DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. This poem is the creation and property of Caroline Nixon and is copyright (c) 1981 by Caroline Nixon. Originally printed in R&R #14.
McCoy's voice shook as he said the words he'd prayed he'd never have to say. "He's dead, Spock."
He stepped back from the diagnostic bed, waiting tensely for a storm that never came.
"Yes." Spock's head was bent and his voice deep. Then he reached over to cover the battered face. "It was better so. He would not have wished it otherwise." Never to captain a ship again, or charm the ladies ... to live as an invalid, a shattered hulk. It had happened to Pike, and now to Jim. Why, why?
McCoy forced himself to meet the calm brown eyes and read the question in them. His voice was still unsteady as he gave the only answer he had. "Life, Spock. And life's not logical. No one could have told that building was booby-trapped, not even the Regulant."
"Yes," said Spock again, quietly, and nodded twice. "I shall be on the bridge." And he was gone.
McCoy stared after him, worried. Delayed shock ... did it occur in Vulcans? Kirk was the only person in the galaxy Spock had been close to, and now he was dead, messily. Something had to give sometime. He almost wished it had happened now, so he could have got it over and done with, instead of having to live out each day with the threat hanging over his head.
He got through the day somehow, sick with grief himself and trying to hammer it blunt with the sheer force of work. But he couldn't keep his mind off Spock. Finally the chronometer told him the Vulcan's watch would be over shortly. He decided to make for his quarters via the rec area. He certainly didn't feel like eating, but he knew he'd only feel worse if he didn't take some nourishment. He sat on over his empty plates without realizing it, praying for wisdom. It was difficult to dispense comfort when you were in sore need of it yourself. But Spock... Jim was all he'd ever had whereas he, McCoy... well, the odd bit, now and then.
"May I join you, Dr. McCoy?"
He looked up in amazement to see the Vulcan standing before him, laden tray in hand. "Dinner?" he gaped, forgetting all pretensions to subtlety and tact in his surprise.
"Yes, Doctor. I usually eat at this hour." And he sat down and began to spoon plomeek calmly and neatly into his mouth.
McCoy watched him, his face creased with suspicion. When the food was finished, Spock rose, murmured a polite farewell, and left for his quarters. McCoy sat until the empty chair was taken again, this time by a pale Uhura.
"Hello, Uhura, honey." Her eyes were dark, mirroring his grief.
"I just can't believe it. It's like a bad dream," she whispered.
"Maybe you're not the only one to take it that way," McCoy muttered darkly.
"You mean Mr. Spock? He did seem..." She put her head on one side, thinking it out. "No," she decided, "he knows, I'd say, but I guess he figures life has to go on."
"When he's lost his only friend?"
"He has us."
"We know that, but does he?" McCoy objected.
"I don't know. I figured that was why he was taking it so calmly -- to spare us. But..." she hesitated.
"You can usually tell when he's upset. He goes behind a wall. But he hasn't, not this time. I hope he's ... okay ... you know?"
"Sane? Yeah, I hope so too."
* * *
Had McCoy but known it, Spock himself was as unable to account for his equanimity as the doctor. He went straight through to the sleeping area when he reached his quarters and examined his features in the mirror. It was as he thought -- the same face he always presented to the world -- calm, dignified, perfectly relaxed. And yet Jim was dead. He had known this might come one day -- had feared, yes, dreaded it, and now it had happened -- his friend was a mutilated corpse ... A MUTILATED CORPSE ... he lashed himself with the words and the remembered sight and still the grief did not rise up to consume him.
He sat down on the bed, chin in hands, considering, checking all the storage banks in his brain. Yes, he realized, he did grieve, somewhere in the depths of his being, and yet there was no need to fight for control; he was filled with calm and a muted peace... Was he then truly Vulcan at last? His sleep was dreamless.
As the days went by, he realized others needed his aid in order to go about their very necessary daily duties. With the lower ranks, his usual calm demeanor was often all that was required, with a quiet word of approval here and there for well-performed tasks. The very atmosphere of normality steadied them. Mr. Scott seemed to find solace in long technical discussions which took his mind off the melancholy situation...
"Ye'll have tee admit it, Leonard, he's a tower of strength," he confided to a brooding McCoy one night over a bottle of Caledonia tongue lubricator. "The whole ship'd have gone to pieces if he hadna held us together."
"Mebbe," mumbled the doctor, gloomily eyeing the contents of his glass. Even whisky didn't seem to taste good any more.
"Ye think he's bottling it up?"
"I dunno what I think."
And that was as near the truth as he could get.
