done a thorough job of eliminating possibilities before he'd notified her of the problem, and damn fast too, since the message log indicated reception as only ten minutes ago. In another officer, Number One would have found that kind of initiative admirable. That trait in Spock only served to irritate her. "I'll advise the captain."
* * *
Christopher Pike was not an overly personable
individual at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. He rose
from his bunk and shot Philip Boyce a glare with the potency of a high
disrupter setting. "So I'm supposed to just offer up two of my officers as
replacements, not to mention dispatching
"It's only for two weeks, Chris," Boyce insisted. "Besides, you don't argue with Admiral Iwasiak. When he says jump, you're supposed to ask how high on the way up."
"He's an officious bastard," Pike said in a dangerously low tone. "And you heard him rattling off the minimum qualifications of the two officers I'm required to send. There are only three officers on this ship who meet the research qualifications..."
"And they are?" Boyce prompted.
"Proski, for one."
"Not a chance. He'll be up to his ears for weeks analyzing the seismic data from the Bardonia colony."
Pike nodded in annoyed agreement. "Exactly."
"So who does that leave?" Boyce asked, already knowing that Spock would be one of them. The Vulcan's research credentials were high for an officer his age and rank. Boyce had taken a liking to the half-Vulcan youth, seeing right through his emotionless demeanor and admiring what lay beneath.
"Spock and Number One," Pike replied, scowling.
Boyce whistled through his teeth. "She's not going to be a happy camper, Chris."
"Well, of course not," Pike muttered. "And I can't say that I blame her. You know how she feels about leaving the ship for extended periods. She's convinced we can't manage without her." Pike's expression softened just slightly. "Hell, it's everything we can do to get her to take a day or two shore leave, much less getting shanghaied off to some hellish backwater, going in with absolutely no idea of what she might find when she--"
"I'm not talking about the assignment," Boyce interrupted. "I'm talking about admixture."
Pike stared at Boyce, frowning. "Admixture?"
Boyce shrugged. "You know, like matter and antimatter."
"Damn it, Phil, I know about admixtures. What does that have to do with Number One?"
"You haven't noticed?" The doctor scrutinized Pike for a long moment, then said, "Dumb question. Of course, you haven't noticed."
Pike let out an exasperated sigh. "Phil, could you get the point? I don't have all the time in the universe here. Noticed what?"
"The way your first officer acts around Spock." When Pike stared blankly, Boyce continued, "The boy gets under her skin, Chris. Drives her positively batty -- well, batty for Number One, that is." The doctor paused, considering. "It's funny, really. The very qualities she finds so offensive in Spock are the same ones that she's been cultivating in herself for years. Maybe she just resents having a real Vulcan around, someone who can make her look scrutable by comparison."
Pike looked at the elderly physician, his frown deepening as he considered this new revelation. After a moment he sighed. "I think you're imagining things. But even if you aren't, Number One is ... Number One. She's not about to let her personal feelings interfere with the performance of her duties."
"And I never said that she would," Boyce retorted sharply, then his craggy face relaxed and he smiled. "Poor Spock. It's gonna be the longest two weeks of that poor boy's life."
* * *
Number One slanted a glance at the shuttle's navigation chronometer and turned back to the comscreen. For two days she'd been steeping herself in the details of the Yeuros mission. She'd read everything she could lay her hands on, pulling up cross-referenced information like an overzealous graduate student. The solar study itself was comprehensive and meticulously organized. Spock had been right about a gap in data at this point rendering much of the previous information useless. Yeuros was entering a phase of high activity, the frequency of solar flaring making exhaustive readings imperative. With a flick of a finger, Number One called up the biographical profile of Pierce Affatato, the team leader of the Yeuros survey. She studied his photograph, noting he was in his late forties, dark hair turning salt and pepper at the temples. He had a kindly face and arresting blue eyes that reminded her a little of Phil Boyce. He and his partner, Clive Montisori, had been on Yeuros Three for nearly six months. Affatato and Montisori were not new to the isolation of outpost living. The two had been working together for years, enduring the most primitive living conditions imaginable to further the Federation's body of scientific knowledge. Number One had accessed old log entries, getting a feel both for the men and the work they held in such esteem. They were devoted friends and partners who thrived on each other's company and the challenge of their work. It was highly improbable that either had just snapped from the strain, impossible that both could, especially with so little warning.
Number One cleared the screen and rose from
her seat, stretching out a kink in her back as her eyes strayed again to the
chronometer. Dinner time. The menu consisted of reconstituted food and a
reconstituted scientific report tape. If she'd been traveling with anyone but Spock,
she could have looked forward to a bit of companionship, but he was sitting on
his bunk in the aft section, meditating. When he wasn't meditating, he was communing
with his comscreen. Since they'd left the
As if on cue, Lieutenant Spock emerged from the aft section, crossed to his comscreen without even a nod of greeting and flicked it on. When Number One had taken her dinner back to the opposite position across the shuttle from him, he rose and programmed his own meal, taking it back to his comscreen to eat. As the warp shuttle sped toward Yeuros Three, the only two living beings within carefully ignored each other.
* * *
Pierce Affatato's body writhed beneath the heavy, hastily improvised restraints. His face, flushed from exertion, had twisted into a grimace of agony. His wide blue eyes stared up at Number One, pleading for understanding, for release. When he spoke, his voice came out in a hoarse whisper. He'd been screaming gibberish at her for better than forty-eight hours.
"Transporter underwater cafeteria blue or maybe oyster," Affatato whispered, his tone and facial expression indicative of weary defeat.
"The medication should be helping," Number One soothed, more to reassure herself than Affatato. In truth, the medications she'd administered seemed to have little effect on his rapidly deteriorating condition. He was dying. She didn't have to be a physician to know that. Soon there would be another neat grave beside the one Spock had dug two days ago for Montisori.
Forcing herself to look at the medical tricorder again, she noted the elevation of the k-levels which indicated pain, and pressed a hypospray against Affatato's shoulder. He relaxed slightly and closed his eyes, drifting into a restless sleep.
Number One sank into a chair beside the bed
and heaved a tired sigh. She'd not slept a wink since their arrival. Neither
had Spock, but the fatigue didn't seem to be showing on him. He, of course, was
doing precisely what he did on the
Spock's indifference to Affatato's situation did not especially surprise Number One. It fit with the cold-blooded personality profile she'd established for him. What had come as something of a surprise was the expression she'd seen on the Vulcan's face during one of Affatato's initial screaming fits. It had only been there for an instant, but it was so unexpected and so out of character that it had stuck in her mind. She'd tried to catalogue it, to break it down into easy-to-analyze elements, but a look was such a subjective thing, and Spock's features could hardly be called mobile. What she thought she'd seen was fear. Fear certainly, but it was not the average garden-variety fear that she'd glimpsed in his dark eyes. It was a horrified fear, one bordering on mortal terror. It didn't make a bit of sense to her, but she was certain of what she'd seen. If Spock had been more approachable, she would have just asked him about it. That, however, was not an option, so Number One just accepted it for the puzzle it was.
"Lieutenant?" Spock's voice cut through her ruminations, startling her. She had all forgotten his presence on the other side of the room.
"Yes," she responded, standing up. The Vulcan was hunched over the research outpost's computer. Scattered beside it on the console were components from the shuttle, both of their tricorders, and a variety of assorted tools. "What are you doing?"
"I have programmed the outpost's computer to take solar readings at pre-coordinated intervals and have added a sub-program which gauges aberrant solar activity. If unusual activity is monitored, additional readings will be taken automatically according to Doctor Affatato's parameters."
Number One looked at the screen, unexpected admiration swelling in her chest. What Spock had accomplished in his spare time over the past two days was nothing short of miraculous.
"Very ingenious," she said, stifling a yawn. It wasn't that she wasn't impressed. Honestly. It was just that she was so damn tired. "It'll cut the work load in half."
"A necessity under the circumstances," Spock said. "There is no way of knowing how long Doctor Affatato will live. Until he dies, he shall require attention. Since neither of us can continue at our current level of activity indefinitely, logic dictates that--"
Number One's admiration transmuted suddenly into anger. She was certain that part of it was her extreme fatigue, but Spock's damnable logic, not to mention his emotionless discussion of Affatato's impending demise, rankled her nerves. "Maybe you'd like me to just smother him with a pillow," she interrupted tersely. "It would speed things up a bit, and free my time for more important activities."
Spock arched a brow in surprise. "I do not believe that--"
Number One cut him off with a wave of her hand. There was no point in even losing her temper with him. It was a complete waste of energy. At least Phil Boyce fought back. So would Captain Pike if she caught him in the right frame of mind. Snapping at Spock was like screaming in an empty room. "Never mind, I'm going outside. Call me if he wakes up."
