DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Kate Birkel and is copyright (c) by Kate Birkel. This story is Rated PG-13. Originally printed in Fermata.
Eyes fixed on the fingers steepled inches from his face, Spock sat at his work, frozen into immobility. To his side, the computer terminal chattered softly to itself, lights flashing in a never ceasing flow of information that for once went unheeded. With the Tantalus field, the mysterious weapon Kirk had wielded so unpredictably and murderously in the past, now under his control, Spock was able to relax for once the ceaseless vigil he had maintained through the years of service under that vicious man. Always, in the past, Spock had been conscious of the evil lurking unseen at his back, ready to strike at his slightest show of weakness. But today, that other Kirk had given him the key to freedom. Now it was Spock who commanded the Tantalus field and the Enterprise while Kirk paced the confines of his quarters awaiting the Vulcan's judgement.
Others aboard the ISS Enterprise waited, too. Both Sulu and Chekov had been incarcerated in the brig while Spock debated between a clean, merciful end -- or the slow, messy one that normally attended failure in the Empire. Marlena was confined to quarters -- her own, not the former Captain's -- for Spock to decide if her decision to support him sprang from genuine desire to change or merely expediency.
The Chief Engineer currently held the conn while Spock mulled over the multitude of decisions needing to be made in short order. Spock was yet uncertain how far to trust the Human. He was a skilled, efficient officer who had managed to steer clear of the dirtier aspects of service in the Imperial Starfleet. To the best of Spock's knowledge, the man's loyalty lay in his engines -- not the center seat. There was also some question in Spock's mind as to Uhura. She had kicked and clawed her way up to her present position, but had never shown any particular animosity toward Spock. How much higher her ambition called was unknown to him, but he was of the opinion she would make an efficient First Officer if she could be persuaded it served her own interests. As a communications specialist, she had much to offer him in the way of contacts and overheard information that could be put to the best use in the coming days. Dr. McCoy was also unconfined. There was considerable bad blood between the two men, yet the human physician feared Spock just enough to keep him on the leash until another Chief Surgeon could be found.
All in all, Spock's position seemed secure for the moment. His operatives stood guard over all vital functions, and there were few willing to take on these rough and ready Vulcans. The senior officers were either under confinement or neutralized by their desire not to jeopardize their current status. Spock could to ignore the computer this night and take a hard, long look at his situation -- so different from just this morning.
But as vital as an evaluation was at this time, Spock found himself unable to concentrate, his mind wandering down a different corridor of thought altogether. Today's experience with the four officers from the other reality had done more than rouse Spock from his lethargic acceptance of his present existence; it had also opened new vistas heretofore not even dreamt of. Spock, the only First Officer in Starfleet strong enough to co-exist with James T. Kirk -- Spock, feared second only to Kirk himself aboard the Enterprise for his vast knowledge and icy indifference -- Spock had glimpsed a way of life that was unthinkable up until now.
Fear was the key to Spock's survival aboard the Enterprise. From the moment he had stepped off the ship's transporter platform fourteen years earlier, Spock had deliberately set about the business of intimidating his fellow officers and underlings. His Vulcan strength and endurance gave him the physical edge over all. His native intelligence, encyclopedic knowledge, and total recall coupled with the sheer will to survive had brought him the dual positions of Science and Executive Officer. And always, there was the knowledge that even if those failed him, his Vulcan operatives would avenge his destruction with the utmost brutality and thoroughness. Even Kirk had been leery of taking him on. And Spock had been satisfied -- at least until the mind meld with alternate doctor.
In the years since his departure from Vulcan, Spock had come to view his telepathic powers as a tool, never hesitating to use them either offensively or defensively. More than once they had saved him from the quicksand of Imperial and Starfleet power politics. Among those who were aware of them, they were as feared as the tal-shaya. But this other McCoy, the one from another universe, had not feared Spock's mental attack beyond a surface fear. His reaction had been one more of surprise that Spock was so willing to touch minds with another. His Spock would never have done so. Nor had this doctor fought the contact the way the real Dr. McCoy had on the few occasions Spock had employed it against him; instead opening his mind, actually inviting Spock to view what he wanted. It was there Spock began his journey into a landscape both familiar and alien.
