Disclaimer: Star Trek and the Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Pictures, Inc. No copyright infringement is intended or implied. The story contents and original characters are the property of Paula Smith and are copyright (c) 1975 by Paula Smith and boojums Press. Originally printed in Menagerie #7/8. This story is Rated R for violence.



"Here's a story, a little bit gory,

A little bit happy, a little bit sad…"



-- Lydia Pinkham



The Logical Conclusion

by Paula Smith



Part One - "A Little Bit Gory"

"Personal message coming in for you, Mr. Spock," said Lt. Uhura, as she switched receiver channel B to remote, shunting the call to the library station.

Captain Kirk looked up from the cargo report in some surprise as Mr. Spock walked over to his console. It was unusual for anyone on the Enterprise to get a personal call within 15 minutes of coming into planetary orbit, and more particularly Spock. Especially when the planet was Harimon. Sure, it was an open planet, and had a good-sized Vulcan colony in Kendal, the capital, but Kirk couldn't imagine who might know the first officer well enough to hail him.

Well, let's figure this out logically, thought Kirk, laying the report aside and propping his chin on his right thumb and index finger. If it were me, it'd be a woman, but it's Spock, so it's not. Kirk did not try to overhear the conversation; that would be cheating, and besides, it was in Vulcanur anyway. A clue! It must be someone from the Vulcan colony. Unless it was from somewhere else…

Kirk grinned, self-consciously amused by his chain of "logic," tried to look properly stern as he picked up the report again, failed, and gave way again to the smile. He checked off the major indices, scrawled his initials at the bottom, and handed the ledger to the instantly appearing yeoman, then noticed Spock standing in his usual arms-behind-the-back posture, directly to the right of the command chair. "Yes, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked, suddenly thinking: he wants shore leave.

"Request permission to go ashore when the watch is completed, sir," Spock replied.

"Granted." Kirk nodded, inwardly tickled that he had guessed right. Spock inclined his head and turned to leave. "Uh, Spock--" the captain stopped him. "Who called?"

"I have received an invitation to meet with Sidil, a man renowned on my planet for his impeccable logic. Naturally, I would not wish to miss such an opportunity," Spock explained.

"Naturally," Kirk agreed, as another yeoman presented him with the fuel report. He scanned and signed, and turned back to Spock.

"I have left the coordinates of Sidil's residence in the computer log under registry 9346A. Of course, I shall have my communicator with me as well, should you have need of me," Spock finished, stepping to one side, while the change of watch personnel swarmed onto the bridge, taking over their predecessor's instantly vacated seats.

The yeoman proffering the engineer's report stumbled against Kirk's chair slightly as the artificial gravity momentarily hiccupped. Kirk intercepted the slate, saying to Spock, "I doubt if we will. I may come down later myself. Enjoy yourself, Mr. Spock."

"Indeed, Captain," the Vulcan answered, following the last of the departing watch as they left, "I am certain that I shall."

* * *

Harimon was still a frontier planet, and Kendal, its capital, was still a frontier town. Its architecture showed little evidence of the fact that Harimon was an open planet; its appearance was primarily Terran, or at least, human, and one might not guess that sizeable colonies of Vulcans, Altarians, and Gubbans also lived there.

It was mid-afternoon when Spock came to the Vulcan quarter. In this more logically laid-out area, he soon found Sidil's address, a quiet, even conservative looking, small building encircled by a two meter high stone wall. The gateman let him in and led him into the house proper.

Inside, Spock recognized Sidil standing at the opposite end of the main room, a study of white on white. The thin old logician's hair, and tunic and trousers he wore were white; his eyes were gray and pale in lined sockets. The room, silent except for Spock's muffled steps as he approached the master, was a light off-white color, and its appointments neither contrasted nor obtruded; they too were white. Only Spock himself, in his blue and black uniform, was an intrusion of color. Coming at last to Sidil, Spock raised his right hand in the Salute, and said, "Live long and prosper, Sidil of Vulcan."

The old one replied, his own hand gesturing rather undefinedly, "And you, Spock of Starfleet. It is well you came."

"Your logic is widely respected by our people. I cannot but wish to learn more of it."

Sidil raised his left eyebrow and said unemotionally, "Even the outworlder must acknowledge the power of logic, must he not, Spock?"

"Indeed." Spock leaned forward in a slight bow.

"Sit." Sidil motioned to a backless, milk-white divan, before which stood a table of pale, even colorless wood. On the table were settings for seven. "You expect others," Spock noted.

"They will come," Sidil answered. "Will you have tea?"

"I will." Spock seated himself.

"Yes, you would, wouldn't you?" Sidil said musingly. Spock turned to face him with surprise at the curious phrasing.

* * *

About eight orbits into the watch, Captain Kirk was getting distinctly bored. A good third of the ship's complement had taken leave, among them Dr. McCoy, and Kirk found himself idly wishing for even his acerbic company. Panel lights still blinked, if less demandingly, monitor reports still muttered from the speakers, though less staccato; it was the gentle, peaceful, secure time of being in port, and Kirk was sick of it.

"Personal message coming in for you, Captain."

"Put it through to my chair screen, Lieutenant Uhura," Kirk said as he tapped the button to open the new midget viewer Scotty had installed about a week before. The cover stuck, so he jiggled it a bit and the prism-shaped unit popped up out of its receptacle.

The viewer held the image of a golden-brown, straight black-haired, round-faced Terran, squinting, but with a sunny expression all the same. "Lt. Commander Kirk, you have 15 minutes to report to my quarters," he barked.

"Commander Nishisawa!" Kirk exclaimed, grinning happily, and gaped at his former superior officer from the Texas. "What are you doing on Harimon?" Kirk then noticed Lt. Leslie glance at him in curiosity from the navigation panel, and putting his hand to his chin, he stopped his enthusiasm down to a more modulated mumble. "How have you been? It's been--ten years? since I last saw you, Ed; I heard you retired."

"I've been simply fine, Jim," Nishisawa answered, cracking an even broader smile. "I took my twenty year pension and went to work for General Products; I'm the local Sector's manager of Sales now." He laughed. "I've got 'a kid and two wives'--one job and a double salary!" He laughed again and Kirk chuckled, too.

"But how did you know I was up here?"

Nishisawa's hand appeared on the screen as he waved it deprecatingly. "I know all the ships in port, Jim, that's part of my business. I've been looking forward to seeing you again since I first heard the Enterprise was coming this way. My wife, Carol, took the kids--I've got three, all boys--to see her mother, so I've got nothing to do but talk. There's a beer warming here with your name on it. Care to come down and sample it?"

Kirk turned in his chair, instinctively checking through the ship's status in his mind. All sections were doing well, the ship was secure, orbit was standard, this section of the galaxy was quiet, God's in his Heaven, and all's right with the world. He ended the turn staring at Uhura's back. Of course. "Sure I can leave," Kirk said to Nishisawa, swiveling back around. "Where and how?"

"The Oldmann district, number 7 Raivi Street. There's a clear beam-down area a hundred meters from my place, coordinates 604-17-411. Ask anyone there which way to Raivi Street."

"I'll be there in ten minutes," Kirk replied, grinning. "And chill that beer. Kirk out." He slapped the tiny viewer back into place. "Lt. Uhura, take command. If anything comes up, let me know immediately."

He swung out of the chair and was already on his way to the exit as Uhura answered, "Aye, sir," and took the conn.

* * *

The former commander's residence was fronted, backed, and sided by a man-high stone wall; the ornamental iron picket door was unlocked. The house proper, set in the middle of a tiled courtyard, was a smooth, squat affair of dust-brown adobe, with an oddly glowing, no-particular-color door. A fountain splashed somewhere out of sight. Evidently, the house had been built recently; the ivy hadn't grown very far out from the grillwork windows in either the house or the wall. A breeze did blow through the courtyard, but it wasn't much, and Kirk was terribly hot.

He punched the bell-press at the side of the doorway, and a few seconds later the glow dimmed and disappeared, replaced by Nishisawa standing there. He was of average height, about 45 years old, and in very good shape, if a little on the bony side. "Come in, Jim," he said, somewhat nervously.

Stepping through the door, Kirk mutely indicated its frame with a tilt of his head. "Force screen," Nishisawa answered, reactivating it as he spoke. "Latest thing from Earth." He led Kirk down the four steps into the dark, cool hallway and stopped short of the main room entrance. "Uh, Jim," he began apologetically, "right after I called, these two clients of mine came by. My company has been trying to interest theirs in this deal for a long time now. It's very sensitive, and--"

"I could come back later, Ed," Kirk offered.

"Oh, no, Jim, they'll be leaving soon." Nishisawa shook his head. "It's just that--well, my clients are Vulcan and--well, remember how Captain Rothmor used to feel about Vulcans? If you feel the same way, just--be patient, please. They won't stay long." He smiled slightly, sadly.

Kirk yanked his tunic straight and grinned. "Ed, don't worry. Literally, one of my best friends is Vulcan. My first officer, Spock."

Nishisawa's teeth showed in an answering grin. "That's wonderful. Thanks, Jim." They went into the softly lit room. Opposite the door, two Vulcans sat together on a plain sofa; a middle-aged woman--perhaps 95?--and a somewhat younger man. "Sefert and Tolan of Vulcan, may I present Captain James Kirk of Starfleet?" Nishisawa did the honors. "Jim, Sefert and Tolan are husband and wife."

Kirk raised his hand in a credible imitation of the Vulcan Salute. "Peace and long life," he intoned.

"Live long and prosper," Tolan replied; Nishisawa looked on gratefully. He showed Kirk to a side chair, and sat down himself on a nearby ottoman. "Well!" he said after a moment, as the silence pressed heavily on him--but no one else. "Ah--Captain Kirk has a Vulcan first officer."

Immediately, he regretted his inanity, but it was of no consequence; Kirk merely nodded urbanely and explained the interjection to Tolan: "Yes, I depend on him highly. His name is Spock."

"Spock; yes, we know of him," Tolan answered pleasantly.

"All Vulcan knows of him and thinks highly of him," her husband rejoined. "He is an example of IDIC."

Kirk smiled faintly and continued, "As a matter of fact, he's down here on Harimon himself; he went to see someone I also hear Vulcan thinks highly of: Sidil, the logician."

"Sidil, yes, I've heard of him, too," Nishisawa put in. "He's supposed to be very brilliant, isn't he?"

"Yes, he--" Kirk broke off as he noticed Tolan and Sefert looking at each other with obvious misgivings. "Is anything wrong?"

Tolan looked at the captain obliquely, almost squinting her eyes. "James Kirk--do you consider that wise?"

"Recently," Sefert continued, "Sidil has been advocating that Vulcan take what he calls 'its rightful place' among planets--"

Tolan interjected, "Which is in essence dominance--"

"--evidently through the revival of Pre-Reform attitudes and abilities, modified only slightly by Surak's Construct."

"His logic is sound," Tolan took over, "but his premises and goals have been judged inharmonious with galactic peace and the sanctity of life, which the Council decided take precedence over even logic."

"He was dismissed from the High Academy," Sefert commented.

A chill crawled into Kirk's stomach as he listened to the dispassionate recitation. He barely breathed as the Vulcans continued the litany of Sidil's offenses.

"He has gathered to himself a group of disciples here on Harimon; they advocate 'racial purity'."

"Most of our race have nothing to do with them, for they are dangerous. Spock should not have gone to see them."

"Indeed," Tolan almost chanted the last response of the dirge. "Because Spock is hybrid, Sidil has recently demanded that, in the name of Vulcan logic, Spock must not be allowed to live."

* * *

When Spock returned to consciousness, he was no longer in Sidil's white den. Instead, he stood in a much smaller, dark cave-like room, lit only by a Flame at one side. Seated a-crouch about him were the other five of Sidil's guests who had overpowered him via disciplines he had never even heard of before, and certainly never encountered. Even now, they held him upright and immobile in a mentally induced stasis field of some sort. Where had they learned these abilities?

The five were covered in black cloaks and hooded. They were silent, waiting. Then Sidil, dressed in similar, but white, robes, entered Spock's field of vision and stepped into the circle. He stopped before the statue-like Starfleet officer, examined his face. Then he spoke.

"You, Spock, are a paradox. You say you are Vulcan, but you live among Terrans. You claim to have experienced--the Time--yet you did not take T'Pring. You assert that your heritage is ours, but your mother was an emotional, inferior being. I submit that you cannot be Vulcan."

Spock suddenly found that he could speak, though the rest of his body was still in the others' control. "You, Sidil, had said that 'even an outworlder must acknowledge logic.' And I am more than an outworlder. I am Spock of Vulcan, the Vulcan of my father Sarek, the Vulcan of Surak."

"But you are not Spock of the Vulcan of the Ancients, which is our source," Sidil countered evenly.

"The Vulcan of the Ancients no longer exists. It was subsumed by the Construct of Surak."

"You are wrong. The ancient Vulcan is come again; its power and knowledge rise again in us. Tell me, Spock, does one willingly submit to an inferior? Does the child lead the father?"

Spock was becoming uneasy at the trend of Sidil's reasoning, but he conceded, "Of course not. That would be illogical."

"Is Vulcan not superior to Terra?"

"In knowledge and logic, yes, but--"

"Not in strength? But these ancient disciplines which now return to us give us many times their strength." Sidil raised an eyebrow. "Should we allow these inferiors to command us, to drag us down to their level?"

Spock raised an eyebrow back. "The logic of power produces only power. Your reasoning process is sound, but I object to your premises. You haven't acknowledged the concept of IDIC."

"On the contrary, I embrace it more fully than do you yourself. Infinite Diversity must preclude mongrelization, lest the parent species be eliminated through contamination. Diversity asks that the individual species be respected, and allowed to maintain itself at its proper potential, not to be lost through inferior mergers. I merely chose the combinations that follow logically from the fact of Vulcan superiority to the rest of this so-called Federation. Vulcan must lead. To do less is error. Do you support error, Spock?" Sidil asked coolly.

"I do not support power for its own sake," Spock said, looking away as much as was possible from the old man.

"Our demand is not power for its own sake." Sidil spoke more forcefully now. "It is illogical to deny our supremacy; conversely, it is only proper to assert it." He paused a second. "Yet you, Spock, are both the symbol and the substance of our submission to inferior humans. You, the halfling, are Vulcan's great shame. The Terrans have compromised our genes in you, creating not only the paradox whereby the superior aspect--Vulcan--is rejected for the lesser--Starfleet--but have thereby asserted the apparent, but intolerable equality of Terra with us."

Sidil brought his hand up and held it, in a strange convolution, a few centimeters before Spock's face. "You are a fallacy which we shall correct now." He set his hand on Spock's face.

The surroundings were the place of trial, the koon-ut-kali-fee. Seated before Spock were Stad, Sukil, and T'Pau, elders and judges, with several more respected Vulcans standing beside them as witnesses. In a semi-circle behind him were the black-draped followers of Sidil. To one side near the rock boundary stood he-who-acts-if-cowardice-is-seen, masked and grasping his halberd. Sidil, in the same white robe, was also in the arena, regarding him expressionlessly. But he himself, Spock realized, was the focus of the gathering. He glanced down and discovered he was clothed in long dark green robes, such as a man might have worn in ancient days when on trial for his life. A fire crackling behind the ring of observers was the only sound.

"What is this place?" Spock demanded of Sidil, taking a step forward on the gritty sand. He was barefoot.

Stad, the oldest judge, seated in the middle, answered for the white-haired Vulcan. "This is the place of your family, the place of trial-or-death. Here you shall be judged, and if found in error, here shall you suffer the result." He sat back, his face so old and thin, the veins could be seen beneath the pale eyes.

"But this place is not real," Spock further objected, looking about the encircling Stonehenge of boulders, to the dais in its center with the fore before it, the red sky and white sun overhead.

"False," said Sidil, a graven white column of rectitude. "This place is entirely real. All matters are affected as they would be in any other continuum. It is a legacy of our ancestors, a gift they once knew. And it is Vulcan's again."

"Here you must be judged," Sidil continued, your existence tried. You must convince Vulcan of your logic."

Spock drew his head back. "And if I cannot?"

"Then you will die," came a voice from the podium, Sukil's. The black circle behind Spock stirred.

"But if you can point out the error of our logic, Spock halfling, we shall submit to you," Sidil went on. "I shall surrender my life to you, to be done with as you will. For that is a tenet of my logic, that the superior should govern."

Spock nodded. "Then I agree to this. My life is logic, and logical," he said, rumpling the green robe by folding his arms across his chest.

"Will you present your reasoning first, then?" Sidil stepped back.

The black-haired half-alien demurred. "My logic is the logic of Vulcan, Vulcan of the true continuum. We all already know it. I would rather you state your reasoning." He remained Buddha-still as Sidil came back to the fore.

"As you wish." Sidil stood so as to face Spock, but yet kept the arbiters in his line of address.

"What is the highest good of the universe?" he began.

"Logic," Spock replied succinctly.

"Why?"

"Because--" Spock hesitated. He could find no immediate answer. The supremacy of logic had never been a question, so far as he was concerned. Finally, when T'Pau leaned down to hear the whispered consultation of one of the observers, he grasped at a reason. "It is so stated in Surak's Construct."

"Why is it so stated?" Sidil continued relentlessly. Spock did not answer. Then Sidil, almost smiling, furnished his own reply.

"As you say, logic is the highest good of the universe, though some would insist, no, life is. But logic is eternal, existing apart and beyond the rest of creation, though it be yet creation's base and goal. The universe seeks reason; all matter, we have seen, strives to self-awareness--that is, self-aware matter has the advantage through its intelligence in survival--which is logic. Thus does logic surround and permeate the universe. It is its purpose and its highest good. Is that not so?"

"Indeed so," agreed Spock, almost so fascinated by Sidil's flow of reason as to forget the point of the intense old man's logic.

"Are Vulcans as a race the most logical members of the Federation?"

"Yes. In truth, Vulcans are the most purely dedicated to logic people known in this galaxy. We revere reason the least encumbered by any other consideration, for the Organians evince no desire to follow through with their logic to its last conclusion, and the Medusans are prone to emotionalism."

Sidil considered the green-clad Vulcan carefully. "You say one should follow one's logic to its ultimate conclusion?"

Spock felt trapped, but had to answer. "Yes, else its premises cannot be verified."

"Indeed," said Sidil, and seemed to back off. Spock felt relief. "Are the humans a logical people? In the main?"

"No." There was a visible rustle as the elders on the podium reacted to Spock's one word. He hastened to seize an advantage, though, by adding, "But they are capable of learning."

"Precisely." Sidil came near as is possible for a Vulcan to gloating. "They are capable, therefore should they not be taught logic?"

Spock couldn't quite understand the satisfaction Sidil showed at his last answer, but he conceded, "Of course."

"By us." Sidil raised a hand to cut off Spock's imminent objection. "By whom better? You said we are the most purely logical race in the galaxy. And we are competent teachers. Therefore, should we not overcome the humans and teach them for their own good of our logic?" He paused. When Spock said nothing, he continued. "But to have a half-bred human about is to compromise the force of our superiority. A pupil's proper attitude is submission, and the humans are a proud race. Thy existence would cause them to think they may attempt equality with us, and they would not submit to our rule. Thou would disturb proper relations. Therefore, thou must die."

Again, silence fell, with only the hissing of the fire by the dais to break it. "Does thee fault Sidil's logic?" T'Pau asked, leaning forward.

Spock looked up, his arms limp at his side. "I cannot find his flaw. But I know he must be wrong."

"I cannot find his flaw, and I do not see why he should not be right," said Stad, rising. "Disprove his logic. Otherwise, prepare for his conclusion."

Spock folded his fingers into the familiar steeple. Staring at his crossed thumbs, he said falteringly, "I see the logic that calls for my death. But I cannot accept it. It violates my concept of--" He couldn't say what.

"It violates only the emotional grasp on life, Spock halfling," Sidil said dispassionately, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Follow they own logic: to the last conclusion," and turning the condemned man toward the dais, led him to the block. The dark figures followed.

Spock stepped up on the smooth granite and knelt. He watched remotely as two of the hooded ones seized his wrists, locked them into the manacles hanging from the chain embedded in the rock. Sidil's hands crept--so delicately--around his throat into the position for tal-shaya.

"But I still cannot accept it," Spock whispered, tugging the chains, just before he felt his neck snap.

* * *

The first thing Spock realized was that he was alive. The second, that Sidil had disengaged contact. He was back in the dark cellar, or possibly, back in his body, which was still controlled by the Six. Sidil was looking at him almost humorously.

"I was dead," Spock stated, as much to remind himself as Sidil.

"Yes, in that place, you died. And in those places you will die and die and die again, until your human half learns what that of Vulcan in you already knows--that you must die."

"You mean to destroy me."

"No." Sidil became almost gentle. "We shall only make you acknowledge the necessity of your destruction. Perhaps when you fully realize the intolerability of your existence, you will bring about your own death, but we will not occasion it."

On the right, one of the dark disciples rose and came to Spock. As she drew near, the hooded woman placed her fingers on the captive's face in the same manner as had the white master.

* * *

The dial above the outer airlock gave a warning buzz and began ticking off from thirty seconds.

Spock recognized the setting instantly. It was Airlock #2, on the Duncan Jones, the ship he had served on as an ensign 19 years ago. The same thing was happening that had happened 19 years ago: he was caught in the airlock without a suit, and the outer door was about to open to interstellar vacuum in 27 seconds. With the time clicking loudly off on the warning clock, he decided to do exactly what had saved him the other time. Swinging the manual lock's latch cover up and away with his right hand, Spock pulled the spring retracted bolt into place through the metal tongues welded on the door. When locked manually this way, the outer door could not be opened. He slammed the latch cover down to dog the lock--and the bolt sprang back into the unlocked position.

Spock was mildly perturbed; the lock should have caught. He repeated the sequence: cover up, bolt into place, cover down--and the bolt jumped back again. His curiosity piqued--why hadn't the lock functioned correctly?--Spock began a careful examination of the bolt's mechanism. It was apparently in perfect order. He opened the latch cover and inspected its underside. Finally, he found it; the ratchet that should have caught the bolt and held it locked had broken off. Obviously, the latch was beyond his ability to repair in the remaining six seconds. Nor were there any other fail-safe locks on the outer door. Defective designing, he tsked mentally. Though it was dangerous to the rest of the ship, the only thing Spock could do now to save himself was to re-enter the ship through the inner door and hope to be able to shut it before the outer one blew, even though this would leave the outer door open and render the airlock useless until they came to a port. And transporters hadn't been perfected yet.

Even as he made his decision, Spock turned for the inner door. But even as he turned, the outer door flew open with a loud, then fading, "Hhhhhwasss.ss..s..s….."

All the loose items in the tiny room were blasted out by the force of the escaping air. Spock wasn't even able to grab onto the edge of the lockjamb. Out he fled, tumbling, spinning, buffeted by the last wisps of the lost air, and settled into a slow, stately rotation about an axis through his midsection. There was absolutely no sound but the hiss of blood in his ears.

The stars slid by before his eyes, steady and far away. The ship was gone from sight. He turned his head to look for it, and the torque introduced an additional sideways rolling. I should not have investigated the malfunction, he thought. I should have gone to the inner lock immediately when the latch did not catch. My curiosity--"

Curiosity was a human emotion.

The water on his eye surface was beginning to freeze over; mucus, saliva, and blood bubbled from his mouth and nostrils, chilling his face as they instantly evaporated in the vacuum. Lung pressure was increasing and he let a minor amount of air escape to relieve the tightness.

