DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Juanita Salicrup and is copyright (c) 1980 by Juanita Salicrup. Rated PG. Originally printed in Dagger of the Mind.



Gift of the Masters of Time

Juanita Salicrup



Despite his self-imposed confinement to quarters and his medically dictated restricted duty status, Spock had dressed carefully this evening in a fresh uniform. Now he stood before the firepot in his cabin, gazing deeply into its smokeless flames as he searched within himself to ensure the stability and strength of the shields that would protect him in the interview yet ahead.

But a few moments more... he thought.

He had known there was risk in taking the classified solo assignment. He had been unsupported, having to rely only upon himself in the encounter with Doctor Daniel Kayogus, and his awareness of the focusing crystal's importance had made him uncharacteristically anxious for its fate in the hands of that warped yet brilliant scientist. Fortunately, the doctor had not yet determined the incredible and frightening possibilities within the irregular emerald gem he had stolen, when Spock finally found him. But in his own fearful knowledge of the crystal's potential, Spock had blundered, given himself away, and the result had been tragedy.

Now -- yes, the crystal was safely back in the hands of its creators, the Time Masters; and yes, Spock himself, though irreparably damaged, had been returned to the world of his ship. Also, though regrettably -- because all death is regrettable -- Kayogus was dead. This universe, and others existing parallel, ahead and behind (insofar as those directions had meaning in the physics of time) were, therefore, safe as well.

Safe. A philosophical, existential concept -- that. After all, he was 'safe,' and yet, what was arid safety when weighed against productive existence? Or was he being, after all, too 'emotional,' too hasty in his judgment of his future capacity?

Certain facts were ineradicable: he was permanently disabled, physically functional, though limitedly so; mentally, the same as always. Well, perhaps not, he reflected, somewhat wryly. In all experiences, there is wisdom. Therefore he must be considered, or try to be, wiser for what he had suffered.

His meditation was interrupted by the call chime of his quarters' door. As quickly as possible with the encumbrance of his lamed and dragging leg, he moved into the sitting room-cum-study area. He had managed to be seated behind the desk, hands folded in front of him, before his quietly uttered "Come" brought Doctor Ellen Brandon into his sanctum.

"Captain," greeted the Chief Medical Officer.

"Doctor," replied Spock with his customary nod that was suggestive of a bow.

The sturdy, grey-haired woman stood before him, head cocked speculatively to one side. She suspected that the information she had to impart was completely superfluous in this patient's case. She pursed her lips and laid the microcassette on the desk between them. "You know, then."

"Let us say I had -- guessed."

"To throw one of your own words at you: 'indeed'!"

"Won't you be seated, Doctor Brandon?"

The woman eyed him with some disgust and then sat in the chair across from him. "You're a damned frustrating patient. Did you know that, Spock?"

A brow arched, and there was quizzical good humor in the deep eyes that studied her square, lined face. "So I have been told on a number of occasions in the past."

Her face softened. "I had great respect for Leonard McCoy, but I'd have given an awful lot to see the two of you lock horns." She sighed. "Ah, well. Let's cut through the hyperbole and preamble, shall we? How much do you know?"

"My right leg, from the hip downward, is relatively without feeling, and I am unable to motivate it in the normal manner."

The doctor's eyes sharpened. "Pain?"

"Discomfort."

"Pain," she concluded with a sharp nod. She came around the desk without invitation and turned Spock toward her. Scorning instrumentation, she used her square, capable hands to probe at the captain's right leg and hip. Muttered questions, more probing, monosyllabic answers. She stood up with a grunt.

"One more procedure and that twinge will be gone."

"No, Doctor." The voice was quiet and firm.

"What?! Captain -- I can fix that."

"No."

Her full lips pressed into a tight line. She eyed him. "Mind telling me why?"

He gave her a keen, no-nonsense look. "Because it assists me in remembering that I still live."

She scowled. "You can get the same effect by hitting your head against a bulkhead once a day, you know. And the results are nowhere near as lasting."

"Doctor, I believe you misunderstand me. I do not wish to undergo another operation for several reasons." When she might have interrupted, his eyes quelled the impulse. "One, I am a Vulcan, and the minimal pain is within my power to control. Two, unless my awareness of my own physical condition is in error, another operation will not restore full use of the limb to me. In fact, it will change the condition little, if at all. Three, the more quickly I accept the reality and adjust to it, the more quickly I can get on with the business of living as I must from this moment onward."

"Your mnemonic device is your spur then."

"Among other things -- yes."

She studied him for a few moments in silence, and then shrugged. "Suit yourself."

"Thank you, Doctor. I would appreciate your action on this as soon as possible." He pushed up, glanced at it a microcassette of his own across the desk to her. She picked it briefly and slipped it into the patch pocket of her medical tunic.

"How soon do you want to be on your way?"

"The recommendation and application should be processed within three days, ship's time. In the meantime, I will work on the list of recommended promotions I will submit to Fleet. As soon as a new captain is named and my retirement and transport approval are forwarded, which should be simultaneous occurrences, I will be able to leave." He reflected, with mixed acerbity and a twinge of the pain -- regret he would always feel that Jim Kirk's passing from life and from the service had had a greater dignity about it ... and, certainly, far less of troublesome 'administrivia.'

Brandon looked her question at him.

"Perhaps one week after that, ship's time," he replied.

She sighed, clasped her hands behind her, and walked to the door. There she turned to look at him again. Her piercing grey gaze drilled into him, flicked around the alien decor of the quarters, and came back to rest on his face, where it remained for a few long, silent moments. "I'm truly sorry, Captain. You will be sorely missed here."

Spock studied the middle-aged Human woman, recalling others of her kind he'd known, and nodded. "I am grateful for that, Doctor -- though I may not show it as you would wish."

Brandon shrugged. "You are what you are, Spock. I accept that, even though I wouldn't be inclined to embrace you for it." She patted the pocket that held Spock's request for disability retirement. "I'll take care of this right now. Good evening, Captain."

"Thank you, Doctor. Good night."

* * *

Contemplation on the changed shape of a future, altered directions and the pulled-in perspective imposed by infirmity ... the imprisonment of spirit within a damaged shell...

These were the thoughts that had occupied Spock since his return from Mission Kayogus. They might have driven a formerly active officer of purely Human heritage into a state of melancholy or despair, but, for a Vulcan, there had always been one way to transcend the physical, to shake off the bonds of the earth-bound body and soar free: that of the mind. It was the way Spock sought now.

It was some hours later, far into the third watch, when he returned out of deep meditation to his physical surroundings, drawn by visual and aural perceptions at the very periphery of his consciousness.

He looked up from the concentration point of his steepled fingertips and, with no particular surprise, noted that two of the Beings who called themselves Time Masters had appeared in the center of his living quarters. As he stirred, shaking himself free of the last of meditation's webs, they bowed.