There was another Enterprise -- the USS Enterprise -- captained by James T. Kirk with Spock as his First Officer and Leonard McCoy as Chief Surgeon, and all those other familiar figures. But there the similarities had ended. Tantalized, Spock had probed deeper and deeper into the physician's mind, seeking answers to questions he had never asked before, viewing an existence that left him mentally gasping.
At first, Spock had felt little more than disgust at the human's weak-kneed idealism and childish faith in his fellow man. That path led to rapid destruction, in Spock's experience. Any such foolishness had been knocked out of him many long years ago, first by his Father, and then, after he had flouted Sarek's authority by leaving Vulcan, by life in the Imperial Starfleet. But as he delved further into the physician's mind, he was forced to conclude the man was far from weak. The doctor's strength was equal to any Spock had encountered, and it was untainted by the greed and selfishness which corrupted all Spock knew. This doctor truly believed man was more than an intelligent animal and that life was meant to be more than a day to day struggle for existence. Love -- truth -- honor. These were the words the alternate Dr. Leonard McCoy lived by. And Spock was shaken to the core of his harsh Vulcan shell by them.
The other McCoy had revealed more wonders to Spock. A captain who rose to his position through hard work and merit, who constantly risked his own life for the sake of his crew. A First Officer who willingly followed that Captain out of love, not duty. Spock thought of his own Captain -- the vicious, soulless creature trapped in his own cabin. No trust existed between the two men, only a respect based on a mutual understanding neither man would hesitate to sacrifice the other in pursuit of their aims. Somehow they managed to function as an efficient team, and Spock was reasonably satisfied with the results. Kirk stood between his First Officer and the worst Starfleet had to offer, and, in return, Spock protected his back, here on the Enterprise.
But the other doctor had shown him a different meaning to the word cooperation. The other Kirk and Spock trusted each other, willingly stood together against a sometimes hostile universe, and drew strength from one another. And Spock -- Spock the outcast -- Spock was envious. He knew of no one in his own universe he would follow so blindly.
And the doctor himself? The doctor was devoted to his young, hot headed Captain and the hybrid First Officer, putting aside his own fears to protect them both from their various fits of madness. The Chief Surgeon of the ISS Enterprise was the antithesis to that humane person. This Dr. McCoy his in his sickbay, seldom lifting his eyes from the precious experiments he hoped would someday place him in control of at least a galaxy. Not that he told anyone of his aims, but Spock knew as certainly as if the doctor had told him so himself, which inadvertently, he had. And the doctor knew Spock knew. The knowledge gave Spock a certain amount of amusement. McCoy was afraid, however, to take action against the Vulcan, and Spock was never careless enough to place himself in the medico's hands without adequate safeguards. He had chosen the First Officer's Woman with great care -- Christine Chapel was selfish enough to keep Spock alive when fate decreed a stay in Sickbay under McCoy's aegis. McCoy and Sickbay was Spock's one vulnerable spot. Chapel fancied herself a Captain's Woman someday, so the danger had been neutralized for the time being, and Spock had further ordered Chapel to protect Kirk from McCoy's barbarous hands.
That other Spock and Kirk needed no such intervention. Their McCoy was fierce in his devotion and ceaseless in his efforts on their behalf. It was his duty to fuss over them, offer them his unsolicited opinions on any and all occasions, stand between them and the consequences of their own rashness. Sound medical practice demanded he accompany his two self appointed charges on even the most dangerous of missions. It was sound medical practice, also, for him to poke and pry into Spock's hybrid psyche, to help him reconcile the two elements of his existence into a coherent whole, to prevent him from burying a full half of what he was.
Spock snorted to himself. There was certainly no one aboard the ISS Enterprise who chose to care about his private struggles. He looked Vulcan, he acted Vulcan, therefore he was classified as Vulcan. Those rare occasions when he permitted himself to indulge his humanness were greeted with expressions of amused tolerance as a sign of personal weakness. In the confines of his own cabin, Chapel would tighten her mouth and demand to know what he was doing, endangering their positions thusly, and making himself the laugh stock of the ship. The last time she had flown into one of her rages at his behavior, he had carelessly backhanded her, pointing out she could either find another officer, or learn to keep her peace and place. No -- there was no one aboard his Enterprise who cared that Spock lived a daily hell, torn between his Father's harsh teachings and code, and his Mother's gentler nature, and it was death to him to expose it.