Then his eardrums shattered, to let fluid well over the other ear and freeze. Arteries rupturing under the skin caused his arms, his legs to swell, even as the muscles contorted them in sudden contractions. Blood leaked from under his nails, seeped from his anus. He felt a severe jolt in the cardial area as the blood boiled in his veins, and the gas beads were swept into the heart. Each beat rose the pressure in his sinus, temples, throat, lungs, stomach, arms, feet, colon, brain, throbbing, building, enveloping his whole body, shaking muscles and bones, as membranes collapsed, as hemorrhages flooded internal cavities, as all manner of liquids and liquefied organs erupted from every orifice, each heart-stroke pumping more, each beat, each thud, each noisy "lub-dub," until with a final "lud--", it stilled.

* * *

Captain Kirk, Commander (ret.) Nishisawa , Lt. Commander L. McCoy, M.D., Commissioner Winowski of the Kendal Police, and about eighteen Security crewmen lurked outside the tan walls of Sidil's domicile. Yet 35 seconds to go before they were to attack. Kirk crouched, grim and intent, near the portal. Starting at the noise of a scrape behind him, he snapped his head around, to see Dr. McCoy squat down beside him. They stared into each other's eyes a moment; understanding flickered between. Then McCoy patted the captain's forearm and said confidently, "We'll save him, Jim."

Then was time to charge. The humans rose up in a swarm and beat in the gate. Storming, milling inward across the court, they crashed through the inside door and spread out into the house. Kirk, with two or three others at his back, thudded on into the hot, still hallway, and came to the silent cocoon of white that was the main room. In there, their noise died, absorbed by the eerie unseeable brightness. No one spoke, but all shuffled uneasily as Kirk slowly walked to the middle of the room, where the only blot marring the perfect symmetry of white lay: the smashed communicator.

* * *

The Klingons had a camp on the planet about which the Enterprise was orbiting. This was a surprise to Kirk and Spock. That the Klingons, upon finding them, had captured and hogtied them and kept them under disrupter guard, was not. By now, Lt. Commander Scott should be aware that the Klingons' ship was also orbiting the planet. What he would not be aware of was the new, more powerful annihilator the Klingons possessed, which could vaporize the Enterprise at a range of three million kilometers.

Tall and stocky, the Klingon leader, Karg by name, stood wryly contemplating the two from the Federation. His lieutenant, Konor, a much leaner man, stood behind him, fondling his disrupter, his eyes shifting between the Starfleet officers as if deciding which, and what, to blast first. Behind the other armed guards, Spock could see the makeshift camp, where twelve men were evident, and five more were probable.

Karg spoke English. "Your ship hasn't left orbit yet, Kirk. They haven't even cried to your headquarters on subspace radio. Apparently they know that we--and you--are here."

"So we are. And so will my men be, soon," said Kirk and he smiled, handing the conversational baton back to Karg.

"If they come, we've got guards." Karg dismissed the possibility with a flick of his hand. "But I don't think they will. Our respective ships are rather busy playing 'Chase-a-Ring' up there to stop and deliver--or pick up--either side. I am more interested in why your ship hasn't left. Clearly, they are waiting for the order to leave orbit." Karg propped one leg up on an empty crate. "What is it?"

Spock concluded that his bonds were not going to break, loosen, or untie spontaneously as Kirk answered, "Why, it's 'Leave orbit, Mr. Scott.'"

"Hilarious, Earther," Karg smiled nastily. "But you will talk. Sooner or later."

Konor leaned over Karg's shoulder and spoke in low tones, "Doril d'garth chudal."

Karg turned to look at the intent inferior, puckering his lips distastefully. He answered equally low, "Bi chudal."

"Doril d'Vulkai chudal, n'd'Terrer. D'Terrer fvledt," insisted Konor.

"Bi," said Karg, lowering his head to his chest.

"Ku vesha dTerrer fvle. Dorli d'Vulkai chudal," Konor repeated. "D'Terrer fvledt." His eyes gleamed.

Turning away from Konor, Karg faced the prisoners. "In my language," he began, "there is a word, 'chudal'." Behind him, Konor smiled. "It means 'tripod' or 'three legs'." Karg paused, looking past the bound pair. "The 'legs' are spears buried in the torso. The--participant--then hangs from the apex until he dies. It can take several hours. Tell us the code, Kirk," he finished menacingly.

Kirk looked into Karg's brown face expressionlessly. "I can't. The first ship to leave orbit will be destroyed by the other. I can't allow that to happen to the Enterprise."

The Klingon stared back, equally unreadably. Konor put his hand on Karg's upper arm and whispered, "Vulkai?"

After a moment, Karg replied, "Sa," and turned away.

Gleefully, Konor set the empty crate upside down while the three guards hauled Spock to his feet. They freed his arms, but left his ankles bound, and set him upright on the crate. Konor then came running back with another man and three sharpened iron poles, which is distributed to the original guards while the other kept his disrupter on Spock. The three formed an approximate triangle around the Vulcan and stood with their sticks pointed at his lower back and stomach. Spock saw Kirk staring at him in horrified fascination, when Konor shouted, "Hai!" and the three spear carriers drove the elongated darts up and into his body. He felt himself be hoisted from the box, felt the barbs sink farther and deeper into his chest. There was a profound, internal jolt when the poles were anchored in the grass. His blood was hot as it flowed out the torn flesh, running thickly down the iron to pool in the dirt.

Konor had dragged away the crate, so Spock's bound feet swung several dozen centimeters above the ground. His internal thoracic artery had been severed, and his arms were rapidly growing numb as the muscles became starved for oxygen. He was controlling the pain--just; but he was intimately aware of the slow sliding of the poles even deeper into his chest as the weight of his body pulled him farther down. He couldn't see Kirk.

He could, however, hear Konor insistently saying to Karg, "Fvli d'Terrer g'chudal."

"Ka SA!" Karg roared, apparently in capitulation, and stalked back to the execution area. He halted in front of Spock, however. For that moment, they faced each other, Spock remembering to keep his breathing slow and steady, even though one of the spears was beginning to pierce a lung. Then Karg turned to the captain.

"We will let him hang on that chudal, Kirk, until you tell us the code order. Those three 'legs' will drive slowly deeper into his chest, tearing through muscle, scraping across bone, to puncture his lungs and he chokes on his slimy blood. Perhaps, since he is Vulcan, he will live long enough to see the iron dig out through his breast and creep up to gouge out his eye." Karg hesitated a moment. But he continued. "And then, when he is dead, we will rip those spears out of his cold corpse, and we will ram them, still caked with that green slime, into your stomach, Kirk. And you will feel them skewer your heart, one by one. And your life-blood, too, will run down three cold sticks."

Karg pressed his hands together and began to pace. "But tell us the order and you needn't die that way. A phaser is painless, they say. If you tell us quickly enough, you may not even have to die at all. Tell us, Kirk, and we will--" He stopped and pointed at Spock. "--arrange an easier death for him."

There was a long silence, in which Spock felt his consciousness fading. Then, just before he blacked out, he heard his captain quietly say, "No."

I must save the Captain. I cannot allow him to die without dignity. I, too, know the code sequence: "Four score and seven years ago." Therefore, I must tell Karg the code. But if I do, Karg will destroy the ship, and the ship is more to the Captain than even his life. If I divulge the code, I will destroy the Captain's honor. So I must not speak. But if I do not speak, he will suffer terrible indignity, and I cannot allow that. I must save the Captain. But I cannot save him without destroying him.

I cannot resolve this; it is a paradox. But the Captain--by telling them the code sequence himself--could. If he induced Karg to fire on him, then I would not be responsible for his death. If the Captain must die, it is preferable that he dies quickly--painlessly and honorably. The only way he may do that is to give the code, or else to taunt Karg into shooting. Jim will not betray his ship; therefore, he should make Karg kill him. Surely the Captain sees this logic. Why does he not act upon it then? Since the Captain will not release me from the paradox, he must require that I solve it. Logic is the highest good, higher even than preservation of life. Here the welfare of the ship outweighs that of two men. Therefore, logically, I must die. But I will not bring it on; not only is suicide unacceptable, but Jim will suffer an undignified death immediately on my demise. But if I do not die soon, Jim may feel compelled by his emotions to divulge the code. I will cause him to destroy the ship if I do not die soon. I therefore must die now. But--I don't want to die.

Distantly, Spock heard the Captain call his name. He stirred, awoke, and turned as far as possible to face Kirk. But his shifting caused the point that had been stopped by his spine to slide around the vertebra and tear through the back of his neck. With a short, involuntary grunt, Spock slid further down the pyramidal frame. The other two spears ripped through the skin of his breast, their passage wrenching arteries out of his heart, and that was all.

* * *

"We don't know where he is--"

Kirk paced up and down the line of his Security men. As he stalked by, his hands grasping the other behind his back, each red-shirted man tried to stand higher, look blanker, and suck his stomach in tighter. When the captain came on the return to the exact middle of the line, he stopped dead and parked his knuckles on his hips.

"--but we're going to find him. The ship's sensors have indicated six possible points where a collection of beings like Sidil and his people might be. We're going to locate our science officer, if we have to break into each one of those six localities." He paused. Then he set his chin grimly and muttered, "Let's go."

* * *

It was a small but comfortable cottage built in traditional style in the Swiss Alps, not far from Berne, where Sarek was presiding over a conference to decide the disposition of the Thorley planets--to Regulus, Earth, or Harmony. Spock sat across the room from his father on a too soft overstuffed couch; a fire crackled in the hearth on his right. The furniture was typical Germanic opulence--sparse, but what there was, was "sehr gemütlich". With doilies. Gingerbread decorated everything, including the free-hanging wooden beams that formed a visual ceiling. All in all, the fussy little room clashed with its occupants.

Spock, soon to graduate from Starfleet Academy, had learned his father had come to Earth for the conference and went to visit him, mostly to see if they couldn't be reconciled over Spock's choice of vocation. Apparently they couldn't; Sarek had just ended twenty minutes of closely reasoned argument as to the complete and total illogic of pursuing a career in Starfleet.

Spock and Sarek stared at each other across the empty white rug upon the floor between them, neither speaking. Then the young cadet took a deep breath and stood. He stepped onto the red tiled hearth, poking into the orange heart of the flames with the fire tongs. Still he said nothing and the silence drifted around them.

Suddenly, the door broke open and two humans, one tall, lean and black, the other shorter, round, and white, burst in. They both were dressed in black dungarees and sweaters; the leader had a neat vandyke, and the shorter man's scraggly blond hair was plastered over his forehead by his wool cap. And they both carried antique, but obviously functional Lugers.

"Over there," the black man ordered Spock, flicking his pistol toward Sarek.

"Who are you?" the older Vulcan asked, his dignity unsullied.

"Makes no difference. All we want's information." He leveled his gun on Sarek's face, while the other covered Spock. "Just tell us who gets the Thorleys. Harmony? Regulus IV? Or Earth?"

Sarek regarded him coolly. "Why must you know now? The conference's decision will be made public in three days. In any case, I cannot tell you; the information is confidential." His calm seemed to put the intruder off, who fidgeted a moment, then, jerking his chin at Spock, demanded, "Who's the starboy?"

"That is my son, Spock of Vulcan. He is of no interest to you."

"Your son, huh?" The human took it in consideringly, rubbing his thumb along the uncaught safety. Then he snapped, "Tie 'em up, Bork."

The placid little white man unwound several lengths of rope from his gut and went to truss up Sarek, while his leader kept his gun on both Vulcans. Sarek made no resistance as Bork laced him to the armrest and one leg of the divan, staring directly at the headman. Then Bork, satisfied with the bondage job he had done on Sarek, heaved himself to his feet and went for Spock. However, as he reached for the younger Vulcan's wrist, Spock's other hand came up for the human's neck.

"Bork! Down!" his commander shouted and fired a single shot straight out from the shoulder. The slug caught Spock high and in the left of the chest, spinning him around to collapse face first on the couch. Shock benumbed him, a wash of pain quickly controlled, but not before Bork could seize the advantage and bind his hands behind his back. Then his ankles were lashed together, and he was flipped around to a sitting position. Spock let his head droop over his chest, where the green blood was beginning to seep across his grey-blue tunic; Sarek craned about to stare into his son's face, but said nothing.

"Who gets the Thorley planets?" the bearded man repeated, strutting back and forth on the rug before the ambassador, slapping his revolver into his palm.

"I cannot tell you. It would not be honorable to violate the conference's security." Sarek followed the pacing with his eyes.

"Yeah, but it may be necessary to save your hide!" the man snarled, whipping around and aiming the Luger at him. Sarek did not flinch. "Your son, huh?" the man continued, resuming his pacing, flicking his eyes between Sarek and the wounded Spock, who had recovered enough to raise his head from his chest and was attending. The commando halted and jerked his pistol up to point at the wooden beams a meter overhead. "Bork," he said. "String."

Bork good-naturedly ambled to the center of the room, unwinding the last of the rope he had cut the bonds from. He fashioned a crude noose and flung the line over the transverse, catching it as it dropped over the other side. The other end was hitched to a leg of the heavier couch across from the Vulcans. "The son?" Bork asked, crossing back to select a victim; his leader nodded once. So Bork, doubling Spock over his shoulder, set his legs, and with a basso grunt, heaved him up, bearing him to the tall stool the dark man had snagged from a corner. He positioned the Vulcan's feet on the seat with one hand, while his chief slipped the rope over Spock's face, tightening the knot under one pointed ear. Then Spock was standing, with about a meter's slack dangling from his neck, while the intruders made their final bargain with Sarek.

"Who gets the Thorleys, Vulcan? Or we'll lynch your son," said the leader.

Sarek dropped his eyes. "I cannot tell you."

"Damn it, this is your son, your son we're gonna dust!" The man glared at the recalcitrant Vulcan. "You can save him! Only tell us who gets the Thorleys."

Sarek only shook his head. "If that is your demand, then I will not save him. It is necessary that he dies. Spock understands this," Sarek finished, as calm as if he hadn't authorized the murder of his son.

The man clenched his jaw. "All right, then. All right!" he shouted, angrily panting. "Then he will die!" He spun around, yanked the stool out from under the condemned alien's boots, and Spock dropped down the last meter.

But a mere meter's fall in the weaker gravity of Earth does not tax Vulcan muscles, will not snap a Vulcan spine. Spock came quite literally to the end of his rope with a very real jerk, but his thorax did not break. He did go black for a second, swinging heavily from the noose, the tips of his boots brushing the rug's pile, but he soon regained consciousness, to stare back, his head canted at a difficult angle, at both humans.

"He ain't dead, Tanero," Bork stage-whispered in fearful awe.

"Shut up." Tanero nervously rubbed his fingers back and over his lips, his bearded chin. Beyond the three, the fire gave a sudden crack; Tanero looked out over the shoulder of the dangling Vulcan and spotted the poker that had been left in the flames. A grim smile puckered his face, and he said to Bork, "Go get that." As Bork went to do so, Tanero grasped Spock's collar and shredded the tunic back. Fumbling his index finger under the cloth, he rent the shirt open the rest of the way.

Bork returned, presenting at arms the darkly glowing tongs. "A little game of poker?" he suggested.

"Shut up!" Tanero snarled again, snatching the iron. He turned to Sarek. "Thorley," he demanded. Sarek was silent. "All right."

He stepped back to consider where to start, holding the rod up with its acridly smoking tip in the air. Spock's bared breasts were smeared with green from the still oozing bullet hole; Tanero decided to cauterize the wound. He gouged the forge-hot point into the bloody gap, widening it, deepening it, while Bork held the victim steady. Spock closed his eyes in resignation as the human bore down, his father's words coming back to him: "It is necessary that he dies."

"Come on," Tanero growled coaxingly, "cry out. Scream! Something!" Spock reopened his eyes as the bearded man jerked the poker out of the seared wound, causing the Vulcan to wobble on the rope choking him a few moments before coming to rest again. "Scream!" Tanero shouted again, slamming the burning metal against Spock's left side. "Yell! "Cry! Moan!" He swung the rod against the hanged man's waist, once and again, spattering flecks of green blood onto the white carpet. "Scream, damn you!" Grasping the poker with both hands, he hit again and again, backhand and forehand, left, right, smashing ribs, splashing blood, crushing bones in the legs and bound arms. He battered Spock's sternum and back, making him bounce about like a demented puppet. Blood flowed freely down the broken skin, across the tattered clothing, and plopped heavily onto the white pile. Finally, with one mighty arm, Tanero crushed the spine, and Spock felt nothing more from his legs.

"Ren, Ren," shouted Bork, trying to control his frenzied leader. He managed at last to grab onto one flailing arm and pulled him to a halt. "That's not gonna work. Anyway, we gotta get going."

The dark man shuddered, dragging in breath after breath to calm himself. He stared at the broken, bleeding--but still alive--man strangling in the harness. He saw the splinters of bone protrude from fresh gashes, the blotchy brown-green patches grow moist and form droplets, but above it all, the patient, patient eyes. He dropped the tongs, buried his face in his hands, mumbling, "Put him--put him out of his misery," as he turned away.

Bork slowly drew out his revolver, glancing after his commander sadly. "Sorry," he said to Spock, aiming the Luger, and he fired. The bullet crashed through the Vulcan's skull, plowed into the brain; Spock jerked spasmodically on the rope and was dead.

* * *

The guard stopped at the bottom of the stairs, uncertain whether to interrupt the proceedings, or to wait for an opening.

But for the hissing of the Flame, the underground room was silent. Three men stood: Sidil, in white, the disciple in black and embracing the blue-shirted Starfleet officer. About them, the other four crouched like large cats. Then the disciple finished and broke away from his prey in extreme disapproval. "Sidil, he goes beyond me; he prolonged his destruction, not I. I had intended him to die on the rope."

Sidil listened gravely, the flames casting weird shadows on his white folds. "I realize this. Yet these images are a part of his mind, are extremely potent to him. He does not welcome the human in his nature, therefore we are most effective when acting upon that. True, this propensity to self-destruction is distasteful, but not, I understand, quite atypical of humans, who call it alternatively 'the masochistic impulse' or 'the martyr complex'. In any case, it is an encouraging sign; the halfling is beginning to accept the desirability of his death." As he finished his analysis, Sidil caught sight of the guard signaling him.

"What is it?" asked Sidil, meeting the man.

"His shipmates have arrived. They inquired if he were here. I denied it, but they are examining the house from without with sensors. They will be back in a few minutes. Your recommendations?"

"Keep them out as long as you can," answered Sidil. "They are nothing more than humans; keep them out any way you can." The guard returned to his post, as Sidil walked back to his coven.

"To use one of their own phrases, 'the barbarian is at the gate,'" he announced. "We will be unable to conclude exactly as we had planned. But we must be encouraged by the development in the last sequence. There is a .75 probability of three more minutes left to us unmolested; we must use that time as well as we can. Sten." The man addressed stood. "The halfling has a strong desire to obey a father, whether it be Sarek or this human, Kirk. Evidently, he is willing to die if his 'Father' needs or commands it. Therefore, you must find in his mind the most puissant Father-ordained-death image possible. Steep him in it; fill his whole being thereby. Make him reach out to grasp death as a greatest boon. We will draw on all our strength for you." Sidil sat himself in Sten's place.

The last illusionist glided to the side of his kill. Spock's body was totally limp, supported only through the power of the Six; his eyes were glazed and dead. A hand, sliding out white from black robes, flew up to his forehead, the other clamped the jaw. Sten drew his head near to Spock's.

* * *

His back was still wet with blood from the scourging, and more blood dripped down his face; the dirty white robe about his hips was streaked with it. His wrists were thonged together in front of him and also bore evidence of the flagellum. Beyond the canopied terrace were hundreds screaming for his death.

The Pilate wore a gold sunburst on his left breast, and three gold bands wrapping his sleeve. He could barely be heard shouting, "You see the man," above the sea-like roar of the mob. In the blur of bodies, Spock was aware of Fleet uniforms, Science Academy insignia, and various diplomatic standards; he heard the voices bellow, "Not a man but a worm!" "Away with him!" "Kill him!"

The Pilate cried back, "If that is your will, then we will have nothing more to do with him."

"Put him to death!" "Crucify him!" "He must die!"

Someone grabbed his scored shoulder and dragged him about. My Father commanded this, Spock thought, obediently trailing the other from the place of judgment.

In the street, the robe was pulled up to cover his back and a massive wooden cross dropped onto him. He grasped the beam automatically even as he staggered under its weight, and began to trudge the cobbly street. The same indistinct mob lined the road, yelling and cursing, certain faces obtruding in leers, yet they kept the path clear for him as he plodded death-tired among them. Their noise, the sense and timbres of their shouts, were blurring, as well as the sight of their faces.

Suddenly his mother stood before him. He felt her hands on his cheeks, saw her eyes waver in tears, and then she was gone.

Ahead, vaguely discernable in the wisps of fog, was the hill on which he would die. My death is necessary to my Father, he thought. He trembled; his knees buckled and he fell under the wood. The weight of the cross rested on his ribs as he lay sprawled in the dust--too weakened by blood loss to rise. But my Father wishes me to continue, he thought despairingly. I must get up. I must carry out His Will. I must die.

Someone pulled the cross off him and, lifting him under the arms, dragged him up off the ground. It was Kirk. Spock stood by numbly while Kirk struggled to get the cross onto his own shoulders. Then, hunch-backed by the weight, the human trudged alongside Spock, dragging the upright in the dirt behind them. The city, the crowd, the street became ever more vague and soundless.

On the hill, there was no sound at all but a sort of hiss; no background but a general grey miasma. Two figures in black hooded cloaks appeared and took hold of the doomed man's robe. They were T'Pring and Stonn. They tore the loosely woven cloth off in strips, reopening the scourge wounds as the partially dried clots came off with the rags. Then he stood alone, naked, belly, breast and groin. The Father's Will must be obeyed. Kirk took his wrists and led him to the cross that lay on the earth. He allowed himself to be lowered onto the wood, feeling the rough edges cut into his thighs and buttocks, scrape his wet and bleeding shoulders. The grey silence was all around him. "His Will be done," he whispered, as Kirk let go of his wrists.

"Whose will? What are you talking about, Spock? Spock?" Jim was shaking him by the upper arms roughly. "Spock, are you all right? What did they do to you?"

Spock looked around, blinking. The cellar was a bedlam. Someone had kicked over the firepot, but brighter lamps were glaring from the walls. A dozen Security men were milling about, herding the Six, none too gently, toward the stairs. Everyone was talking and shouting to someone else, a communicator, or the captain.

"Spock--! Out of the way!" Kirk bellowed; butting through the crowd, he hauled his friend across the room and up the stairway.

Upstairs, still more people were pushing and yelling. Kirk shouted for Dr. McCoy. "He's busy with the men that damn porter clawed up," called Nishisawa, who slopped some of the water from the bucket he was toting, and hurried on.

"Captain," Spock murmured, "I am--physically undamaged."

Kirk glanced down at him in momentary relief. "We'll get you into some clean air, Mister," he promised, gathering the Vulcan to his chest and pushing through the crowd to the kicked-in door.

Outside, the sun was just setting, and a vague grey fog was rolling in. It was much quieter outside the house; the only sound was a distant hiss from the direction of the main city. Kirk, taking hold of Spock's wrists, led him to and lowered him onto a splintery wooden bench. The rough edges cut into Spock's thighs, scraped his wet shoulders; and he remembered. He lay back on the wood. The grey silence was all around him. The cross was hard beneath him. The Father was expecting this of him.

To his left, the executioner was waiting with the nails. "His Will be done," Spock repeated, and he laid his arm, wrist up, out on the wood.