Without waiting for a response, she stalked out the open door and into the bleak evening air. Yeuros Three was a hardly a vacation paradise. It was a hot, dry planet frequently plagued by dust storms and occasional seismic activity. This evening it was quiet, tranquil even. Behind her, the small, utilitarian outpost dome squatted like a lazy tortoise on the desert floor, its pale skin reflecting the vibrant copper hues of the setting sun. Thorn-covered scrub brush and native cacti scattered before her, large rounded boulders breaking the monotonous terrain like children's marbles heaped in piles. Yeuros was a dusty, barren place, but the outpost scientists had obviously done their best to make it home. A small garden, once carefully tended by Montisori, now languished unwatered to her left. Number One stared at the limp vines and curling leaves, reaching out to pick a rust-colored bloom from a shriveled stem. The flower disintegrated with a soft dry rustle, falling between her fingers to mingle with the native sand. Number One sighed, wiping the dusty remains of the flower from her hands a little sadly.
Two stone benches had been strategically placed to provide an optimum view of the spectacular sunsets. One corner of the prefab patio had been outfitted with a makeshift fireplace, the area comfortable when night temperatures dropped as only desert temperatures can.
Number One sat on one of the stone benches, feeling more isolated and alone than she'd felt in years. A faint chirping sound brought a wan smile to her face. She swiveled slightly on the bench, reaching into her pocket to pull out a foil-wrapped protein bar.
A tiny creature which looked like a cross between a ground squirrel and a weasel darted from the scant cover of a thorny bush to take the offered crumb from Number One's outstretched palm. She murmured to it, her features growing soft as it nuzzled her fingers and chittered. As she stroked its velvety fur, her smile broadened.
"Where are your friends today, little one?" she queried, catching a flash of honey brown fur in her peripheral vision. Before the diminutive creature had finished eating its treat, two more appeared, begging and capering, falling over each other to get at the offered bits of protein bar. Affatato and Montisori had all but domesticated the little things, feeding them scraps and generally treating them as pets. The tiny creatures had converged on her the first night when she'd stepped out for some air, begging for attention and food. Number One loved watching their sleek furry bodies which undulated gracefully as they moved. Montisori had called them chits, taking the name from the chittering noise they made. Right now they were chittering happily, stuffing themselves and studying her with oddly wise-looking liquid brown eyes.
"Lieutenant," Spock called from the outpost doorway, and the chits scattered. They were friendly enough, but startled easily. "Doctor Affatato is awake."
The animals forgotten, Number One rose quickly from her seat and stepped back toward the outpost dome.
* * *
Number One heaved another spadeful of heavy sand into the open grave, squinting her eyes shut as the wind blew bits of it back at her. Muscles unaccustomed to hard manual labor protested, biceps aching as she lifted the spade again and turned it over. She was quite unaware of the image she cut against the barren landscape as she vented her anger and frustration on yet another spadeful of sand. Clad in one of Montisori's maroon coveralls, her glossy hair blowing out behind her like a flag, she scowled at the shrinking pile of sand and cursed the planet which spawned it. Right now she wanted to hold on to her anger, to wallow in it.
Montisori and Affatato were dead, and this
morning they'd received a subspace message from the captain of the Hood. The
The grave was nearly filled, and Number One, breathless and tired, finally leaned against the spade to catch her breath. The sun was just past its zenith, baking everything on the surface of the planet with a dry, relentless heat. It was the worst possible time to do this particular job. Perversely, that was exactly the reason she'd chosen this time to do it. The coverall clung damply to her, plastered against her back and chest. Sweaty and thirsty, feeling like she had sand in every crevice and pore, she gazed toward the horizon. The wind blew steadily from the west now, picking up momentum and stirring great sand-colored clouds which billowed and roiled with the force of a tidal wave. As Number One watched, the sand storm made its way across the desert floor, obliterating visibility in favor of a tempestuous, gritty fog.
The faint sound drew her attention from the approaching storm. She turned to see Spock moving slowly toward her, braced against the wind. "I was burying Affatato," she said when he reached her side, but the wind caught her words and tossed them, leaving only a thin whisper of sound that she doubted even the Vulcan could hear. The spade and vanishing pile of sand spoke for her, though, and Spock shook his head.
"Lieutenant, there was no need for you to--" he began, raising his voice to be heard as he reached for the spade.
"There was every need," Number One snapped, moving the spade out of his reach. "He deserved a decent burial."
"I did not mean to insinuate otherwise. However, the storm--"
"I see the storm, Mister Spock," she interrupted dryly. She knew her anger with the Vulcan was completely unwarranted, but there was no one else for her to vent her frustration on. Besides, she reasoned, it's not like he would be affected by a sharp word or two from her.
She dug the spade into the remaining sand and struggled to shift it toward the grave, her efforts were hampered by the wind.
"You must return to the outpost," Spock shouted as a near gale force gust struck them. "Until the storm passes."
Number One stubbornly tried to move another spadeful of sand, refusing to admit herself that she was making no headway. Sand stung her skin and blew against her as a firm hand closed over her elbow.
"Come," the Vulcan managed to shout above the now howling wind, tugging her toward outpost.
Number One would have struggled against that firm alien grip if she'd had an ounce energy left in her body to do so. But she didn't. She'd buried her stamina with the dead scientist. Feeling strangely numb, she allowed Spock to guide her to the dome, all but oblivious to the fierce wind and sand that whipped and roared about her like an enraged beast. Once safely inside the outpost, the abrupt silence rang in her ears. Her body, no longer needing to struggle against the elements, leaned weakly against the wall, her breath coming in shallow gasps.
It occurred to her that she was going to be sick. She stumbled toward the head, not wanting Spock to see her indignity. Making it with only seconds to spare, she took her time coming out. The walls were thin, too thin to keep secrets. Stubbornly, she took her time washing her face and rinsing out her mouth. She met her own gaze in the mirror and frowned the high color in her cheeks. All morning long she'd felt either too hot or too cold. Her body ached in odd places, and at times she felt strangely detached from her surroundings. She'd experienced these symptoms once before, when she'd contracted Altarian Spru.
"Just get a grip," she told herself sternly. "You can't be sick. Not right now. You're stuck here for two more weeks with Mister Personality, and you've got a job to do. So just put it out of your mind." Holding onto that thought, she opened the door and nearly collided with Spock. The Vulcan had evidently been waiting just outside the door for her to emerge. He was wielding a medical tricorder, his eyes intent not upon her, but the small monitor readout.
He was blocking her way. Her only alternatives were to step back into the head, try to push him aside, or stand her ground. She did the latter, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him. "Exactly what do you think you're doing, Lieutenant?" she queried in an icy command tone.
"I am examining you," he returned calmly. "You are running a two point five degree increase in temperature, your pulse and respirations are elevated, and..." He paused, carefully readjusted a knob on the tricorder, then finally lifted his gaze to meet hers. "And you just regurgitated your breakfast."
There was something funny about the Vulcan's deadpan delivery. A laugh with the potential for hysteria lodged in Number One's throat. She swallowed it an instant later as the reality of her situation hit her. She was sick. Spock was saying something about proper quarantine procedures and biological testing, but Number One wasn't listening. She had a sudden overwhelming urge to escape. She wanted to distance herself from Spock and his whirring tricorder; she wanted to get away from this dome, from this planet. She closed her eyes and saw stars, cool white stars beckoning her into velvet blackness. She wanted to go home. "Stand aside, Lieutenant," she ordered.
The Vulcan did not budge. "There are several more tests I wish to run for the..."
"Stand aside," she repeated, raising her voice. "That's an order, Mister."
Spock eyed her with open surprise. "I merely wish to ascertain--"
"I don't care what garden cyclops lollipop..." Number One's angry voice trailed off, an expression of horror transforming her face. Her eyes met Spock's, the shock she saw there only escalated her own panic. "Turbolift recycler swimming mathematics--" She swallowed hard and cleared her throat for one more try. Tears welled up in her eyes. She blinked against them and they overflowed as the aphasic speech continued to flow out of her. "Aquaduct constitution already hybrid."
"Number One." Spock reached out to take her by the arm, intending to lead her to her bunk, but she wrenched away, her anger with him resurfacing. She wanted to scream accusations at him, but knew gibberish would come out. She bit her lip, unwilling to even try to speak. Swaying, unsteady on her feet, she lunged for the door. Her ears were ringing, and her stomach was churning again. The room pitched and spun around her. Then it all faded to black.
Spock broke Number One's fall, his superior strength an asset as he lowered her gently to the floor. Crouching by her side, he smoothed one hand over her wrist, pressing his forefingers into the hot skin to locate her pulse. When he found it, the rapid throbbing alarmed him more than the Vulcanoid heat of her body.