* * *
Spock waited until it was all over, the autopsy, the funeral, the burial in deep space as Jim had requested in his will, then cornered McCoy, not in sickbay, but in his quarters. The doctor was sitting at an empty desk staring into space, not even a glass at his elbow, when the door buzzed. He gaped when he saw the identity of his visitor. Spock had never been to his quarters before, even when invited.
"The new orders came in just now, Dr. McCoy. I am, of course, to take command."
"Of course," McCoy echoed with more than a touch of sarcasm.
Spock ignored it. "Instead of reporting to Starbase 10, we are now ordered to proceed to Theta Leonis IV."
"I thought that was a hands-off world -- developing civilization or something."
"It was. There have been reports of a vessel or vessels in the vicinity and intermittent surges of an unexplained power source have been detected on the planet surface."
"So we pick up the pieces again -- if there are any by the time we get there," McCoy commented sourly.
"Yes. If I understand you correctly."
You always do. You just pretend not to when it suits your devious purposes, McCoy thought testily. Just when are you going to blow, you bastard? Right in the middle of the mission?
Spock, meanwhile, had taken the unprecedented step of taking a chair uninvited.
The last thing McCoy felt like was polite conversation. "You all right, Spock?" he grated, with narrowed, suspicious eyes.
"Perfectly." The Vulcan paused and then to the doctor's disconcertion looked straight into the tired blue eyes. "However, I respectfully submit that you are not."
"Indeed, Dr. Spock. What's your diagnosis?"
"Delayed shock -- involuntary or deliberate."
"And your prescription?"
"Do not bottle up your feelings, Doctor."
"Why, by all that's..." McCoy was stunned, then amused, by the incongruity of Spock in his own classic role of Advocate for the Good Emotional Outburst. He began to laugh, dryly, reluctantly at first, then more deeply, until his body shook and his belly muscles hurt and he no longer knew whether he was laughing or crying. He had tears in his eyes when he looked up at the Vulcan, who was waiting innocently for him to finish.
"Your turn now, Spock. Follow your own prescription."
"I think not." He held up a hand to forestall the rumblings of "stubborn," "muleheaded" and similar epithets from an apoplectic McCoy. "No, Doctor. It is not, I assure you, my Vulcan ... obduracy. I grieve." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Indeed, I grieve deeply, I believe, but I seem able to bear..." He rejected the revealing locution. "...to function normally." Again he looked into McCoy's eyes in a moment of complete frankness. "I do not understand myself why this should be, but it is so. Do not concern yourself about me."
"But I do. It's my job," whispered McCoy with equal frankness.
"Thank you," Spock acknowledged with a brief nod of the head. "I will keep you informed of any ... change in my condition."
"And you'd better, Spock. You'd just better," McCoy swore to himself as he reached for a glass.
* * *
Theta Leonis IV was a fair and pleasant Class M world circling a slightly bluer sun than Earth's. No sign of rogue spacecraft interfered with the smooth functioning of the Enterprise as she swung lazily into orbit, and no inexplicable power source ruffled the calm of their sensor banks. Then at the end of the third orbit, Spock rose from his scanner.
"I am now getting erratic readings with great fluctuations." He turned to find McCoy at his shoulder, a place he seemed to favor recently.
"Any idea what it is, Spock?"
"No, Doctor. But it is formidable, to judge from the readings. No more detailed information can be obtained without a closer investigation. I shall be beaming down as soon as the terminator passes." He caught the look in McCoy's eyes and went on for his ears alone, "I am the best qualified person to go. However, you may join me if you wish to keep me under observation."
And McCoy responded to the warmth behind the challenging words. "I'll see you in the transporter room, Captain."
* * *
They materialized in the lee of a stack of rocks, with the power source between them and the nearest settlement. "The civilization was last reported as being at Stage A on the Rlchter Scale of Cultural Development -- on a level with your ancient Earth culture of Mesopotamia."
"And man or bullock power doesn't explain these readings," said McCoy, squinting at Spock's tricorder.
"Precisely. Nor does any known form of energy. If there has indeed been ... interference on this world, no Federation race can be responsible."
"The Klingons, the Romulans?"
"I think not. If either had weapons of this potential, the Federation worlds would by now no longer exist."
"That powerful, huh?"
"Affirmative. I estimate the source to be situated about 500 metres in that..."
Spock never finished his sentence, for he found himself surrounded by a milling crowd of captors. As he tried to shake them off to go to the struggling doctor's aid, a spear-point grazed his cheek, ripping his tunic and biting into the vulnerable flesh of his neck. McCoy, who had been completely overwhelmed at the outset by the tall, bronze-skinned humanoids, was fortunately uninjured.