The Halkans had triggered another bout of Spock's self doubts. It had been so easy for him to order the initial destruction of Halka in the transporter room when the alternate Kirk first beamed aboard, knowing in the secret recesses of his heart it was, in reality, and act of charity. Whether the Halkans surrendered the crystals or not, their final destruction was assured. A peaceful, gentle people, they would have been ground under the Imperial heel until only a scattered remnant remained to inhabit their once verdant planet. The destruction Spock had ordered would have accomplished the same, but with much less suffering and agony.
But then, that other Kirk had shown him the destruction of the Halkans was not necessarily the sure shot Spock had calculated it to be. A little judicious lying, and the Halkans would be spared of either fate. Only, then it would have to lead to more lying, more deceptions, and the assumption of power Spock had avoided since entering Starfleet. And in the final analysis," to save himself from certain execution, he would have to save the galaxy from the Emperor -- alone.
"Spock!" Chapel stood in the doorway leading to the small sleeping room. "Are you ever coming to bed tonight?" Her silver blond hair tumbled about her shoulders, and the low cut sleeping garment she wore exposed the dark circles of her nipples in a way she thought would excite him, but which he merely found laughable.
"I have a great deal of thinking to do. I shall probably not be retiring tonight." His voice was polite, even pleasant. Vulgarity on the part of others was no excuse for any lapse on his.
"What's there to think about?" Chapel asked carelessly. "Aren't you going to have the Captain, Marlena, Sulu and Chekov executed in the morning, and then destroy the Halkans? That's the only thing you can do."
"I am delighted you find the matter so simple." Deadly sarcasm filled his words as he reflected on how ruthless his Woman really was. She was actually pleased he had finally wrested control of the Enterprise from Kirk, even after he had spent years explaining to her that command was not his goal in life. It meant nothing to her that a way of life he found repugnant was being jammed down his throat. All that concerned her was she had at last achieved her goal of becoming a Captain's Woman, with the power and prestige the position entailed.
Chapel took a quick step into the front room, her blue eyes glittering with rage. "Don't tell me you're not going to follow your duty?" she demanded in a high pitched, shrill voice.
"I shall do what my conscience directs." Spock kept a tight rein on his own anger and disgust with her.
"Conscience?" Her jaw dropped, then she shut her mouth with a distinct snap. "You're beginning to sound like those Halkan swine!" Her words dripped with contempt.
Spock rose to his feet, menacing in his height, "I have told you before to guard your tongue in my presence! It would seem you have forgotten."
Involuntarily, she took a step back, but there was still defiance in her voice and posture. "Sure -- go ahead and slap me around again! But it isn't going to change anything! Either you carry out your duty, or someone else will. And then we'll both be executed!"
"Perhaps you would like to seek the safety of another officer's protection." Spock suggested with silken anger. "Mr. Scott does not have an Officer's Woman, and he would be the most logical one to step in my position should I fail."
Chapel stared at Spock. "That drunken old fool? I'd sooner sleep with a Tellerite!"
"It is possible you may be fortunate enough to find a Tellerite Captain in need of a Captain's Woman."
"You bastard!" Chapel stamped her foot.
Spock's eyes narrowed to slits. "I am leaving this cabin for an hour. You will be gone from here when I return."
"What?" Chapel's rage disintegrated into a ludicrous panic. "You can't do that to me! I've been your Woman for 4 years now! You can't do this to me!"
"I have done it," Spock said coldly. "I find I no longer wish to tolerate your tantrums, contempt or stupidity. You will be gone from my cabin when I return in an hour's time."
"Spock! No!" Tears coursing down her face, Chapel took several hasty steps in his direction, but he was already out the door.
In the hallway, his two personal guards saluted him and he returned the gesture.
"Chapel is no longer a member of my entourage," he announced dispassionately. "If she has not removed herself and her belongings from this cabin within the hour, you will forcibly eject her."
"Yes, Captain." The guards betrayed no surprise at this unexpected order.
Spock started at their term of address, then favored them with his most impenetrable stare. "I am not the Captain of this vessel yet. While Captain Kirk lives, I am simply the First Officer. Do you understand that?"