Part Two - "A Little Bit Happy"

"Spock!" Kirk shouted, as the man went limp under his hands, his head lolling like that of one dead. He grabbed up the first officer by the shoulders and again shook him roughly. No response; nothing in the half-open eyes, no tensing in the arms' muscles. The last of the red sun was swallowed by the mist and its chill, as Kirk let the Vulcan drop back onto the bench. "Bones! McCoy! Get out here fast!" he cried toward the doorway and, crouching before the body, his face contorted in terrified apprehension, the captain fingered the wrist for a pulse, pressed at the solar plexus for a thud from the heart--or a patter, a flutter--anything.

Then Doctor McCoy was there; he took in the obvious and began tracing readings over Spock with his medical scanners. He stopped and consulted the tricorder, then quickly flipped a red capsule out of his kit, fit it to the hypodermic, and injected the contents directly into the heart. A worried Kirk squatted back on his heels; behind, Commissioner Winowski and a curious Security crewman appeared in the door while McCoy retraced his scans. But Spock did not move, and the doctor's right eyebrow shot up under the lock of grey-specked hair that had fallen forward. Straightening, and squinting in the gloom, he read the tricorder's recalculation, saying tersely, "We've got to get him to the ship. He's alive, but he's in great pain. And there's no organic reason for it!" he cried at the end, looking over to Kirk helplessly.

The captain stood, getting his face back under control. "Go ahead," he said grimly, walking without a backward glance over to Winowski, who was signaling for him. Behind him was the click and twerk of McCoy opening his communicator, as Kirk asked with a jerk of his chin, what the head-taller, frizzley grey-haired man wanted.

Setting his large, rather gnarly hand directly on Kirk's braid, Winowski spoke, a precise rumble. "Let me borrow some of your men, would you, to escort these--people--" The word was less than whole-heartedly spoken. "--to the main precinct. The fog is worst up here, but I don't want to lose them in any case." His wrinkle-set brown eyes in his aging, sagging face grandfatherly tried to express his sympathy.

However, Kirk, unnoticing, only loosened his jaw long enough to mutter, "Of course." At the sound of the transporter hum, he half-turned to watch the effervescence, but the old hand on his wrist reminded him of his duty as a captain, and as a human being. "I'll detail Santavy, Wolfe, Shagava, and Helmar. Please have them report back to the Enterprise when they're done," and he relaxed slightly in spite of himself, the older, burlier man's compassion finally having reached him.

Winowski smiled again, sadly, and scuffed his way back into the house. The first of the apprehended Vulcans was being hustled out of the building and Kirk stepped back. There was a grey-jacketed Kendal policeman on either side of the still cloaked and hooded Vulcan's arms, and, although his entire attitude was one of extreme protest, the captive was yet making no overt resistance. Curious, Kirk halted the trio and yanked the hood away from the Vulcan's face.

It was a typical enough face, maybe whiter looking because of the fog, Kirk thought. Long and narrow … but not thin; very black hair, shiny; the eyebrows slanted, diving … sinking, into the eyes … infinite eyes, void black in the alabaster … diving … sinking … falling deeper into the eyes … and lost forever…

NO. Shudderingly, the human snapped himself back to Kirk-ness. Before him, the very white face twitched a bit into an almost smile, and one black brow rose; but the oblivious escort only pushed the Vulcan on into the fog, where they were swallowed up.

"Elves. They're the Old Ones, Jim." Nishisawa startled Kirk by his practically noiseless approach. "These people have such an amazing personal power about them."

"Did you see it, too?" Kirk turned to him.

"See what?"

"His eyes. The compulsion to kneel…" Kirk roused himself again. "Ed, these people are dangerous. They have some kind of hypnotic ability; they should be kept separate and under a double guard."

Nishisawa shrugged. "Tell Winowski." He followed as Kirk charged into the house; inside, the bony brown man pulled the door to as much as possible to keep in the warmth.

Most of the wreckage in the main room had been cleared away; all injured parties were on their feet and back at their tasks. To one side three more of the Six were being readied for transfer to the Kendal Hall of Justice by the grey-uniformed force of Kendal and the red-shirted Security of the Enterprise.

"Commissioner," Kirk called to the tall, rather stooped old man. Winowski, who had been attending to the one prisoner cloaked in white, turned at his name. Kirk drew him away from Sidil. "Commissioner, it would be best if you kept the prisoners separate and--"

"I know," Winowski interrupted, raising one hand. "One of them tried to talk one of my men into surrendering his gun. It almost worked," he commented dryly. "Sherman and Griswold have already left with--what was his name…?" He trailed off, fumbling to check the ledger in his hand.

"Sten," one of the Security men supplied helpfully. Winowski harumphed loudly and continued. "You see, they had only a short way to go to the public beam area and they should be at the main precinct anytime now."

"They are; they just reported in," offered one of the Kendal cops, closing his communicator. Discomfited, the Commissioner thanked the answer man with a scowl, "At all rates, we're aware of their abilities, and we are making allowance for that."

"Good," said Kirk, as a second team led another of the captured Vulcans out. Nishisawa joined the two humans. "Then I have a request. I want to bring Sidil before a formal inquiry on my ship."

"Jim, you just said these people are dangerous," Nishisawa interjected. "How much less so is their leader? Even alone?"

"It is rather irregular," Winowski rumbled contemplatively, rubbing his jowls, "but not without precedent. You are sort of 'foreign government,' and this man has committed an act of assault against one of your 'nationals,' as it were. But I'm afraid I would have to demand certain guarantees of good intention--a technicality, that's all. All it comes down to is that Sidil must have a representative on your inquiry board, and he has to be returned within 20 hours--one day."

"What sort of a representative?" Kirk asked, folding his arms over his stomach.

Winowski gestured as if the point were ridiculously trivial. "Any Vulcan would do, as far as I'm concerned. In a hearing, not a trial, Harimon law requires a representative of his status, not necessarily of his interests; a peer, as it were."

Kirk shot a look at Nishisawa. The retiree sighed. "Tolan and Sefert. All right," and went off to contact the Vulcan pair.

"Then it's all settled," said the Commissioner. Waving at Sidil, the only one of the Six now left, "We'll have to go over an official form at the station, but essentially, this one is all yours."

Kirk nodded and looked over his charge. Remembering his experience with Sten, he was careful not to glance at Sidil's eyes or face. He stared instead at the frail-looking hands, so unearthily white they almost glowed, and wondered, as he waited, what they had done.

* * *

"Sure they came. But I got the strong impression they aren't too insane about the whole idea, Jim," Nishisawa protested to Kirk, as he, the captain, and a yeoman who came as secretary assembled in the briefing room on board the starship. Already seated on the far side of the table, Sidil was calmly ignoring the three Security guards behind him, themselves shifting their places nervously, as if seeking the best defensive arrangement, but weren't quite sure what that position might be.

"As long as Tolan and Sefert came," answered Kirk. "That's all that matters. They don't have to participate if they don't want to." The man had yet to actually look at Nishisawa; his face was still set in the mask of low pain he had worn since the rescue one period ago. As the captain dropped into the chair at the head of the table, the black-haired man leaned belligerently onto its top and snapped, "Jim, don't make a vendetta out of this."

"It's not a vendetta," the other muttered, almost offhandedly, not looking up to his friend.

"It's not a vendetta when you drag Tolan and Sefert up to your ship for an interrogation they'd as soon avoid? When you bring the leader of the group that attacked your first officer to a place where you have full authority to--"

"I call it justice!" Kirk's facial petrification broke as he slammed his palm on the table top, finally meeting Nishisawa's eyes. Startled by the crash, the secretary and the guards, even Dr. McCoy, who had just entered, blinked nervously at the two before returning to their jobs, while Kirk continued, more subdued, "I realize the responsibility, Ed. I know I have to be fair. And I will be fair. But I want your help, too. Please, sit down." He motioned at the chair on his right. Then immediately, he asked, "How is Spock?" of the doctor standing at the side of the desk.

"Not good; he's still in that pain. The condition is stable, whatever it is, but we don't know yet what happened to him." McCoy looked down, made a short, circular gesture with his right hand as he went on, "That local Vulcan healer, Sondt, I had called in, and M'Benga are with him now; they don't what's wrong either. We just don't know, Jim. That's why I came; I'd like to sit in on this and maybe get a hint of what they did to--to Spock."

Kirk nodded briefly; McCoy seated himself across from Nishisawa, not far from the intercom. The two Vulcans, Tolan and Sefert, came in with their escort and sat down next to the doctor. "Computer, record," said the yeoman thumbing the start button; it answered "Recording." The hearing had begun.

"Mr. Sidil, you have kidnapped and assaulted, both mentally and physically, an officer of Starfleet Command. I want to know why and what you did to First Officer Spock," Kirk began formally, his hands folded in his lap, swinging slightly to and fro in his chair.

Sidil did not answer. Nor did he acknowledge that Kirk had spoken. His grey eyes were cool and elsewhere; he simply made no response whatsoever.

In the room, the subordinates looked at each other edgily; McCoy and Nishisawa glanced at Kirk, who was beginning an obvious slow boil; Sefert looked at Tolan, and Tolan turned to Sidil. She spoke in English.

"Sidil of Vulcan." The aged man turned his calm attention to her. Something in his infinite self-confidence caused Tolan to hesitate imperceptibly before she spoke further. "What did you do to Spock? We already rather know why, but you could do well to explain that as well." She paused. "It would be logical to speak and be done."

"True," replied Sidil, also in English,, inclining his head. He turned to face Kirk and said unemotionally, "In brief, we advised him on the unnecessity of his existence."

"But why did you have to torture him?" the captain shot back, anger just controlled.

"Torture?" Sidil seemed to consider the term. "Perhaps a human would call it that. In any case, what we did, we did for it was necessary. Your first officer's existence promoted a fallacy in Vulcan thought that we recognized as intolerable. The very fact of the halfling leads to the false conclusion that equality with Terra is possible, desirable and logical." His tone of ultimate reason swelled and filled the humans in the room; he centered his address back onto Tolan. "Were Spock halfling not in existence, the Council would undoubtedly see that galactic consolidation in Vulcan's name is correct--even necessary. It is our destiny to rule, it is further our right to stave off subversion by the interior culture. Is this not so, T'Lan?"

Tolan did not answer immediately. Disturbed and a little worried, Kirk glanced sharply at the Vulcan woman. But she only stared straight ahead, as if afraid, as if unable to refute the thin, fragile, steel-hard Sidil. Then Sefert reached over, laying the first two fingers of his right hand across the back of hers; she looked up at her husband and, once again in command of herself, turned to Kirk.

"You see that, as always, he calls upon the logic of conquest, James Kirk. Sidil," she turned to the object of discussion, "is a logical man. But nevertheless, a dangerous one. Take extreme care with him." She settled back in her chair, reposed, but alert.

"Jim--" Dr. McCoy started, but Kirk silenced him with a brush of his hand.

"I'll be all right, Bones," he said, facing Sidil. Out of the captain's line of sight, Nishisawa shrugged his shoulders at McCoy.

"'Racial purity' was what the Nazis of Earth called it, Mr. Sidil, and the Third War Supermen called it 'eugenics'." Kirk had braced his fists on his thighs and was allowing his anger to show in the tilt of his head and the set of his jaw, the significance of which was mostly lost on the Vulcan. "But it still boils down to the same thing--murder. Attempted murder in this case, but still murder most foul. Your 'supremacy of logic' is only a thinly disguised attempt at galactic conquest."

"Of course," said Sidil coolly, steepling his fingers. "The concepts are tautologous. Supremacy is a necessary and sufficient condition for conquest. Since we Vulcans are superior, it is only logical that we should command the galaxy. Can you deny it?"

"Yes, I can deny it!" Kirk roared, slamming his fist on the table, then rather guiltily realized that he'd been unnecessarily loud. Volume did not substitute for reason. Back in control, he tried again. "All right. Let's say I have a phaser in my hand. How do you conquer me now?"

"The man who relies on physical power is conquered, by his very dependence." Sidil almost shrugged. "Perhaps you would kill me, but you could not rule me that way. To kill wantonly, mindlessly, is illogical."

Kirk seized the admission with grim satisfaction. Leaning forward onto his firearms, "But you tried to kill Spock."

"False. It was intended that we kill him. But we did--conquer him." The gloat, though emotionless, was obvious.

Breathing more heavily, Kirk drew himself up for another attack, but he was interrupted by the buzz of the intercom. The doctor grabbed it and punched it on. "McCoy here."

"Sickbay here, Doctor. Mr. Spock's life readings have just failed. You are needed urgently."

"On my way." He snapped off the intercom and stood in one clumsy motion.

Kirk snagged his sleeve. "Bones--"

McCoy looked back helplessly. He dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry, Jim," he mumbled, slipping out of the captain's grasp and quickly hurried out the door.

With the final shoosh of the doctor's exit, the tension of the room broke momentarily, and all the little clicks and creaks born of nervousness subsided; over the members of the hearing came a deep, frozen silence. It found voice in Sidil, who spoke, so very dispassionately. "Apparently, we have fulfilled our purpose. The Vulcan of power has been vindicated," he observed to no one in particular. The quiet fell again.

Nishisawa made a curt glance at the man on his left. Sunk again in the apathy of loss, Kirk only stared at the table edge. Someone had to answer the Vulcan's challenge, the lithe brown man decided, and so turned, not without extreme trepidation, to the white tiger on his right. "What do you mean, you fulfilled your purpose?"

Sidil turned to look at Nishisawa, as if mildly surprised at the human's denseness. "You have asked what we did to the halfling. Through the ability the Ancients called tumahg-kah-sril, we have demonstrated quite conclusively to him the utter illogic of his existence. We have showed him his failings, we have pointed out the necessity and desirability of his death. I infer from this last development that the halfling has willed himself to die--which I find interesting, as I had not suspected him possessed of the ability."

Nishisawa stared at him. "You mean, you forced Commander Spock to kill himself?"

"We did not so force." Sidil tilted his head up. "We merely explicated the inconsistency of his logic. He held, as an example, that a course of reasoning should be followed to its ultimate conclusion. Yet he also knew himself to be a threat to the honor of Vulcan, even before we met with him. But he had not followed his own logic and corrected the matter. When we proved to him--if rather graphically--that his existence was unnecessary and undesirable, entailing as it did the ineradicable defects of humanity, and that he should apply his own tenet of Last Conclusion, he evidently finished the syllogism by dying."

"Nothing exists for its own sake; the unnecessary is a falsity," Tolan put in suddenly.

"Exactly. The halfling's existence was unnecessary, indeed, antagonistic to the supremacy of Vulcan logic. We personified that logic in the figure of a Father, who then required Spock halfling's death. Since he held logic as primarily axiomatic, he found himself required to die. And so he let himself die."

"Logical," Sefert was forced to admit.

"Indeed. For all he was halfling, and his existence pointless, Spock was a logical being," Sidil concluded, as smoothly as he had begun.

"Logic--" Kirk imposed, as he slowly rose from this chair, each word gaining intensity. "--be DAMNED!" he ended with a bellow, pounding his fist on the table. He aimed his pointed finger at Sidil and shouted, "The fact remains that because of you Spock is dead! And you're going to regret that, Mister, if it's the last thing I ever do. Get him out of here," he ordered the Security guards with a snap of his wrist at the door.

"To the brig, sir?" one of the guards asked hesitantly, while the other two more watched than made Sidil stand up from his chair.

Before he answered, Kirk caught sight of Nishisawa regarding him as from a distance. "No," he answered at last, quieted, looking down at his hands. "Take him back to the Hall of Justice on Harimon. I'm through with him." The crewman saluted and motioned jerkily for Sidil to go.

Sidil stirred. As imperturbably as ever, the self-justified elder preceded the three guards to the door. But there he turned and raised his hand in the Salute. "Live long in prosperity, James Kirk." And then he departed.

Kirk stared incredulously at the door as it zipped shut again; meanwhile, Tolan and Sefert rose and addressed him. "Sidil will be justly seen to. We--" She turned to her husband for the word.

"'Regret'," he supplied.

"--that this has occurred. It is a great loss to Vulcan, as well."

"Thank you," Kirk said abstractly, lowering himself back onto his chair.

The Vulcan couple glanced at each other. "Live long and prosper," Sefert volunteered.

"Yes," the human replied blankly, but then bestirred himself, shaking off the discourtesy. "Thank you for your help. It was--thank you for all you did."

"Indeed," said Tolan, canting her head. They waited a second more, then turned and walked out.

Nishisawa watched as his one-time junior officer buried his face in his hands. Kirk made no sound, nor did he move, not even to tremble, but the older man could feel the hurt, the loss of part of his heart. "Jim," he said gently; Kirk looked up from his fingers, his eyes still dry despite the bone-deep ache. "Jim," he repeated. "I…I'm sorry," he said simply, laying his hand on the other's.

Trying to smile, at least in thanks, Kirk clenched his friend's hand, and held it tightly for a moment. Then he stood from the table and said thickly, "I want to go to the Sickbay. I'll talk with you later, Ed." He strode quickly away.

Alone in the room, Nishisawa sad back, more than slightly overwhelmed by the depth and extent of the day's drama. He blew out a sigh and jumped when the intercom buzzed again. "Uh, Briefing Room, Nishisawa here," he began, flicking it on.

"This is the Sickbay. Is the Captain there?"

"No, he just left for the Sickbay. He should be there in a few minutes."

"Oh, good," replied the woman's voice. "He'll be pleased. Sickbay out."

Taken aback, Nishisawa stared at the machine under his fingers, rather wondering just how much life had changed in the Fleet since he had retired.

* * *

The front office of the Sickbay was deserted and dark when Kirk walked in, though on the left, the door to the ward showed light within. As Kirk stepped farther into the office, Dr. McCoy appeared at the ward's entrance. "Ah, it's you, Jim," he said, leaning out with his forearms propped against the jamb, and then, springing backwards, disappeared again. He reappeared a second later, holding a glass of brandy out to the captain.

Kirk was dumbfounded as he automatically accepted the glass. "A wake?" he asked, puzzled and not a little irritated by the doctor's good cheer.

"No, but he seems to be resting comfortably," McCoy said, one hooked eyebrow up in the "obnoxiously knowledgeable" position. "We've taken him off life support and it looks good."

Nurse Chapel trotted into the office from the lab. "Doctor, the Captain is coming, but I was un--oh," she dropped off, finally recognizing the captain in the semi-gloom.

A smile starting from the back of his jaws, Kirk turned to McCoy and, gesturing with his glass, demanded, "Do you mean to stand there and tell me, after all my worrying, after I almost have a coronary, that Spock is not dead, after all?"

"Well, that's about the size of it," McCoy said with a happy smirk, as the captain set the glass down and pushed past into the ward. In there, Dr. M'Benga and a short, balding, rather paunchy Vulcan were arguing in some alien language over the bed on which Spock lay unconscious. "I said there was nothing wrong with him, physically," McCoy continued, while Kirk homed in on his science officer. "It was just those Vulcan readings dropped so fast, it scared us. Dr. M'Benga threw him onto life support immediately, and only just now did he and Dr. Sondt figure out that Spock had simply entered a healing trance."

"Of course it's a healing trance. It has to be a healing trance," said M'Benga, jerking away from the little round Vulcan. The dark-skinned human took two paces over to a viewer and danced his fingers across the keys.

Sondt followed, dialing on the little black sphere hanging from a thin chain about his neck. He gargled a few syllables in Vulcanur and the ball said, "Perhaps this state is the true healing trance. Certainly I know of nothing else it may be. There are resemblances. There are also anomalies."

"Which are explained by Spock's being half human. Look," M'Benga ordered, pointing at the computer screen. "These are records of the last time Spock endured the healing trance. See, here--" He jabbed at the plate. "--and here, the metabolic rate--"

"Are you two still at it?" McCoy asked patronizingly. "I thought you'd reached an agreement."

M'Benga looked up, folding his arms across his chest. "Sondt still questions the F-5 monitor. He thinks it's too high."

"It's always up there."

"Yes, I know, but he says that that and a reading he took with his equipment of Mr. Spock's--" He groped for the English equivalent. "--'mental life indicator'? - don't agree with typical trance levels." He shook his head. "No, we have to remember his half-human nature. It's the healing trance, all right."

Sondt let out a series of noises that sounded like a cat being quietly mashed, and the sphere translated, "There is a high probability that the records do correlate. I know of nothing else the state may be. It may therefore be the healing trance. In such a case, you know what to do, do you not?" one grey-sprinkled eyebrow flying up as the little black box quit.

"Yes." M'Benga was definite.

"Satisfactory. I should not anticipate developments for as long as 72 standard hours." He began picking up the instruments he had brought with him. "I will now return to my home. I can do nothing more here." Turning off the translator as he went, Sondt left the ward.

"You, too, Jim," said Dr. McCoy, putting his hand on the captain's shoulder. Kirk, who had been contemplating the insensible Spock, listening to the occasional "bomp" of the diagnostic panel, looked up. "I'll let you know when he wakes up."

"All right," Kirk conceded, dropping the serious set of his face. "We're supposed to be getting ready to leave for Rigel about now, anyway. I'll go quietly." He took at step, then stopped and spun around. "But the minute Spock wakes up--"

McCoy raised his eyes to the ceiling. "The second, Jim; I promise."

* * *

Not quite two days later--eight hours less, to be precise, as the Enterprise had made all the necessary corrigenda to the various officials on Harimon, Vulcan, and in Starfleet, and was twelve periods under way to Rigel, McCoy heard his patient finally stir while the good doctor was analyzing something or another. He walked into the ward from the lab to see Spock, eyes open, tossing slightly on the bed. The Vulcan tried to sit up, but McCoy stopped him. "Spock, do you--do you want me to slap you?" he asked self-consciously, but concerned.

The man in his arms did not focus on him, or on anything, but only shook his head back and forth slowly, distractedly. "…command…" he whispered, so low McCoy could barely make the word out. "The command--" a trifle louder.

"Right, the Commander; I'll call Jim down right now. You lie back." He pushed Spock back down onto the bed, and hurried into the office. "Sickbay to the Bridge."

"Kirk here," was the tinny answer.

McCoy couldn't keep the smile off his face or out of his voice as he said, "Jim, you wanted to know when? Well, it's now. Get down here." He snapped the com off in the middle of the captain's "On my way, Bones," and twirled around, still smiling, but abruptly went cold when he saw Spock, most certainly not lying on the bed, but instead calmly halting just to the left of the ward door, calmly pulling a scalpel out of its display case, and calmly swinging the blade up toward his own throat.

"Spock!" McCoy shouted and leapt onto him, grappling for the arm that wielded the knife, but not before the Vulcan could bury the point into the soft area just beside the larynx and commence drawing it across his neck. McCoy yanked at the arm; the hand and the knife fell away from the spurting green wound. "M'Benga! Mendelsohn! Anybody! Help us!" the doctor screamed, as he wrapped himself over the Vulcan's arm in the fight to keep the blade down.

"The command," Spock repeated through his teeth, still abstract, his eyes still blank; his whole body trembled in his effort to return the knife to his throat.

McCoy felt himself lift from the floor by the violently straining arm, but he only hugged it tighter--and groaned as the knife cut his own bicep. Suddenly, one of the orderlies was there, grabbing Spock's other arm, and M'Benga appeared as well, trying to pry open Spock's fingers so as to release the blade. The green blood was still running down the black turtle shirt and onto the grey coveralls, the liquid pulsing from the force of each slight incessant heartbeat. Then Nurse Chapel appeared, emptied a hypo into his upper chest, and Spock collapsed.