* * *
Spock's wound throbbed as they were dragged over a steep, boulder-strewn trail at a punishing pace. The hot sun began to rise in the pale green sky and now it was McCoy's turn to suffer as his tongue swelled in his mouth and his feet began to blister in his scuffed-thin boots. By the time they reached an escarpment, they were more than grateful for the break their captors declared. Triangular pouches of some liquid were handed round with much noise and banter, and when the natives had drunk their fill, the remains were grudgingly handed to Spock and McCoy. It was not water, but some fermented brew that was acrid but thirst-quenching.
Almost before the last drop had slid down their parched throats, they were prodded to their feet and herded onto the narrow steep path that led down into the valley. There the countryside looked far less harsh. A river meandered through banks of green and gold, and at the foot of the slope rose the walls of a city, faced with colored stone which gloried in multi-colors as the sun shone on its polished surfaces.
Another rest was declared before the city gates, imposing edifices of ruddy alloy, guarded by two platoons of soldiery, resplendent in white kilts and iridescent plumes. As they crouched at the base of the wall, Spock tried to work his hands free to reach his communicator. The tough thongs soon loosened under the Vulcan's onslaught, but the long groping fingers encountered only emptiness when they reached his belt. McCoy edged closer.
"Trouble?" he whispered from between clenched teeth.
"I appear to have lost my communicator and tricorder during the fight."
"The ship will scan for us."
"You don't sound too confident."
"The power source may prove a hindrance to our sensors."
"Oh. That's a cheerful thought."
They were prodded to their feet again and marched through the gates and into the city, passing through streets thronged with the bronze-skinned, dark-haired people who were going about their daily business. Both men and women wore similar tunics, the men braiding the thick wiry tresses that crested their heads like a horse's mane, while the women bound them with flowers and metallic strips.
Inside, in contrast, it was totally dark. Their captors shepherded them in, clearly familiar with the way, until they sensed they were in the middle of the large, circular hall. All was expectant silence for long moments. No one spoke, no one moved, except McCoy, who squirmed uneasily in his bonds. His knees hurt on the hard stone floor to which he'd been pushed ... he could hear no sound from Spock but his normal quick, shallow breathing.
With suddenness that was stunning, the dark and silence were rent with an avalanche of thunderous noise and dazzling light. When it died away, they were blind again momentarily. Then gradually, their eyes began to be aware of a gentler golden glow and, bathing in its warm fire, a presence.
Their escort were on their knees now, intoning a rhythmic chant that echoed round the high hall like the ebb and flow of the waves on the sand. The luminous figure moved, following a walkway that jutted out among them like a promontory of paradise into hell. Spock recognized her first but it was McCoy who spoke her name aloud. "Ijlal of Heyt."
She had exchanged her white robe for tissue of gold and a tiny sun burned in the center of her brow. Her hair was no longer plaited, but hung in rippling waves to the hem of her gown.
"The strangers, Sibel, as you commanded."
As Ijlal drew closer, McCoy could see the star in her brow was not a jewel but as much a part of her as her eyes or hair. He could not begin to guess its function -- and somehow preferred not to. She turned to look down on the bent head of the leader of the band, who had addressed her. "You must listen more carefully to my words, Haradun. These men are your guests, not your prisoners. See, they are weary and one of them is injured."
Haradun's voice shook as he answered but it was with contrition, not with fear. "They were in the valley, Sibel," he offered in explanation.
"Very well. There is little harm done. Go now to your homes until I summon you again."
Haradun glanced doubtfully at the odd-looking strangers with their ghost-like skin and lank hair ... base counterfeits of Sibel's pale-sun-through-mist beauty. "They mean no harm," Ijlal reassured him. "They are known to me. Like me, they come from the sky and their names are McCoy and Spock. You will want to arrange a festival in their honor," she prompted.
The dark faces lit up with love; an excuse for a feast was always welcome. Bowing reverently, they left the temple, leaving the men from the Enterprise still on their knees, their minds were too busy with the unexpected eventuality to remember their lowly position. Suddenly they were aware of hands on their arms, gently raising them to their feet. As they rose, Ijlal was gone. "Come, honored guests, Sibel awaits you in her sanctuary."
They followed the temple maidens over to a door in the far side of the hall, where the women stopped and bowed them through with a reverence that made them feel uncomfortable. The door led to an anteroom, and beyond that was another small room where Ijlal sat waiting for them. She was in her white robe again now and her hair was bound.
"Welcome." Ijlal indicated seats. They sat, reluctantly. Her lips were curved as she made a slow and detailed examination of their features. When she spoke, amusement hovered in her voice. "Dr. McCoy, Mr. Spock, I do believe you disapprove of me."