Completely illogical, he told himself. The tricorder had given him similar readings only a moment ago. Why should tactile confirmation make it seem so much worse? Spock felt a wave of very un-Vulcan frustration; he was no healer. He'd had less training than Number One in emergency medicine, but at this juncture that point was irrelevant. There was no other to care for her.
He began by carrying her to the bunk where she'd so recently nursed Affatato. His mind was racing as he loosened her clothing and warmed up the bio monitor. He'd read the scientist's log entries and knew that an elevated temperature, nausea and a rapid pulse were early symptoms of the strange disease which had claimed their lives. Delirium would follow, fits of screaming, hallucinations, and convulsions. Spock had seen those symptoms in Affatato, and although it was too soon to fear the worst, that is precisely what he found himself doing as he prepared to draw a blood sample.
She opened her eyes and stared up at him, still groggy. It took her longer than it should have to focus, then she eyed the hypo with open suspicion. "Shuttlecraft lantern?"
Spock answered her question as if it had made sense, keeping his voice low and reassuring. "I am obtaining a blood sample."
When Number One made no verbal response, he rolled up her sleeve. His fingers brushed against her arm, and he snatched it back quickly, his eyes going wide in shock. Most humans had rudimentary mental shields, making telepathic contact all but impossible without a concerted effort. Right now, Number One's instinctive barriers were gone, her emotions blasted like a subspace receiver set to a wide, non-differentiated frequency. In a brief instant of unguarded contact, he'd felt fear, anxiety, panic, and myriad other emotions too jumbled and unexpected to catalogue. Spock took a deep breath and forced the tension from his body. His response to the mind-touch had been instinctive. Vulcans feared insanity worse than death. They shied away from anything which threatened the logic and order of their collective existence. Spock, being half-human, had always struggled to achieve thought control techniques other Vulcans took for granted. He'd always felt his grasp on them to be tenuous at best, and he was therefore, profoundly threatened by the chaotic thoughts and emotions of the first officer. It was not an experience he would care to repeat.
"Equation around millimeters indigo observation," Number One muttered, trying to rise from the bunk. Spock stayed her with a hand, careful not to touch her exposed flesh.
"You are not well," he announced, again in a completely calm tone.
Number One's eyes widened as she met the Vulcan's enigmatic gaze. She had heard his words, but they made no sense to her. It was frustrating. He must be speaking to her in Vulcan.
She tried to tell him to speak to her in Standard, but the words came out wrong. She felt numb and disoriented, her brain responding like a computer terminal badly in need of overhaul.
The Vulcan spoke to her again, his voice echoing oddly. She shook her head to indicate that she could not understand him, but he did not seem to notice or care. The lines of room about her began to melt and run together like a child's watercolor painting. She tried to move, but her body wasn't responding any better than her mind. Her movements we slow and sluggish. Spock was raising a loaded hypo with one hand, and reaching out to grasp her wrist with the other. The entire interior of the research station had taken an eerie, dark turn, colors jarring with nightmarish intensity. Her heartbeat hammered like drum inside her head, a rapid pulse of sound that made everything seem to be moving much too slowly.
She tried to wrench out of the Vulcan's grasp, to push against him, but he was unmovable as a dutronium bulkhead. As he pressed the hypo against the inner aspect of her forearm, she screamed, struggling with all her might. He wanted to kill her. The clarity of the thought was a strange contrast to the dreamscape quality of the research station. Spock was going to kill her, just as he had killed the others. Soon there would be a third grave outside, three neat silent resting places in the forsaken dust of Yeuros Three. And when the Hood finally arrived, there would be only cold logic to explain their passing, with no word raised in query or protest against it. The Vulcan did not intend to leave a witness.
* * *
Spock swiveled his chair and leaned over the console, his voice rising with uncharacteristic impatience. "I am not a physician, Captain. I do not know the cause of this condition, nor am I likely to ascertain it in the next week. What I do know is that it has already claimed the lives of two individuals, and there is every likelihood that--"
"I'm sympathetic, Lieutenant,"
Captain Morgan's voice interrupted, a touch of impatience coloring his tone as
well. "But the
"Antigrav meatball priority?" Number One moaned hoarsely. Spock turned and eyed her warily. She was resting quietly now, but she'd screamed and fought the restraints for better than eight hours before she'd drifted into this fitful doze.
"No," Spock responded in a quiet, defeated tone. "That would not be logical."
"We'll get there as soon as possible," Morgan assured. "Like you said, you're not a physician. She may not be as critical as you think. I'll be in touch on this frequency. Morgan out."
Spock flicked the switch to the subspace radio, his jaw tightening as he struggled not to yawn. He had not slept or meditated since Number One had fallen ill, and the deprivation was starting to take its toll. He rose from his seat, sparing his charge a brief assessing glance before moving out the open door.
Leaning his lanky form against the doorway, he contemplated the starlit night. A chill breeze rustled the leaves which hung lifelessly from shriveled stalks in Affatato's garden. The desert stillness reminded him of home, though the stars formed different, alien patterns across this sky. Spock calculated names and distances like a child reciting his multiplication tables, just for the satisfaction of working it through.
So distracted was he by the simple exercise that he didn't notice them until they were literally falling over his boots. The chits were enthusiastic in their reception of him into their realm. It had not occurred to Spock to feed them, and Number One had been ill for six days. He wondered what they ate when protein bars were unavailable.
Squatting in the doorway, he examined the tiny creatures, noting the high gloss of their coats and the way they moved. Fascinating. He had observed Number One petting them and feeding them on more than one occasion since their arrival, and Montisori's journal entries had mentioned them also. Such a human trait, this attraction to small furry beings. Spock held his hand out to one, allowing it to sniff expectantly at his fingertips. He frowned as the chit capered away, trying to recall Montisori's journal entries. When he rose and moved back into the dome there was a determined gleam in his sable eyes.
* * *
"Retrograde tabletop!" Number One screamed, her voice reverberating against the walls of the research station. Spock tried to ignore it, saving what remained of his failing energy for his experiment. A part of him felt guilty for not attempting to comfort her. Her mere presence had had a tranquilizing affect on Affatato, but every attempt Spock made to reassure her only increased her agitation. As terrible as her screams were when he kept his distance, they were worse still when he approached her.
When she quieted herself and fell into a doze, Spock fingered the journal recorder to continue his entry.
"Having isolated a microscopic parasite extracted from the subdermal tissues of the indigenous life-forms, I have identified an infectious virus transmitted by the parasite. Once I knew what to scan for, traces were found in tissue samples of all three subjects. The virus is present in the chits as well, but does not appear to interfere with physiological function. Using antibodies present in the chit's systems, I am attempting to synthesize a vaccine..."
Spock let his entry trail off and hit the
record pause. The analysis on the latest antiviral control group flashed before
him on the cold blue screen. He frowned his displeasure. If they'd been aboard
Input of the next test took only moments, but Spock was losing faith that the results would be any more encouraging. The hit or miss nature of it frustrated him. There were thousands of possible combinations. With his limited knowledge, there was no other way to ascertain the right one. The problem was obvious--would Number One live long enough for him to find the correct combination?
He swiveled in his chair, studying her. It bothered him that he had never won her approval. He'd tried, but she'd given no indication that she found his work satisfactory. Christopher Pike had chosen him for his science officer, but Number One was his immediate superior, and he displeased her.
Spock blinked. What an odd thought. Surely his fatigue was contributing to this meandering contemplation. What difference did it make that this alien woman disapproved of him? Perhaps she had a prejudice against Vulcans. There were those who did. It was also possible that she had sponsored another individual for the post and was angry that her wishes had not been considered. The only other alternative was that Spock himself was inadequate in some way. That possibility bothered him. All his life he had fought the label of inadequacy. He'd been double Vulcan in a world of Vulcans. He'd been watched for any flaw, any sign of weakness. There was not just his human heritage which provoked their suspicion, but also his genetic tie to Sybok. He released a heavy sigh. Son of a human woman, half-brother to a heretic. Surely Number One was not the first individual to scrutinize him and find him lacking.
Spock's situation was made more difficult to accept because he truly admired the first officer. She was intelligent, logical, and hard working. Her understanding of the ship's systems was second only to the chief engineer's, her research credentials impeccable even by Vulcan standards. In short, she was everything Spock aspired to be. Yet he could not open his mouth in her presence without feeling foolish. His father had that effect on him. Sarek could reduce him to the emotional status of a pre-kaswan child with one disapproving glance. Number One's withering stares were just as potent, not only because of her position of authority over him, but because he respected her.
Lost in thought, it took several moments for her screams to register. The respite had been brief, and now the first officer's tormented cries had an edge to them that unnerved the Vulcan. He wondered if there really was a difference, or if his fatigue was rendering him less tolerant. In any case, she was overdue for a sedative.
Spock rose from his seat and crossed to Number One's side, retrieving the hypo. He adjusted the dosage, feeling rather than hearing the click of the cartridge. As usual, her screaming intensified when he approached. She kept uttering the same phrase over and over, her enunciation distinct, the tone of her voice urgent.