"The portable healer," McCoy snarled, jamming Spock's collar against the gash to cut off the bleeding, and winced as his own sliced arm protested being moved. He shifted his left hand into place and gouged those fingers into the artery. Bending down over the two on the floor, Dr. M'Benga shoved the hand sterilizer beneath the cloth and rayed as much of the area as he could with McCoy still pressing on the wound. Then he held up his hand, whereupon Chapel slapped the little mechanical suture into it. M'Benga pointed the healer at Spock's neck and McCoy pulled the collars--and his fingers--out of the way. The healer's beam stimulated a localized spurt of growth, rather like a temporary cancer, which sealed the rip and stopped the flow of blood. Then they wrapped a length of plastic bandage about the stitched incision and stood up.

As the beefy orderlies were hefting Spock up from the floor, some remaining blood dribbling down his left shoulder and chest, and Nurses Chapel and Sperry were on their knees swabbing at the green and red stains, and M'Benga was standing to one side of the door tucking down the end of the binding he had wound around McCoy's upper arm, Kirk walked in. "Bones! Spock--" He broke of. "What happened?"

"Jim--that'll do, Doctor." McCoy pushed M'Benga off. "Jim, Spock--he--tried to slash his throat. I don't know why." He stared at the Captain helplessly. "He woke up asking for the Commander--for you, I thought, and the minute I turned my back, he went for my knife collection."

"Get it out of here," Kirk said quietly. It was more than a suggestion.

"Right. Take that board down," the doctor directed one of the orderlies, who had just fastened the last of the restraints about the felo-do-se's thighs; meanwhile, the captain stalked over to the bed. McCoy followed, wiping the verdant gore off his hands.

Spock was already struggling out of the drug's influence; his head lolled on the pillow as he regained consciousness. Then, weakly, straining against the straps as if unaware of them, he tried to sit up.

Kirk pushed him down. "Why, Spock? Why did you try to hurt yourself?" On the other side of the bed, McCoy shook his head warningly, and Kirk, taking his hand off the Vulcan's chest, didn't add any more.

Blindly, Spock turned and semi-focused on Kirk's face. "It is--the command…of the Father…" he whispered disjointedly.

"Not Sarek!" McCoy blurted, then shut up, guilty about ignoring his own advice, while the captain groped for something to say.

At last he said gently, "Spock, that was not--the Father. That was Sidil."

"…Sidil…" Spock barely mouthed the word.

"Sidil did this to you. He and his people kidnapped you, remember? They told you it was logical to die, but--"

"Logical! Yes!" Spock's eyes blazed; his lean face was instantly suffused with a martyr's joy. "I must die." He turned his face to Kirk, at peace. "You are the Father. I will obey." Almost smiling, he seemed to withdraw into himself.

"No!" Kirk and McCoy shouted simultaneously; Kirk shook the Vulcan roughly and cried, "Listen to me! You must not die. I--I am the Father, and I order you not to die!"

"Not…?" Spock asked confusedly, back to a whisper; the brown eyes were deeply troubled.

"No, definitely not. Not while I'm Captain of this ship will I have anyone suicide, and certainly not you."

"Not to die…not while…on this ship. I understand. I will wait…" The Vulcan's voice trailed off.

"No, Spock!" Kirk shouted despairingly, clutching Spock's shoulders, but the man only shut his eyes, and subsided into absolute stillness. Above him, the diagnostic panel's indicated he had slipped to the coma state and stabilized.

Kirk let go of the slowly breathing body, his belly cold with backed-up adrenalin. He looked at McCoy in dismay. Shaking his head, McCoy let it sink lower and lower, until his chin rested on his neck.

* * *

"But Commander Spock needs more than just base facilities can give," Kirk repeated for the third time.

"Nonsense," returned the image of the commodore to whom Kirk was making his request for course alteration, a big, chunky man by the name of Spencer. He didn't seem terribly concerned about Kirk's problem. "Rigel VI's base facilities are the finest in the sector. Besides, I don't see from your report that Mr. Spock needs any more medical attention than what he can get on the Enterprise. Rigel VI will suffice." If he'd had any dust on his uniform, he would have flicked it off at this point.

"But that is precisely my point," said Kirk, trying to control his frustration. "My first officer doesn't need medical, he needs psychiatric attention. He tried to commit suicide. He is not well."

Rigel VI has psychiatrists. And on Rigel V, there is the Institute of Medical Research. They have this--ah--Dr. Swindloe, who is evidently some sort of expert on Vulcan psychology."

Kirk set his jaw. "I want--to take--Spock to Vulcan. He is half Vulcan."

"But he is also supposed to be half human, and he can jolly well put up with human facilities," Spencer finished, his jowly face glaring out of the screen at Kirk. Then he sat back, considering, and asked, "Are you recording this?"

Taken aback, Kirk admitted, "No, sir," and immediately wished he were.

"All right. Then I will say this." Spencer leaned forward and his attitude changed from disinterested pique to active hatred. "You made a fool out of Admiral Komack when you ducked out of the Altair VI inauguration to ferry--it was this same officer, wasn't it?--to Vulcan four years ago, and finagled that witch T'Pau into covering for you. Well, you're not going to make a fool out of me. You turn one meter off your course and I'll have you in irons. And don't think you can convince your Vulcan playmates to save your skin again, because they are a little too busy cleaning up by remote that's rats' nest you turned up on Harimon. You are going to Rigel, Kirk; Rigel V if you want, but Rigel all the same. Do I make myself clear?"

"You certainly do, sir," Kirk said tightly, opening his clenched first to snap off the transmission. "Kirk out."

As the white dot fled into the center of the screen, the captain slumped down in his chair; leaning his forehead on his knuckles, he concentrated on his alternatives. Data. He would have asked for more data. Kirk sat up again and switched the intercom on. "Helm, this is the Captain. What is our present bearing?"

"Seventy-four Mark 24, sir," answered Lt. Sulu. "Eight and a half periods before we enter Rigel system."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Kirk out." He flicked the picture off and rose from his chair, then left the room heading for the Sickbay.

Within the ship's medical quarters, most of the main lights were out; no one was in the office. Stepping through to the ward's entrance, Kirk was stopped by the sight of his friend, spread-eagled on the bed by the black straps, spotlit by the monitors, the only lights in the gloom. He walked into the ward, came closer to the bed, but Spock did not attend to him; the Vulcan didn't seem to be aware of anything, but only stared straight upwards. Kirk stood at the foot, trying to imagine a mind war and how it would be to be a casualty.

"There's no change, Captain." McCoy's voice behind Kirk did not startle him.

"I didn't really think there would be," Kirk replied, still staring at the immobile Vulcan. Then he turned to the doctor. "I came to talk to you. What do you know about a Dr. Swindloe?"

McCoy rose from the chair wherein he had been keeping his vigil over Spock and led the way to the office. "Never heard of him. Did you talk to the Admiral?" he asked, dialing up the overhead lights.

"No. All the farther I got was Commodore Spencer, who told me in no uncertain terms to continue on to Rigel." Kirk sat and shook his head when the doctor held up a small brandy glass; McCoy didn't insist, but put it back. "Generously, he says we could go to Rigel V."

"Rigel five. Jason Swindloe." McCoy snapped his fingers. "I do know of him. He's good." As he sat down, the captain looking on with hesitant interest, the medic went on, "He collaborated with--oh--somebody from Vulcan, on comparative human-Vulcan psychology some years ago. Matter of fact, that's the study I use to interpret--uh--" He faltered. "--Spock's psychological tests…"

"So if we went to Rigel V," Kirk prompted.

"--He'd probably be as well off there as anywhere." McCoy paused, then plunged on. "Sitting here, watching him, I can't help feeling that Vulcan would be, well, wrong, somehow. Maybe there isn't even--" McCoy stopped abruptly.

Kirk held him with his eyes. "Go on, Doctor."

McCoy fidgeted, looking away. "Well--Jim, we've all three been together so long it seemed like we could never be parted," the graying man explained carefully, and suddenly looked directly into Kirk's gaze. "Our friendship was a real thing, is a real thing, and it can never be lost, even if…" He leaned forward, laid his hand halfway between himself and the captain. "Jim…what if he can't be cured? We still have to go on. You have more to accomplish yet. Even if Spock…dies…" Kirk shut his eyes. "…he'll never be lost to you or to me."

McCoy sat for a moment longer, gazing in sad compassion at his captain. Kirk said nothing. Opening his mouth to add something further, the doctor halted, thought better of it, and stood to return to his watch.

Kirk sat very still for a long minute, alone in the office. His face looked older with the lines of the past few days, the past few months, the last six years of the mission. Around him, the hush was like something alive. Finally, he roused himself, stood, and walked out of the office.

* * *

Captain (Land Command) Lynn Goldstein was an old friend of Kirk's and, like all his old friends who happened to be female, was a quietly spectacular-looking blonde. However, for once the ship's captain was sticking entirely to the business of reporting into base at Rigel, and Goldstein was beginning to feel somewhat frustrated.

"…'Medical Base acknowledges the receipt of your first officer, transfer to Rigel V has been effected. Dr. Swindloe has taken charge of the psychiatric examination and will notify Command whether Commander Spock may return to active status and the Enterprise anytime soon,'" she read to the screen featuring Captain Kirk. "'If in the opinion of the psychiatric staff the Commander cannot resume his duties within 20 standards days, a new executive officer will be assigned to the Enterprise, along with other rotated personnel, to be taken aboard'--Jim, you're not listening," she exclaimed patiently, setting the ledger down.

The little phosphor reproduction of the Enterprise captain stirred and sighed, "I'm sorry, Lynn, I am, really. Go on."

"Oh, there's not that much more, and you're getting a copy anyway," Goldstein demurred, shoving the ledger to one side. "Jim--Jim, I'm sorry about your science officer and all that, but look on the star side; it's the perfect time to put in for a promotion. And I bet you could get one."

"Lynn, I don't--"

Goldstein charged on. "Jim, there are decades of positions just begging for a man of your caliber. You've been hanging onto that ship of yours like it was a lifeboat. I know the Organian Treaty messed up the five-year schedules, but for most everybody else, it cut their mission short; you've extended yours by a whole year. And you've been holding back your people, too. Jim--" She stopped, paused, and switched tactics with a wry smile, "Happy birthday."

Kirk looked out of the screen askance. "It's not for another two months."

"Well, I probably won't see you then, so I'm telling you now," she replied ingenuously. With a show of innocence that wouldn't have fooled a retarded Tellurite, she went on, "You'll be--what, 40 years old, won't you? My, the years do fly, don't they?"

Kirk wore a long-suffering smile and looked upward, knowing damn well he was being cornered. "All right, Lynn, what are you getting at?"

Goldstein smiled, on and off again, then dropped the act. "Jim, you're getting on. You're not the youngest captain in the Fleet anymore--you're not even the youngest captain of an NCC class starship. What about your career? Don't you care anymore? Don't you have any ambition?"

Kirk grimaced. "Of course I care about my career. It's not a question of-- All right. Speaking hypothetically, where could I go?"

"Okay…" Goldstein temporized, then hit on a thought. "Okay. I could get you right now the administrative command of Rigel XVII. Think of that, Jim; a whole planet to command! And the Rigel system has really opened up in the last five years; it's almost as important as Earth now. Or, if you'd rather go to Earth, I happen to know that Admiral Mazzeo has been asking for you specifically to serve in the Tactics Department. That would mean Commodore at least, Jim. Well, think about it anyway," she insisted as Kirk shook his head.

"I know, Lynn, I know. I'm not about to stay 'Captain' all my life. But I can't, not just now. I have my responsibilities." He made a half-smile. "Thanks, but, right now at least, no thanks. Kirk out." The screen went dark. Goldstein sighed again and made a face.

* * *

It was a polite request, formally worded, asking Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy if they would confer with Dr. J. Swindloe in his office in the Institute of Medical Research on Rigel V at 0800 hours local time the next day, and it arrived on the fifth day after the ship had docked around Ludington, as Rigel VI was called. The two officers embarked for the sister world in one of the Enterprise's small crafts. The actual dash across the 1,007,450 kilometers separating the green-and-blue planet from the gold-and-blue one consumed 3.36079 seconds at Warp One, but leaving and landing took a little longer, and all told, the trip lasted two-tenths of a period--about half an hour.

They rode down the 200 meter deep lifts, right into the heart of Gai-chok, Rigel V's largest, because it was the only human one, city. There, they asked directions to the Institute from a youth whose obvious Vietnamese antecedents in no way distinguished him from the rest of the predominantly oriental crowd in the passages. At the Institute's warren, they were directed up 67 flights, down Corridor 30-A, second turn beyond the end of Blue section; and all the way down to the end of Aisle D, you can't miss it.

Despite the explicitness, the Enterprise pair were slightly late getting to the appointment. However, when they walked into the light green and brown decorated room, Dr. Swindloe was not yet there. McCoy immediately sunk into one of the pale beige chairs, while Kirk stared out the--surprise!--window, the semi-deserted level of the office being a ways above ground. "I wonder what he wants to tell us," Kirk mused, his back to the doctor.

"I don't know," McCoy grunted, rubbing his tired calves. "By now, I almost don't care. I don't think I can take any more of these emotional peaks and valleys. You'd almost wish that blasted Vulcan would decide if he's going to be all right, or--" He cut the thought off short.

Kirk, turning from the view of the yellow vegetation just below the window, regarded him mildly. Just then, the door opposite the window shooked open and a medium-height, rather solid, light-skinned human male wearing a dark blue suit and a worried expression stepped into the office. The tight set of his round face smoothed out to a placid smile of puppy-dog helpfulness as he strode to the older of the officers seated in the chair. Just before he said, "Good morning, you must be Captain Kirk" to McCoy, however, he caught his mistake and continued, with only the barest break in stride, over to the younger, but more dominant-looking man. "I'm Dr. Jason Swindloe," he announced, shaking Kirk's hand. "You must be Captain Kirk."

Kirk nodded, murmuring, "Very pleased to meet you. This is my Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Leonard McCoy." As the two doctors mumbled pleasantries to each other in acknowledgement, both Kirk and Swindloe took chairs, Swindloe his behind the dark wood desk.

"Commander Spock is very ill," he began directly, folding his fingers into a steeple, with which he punctuated his convoluted sentences. He spoke slowly, often breaking off in the middle of a phrase to add import to the next word. "To be very frank, it is possible that he may never recover. From your files, Doctor, Starfleet's records, and the transcript of Sidil's--admission more than a confession-- Do either of you read Vulcanur?" McCoy and Kirk both shook their heads. "At any rate, I believe I know what Sidil did to the Commander, and how--but I have very few ideas how to proceed, more particularly as--this whole affair is a very rare occurrence." He pursed his full lips. "Vulcans so seldom--attack one another, and less so mentally. There are no precedents, in modern times. I have sent for my one-time colleague, Stef of Vulcan. He is not an actual psychologist, not in the human sense of the term, but I believe he would be of invaluable assistance in this case."

"Exactly what did Sidil do to Spock?" McCoy inquired professionally.

The thick-set psychiatrist dug at an itch on the side of his grey, bowl-cut hair. "Well, to begin--among Vulcans, the 'Father' figure is very potent." He paused.

"We're aware of that," McCoy prompted. "Go on."

Swindloe's pale blue eyes contained no trace of his erstwhile smile. "Basically, Sidil used this--potency against him. The normal regard for the Father is greatly exaggerated in Commander Spock. He has an unusual, almost abnormal, even for a Vulcan, respect for a Father figure; primarily, I believe, because he feels he can identify only with his own father, Sarek." Swindloe leaned back. "The transcript details the imagery--most of it quite horrible--of the situations Sidil set up in which a 'Father' of some sort demanded or otherwise required the Commander's death. Vulcan lives by obligation, not desire; Spock found himself--obliged to die. If he should refuse this obligation, he has disproven himself to be truly Vulcan."

"And Spock would never want to do that," the Enterprise's doctor commented bitterly.

"Yes. That is my analysis, too. The goal is to make the Commander realize that this obligation is false. The problem, though, is that--" Swindloe cupped his hands in the air before him impotently, "--I can't get through to him. He doesn't respond, he doesn't react to me." He settled down again. "He is no longer actually trying to destroy himself, but…I just wish there were some way to reach him."

"I'd like to see him, if I could," Kirk said suddenly. He had been following the dissection imperturbably.

"Of course." The three rose, passed through an inner conference room, and entered at the left a small, dry-hot room, plain to the point of insipid, with the exception of a "mural" on the left wall. Kirk realized with a twinge of irritation that the "mural" was a one-way monitor screen. If they had to invade Spock's privacy, couldn't they at least be a little less blatant about it?

Spock himself lay on the bed extruding from the wall on the right, dressed in a plain black single-piece outfit. He was no longer strapped down, but he was no more animate than if he were restrained.

"Spock … Spock, it's us," said McCoy gently, leaning over the silent, staring man. "It's Jim and … and Bones." Still nothing; McCoy drew back and confided to Swindloe, "It was the same on the ship on the way out. I had hoped the passage of time…"

"Spock." Kirk planted himself at the foot of the bed and knotted his arms over his chest. His voice was loud and sharp. "Why are you trying to die?"

Swindloe's jaw dropped and McCoy jerked around, both staring at the captain as if he'd lost his mind--or at least his tact. But before Swindloe could bluster a protest, a croak issued from the bed beside the doctors. "Because it is logical."

"I am a mistake…" Spock continued tonelessly after a moment, as McCoy set his hands behind his back, one eyebrow cocked, and Swindloe stepped back, watching the Vulcan thoughtfully. "I am an experiment that failed. I cannot be left to exist…" He fell silent, seeing only overhead.

The heat and aridity were enervating, and Kirk had been tired to begin with. He swallowed to smooth his throat, said, "Then, why don't you--die?" He was even more nervous about this line of reasoning than the two doctors, both scientific to the end, who merely stood and watched. "Why don't you just--swallow your tongue? or … put out your eyes?" The captain halted, fear on his face that he'd said too much.

Spock's eyes wandered down from the ceiling to the muscular human at his feet. Finally he spoke, sounding the merest bit regretful. "It is not right to die by one's own hands. My death must come soon. I will wait…" And, as if beginning the death watch, the gaunt, grey-faced alien became silent to scan that solitary horizon.

Gripping the foot of the bed, Kirk let out a long, nasal sigh. He shot a glance at McCoy, who only shrugged. Swindloe then took charge, directing the two officers toward the door with a jerk of his chin.

Back in the front office, Kirk suddenly spun on Swindloe. "Doctor, can he be cured?" he asked bluntly.

The chubby psychiatrist did not answer immediately. Instead, he trod over to his desk to study a note pad, before saying, "At first, I wasn't sure." He turned around, riveting a contact with Kirk's eyes. "He is definitely not going to be able to return to the USS Enterprise within the deadline; I am notifying Starfleet Command of that. But, Captain," he continued, stepping forward to the younger man, "I was very much impressed in the care room a few minutes ago by the way you handled the Commander. He looked on you as a figure of authority; I should have foreseen that that was what he needed. You … have managed to reach him."

"Spock is my friend," Kirk replied expressionlessly, his arms crossed over his upper stomach.

"Mmm." Swindloe scratched just under his lower lip meditatively. "At any rate, the Commander has responded to something--and, he has stated he no longer intends to destroy himself. These are very hopeful indications. It may take a long time, but--there is a very good chance that, yes, he can be cured."

Kirk exhaled and glanced at the grey-green carpet of the office. "I hope so." He paused and went on evenly, "We ought to be going now, Dr. Swindloe. It's halfway through the tenth period for us--almost 2300 hours," he explained to Swindloe's blank look. "Thank you very much for your time. Doctor?" to McCoy.

"Coming, Captain," said the medic. He paused to shake hands with Swindloe. "Thank you very much, Doctor."

As the pair started to the door, Swindloe halted them, calling, "Captain Kirk, I was impressed by the way you spoke to the Commander."

"Yes, of course," Kirk muttered and exited. McCoy followed immediately.

* * *

The original reason the Enterprise had gone to Rigel Base was for re-outfitting and -supply. However, as long as the ship was going to be in port for 20 days, non-essential personnel were given another, this time indefinite, leave as soon as their sections were confirmed as again spaceworthy; everyone else was allowed leave on a day days off, one day on, basis. Still, by the end of the eighth day, there were a few sections as yet un-redone; the crew seemed to be getting--well, sloppier--these days. Kirk was alone on the bridge that night, mentally clucking over the end-of-run reports, noting with concern that efficiency was down--again. Security's summary showed a 15% increase in interrupted fights among the crew; Medical's that there had been a surge in analgesic intake over the past year. Over a dozen of the crew had died on missions this trip. Very bad. Maybe this extended leave will get the morale back up, Kirk hoped. As soon as they sober up, anyway.

Being alone on his bridge, Kirk found it necessary to get up and walk over to the communications board when an incoming call signaled for attention. It was for him; it was Swindloe. "Good morning, Captain," his round pink face smiled on the midget view screen.

"Good--ah--morning, Doctor," Kirk returned dryly, nothing the late hour on the ship's chronometer.

"Captain, I'd like to have a rather personal talk with you," Swindloe began, growing serious. "Could you possibly come back here to Gai-chok sometime later today? I'd come to the Enterprise myself, except that I don't believe I should leave Commander Spock--although my co-worker, Stef, is here…"

"That's all right. I can be there--point 3 tomorrow…" Kirk put his chin to his palm, calculating the time difference, "about--17, 1800 hours your time?"

"Eighteen hundred would be fine." Something offscreen in his office distracted Swindloe for a second. "I have to sign off now. I'll see you this evening, Captain. Thank you."

Kirk shut off the viewer, turned off the reports on his chair; walked to the elevator, and headed for bed. The next morning, almost exactly at .3, the beginning of the fourth period, he left for Rigel V in the shuttlecraft Lowell. Once more in Gai-chok, he retraced his way to the lonely outpost in the Institute and found the psychiatrist waiting for him.

"This way," Swindloe directed him to the left into a darkened room, full of monitors and various recorders, many activated, and at one end a large window, the "mural" Kirk had noticed the last time.

"Is such--monitoring really necessary?" he asked.

"I'm afraid it is; I wish it weren't," the doctor replied. Beyond the window, Kirk could see Spock, still horizontal, and a tall, broad-shouldered Vulcan man of about 100, dressed in light blue tunic and trousers, speaking animatedly to the former first officer. A low snarl-choke from the speaker beneath the observation port proved the one-sided conversation to be held in Vulcanur. Gesturing at the vignette, Swindloe said, "That's Stef, my colleague. As I said, he's the closest thing Vulcan has to a psychologist. But he's very good." Bringing up the volume, he patched in the translator.

"--were false premises," Stef was saying. "The Council had rejected them. Sidil's way is inconsistent with Surak's Construct. The premises were demonstrably false."

The large, spare alien paused to allow Spock to answer. Amazingly, to Kirk anyway, the half-Vulcan did turn his face to Stef and mutter, "They are my premises…I volunteered them. If the Council rejects them, then they reject me. The experiment has failed…I should be terminated…"

At this, both Stef and Swindloe dropped their heads and each in his own fashion sighed; the human doctor switched off the speaker, while the Vulcan one continued the pantomime in the next room. "It's been like this ever since Stef finally managed to engage him in debate," Swindloe explained to Kirk, leading him back to the front area. "No matter what we say, he keeps coming back to how he failed Vulcan. We've been unable to shake his logic."

Kirk took one of the light beige chairs. "This single-mindedness isn't like Spock," he said, shaking his head.

Swindloe looked out one jaundiced eye at the captain. "I'd say the Commander is quite capable of single-mindedness. But don't forget, he has suffered a terrible psychological beating; I don't think either of us can fully comprehend how devastating. Sidil and his people knew exactly what they were doing. They struck him at his most vulnerable spot: the conflict between his Terran reality and his desire to be fully Vulcan. Rather like hitting a diamond on the fracture point."