McCoy cursed himself for being so obvious. When their paths had first crossed, all those years ago, the Heytan had been completely benign. Now, if she had changed, it wasn't wise to arouse her hostility. Ijlal smiled again, the old, enigmatic smile. "Well ... can you not speak?"
As it seemed the doctor could not, Spock forced himself to be dispassionate. Few answers were forthcoming without the correct questions. Therefore they must be asked. Necessary risks... Like McCoy, he was shocked, even sickened to see an evolved being flout the non-interference principle so blatantly, imposing herself as goddess on a simple and credulous people to pander to her vanity. And yet he feared to anger her. Fear in this case was not a weakness, but quite logical.
"There was a developing civilization on this planet," he began resolutely.
"And I have broken your Prime Directive?" Ijlal asked mockingly. "Mr. Spock, you have a suspicious mind."
"The facts would appear to speak for themselves."
"The facts are incomplete. I must assure you I have little taste for cheap ... conjuring tricks." Ijlal rested her elbow on the arm of the chair and cupped her chin. Her eyes were distant as she spoke. "The power source you detected is not of my making. I think you know mine is a very ancient race. In the remote past, our ships roamed the galaxies, exploring, observing and, regrettably, conquering. Our weaponry was ... sophisticated. Inevitably, some ships were lost without trace. Here one was brought to the surface by recent volcanic activity, with its armaments miraculously intact. The slightest further tremor could detonate it now. So you see," she fixed first McCoy then Spock with her level, violet gaze. "If I had not been ordered to flout your Prime Directive, there would perhaps be no Federation left to care about its enforcement."
"The whole Federation?" McCoy gasped.
"Among other associations..." Ijlal paused, her head on one side. "Your ship wishes to communicate with you. You had better assure her of your safety."
They had almost forgotten the ship. Spock looked round for a communicator, but almost as he did so, a voice filled the room with rich Scottishness. Ijlal's communication system was as efficient as it was invisible.
"Yes, thank you, Mr. Scott. We are perfectly all right," Spock replied to the anxious questioning. "We have determined the origin of the power source." He shot a quick glance at Ijlal. "I shall be making a full report shortly."
"Thank your Mr. Spock." Ijlal rose from her seat, her gown flowing around her as if exempt from the laws of gravity. "Now your curiosity and your disapproval are appeased, you will wish to refresh yourselves. Then, we have further matters to discuss."
Back in the anteroom, McCoy eyed the Vulcan surreptitiously as they went about the business of bathing and eating. How did he feel to meet Ijlal of Heyt again? Now there was a thing that was hard to imagine ... Mr. Logic and Her High and Mightiness indulging in such a lowly activity as sexual intercourse... At the time, he'd been too worked up to feel anything but relief, but... His mind slipped back to the several times he'd discussed the matter with Jim in the watches of the night, when their tongues had been loosened with smooth liquor.
"C'mon, Bones. You have to admit you're going crazy with curiosity about what went on back there on Beta Cygni IV."
"Sure am..." he'd admitted, rolling his whisky round his palate. "Their faces were both as bland as vanilla blancmange when they arrived back at the shuttlecraft."
"And so quickly," observed Kirk. "I thought it took longer than that?"
"It does," he'd answered, a gleam of wickedness in his eyes. "I guess she must have extra punch."
They'd chuckled over that one, and then gone silent, sobered by the pictures their minds were conjuring up.
"Y'know, I can't even imagine her having a body under that gown," Kirk commented, owlish after the generous portion of alcohol he'd consumed.
"With breasts and so on...? Nah, it'd be beneath her dignity."
"But she must have... ah hell, what a business. He could have done with a little love."
"Yeah, a little love," he'd echoed. "He seemed okay, though. No trauma."
But since when had he been able to see clearly into that secret Vulcan mind? Naturally, Spock himself had never referred to the incident. The most puzzling thing was, his next pon farr was years overdue.
* * *
"I trust your injury proved minor, Mr. Spock."
The two men from the Enterprise were back in Ijlal's room again, waiting for the explanations they'd been promised. And they'd better be good...
"Thank you, Madam, healing is already under way."
Spock was fighting the most excruciating attack of embarrassment. During the first confrontation, he'd been sustained by his disapproval of Ijlal's unethical behavior. But now he knew she had some justification for her actions, he was left wide open to the barrage of memories that battered at his composure. This woman, an alien and a stranger, had seen him as no other had, not even his mother in his childhood years. Not only had she been a witness to the raw lust of his pon farr, she'd also seen into the most secret depths of his soul, which he hid even from himself. He knew that his mask afforded no protection from her. She knew his every little flaw, his most humiliating weakness.