"Output recording pillow doorway," she repeated, eyes locking with his. Her voice rose as he moved to administer the hypo. "Output recording pillow doorway. Output--" She grabbed his right hand, closing her fingers over his like a vise. Spock, startled by the sudden contact with her unshielded mind, froze for an instant before pulling away, his dark eyes widening in shock. The readings on the biomonitor rose across the board, every vital function registering at a higher level and staying that way. Spock stared in disbelief, waiting for them to drop, but they didn't. The brief tactile contact had had a positive physiological effect on her condition.
She was looking at him. Not the glazed out-of-focus look she'd exhibited through most of her illness, but a crystal, lucid gaze. There was something expectant about her expression, her eyes pleading with him. Her expression, however, was nothing compared to the glimpse he'd had of her mind. The initial chaos, the rolling emotions were expected and similar to what he'd felt the last time he'd touched her thoughts. But just beneath the haze, he'd touched something else, something extraordinary.
Spock set the hypo on the table with deliberate slowness, never taking his gaze from the now-quiet first officer. He hadn't thought of Sunvek in years. The teacher who had agreed to take on such an undisciplined mind had been nontraditional himself. Spock understood that now. But lack of appreciation for tradition had not hampered the precise order of the master's thoughts, nor had it diminished his gift for instruction. Spock had experienced mind touches with many Vulcans in his young life, but he'd never experienced a mind as ordered as Sunvek's. Until now.
Spock met Number One's knowing gaze, feeling as callow and unsure as he had been that summer morning so many years ago when Sunvek guided him gently through his lessons, patiently allowing him mistakes, understanding and accepting his limitations. Sunvek had taught Spock to compartmentalize his thoughts, to control them, rather than to allow the reverse. What he'd seen beneath the chaos in Number One's thoughts was an order and logic untouched by the disease. Encased in a protective shell was the entire volume of the first officer's intellect. Trapped within her own mind, unable to express herself or to process external input, Number One had created a pocket of sanity and reason and retreated into it. Her ability rivaled that of Spock's teacher, the power of her intellect inspiring admiration in him. When she'd reached out to Spock in desperation, he'd felt for an instant the clarity of her mind beneath the confusion. For an instant, he'd glimpsed into her soul and heard a plea unfettered by dysphasia. "Don't leave me alone."
Spock's gaze shifted to the bio monitor. The readings still had not dropped. That might explain an aspect of the disease progression which had puzzled him. Affatato had experienced comfort and reassurance from Number One. Number One, on the other hand, had not. Number One's progression had been more rapid. Was there something, then, in simple tactile contact that slowed the process? Or was there a psionic level to that contact even between essentially psi-null Humans which made a difference? The evidence in this situation was abundant. His brief physical/mental connection with her had made a difference. The change was not subjective, but measurable on the monitor.
She was sleeping now, a natural sleep. Her breathing was measured and even, her entire body relaxed beneath the restraints. Across the room, the subspace radio receiver alarm sounded. Spock moved toward it, considering this new information.
"Spock here," he said once the frequency was open. No need to say anything else. The Hood was the only ship in direct subspace range.
"Bad news, Lieutenant," Morgan
began, his voice laced with a weariness Spock had not heard before. "There's
a radiation leak from the
"Then your arrival here is delayed forty-eight to seventy-two hours, correct?"
There was a pause, then Morgan's voice came over the channel, regret audible through the static fuzz. "Correct. She's not going to make it, is she, son?"
Morgan sighed. "I'm trading thirty lives for one. It shouldn't feel so damn bad. Problem is, this isn't the first time I've made this kind of decision. Won't be the last either." There was another pause. "It never gets easier. Spock?"
"Being a captain isn't such a hot job. Stick with sciences. Lots to keep you busy, no hard decisions. Morgan out."
Spock released an echo of Captain Morgan's sigh as he pondered his own hard decision. It was highly possible that his presence had accelerated Number One's illness. Another officer, a human officer, might have been able to give her enough attention to slow the progression. It was obvious she had slowed the progression of the virus in Affatato; regrettably, Number One had been unlucky enough to be trapped with a Vulcan.
Shaking himself, Spock moved to Number One's side, satisfying himself that she was still breathing. As he observed the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, he calculated the odds that she might survive until the Hood's arrival. Dark eyes darted to the monitor screen to note that the readings had slipped just slightly. The physical/psionic contact was no cure. It merely slowed the progression. Christopher Pike would refer to it as buying a little time. His Vulcan reticence had obviously contributed to the rapid progression of Number One's illness. It made only sense that he should use his touch telepathy to retard it. Perfectly logical.
His gaze lingered on the first officer's face, studying the pale skin, the barest flickers of movement which tugged at her sharp features. Spock was honest enough to admit to himself that another reason existed besides logic. What little he'd seen of the first officer's mind had intrigued him. He wished to explore it. Furthermore, he told himself, he'd been invited. Her touch had been calculated, her psionic plea a crystal-clear tone overriding the chaos just beneath the surface of her mind. He'd spent months pondering why Number One disliked him. If he entered her mind, he would know. Spock would like to have thought that his motives were completely altruistic, but curiosity for curiosity's sake was not altruistic. He was just being nosey.
Spock smiled. That was his mother's word. It had appeared in his mind as so many of her words and phrases often did, at odds with his Vulcan upbringing, clashing with the order and logic he'd tried so hard to maintain. There were two halves to the whole, and while he had always tried to keep her gifts within, they rose to the surface when he expected them the least.
"Perhaps I am being nosey," he said softly as he placed his fingertips over Number One's temple. "But there is more at stake than mere curiosity. Much more," he added in a whisper as he entered her mind.
He was prepared for the chaos this time and shielded himself against it. The shouts and cries and blasting emotions were audible, but they did not touch him. It was like riding out a storm encased in the protective environment of a hovercar. One could feel the elemental forces, see the effect, but remain untouched.
Then abruptly he was standing beneath a moonlit sky, inhaling warm, floral scented air. A soft, summery breeze ruffled his hair as he studied this new situation. It was an agrarian setting, cultivated fields, rolling hills. Peaceful. A glance upwards confirmed his suspicion that this world was unknown to him, but not, obviously, to Number One.
She moved from the shadows of a huge tree, tall and thin, long dark hair swinging loose around her shoulders. She stopped suddenly, a welcoming smile transmuting into cautious surprise. "Oh. I thought you were someone else.
Definitely Number One, Spock decided, eyeing her. This was a youthful version of the officer he knew. He would gauge her age as roughly fifteen or sixteen Earth years. "It was not my intention to frighten you," he offered in a soft tone.
"I'm not frightened," she retorted, moving closer. "But you're certainly different looking. Are you from the city?"
Spock met her bright, curious gaze and fought
a smile. "I am from a city. The city of
His companion wrinkled her nose. "ShiKahr? What an odd sounding name." She stared openly at his ears. "I've never seen anyone who looks anything like you do."
"Where I come from, my appearance is not considered unusual."
"ShiKahr, this city you come from. Is it a part of the Federation, too?" Spock nodded, and the young woman beamed with pride. "I bet you didn't think I would know about the Federation," she said. "The other girls don't. I know because I ask questions. Don't you think it's important to ask questions?" She was moving back toward the tree, and he followed her, joining her when she sat on the soft grass beneath it.
"Yes, it is important to ask questions," he agreed. "I have always done so. I have always been curious."
"Did you ever get in trouble for taking something apart to see how it worked?" she queried with a quick, unrepentant grin.
Spock considered her question carefully as he gazed out over the moonlit landscape. He recalled dismantling his mother's food replicator. She had been angry. He'd been willing to bet at the time that no Vulcan mother would have spanked a child for exhibiting curiosity, but Amanda was a human mother with a very human temper. "Yes."
"Didn't stop you from doing it again, did it?" she asked, her expression suddenly serious. "It's not like you have a choice, really. There's just something inside you that says 'do it.'" She shrugged. "And before you can even think about it, there you are." She studied him for a moment, then frowned. "Of course, it's different for boys. They get to do all kinds of things. Why, I bet you could even join Starfleet."
Spock met her gaze levelly. "I am in Starfleet."
Her eyes widened. "Really?"
"Your father is a senator?"
"My father is an ambassador."
She wrinkled her nose at the word, struggling with the unfamiliar concept. "Is that anything like being a senator?"
"Perhaps. What difference does it make?"
"It's like being a boy. You get to do things. You don't know what it's like here."
She sighed, obviously debating whether this strange man truly wanted to hear about her dull life. "I live in a dormitory. It's clean and safe and away from the pollution of the city. And it's boring. All they do is tell us about what an honor it is to have children. It's our civic duty, you know. We're supposed to learn to cook and sew, and we're supposed to have lots of babies, and that's all we can do. We're not supposed to want to do anything else."