"Our apologies for disturbing you in the privacy of your mind. We had intended to wait until you had ceased your delvings," said one, his oddly fluted vocal notes sounding a chord that conveyed as much in tone as his words did in content.

Spock rose, awkward with his disability, and managed a bow in return.

"I had finished for this cycle. Your presence did not interrupt my thought paths or their patterns. Welcome, once again, to my abode." His welcome was genuine. His respect for these creatures from the far distant future was matched by a genuine intellectual and sensory pleasure in both the form they'd taken and the music of the vocalization they employed.

"Be seated, Spock. We would be served equally well, if not better, if you were more comfortable," said the second.

He did as bidden. "I am grateful for your consideration. Now -- may I ask: which of you am I addressing?"

The two, creatures of light, as they could only be described, glanced at one another in shared communication. Their musical tones were definitely colored with frissons of amusement.

"You would call us ... Decision ... and Message, Captain Spock," they told him. The taller -- though it was difficult to characterize a shaft of colored light with the merest suggestion of form, and that no more than radiant robes, hands and faces, as being either 'tall' or 'short' in stature -- bowed. "I am ... Decision." The other bowed in turn. "And, obviously, I am Message ... for now. You know, of course, that these appellations have little significance to us, Spock, as they are inexact, temporary and often interchangeable."

"So you have explained. Yet I am grateful that you acquiesce to the customs of the form and substance to which beings of my time are captive."

"We are also captive to shape, Spock, though we are freer than your peoples. As we explained when we first met, it is our very shapes, both in their original form and in these we have adopted now, that prevented us from personally retrieving our stolen focusing crystal ... and made it necessary to employ your services, thereby causing your present condition."

Spock held up a hand. "No. I would make this one thing clear to you: you are not responsible for this injury. Had I not grown careless, I would still be whole."

"We choose not to see it in quite the same light, Spock, if you will forgive us. The alleged carelessness of which you speak came as a direct result of your knowledge and concern over the gravity of what it was you were seeking to preserve. Since we are the ones who gave you that knowledge--"

"I assure you, I have been involved in critical missions before, ones where a betrayal of key knowledge could weigh heavily in the question of the survival of countless beings."

"True, Spock. But never before did all the fates of all the streams of times past and all the streams of times future hang upon your individual success or failure. It was and is our responsibility that we allowed you to know this, since we judged you to be a creature of conscience and integrity, and worthy of the trust of that knowledge. In so doing, we unwittingly hampered you, and therefore we are also responsible for your crippling and the alteration to your life's path. We come now to why we are here, once more intruders upon your existence and awareness."

Spock sat quietly, content to wait for their revelations without further interruption on his part.

"Among our fellows," said Decision, "we two have been charged with the duty of giving you a suitable return for that which you have given back to us. Such things can never be equal, but what we give you may compensate in some fashion for both your effort and your loss."

The other continued, "This exercise is necessary to us, Spock, and we must discharge this duty fully before we will be welcome to return to our fellow Masters."

When Spock said nothing, merely sitting attentatively, awaiting their words, the Time Masters smiled upon him with benevolent pleasure.

"Now. The gift we have chosen is one that we are uniquely capable of giving from the storehouse of our Time Treasure - and one which, we are certain, will have greater value to you than mere artifact. We offer you a gift out of Time, Spock - whatever you choose it to be."

"I do not understand. Please clarify."

"We offer to change one incident, to preserve one thing which was destroyed, to retrieve one thing lost to you in your past which you desire most. By our power to alter circumstance we would give that one thing to you."

Stunned by the implications in the gift offering, Spock could only stare at the two as if he hadn't heard correctly. The Masters glanced at one another and hastened to explain themselves further.

"Spock, in the lives of all sapient beings there are incidents to be regretted, things one would change, actions one would recall, if given the opportunity. We ask you now to look back upon all your life past and to choose that which it would give you the most pleasure or satisfaction to change. Depending upon the confluence of events - if it is within our power to change and in accord with the ethics of our practices - we shall give you this gift."

Spock let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and his gaze dropped to his clasped hands. A silence grew among them and then, after a while of contemplation, he said, "What you offer is nearly beyond my comprehension. I have been taught that what is past is done, prologue to the future, and irrevocable. Even the journeys I have taken into the past have only emphasized that one cannot alter what has gone before without altering, perhaps destroying, that which has occurred more recently and that which is yet to come. I do not understand, from the limitation of my own knowledge, how what you offer can be possible."

The Time Masters smiled. "You are worthy of the gift, Spock. Your very concerns confirm that. As for how such things can be possible, the method must remain beyond your ken, though it is well within our power, and in no wise mysterious or arcane, but rather a manifestation of our own technology. There are many such manifestations in your science that would have seemed equally mysterious to hose born in your distant past. Rely on us to know what we are about."

"Very well. I shall do as you say. However, the choice I make may well present an insoluble problem since even you, who are Time Masters, say that there are facts and events which cannot be changed without disastrous effect."

"Quite true. However, you are a being of exceptional intelligence and uniquely aware of cosmic concerns. We will give you a period of twenty-four of your hours for private contemplation of our offering and your request, so that you might choose with all the care that is in your power to employ. The one caution we would extend to you is that your choice - especially if it is to call back the life of one lost to you - must be one which, to the best of your own knowledge, will not change the life stream of the universe in which you dwell. When we return for your answer, we will review your choice, sine it is within our power to know things you cannot, and the ultimate decision will be ours. We are certain we can rely upon your wisdom and your integrity."

And with that last utterance, they were gone, leaving no more trace of themselves than if they had existed solely within the corridors of Spock's imagination.

* * *

It took a good while for Spock to prepare himself for the extended meditation this new task required. First, he showered and arrayed himself comfortably in one of the Vulcan robes the like of which he would be wearing for the rest of his life. Then he turned up his cabin's ambient temperature to nearly the norm of the Sasashar desert lands, dimming the lights to an appropriate soft red glow. Finally, he pulled a carved stone armchair closer to the fragrance given off by his firepit, relaxed against the chair cushions, and took his lytherette into his lap. He laid his cheek against the instrument's polished wood frame, closed his eyes and allowed his fingers to range idly over the strings, free to follow their own random paths as his thoughts ranged beyond this place of repose-within-duty.

Free thought soon assumed the order habitual to his nature, and he found his considerations patterning themselves chronologically, keyed by the Time Masters' mention of past regrets. In his own opinion, Spock had much that he had cause to regret.

Looming first, and largest, was the eighteen-year separation between himself and his father. Though both had striven since their reunion to compensate one another and Spock's mother, Amanda, for the lost years, Spock knew the personal bitterness of those lonely years and could guess at the well-concealed pain his parents had likely suffered while he was growing from young manhood to full and responsible adulthood apart from the sight of their hearts.