He risked a look at her face and was relieved to find her eyes were not upon him, reading the signs -- the telltale traces of further failures in the intervening years.
"I promised you explanations, gentlemen. Mr. Spock, you will require recording facilities for your report." Spock reached out and took the tricorder from the low table and obediently activated it. "I was contacted by my people some years ago. They informed me that one of the missing ships had been located on this planet. You will understand that as originator of the danger, it was our duty to deal with the problem." Spock thought of Iotia and nodded. "And so I made my way here and assumed the identity of one of the local deities. Thus, I was able to keep the people away from the valley where the ship lies. Then, when the time was right, I allowed my presence to be noted by one of your patrols." Ijlal smiled at Spock's raised brow. "Yes, in order to deactivate the device, I needed your help, Mr. Spock." She rose from her chair and paced the room with a gliding step. "No ... it is not a task I can do by myself..."
"And yet Spock can help?" To McCoy the idea seemed unlikely.
"Yes," said Ijlal patiently. "He has certain telepathic powers."
"But he's not a Heytan," McCoy persisted, still not liking the smell of it.
"No, indeed. But nor does he need to be. How best might I describe it? The problem requires an assault from two angles at once. Mr. Spock's mind can act as a mirror, if he consents."
"And if I do not?" Spock put in quietly.
"Then I shall remain here and do what I can, for as long as I can."
"How long does that give us?"
"Long enough for you to have no fear you will be personally involved in the detonation, Doctor. Now, go and make your decision. Remember, I request your help. I do not demand it."
* * *
They were alone in the anteroom. "It's up to you, Spock." McCoy slumped down on one of the benches.
"Thank you, Doctor. I shall ... deliberate."
McCoy waited until the Vulcan's glazed eyes told him he was deep in meditation and hurried back into Ijlal's room. All his primitive awe of her was gone now in his anxiety for Spock's well being. It was his unspoken pledge to Jim to take care of his friend...
"You wished to say something privately, Dr. McCoy?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Why can't your own people come in on this? I'm sure you'd make a better job of it than you would with him."
"Undoubtedly. But that is not possible. No," she forestalled him, "I will not tell you why. The story does me little credit ... nor is it mine alone to tell." The serenity of her face was marred by a fleeting shadow. In thought, she was standing again before the Convocation, with the added handicap of knowing she had no defense. As she had anticipated, they had severed her link to the scattered brethren all over creation, leaving her blind and dumb and bleeding from the excision of the homeworld from her heart, intellectually aware of its existence but no longer able to partake of the soaring joy of its remembrance.
Merciful Kaya had pointed out that interference in the affairs of the Lesser Intelligences had often brought its own punishment and her lapse would have been overlooked, had it not been for the desecration.
And she'd known even at the time that it had been a totally irrational impulse to comfort the Vulcan with the secret beauty of Elis. He hadn't even understood the significance of the gift... But this McCoy, this -- Bones, would, or think he did, and even if not, Spock would not care to have it known he had once begged for lullabies.
"Very well," McCoy accepted, "but why must it be Spock? There are other telepaths in the galaxy, some even better..."
"Bones," said Ijlal, softly, and the doctor's anxiety melted more at that name than the warmth of her voice. "I have worked closely with Mr. Spock. Therefore, I know his capabilities. He will come to no harm, I promise you."
"How can you be sure?" The doctor was as persistent as a bull terrier. "He's had a rough time recently. The captain was killed not long ago. Spock seemed to take it well, but I'm still not happy about his mental state."
"I know." Ijlal's statement was so all-encompassing that McCoy felt the back of his neck begin to prickle with suspicion.
"You omniscient or something?"
"By no means. But even a Vulcan can receive across considerable distances in moments of great mental stress." It was both truth and evasion. Ijlal wanted to reassure this peppery, loyal man who would fight dragons for the sake of a friend, but could not mention her still-persisting link with Spock's mind, of which Spock himself was unaware.
But McCoy still knew at once what she'd done and was disgusted. So that's why he'd been so calm ... with this female manipulating his synapses. "Vulcans," he said pointedly, "don't monkey around in other people's heads without their permission."
"I stand rebuked," was the mild answer.
"Why? Why did you do it?" McCoy demanded, angrily.
"Because I needed him in a fit state to aid me. Oh ... is it not enough reason? Bones," she laughed, seeing his murderous rage in his eyes. "It had to be voiced or you would always have wondered. But also ... you are a doctor. Do you not seek to relieve pain wherever possible?"
"Yes, Ma'am, I do," Bones conceded. All the weariness of the past nightmare days was in his voice. "It -- just doesn't seem right ... even a Vulcan has a right to his own kind of grief."