"And you do."
"Of course I do." Her voice was sharp with irritation. "How would you feel if someone told you to do something you didn't want to do, and they didn't give you any choice?"
Spock thought of his father, of Sarek's demand that Spock take Sybok's place in the diplomatic corps. He had not spoken to his father since that day, nor would he speak to him again. "I would not like it."
She looked at him, her gaze softening. "You do understand. Maybe it's not so different for boys after all."
"Or maybe it's just because you're so strange..." She paled, biting off the offending words without completing her sentence. When he made no move to chastise her, she extended her hand. "I'm Shayla."
"I am called Spock."
Again she wrinkled her nose, repeating his name as if she were tasting unfamiliar vowels. "Spock. Nice name. So tell me, what does an ambassador do?"
As Spock opened his mouth to respond, a tall figure appeared just outside the shadow cast by the tree. It was Number One, the adult Number One. There was a whisper of sound, and Shayla was gone. The only evidence that she had been there a patch of crushed grass and a small paper wrapped confection. Spock picked it up and examined it.
She stooped to join him, brushing the drooping branches behind her as she sank onto the soft grass. She was wearing Montisori's coverall, her boots still dusty from the sandstorm. "I remember this place," she said softly. "I haven't thought of it in years. Was there someone else here?"
"You were here," he said, handing the adult Number One the treat her youthful self had left behind. "Shayla was here."
"Gods," she breathed, as she opened the stiff waxed paper. "A viigi tart. I've tried to program the replicator to make them, but they don't taste right. Maybe they have to be made in an old oven that only works half the time." She broke the tart in two and handed half to Spock. He opened his mouth to refuse, but then thought better of it and accepted the offering. They ate in silence.
"As good as you remember?" Spock queried after a few moments. He felt as if he were walking on eggshells. He'd never known Number One to be this relaxed, this serene. The tension which usually existed between them was curiously absent, and he was grateful, as it made his task easier. The problem lay in maintaining a status quo. He had no way of knowing how long her serenity would last.
Number One nodded. "Better. Carry was a terrific cook. I wish I knew..." Her voice trailed off. "What were you two talking about?"
"We were talking about taking things apart, and getting into trouble, and doing things we didn't want to do."
Number One looked surprised. "It must have been difficult for you to talk with someone so young, so uneducated."
"I found our conversation fascinating."
"I find that hard to believe." Number One's tone had taken a sharp, defensive turn.
Spock took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. "It is difficult to reconcile ourselves to the past. I would probably not wish for you to meet any of my younger selves."
"Your younger selves were controlled, educated, and gifted. I've read your personnel file, Mister Spock. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
Spock stood up and started down the small hill, turning halfway to meet her startled gaze. "Neither have you, Lieutenant."
"Mister Spock?" She stood up, taking a few steps toward him. "Where are you going?" She seemed to have lost her anger. At this moment, she looked more vulnerable than Spock had ever known her to be, her tone tentative with a trace of anxiety threading through it.
"For a walk," he responded. "Would you care to join me?" He waited expectantly for Number One's reply. His entire course of action keyed to the first officer's response. Looking at the vibrant woman who stood in the moonlight before him, it was difficult to remember that in truth she lay near-death on a biobed on Yeuros Three.
She hesitated for an instant, then nodded her head. "I'd like that. For some reason, I'd rather not be alone right now."
Spock did not allow the look of relief to show on his face as she fell into step beside him. "Yes," he said as they walked into the landscape of her consciousness. "You have been alone for long enough."
* * *
"They're indigenous to Cazidan, but I've read about similar species on other planets." Number One knelt before the tiny, furry animal, so similar to the Yeuros chits which had transmitted the virus now raging in her blood stream. If the similarity occurred to Number One, however, it did not register on her face. "I used to call them floppies, because of their walk." She curved her hand affectionately over the floppy's ears, scratching its furry neck. Raising a sheepish grin to Spock, she added, "I didn't know what their real names were. It wouldn't have been a good idea to ask."
"Ah." Spock watched the first officer in amazement. There were so many things he was discovering about her. They had been walking for hours, for days. Time had ceased to exist in any form he could comprehend, but it didn't matter. Not here. He'd been curious, fascinated by the sheer order and peace of her thoughts. Envious. For all of his Vulcan upbringing, Spock knew in his heart that his mind was not nearly so neatly-kept, that creepings of doubt and self-contempt cracked at the walls of his subconscious. Number One was a human woman, but her mind rivaled a Vulcan's for sheer clarity and serenity. There was no regret or disappointment here, just the peaceful acceptance of one who has achieved what she most desired in life.
"Spock?" Number One looked up at him, a concerned expression creasing her brow. "If you're tired, there's a fence just a few meters away. We can rest there."
Spock shook himself slightly. He was tired. His efforts of the last few days were wearing on him; he knew he would have to rest soon. Number One seemed unaware of their situation; unaware that this was all an elaborate fantasy created by the mind meld. The Vulcan nodded his head slowly. "Perhaps that would be wise. We have been walking for some time.
Number One stood quickly, brushing the dust off the legs of the maroon jumpsuit. Pointing in the right direction, she fell into a brisk pace. "Oh, I don't mind. It's nice to have someone to talk to."
Spock followed her, only half-listening as she pointed out and named the local flora, gladly allowing her the opportunity to vent her thoughts. Spock understood her need for talk and indulged her gladly. Already he could feel the strength of her mind rallying; if only he could keep her holding on until the Hood arrived.
They reached the fence, a dilapidated wooden construct which glowed silver in the Cazidan moonlight. Number One leaned against it, hooking the heel of one boot on the cross plank as she surveyed the landscape. "I'd forgotten how pretty it was at night."
Looking around him, Spock was compelled to agree with her. They'd travelled through a wooded patch to the top of a hill. Beyond the hill, he could see acres and acres of planted fields, cross-patches of agriculture which formed a quilt on the face of the planet. The fence they were leaning against followed the curve of the hill in both directions, extending beyond even Spock's eyesight. "What is beyond those fields?" Spock queried, unwilling to the silence continue for too long.
"The city," she clarified.
"Tell me about it."
"Can't. I've never been there. I've never been beyond this hill." She turned around, her back to the fields, and looked back at the woods. "This was my entire world until I was fifteen years old."
Spock followed her gaze across the tops of the trees. He knew he was looking at Number One's idealized memory of the world she'd left long ago. Everything was pure--the smell of the air, the softness of the grass beneath their boots. He thought of the viigi tart Shayla had dropped; the genuine article would probably not have tasted so good.
"So do you see it?"
The harshness of Number One's voice surprised him. He looked where she pointed, seeing a dim building in the distance, the unmistakable air of institutionalism surrounding it. "What is it?"
"Home, sweet home," she murmured. "The dormitory where I grew up."
Spock reminded himself that he was seeing this world through the filter of Number One's emotions; still, the sheer offensiveness of the dormitory surprised him. A huge, uninspired building, it blotted the landscape with its oppressive facade. A wire gate surrounded it -- to keep people out or keep people in, Spock could not fathom. Spock turned away from the sight, unable, unwilling to picture the girl Shayla living there. A low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance; Spock quickly changed the subject. "Shayla...the child I met...seemed to be expecting someone."
Number One hesitated for a moment, seemingly unable to tear her eyes from the dormitory. When she did, there was a rueful smile on her face. "Vikz, probably. A boy she...a boy I used to know." Her expression saddened. "He was sweet, really. Not too bright, but sweet. He's the reason I knew about Starfleet and the Federation. I wonder whatever became of him," she said more to herself than to the Vulcan.
"You mentioned something about senators..."
Number One's face darkened, and another crack of thunder sounded, nearer this time. "I don't know anything about senators. They were all men."
"Didn't you know any men?"
A gust of wind blew the woman's hair into her face; when she pulled it away, Spock knew he had asked the wrong question. "I knew Vikz. I knew the Fix-it man who always came to fix the stove." The wind picked up, and a flash of lightening broke the night sky. "I knew the Doctor. I saw the Doctor every month for two years." The venom in Number One's voice startled and concerned Spock.
"Perhaps we should find shelter."
Number One ignored him. She stared unseeing into the distance, her voice weaving an angry web around the two of them. "The Doctor was very fond of me. Extremely fond of me."
A bolt of lightening hit an otta tree not too far from them; Spock grabbed Number One's arm instinctively, pulling her to the ground. The Cazidan night wavered around them; Spock could see the storm of disease pushing at the fragile oasis Number One's mind had created for them. "We must find shelter," he yelled over the howl of the wind.