Both their glances fell, "Yes, sir, Mr. Spock." As Spock set off down the corridor, a third guard materialized from his watching spot near Spock's doorway, a Vulcan whose father was Sarek's most trusted personal advisor. As third son, the younger man had taken service under Spock as a way of making his own fortune, trusting that Spock had inherited Sarek's perspicacity and ruthlessness despite the human taint. So long as it suited him, he would protect Spock to the death, but Spock also knew this man would be the first to strike if Spock looked like failing.
It was a short distance to Kirk's cabin. Two more of Spock's guards were on duty, and he exchanged another salute with them.
"The Captain has not tried to escape from his cabin," the senior guard reported. "And there has been no disturbances from him that we heard."
"Very good." Spock pressed the release plate, at the same time motioning for all three of the other men to remain in the hallway. The Vulcan looked as if he wanted to protest, but Spock cut him off with a sharp gesture.
"You slimy son of a bitch!" Kirk had been standing in front of his now useless Tantalus field, but he whipped around with murderous fury in his eyes when he heard the door open. "Bastard!" Hands clenched at his sides, he advanced to Spock.
"You are the second person with the space of six minutes to apply that epithet to me," Spock observed with imperturbably calm. There was a slight tensing of his muscles in preparation to meet Kirks rush if the human decided to attack, but otherwise, Spock gave no indication he considered his erstwhile Captain a threat.
"Popular tonight, aren't you?" Kirk halted several feet from his former First Officer, acutely aware he stood no chance in a one on one fight with the Vulcan. "The joys of command, Spock."
"I have told you before I do not seek command of this vessel, or any other vessel in Starfleet." Spock's own temper was well in hand. He had not come to Kirk's cabin to fight, but to offer him an opportunity to live. He had accepted years of verbal abuse at this man's hands -- he would accept precisely forty-five more minutes of it, then it would stop, one way or another. "You and I have served aboard this ship for five years with a great deal of success. I should like to continue that arrangement."
Incredulous, Kirk gaped at the other man for a long moment before dissolving into gales of hysterical laughter. "You…you want…to continue -- continue the arrangement!" he gasped in between chokes of merriment. Spock waited patiently until Kirk got his amusement under control. "You can't be serious. You just stole my ship and command, and now you have the unmitigated gall to stand there and tell me you want to continue our past arrangement! You must be a bigger fool than I always thought!"
"I have never thought of myself as a fool, Captain." Spock placed his hands behind his back and regarded Kirk with infinite tolerance. "Unless remaining aboard this ship under your command can be considered foolish." He had the satisfaction of seeing the shot hit home.
"You're damn lucky to have served under me!" Kirk swore belligerently. "I'm the best Captain the whole frigging fleet, and you know it, bastard!"
Spock took a slow breath, the knuckles of his hands whitening. "I would appreciate it, Captain, if you would cease to address me in such a manner. I believe the circumstances of my birth have little to do with the present discussion. When I said I wish to continue the past arrangement, I failed to mention I expect certain modifications."
"Modifications!" Kirk yelped.
"Modifications," Spock repeated firmly. "One of which is you will henceforth cease to vent your passions on me. You must learn a certain degree of self control and discipline. Or I shall be forced to instruct you in the proper techniques."
Words failed Kirk, and he had to take several quick gulps of air. "I don't know what you're building, Spock, but don't look to me for support!" he finally spat out. "You're not going to tell me what to do!"
"Would you rather die, Captain?"
"At least I won't have to look at your pointed ears all the time!"
"You are becoming personal again, Captain." There was gentle menace in Spock's voice.
"And you're a freak! A point eared freak with mush for brains!"
Spock's fist lashed out with lightening speed, crashing against Kirk's jaw and sending the human flying against the wall beneath the Tantalus field machine. Spock moved quickly to stand over the prone man, fist at ready.
"I am beginning to lose patience with you, Captain. I am also beginning to believe you are too stupid to grasp the opportunity I am offering you. If you continue in this vein, I shall soon retract it."
"I don't see what you have to gain from keeping me alive," Kirk muttered sullenly, one hand rubbing the spot where Spock's fist had connected. "You're going to make a fortune off this Halkan business!"
"No one is going to make any money out of the Halkans," Spock stated. "Lease of all you or me."
Half way to his feet, Kirk sat back down on the floor again. "No money? You're passing up the opportunity to make the deal of the century? You? I thought you were trying to make enough money to buy Vulcan!"