"He kept mentioning 'the experiment has failed,'" Kirk said puzzledly. "What experiment is he talking about?"

Swindloe looked across his desk in some astonishment. "Well, he was the experiment. Didn't you know?" As the captain jerked up his chin, Swindloe went on, "He was experiment number--well, never mind the code, it doesn't translate well--at the Vulcan Academy of Science about 40 years ago; an attempt to cross the Vulcan and human species. I'm pretty sure he was the only one to survive infancy. It's all in his records. It was a deliberate insertion of human chromosomes selected for compatibility into the nucleus of a Vulcan gamete, and then gestation in mechano."

Kirk appeared vaguely shocked. "I'd always thought that--Sarek and Amanda had gotten married--" he paused, grimaced with a high-set brow, "--because they--had to."

Swindloe chuckled. "Hardly. Biology doesn't work that way. Apparently, they'd already been married for a short time and agreed to participate in the, ah, experiment."

"I wouldn't have thought the laboratory would have released him."

"Well, really, he is a person in his own right, after all. He has his own life to lead." Kirk nodded his head in acceptance, as Swindloe continued, "It's the very fact of this hybridity that makes the therapy so difficult to plan. Our basic plan at this time is to make the Commander understand precisely what Sidil did to him."

"Accept," came a dry voice from the door to the conference room. Tall and broad, but perfectly proportioned, Stef moved gracefully into the office, taking the other light brown chair. "To accept that which Sidil had forced on him."

Swindloe nodded over his folded fingers. "Yes, and ultimately make the Commander accept also his human half, which was the cause of the conflict between him and Sidil. Moreover, if Spock had been secure about his Terran heritage, he would not have been open to Sidil's attack," he concluded to Kirk sagely.

"Not necessary," objected Stef, seated at all perfect right angles in his chair. "We need only demonstrate the invalidity of Sidil's logic. Spock must realize that he is Vulcan if he accepts and lives by Vulcan ways; which he had done, in the main, until the conflict."

"But to understand his Terran half, since he lives among Terrans," Swindloe pointed out.

"Among them as a Vulcan." The two stopped and considered each other, tolerantly.

Kirk suppressed a smile and leaned back comfortably. "I think you'll come to a conclusion soon."

"We have, Captain," said Stef, while Swindloe guiltily dropped his eyes to the desktop. Kirk narrowed his eyes in surprise, saying nothing. Swindloe spoke.

"We have a very great favor to ask of you, Captain Kirk." He broke off, shifted his view to Stef, went on. "We--need a figure of authority Spock respects to initiate the therapy. We…well, we need you, to stay here on Rigel V until Spock comes to accept us as being truly interested in his recovery."

"Indeed." Stef took over. "We require that Spock respect our logic. He does not yet; apparently he is reluctant, believing we reason with him only to trap him, to betray him. You, on the other hand, and your reasoning he accepts without question, because you are his--" Stef hesitated over the term, surrendered, "--'Father.'"

"Until we can get Spock to treat our interactions less than speciously, you are our only channel of communications. Can you possibly stay in Gai-chok, or even anywhere around Rigel for any length of time?" The verbal besiegement ceased, but the eyes of both doctors still fired on Kirk questioningly.

The captain sat unmoving. After a moment, he said slowly, "How--how long would it take?"

"That is the problem. We don't know," Swindloe said seriously. "It could be--a week, it could be six months; it could be any time in between."

"I have a ship," Kirk mentioned distantly.

Stef canted his head. "Captain, is it impossible for you to obtain a self-assignment? We had understood differently."

"It's not impossible," Kirk replied. "As a matter of fact, Starfleet would probably jump at the chance to let me transfer; they haven't been too subtle about it recently. But I can't. I have a ship. I have a responsibility to my crew."

"We understand, Captain," the other human said soothingly. "We had just hoped…"

"Spock is part of your 'crew', is he not?" Stef interposed.

Silently, Kirk turned to the graying Vulcan, aging, but still with a bearing of great, controllable power. For the moment, their brown eyes met, then the human looked away. "I'll have to think about it," he said at last, rising from the chair.

* * *

Indefinite shore leave with practically all of Rigel's 17 planets at one's disposal can be fun, but nine days of it is surely too much of a good thing, decided Ensign Chekov, staring at his fourth, tastelessly non-Terran vodka. The intense young man sat in a vaguely lit corner of Drash's, a cabaret widely touted across the starlanes. Well, he'd been there and found it wanting. As a matter of fact, he'd been in the Museum of Non-Solar Terran Artifacts on Rigel VI, in the Ku-chub's home temple on Rigel VII, up and down the Filgivie mountains on Rigel VIII where the scaly green bartender who had prepared his drink was born, on an environment-suit excursion across two kilometers of Rigel III's molten surface, ventured into the dilithium miles on Rigel XII, and gotten thrown out of the Orion house of pleasure in Rigel XVII, spending about half the time in various warp and sublight-drive shuttles.

Chekov was bored and he was tired. He'd lost track of the shipmates who'd started out with him, one by one, until he now had to be a solitary drunk in a Rigel V saloon. One wouldn't expect a planet, noted for medical research, to sport such a dive. At least it was a picturesque dive. There were representatives there of every Federation species that went in for intoxicants--and the intoxicants were in plenty evidence, too. He stared moodily at the green and orange and tan and black and purple and white and speckled and furry and feathery and scaly and slimy and limbed and tendriled and horse-faced and human and ugly and exotic and altogether unique unto themselves beings that laughed and garbled and chattered and tweeted and in general were having a high old time. And he wasn't having one with them. "Bozh moi," he said experimentally, to vent a little of his frustration.

"Tack yeah-zik," a voice behind him tsked, and, having exhausted his Russian, the blue-shirted lieutenant came around and said down next to the ensign.

"Mildred!" Chekov cried, astounded.

"Oy," groaned Lt. Chaswick and plopped his forehead onto his palm. "Don't bring that up. I've finally gotten everyone to call me by my real first name."

"Classmates never forget," Chekov said, grinning. "I can't imagine anyone calling you 'Dorland'. Would you like a drink?" he offered.

"Nope, thank you, I brought my own vice," said Chaswick, drawing a pack of genuine Virginia cigarettes out of the souvenir-of-Rigel-V purse he carried and lighting one. Chekov was impressed, which was the general idea. "What ship are you on now?" the lieutenant asked airily, as the stream of smoke flew upwards.

"The USS Enterprise," said Chekov simply, and got the desired effect; Chaswick choked on the intake.

"The US--haugh--the starship Enterprise?" the gangly man gasped, rather deflated.

"What other one is there?" Chekov, blasé, shrugged. "What ship are you on?"

"The spaceship First National," Chaswick answered ruefully. "But you're still an ensign, Pasha. How'd you swing that?"

Chekov's elation evaporated at the reminder of his rank, a reaction that wasn't lost on his hail-fellow-well-met, though the Russian tried to hide the shot behind a façade of terminal ennui as he sought to get back one up. "After the Academy, I served as Luna Base for a year, and then was signed right after to the Enterprise as navigator."

"Navigator," Chaswick repeated, impressed in spite of himself. However, he hadn't given up yet. Sallying his main gun again, "It's a shame you're still only an ensign, though… Say, speaking of rank, ah, I'm up for a promotion next year. To Senior Lieutenant," stressing ever so imperceptibly the penultimate word, and leaning back to slurp on his cigarette.

Chekov hunched over the table, grasping at his glass, his face dark with furious thought. Nothing suggested itself, so he was about ready to give in. But just then, luckily for the honor of the Enterprise, and especially of its navigator, Captain Kirk, having dismissed the Lowell, and gone walking around the city as he considered the psychiatrists' request, found and entered Drash's main portal, remembering a long-ago recommendation for the place from Dr. McCoy. "Captain! Captain Kirk!" Chekov shouted, jumping up from his crouch and gesticulating madly. Kirk zeroed to the two officers. "That's my Captain," Chekov explained to Chaswick.

"I rather thought so," the lieutenant replied, but he stood anyway and shyly offered his hand to the captain of the Enterprise. Chekov did the honors as Lt. Chaswick pumped Kirk's hand, stammering, "It's nice to meet you, sir, really an honor; nice, to meet you."

Kirk nodded patiently and made a motion for Chaswick to sit. The lieutenant started to, but right then a steel-cutting shriek drilled through the lounge's haze: "Chaswick, getcha butt ovaheah! Wulleaving!"

"Sorry, I have to go," he apologized to Chekov. "It was really nice meeting you, sir," he reiterated to Kirk and scurried off into the throng.

"An old friend, Ensign?" Kirk asked politely, illuminating the aperitif list inset in the tabletop and studying it.

"An old classmate, sir," Chekov answered. He hesitated, then went on, "He's--ah--up for promotion next year."

Kirk looked up sharply, but said nothing. Chekov fumbled with his nails a few seconds more, and blurted, "Sir, I've been thinking of transferring off the Enterprise. I don't seem to be getting anywhere on her." At Kirk's silent stare, he rephrased, "I'm 26 years old and I'm still an ensign."

"Probably the most decorated ensign in the Fleet," Kirk remarked dryly, folding his hands.

"But I'm still an ensign, sir." Fueled by the liquor, he charged on. "I'm--In five years I've not even made Junior Lieutenant. I'm not getting anywhere, Captain. I'm--being left behind," he said at last, regarding Kirk piteously.

"I understand, Ensign. Don't put in for your transfer just now; I don't think you could pass the blood analysis," Kirk said, not unkindly, and moved off into the crowd.

Chekov slumped forward onto his elbows, figuring he'd blown it again. For a moment, he let his attention drift to the incomprehensible comic holding forth on the stage, then, his troubles dismissed for the nonce with a snort, tapped for another vodka.

* * *

The sublight shuttle from Rigel V back to Rigel VI took six hours, even at the 1-1/2 gravity acceleration. It gave Kirk time to think and stare out the port at the traffic--two shuttles and a FH class carrier spotted during the trip. Rigel apparently was a busy system. He ignored the drone of the engines and the other commuters, at last dropping off into a fitful sleep. The dreams, possibly set off by the heavier gravity in the shuttle, dealt mostly with being buried alive, or otherwise held down some way.

At the space station, Kirk did not transport back to the Enterprise, also orbiting Rigel VI. Instead, with a noticeably decisive air, he took a beam down to the base on Ludington, and marched directly to Captain Goldstein's office in the Personnel Division.

That area of the complex was rather quiet after the noise of the shuttle and the transport station. At his approach to Goldstein's cubicle, the door whizzed open and a tape cartridge came sailing out at about knee level. Puzzled, Kirk bent down and picked it up, glancing into the office. Behind the desk at the other end was a deeply brown human in the dark green tunic of the Land Command staring sheepishly at the ship's captain.

Kirk went in and, noticing the five or six tapes strewn about a target on the immediately left of the door, dropped the retrieved one onto the bull's eye before stepping up to the desk. "I'm Captain James T. Kirk, Space Command," he introduced himself, snaking the other's hand.

"Uh, Captain Ditkey Kelakura," the slenderer man answered, motioning to the other chair for Kirk as he sat down himself. "It's a--a real pleasure to meet you, sir, I've heard so much about you. Er … can I help you somehow?"

"Do you have anything to do with reassignments? I know Captain Goldstein," Kirk gestured at the desk next to Kelakura's sporting her name plate, "does. She was handling my ship, the Enterprise."

"Yes, I know." Kelakura hastily snapped the top folder off the other desk. "Well, actually, we both can handle these things. Is it about your--hmm--first officer?" he questioned, running his finger down the first page.

"To start, yes. I was wondering who was replacing--Mr. Spock."

The open brown face looked up. "Do you have any preference?"

Kirk shook his head. "No, I haven't any preference."

"Well, that's okay; a lot of commanders just like to be able to pick their senior officers, that's all," Kelakura made his small talk, scanning the folder again. "So they'll fit in with the rest of their crew. You've got a really outstanding crew there, Captain; you've been keeping them away from the rest of the Fleet for a long time now. We've just got to find somebody who'll fit in with as fine a staff as you've built there," he ran on pleasantly.

"…I haven't any preferences," Kirk continued, as if the other hadn't spoken, "because I am putting in for transfer myself. To the command of Rigel XVII, specifically."

The folder dropped; Kelakura stared at Kirk, stupefied by the announcement. Kirk took a glimpse out the window behind the land commander at the spring day on the terraformed planet. Finally, the other captain came to, scratching under the coarse black hair on his crown. "Well… well, yeah…well--well, sure," he said. Slowly breaking into a grin. "Well, well, well. This does have possibilities." He chewed his lip as he evaluated some of them. Tapping his fingertips together, "You want Donalduck, you got it."

Kirk flipped his hand up from the wrist. "Donald Duck?"

"Ludington, the Terran who first explored Rigel, had a sense of humor," Kelakura glossed over the aside. "You're sure you want Rigel XVII. I mean, well--" He leaned forward conspiratorially, "the, ah, NGC class starships are nearly into construction and they'll be looking for commanders for them soon. Or…would you like to go to the Earth? Anywhere in the Solar System? Wanna be Military Governor of Aldebaran III?"

"No. Unless there is a post I could take on Rigel Base…" Kirk hinted, but Kelakura made a moue of embarrassment at the floor. "Then I want Rigel XVII." He forced a tight smile. "Donald Duck."

"Well, then we'll be sending you the forms to verify tomorrow. Your own ship's doctor can administer the--er--sobriety test. Will that be all right?"

"Fine."

Kirk stood, again shook hands with Kelakura, and made his way out. The slim brown man sat back upon the other's exit, idly scraping at his chin for a moment. He went "humph" and bawled, "Computer!" at the inset console.

"Working," it returned.

Kelakura leaned back onto one elbow, squinting at the line where the ceiling joined the wall. He smiled possessively. "Get me a current list of the Enterprise personnel."

* * *

The fastest medium of information-conveyance known to humanity is gossip. It took about two hours for the news of Kirk's request for transfer to make it up to the Enterprise, and about five minutes more for Dr. McCoy to come pounding on the door of the captain's quarters. Kirk had taken advantage of the free time to actually sit down and read a book before going to bed. He had Surak's Construct: Vulcan's Interpretation of the Ideal by Hector S. Ramakrishnan on the screen when the medical officer tromped in. "All right, why are you quitting?" he demanded.

"I'm not quitting," Kirk said mildly, turning the book off as he faced McCoy. "I'm just transferring to Land Command and being assigned to Rigel XVII."

"Donalduck," McCoy corrected sarcastically.

"Nicknames don't matter." Kirk was unruffled. "The Enterprise has been called the 'Big E' for as long as I can remember--even Captains find out, Doctor," he explained wryly to McCoy's guilty start. "Sit down, Bones," he continued seriously.

"I'm transferring because Dr. Swindloe asked me to," he began, settling his hands into place, one over the other. "He says that Spock needs me as part of--the early part of, his therapy, and I will have to be available. I wouldn't be if I stayed with the Enterprise. I once said, at the time of Spock's marriage…that I was willing to give up my career to help save him. As it stands now, I am not risking my career; I am actually advancing it to help him." He stopped. McCoy only stared back.

"But that's not the only reason, Bones. My career is important to me, too; you know that. And I'm almost 40 years old."

"I'm 52," the doctor grunted.

"And Scotty is 53 and you're both still only Lieutenant Commanders. Chekov--he wasn't sober--but he asked me for a transfer because he's been in the Fleet for five years and he hasn't been promoted once. And he is probably the best navigator on--well, on any of the starships, and certainly any of the space class." Kirk, mouth slack, oscillated his head slowly. "I've…I've held you back. I've kept you all down. I haven't let you grow."

McCoy suddenly tilted forward. "And you've made this the best damn ship in Starfleet! You don't have anything to be ashamed of, Jim."

The captain drew in breath, a wondering smile on his face. "I'm not ashamed, Bones. This was a good ship. We have fine people here." His face hardened. "But we've been here too long. We've stagnated. On our last deep space run, we lost fourteen people. That's the most we've ever lost. Our efficiency ratings are down from last year--and last year down from the year before that. We have accepted the lowest number of new personnel of any NCC class ship. We are not the ship we once were.

"What we were was a real thing, and we can never lose that. No matter what happens. We are always a part of the Enterprise."

McCoy snorted. "Don't break into song, now."

"I wouldn't dare." Kirk smiled faintly. "But I'm talking like the ship is dead, and it's not. It just needs a good shaking up. That's why I have to go. I had thought about this before, Bones, but I kept--putting it off. Now the--attack on Spock has forced me into a decision…but I can't say I'm sorry about the decision." He leaned back for his friend's reply, somewhat nervous, somewhat hopeful.

The older man was bent down with his hands folded over his thighs. He turned his head to study the yoke line of his blue tunic, his mouth pursed resignedly. "I never could stop you once you've made up your mind," he growled, and exhaled completely. A few more seconds ticked by. He brought his head up. "Good luck, Jim," a faint smile peeking around the corner of his lips.

Kirk's smile grew. "Thanks, Bones." They stood up, clutched each other's hand in a fervent shake, broke away hiding embarrassed grins. McCoy took six of the eight paces to the door, stopped. "Jim," he called softly. Kirk looked up.

"Bqukkkh!" he squawked, flapping his elbows once and ran out, chased by Kirk's amused glare.

* * *

"Do you remember the sequences Sidil put you through?" Swindloe asked. "Do you--for instance, do you remember the crucifixion?"

The heavy-set psychiatrist was seated in the inner conference room of his office area, seated across the trapezoidal table from his half-human patient dressed in the ubiquitous hospital greens. After four days of intensive conference with Stef, Spock was judged well enough to leave his bed and apartment for still more intense discussions over the events on Harimon two weeks earlier. It was early in the day and Captain Kirk was expected shortly; Swindloe was doing a bit of preliminary exploration.

Spock was faced to the human almost unseeingly for some moments after the question was asked. At last he spoke up. "Yes, I remember…"

With the answer, Swindloe relaxed. He set his right hand atop the transcript the Council had supplied him--the Six's account of that afternoon. "The transcript, of course, details only Sidil's participation in the affair, which ended with the--tenth station, so to speak, the stripping."

"I was not aware…of the point of Sidil's departure," Spock stated, a little distantly.

Swindloe leaned forward on the table. "What had happened after that point? You came to for a moment, Captain Kirk reported, and then…went under again."

Turning his head aside, speaking carefully and somewhat abstractedly, Spock explained, "I had been stripped…by T'Pring and Stonn, then laid upon the cross. At this point I attained consciousness. The Captain brought me out of the building into the fog, and I--" Spock trembled the merest bit as his words stumbled. "--relapsed again into the--dream." He halted, then resumed, becoming totally disinterested while he related the rest of the events. "I was nailed to the cross through the wrists and metatarsi; one of my carpal bones was scored, though not broken at this point. The cross was raised, inserted into the prepared space in the ground, and I hung from it for several hours."

"And then what happened?"

"Then I died," Spock said, taking the human in unemotionally. "Of respiratory collapse, I should say. It had become progressively more difficult to breathe in that position as my pectoral muscles became more and more fatigued. Moreover, I had sustained severe hemal loss upon the cross and previous--"

"Spock," Swindloe cut in. "Couldn't you have--stopped the sequence somehow? You were no longer under Sidil's coercement. Why did you continue it yourself, all the way through your death?" He spoke gently, blinking once.

Once again the half-alien halted. For a long count he sat immobile, staring at the gold-cast light from Rigel. To no particular object he whispered, "It is not right to die by one's own hands." Then more loudly, "But I had to die. It was necessary."

"Necessary by Sidil's premises, perhaps, but not Vulcan's." The doctor pushed himself upright by his fingertips, exhaled noisily through his nose. "Do you know the--significance of that scene?"

"It was modeled upon the purported execution of a Hebrew transgressor against the then current Roman state in the--"

"No, I mean, why did Sidil use that particular image?" Swindloe rephrased with a touch of exasperation. "Why did he stage--that particular sequence?"

There was no reply from the thin brown-eyed man, and at last Swindloe gave up, answering his own question. "Partly he used it because he saw it as a weakness, a part of your Terran heritage--that you should incorporate the human unconscious mind. The Six found all their--images, the potencies, in your mind, Spock. They are part of you."

He stopped, waited for a reaction. "Indeed?" Spock forced out, a little stiffly.

Swindloe's face had been slipping unconsciously out of its original set of bland reassurance, until it settled in its present pursed, vaguely worried look. He sighed. "Yes, they are. We all have our darknesses; sometimes they are our weaknesses, and sometimes they are our--strengths. The--crucifixion was actually somewhat of a manifestation of something you call a strength, Spock--Vulcan's regard for the Father."

"It was overdone, of course, perverted--by Sidil," the human went on, oblivious to Spock's stony, impervious set. "It had been seized upon in those last moments before your rescue, but a better choice--one more suited to their purpose, that is--quite probably couldn't have been found, for the sequence employed both a strong Vulcan imperative--obey the Father--and a powerful Terran image, which in turn--"

The door to the conference room squeebed open, interrupting Swindloe's monologue. "James Kirk is here," Stef announced quietly, and stepped into the room. Kirk followed.

"Captain, we're very glad you can find the time to make these conferences," Swindloe said, rising to clasp Kirk's hand.

"It's the least I can do," Kirk demurred, seating himself in the chair the doctor had just vacated for him. "I'm very seldom needed while the ship is in port. And we'll be waiting for a while yet…" He let his voice trail off, turned to the man in the dark green coveralls. "Hello, Spock," he nodded in quiet greetings; then he turned his attention away as Swindloe pulled up a chair and Stef took a stance behind the patient.

"Hello, Captain," Spock answered, if a few seconds late.

Kirk snapped his head back to him; the doctors exchanged a glance, before all three settled down again. "Well!" Swindloe stated, taking up a notepad. "Shall we get started, then?"

* * *

"And so for the good of the Enterprise, I found I had to resign command of her," Kirk was saying to Spock five days later, explaining his recent actions. Dr. Swindloe had brought up the subject on this, Kirk's fourth visit to Rigel V; he had been commuting between Gai-chok and the ship almost daily. As usual, the two were seated at the table in the inner conference room, the captain facing the window set in the third, curved wall with its brassy view of Rigel setting blue against the butter-yellow foliage. Behind Kirk sat Swindloe, observing, the human occasionally scratching notes on a pad. The silver-green walls were cool and restful, the sand-brown carpet comfortable, but the thing that was making Kirk relax was the fact that his friend was already obviously improving.

"Indeed, Captain, a most logical decision," Spock delivered his judgment quietly and a little primly. "When a thing is impossible, the rational choice is to surrender it." The half-Vulcan was being quite his stiff, proper self--if perhaps a bit on the wooden side.

Kirk's mouth twitched into a slight smile as he said, "Dr. McCoy said to tell you he thinks you're malingering."

"Dr. McCoy--" Spock stopped. "That is an illogical reaction," he said flatly. He didn't raise his eyebrow.

A trace taken back by the absence of the expected insult, Kirk fumbled for something to say. "How--how do you think you've been doing, Spock? Are you…feeling any better?"

This time the Vulcan did lift one black brow. "I do not 'feel', Captain; that is illogical. I simply do as I must." He tilted his head to one side. "Dr. Stef and Dr. Swindloe are competent, logical physicians. I am confident I am being correctly seen to."

"Good," Kirk said, leaning back to stretch and rub his eyes. The time difference and the resultant cockeyed hours were getting to him.

"I think," Swindloe announced, laying aside his pad and pen, "I'm going to go for some coffee. Would you care for some, too, Captain?"