Before Number One could answer, a gale swept over them. Spock closed his eyes against the wind, never releasing his iron grip on Number One's hand. When he was finally able to open his eyes, they were no longer on Cazidan. Number One's mind had deposited them just outside the Yeuros Station, in the same desert wind storm he'd pulled her out of before she'd succumbed to the virus. A third grave lay beside the two they'd dug for Montisori and Affatato. Number One stood precariously at the edge of the grave. "Lieutenant!" he shouted over the wind.
He couldn't hear her reply, for at that moment the ground shifted beneath them and the first officer's foot slipped into the open grave. Spock held tightly as she fell, refusing to release her despite the pain which shot through his arm. "Lieutenant!"
The grave was pulling at her. Spock could read the horror on Number One's face; he knew she feared death with every cell of her body. The storm's intensity increased; again, he tried to call to her. "Hold on."
Number One was shaking her head no, begging him in words muted by the storm to let her go, to end it there. Spock ignored her pleas, using brute strength to pull her out of the grave. Wrapping his arms around her, he struggled away from the opening in the ground which threatened to consume both of them. He held tightly to her, closing his eyes against the inferno of wind and dust.
The silence startled him.
"You can let go of me now, Lieutenant Vulcan." Spock opened his eyes to see yet another version of the first officer grinning up at him, a tired but amused gleam in her blue eyes. "Unless, of course, you'd prefer not to." She smiled at him wickedly. "I wouldn't mind if you preferred not to."
Spock released her immediately, stunned by her
intimate behavior. The young Number One was in her early twenties, dressed in
The young woman laughed. "Hardly. Let's get out of here." She looked around the landscape of Yeuros disdainfully, and suddenly the oasis shifted into a small cadet's quarters at the Academy. "That's much better. I hate that noise." The young woman stretched, easing her muscles as she paced the tiny cabin. Pivoting on the toes of her boots, she smiled at Spock. "Well, Lieutenant Vulcan, I suppose I should thank you. I thought I'd lost her back there.
"Number One, of course. Isn't that who we're trying to save?" She motioned to Spock to sit on the bed. As he looked around the room, she watched his expression with growing amusement. "Sorry about the clutter. I have this thing about books, you see." Spock only then noticed the shelves of books lining the walls of the tiny room. Stacks upon stacks reached towards the ceiling, dog-eared, battered, obviously read and reread. "It's one of my worst vices," she said, then grinned broadly. "Well, one of the worst I'll tell you about. The others you'll have to find out about on your own." The young woman reached into a cabinet and pulled out an airtight, cylindrical container. It was opaque lavender, bright and colorful, just like the rest of the Cadet's belongings which were scattered in chaotic glee around the tiny room. "You must be starving. Do you want some raisins?" She opened the container and offered it to Spock. The Vulcan took a handful warily.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Most people just call me Cadet." She stuffed a handful of raisins into her mouth and sat next to him on the bed. "I thought she was a goner when you brought up the Doctor. Don't you have any sense at all?"
"I mean, every time Number One gets morbid, we go back to that grave." The Cadet's voice took on a disapproving edge. "I've been working for days to distract her, and you come along and bring her to Cazidan. What kind of idiot are you?"
Spock raised an eyebrow at the woman's insolent tone. "I have no control over where she takes me."
"You don't?" The Cadet digested that for a moment, then nodded. "Of course you don't. I'm sorry." She stretched backwards, leaning heavily on her hands, yawning. "Gods, I'm tired. Ever since she got sick, I've been running around like a crazy person. Good thing it was just you who showed up. Usually when things get too hectic, I wind up opening my mouth and embarrassing her in public. Then again, with the aphasia, who'd notice?"
"You know about the aphasia?" He studied her carefully. "Number One--the Number One I was walking with on Cazidan--does not know about Yeuros. Nor does Shayla."
"I know that."
"Then how do--"
"How am I supposed to help her if I don't know what's going on?" the Cadet snapped. As suddenly as the sharpness had appeared in her tone, it was gone. She smiled at Spock again. "I know who you are, Lieutenant Vulcan. You're Spock."
He nodded, growing more and more confused by the moment.
"You've caused me more trouble--"
"How have I--"
The Cadet yawned again, brushing her fingers casually through her short, brown hair. "I guess you can call me a conscience of sorts...or maybe a guardian angel. I keep her out of trouble. I always have, even back on Cazidan." She grinned mischievously. "And you, Mr. Spock, are trouble."
Spock shook his head. "Trouble?"
"Not that you're a bad guy, mind you. Number One is crazy about you--you're everything she's ever wanted to be in her entire life." The Cadet grabbed a handful of raisins and offered half to Spock. When he refused, she shrugged and continued. "And that, Lieutenant Vulcan, is what makes you so dangerous. You're probably the only person alive who can expose Number One for the fraud that she is."
"Me." The young woman sighed, snapping the cover back onto the container and tossing to the side of the bed. "All that logic, all those neat little compartments in that neat place she calls her mind, that's who she wants everyone to think she is. For someone that brainy, Number One is ridiculously insecure. And she certainly doesn't want anyone to know that I exist."
Spock stared curiously at the strange young woman. In a few moments, she had revealed more about the first officer than Number One had the entire time he'd known her. "Why?"
"Because. I keep an eye on the clutter--the fears, the anger, the lust--all those nasty little emotions she wants to believe she's immune to." The Cadet rolled her eyes in a "whatcha-gonna-do" gesture. "I embarrass her. That's why she keeps me stuck in this room; I think she'd be happy to get rid of me altogether. Of course, she can't. Still, she only lets me out when there's no one else around--or when she's too sick or too tired to care what I do." The Cadet lifted an eyebrow in a mocking imitation of Number One. "She finds you very attractive, Lieutenant Vulcan."
Spock stiffened immediately. "This conversation is not logical."
"Neither is dying before I get my captain's stripes," the Cadet snapped back. "I've worked too hard to let you blow it now. It was me who got Shayla through that hell on Cazidan; I got us through the Academy." She cast an appraising eye towards the stack of books. "When we left home, we couldn't even read. I taught us how; I made us stay up studying even when Shayla got discouraged. And I didn't do all that work just to let you walk Number One through a mine field on Cazidan. I want my rewards, and I won't let you screw it up."
"I am attempting--"
"You're attempting to keep her out of the grave, I know." Her face paled, a wave of exhaustion slowing the tirade. When she continued, her tone was more subdued. "I know. You're trying to keep us alive until the Hood gets here. But you won't do us any good strolling her through the fields of Cazidan." Her face clouded; she shook her head firmly. "That place is full of mines. It's a tragedy waiting to happen."
"I did not know."
"How could you? Just next time..." She raised gentle blue eyes to Spock's, suddenly earnest. "We aren't going to make it, are we?"
Despite his fatigue, Spock was coming to a gradual understanding of the situation at hand. Somehow, the strongest aspects of the first officer's personality had anthropomorphized into these women. Shayla, the child, was enthusiasm, curiosity, potential. Number One, the Number One he'd walked with, was the intellect, the pristine personification of refinement and accomplishment to which the real Number One aspired. And the Cadet... Spock studied the young woman curiously. She was brash, rude, and emotional almost the point of schizophrenia. She was the repository of all of Number One's drive and ambition, the caretaker of her passion and spirit. He could not help but like the Cadet; he did not want to hurt her. "We cannot be sure."
"We're in a healing trance." There was awareness in the young woman's eyes as she raked them across Spock's features. "You're putting your life in danger to save ours."
"There is still a possibility--"
The Cadet's quarters faded around them, and Spock found himself standing next to the grave site on Yeuros. Next to the empty grave intended for Number One, there was a fourth cut neatly into the earth. "Cadet?" He turned to her and found himself back in her quarters. She was standing with her arms folded tightly across her chest, staring at him morosely.
"We're not going to make it."
Spock felt the panic rising in him as her words sparked a small tremor around them. He turned to the door. "I have to find Number One..."
"She's gone," came the small reply.
The young woman sat down on the bunk, her face dropping in her hands. "She's given up. "She's back in the dorm."
Spock heard the catch in her voice, knew what horrors she was remembering. He thought of that benighted place, darkly filtered through Number One's painful memories, and shuddered at the image of Shayla behind those walls, hope dying moment by moment.
"It's just us, Lieutenant Vulcan. There were tears running down the Cadet's face now. I'm sorry. I'm not the one you would have preferred to die with…"
Spock spun on his heels, determined to find the first officer. As the door to the Cadet' swished open before him, he heard the soft plea, "Please. Don't leave me alone."
Spock froze his step. He turned slowly to face her. "It was you who called to me." She was crying softly into her hands. The walls to the cabin shook slightly. "When Number One first touched me, I heard your voice." The young woman who would someday become his first officer ignored him. Spock thought quickly, trying to decide how best to handle this situation. Human emotions were a mystery to him, especially those involving young human women. He sat next to her on the bed. "You must not give in to your fears."