"Would you have condemned him to unnecessary suffering? He has to meet the demands of duty and his own conscience, even if you had not been diverted here. But he is merely ... sedated. At the right time and place he may have his grief, if he so chooses."
"You'll tell him?"
"If he refused to help me, immediately. If he consents, after the device has been made safe."
And McCoy swore an oath to himself that he'd see she did.
* * *
Spock stood straight before Ijlal, his proud bearing revealing none of the apprehension he felt. The prospect of personal danger or death did not worry him, especially now Jim had gone. It was not that which had caused him to wrestle with himself so long and so hard as he'd sat in meditation in the cold, bare anteroom; it was the need for opening himself again, exposing his soul naked to the candid gaze of Ijlal of Heyt. But personal humiliation must be ignored when the safety of millions was at stake. Did McCoy, now standing pale with tension at his side, realize why it had taken him so long to take a superficially simple decision? Probably, he missed so little.
"My apologies for not reporting earlier, Madam. I will, of course, assist you in your attempt to deactivate the device."
"Thank you, Mr. Spock. It will not be an attempt."
Ijlal nodded in reassurance and farewell to McCoy, and without any transition period, Spock found himself at her side in the valley. She turned to face him, but he could not bring himself to look at her, knowing what must happen.
"Spock." Her voice filtered through to him through the emerald mist behind his tight-shut eyes. "There is no need for shame. Did I not say perfection is impossible for any of us? If you cannot see my flaws, you are blind. However, our work is arduous. I shall not have time to pry."
He finally forced himself to meet her searching amethyst gaze and moved towards her, offering spread fingers. Ijlal laughed because she did not need to touch him to establish a link, and because of his courage. //Your heart is still brave ... little one. Now, there will be pain for both of us, but it will pass. Wait here and I shall move to the far side.//
Spock was gazing down at a jagged fissure, through which came the electric glint of sunlight glancing off a metallic object of redoubtable size ... the Heytan ship.
//Spock, attend,// came Ijlal's command. Obediently he closed his eyes and waited, alert.
There was pain. A sword of burning ice sliced through the top of his skull, laying the delicate, vulnerable tissue bare. Through the flaming ring of agony that was his only field of vision pulsed a billow of phosphorescent mist, with a hard, bright jewel as its kernel. //The core and catalyst, Spock. Prepare to shield.// Raven ribbons rushing towards him, malignantly glinting in their slow and sinuous progress ...gliding, insinuating, emitting their frigid breath... Fear, terror ... evil? old and unconquered inexorably boring into his soul...
//Child, your shields.//
Spock threw all his being into the barriers, fighting the obscene progress while all the time there was the pain rasping its serrated blade down the bone between his eyes. But he fought, and prevailed. The dark worms recoiled upon themselves, crawled over the slimed bodies of others, creeping, crowding round the radiance, dimming its effulgent beauty with rankness, strangling, choking, hundreds of writhing rope throttling the roseate glow with their chill embrace. He watched with something like grief as the struggling, pulsing light seemed to entreat, then shudderingly succumb to the oily mass of creeping tentacles, which contracted, compressing the brightness out of existence, shrinking it down to a tiny dull shard of smoking black ice...
The pressure began to decrease. Spock came out of it to find his cheeks wet and a terrible doubt gnawing at his vitals. Ijlal had changed since their first meeting, the once total serenity now only a shell through which sparks of a dangerous cynicism shone. He realized that Ijlal was beside him, and he was trembling with exhaustion.
"It is done. You have the strength I remembered also," Ijlal said aloud.
He examined the grass at his feet, not wanting to look at her.
"Good and evil are not always easily distinguishable, are they?" he heard her say. "Go down and satisfy yourself."
Despite his apprehension, Spock would have given anything for his tricorder as he slid through the narrow fissure in the rocks and encountered the gleaming hull of the alien craft. As far as he could judge, it was quite small and would have carried a crew of not more than five. But the design and materials were so alien, mere sight could make little sense of them. He made his way through a crushed cargo or supply section and onto the bridge, which was in much better repair than the rest.
There was no recognizable view screen, no seats, nothing that could be identified as a console. It was bristling with devices whose function he could not even guess. All was milky crystals translucent with a glow owed to a light source he could not locate. In the center bulged a formless, virulent vitrified mass that still radiated heat and an acrid smell that was neither overheated metal nor burnt plastic.
//Request the log,// Ijlal prompted.