By the Time Masters' methods, could he change that - erase the schism while retaining the events as they had occurred in his and their lives afterward?

No. It is not so simple... he thought and, unbeknownst to himself, his fingers sound and found the Vulcan harmonics of Sored's "Symphony of the Desert" to provide fitting background to his musings. He was far too much the mathematician and scientist to discount the magnitude of the effects of that break with his father and Vulcan.

Alter that - and the spur is removed that firmed my dedication in all the scarifying encounters at Starfleet Academy, and afterward. And without that drive, might I not have returned to the shelter of Vulcan when life as a half-blood out in the unprotected reaches of galactic life became well-nigh intolerable? I am what I am ... because of that break ... He paused to allow the wave of that new awareness to break over him, drenching him in its clarity before slowly ebbing away. Swift in its wake came another such thought: If I am this present self specifically because I lived under the cloud of that separation - then Sarek also became what is today, grew to a regret and understanding that enabled our resolution ... because of what he had learned in the years between. His fingers stilled momentarily upon the lytherette strings as he examined this new conclusion until finally, finding it valid, he consigned the events to the past where they belonged.

He let his thoughts soar among the stars in his memory and soft music once again filled the cabin.

Regret ... for the lost ... the lamented...

Life, so precious, flashes but briefly against the sky ... cut short...

His fingers had found sonorous backgrounding -- the "Missa Solemis" -- and, once more, the music was father to the thought.

Of all those whose passing is most, and constantly, regretted... James T. Kirk's image was surrounded in memory, as in life, by his own unique golden aura. And gold was his color. Lion's eyes, the glow he exuded in accomplishment or devilment, the command uniform shirt and its braid -- symbols of the duty he had embraced so eagerly it had called him to his death before his life's hour had quite struck noon... Gold ... all gold.

There was no question in Spock's mind of ever returning that particular presence to the here and now. Twisting Time's pathways to set such a one as Kirk back among the living would be insanity. His life had touched too many others, and the effect of his actions impacted too widely to whirl Time's unbroken rings in reverse for him. If his life had changed worlds and peoples, so, too, had his death. The pattern was fixed, immutable, forged in the heat of suns he had seen and which had shone upon him. There was no recall from his final destiny, no matter how much Spock might have treasured that brotherly company during the long hours of the watch. And he knew his late captain well enough to realize that Kirk would not have thanked him for returning him to life, preserving his existence perhaps at the cost of a galaxy. If he, himself, had been strong enough once to permit the death of one most dear that others might live as they should, Spock could do no less.

Farewell, Jim, he thought, and knew that this was now an utterly final bidding to rest eternal.

From Kirk, it was as natural as breathing to turn to thought of McCoy. But even as the good doctor's brilliant blue eyes and lined face came clear in his mind, he could hear the Georgian drawl tinged with acerbity: Bring me back when you know you can't recall Jim? Are you crazy, Spock?! Maybe I didn't cut as wide a swath as our friend on the bridge, but I touched a few lives in my time, and saw a few worlds. Can't call me back either, just 'cause you've got an itch to! Go out and make some new friends. You need 'em. And you know what to do with them, too, thank God -- now that you've finally absorbed a few of the lectures I gave you! What'd you think they were for, anyway? My health? You can't drag me back there with you. You have living to do you haven t done yet. 'Sides -- I kinda like it here now. Jim's finally taught me how to play chess, and I taught him to make a pretty fair mint julep. And anyway, the brandy's always good... Get along with you now, will you? You're interruptin' our peace, and while it's not exactly heavenly, it sure is peace!

Spock pulled himself forcibly from that reverie, aware that even as the pain of loss lanced freshly through his soul, there was a half smile on his face. "Very well, my friend. Be at peace," he said with a soft chuckle, and spent the next few minutes as he collected his scattered emotions, playing the old Irish folk tune, "The Parting Glass," which had so surprised and pleased Kirk and McCoy when he had first played it for them.

After that, he let the music take him where it would -- through incidents and memories shining clear under the lens of his eidetic Vulcan memory.

Another face soon came to mind: that of the one who called himself Flint, though men through countless ages had named him all their geniuses and heroes. And as he knew he could not touch Kirk, Spock knew that Flint, though he still lived, measuring out the final march of days that he had lived on a hundred planets in a thousand lifetimes, was yet more inviolable than the captain. If reclaiming Kirk might destroy a galaxy, might not the alteration of Flint's just course result in the warping of time itself? And who was Spock, after all, to tamper with the stuff of the cosmos?

The strains of Mahler died away and Spock's hands muted the strings as a further consideration spelled itself out in his mind. The red sands of the Arena of Challenge under a glaring sky. T'Pring. The silence lengthened. For this one, Spock had no music in him. There were no chords to express the death of hope, the loss of self-esteem, the near murder of the dearest friend he'd ever had. As soon as he had spoken her name in his mind, he knew he would not ask for a change in the events that had surrounded she-who-was-to-have-been-his-wife.

He could not have lived with that one, nor shared himself, nor learned to entrust his inner, vulnerable self to her cold care! And with her at his side and in his mind, he would never have known the others who had blessed his life with their love and friendship and taught him how to weave the love and trust within himself into his relationships with the women he had been fortunate enough to know.

His fingers found the strings again as he sought to place each in the framework of his memory.

For Uhura, there was Vivaldi. It was Uhura who had taught him how to tease and to trust that some women could be comrades-in-arms, friends in all. For Christine and Leila, the golden ones with their offerings of love too soon for him to value, there were the soothing strains of Debussy's "La Mer" to wash the bitter gently away, leaving only the sweet of their memories in his mind. Miranda Jones had taught him complexity and the hidden danger in ambition, and for her -- now free of the danger, and left only with her chosen complexities -- there could only be the intricacies of Bach. Ambition, and the ruthless demands of command that could stamp out honor and call forth harsh enmity. The savagely beautiful strains of the Romulan march were the only ones appropriate to her, the one whose face he would never forget, whose secret name he had stricken from his memory so as never to betray their one shared trust.

The march led onward and his thoughts moved with it through the years, to the women of his own crew. That there were other sides to command and ambition Spock knew well. And he had known women to whom they were natural, who managed to preserve sensitivity and humor while still they achieved recognition, position, honor. His mouth quirked at thought of his Chief Medical Officer. Career Starfleet, married twenty-three years, a widow for the past five, Ellen Brandon had not been with him aboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk for much beyond a standard Federation year. Yet in her brief time with him, she had touched him deeply with her essential warmth and womanhood. She was a woman of fierce temper and fierce tenderness withal.