"That was never my intention, Captain." Spock shook his head. "And I have also undergone a change in my priorities since this afternoon."
"I knew it!" Suddenly the light dawned in Kirk's mind. "You let that weak-willed double of mine con you in this, didn't you?"
"The alternate Captain Kirk had something to do with this change, but not all," Spock allowed. "Please permit me the dignity of making my own decisions. You have found it difficult in the past to change my opinions and decisions. What makes you think your duplicate would have any easier a task?"
A cunning smile lit up Kirk's face. "What'd he offer you, Spock? Power? Was it the Tantalus field?" He pointed up to the now useless weapon. "Did he make you a present of Marlena? Chapel's a lousy Officer's Woman you know."
"I do not wish power, Captain. Yes, he gave me the Tantalus field, but I do not plan to use it -- only keep you from using it again." Spock ticked off Kirk's speculations, demolishing each in it's turn. "Lt. Moreau is her own person and cannot be given to another as a gift or forced into a relationship she does not desire." He did not mention the dismissal of Chapel. "What he offered me was the opportunity to think for myself, the option to refuse a way of life I suddenly find distasteful." Thus, the distillation of his thoughts of the past two hours.
Since Spock's fist had been returned behind the Vulcan's back and he no longer looked as menacing as he had, Kirk took the chance to get to his feet again. "What brought this on?" There was noticeably less contempt in his manner. "Why change now? You've been on this ship for a hell of a long time. I never noticed you being particularly upset with the system before today."
Spock shook his head. "I do not think you would be interested in the reasoning behind my change of attitude, Captain. Suffice it to say, if you are willing to work with me in the future, I shall remand the orders of you execution."
"Oh, sure!" Kirk Sneered. "And then everything will go on just like before."
"No, Captain. You will be the Captain, but I will not hesitate to step in if your actions displease me." Spock began to outline the main points of his future course. "The Enterprise is the premier ship of Starfleet. With it, we can begin to alter first Starfleet, then the Empire itself."
Once more, Kirk found himself speechless, and was forced to grope for a chair, sitting down heavily. "Uh, uh, Spock!" He shook his head emphatically. "I'll die now, thank you, not in front of the Emperor himself." He shuddered. "Do you know what they do to traitors?"
"I am perfectly aware of those barbaric customs." Something close to a smiled crossed Spock's normally forbidding countenance. "But, I believe we shall be able to evade such a fate."
"What is this grandiose scheme of yours?"
"Very simple, Captain. I should like to overthrow the Imperial government."
"Right, Spock." Kirk smiled again. "Single handedly, you want to do away with the Imperial government." There was mocking disbelief in the smile.
"Not single handedly, Captain. With your help. As you observed earlier, you are the best Captain in Starfleet. Your grasp of tactics and strategy is unparalleled. With you to plan out a campaign, I estimate the rate of success to be quite acceptable. Tell me, Captain -- do you really enjoy your life as it is currently lived in Starfleet?
"Of course I do!" Kirk blustered.
"Knowing most of your officers are plotting behind your back, knowing there is undoubtedly an Imperial spy listening in to your every conversation, knowing you do not dare turn down a single order because you will be killed, knowing despite your previously excellent record, the Emperor may order your execution on a whim? You enjoy this?"
"That's the breaks, Spock. You live with it, too."
"I, however, do not enjoy it."
"Then why don't you go back to Vulcan? You must have enough money saved up to buy yourself a nice estate."
"For me, to leave Starfleet would be tantamount to committing suicide. The Emperor does not willingly release command grade officers of proven loyalty or efficiency."
"Can't your Father protect you?"
"Not if it would mean his own personal destruction."
Kirk thought for a moment. "Then, you're in as bad a position as I am."
"And the only way out for you is to destroy the Imperial system."
"Possibly, Captain. But that is not the sole reason why I have chosen this course."
Hands behind his back, Spock stood in silence. It would avail him little to tell this man he had seen a vision of freedom and life this afternoon. Concrete reality ruled this man's existence. Nor could he explain the reasons why he had decided to offer him this chance to live, to work with Spock to bring about this vision. Kirk would not understand the envy Spock had felt when he had viewed the friendship of another Kirk and Spock, the feeling of intense loneliness that had suddenly overwhelmed him. He could never hope to capture this Kirk's love and respect the way his counterpart had done, but even a show of it would me more than he possessed now.