In the air hung a cube of miniature universe, a nearby sun with its accompanying gaggle of planets. A voice uttered an order. There was a low unobtrusive rattle and the system was gone, quietly, without fuss, without drama. The view began to rotate and a neighboring star was gone, and another in the middle distance, a binary, and as the rattle continued, pinpricks of light winked out one by one, leaving a cube of total darkness.
Spock turned his interest from the log and strode over to the misshapen column, examining it from all angles. How could it have been so powerful? On what principle had it worked?
//You will know in a considerable time ... which is soon enough,// came the wry thought. //And you must hope your scientists have at least the sense to build in a fail-safe device, such as this had, or you will destroy more than you bargained for... Come, Dr. McCoy frets.//
Spock tore himself away from the fused mass and began to make his way back through the punctured hull and up between the rocks.
"Soon the fissure will close of its own accord and all will be as it was," Ijlal told him as he joined her.
"And the culture?"
"Will continue along its natural lines. I shall leave here when all is secure, in my own ship." She smiled. "In true style, of course, before they grow too wise for conjuring and chariots of fire, and deport me ignominiously in the first primitive rocket the can patch together."
* * *
When they transported back, they found McCoy staring gloomily at an impressive array of food set out before him. Spock realized they were not in the temple, but a large hall of a palace or public building used for public functions. "Spock." McCoy's face lit up when he saw the Vulcan. As Jim had done so many times. "Are you all right, Spock?" he asked.
"Perfectly, Doctor. Thank you."
"I'm glad to hear it. We were just waiting for you before we start." And he clapped his hands. A laughing throng ran in, with more food, and containers of wine and the acrid beer they'd drunk on the trek to the city.
A feast was just what the doctor ordered ... lots of laughter and food, and alcohol ... to take his mind off his grief for Jim, for a while, and his worry about Spock and his apprehensions about Ijlal's Machiavellian schemes. Maybe it'd do Spock good, too ... maybe it'd be the last straw that'd break through the chrysalis and let him mourn decently and properly for his captain, releasing all the poison, leaving behind a clean wound that stood a chance of healing with time.
A man he thought was Haradun came forward, shepherding two statuesque, bronze-skinned, raven-crested women, dressed in enticing non-clothes. He led them up to the dais where McCoy and Spock were standing, before the throne where Ijlal was seated watching the proceedings with a tolerant air.
"For Makoy," he pronounced, triumphantly, thrusting one into the surprised doctor's arms, "and for Spak."
Spock's body tensed, waiting for the squealing bundle of woman-flesh to cannon into him, but the expected contact did not occur. She halted ... or was halted ... inches from him. "No," said the quiet voice of Ijlal, and she held out a hand to him, beckoning him up the steps to her side. To his mortification, the hall suddenly went so silent, the chirp of birds could be heard from the gardens outside.
In the hush, McCoy's eyes locked with Ijlal's. She gave an imperceptible nod...
Then Spock found himself no longer there, but back in Ijlal's windowless room in the temple. Ijlal was laughing with the sing-song chime of wind-bells as she looked down at the bent dark head. "You do not seem beside yourself with joy to be the chosen of Sibel," she said. "Would you have preferred me to let matters take their course?" She indicated the dishes laid ready on the low table. "Come, sit and eat. You must restore lost energy."
He obeyed in silence. The motions of eating and drinking would help cover his awkwardness... He had lain in her arms and begged for...
"Or perhaps anger will restore your equilibrium more effectively," said the quiet voice. "I made the doctor a promise, before we went to the valley, that I would tell you what I had done. When your captain died, I felt it and hid your grief from you." Ijlal sat down, arranging the folds of her gown with punctilious care. "You'll appreciate the logical reasons, while deploring my ethics. 'Sing me then of means and ends...."'
Spock stared at her, his face white. True, he would have been hard put to function in such demanding circumstances, but he would have managed somehow ... no doubt ... and to invade and manipulate another's mind by stealth went wholly against the grain of his highly polished moral principles.
Kaya was right, Ijlal reflected. Exceptions for deserving cases are more trouble than they are worth. One is forever bound to sorting out the tangle in the skein. If Spock had died of the blood fever, he would not have been a witness to his friend's death ... in which again I interfered, and who knows what griefs he will cause in others, in his vengeance and hurt? One false stitch, and all the tapestry was awry.
"I told Dr. McCoy I would remove the block at an appropriate time, so matters could take their natural course," she offered.
"I so request." True serenity can only be attained by facing up to one's emotions, he knew. Facing up to them and mastering them.
"So be it. But first, reflect that there will be others."
"No, no Jim. But others who will wish to share with you, more or less. Half the magnet survives in you. Hold to that."
And he was alone, and it began.