He would ever recall that one night not long after they had come to know one another, when she had shared the sweet memories of her husband and their love to help keep at bay both loneliness and the dark. She had spoken soft words to him, words from a two-hundred-year-old Earth song, both hands clasped around a glass of his brandy, her gaze dreaming far away:

"When I think of Tom, I think about a night

When the earth smelled of summer

And the sky was streaked with light.

And the soft mist of England was sleeping on a hill.

I remember this -- and I always will..."

He identified the song now: "Hello, Young Lovers," circa mid-20th century, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. He mused a moment over the song, recalling how she had spoken the words, almost reverently, touching deeply for the first time, though not the last, that lonely, secret place where his own dreams had lain quiescent for so long.

As the song flowed through him, he mused afresh, "But I am no longer so young as once I was ... and I am alone. There must be other music now for me..."

Blindly then, cued by the thought, his fingers found yet another melody, and he listened to his own playing in frowning concentration, unsure of what had led him to the haunting strains that sang beneath his fingers, its lyrics and title tantalizing in their not-quite-nearness, elusive when pursued, dancing just out of reach. 'Til, suddenly the shattering memory came clear to him: "Now ... now, I'm alone... Still dreaming of paradise, still saying that paradise -- once nearly was mine!"

He played it through then, start to finish, half-cursing his all-encompassing, encyclopedic memory that could discover natural cross references in the works of the same composers, the shadows of similar tonal mood. His head bowed over the soulful harp weavings as he sought vainly to drive back the ghost evoked by these particular words and this melody, to reinter all thought of her where it belonged, in the catafalque of his deepest memory.

Zarabeth...

How did one trained to rational thought admit, even in the mind's privacy, that there could ever be such an impossibility as one's perfect match-mate? And that, moreover and far worse, she was long dead in the ancient past of a planet burnt barren by its own exploding sun?!

He shook his head, attempting denial -- and failed to exorcise this newly risen demon of pain. His mind would not be still.

Zarabeth!

She -- whose surprisingly complex and intelligent heart and mind had become so quickly and fully attuned to his when they had shared that one glorious, ecstatic mating... She -- who filled all the empty places in him... She -- whom he had had no choice but to leave a prisoner condemned to madness by fresh loss where once only solitude had companioned her...

Regret? The Time Masters had asked him to name a regret, and he did so now. Above all other actions ever taken, driven by duty or grim necessity, none was so bitterly, savagely regretted, so deeply abhorred as that of parting from all of premise, all of love and light, being forced to return with McCoy to the desolate present and utterly barren future, leaving her behind, irrevocably alone.

Oh, yes -- he had managed to live since. And he expected he would also one day be wed, on Vulcan, some time after he returned to make his life there. Indeed, he must, both to save his life and for the continuance of his species. But joy and such love as he had glimpsed so briefly in the snows of Sarpeidon would never again be his. And it was neither fantasy nor self-pity which told him this. It was a thing known in the atoms of his being.

Regret? How could one finite word convey the infinite in meaning?

His head lifted sharply then, and he frowned. His fingers quieted the quivering strings of the lytherette.

One thing I would change... One life to reclaim...

It was possible he had found his answer to their riddle of time. There existed neither method nor means to accomplish such a miracle in any terms he knew. But they had said both method and means were theirs in measure beyond his imaginings.

Very well. He would think on it no further. He knew with a peculiar sense of fatalism and a whisper of prescience that he had come finally to the end of search. When next the Time Masters came to his quarters, they would find him ready. He would speak his choice -- and then let them solve the mystery if they could!

* * *

Late the next evening, true to their promise, the Time Masters reappeared in Spock's quarters, again with neither warning nor ceremonious accompaniment. One moment, they were not present; in another, they were simply there.

This time, Spock was fully prepared, garbed in his duty uniform and seated behind his desk, hands clasped. The creatures moved toward him. "Greetings, Captain Spock," they chorused, flute-voiced as ever, and sketched a bow in his direction. Spock nodded in reply. "Have you come to some conclusion regarding our proposal of yesternight?"

"I have."

"Please -- we are eager to know what you have chosen."

"Very well. After much deliberation, I have decided to request the return of one from my past, the lady Zarabeth of the planet Sarpeidon, fourth planet of the Beta Niobe II star system, which sun went nova 5.12 years ago. The age in question is that of the planet's last ice advance, some 5,220 years past. She made her solitary home in a small set of subterranean caverns located near the western edge of the frozen northern sea, latitude 60 degrees 23 minutes north, longitude 43 degrees 15 minutes west."

The Time Masters exchanged interested if puzzled glances. "Why would such a person as could inspire you to considerations out of time choose to live in such a wilderness?" asked Decision. "And why," Message added, "would you ask to give her this special gift?"

Spock drew himself up proudly. "She did not 'choose' to live in that place or time. She was a condemned prisoner, sent to that era alone by a planetary despot of 203 years in the planet's recent past -- one ZorKhan the Supreme. I wish to reclaim her, and see her returned to the here and now that she might be set free. Her crime was that of being born to the political opposition of her time, and the punishment she received was contrary to all concepts of sapient decency. I wish to set her free, but I do not know if certain problems will prevent accomplishing her return, even with such superior aid as you may provide."

"Before we can judge such possibilities, Spock, we must know all the facts: how it is you came to know of her, what the difficulties are... We are certain you can appreciate this necessity."

"Most assuredly," agreed Spock. Briefly then, he told them of his encounter with Zarabeth and the necessity of departing only to leave her a continued prisoner of her age. By the time he had finished his discourse, both Time Masters were emitting sounds of dismay.

"Oh, indeed, Spock -- you were right to wish rescue and freedom for this young one! " said Decision.

"Agreed in fullest heart, Brother," said Message. "Now, what are these difficulties of which you made mention, Captain?"

"Within minutes after my ship's departure from the planet, there occurred the nova of which I spoke, which obliterated all life on the planet. It is today no more than a burned cinder floating at the edge of the expanding gases of the red giant, Beta Niobe II. Second -- ZorKhan, he who entombed Zarabeth, utilized a device called an Atavachron to send his enemies back in time to whatever period of history he chose. As far as I have been able to discover from subsequent study of records on the planet's history stored in the Federation archives at Memory Alpha, the device was completely unknown outside Sarpeidon's society. However, I saw it, and know it did exist. Apparently, its function was the alteration of the subject in some manner so as to prepare the individual for life in the past. But, as far as I was ever made aware -- and that only by Zarabeth herself -- the preparation imposed by the Atavachron permitted those so prepared no return from the past they entered through its doorway. Any attempt to do so would cause certain death. My companion and I were able to return only because we had not been acclimated by the Atavachron."

The Time Masters nodded thoughtfully, but before they might comment, Spock added, "There is, I believe, one additional factor to be considered."

"And that is?"