Kirk spun out of his chair, landed moving toward the door. "Nothing I'd appreciate more. Let's go."

Stef and Spock stayed behind as the two humans left for a snack area seven stories below in the Institute. Once there, having tabbed for coffee, Kirk's black, Swindloe's double sugar, triple cream, they selected a booth in the back.

Kirk sipped his coffee, grimaced at the residual taste of tea--and bad tea at that--in it, set the cup down with a sigh. "It always tastes like that," Swindloe smiled, his hands cradling his mocha confection. "That's why I take it with everything."

The captain smiled back. "I hope it's better on Rigel XVII."

"I should think so. Donalduck is the main port of the Rigel system." Swindloe didn't notice Kirk's minor shudder when he spoke the planet's name. "Actually, I'm a little embarrassed that we asked you so soon to stay, Captain--"

"My name is Jim," Kirk interrupted, waving his hand in the air.

"Then, ah, call me Jason," Swindloe replied friendlily. "As I was saying--because Spock is coming along quite well. Apparently, Stef was right; all that was needed was to disabuse Spock of his logic--I suppose…" His gaze shifted to the middle of the table.

"Yes?" Kirk prompted.

"No, nothing; I was just thinking."

Kirk raised his cup. "Jason, I'm as happy as you are that Spock is getting better so fast. But--my leaving the ship is a development that had to come sooner or later. As a matter of fact, it was overdue. No, I'm not sorry I chose to transfer," he concluded, sipping the blah liquid.

"But you are worried about your ship," the doctor stated.

Taken by surprise, Kirk nodded involuntarily. "Yes," he admitted. "Doctor, I'm afraid some of my people might think I--betrayed them by leaving. Especially if they get a poor replacement."

"From what I hear, they don't--or won't, rather," Swindloe smiled a secretive smile. "I don't think you should worry about the next captain, either. Starfleet had sufficient sense to choose you the first time, didn't it?"

Kirk grinned immodestly, shoved his coffee cup around a bit. Then, changing the subject, "My orders will be coming in soon, and then the Enterprise will be leaving. After that, I'll have to be on Rigel XVII. What I'm saying is, I'll have to be gone from here for a while almost any day now. Do you think it'll matter?"

Pursing his lips, the psychiatrist shook his head. "No, no, I don't think so. We'll continue the therapy for another month or so, until we're sure the Commander has recovered; in the meantime, if you could come every few weeks, as a morale booster, that would be good."

"That would be all right," said Kirk.

They both settled back, silent, at somewhat of a loss for a mutual topic. Finally, rocking his half-full cup, Swindloe began, "It hasn't been very easy for Spock, you know."

"I can imagine."

Nodding, the grey-coifed man went on, "Never fitting in, never happy; never thinking he ought to be happy. He made a workable, if difficult, adjustment to life as a pure Vulcan. In a way, it would have been easier for him to have grown up a Terran; since Earth is so diverse, he could have chosen any path without fear of disapproval--or as great of disapproval, at least. Except for the fact that Earth couldn't have recognized, let alone provided for, his rather specialized needs. It's unlikely he would have survived any of the four puberties."

Leaning over the table, Kirk asked carefully, "Four?"

"The first one, the sudden assurgence of mental abilities about the age of seven or eight; physical maturity sometime between the ages of 16 and 19; the emotional sorting at 23 or 27, which is the acceptance and dealing with the reality of Vulcan emotional life; and the, er, sexual maturation at 35."

"The sexual, ah…is the pon farr, right?"

"Right," Swindloe agreed, a trifle embarrassed. "Actually, Spock evidently didn't go through the emotional crisis at the usual time; he was quite delayed--until the age of 34. This is still more unusual in that he was somewhat early in the first two maturations--he underwent physical pubescence at about 14."

"So he wouldn't have fit in with his peers. He would have felt he was always going to be different," Kirk offered his lay analysis.

"Yes. And Sarek truly didn't help his son, either, with his strict insistence on the Vulcan way." Swindloe raised his eyes to the ceiling tiredly. "I spoke to Sarek of Vulcan about the time Stef got here, to see if he would serve as mentor, as you're now doing. But--Sarek simply doesn't seem flexible enough to understand, to cope with what happened to his son. The father symbol works both ways."

"We once escorted the Ambassador to the Babel conference," Kirk put in. "At one point in the journey, Spock was willing to let him die because it was…'logical'."

A ghost smile flickered on Swindloe's face. "Exactly. I was rather loath to bring that up just now. In his intents, his actions and appearances, Spock is Vulcan. But he feels guilty about his one inseparable--to him, a defect: his humanness--and feels guilty about the guilt. Spock had made an adjustment; he would have been perfectly fine--though never happy--all his life, except that Sidil had overlaid this obligation on him to die."

There was a silence as they both broke off to swallow some more of the coffee. As Kirk sat back again, he said, "You seem to be quite expert on Vulcan psychology. How long were you--were you on Vulcan?" he corrected.

"Yes, twelve years ago, for five years. I learned a lot from Stef--nor has he changed much in the meantime. Actually, our joint study was on comparative Vulcan/Terran psychology--parapsychology as well."

"Yes, I figured you'd use the mind meld to first contact Spock," Kirk said knowingly.

Swindloe looked shocked. "Not at all. That's a very private affair with Vulcans. No, we didn't need to use the Meld, which is probably all to the good, because frankly, I'm not even sure if Stef is capable of initiating one. Not every Vulcan is, you know."

"Yes, I know," Kirk said. "It's a post-Reform ability--or is it more of a mutation, because it's inherited?"

"Both. But it's still not something you can just ask about."

Kirk switched to another subject. "Have you done many other treatments like this one?"

"No, actually, this is the first," Swindloe said, discomfited. "Stef and I are primarily theoreticians. Almost no one is a practitioner. But the field is quite exciting--the questions answered, and raised by, comparative mentality are boundless. We have been consulted before, in so-called 'wolf' cases: a being raised by an alien species--raised by wolves, as it were. Unfortunately, contrary to popular Terran legend, such poor souls seldom turn out to be Tarzans--or Mowglis, rather; they are as a rule merely badly inadequate wolves. Humans raised by Vulcans tend to be extremely neurotic, even in terms of either culture. Vulcans raised by Terrans fare worse--they invariably die young."

"It's better to be raised by Vulcans?" Kirk queried speciously.

Swindloe looked across the table at him wryly. "Not exactly. As a matter of fact, there have been two cases of Romulan foundlings--Vulcans are great one for taking in foundlings--taken after the age of three. Both went berserk upon reaching a point shortly after physical maturation. It's--oh, good lord, look at the time," Swindloe glanced down at his ring. "They'll be wondering what happened to us. We'd better go."

"Coming." Simultaneously, they stood up from their chairs.

* * *

"So how'd it go today?" McCoy asked that evening over the game of chess he had reluctantly allowed the captain to talk him into. Picking up his remaining knight, he looked over the board, hesitated, then set it down on Queen's Level Bishop Three.

Kirk sighed. "You can't move a knight there from One Level, Bones. If you want it on Queen's Level, you'll either have to move it one to the left of forward. It went pretty well," he answered, as McCoy pushed the black piece sideways a square. "It's been going pretty well all along," he said contentedly. "Spock is just about his old highly logical self."

"Then why don't they release him?"

Kirk moved a pawn to Four Level Rook One. "They've only had him for two weeks. Would you release a patient, say, two hours after major surgery? They just--want to make sure of his progress." He slouched down in the chair, rested his temple on his knuckles as he watched the doctor study the board. Amusedly, "If you're so concerned, why don't you go see him? Swindloe wouldn't mind."

"Who, me? Concerned?" McCoy said loftily, reaching for his king. "Nonsense. Professional interest, that's all." He set the piece down on a corner of Mid Level.

"Uh-huh. By the way, you're putting yourself in check," Kirk pointed out.

McCoy snatched the king back up. "Ehhhh … I just worry about him." He cocked his brow to Kirk and pointed the king at him. "And about you. You really think you're going to be happy living on an icecube?"

"'In', Bones. In Seventeen they say 'in'." Kirk shrugged. "It won't be that much different from a ship's environment. Mostly different personnel." he watched disinterestedly as the doctor replaced his king and moved the queen to Mid Level Three One, taking the captain's pawn. When he finished, Kirk, sliding his bishop over from Three Three, took the black queen.

"I thought you were in a barred space!" McCoy exclaimed disgruntledly.

"No, there are no barred spaces on Mid Level. Only King and Queen's Level have barred spaces," the captain explained patiently. He sat up again, using his index fingers in demonstration. "Now if this had been King's Level, I would have been in a barred space, Knight Three, and I couldn't have gone straight across to take your piece; I would have wound up on Mid Level--ah, Bishop Four, or Queen's Level Four, if I had continued. Visualize the different levels as a two dimensional board but into pieces: Mid Level is the 4 by 4 center, One through Four Levels are 2 by 2 pieces from the sides, and King and Queen's Levels are put together from the rest mirrorwise. You can't take a piece into a barred space if that piece couldn't get to the area that space represents on a two dimensional board. Now do you see it?"

"No," McCoy answered exasperatedly. "Why don't they mark these squares in different colors, so we can tell what's a barred space and what's clear and who's on first? Takes a computer to figure this out," he growled. After a moment's concentration, he asked, "Can I take this pawn from here to here," pointing from Knight Three to Knight Four, "on King's Level, or do I have to go to a different level?"

"You have to go to Three Level. You're in the King's barred space."

"Well, we can't have that. Which one is Three?"

"This one. You go to here." While McCoy swung the piece over to Three Level Knight One, Kirk asked casually, "How's the crew taking it?"

"Wha--? Oh." McCoy knit his brow a second, shrugged. "Pretty well. It's been hectic these last couple of weeks. Right after we, ah, we left Harimon, they were pretty upset--you know, about a Starfleet officer being attacked. Then they got the extra shore leave, and now you're going to quit the ship. Actually, they've been very equanimous about your transfer. Although they do seem kind of…" he narrowed his eyes, looking up toward the rec room ceiling, "--expectant, somehow. Something's up, I think," he finished distrustfully.

Kirk grunted, rocking slightly with the sound. He gestured at the chess stand. "Ah, 'check', you know."

"Huh?"

"Check. My king, up here on King's Level, you just put it into check."

"I did?" McCoy stared at the board happily. "How'd I do that?"

Kirk grinned briefly as he pulled his king out of danger from Bishop Two to Bishop One, and noted, "But not any longer, Bones. See? Think of it as a two dimensional board. And don't worry about Spock. He'll be back on the Enterprise in a few months. Who knows? Maybe I will be, too." As Kirk settled back folding his arms, his grin softened into a smile. "You'll see."

McCoy was pinching his lower lip while he considered the several levels. He glanced up at Kirk's last two words, then looked back at the board, specifically Queen's Level. Something sparked in his two blue eyes. Then, in an absolutely unimpeachable maneuver, the doctor reached out, took the black knight from Queen's Level Three, brought it up to King's Level Bishop Four, delicately tapped the white king, toppling it over, and said with a smile, "Checkmate."

"What?!"

* * *

Two days later, the bridge, a mill thicker with shine and polish, and the bridge crew, dressed up and arrayed just short of formal uniform, along with every officer that could find a logical--or even illogical--reason to be there, were looking more like "The Enterprise" than they had in months. They were all there because they knew the news on the Captain's transfer would be coming in soon and most everyone wanted to be there when it did--some to cheer, some to cry, a few to gloat; some just because it is human to want to "be there" when something epic happens. But mostly, everyone wanted to find out firsthand who the new Captain was to be. The bridge was thus unusually crowded; way below decks, most of the rest of the crew were circled around the intercoms. All were waiting "casually" for the canned transmission from Earth. Kirk seemed the calmest of the bunch.

Finally the screen flipped, lightened, and resolved into Admiral Fitzpatrick. The silver hair, the artistically lined smiling face, the inanimate folded fingers were exactly the same as always; Kirk made private wonder if the rumors about the Admiral being really an android programmed for each occasion, might not contain some truth.

"This is Admiral Fitzpatrick. I have the pleasure to announce the promotion and transfer of James T. Kirk to the administrative command of Rigel XVII. Congratulations … Commodore Kirk."

Kirk bore up under the torrent of "Congratulations, sirs", smiles, handshakes, backpats, even the inevitable suppressed quacks, that came in over the monitors and from the crew on the bridge. "Congratulations, Commodore," said McCoy, standing a little stiffly on the captain's right. He still had yet to forgive his friend for transferring, but gave in enough to offer his hand.

"Thank you, Doctor," Kirk answered gratefully, taking it.

"The new Captain of the USS Enterprise," the reproduced admiral went on, and everyone on the bridge hastily closed up to stare raptly at the screen, "is Captain Nothoriv Thelin, Andorian, formerly First Officer of the USS Yorktown." The picture switched to the right profile of a blue-skinned male humanoid, which slowly rotated to a full face. White-haired, with short, thick, finger-like antennae ending in shallow cups, the lean angular face blinked--deep blue eyes, almost black--and nodded the slightest bit. It was a face that could be respected.

"This would make him the first non-human captain of a human ship, Bones," Kirk noted sotto voce.

McCoy only stared straight ahead at the screen. "Hooray for Alien Rights," he commented sourly.

"And the new Science Officer," continued the admiral's voice-over, as the shot of the new captain shrunk and zipped over to the left side of the screen to allow the profile of a copiously black-haired swarthy Caucasoid human woman of about 30 appear and rotate to full, "is Commander Stephena M. Pakin, Terran, formerly of Star Base 1."

As the noise level of the bridge increased, the crewmembers engaging in comment and analysis on the new execs, "Transmission ends" typed itself across the bottom of the screen. "Stand by for orders, Enterprise," a voice intoned as the picture tore up and went blank. A second later, Vice-Admiral Thompkins, in charge of Rigel Base on Ludington, appeared, and the bridge quieted somewhat.

"May I extend my congratulations, Commodore Kirk?" the leathery, darkly greyed man said, inclining his head with a smile.

"Thank you, sir," Kirk said quietly.

Thompkins looked down at the printed orders in his hands, and began reading, "Commodore Kirk is hereby assigned the shuttle ship Wilhelm Shumacher for his use and disposal in the course of his duties on Rigel XVII. He may transfer his effects from the USS Enterprise any time in the next three Earth-standard days, at the end of which time Commander Scott is to take command of the Enterprise, bringing it to Earth to take on its new captain and science officer. In addition, promotion and reassignment of Enterprise personnel will occur as follows."

The bridge crew had quieted before, but now there was a dead silence for a moment, before a louder buzz of "Reassignment?" "Promotion?" "Waddee say?" "Shut up!" "'Bout time," arose, and subsided again as the admiral finally got the computer transmitting.

The view dissolved again, this time to a cream color. Black print began to roll up from the bottom of the screen and a nicely modulated computer voice read off the lines as they appeared. "Scott, Montgomery J. Promoted, Commander. Reassignment, First Officer, USS Enterprise. McCoy, Leonard. Promoted, Commander. Reassignment, Research Area Manchester, Surgeon General's Office, Earth. Sulu, Itaka. Promoted, Lieutenant Commander. Reassignment, pending. Uhura, Penda. Promoted, Lieutenant Commander. Reassignment, Command Training, Earth. Farrell, John N. Promoted…"

The voice droned on, reading off the endless promotions, transfers, shuntings of the crewmembers in a more or less order by seniority. Kirk settled back, somewhat astounded by the unusual number of elevations. He had kept his people back too long. He looked up on his right to McCoy--Commander at last--staring in shock at the roll call. Kirk flipped his hand up in front of the stricken medic. "Congratulations, Commander," dryly.

"Uh, uh--yes, yes, thank you, Captain," he stammered, fumbling for Kirk's hand; dazed happiness was dawning all over his craggy face. He got a fix on Kirk. "Thank you, Jim, thank you."

Kirk started to demure, but jumped instead when Chekov yelled, "Starshie!" while the HAL-voice murmured, "--kov, Pavel A. Promoted, Lieutenant, Senior Grade…"

All around the man in the command chair was the continual pumping of hands, slap on the back, squeal of excited joy, the tinny demand from the speakers to know who got what where, more salutes than an inspection parade--one enterprising ensign raced around the bridge to be the first to address each new officer by title and collect the traditional "dollar", actually a credit--one lady from Biochem who stood in a corner and cried; Sulu wondering what "pending" meant; Uhura sitting sideways in her chair and grinning fiercely at everything; Chekov spinning around with a wide-eyed "congratulate me" simp on his face, and they did; the engineering crew deep in an elaborate plot to get the new first officer, Scott, drunk later that night…; the confusion was terrific and satisfying. They all agreed; Kirk had done it again.

The instigator of the riot simply crossed his legs and rested his folded arms on his abdomen, at times returning a handclasp, or making a smile or a remark, all the time feeling very happy, very pleased, and very, very proud.



Part Three - "A Little Bit Sad"

Rigel is a blue-white giant star 5.2 x 1015 kilometers, or 540 light-years, away from the yellow explosions of Sol. From Earth, Rigel appears to be in the constellation Orion, forming the Huntsman's upraised left foot; the star has an apparent magnitude of 1 and an absolute magnitude of -6. It is a hot, bright sun, with a diameter of 48 x 106 kilometers, and a mass equivalent to 33 solar masses, or 11 x 106 Earth masses, or 70 x 1030 tonnes, which, in Zoom Ludington's own words, is "one helluva lot."

Robert "Zoom" Ludington was born on Earth in the early 21st century. He was contemporary to Zephram Cochrane, the inventor of the successful warp drive. Ludington is also associated with a method of interstellar travel--he was the cosmonaut in Project "Calavaras County," the unsuccessful attempt to develop a jump "drive," or rather, instantaneous transit between two points in real space. The project was an ultimate failure because the "drive" consumed huge (for the time) amounts of energy, and moreover there was no way to predetermine just where or even how far you'd come out once you left point A. It has been since proven mathematically that this uncertainty is inherent in the nature of the jump, but the project's scientists didn't know this at the time, and neither did Zoom Ludington, who volunteered to try a jaunt to the human settlement at Alpha Centauri. He was sent off in a little "infinite" ship, one capable of indefinite life- and morale-support, and with a 1-gravity sublight propulsion, in case he came out a little wide of the mark.

As remarked earlier, it is well nigh impossible to control either the arrival point or the distance of a jump. Ludington came out a trifle farther than anyone imagined: about 27 billion kilometers south of Rigel's ecliptic. Confused though he surely must have been, he nonetheless determined by spectroanalysis the star's identity, noted the existence of nine planets, and as he cruised through the ecliptic, dropped a log of his observations into an orbit of the planet he called Rigel II. By this time he had attained a speed of .6c and had apparently decided to keep on going. He obviously did know the way back to Sol, because he headed off in a direction 180.00° diametrically opposed. No one has ever found him, though crafts have since caught up to about where he must be by now, but then, no one can say for sure he ever stopped, either. For all we know, Zoom Ludington, preserved from old age by relativistic time dilation, may still be on his way, driving ever deeper on toward the galactic center.

Rigel I is a small incandescent glob of molten elements 650 million kilometers away from its primary. Ludington never saw it. Rigel II is 240 million kilometers farther out, but hardly much cooler; Ludington never saw it either. Rigel III, which Ludington did see and called Rigel I, is a Mercury-like rock, broiling under the still several octillion candles radiated by the blue giant. On the next planet, there is a Federation-run chemical plant, guarded by domes, to extract the insane carbon compounds cooked up in the soup kettle of Rigel IV's 500°C atmosphere.

Rigel V, or as Ludington identified it, Rigel II, and its sister planet, Rigel VI, which the explorer thought to be a moon, orbit about their center of mass, and that revolves around Rigel at a radius of 3.1 billion kilometers once every 322 days. Even out here, at a distance greater than that of Uranus from Sol, Rigel pours out enough heat to hold the mean temperature of Rigel V at 50°C. Rigel V is inhabited, and its natives are intelligent, perhaps as much as the dolphins had been; however, 35 years ago United Earth, a precursor of the United Federation of Planets, wasn't sure and so started a city underground the 1.2 gravity planet. Thirty-four years and six months ago, though, they began terraforming Rigel VI when back on Earth a Society for the Preservation of Aboriginal Rights became strong enough to force the issue. The city, Gai-chok, still stands, or rather, lies in Rigel V's soil, mostly buried deep against the surface's heat, comparatively rarer atmosphere, and still more or less innocent proto-sentients.

Rigel VI, on the other hand, had no native life with an apparent intelligence greater than that of a cow, and was deemed suitable to be touched by the thumb-fingered hand of Man. It is ¾ the diameter of its equiorbital sibling, with a gravitational constant .8 of Earth's; it has been cooled to a mean temperature of 28°C by the mass creation of ozone in the stratosphere; it has been inhabited for five years now, since Rigel Base was built for the Starfleet's use; and it has been named for its Terran discover, who didn't believe it was a planet in the first place.

Rigel VII orbits at 4.5 billion kilometers, which causes it to be slightly cooler on the average than Earth. Its moon lies dangerously near its Roche limit. The planet is inhabited, to quote the noted encyclopedist, B. Josepha Trimble, by "humanoids and large Neanderthaloid warriors with fangs." Rigel VIII is Mars-like, and also sports an intelligent life, a race with lizard-like features that calls itself the hkrass. It is otherwise uninteresting. Both planets were spotted 150 years ago.

Rigel IX, X, XI, XIII, XIV, and XV are gas giants, the so-called major planets. Ludington recorded having seen four of them, but it is unclear which four. They range from 9 billion 800 million to 72 billion 400 million kilometers out, each an increasingly cold snowcone of methane, hydrogen, and ammonia. Almost exactly in the midrange is the anomaly of Rigel XII. Either an escaped moon, possibly of Rigel XIII, or else something theory has yet to explain, the young (apparently only a few million years old) terrestrial-like planet is warmed by great reserves of radioactive material, channeled to the surface by the astoundingly large deposits of dilithium crystals in the crust and upper mantle. Rigel XII is the Federation's largest known reserve of the crystals, but work in the mines is sterilizing, and ultimately dangerous, because of the radiation. No one can stay long, but the miners who have worked the planet have left rich men.

Rigel XVI is barely more than a planetoid, obviously a former moon of Rigel XV. But it has its own orbit, out around 80 billion kilometers. Someday it may return to the gravitational bosom of the coldest giant, but until then, it will be counted merely as a navigational hazard.

Even the blue furnace of Rigel must fail somewhere, and by the time its heat stretches out to Rigel XVII, it has. Dim is the rock, barren and cold, bleak with only the stars in a black sky for company, because Rigel shines only as a rather brighter, blue-tinted star. Ludington had speciously dubbed it Donald Duck because of its Pluto-analogous position so vary far out, but the dead surface of Seventeen is no joke; not even helium moves on its face.

This of course makes it ideal for humans--scientific humans, always so curious, who conduct their cryo-, vacuo-, and anaerobic experiments with happy glee, oblivious of the Cold held out only by flimsy shelters. And the Cold would eventually get them, too, except they have burrowed down toward the warm stone of Seventeen's heart, and built a city. In the process of tunneling, they found artifacts near the surface, remnants of a civilization that froze when the planet was stripped somehow from its sun. For Rigel XVII is not a true child of the blue matriarch; it had been found wandering in the void and adopted. Now humans have taken over the planet whose name no one living knows, and made it a port once more. Every day an average of 20 ships dock above the solid oxygen slabs; Donalduck is the entryway to Rigel system, through whose people's hands pass 85% of the interplanetary as well as 96% of the intersystemic commerce. There's money to be made in Donalduck, and it's a lot less dangerous making than on Rigel XII.