Jim was dead, a mutilated corpse.... The maelstrom struck with a force that rocked him, screaming through his brain like a hail-bearing hurricane, battering him into the ground. Jim -- no more that secret glance, that teasing remark with the underlying caring, a caring he could accept because it demanded nothing, but gave, always gave...
The rock opened up beneath him, and he cannoned down into the yawning, greedy mouth of despair. Deeper and deeper he sank, growing colder and colder with a numbness in which he was conscious of pain but unable to move to relieve its pressure on his body. He could not breathe. If he died, would they even then be re-united? The pressure grew and grew till he thought he would burst. Then a flood rose up in him, melting the cold, gushing upwards to pour out in a warm tide. He sobbed and sobbed to exhaustion, slept, woke, sobbed again. Finally he was enough master of himself to sit up, take a sip of wine, pull the tattered remnants of his composure around him to suffice until a new shell could grow. Why bother with Jim dead?
"Your ship is waiting for your report," said a calm voice in his ear, and he looked up to find Ijlal of Heyt had re-entered the room.
The ship ... Jim's stately and capricious lady ... totally illogical, and yet...
"Scott here. Are ye all right, Mr. Spock? Sensors registered sudden extinction of that power source some hours ago. When ye didn't report, we were consairned."
"Everything is under control, thank you, Mr. Scott." An excellent officer, a gifted engineer, never afraid, as were so many of his kind, of new and unorthodox ideas... We were worried ... the other colleagues ... accepting him as one of themselves despite his differences, differences which were often unnatural or offensive to humans... "The radiation was from a buried warship. It has now been rendered harmless. I shall be making a full report when we beam up."
"Might I ask when that'll be?"
"Almost immediately," he was going to say, and then thought of Bones, now undergoing his own brand of catharsis by sex and alcohol. "Shortly before planet dawn. There still remain a few points to be clarified before dawn. There still remain a few points to be clarified before departure." He would spend the time in meditation ... upon the illogicalities of becoming bound to mortal frailty, and the greater folly of ignoring such a primal need. There was also the humiliation of being nurse-maided by the Heytan to be dealt with -- and the greater humiliation of knowing he had needed it. Was humility a factor of the logical mind?
"Spock, you are angry with me." Ijlal's laughter was light as a gust of air in a still room, ruffling his thought processes. The worst of it was he could not prevaricate with her. She knew. "The humans you help with your greater strength are not too proud to accept." Spock squirmed. "Little one, no sentient being can exist entirety on its own."
"Save you," Spock retorted with unVulcan bitterness.
Ijlal smiled. "Save I, indeed. And now I shall give you further cause for anger. Do you not remember why I taught you how to circumvent the laws of your biology? To choose for yourself and seek what pleases you? Have you chosen, or chosen not to choose?"
Spock regarded his boot-tops intently. What she asked was impossible, would always be impossible. He would never be able to open himself again to the degree required by a bondmate. Not voluntarily.
"I quote you an enigma from our ancient literature." She began to speak in the lilting, sussurating tongue of her past:
in sai, v'zai:
sai l'sai las,
("One is one,
but one or naught;
one and one are two,
two more than two;
If you would have the strength to rid yourself of my meddling in the future, think on that?"
"Why?" Why did she concern herself in his petty, paltry affairs? What was it to her if he lived or died?
She smiled. "Don't you see, little one, I need you -- to manipulate, to feed my pride in my power. "
"No." Spock looked his disbelief steadily. To her incredulity, Ijlal felt his mind reach for hers, for surely he must know her strength. Gently she repulsed him.
"Away with you," she laughed, "you need no dreams now, except those of your own making."
Spock had almost forgotten the beauty and peace he'd known when the nightmare of pon farr was too new to face up to the reality of consciousness. Now he searched his mind, reaching for the buried memories.
Ijlal watched him with disquiet, knowing that the problems he could not face then were about to resurface ... more honestly, problems she could not face. To stand aside was torture, to persist a beckoning quicksand. So much for the blessings of conjuring tricks. Suppose she send him now and guide him to a place where he could close that unbonded link, the hidden one that called? Or should she finish what she had begun, and take... There spoke the voice of the exile. She stood back, raising her hand in the Vulcan salute.
"I shall leave you to those dreams."
Spock did not see Ijlal again. He waited until a sleazy-eyed McCoy yawned his way sheepishly into the room, and then they beamed back to the ship and to duty.
* * *
Spock had to admit Ijlal was right. There were others and it helped... But every night he was alone, he checked over with a miser's care the raw wound that was the loss of Kirk, and puzzled by the other inchoate ache which hid as he perused it.
"One is one."
He had never cared for answers that were couched in riddles.