"Should Zarabeth be returned to live here in the Federation of this day and age, what effect might her presence have upon the lives of others who dwell here now? I ask because I was once involved in a situation where the fate of our present day Federation rested on the death or survival of one particular young woman in Earth's past." Subliminally, he shivered. "I would not want to loose such a world wrecker as she on unknowing sapients here and elsewhere."

The Time Masters observed him thoughtfully for several silent moments and then nodded. "Be assured, Spock. We will take all these factors into account in our deliberations. Now, if you will give us leave, we will depart to study on the matter. We shall return within one hour's time."

Spock rose and bowed carefully, watching closely as they dematerialized before him. As previously, there was no awareness of any period or condition of transition. A moment wherein they existed in form and substance was followed, with incredible rapidity, by the next, where not the smallest trace of either lingered on the warm waves of air that flowed over the spot where they had stood.

* * *

Less than the hour the Masters had specified had passed when once more they materialized in Spock's quarters.

Curious, and troubled by an internal anxiety he did not care to examine too closely just then, the Vulcan stood, clasping his hands loosely behind him in a deceptively relaxed pose, as if awaiting some casual information. Only his eyes betrayed him, hooded and glowing intently beneath wingswept brows.

"Spock, we have examined your choice carefully, and have consulted with others of our kind to determine whether that which you desire might be made possible."

Spock straightened, shoulders squared, ignoring the pain that flashed hotly through his hip and down his leg.

"We have decided we will grant what you wish. But we have also given serious thought to the impact of the journey through time upon your Zarabeth. We believe it would be best if you, as one familiar to her and knowing her place of imprisonment, would go back to reclaim her -- and together you would return here."

Spock nodded gravely, covering the convulsive swallow that cleared his choked throat. "I am deeply grateful for your consideration, and I will gladly go." He looked at them squarely once more. "Is it permitted that I know some small part of how this will be accomplished?"

"We could grant you no less, since we honor the sincerity of your scientific curiosity," said Decision.

"Our means will be through the focusing crystal," said Message, and he produced one of the glowing time-gems from within the folds of his robe. "We shall key it to your mind and your responses. Then you need only the power of your concentration in order to immerse yourself in the clear memory of the time and place you seek. By means of the crystal, you will be carried to your destination and, once you have obtained what you wish, may return in the same manner. The crystal is your key to the constancy of this place, here. Your concentration through it will carry you safely from here to Sarpeidon, and back, without deviation, so long as you hold the gem firmly in your hand and the focus of your destination clear in your mind."

"May I ask -- what of the Atavachron and its effects? Or the nova?"

"The Atavachron is destroyed, along with the planet, in the present. And it did not exist within the age to which the lady Zarabeth was condemned. Its effects could only touch her if its doorway was employed. But we are not compelled by the mechanics of such a static artifact. Our crystal, and the mental power of the one who employs it, may be utilized to examine and experience any of the currents in the Time River -- in whatever parallel existence the venturer chooses. You know well, Spock, that all of time exists, in fact, simultaneously. There is, speaking in terms of physics, no reality to the notions of 'past' or 'future.' Suffice it to say that you will journey to your Zarabeth only in the sense that you will step from one stone to another in the time-stream, existing first in one place-time focus and then in another. Reversing the course, you and she will exist in the 'there and then' and then in the 'here and now,' and so will have neither effect upon nor be affected by the life arrangements and laws of the Atavachron.

"Concerning the nova, we can tell you that we shall send you back to Sarpeidon's ice age after you and your companion, McCoy, departed. In that long ago age, the nova was yet centuries in the future. You will be safe from its effects while in that time and it will not interfere with your return here."

"We will burden you with only two concerns, Spock," said Decision, and the Vulcan's eyes narrowed, alert. "We would suggest alacrity in accomplishing your task. The experience of living history can become somewhat hypnotic and intoxicating. We believe all will be well for you, for you are deeply committed to your mission and neither reckless nor foolhardy by nature. But do not linger. There is always danger in each journey of this type."

"Understood. And your second point?"

"We cannot guarantee what you will find, Spock. We can send you to the exact time and place, but we cannot know what conditions prevail in the life or lives existing at that moment in time."

Spock digested this, silently.

"You comprehend, Spock," said Message, gently. "You may arrive too late to accomplish your goal. She may not have survived."

The Vulcan's head came up sharply at that, and his face assumed a more impassive look than he had worn in several years. "I understand, and I accept that possibility."

For a few moments he contemplated their words and wisdom, and then made the single request their warning made necessary.

"If it is permitted, I should like to request that my Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Ellen Brandon, be allowed to be present and stand by here during my journey and return. As you say, you cannot vouch for what I will encounter. I believe that the presence of a physician would be a wise precaution. Her discretion may be relied upon fully and, in any case, she is a friend."

He held himself taut, made anxious by their well-intended words of warning, as they consulted silently with one another.

"We agree, Spock, both with your request and the wisdom that prompted you to place it before us. Summon your officer, by all means."

Spock bowed his thanks, immeasurably relieved, and turned to the intercom to contact Ellen Brandon. As he opened the speaker channel, his glance fell to the face of the digital chronometer staring up at him from the desktop. He winced at the lateness of the hour, and put sincere apology into his tones in reply to the perceptible weariness in the doctor's voice when she answered his call.

"Brandon here."

"Doctor ... Ellen, this is Spock. My apologies for awakening you, but I need you to come to my quarters."

The physician was instantly alert. "Are you in pain, Spock?"

"No. And this is not the emergency you assume. I regret concerning you in that regard. However, a situation has developed in which I will require your discretionary assistance, perhaps as physician, certainly as friend. Please come to my quarters as soon as you can attire yourself comfortably."

"I'll be there in ten minutes, Spock."

"Thank you. And, Ellen--"

"Yes, sir?"

"Please bring your medical kit--" He glanced at the Time Masters."--and your suspension of disbelief with you when you come."

"My -- what?!"

"You will comprehend when you arrive."

"Oh, it's one of those, is it? Well, it's a little too late in my life for beauty sleep anyway. I'll see you in ten minutes, Captain."

"Very good, Ellen. Spock out."

* * *

Spock stood where he had been directed to place himself, in the center of the study-living area of his quarters. For the journey, he had draped a heavy, hooded Vulcan mountain cloak around his shoulders. Though his eyes were fixed on the large green gemstone cupped in his palm, he was peripherally aware of the others: the placid Time Masters, to whom this journey posed no difficulties, potential or actual, and Ellen Brandon, who had had few questions after his recounting, and had subsided into an alert quiet. She had taken reassurances with a certain medical apprehensiveness, but had responded with a warming trust in Spock that now lent him sustenance.