But where there's money, there's the Federation. -For regulation purposes. There are 25,000 inhabitants in Rigel XVII, many of them jetsam from older, more--let us say disciplined--cultures. It's a rough, vigorous, pioneer sort of planet, and some kind of government is necessary. Donalduck is 115 billion kilometers from its sun, 110 billion kilometers from Rigel Base at closest approach; 77.9 days by 1-gravity craft, 4.24 days at the speed of light, and a little more than an hour at Warp Four.

It took Kirk three days to pack his effects and to say goodbye to everyone. The farewell party the night before he left was primarily for his benefit, but not solely, since perhaps a third of the crew was being transferred as well. It was quite a successful party; the highlight was the presentation of the crew's farewell gift to Kirk: a duck call, naturally. There were the expected 432 handshakes, with concerned admonitions not to catch cold. And there were not a few tearful embraces out in the darkened corridors. The captain--excuse me, commodore--slept well that night, ate a hearty breakfast, and with a last salute to Dr. McCoy, shoved off in the Wilhelm Shumacher at period .35.

The pilot took them to Rigel XVII out over the ecliptic. The journey was uneventful; the planets he spotted appeared to be flattened Easter eggs. But on the approach to Seventeen, he felt a twinge of…excitement. Intrigue. Anticipation. Like a kid with a new calculator he knows he'll be sweating over soon enough, the first thing Kirk wanted to do was play with it.

"Is it possible to go out onto the surface?" he asked the pilot, a Lt. Jornzo, as she was steering the craft into the port hangar built on the surface for the convenience of the ships that could land.

She looked over her shoulder at him in some surprise. "S'pose so. Long as someone goes with you. How long you wan' be?"

"Not long," Kirk reassured. "Five minutes."

"Then I'll go with yeh. Suits're in the back, one 'f'm's yers," she said, her unconscious discourtesy that of a long-time taxi driver.

Kirk waited until the little craft was landed and the great bay doors were closing before climbing into the rear and crawling around in the cramped space in search of the correct locker. He found it; it was the first one, the easiest to access, if one knew where to look, banged the stubborn door in opening it, and hauled out the two green-silver suits.

Jornzo was slapping off the last of the board's toggles as Kirk draped the suits over the forward seats. With an air of long practice, she whipped off her uniform dress, picked the longer but narrower outfit; step-stepped into it, and made the fastenings. Kirk drew his on a trifle clumsily but he got it right before Jornzo plunked the helmet onto his shoulders and clicked down the dogs. "Suit check, seal check, air check, s'ply check," she ticked off mechanically, running her fingers over the points in question. "All check. Le's go, Com'dore," taking his arm, her helmet tucked under her other one, as unsmiling as she had been all day.

"We're going out," she shouted, now that the air pressure was up in the hangar and the maintenance crew had come out of their safety holes.

"Don't be long, Ran," yelled back one of the crew, one of the men that lived in a cold-suit, his helmet ever at hand against air leakage.

"Won't," she called back, bringing her own helmet up and over her head. Kirk helped her latch it and check all systems. Then she led him into the airlock, and out onto the surface.

The soles of his feet were mildly cold, but that was all; Rigel XVII's atmosphere was frozen on the ground around them, great blue-white drifts of nitrogen. The stars were hard and brilliant, even sharper than they ever appeared from any observation port. Rigel itself was little larger than any of the other lights, but it was far brighter; so bright, it hurt the eye to look at it; so bright, it illuminated the landscape like Luna did a winter's night on Earth, and cast shadows. There was no crunch-crunch when he stepped on the brittle crystals of oxygen, because there was no sound at all through the vacuum outside his suit. In the hangar, he had heard muffled whines and throbs from the machines, he could have heard and made himself heard in a conversation; but out here there was nothing.

This particular area had evidently once been a river plain, Kirk decided, looking around him. The grey-white crusts rolled gently off and away to all sides; there were no sudden rises or drops. A little left of sunward, he could see two humps in the distance, black with violently yellow stripes. They had to be one of the scientists' camps.

Kirk continued his circle, unmindful of the bored lieutenant standing off to one side. This was his. Dead it may look, cold as a Klingon's heart, but it was his.

Kirk's feet growing cold reminded him it was getting late, and his new assistant, this Selby Farns, would be waiting for him. He pawed his radio on. "Let's get back to the bay."

Jornzo came to and headed with him into the hangar. Inside, a committee of five had arrived to welcome him. They ranged in height, but all of them gave the impression of being tall; the oldest might have been older than Kirk, but they all seemed younger; no one resembled the other, but every one was the same in that they were each that indiscriminate mush of racial types you find once away from Sol. They all seemed alike because they all exuded the same unself-conscious aura of health, heart, heroism, and happiness. They were the children of the stars; they had been born going places.

Selby Farns was no darker than the rest, nor any taller. He was--much the same. At least he appeared that way to Kirk. Farns stepped forward and, laying his hand on his upper chest, bowed forward from the shoulders. "Welcome to Donalduck, sir," he said, widely grinning.

Kirk, who had been duplicating the other's gesture, winced. He realized he was there at last. "Mr. Farns," he sighed and asked with utmost patience, "can't we do something about that name?"

* * *

When Spock entered the pale green conference room from his small apartment, Stef was already seated at the near end of the quadrilateral table. The Vulcan's back was to Spock, nor did he stir from contemplating of his propped fingers as the hybrid passed, taking the chair parallel and opposite the window. As Spock settled himself, Stef raised his eyes to consider the man, analyzing the set of the younger man's face, the eyes that focused on the yellow glare dead ahead, the upright posture, with the chin tilted perhaps too far up. The shell had been formed to protect, but it ought not encase damage. Nevertheless, even a D'feena's egg can be broken.

Stef lowered his hands and pushed back slightly from the table. He picked up the notepad that lay in his lap. "My colleague," he began, "has observed that Sarek's rejection of your welfare in the fourth sequence parallels his actual rejection of your lives. The sequence, indeed, touches upon this fact. The theme of rejection by an authority, and the resultant requirement of your death in reparation, occurs in most of the sequences." He fell silent.

Spock stirred. Gazing up a bit higher, he said, "Vulcans do not rationalize their behavior, as humans often do. I alone am responsible for my actions." He shut his eyes. "All my actions."

"True." The larger Vulcan returned to the lines Swindloe had marked. "We also note that, after the first sequence on Vulcan, every one of the remaining events involves a human-based situation. What was the purpose of this?"

Spock almost felt a twinge of irritation. "Obviously Sidil meant for me to realize that rejection arises from the human aspects as well."

"By which do you imply that you had already recognized the rejection due to Vulcan?" Stef watched him evenly.

Spock made no reply to this, sitting, if anything, stiller than before. After a moment, Stef set the annotated pad aside with finality. Cocking his head to one side, he asked the other disinterestedly, "Why did you not request the Council to find you another woman to wife when T'Pring refused you? You endanger yourself." His black-brown eyes regarded the slighter man as from a distance.

Spock's head had jerked involuntarily around to Stef before he could clamp control back on. "There was no need," he stated, with subvocal ice forming.

"There will be," Stef noted calmly. "Commissions and omissions you state to be your responsibility, Spock. This is so. But the Council has its responsibility of advice and succor as well. Vulcan itself has not rejected you, though certain few of its members may." Slowly he inclined his massive head, gazing just short of obliquely out of his dark eyes. "You are Vulcan, no matter what else you may be."

Spock sat still, staring ahead directly at nothing. His hands were yet folded on the table surface, his back was still ramrod-straight. He hadn't moved at all.

After a moment, Stef shifted his legs, one over the other, inhaling deeply. As the room momentarily darkened to grey-green from a cloud passing before the sun, he murmured gently, "You are very young yet, Spock."

* * *

Within the first week, Commodore Kirk had gotten the feel of his new job, and within the second, affairs on Seventeen, always a brawling sort of community, were beginning to run more smoothly than they ever had. Being a pure administrator was different from being a ship's captain; it required more diplomacy, more contact with people he couldn't expect to obey him as a matter of course. He couldn't command, he could only give rule on, the Orion contrabandits, the civilian and Federation scufflers, the various species of jealous, quarreling scientists. Kirk, though, had the touch; he was a good administrator, and he enjoyed the job. Still…it wasn't a ship.

At the end of six weeks, Kirk felt secure enough in the smoothness of his operations to take a day off. He made an appointment to visit with Dr. Swindloe's patient, and two days later made the run in to Rigel V. It was a short, pleasant, but vaguely unsatisfactory visit. Spock… Spock hadn't changed at all since the last time, over a month and a half ago. He lacked a…spontaneity. He was just a little too Vulcan-with-a-capital-V. Kirk commented as much to Dr. Swindloe and got the impression, despite the psychiatrist's reassurances, that he thought so, too. Dr. Stef merely remarked he had informed the home planet that it was best to keep Spock on Rigel V for a time yet.

He came again a few weeks later. By coincidence, it was his birthday--at least, close enough for government specs--and he hoped to have a double reason to celebrate. But again, Spock showed the same, hollow lack of reaction, not rising to the bait of Dr. McCoy, Starfleet, or release from the Institute.

Kirk was already a bit upset. Swindloe had finally allowed him to peruse an English copy of Sidil's admissions. They weren't just, as Swindloe had put that one time ago, "horrible", they were disgusting. For all their dispassionate and clinical disinterest, they were an abomination; his friend had been tortured like that--and for "logic"! It was sickening.

On this visit, they were going over these transcripts, not for the first time for the Vulcan. The Klingon sequence was the worst for Kirk, because he knew--it could have happened. There had been times when he might have had to let-- To assuage his conscious, at one point the commodore had protested, "Spock, you know I'd never allow you to suffer in any way. You know that."

Spock had merely lifted one brow. His face was so sallow. "Indeed, sir," he had answered, nothing more. There had then been some comment made about duty and loyalty in conflict, but his friend had only continued to stare ahead unnoticing. At last, in his frustration, Kirk leaned over the table and asked, "Spock, is there anything you'd like to talk about? Is there anything I can do for you?" Swindloe behind the commodore stirred, shifted position; Stef was motionless, while outside, Rigel lit the room with gold, reflecting off the leaves.

In that moment, a new, somehow more purposeful look suddenly appeared in Spock's dark eyes, as he arrowed his gaze deep into Kirk's. "Yes, Jim," he said, each word with obvious deliberation. "There is one thing you must do for me."

"What is it?" Kirk asked calmly, but inwardly rejoicing over the breaththrough.

"Kill me, sir."

As Kirk jumped up backward out of his chair, nearly knocking it over, and both doctors confusedly leapt from their places, all three astonished and dismayed by the request, Spock continued blandly, "Kill me, sir, as you did Commander Mitchell, as you did--"

"Spock, do you realize what you're sa--"

"--You have sent men to their death before, you--"

"--Spock, I can't--"

"--sent me to die before--"

"No, James Kirk, leave--"

"--said you would not allow--"

"Commodore, please come wi--Stef, take charge of--"

"--Jim, you must kill me because--" The door shut on the reason.

In the outer office, Kirk looked at Swindloe aghast, the old pain suddenly fresh and new, bleeding through his brain. He turned away, staggered over to one of the chairs, made it support him. "What does it mean?" he asked dazedly.

"Uh--'Jim'," Swindloe began.

"What does it mean?" he repeated, spinning away from the chair.

The doctor looked at him, let out a breath. "It means you have to leave."

"Why? What about the authority figure?"

Swindloe frowned. "Apparently that has--backfired. You're now the authority to deal death, as well." Swindloe's blue eyes were sympathetic, but his face was adamant. "I don't think you should see him anymore."

Kirk looked away, out the window at the treetops. "Why would he ask such a thing from me? Doesn't he know how much I--" He stopped abruptly, then hid his mouth behind his palm.

Swindloe watched him obliquely. "I think he does. And that's why." He also turned his head to stare out onto the trees. A tribe of the planet's semi-intelligent natives, dark spots on the ochre, were crossing the plain in the far distance, heading out of view.

After a moment, Kirk came to himself. With a sharp nod of leave-taking, he said, "Take care of him, Doctor," and squaring his shoulders, he left. Swindloe waited a beat after the door whisked shut before heading back into the conference room.

Within, Spock and Stef were still arguing in Vulcanur. "Flawed though I am, I can yet be nothing but Vulcan. However, I am not Vulcan; Sidil has proven this."

"Sidil himself was rejected by Vulcan. How can his premises hold? You, Spock, are Vulcan so long as you behave as Vulcan." Stef stood before the seated Spock, one hand bent in gesture. Swindloe dragged his chair slightly forward and sat down.

Spock gave him a brief glance before continuing, his arms folded over his chest. "Sidil's logic, however, is sound. With it, your premise leads to the same conclusion. I have not conducted myself as a Vulcan; I cooperated with Sidil; I aided him in the staging of my destruction; I completed the last death alone. And under no duress from him, I lacerated my own throat. I have not behaved logically. I cannot continue this way."

"Why must James Kirk kill you?"

"I cannot kill myself. That is not fitting. James Kirk is my captain. He left the ship for me. He owes me this last duty yet." Spock tilted up his chin, regarding Stef coolly, clear-eyed, and quite composedly. "I cannot reject the obligation of Logic."

"Logic to what purpose?" Stef countered. "To live logically is our ideal, but it is not our goal, for logic is a means, not an end in itself. We, as Vulcans, strive to achieve our self-set purposes by means of logic, but Logic cannot be our purpose."

Swindloe leaned forward suddenly. "Spock, do you want to die?" he asked, also in Vulcanur.

An instant flit of something passed the half-human's face before the steel reconquered. "I must die. Desires are of no consequence. For the good of Vulcan, for the honor of my fathers, I have an obligation to die."

Shaking his head, the human insisted, "But you have also an obligation to hear your desires. It is the right of every being to be happy."

"To be self-satisfied," offered Stef, who had been watching the by-play.

Spock looked away from either of them. "It is not in Vulcan to think of desires."

"It is not in Vulcan to kill oneself," Swindloe put in.

"It is when logically necessary." Spock again faced the human, squarely. "It is Vulcan to die when the time comes." He stood. "I cannot continue. I should never have been." He turned and walked into his quarter.

Outside the window, remote from the agony within, the blue sun rode higher and hotter in the green sky. Small winged mammals flitted, spiraling through the golden leaves in mindless ecstasy of being. The nomads were no longer in sight.

* * *

"--Hap-py Birth-day to you," a disheveled Kirk finished singing to himself drunkenly. The besotted Neanderthaloid from Rigel VII on his left looked up, regarded him with one bleary eye, and dropped his soccer-ball-sized head back down onto the bar with a thunk. "'Sgood song," Kirk assured him, raising his own glass once again. He drained it at a gulp, then, head drooping to his chest, braced himself against the counter.

"You lonely, sailor?"

Kirk spun around, startled by the voice, nearly falling off the stood as he turned. "Lynn! Oh, Lynn, i's good t'see you!" He slid off the seat, fell around her neck, mumbling into the top of her blonde hair, "You know when somebody cares for you."

Goldstein jerked her head back, astonished by the intensity of his greeting, and also at its alcoholic level, but she did not push him off. Instead, she steered him back onto the stool and took the empty one on the right. "Jim, what's the matter?" she asked concernedly.

A wrench of pain contorted his face. He dropped his head to one side, staring at the counter top. "Is it your first officer?" She placed her hand on his shoulder. "But I thought--he was recovering."

Kirk shoved both hands over his face, sobbing into his palms. "He--he asked me to kill him. H-he wants me to kill. Lynn, I can't do that…"

"Of course you can't," she said comfortingly, patting his shoulder. "Jim, maybe you just misunderstood him."

He fixed a baleful glare on her, saying carefully, "I did not--hup--misunderstand him. He thinks--I want--to kill him."

"Jim, come on." Goldstein lifted his arm. "Come on, it's time to go home." She helped him off the stood, pointed him in the direction of the exit.

"Home is millionsa miles way," he mumbled protestingly.

"We'll take a cab," she said firmly. They started of, but the lizard barkeep squawked, "Tab!"

"Yeah, tab," Goldstein conceded, fumbling for her personal credit card. The lizard took it, recorded her number and the charge, whipped it out of the slot, and handed it back to her.

"Let's go," she said to Kirk, and marched him toward the door.

"Y'ra good pers'n, Lynn."

"Yeah, sure. Happy birthday."

* * *

The Vulcan and the Terran soul-healers stayed up late that night discussing the latest twist their patient had handed them. While an intern kept watch over the subject at hand, Stef and Swindloe talked in one of the two apartments, Stef's, which they had taken immediately adjacent to the four rooms of the office.

"It would seem, Jason, that you were correct in your analysis," Stef commenced. "We must do more than merely disabuse Spock of the logic of death. Particularly as we appear to have been remarkably unsuccessful in that."

"If we could just put him into touch with his Terran half," said Swindloe thoughtfully. "Obviously, that's the only thing--keeping him alive right now."

"Not necessarily." Stef's larger frame stirred on the unpadded chair. "There is also his sense of the fitness of things. It is destroying him, but it is also preserving him, by keeping him from the actual commission of suicide."

Swindloe glanced tiredly to one side. "Ah, yes, Terrans must live, Vulcans must live rightly."

"True. We do no struggle to survive past the logical endpoint as do you. So long as a well-lived life concludes with a meaningful death, we are content." His deep eyes regarded Swindloe mildly. "Many for whom the logic of their lives has been disrupted somehow, choose to terminate at that their own hands, so as to conclude the life with relative dignity and honor. Spock evidently does not see self-destruction as fitting, but he would accept death at another's hands."

Swindloe rose and paced to the window, lightless save for his own reflection. "Someone else to hold the sword. But apparently it must be a friend … a Father again." He snorted. "Komengathor complex." Turning from the non-view, "Stef, he may soon be asking one of us to do him in. What will we do then?"

Stef had craned his neck around, following Swindloe. He now raised an eyebrow and said, "As a Vulcan, I ought to respect his request and kill him."

"Stef!"

"But I shan't," the Vulcan went on calmly, "for the request does not come with his total consent."

"The holdback is in his Terran half," Swindloe said, returning to his chair with a distrustful aside at Stef.

"I would agree. Amanda, or perhaps James Kirk, or even Christopher Pike, was the origin of the injunction against suicide. It was not always successful; witness the Minara II incident. Spock has always had a predisposition toward death, seeing it as one solution to his internal conflict with his very real emotions. But the now Vulcan in him has been focused against the emotions and the conflict. It demands he die, and has even discovered a means: death at the hands of a Father. Such is dignified, such is fitting; for it is the responsibility of the father to insure the correctness of the son…even if he must kill the son to do so. It is…" Steepling his fingers, canting his head. "…logical…"

Swindloe had been listening with his cheek propped up by his knuckles. "Stef, we've got to extend that injunction to the rest of his mind."

"How?" the Vulcan inquired.

"Well…" Swindloe shifted his bulk uncomfortably. "Could we somehow get him to feel his emotions overtly, make him experience them? If Spock could see that they are not a threat to logic, then perhaps he can accept other, human ways."

Stef's nostrils twitched in postulated distaste. "You again beg the question, Jason, how? By forcing such reactions from him, we defeat our purpose."

"Well, then, could somebody--entice him to a reaction?" Swindloe chomped on his upper lip. "Someone--perhaps…a woman friend? Not a sexual interest; that I know would complicate, even impede our efforts. But--a friend, rather like Jim Kirk, expect a woman, so there is no hint of The Father." He sat back, rather pleased by his good idea.

Stef united his hands preparatory to dismantling the human's proposal. "Aside from the fact that he never had a woman friend, the objection remains that Spock would not listen to her. What woman does he respect? T'Pau, perhaps, but we require, as you said, to acquaint him with the Terran emotions. Not T'Pau, nor any Vulcan woman, nor even his mother, could serve here," he concluded finally.

"What about that nurse on the Enterprise?"

"Christine Chapel he does not respect as he does James Kirk. He is unable to deal with women qua women, and the sexuality, even if unconscious sexuality, of the Terran female would distract from, if not militate against, the therapy." He inhaled. "Moreover, the inability to interact with femininity is symptomatic, not causative, of his emotional repression. Release the inhibition, and distaff ease will follow; but not, it would seem, conversely."

Grimacing, the thick-set Terran asked sourly, "Well, Stef, do you have a program? Any ideas at all?"

The Vulcan did not answer right away, instead inspecting his wrists. "No," he admitted. "I confess I am singularly without an approach to offer." He looked up. "Is there no line of argument that could serve?"

Swindloe looked at him askance. "What sort of logical argument advocates illogic?"

Lowering his eyes again, "When logic fails…it is difficult for us to turn to another path," Stef explained apologetically. A moment passed. "Whatever we do, it must be basic. It must touch his core, altering his first premise: that logic and emotion are irreconcilable."

"That's can't happen while his logic remains in control," the human objected. "Spock's--" He cut himself off as a last possibility occurred to him. Dangerous, maybe even impossible, but was there another choice? If Stef would agree…

He set his jaw, looked up. "Stef, I'm going to be personal and perhaps out of line. Do you know if there is a--method to suppress facets of a personality?"

Stef regarded him, suddenly cold. "That is close to what Sidil did."

"Yes, but if someone could, he could temporarily suppress the Vulcan in Spock and allow the Terran personality to dominate."

"His Terran half is too underdeveloped to successfully contend with adult interactions." Stef's tone was unbending; the brown eyes were polar.

"But it is the only part of him that wants to live. If we could bring it out, perhaps it could awaken a response in the Vulcan part."

"It might also drive him more deeply insane. Spock holds himself to be Vulcan. What will he do, how can he behave, if you turn him into a Terran?"

Swindloe spread his hands. "I don't intend to--'turn him into a Terran'; I don't think that's possible. I certainly don't think it's desirable. But Spock must realize that he is not and cannot be only one or the other. He is both. He is the unique combination of Vulcanis and Terra, a practical example of comparative mentality. He is of value to all sentient beings, and that's why he was created. He has a purpose."

Stef looked at the man reservedly. "What is this purpose?"

For a moment, Swindloe sat stymied. Blinking a few times, he cast for a reply, and discovered, "To be what he is: the bridge of your world and mine."

The Vulcan examined his interlaced fingers. After a moment, he said, "I would have to research the technique. And obtain permission from the Council, before I should attempt such a thing."

Swindloe stared at him. "You?"

Unbothered, Stef replied, "Yes, I have a low telepathic ability. Spock is to all reports much the stronger; however, that may be a help." He untensed slightly in the chair, turning his gaze to the window, his tone taking on the quality of one lost. "Still, Jason, I have my doubts. Spock must make his choice to live, let alone to become this wonderful bridge of cultures. We can help him, help him come to the ability to choose; but he must choose." He turned back to the human emotionlessly. "Even if it is to die."

Swindloe stared back stonily. He watched the Vulcan straighten, face forward in unmoving contemplation. And then saw Stef jerk his head up to say, "Nevertheless, we shall try this."

* * *

The proposal was sent off to Vulcan to obtain approval and technical instructions. Meanwhile the pair waited. During those following days, Spock seemed a bit concerned that he couldn't make the doctors agree his proposal was the only, elegant solution to the entire affair. On this point, while he remained most respectful to them, he also remained most respectfully obstinate. With all due deference, he insisted they recall James Kirk and let him talk to the human--alone.

Two days after they had sent out their request, came, not permission, but a letter from the Surgeon's Office, addressed to Stef. It was a pithy telegram: "REQ INFO PROG PAT SPOCK SURGOFFE USE LMCCOY."