She looked up at him, her eyes brimming red with tears, and--to Spock's amazement-- laughed. "I'm not a Vulcan, Lieutenant. I'm afraid."
"You must hold on," Spock urged, taking her hands into his. It was tactile contact which had kept Affatato alive; the lack of tactile contact had hastened the progression of the disease in Number One. "You must not give up."
She sniffed hard, loosening one hand to wipe the tears from her eyes. "Why, Lieutenant Vulcan, I didn't know you cared."
Spock steeled himself against the shaking flirtation in her voice. The stability of the oasis weakened with every negative thought; it was essential to keep up her morale. "What can I do?"
The Cadet stared at him, judging whether or not he truly intended to help her. When she realized he was serious, she said, "Distract me. Don't let me think about dying, not even for a moment."
"Of course," Spock agreed. "A very logical idea. Perhaps we could discuss the fuel-consumption--"
"That's Number One, not me," the Cadet chided softly. "I couldn't care less about that sort of thing."
Spock drew in a sharp breath at her tone. It was difficult to keep up with the Cadet's mood swings. She went from imp to seductress in less time than it took most people to change thoughts. "Perhaps then--"
The young woman pressed close against him, brushing her lips over his cheeks with maddening slowness. "Number One isn't the only one who finds you attractive, Lieutenant Vulcan."
Spock pulled away, shocked at the turn this conversation was taking. "Perhaps we could discuss--"
"I don't want to spend what could be the last night of my life discussing science or philosophy, Mr. Spock," she assured him. A small smile flickered across her face as she leveled her gaze directly at him. "And you're as attracted to me as I am to you."
Spock's eyebrows shot into his hairline.
The Cadet grinned again. "The meld is a two-way street. While you were busy discussing fuel-consumption reports with Number One on Cazidan, I was doing a little window-shopping in that Vulcan brain of yours. Fairly interesting stuff." She pressed her hands against his chest, a flirtatious smile brightening her face. "Gods, you're so much like Number One it hurts. You pretend you're so upright and staid..." She curved her fingers into the folds of his uniform, crossing her legs slowly. "But you're not as immune to long legs as you like to pretend. Too bad that little Vulcan woman you're stuck with is so short."
Spock pulled away from her roaming hands, shocked and dismayed. He had been comparing Number One earlier to T'Pring, his bondmate and the only other woman with whom he'd ever melded. He thought back to the icy touch of the Vulcan woman's mind, comparing it with the warmth and serenity of the first officer's. It had occurred to him, somewhat surprisingly, that Number One would be highly preferable to T'Pring as a bondmate. He had not expected to have his own thoughts used against him--and in such an intimate way.
Grinning her Cheshire cat grin once more, the Cadet insinuated herself into his arms. "Besides, Lieutenant Vulcan, this is only a dream, an elaborate fantasy created by the mind-meld. It's not like you're really going to make love to me." She laughed at Spock's horrified expression. "Distract me, Spock. At this point, what have we got to lose?"
He shook his head, pushing her away carefully so as not to hurt her. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "It is...not possible."
There was a low rumble as she nodded her head. "Of course it isn't." The thunder intensified as she stood and walked to the door. "You're a Vulcan."
"There must be some other--"
"I've been at this for over a week, damn it. Forgive my lack of creativity, but I'm running out of ideas." She paused, exhaling listlessly. "It doesn't matter," she murmured. Her expression was tired, her features that of a much older woman. "Besides, we're both too exhausted for it to be any good." The room shook, sending a shower of books onto the floor. The Cadet looked upwards, a sad sigh escaping her. "She's dying."
"Let it go, Spock. Pull out of the mind-meld and save yourself."
The Vulcan shook his head.
"Come on, Spock. Don't be an idiot. Now is not the time to exhibit the stubborn half of your personality!"
Spock froze, recognizing the words as something his mother had said to him the day he'd left Vulcan. The Cadet had evidently seen that memory too, that and any number of Others while he'd been distracting Number One on Cazidan.
"Sorry," she whispered wearily. "It was fun while it lasted, huh?"
The room shook again, throwing the Cadet against Spock. He caught her reflexively, his arms tightening around her as more books tumbled to the floor. After a moment, she tried to push away, but he continued to hold her.
"No," he ordered firmly when she struggled against him. Even at the brink of exhaustion, he could easily overpower her.
She lifted her head to meet his gaze, her eyes wide with confusion. "What are you doing?"
"I'm not leaving you alone," he said. His arms settled more securely around her, pulling her close against him. "I will not leave you, and you will not leave me. We will remain here together until the Hood arrives."
"Spock--" she gasped. "You're crushing me!"
He relaxed his grip to allow her a deep breath, but made no move to release her. "I will not allow it, do you understand?"
She shook her head, tears filling her eyes. "Allow what? What are you talking about?"
Spock met her gaze, his dark eyes intent. "It is not logical to let you die here."
The Cadet took a moment to digest that, then smiled. "Logic," she mused, relaxing in his arms. She laid her head against his shoulder and breathed into his ear. "Of course. Silly me. All this time I've been trying to use sex appeal."
* * *
Number One woke in a small room, a Sickbay isolation room. She was no longer on Yeuros. She sat up on the diagnostic bed, twisting to look up at the bio monitor over her head. The readings seemed normal enough. A Vulcan female in science blue entered the room accompanied by a big man in command gold.
"So, you've decided to join the living, Lieutenant," the man said as he pulled a stool up to her bedside and sat on it. "I'm Thadium Morgan, captain of the Hood." He extended his hand, and she took it. His grip was firm and warm, and although his eyes were red rimmed with fatigue, he gave the impression of being a vital individual, one comfortable with command.
"Sir." The word had been uttered automatically, but Number One looked shocked when it came out correctly. "I can speak...you can understand what I'm saying." Number One looked to him for confirmation of what her own auditory senses had told her.
Morgan grinned and nodded his head. "Your science officer had already done the leg work on the antiviral vaccine. If he'd had the Hood's computers to work with on Yeuros, there wouldn't have been a problem. The thing is, we'd never have thought about those little prairie dogs having fleas--"
"Microscopic parasites," the Vulcan female interrupted patiently as she ran a medical tricorder over Number One's lanky form.
"I stand corrected," Morgan said, his grin not fading. There was open admiration in his expression as he nodded his head toward the Vulcan. "This is Healer T'Kell. She's my assistant CMO. When we beamed down to Yeuros and saw the two of you telepathically linked, both near death, Doctor Evans took one look and got T'Kell down there pronto."
Number One frowned. They were giving her so much information so quickly, and her brain was still not functioning at top speed. So much of what had happened on Yeuros seemed dreamlike to her. There were fragments of hallucinations which entwined with reality so completely that she was confused. "It was the chits...they were carrying..."
"A microscopic parasite which did not harm the chits, but proved fatal to both Montisori and Affatato," T'Kell explained. "Lieutenant Spock was on the verge of developing the antiviral before he utilized the mind-meld to stabilize you."
"He wasn't in any shape to tell us about it, but we checked the journal entries right away. We had the antiviral in a matter of minutes once we'd downloaded his research file to the Hood's medical computer," Morgan added, another flash of admiration filling his gray eyes as he inclined his head toward the rest of Sickbay. "The boy's resourceful. He'll get a service medal for this; I've already started the paperwork on it."
"Did... did Spock get the virus, too?" Number One asked, still disoriented. "Is he all right?"
"He wasn't affected by the virus, but the extended meld with you..." Morgan looked to T'Kell to elaborate.
"Lieutenant Spock entered your mind and maintained a telepathic link to facilitate communication. By tapping directly into your subconscious, he bypassed the physiological aphasia caused by the virus. When your condition deteriorated further, he engaged a healing trance and pulled you both into it."
"A healing trance?" Number One echoed. She'd had a hallucination of walking with Spock on Cazidan, in the moonlight. There were other fragments, Spock beneath an otta tree talking to Shayla, pulling her out of an open grave on Yeuros, and him in her dormitory at the Academy. The latter image brought a flush to her cheeks as she realized it had been more than a hallucination. "You mean he was actually in my mind?"
"He was mentally linked with you for four days, Lieutenant," T'Kell told her. "The healing trance lasted roughly forty-six hours."
"T'Kell was surprised to learn that Lieutenant Spock is half human, and that he's had no formal training as a healer," Morgan added. "Apparently it's almost unheard of for a novice to achieve that kind of link with a non-Vulcan. You're one very lucky lady. If Spock hadn't been willing to risk his own life by attempting that meld, you wouldn't be here talking about it now."
Number One's head spun, and she clutched at the side of the bed to keep her balance as she remembered the fourth grave and Spock's expression as he had turned away from it. "He could have died."
Morgan put a steadying hand on her shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. "But he didn't, and it turned out fine."
"You're sure he's okay?" Number One queried, searching Morgan's expression, half afraid he was hiding something from her.
