Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1977 by Cheryl Rice. Originally printed in Contact #3, 1977.

THE STARS GO DOWN

Cheryl Rice

There is no death! The stars go down

To rise upon some other shore,

And bright in heaven's jeweled crown

They shine forevermore.

-J.L.M.

Spock held onto the Captain for a full five minutes before he permitted himself the luxury of movement. His hands, paper-white, bit into Kirk's flesh with a vice-like grip. Out there, he knew, lurked certain death. And here ... who could be certain of anything anymore?

Kirk stirred suddenly, an almost spasmodic reaction that triggered alarm in the Vulcan's normally stoic face.

"Captain -- please..." he entreated desperately.

"I know, Spock." Kirk's voice was toneless, weary.

Spock could sense a new feeling, a rising panic that threatened to destroy his precarious hold on reason. He was not sure he could control his own voice.

"Jim, you must believe ... we must, or else..." He paused, helplessly. What words could he possibly use to convince his friend?

Kirk peered into the hawk-like face, now so close to his own, and almost managed a rueful smile. It was all so incongruous, he reflected -- this Vulcan struggling so -- he never gives up. Overcome with affection for his companion, Kirk buried his face against Spock's shoulder.

But the moment passed, as all moments must, and the knowledge of their situation returned to the wounded human. That knowledge -- that Death was prowling nearby, behind the pitiful barricade Spock had erected to slow its progress. That knowledge -- that his left arm and leg were permanently damaged from some sort of radiation burn. That knowledge -- that the two of them had less than an hour to live.

And it had all started so innocently. Two days earlier the Enterprise, on a normal patrol run, had been attracted by an unusual source of radio emanations. The signals were of a strength thought impossible for any source but a large star. Finding nothing but a small G-type sun and what looked like a small planet in the vicinity, the Captain and crew of the starship came to the conclusion that a full investigation was in order. Landing parties had beamed to the planet's surface ... a seemingly uninhabited globe just slightly larger than Earth's moon. Although it had a conventional oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, science teams soon discovered that what looked like rock was merely a shell over incredible masses of some sort of machinery. While the Enterprise stayed in orbit around the planetoid and the main computer was fed all available knowledge, messages were relayed to Starfleet Command and all wondered who had made the machinery and why.

Then They came ... then it was known.

Without warning a giant rent was torn in the fabric of space/time between the sun and the artificial planet and in they came. Huge ships of unknown design poured into the system, manned by creatures so strange, so terrible... The Enterprise was attacked and damaged but managed to escape. Kirk, caught on the planet with several other members of the crew, had succeeded in getting a final order to his gallant ship... "Do not attempt rescue ... go and warn, go and warn!"

The invaders, who seemed unable to travel far from their entry point, turned their attention to the stranded humans. After playing cat and mouse for a while, they pounced on the group. Within a day, Kirk, Spock and two others were the only remaining survivors.

Then the questioning... Kirk's stomach lurched once more at the thought. The captives had not been tortured, or even mistreated ... but the questioners... Even though their means of communication had seemed primitive to the Captain, the aliens had shown evidence of great intelligence and perseverence. Kirk could still see them in his mind's eye. Giant beings, at least eight feet in diameter, ever changing in appearance. The flesh melting and flowing to form new grotesque outlines. The inquisition had accomplished nothing. Spock and Kirk told nothing but they received the impression that the invaders meant to stay. To open the rift and bring in vast numbers of their kind to take over the galaxy. The Starfleet officers never really knew from where these refugees from a nightmare had come ... another universe, the past or the future ... not that it really mattered.

Finally after the questioning ended, the matter of what to do with their prisoners came up. Several of the aliens seemed to favor vivisection, others keeping them as pets or killing them out of hand.

While the discussion, such as it was, raged, the Enterprise personnel were held in relatively comfortable quarters under only minimal guard. Clearly their captors had underestimated their capability for causing trouble.

Spock had gone into a state of deep concentration and in a short while had come up with a plan which, though it would definitely cause their own deaths, might also destroy the invaders.

The plan was simplicity itself ... if they could make their way to the engine room of the ship they were on, the fuel supply could be exploded -- which would vaporize the ship. Even more important, the explosion would set off a chain of similar events in the surrounding ships and with luck might even close the portal through which the invaders had entered the galaxy.

To a certain extent the plan succeeded. The two other crew members had been killed by the radiation weapons of the aliens and Kirk had been seriously wounded. But still he and Spock had managed to find the engine room, the location of which the Vulcan had discovered from simply asking one of the gelatinous beings earlier, and then by the simple expedient of jamming the heavy door with some pieces of machinery, they had gained themselves some time to work on the engines.

Kirk had helped as much as his failing strength would allow. Meanwhile, the aliens had finally discovered their danger and were attacking the barricaded door. Trying desperately to gain time for themselves, the invaders began bombarding the engine room with all the types of radiation at their disposal ... some of which had caused hallucinations in the Captain. He had screamed in agony and terror and had rushed Spock, begging him to cease his activity. For the human believed that they were on the Enterprise and were in the process of destroying their own ship. Spock had nerve-pinched his friend into unconsciousness and then sat with him on the floor, holding the human as tenderly as a child, waiting for its effect to wear off.