"Do you accept my offer, Captain?" Spock asked in an even voice, his face thoroughly masked against Kirk.
"I don't have much of a choice, do I, Spock?" Kirk was bitter. "If I want to live, I have to support you in this madness, and then I'll probably die anyway."
"Do not forget you may not be the only Starfleet Captain who is unhappy with the present system of promotion and duty. You killed to secure the Enterprise. Many of y our fellow captains did likewise. Chekov tried to assassinate you this afternoon, and Sulu would have supported his success. You have always known you had little to fear from me, but how many captains have as much confidence in their First Officers? Within a very short time, we shall enjoy a great deal of support from our fellow command grade officers. Once we have secured their support, the battle is half won because the Emperor depends on Starfleet for much of his power. Without Starfleet's support, the Empire will collapse of his own weight."
Kirk stood up, a genuine smile on his face. "You talk a good rebellion, Spock, but it isn't going to be that easy. First, we have the convince the men and women on our own ship to throw in with us."
"I have no doubt you will be able to sway their thought processes, Captain." Spock said gravely. "You have always had much influence aboard this vessel."
"Scott -- we'll have to talk to Scott first." Kirk's mind began laying out the steps of this new campaign. "That'll give us the engine room. I don't think he'll give much of a damn, one way or another -- as long as he gets to keep his engines. Then Uhura. We don't want anything too suspicious going out of here to Starfleet Command. Something'll have to be done about McCoy, too. He's going to have to forget about conquering his own private galaxy."
"You knew about that, Captain?" Spock was surprised.
Kirk's smiled widened, giving him a boyish look Spock had not seen in many long years. "I'm not the Captain of this ship for nothing, Mr. Spock."
One eyebrow twitched upwards. "Then you have decided to accept my offer, Captain?"
"Sure, why not?" Kirk shrugged. "You're right. I don't particularly want to die right now, and life in Starfleet isn't exactly the pleasantest. And just think -- once we get rid of the Emperor, maybe I can take over the government."
"Captain, that was not quite what I had in mind." Spock said drily. "It will not do to overthrow one government simply to replace it with a duplicate. The entire system needs to be changed."
Kirk started to say something in his own defense, but fell silent in the face of the sardonic expression on Spock. "Okay, Okay," he grumbled. The he brightened. "By then, we'll all probably be dead anyway."
Spock shrugged to himself. Perhaps his trust in this man had been misplaced. But one thing he knew for sure -- controlling Kirk's mercurial moods was going to prove an interesting challenge. "Captain, I must return to my own cabin now if I am to cancel the order for your execution. We shall discuss this further in the morning."
"Of course, Spock," Kirk nodded, his mind so taken with the problem he had forgotten about the sentence of death hanging over him.
"Good night, Captain." Spock bowed his head for a moment, then stepped out into the hallway.
* * *
Once more he was met with the respectful salutes of his minions, but this time he did not return the gesture.
"The salute will no longer be necessary," he informed his operatives. "In the future, it will be sufficient for you to come to attention in the presence of a superior officer."
Blank stares met this announcement, followed by an embarrassed shuffling of feet. Even the Vulcan operative betrayed surprise at this breech of traditional etiquette.
"There will be some changes made in the operation of this vessel over the next several days," Spock continued. "Please hold yourselves ready for them. Captain Kirk will make the pertinent announcements."
This last was too much for the Vulcan. He hissed several words at Spock in their native tongue, his hand inching toward the knife in his sash. Spock folded his arms and waited, a sneer on his face. After a moment that seemed an eternity, the Vulcan's hand dropped back to this side, and he jerked a sketchy bow in Spock's directions. "The Captain is no longer confined to his quarters," Spock said, as if there had been no interruption. "However, you will follow him at all times and protect him from any attacks. If he dies, your lives are forfeit."
The guards exchanged incredulous glances, then mumbled an acknowledgment of the order. "Sured?" Spock asked sharply.
"As you say, Commander," the Vulcan replied between clenched teeth.
Satisfied for the moment, Spock walked away from them. He had bought time and Kirk's life, perhaps at the expense of his own at Sured's hands, but Kirk would live. And maybe there would be enough time for a genuine friendship to grow between them. Perhaps it would be worth the price.