Morgan smiled, the light in his eyes as softly
reassuring as his touch. "He's fine, Lieutenant. What he needed most was a
good meal and a decent night's sleep. Which he's getting right now." Morgan
glanced at T'Kell and rose from his seat. "Speaking of sleep, I think you could
do with a little more yourself. We rendezvous with the
T'Kell pressed a hypo against Number One's upper arm, and she could feel the effects instantaneously.
"Thank you, sir," Number One managed to mutter, her eyelids heavy. "For everything you've done."
"All part of the job," Morgan assured. "Spock's the one you need to thank, but they'll be plenty of time for that. Now get some rest. That's an order, Lieutenant."
"Aye," Number One muttered, then she drifted into sleep.
* * *
Philip Boyce snapped his medical tricorder shut and tossed it on Number One's bunk. "Got anything to drink around here?"
Number One arched a brow in a fair imitation of Spock. "Alcohol?"
Boyce, who had sauntered over to her storage cabinet, turned back to face her, spreading his arms wide in a gesture of appeasement. "I'm off duty as of twenty seconds ago. You were my last patient of the watch. Now where's that brandy I gave you for your last birthday?"
"Maybe I drank it," Number One
responded with a half smile from her bunk. She was wearing a blue flowered
tunic and matching slacks she'd picked up on Vega. It felt odd not to be in
uniform, but it was a big improvement over a sickbay diagnostic coverall she'd
worn since her return to the
"You never drink by yourself," Boyce insisted, hitting the access panel to reveal a full bottle and two snifters. "Ahhh." He raised the bottle to catch the light, eyeing the amber liquor with a critical eye before opening it. "You're medically clear to return to the bridge, although I'm not sure how you're going to manage it."
"Manage what?" Number One asked as she rose from her bunk. She took the half full glass of brandy from the physician and met his gaze, trying to read what lay beneath it.
"Manage to keep avoiding Spock. What are you going to do, banish him to the gamma watch?"
Number One stiffened, "I am not avoiding--"
"Right," Boyce interrupted dryly. "And I'm Zephram Cochrane. Care to discuss warp engineering?"
Number One took a defiant gulp of brandy, then set the glass down and faced Boyce, her posture rigid. "I appreciate the medical release, Doctor."
"Are you dismissing me, Lieutenant?" Boyce queried softly as he swirled his brandy expertly in the snifter.
Number One felt a flush rise to her cheeks. It wouldn't work, pulling rank with him. He was immune to such considerations. On a Starship, a CMO could outrank a captain in certain situations. A lowly first officer didn't stand a chance. "Make your point, Phil," she said, her tone heavy with resignation.
"The boy saved your life," Boyce responded, his tone sharp. Then it softened slightly as he continued. "I talked to the healer from the Hood. What Spock pulled off down there was something just this side of a miracle. He was telepathically linked with you for days. My guess is that he saw more of your mind than you'd feel comfortable about anyone seeing. The fact that it was Spock loitering around in there, well, that just made it twice as bad. What is about him that you dislike so much?"
Number One opened her mouth to respond, then recalled some of the things she'd seen in the Vulcan's mind. Since the first time she'd met Spock, he'd annoyed her; yet, objectively, there was really very little to fault him on. He was highly qualified, hard working, and dedicated to his career. She had once thought him unpopular with the crew, but to be fair, that was due more their intolerance of him than the other way around. Two weeks ago she could have filled a data disk with Spock's faults. Right now she couldn't think of anything valid to say against him. Number One met the physician's gaze, her expression composed, her tone carefully innocent. "Did I ever say I disliked Lieutenant Spock?"
"Not in so many words, but by action. You're hard on the boy; now that you owe him, so to speak, it'll only get worse. I'll be surprised if he doesn't put in for a transfer."
"Not quite." Boyce emptied his snifter in one gulp, his blue eyes holding hers for a moment before he set the empty glass down. "Why don't you ask yourself what it is about Spock that sets your teeth on edge?" He moved around her to retrieve his tricorder from the bunk. "Then ask yourself why."
"That all?" Number One asked, crossing her arms before her.
Boyce nodded, then left the room.
Number One turned and picked up her glass of brandy and took a sip. Boyce was right, damn him. She had been avoiding Spock. The very least she owed him was gratitude for saving her life, but there was more. She'd done the young lieutenant a grave disservice. She'd projected her own emotions onto Spock. He'd made her feel inadequate, so she'd read disapproval where none existed. She'd seen Pike's liking of Spock as a threat, so she'd imagined Spock was trying to outdo her. In reality, the Vulcan had only been trying to please her by being the kind of officer he thought she wanted him to be. Boyce had asked her what it was about Spock that set her teeth on edge. The answer was simple enough. She saw in Spock the raw clay of her own youth. Clay which had been molded by an advantaged birth and a fine education. She'd resented the ease of Spock's assent, not once considering the unique obstacles he had faced.
"Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself, Number One," she murmured. After a moment's hesitation, she drained the snifter and set it down. Time also to face the truth. The mind-meld had worked both ways. She had been revealed to Spock, but Spock in turn had been revealed to her. She knew things about him that he had never shared with anyone. As the cadet had pointed out during the meld, they were very alike. Beneath the emotionless exterior and the veneer of competence, both were afraid of being judged and found lacking. "So we're even." she said aloud. A frown creased her brow as she recalled what Boyce had said. There had been a time when she'd thought Spock oblivious to her disapproval. She knew now that every sharp comment she'd ever made to him had been taken to heart, examined, and considered. After the way she'd treated him, he'd risked his life for her. "Well, not quite, even," she added softly. "Not yet."
With a resigned sigh she moved to her closet and pulled out her uniform.
* * *
She hit the door chime and waited for a response, half surprised when a familiar voice called out for her to enter.
She moved into the second officer's quarters and stopped just inside. The temperature was noticeably warmer, the air laced with the pleasing scent of an exotic incense. Spock had risen from his computer terminal, clasping his hands behind him as he inclined his head. "Lieutenant."
Number One found herself unable to speak. Looking at Spock now, knowing what she knew about him, knowing what he knew about her...it made her feel strangely vulnerable. If he had to wait all night for her to make the first move, he would, she realized as the moments ticked by. She cleared her throat to speak, then fell silent again.
Finally Spock arched a quizzical brow, the tip of it disappearing into the neat fringe of bangs. Under the circumstances, it struck her as comical. Number One swallowed a very un-first-officer-like urge to giggle and smiled instead. "I came to thank you for saving my life."
Spock nodded. "Logic dictated--"
"There was nothing logical about your risking your life to keep me out of that grave," she interrupted. "You could have died also."
"But I did not."
Number One smiled again. "Has anyone ever told you that you're stubborn, Mister Spock?"
Spock considered for a moment. "I believe you know the answer to that, Lieutenant."
Her smile faded as a memory, his memory, popped into her head. "Yes, I do," she frowned as she met his gaze "You know, I didn't mean to--"
Spock raised one hand to silence her, shaking his head. "The mingling of thoughts was unavoidable. If there had been another way, I would have taken it. I understand your discomfort … I share it."
"T'Kell explained to me that mind melds are a deeply personal experience," Number One said slowly. "I think she was surprised that you would attempt it with a Human. Under the circumstances, I'm kind of surprised myself."
Spock looked puzzled. "I do not understand."
Number One shook her head. "You're being kind, Mister Spock. If the mind meld works both ways, then you know how I misjudged you. That was wrong, and I'm sorry."
"We are all products of our experiences, Lieutenant. In that, we are more alike than many of us ever realize."
Number One nodded. "Well, I guess I should let you get back to your work. I didn't mean to interrupt."
"I was finished," Spock said as he sank back into his seat. "And since your presence is required to conduct the final stage of my experiment, your arrival is most fortuitous."
"Experiment?" Number One moved around to look over his shoulder at the screen. "What kind of..." Her voice trailed off as she recognized the program he'd been working on. The ingredient list highlighted in a window in the left upper corner of the screen was familiar. Very familiar.
"This is the sixth test sample," Spock explained, saving the completed program and routing it to the food replicator. "The last sample was a great improvement over the previous attempts."
Number One followed him to the replicator slot and watched as two viigi tarts appeared on the pristine silver surface. "Mister Spock," she whispered, raw emotion clearly audible in her tone. She was trying to keep tears at bay.
Spock lifted one of the tarts and tasted it, eyeing her as she did the same. The flavor of the tart was not a disappointment. It was every bit as good as she remembered it. Number One closed her eyes and savored the taste of home, the taste of memories, good and bad, as they filtered through her consciousness. When the tart was gone, she opened her eyes to see him studying her intently, his brown eyes soft with some satisfaction she only peripherally understood.
"As good as you remember?" he asked.
"Better," she responded. "Better."