The Vulcan had done all in his power. Now all he could do was wait ... hoping against hope that the aliens could not breach their defenses before the engines overloaded.

Kirk had finally regained control of his mind and emotions. "How much longer do we have?"

Spock looked into his other half's eyes with concern. "Are you all right, Captain? Do you remember where we are?"

"Yes, of course. As to how 'right' I am ... long as I'm like this I'm fine." He managed a wry smile, full of affection. "Is everything ready? Will the door hold?"

"I believe so..." There was a companionable silence while neither seemed to find words necessary. Finally Spock, shifting position slightly, went on to explain. "If I understood their schematics correctly, the overload on their main engines will soon induce massive strain on their..."

Kirk interrupted wearily. "That is great ... but how long do we have? Seconds? Minutes?"

The Vulcan answered as calmly as if they were discussing the time that would have to pass before the next mealtime instead of the time that would be passing before their deaths. "I would estimate, and this is not as precise as I would wish, anywhere from 5 to 37 minutes from now. If I had been able to obtain more explicit diagrams of the engines..."

Kirk moved slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position. And a more pleasant topic of discussion. Somehow in the last few minutes ... there were some things that needed to be said. Now was no time for hiding honest emotion behind a Vulcan mask or idle chatter. He had seen the look in Spock's eyes and knew the feeling was mutual. Suddenly he noticed the absence of pain in his disabled extremities.

"Spock, did you do something? My arm doesn't hurt anymore..."

"Yes, Jim. I used a Vulcan technique, a form of mind-meld. It seemed unnecessary for you to suffer further. I merely transferred some of the pain to my mind, where it was easily controlled."

Kirk squeezed the blue-sleeved arm of his friend with his good hand in silent thanks. Then another thought struck. "When I came to ... what did you mean by 'we must believe'? What?"

"That what we are doing is right, that our deaths have meaning." Spock, who had been listening for new sounds coming from the other side of the barricaded door, turned to look down at the familiar, beloved face so near to him. Drinking in, once more, the personality behind those golden-brown eyes. "You were screaming that it was a trick, that I was killing you to take over the Enterprise. I tried to explain, but..."

Kirk rubbed his chin in a characteristic gesture. "But you knew that I didn't really believe that. It was whatever the radiation was doing..."

The Vulcan nodded in agreement. "Yes, I knew, logically. But the thought of our dying with you still believing that suddenly became too much to bear."

"Please don't apologize for feeling that way."

"I had no intention of doing so -- in the situation." The two looked at each other in perfect understanding.

"Well, it will soon be over." Kirk seemed to be talking to himself. "After all the struggle, all the years. Did you ever think we would end up like this, my friend?"

Spock permitted himself another luxury -- a rare smile. "I had surmised it might, Jim, if we were lucky."

"Lucky!" The human tried to sit up, then abandoned the attempt as stabbing pains in his back reminded him of other injuries. "You call all of this lucky?"

"It will be quick and painless. And we are together."

Kirk blinked in surprise. "Does it mean that much to you?"

Spock nodded gravely, all Vulcan caution tossed to the winds.

The Captain thought for a timeless moment, then grinned for a second a youth again. "I know what you mean. I've often wondered how I would ever go on if anything happened to you. But you know, I have a feeling ... a hunch. Do you suppose all this was meant to be?"

"Do you mean by some sort of deity?"

"Oh, that, or by Fate. Whatever you want to call it. From the moment we met ... remember?"

"Yes, indeed."

"It was like we each found what we had needed to make ourselves whole. It was almost miraculous. I've had other good friends before, but you were different. It was like we had known each other before ... in another life or another time." He broke off as he noticed the Vulcan didn't seem to be listening. "Maybe I'm being silly, sentimental."

Spock reached down to hold his friend again securely in a tender embrace. "Not at all. It is as good an explanation for our relationship as any. It is regrettable that it has taken these circumstances for us to be able to verbalize our feelings. It is also regrettable that the door is now giving way."

Kirk turned to look at the buckling door in dismay, then into the eyes so near. They were dark as a starless night sky and full of emotion. Their gazes locked and became the last thing these two particular men saw as Spock's earlier prediction came true, a bit ahead of time. The engines quite effectively destroyed themselves and all surrounding space. Within seconds their bodies were returned to the abyss from which they had come.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE, ANOTHER KIRK, ANOTHER SPOCK, ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE, ANOTHER...

On the bridge of the Enterprise at the conclusion of a successful mission:

Captain Kirk: I had a feeling...

Spock: A feeling is not much to go on.

Captain Kirk: Sometimes a feeling, Mr. Spock, is all we humans have to go on.

Spock: Captain, you almost make me believe in luck.

Captain Kirk: Why, Mr. Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles.

THE END