Stef re-read the message, gleaning the same intelligence he did the first time through--zero. Intrigued, he rose from the reading desk in his apartment, crossed into Swindloe's quarters with the same shade of reluctance he always felt upon trespassing in another's territory, although he was there only long enough to reach the door to the lab-observer's area; passed through that and walked up to Swindloe at work behind his desk in the outer office. "What does this mean?" he asked the human, playing the message on the desk screen.

Swindloe looked up from his fifth perusal of the Sidil transcripts, where he had been hoping to discover a new tact. He blinked once, myopically, and translated the cipher. "'We request, or require, information on the progress of your patient, Spock of Vulcan. From the Surgeon General's Office on Earth, for the use of Dr. Leonard McCoy.'"

Stef's left eyebrow twitched. "English is a more compact language than I had supposed."

"Only Officialese. Especially when it is to save transmission costs. They must be having another--binge of economizing." Swindloe leaned back and remarked dryly, "I wonder how Dr. McCoy managed to sneak this request into official channels."

"It is an unnecessary request?" Stef looked down from his 2.1 meters, arms behind his back.

"Oh, it's necessary--this is the Dr. McCoy, our patient's friend. It's merely not a legitimate request. Dr. McCoy wishes to know details of a case that is not yet resolved, one in which he feels an emotional involvement," Swindloe expostulated dispassionately. "Because Spock is obviously his friend, he wished to be apprised of his progress; however, he asks this not as the friend, but as the former physician, when that is not truly his interest at all. Hence, this is an illegitimate request."

"Flawlessly logical," intoned Stef, with the barest trace of amusement in his voice.

Swindloe jerked his head around, and from Stef's terribly innocent expression, gathered he was being conned. "All right," he grinned. "Vulcans," he muttered, as Stef made his way out, and he started a letter to McCoy, telling him as politely as possible to keep his shirt on.

* * *

Almost a week later another message, this time from the Council, came. It was not only permitted, it was required that Stef himself perform the Meld. While another Vulcan might have a stronger telepathic ability, that one wouldn't have the full knowledge of the situation that Stef did.

Thus, Stef settled to absorbing the materials sent along with the permission, some of them obtained from the case of the Six. Meanwhile, Swindloe did his best to prepare Spock for the approaching experiment.

The hybrid was understandably misgiving. "I will have no contact with the Vulcan knowledge?"

"No, you can be aware of events through that knowledge in your mind, you can interpret them through it, Stef says." Swindloe was being his most logically reassuring self. "There only won't be interference from the Vulcan control. Your Terran side will be completely in charge."

Spock hitched up one eyebrow. But he only said, "If you believe the effort worthwhile…"

Finally, everything was ready. Spock sat in a chair in the exact center of his tiny apartment. Swindloe and an orderly more interested in his teeth than in the proceedings were not far from the door; Stef stood on Spock's left, his intertwined fists pressed against his lips in meditation. At last he dropped his hands. "Spock. Are you prepared?"

"I am." He straightened his body and stared directly forward at the mural-monitor.

Stef's fingers assumed an unusual convolution. He flexed them out and back into this position before he set them exactly in place on Spock's face. Deliberately, he drew his head near the black-haired one.

The path was narrow greyness, but at the end, increasing to the end lay the light of Knowledge of All-Wise.

The new part questioned the half who knew.

It is He who will take us in. There may we rest.

What shall we do in rest?

Nothing can we do. It is the end.

I wish to do. This was the unknowing half. In the darkness.

There is nothing in the darkness for us.

The new offered something. In the darkness reside

Stars

And below them Vulcan the planet.

I wanted to explore the stars.

You may.

But then I shall lose this planet, my reference point.

You must.

They faced into the stars, the nebulae like fog-mist, wreathed lights around their heels, and beneath them the planet receded, growing small, growing lightless, becoming nothing. It was gone. He was alone, turning, tumbling, spinning by himself in the void, the last thing in the empty cosmos. And everything else

was gone.

I'm afraid

I'm afraid

I'M AFRAID

With an incomprehensible shriek, Spock batted Stef's hands away, out of his face, flying up from the chair. He staggered, gasping, the tears bursting out of his eyes, eyes full of fear. Stef cautioned Swindloe and the pop-eyed orderly back as Spock flung his arms over his head and lurched away, stumbling blindly into the corner of the room. He hit one wall, rebounded off the other, sinking to the floor where he began to weep into his hands, wracking himself with huge sobs, hiding his face from the others.

Stef slowly rotated onto Swindloe, his visage in a stony set of now-look-what-you-made-me-do. Then he abruptly stalked out of the room. The human looked at his feet, glumly hoping the half-alien would calm down soon so they could get on to accustoming him to the practice of his emotions.

* * *

He couldn't control. That was the worst. And they kept watching him. To be so emotional, with no ability to cease, was bad, but knowing Stef and the human were watching him, was unendurable. But even when he hid from them, there was still the other; he was still being observed--and disapproved of--by himself. He couldn't stop crying; incidents and suppressed images rose out of the released mind to shame him: his mother, always wounded by him and his people, her anguished face as she heard him refuse to aid Sarek; the Romulan Commander, who had offered him the only life, place, woman he could accept--and he could not accept, so he found her lying dead on the floor on his return, her head smashed open against the bulkhead, self-murdered because of his betrayal; Jim--his face--hurt a hundred times by the seeming betrayals, when he could not reassure him of his loyalty--of his love, because he was always and always a Vulcan. Now he was no longer even a Vulcan, and it was worse this way.

He covered his face and wept harder.

* * *

"I must restore him to his former state. This emotionalism is effecting a physical decline."

"No, Stef, give him more time. He'll learn to cope with these new feelings."

"It has been three days. The Terran personality is simply too underdeveloped to deal with his current reality, Jason. He cries and he hides. This reaction is contrary to the dignity of a Vulcan; I must restore him."

"He'll never learn otherwise."

"Your stated purpose was to cause him to be 'happy'. Can you truly say that this behavior demonstrates him to be so?"

"One can't be--'happy' all the time. Part of the facts of emotions is that they alternate, and the dark side of the soul will always surface at sometime. I want Spock in the main to be--self-satisfied, so his desire to live will overcome the--"

"Desire is a poor way to conduct one's affairs. I will restore him."

* * *

The second Meld was done within a few moments. Spock opened his damp eyes, once more a Vulcan--it seemed. "Get out," he said carefully to the two doctors, using nothing more than his lips; the rest of his crouching body was stiff and unmoving. Stef and Swindloe got.

In the conference room the larger man sat down heavily before the table, and propped his forehead on his fingers. Swindloe, looking back at the door they had just quit, was oddly irritating as he rambled. "I don't know, Stef…do you think it's a good sign that he's angry at us? Will this distract him--"

"Jason." The Vulcan lifted his head tiredly and caught the human's eyes. "I must absent myself from the therapy for a while, to go home to Vulcan." His brow was lifted meaningfully.

"To Vulcan?" Swindloe repeated querulously. "Stef--" He broke off, searching the alien brother's eyes. "Oh." A pause. "You're early."

Stef's hands shook on the table top for a second till he regained their control. "Yes. The emotional pressures of the two Melds have evidently--incited it. I must go home. T'Chin will be ready for me."

Swindloe had nothing to say about this unexpected development, so, intelligently, he said nothing. For Stef was beginning his pon farr, time-of-mating, and the least misstatement might be dangerous. To Swindloe.

The Vulcan physician sighed and folded his hands. "I shall leave tomorrow. I shall take with me our notes on the case so far." He stared out of the window at the greenish daylight sky. "While I am gone, it may be best for you to suspend treatment of Spock." As Swindloe sat down in the chair on the left end of the table, his non-comprehension obvious, "He is angered, Jason. His state may prompt him to do you harm," Stef explained, propping his hands against his right cheekbone.

"I'll be careful." The pair watched each other as the minutes passed by. Finally Stef pushed himself up from the table, saying, "I must arrange transport."

* * *

Spock did feel anger, great, trembling anger, and an even greater guilt for the anger because it was directed at Stef. Why had they done this to him? They had made him behave far more emotionally than before--worse, they had shut him off from refuge in Vulcan logic. He was ashamed. He had to die. The alternative was to live with that weeping, terror-stricken animal, an animal over which he had lost all his former strict control. No, he had to die, and there was left only one person, one single logical choice now, who could be asked to put him to peace. Logical, because he loved Stef; logical, because he hated him.

Stef was in the next room, assembling his notes into the more convenient form of tapes. He moved with his usual large grace, but there was the tension about him which even the littler human couldn't help reacting to. Swindloe zipped back and forth to Stef's orders, locating the Vulcan's references, trying to avoid upsetting his colleague--he knew what the pon farr was. In the main, he succeeded.

Spock stood in the entry for a few minutes before they noticed him. He wasn't certain, but he suspected the cause of the activity. So much the better; if logic couldn't persuade Stef, perhaps the Vulcan's own inner fire would agree. The result would be the same.

Death.

The thin, sad-eyed man took a step into the conference room. "Stef." Both doctors looked up from the packing across the room to the half-alien. "Stef, the experiment is a failure. Further attempts to save it are wasteful. Logically, one should end it. Stef, thee must kill me."

No one moved for a second. Then, dithering in ungrammatical Vulcanur, Swindloe tried to interpose himself between the co-challenged outworlders. Nevertheless, the need communicated--for one, to kill, for the other, to die. "Yes," Stef said. "I shall kill thee, Spock halfling."

Swindloe went grey. "Stef! Have you lost your mind? You can't--"

"Enough, human." Stef's eyes, ancient and lost to anything of Terra, ran casually over the man, drilling him down to a helpless silence. The human backed off. "What is failed is failed. You cannot hope to understand; take it as no more of your concern." He returned his attention to Spock.

Aghast, Swindloe gibbered mentally, thinking Stef couldn't be serious, he must have something in mind. But best to stay--just in case.

Stef squared his massive shoulders and repeated, "I shall kill thee, Spock halfling, since you require it." He glided forward across the sand-colored carpet, with only the air-conditioner's hiss to disturb the silence of the room. "How do you wish to die?"

"Tal-shaya will serve." Spock took the two steps to the center of the room and knelt, his head high in anticipation.

Stef stood over the younger man, loomed over the smaller man. "Then you must show me how. I am not familiar with the technique."

Spock reached forward for the Vulcan's hands, shaped the fingers into the proper set, positioned them precisely on his face and throat. "Pressure on the buccal nerve simultaneous with impulse to the fourth cervical vertebra is sufficient to snap the spine," he instructed the true Vulcan dispassionately.

"Sufficient," agreed Stef. His fingers crept and settled on the lean face, cold fingers trembling with the repressed desire to kill--to slay, to smell blood and take the woman.

He sucked in air to gain a moment's calm, then spoke. "Before I kill you, Spock, I must say this. I do not believe all the factors have been considered concerning the termination of the experiment." Spock, his head cradled in the strong hands, death-expectant, merely raised his right brow at Stef's words. "I am in a state of approaching plak-tow. I am able to kill, and I am ready to kill you. When I have done so, when I have crushed your cervix and seen you die at my feet, my blood lust shall have been ameliorated, but not appeased. There is, I calculate, a .82 probability that I shall then enter the state of Linger Death. Of that, there is a .91 probability that T'Chin, she who is my wife, will die with me, for we have undergone the Time often before and are irrevocably Bonded. The child expected of us will not be born; Vulcan will hence be deprived of four of its members. This loss is on your name. Ask another to do this service in my place, and the results will be congruous, for to destroy is to be destroyed. You cannot ask to be killed without killing your executioner.

"Moreover," he continued, his hands softening about the half-man's face from an executioner's to a father's embrace, "in calling for your own death as a Vulcan for the good of Vulcan, you blast Vulcan itself, you deny Surak's first premise, that life is good. You cannot die this way, Spock, without killing that which you claim to preserve, without destroying the concept of IDIC and the Construct itself.

"Do you consider this?" he asked in conclusion, staring down into the dark eyes, into the head lying heavy in his palms.

"Yes," Spock said, looking back up at the grave figure.

Stef shifted his fingers back to the pressure points. "Shall I kill thee?"

In the background, Swindloe squeaked despite himself, thinking he should have called--somebody, but it was too late now.

Still Spock knelt before his final arbiter, still placid, still immobile. Stef's fingers on the side of his neck twitched. "Shall I kill thee?" he repeated.

Spock turned his head slightly to one side. "No," he said dryly.

Stef let the weight slide out of his hands, as Spock sank to his heels, eyes shut, head bowed. Breathing rather more deeply now, the middle-aged Vulcan almost staggered toward his colleague. He stopped short, leaned against a chair. "I must leave now," he said raspingly. Swindloe stood back as Stef turned and vanished out the door.

Spock was still kneeling on the floor. Swindloe regarded him for a moment, before he walked over to stand next to the bowed head. He held out his hand. Spock stirred and raised his head, traveling his eyes up the height of the man. At the top, he met Swindloe's compassionate gaze. He hesitated, then laid his hand on Swindloe's and rose. The human escorted him into his room, helped seat him in the single chair, and left; whereupon Spock folded his hands together and brought them to his lips to think.

* * *

Let the supremacy of Logic be the primary axiom.

Given the demonstrated superiority of the Vulcan kind, by the logic of Last Conclusions it followed that Vulcan must act on its superiority, therefore making conquest of the galaxy. If only the truly Vulcan may lead, then, since lesser races would be confused by contention within Vulcan, all contention must be eliminated. This may be defined as any Vulcans who do not accept the logic of conquest, as well as hybrids and adopted citizens.

Am I truly Vulcan? According to Stef, so long as I so behave, I am Vulcan. But I do not accept this definition; moreover, even it would deny I am fully Vulcan. I am…Spock. I am not Vulcan, nor am I human. Nor--must I be either. I am the only being in the universe like myself--which, strictly speaking, can be said of anything. Nevertheless, I am unique in several senses.

And by Sidil's logic I should die. However, by Sidil's logic, so must all who oppose his program of conquest. Peace is a goal of our kind; those who subscribe to peace challenge Sidil's purpose, and hence by his logic are expendable. Therefore Vulcan itself becomes expendable, which is not true, not even by Sidil's logic, violating as it does his dictum of the supremacy of Vulcan. A contradiction is reached, hence the postulate fails. Logic cannot be the highest principal.

Then what is the first principle?

Must there be one?

Can I even know it if there is?

There must be meaning in life if, as Surak postulated, life is good. But even if there be none, a significance superimposed would serve. For now, as a working principle I will take IDIC as the highest good. I am Diversity, a product of it; I am the synthesis of two cultures. I am necessary to both.

It is my obligation to live, as is my desire. The good doctor was wrong--I have never "wanted" to die. It is merely that non-life seemed a preferable alternative to the disorder I felt my life to be. But I was mistaken; that was an assumption made upon insufficient data. Logic and emotion do reconcile--in some Combination--but I require more information to determine which. I am exceedingly ignorant of both my heritages.

Yet neither heritage, singly or in concert, can dictate my path. I am alone; there is to be nothing to say what I am or what I may do. Nothing. That will be hard. But it will be the freedom Jim was always talking about.

Jim. I need to see Jim; I want to talk to him. But not…quite yet. There are things I have to find out for myself, before I can face him. My past behavior was not wrong, simply--inadequate. Insufficient response. There is much to learn yet.

It should be quite fascinating.

* * *

It was an absolutely lovely summer day on Seventeen's surface--the temperature had gotten up to almost 4° Kelvin and the relative humidity was .00002%--when Commodore Kirk jauntily strode into his spacious, two-room office in level 26 of Jay section of the city. "Good morning, sir," his secretary trilled, looking up from her data processor. "Admiral Thompkins called from Ludington. He wants you to call back as soon as possible. Also," she consulted a note, "a Dr. Swindler from IMS on Five called, and, you've got a letter from Earth," handing the yellow cartridge to him with a toothful smile.

"Thank you, Ms. Reese." Kirk smiled back. "Please get the Admiral on the viewer. I'll be in my office." Still smiling, he tugged his dark green tunic straight and marched past the door that ducked aside for him.

Inside he dropped the smile like a rock on Saturn. The immediate thing he wanted to know was, naturally, why Swindloe had called, after making no contact for three and a half weeks, not even answering Kirk's own transmissions. Three and a half weeks since they had kicked him out of the Institute, and he had gone out to make a fool of himself in some cheap set. Lynn still wouldn't tell him what he had done or said that night. But first things first, and right now, that was Admiral Thompkins. He turned over the plastic square in his hand. McCoy again at least. There was time to read his letter. Loading the card into the viewer slot, he plunked onto his seat, smiled as he saw the usual handwritten letter appear on the screen, scanning itself slowly down from the top of the sheet. That was McCoy for you; what he had to say in a letter was going to be in a letter, if he had to photorecord it to get it sent.

It was the usual line of chit-chat; gossip about the Surgeon's Office Kirk might be interested in, reassignment rumors about people they both knew, a demand to know how Spock was doing. Toward the end he threw in something new. "To tell you the truth, Jim, I'm getting kind of bored here. Earth is fine, but it's not like it was in space. Maybe I'm just the proverbial old firehorse; I want to hear the bell again. But I'll tell you, right now I'd be willing to serve on an all-Vulcan ship, to show you how desperate I am.

"Anyway, I hope this finds you well and doing fine.

"Yours sincerely,

"Bones."

"Admiral Thompkins coming on the line, sir," Reese's voice modulated from the speaker.

Kirk snapped off the letter, yanked it out, as he slicked back his hair. However, the obstinate forelock fell forward again as the screen lit up, so, ignoring it, he attended to Thompkins. "Yes, sir, what was it you had called about?"

The fifty or so years old man looked out of the screen genially. "This is actually only an unofficial overture, Kirk," his gravelly voice began. "Starfleet was--well, all of us--were wondering how you liked your new position."

Nonplused, Kirk made a moue of non-commitment. "It's--ah, very interesting, sir…I enjoy the work."

On the screen, Thompkins' brow furrowed as he toyed with a stylus. "Well, we ask because we wanted to know if you might be interested in a new command."

"A 'new' command, sir?"

"Yes, ah, a really new command. It's--" He looked up at Kirk with suppressed amusement. "--one of the new G class ships, NGC-1507, the Heritage. Now this is not official, so you're not to speak of this to anybody. But we hate wasting you in Land Command, Kirk. It's why we're asking now." He flipped open a folder embossed with "Prime Secret." "There's to be six of these new starships, and no one ranking less than Commodore will be in command. They'll be the new top of the line. They'll incorporate all the design changes and modifications made to the NB- and NC-C classes over the past 10 years. They'll crew 1000, and they'll be the biggest and fastest thing we've got…at Warp Twelve."

Kirk shoved his brows up his forehead. "That almost puts Andromeda in reach."

"Correct." Thompkins shut the folder. "Well, are you interested?"

Kirk chained down his internal rant of joy. "Can I pick my senior crew?"

"And junior, too, if you want. Anybody on the duty roster."

"Can I have Dr. Leonard McCoy?"

"Well, ah," Thompkins' brow furrowed with some small embarrassment, "He already signed onto the Caduceus--one of the new hopeships extending Federation medical benefits to all the member planets--and I don't know if the Surgeon's Office will let him go."

"Then, how about Scotty--Commander Scott?"

"If, ah, he wants to come, of course…" Thompkins stopped, smiled a bit sheepishly. "I, ah, have spoken with the Commander recently."

Kirk sighed out through his nose, pursing his mouth. He looked at the admiral for a moment, considering his last chance. "Well. Then can I at least have Commander Spock?"

Thompkins' waning smile finally disappeared. "The Vulcan?--Well, no." To Kirk's frozen stare, he explained, "Commander Spock is no longer on the active list. He was removed when he was sent to Rigel V. Commodore," he leaned forward on the desk, "we can't take a chance on him. It's not just this last affair; there was that brain removal on Sigma Draconis, those two mutinies on his record, even if he was cleared both times--let alone the inherent instability of Vulcans due to their--ahm--mating cycle. It was Admiral Komack's decision that we simply can't take another chance with him. You understand."

"Of course," Kirk answered lifelessly.

Relieved to quit the subject, Thompkins grinned strainedly. "Well, do you want to take the job?"

Kirk forced a smile. "Is the bear Catholic?"

"Great. We'll be contacting you again soon. Thompkins out."

There was a piece of fluff that had somehow managed to evade the air filters lying on Kirk's desk, and he flicked it around with his fingers dispiritedly. After a moment, he got tired of that, so he dropped his chin into his palm. The hell of it was, he knew Thompkins was right; almost any one of the incidents mentioned would have been enough to bar anybody from active duty under normal circumstances.

Speaking of normal, what did Swindloe want? "Ms. Reese, please get me Dr. Jason Swind-low, at the Institute on Rigel V."

A few minutes later, the plump psychiatrist's pink face shone out of the viewscreen. "Yes, Commodore; I'm sorry I hadn't called before this."

"How is Spock? Is he all right?" Kirk cut in anxiously.

"Oh, he's quite fine. That's why I called. We--broke through two weeks after you were last here; we've been--working things out--almost everything, I think. Both Stef and I agree, Spock can leave here soon."

The relief Kirk felt washed away a lot of his bracings, and he melted into his chair. "I'm glad," he said simply. Then he tensed again. "But I've been told he's been taken off the active list. Can't he be put back on?"

Swindloe lowered his eyes. "I'm afraid not. Actually, I think, Spock is stronger now than he's ever been. But Starfleet is loath to take--to them, unnecessary--chances. No, he can never serve on another ship. I'm sorry."

Kirk's face was bleak. "I'll miss him."

"Why don't you come and visit him? He's asked to see you."

The commodore looked back alertly. "I will. Uh, what's he plan to be doing?"

"Well, he's gotten offers from several universities, some from Earth, even from the Academy of Science. He's hardly unknown as a scientist, Commodore." Swindloe smiled, then went on, "He's also been--uh, a certain T'Pall of Vulcan has been approached by the Council, and she has indicated that she is--willing, to serve Spock as, ah, bondmate…ah, but not--wife." He glanced down, embarrassedly.

"Has he--" Kirk, also put off, cleared his throat. "--accepted any…thing?"

"Not yet." Swindloe's briskness returned. "He has stated that he does want to go home first, and then to the Earth for a while. As for what he'll do then, well--that's his choice." The blue eyes were friendly, but firm.

Kirk snorted bemusedly. "Then I'll see you in a few days, Doctor."

"Ah-ah, Commodore," Swindloe corrected, one finger raised in mock reprimand. "Jason."

Kirk smiled. "Jason. Uh--" He hesitated. There was really nothing more to say. "Kirk out."

* * *

The furniture of the medical office was surprisingly lumpy after four weeks; the slightly higher gravity of Five bothered Kirk as it never had before, and Stef was being amazingly boring as he discussed the case while the two of them sat waiting for Spock and Swindloe to get done with whatever. Some of the things he caught from the large Vulcan's monologue-- "personality alteration"; "response to the new concept of the Self"; "intermergence of the halves" -disturbed Kirk, and caused him to wonder just how much Spock had changed. Would he remember their friendship? Would he care? How would he react? How was Kirk himself supposed to react?

Suddenly the door squeebed open to present Swindloe. He waved to Stef, motioning him into the conference room; the Vulcan went. Now Kirk was really getting antsy. Now what, he thought.

Again, the door zipped back and this time it was Spock. The man looked all right; in fact, he seemed--younger, somehow, less strained. His eyes were clearer and calmly than Kirk remembered. It was his friend standing there in the grey tailoring; maybe even a little bit more.

The two friends halted, frozen, neither knowing quite what to do, or how to begin. Neither wanted to stare, but neither did they want to look away. They simply stood there facing each other, mute.

Then slowly, deliberately, Spock relaxed himself, dropped his shoulders, and smiled--just a little.

THE END



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