He shut out awareness of his immediate surroundings, inhaled deeply, slowed his breathing, and sank mentally into the emerald depths of the time-stone. Fathoms deep in a vast, darkening sea he plunged into a star-spangled void that crystallized into the biting cold of ice walls rising around him to enclose him in their embrace. In an abrupt flash, he found himself standing just inside the largest of the three chambers of Zarabeth's prison. He caught his breath at the shock of so easy an arrival after such a journey and took a moment to gather himself. Heat radiated off the hotspring pools in the center of the chamber and the glow of the bear oil lanterns cast leaping shadows on the rough walls.

Cautiously, he picked his way around the pools to the cookfire. The lanterns were turned low, and the fire had been banked. Knives, sewing awls, cooking utensils, a hide stretched on its frame -- all was as it should be.

The room was empty.

Yet he could not judge how long a time might have passed since he and McCoy had departed, and for a moment he worried that perhaps the Time Masters had erred and he had arrived too soon, perhaps even before his first invasion of her solitude.

Then he saw it, standing atop an overturned bowl on the table -- the small stone carving he had fashioned for her, the tiny model of a hulking ursine creature this world had never seen. Its head cocked questioningly, paw raised in inquiry, the expression a comic-gentle 'smile' that showed curving sabre fangs. He touched it lightly with one finger, and it seemed that the small sehlat tilted its head to invite a scratch behind one tufted ear.

He was in time, then. He breathed more easily, and let his gaze rove over the chamber to the darkened archway of the sleeping quarters. With an internal tightening, he walked slowly to the doorway and peered into the gloom. A huddled form wrapped in furs lay on the bed.

Only the shattering riptide of relief that broke over him then told him plainly how great had been his fear. He sagged against the archway for a moment before he took one of the lamps from its peg beside the doorway and carried it with him into the chamber. As the circle of light enveloped the figure on the bed, she stirred but did not awaken.

Carefully, he placed the light on a table and sat on the edge of the bed. He had come so far -- across ages and parsecs -- and now his journey had finally come to a close. Even as he sat thinking that, he could not quite believe in the reality just yet.

Journeys end in lovers' meetings, he thought, and wondered immediately at the turn of mind that excavated such a quote to torment him now.

He leaned forward to study Zarabeth's upturned face, touched anew by the pure clarity of her features, the cloud of coppery hair. She seemed so very young, still as fresh as when he had first seen her, and he was painfully aware that while a matter of days had passed in her life, five and more of the most difficult years he had yet known had passed in his own. He felt decades the elder and wondered for the first time at the ethics and motives which had driven him to her side. By what right had he come back to her?

As he sat musing so, she murmured in her sleep, turning toward the lamp. And he forgot his questions and his hesitation at the sight of the ribbons of dried tears that striped her face.

As he reached out to touch, to awaken her, she stirred again, and her eyes opened lazily. For a moment, she gazed at him mistily, half-smiling sleepily. Then suddenly her eyes flew wide, their soft greyness sharpening, and she started violently.

"Spock?! Spock! It is you!" She sat up, suddenly weeping and laughing at once, and threw herself at him, arms encircling his neck. "You came back! You came back! Oh, gods! I knew you would return."

Her hands were everywhere, her body pressed to his as she sobbed, and suddenly her sweet mouth closed with his, lips parting in passion that awakened memory and shook his soul. Confusion and conflict were swept aside as he crushed her to him, responding with all the love that had been locked away inside him. In that joyous fusion, the long-held ache of loneliness in his heart ebbed and his mind sang with bliss. He understood as never before what his coming had meant to her then -- and now. With a part of his mind, he vowed never to forget the lesson. When they broke apart, he held her closely, reveling in sensations he had not experienced in so long a time that his mind hungered as deeply as his flesh.

He grew aware presently of the not-quite-confused outpouring of her words:

"Thank the gods you're back! Now I can live... I won't have to choose death -- even if there is no child. No more loneliness. No more pain. We can make our life... Oh, Spock! You don't know how good it is to say that word -- 'our.' We can make our home here together now. And there will be nothing to fear. I'll teach you how to hunt, and you can teach me to grow things... Oh, Spock, it will never be a prison again -- not now ... not now that you're here..."

He drew back. "Zarabeth ... Zarabeth, listen. Listen to me..." he said gently. "I am not here to live a prisoner with you. I've come back for you.''

"Yes, of course;" She laughed delightedly. "There's no one else here. Well -- perhaps one..." She looked suddenly shy, and patted her belly. "Our child. We may have a child. Did you know that?" She laughed again and looked up at him from under a thick fringe of lashes. "Oh, of course you know." She blushed then grew earnest. "Spock, it's all that I've lived for. Otherwise there was nothing -- and I was prepared to die. You understand, Spock? I intended to take my own life if proof came I did not carry your child. But now -- now -- you're here... and whether we are a family or not, we will be together, and--"

"Zarabeth!" He broke in, grasping her shoulders firmly. He shook her gently. "Zarabeth, listen to me."

Startled, she subsided with a frown of concern and anxiety. "What is it, Spock? What's wrong?" She reached out to touch his face gently.

"There are things you do not understand."

"Then tell me. Only tell me."

He took the hand she had put against his cheek, hungry to hold some part of her. "How long have I been gone?"

"What?" She looked confused, and then laughed softly. "Is this a riddle? You have been gone five nights."

"No, Zarabeth. No." He shook his head for emphasis. "Look at me carefully. I am not the same."

Frowning, she studied him with greater care. Her hand raised to touch his face once more, fingers tracing the horizontal scar that slashed beneath his cheek bone and the deepened grooves that cut brackets around his sensitive mouth. Confusion and a dawning fear radiated from her. "You... do seem ... different." Her hands stroked his throat down to the gold shirt. "What is it? Why?"

"Zarabeth, to you I have been gone five days. In my own era, the time that has passed is more than five years."

She began to tremble, shaking her head slowly. "I -- don't understand. How is that possible?"

"The means are far too complex to explain at this moment, but -- to put it perhaps simply enough for now -- I 'returned' to my time, and by a particular device, I have 'come back' to you, choosing the time so that I would be here within days of our first encounter."

She held tightly to him now. "You mean -- like the Atavachron."

He could see her fear and the effort she made at comprehending the enormous complexity of it, and he took pity on her. "Yes. Something like it, but..."

"What does it matter how you came to be here, Spock? The important thing is that you are -- and we can be together, and--"

"No, Zarabeth," he said, gently implacable.

Confusion again. "What do you mean?"

He was impatient with his own ineptness then. "We have very little time, and there is much to explain. I have not returned here only to become imprisoned with you. I have come to take you back with me to my own world."

A look of horror crossed her face, and she shrank away from him. "No."

Startled, Spock stopped mid-thought. "I do not understand."

She shook her head stubbornly and hugged her bare arms as if suddenly cold in the room's warmth. "No. I said 'no.' I won't go, Spock. How can you ask? Don't you remember the danger of the Atavachron? It will kill me if I try to return. And I don't want to die -- not now that I have you back again! Don't ask it of me. Please."

"Zarabeth, you do not understand. I have said all this very badly. I am sorry. But you will be safe. I have a way for us--"

The mouth he had lately felt so soft beneath his own firmed and her chin raised. "The only way for us is if you stay. Please." Her eyes brimmed. "Oh, please, Spock. Stay. I love you so! You told me ... when you were here before that you loved me as well. It was true, wasn't it?"

"Yes," he whispered, hoarsely.

"And -- you ... you still do, don't you?"

"Yes!" The admission was wrenched from him, his anxiety forcing words from him he once could scarcely have admitted even in his own secret heart.

Her face was drawn with appeal, and she gripped his shoulders. "Then stay with me -- please. What have you to return to that means more to you ... that can give you more than what we can share?"

"Zarabeth--"

"Understand me, Spock. I love you ... and I want you desperately. I am fighting for my life and yours ... and that of our 'perhaps' child. What can there be for you back there?"

He hesitated, touching her cheek gently, eyes roving over her face. Indeed, compared to this promise in his arms, what was there back there any longer for him? Once before he might have stayed but for the necessity of answering McCoy's bid for his own life with the Enterprise. Now?

"Well?" she prompted, half-smiling, still beseeching, so close he could feel her warm breath on his face.

"There is ... nothing." The words tore out of his heart, opening all the old scars: Kirk, McCoy, the others who were gone. He closed his eyes against the pain, shivering with the cold draft that blew across his soul, and she drew his head to her shoulder.

"Then stay," she crooned softly, stroking his aching temples. "Stay, and build a haven against the loneliness here with me. Rest ... and be welcome. This is your place. And you are well loved."

Spock sighed softly, relaxing against her, lulled by the hypnotic rhythm of her voice, the gentle strength of her against him, the warmth of her hands. He drifted in the safe shelter she offered, glad to leave all pain behind, cradled in her arms, her love.

There was something he nearly remembered ... something just out of reach... but he was very tired and it didn't matter...

"You are home with me," she murmured. "Stay."

"Yes. To stay ... a home..." he whispered, surrendering himself to the siren message of his heart's dearest wish. They stayed that way for a long while, embracing one another as they were embraced by the shadowed warmth of the cavern. Eventually, he raised his head to study her, and a smile too long reserved shone on his face. He traced the line of her brow and cheek with a forefinger.

"This does not seem quite real," he mused, absorbed in her in the way of lovers.

She smiled, cradling his hand against her cheek. "But it is. I once questioned reality and sanity, too. Do you remember?"

"Yes," he said, dreamily, lost in contemplation of firegold hair and lambent eyes.

"You told me you firmly believed I existed -- that all was real. Do you remember?"

"Yes." A bare whisper of sound, no more.

"And you did this." She took his clasped left hand and pressed it strongly between both of hers. "Do you--"

Fire stabbed through his palm, slashing through his moonraking and shattering the mood beyond repair. He pulled away.

"Spock -- what's wrong?"

He ignored her and looked down into his half-open hand to see, with a certain surprise, a large, irregular crystal, green as a sunlit sea. Awareness thundered through his brain, exploding the mesmerism of this time, this place, this -- LIE!

"No!" he shouted and lunged to his feet, swaying awkwardly. He shook himself like an animal fresh from the water. "No!

"Spock! What is it?"

He looked down at her, suddenly terribly afraid. How long had he sat bespelled? He leaned forward and grasped her wrist. "There is no time, Zarabeth! We must leave -- now!"

Frightened of this dark new passion and his unaccustomed harshness, she tried to squirm away. "Leave?"

He pulled her to her feet. "Yes. Now. We must go as I told you."

A look of horrified comprehension crossed her features, and she struggled to pull free. "No!" She pried futilely at the grip of his fingers, and he grabbed her other wrist as she struggled. Encumbered by the focusing crystal, he lost his grip as she wrenched free.

"I won't go, Spock! You can't force me. I would die -- and so would our child! I won't let you kill us! I won't -- do you hear?"

With that she began to fight him in earnest. He'd forgotten how strong she was. Nearly as tall as he, with muscles toned by the hard life she'd lived, she was a match to cause him real difficulties. And she was driven by her terrified conviction that he was taking her to her death. Hampered by his disability, a fear of hurting her, and concern for the safety of the time crystal, Spock was at a serious disadvantage in their battle. She writhed in his arms, hit with fists, elbows, and knees, landing more than one painful blow to his recently damaged leg.

"Zarabeth -- please!"

"No, Spock! No!"

They battled silently then, Spock grunting as Zarabeth's flailing blows connected with stomach, solar plexus, and various other portions of his anatomy. The young woman's frenzy grew as she found herself ineffective against his strength, and her blows grew wilder and more furious. When she aimed a hard right cross that connected with his left eye and sent comets shooting through his head, he moved on instinct. Long fingers found the juncture of neck and shoulder, and she crumpled into unconsciousness. He caught her as she fell, and lowered her gently to the bed. Tenderly, he wrapped her in his cloak, and then swung her up into his arms, grunting with the pain it cost to lift her.

He spared a moment to look down into her peaceful face, grieved by the necessity she'd forced upon him. "I am deeply sorry, Zarabeth," he whispered, and then he shifted her weight in his arms, grasped the time stone, and focused his concentration into its depths to begin his long return journey.

* * *

The materialization was sickeningly abrupt this time. Between the time distortion and the unaccustomed pain of carrying Zarabeth with his lamed leg, he staggered. As the weakened limb began to fold under him, he gasped an involuntary, "No!"

Both the Time Masters and Ellen Brandon sprang forward then, hands reaching out to assist with his burden. He righted himself with their help and, supported by Decision, carried Zarabeth to the bed where he placed her carefully on the woven coverlet.

The Time Masters withdrew to the outer quarters room, and Ellen Brandon bent over the still figure, medicorder in hand. When she straightened, she glanced from Zarabeth to her commanding officer, and took note of his slowly blackening eye.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Which one of you do I treat first?"

"I would prefer if you would ascertain only whether all is well with her - without bringing her to awareness."

"Uh-huh. How did she get like this, anyway?"

Spock hesitated so long that she turned to look at him. "Well?" she prodded.

His glance was full of embarrassment. "The confusion and complexities unnerved her. She became angry and ... somewhat hysterical. It was necessary that I use the neck pinch."

Brandon shot him a look that said "Oh, really?" and returned to her examination. Spock contained his anxiety as he waited. Finally, she rose.

"She's all right. A little malnourished; certain nutrients seem to be out of balance. Nothing serious or abnormal -- considering. You're sure you want me to leave her this way?"

"Yes. For the present, if you please." He turned, limping toward the main living area where the Time Masters waited.

"Spock!"

He turned.

"I want a look at you, too."

"You will have your chance. But first there is something I must do."

"I'll wait."

He nodded and made his slow way to the Time Masters. He felt bruised in body and soul, yet when he stood before them, he searched a moment for words that would express what he thought rather than what he felt.

"I have much for which I must thank you."

"It is not necessary, Spock. We understand."

"Your artifact." He placed the time gem in their hands once more, breathing more easily once it was back where it could no ranger be misused.

"For this," said Message, "we are grateful beyond words, Spock."

"You have made more than adequate recompense. I am deeply grateful for Zarabeth's freedom."

"Perhaps there is one more thing we might give, Spock."

An eyebrow quirked questioningly.

"Worry not for your actions on behalf of the lady," said Decision.

"I do not understand. What is it you mean?"

"Worry not for your actions on behalf of the lady," repeated Message.

When he might have questioned further, they raised their hands in the sign of Nome. "Live long and prosper, Spock. May you and yours fare well in all things and all your lives be lived in harmony."

"Peace and long life to you, Masters. My thoughts go with you."

"As ours remain with you," they responded and, once again and finally, they were gone in their inexplicable, silent way.

Disspirited, Spock turned back to his sleeping quarters, limping slowly to the bed where Zarabeth lay. For one long moment after another, he stood looking dawn at her, until Ellen Brandon took him by one arm and gently forced him to a seat on the edge of the bed. Then she drew his stone armchair around to face him, and sat down herself.

"Tell me," she prompted, unlimbering her medicorder to examine him.

With a sigh, he told her his tale, careful to leave out none of the facts, neglect none of his impressions, and to repeat every word said between Zarabeth and himself. When he had finished, his gaze was drawn back to the young woman he had brought across the ages.

"What have I done, Ellen?"

"What do you mean, Spock?"

He turned his deep, piercing gaze upon her. "I thought I brought her to freedom. But if she is unable to deal with the changes in this suddenly crowded universe I thrust upon her, have I done service or harm?"

"Wait a minute, Spock. Do I understand you correctly? Are you planning to her alone now? Here? Surrounded by a galaxy she may not understand? You can't do that! Or do you fancy that being alone among billions is preferable to alone when you're the only one in the world?"

Spock' s eyes flashed. "I did not bring her here only to shackle her to... to..."

"To yourself? Why not?"

"Doctor..." His tone was a warning rumble.

"Don't you 'Doctor' me, Captain," Brandon snapped. "I can play just as rough as you can. Just why do you suppose you picked her above anyone else you'd ever known to bring back?"

He was silent, only gazing at her in startled and pained surprise.

"And why, when you went back for her, did you very nearly succumb to her plea that you stay?"

"I--I..." he faltered.

"You know why, Spock. When are you going to admit that you have needs and desires just like everyone else -- and that it's no crime to respond to them? You can't spend your life alone any more than she can. And you don't really want to, do you?"

"No," he choked. "But I do not want to control her life."

"What about what she wants, Spock? Are you prepared for the fact that she wants you as much as you want her? I know you have the courage to face challenge, terror, loneliness and pain. Do you have the courage to face happiness?"

Spock bridled, but before he could say anything, Brandon continued, "I'll give you something else to think about while you're at it: considering how little you know of the Time Masters, did it ever occur to you that this was supposed to happen exactly as it did -- that you were meant to choose Zarabeth and to bring her back ... not so much for her freedom as to be your companion, the answer to your needs? For Beings who take such care not to alter time lines, they seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to alter yours. I'd think about that, if I were you, before I made any decisions far her, or for you."

Spock looked startled, and then settled down to a quiet pensiveness. He frowned as his vision turned inward to study her words. Finally he said, "I can offer no reasonable counterargument. The simple truth is, I do not know. Nor do I know why, Ellen."

She smiled at him. "I can tell you what I think, but it's only an opinion."

He nodded. "Understood. Go ahead."

"I think that, because the Time Masters' lives wouldn't and couldn't be what they' re destined to be if you hadn't intervened, they gave you your destiny by their intervention."

Spock's eyes widened in stunned surprise, and then they were both attracted by a moan from the bed. Quickly, Ellen rose to bend over Zarabeth while Spock waited anxiously.

"She's coming out of it," said the doctor, and she stepped back from the bed.

Zarabeth seemed to battle her way to consciousness, frowning and whimpering, arms flailing wildly. Abruptly, her eyes snapped open, and she cried out, "No!"

She sat bolt upright, fighting, hitting out angrily, until Spock grabbed both her hands in his.

"No! Zarabeth, no!" he commanded quietly.

"I won't go with you!" she cried, struggling with him. Finally, breathing heavily, she subsided, grey eyes fixed on his face, furious. Then slowly, she looked around, taking note of their surroundings -- and she gasped. With a look of awed wonder, she said, "You did it. We're here -- in your world. Aren't we?"

"Yes. We are here, though this is my ship and not my world. Still -- you are safe. These are my quarters."

Zarabeth grasped at the one crucial word in all he had said. "Safe? Are you -- sure?"

Brandon interrupted. "If he's not, I am -- and I'm the doctor."

Zarabeth's wide-eyed glance shifted from Brandon to Spock. "The doctor? But, I thought... What of McCoy?"

In a subdued voice, Spock said, "There have been many changes here that I will explain." As he struggled to do so, she began to settle into some comfort with the reality of the present. Finally, perceiving his pain, she smiled sadly at him. "I think I understand, Spock. It's not necessary that you explain everything." She touched his face gently and suddenly noticed his blackened eye. "Oh, Spock!" she wailed, softly, touching it gently. "I'm so sorry! I did this to you."

Embarrassed, he caught her fingers in his. "It is nothing. Do not be concerned."

"All right. I'll try not to be," she said, and smoothed her hand over his glossy hair. She glanced around with a touch of apprehension in her expression. "I'll admit I don't understand all of this ... not even very much of it ... but I trust you. What are we to do now?"

Spock took a deep breath and shot a quick, sidelong glance at Brandon. "We are -- going home ... to my world, Vulcan."

From the sidelines, Brandon murmured, ''Way to go, Captain."

Spock ignored the comment, gathering Zarabeth closely as she gave a glad cry and threw her arms around him. "Oh, Spock! As long as we'll be together, I don't care!"

"We shall be. That, at least, I can promise. As for what the future may hold--"

From the entrance to the captain's sleeping quarters, Brandon interrupted once more. "Why don't you stop speculating about the future, and just live it?"

Spock and Zarabeth exchanged a glance, and Brandon made her way to the cabin door. "Oh, by the way," she added, including them both in her remarks. "Congratulations seem to be in order." She winked at Zarabeth. "You're pregnant, in case you didn't know it. The great and powerful Oz has spoken."

Zarabeth's cry of joy and Spock's gasp melted into the sound of the cabin door as it slid closed behind the departing physician.

THE END