DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Toni Cardinal-Price and is copyright (c) 1976 by Toni Cardinal-Price. Rated R. Originally published in R&R #6/7.



The Five Nights of Seekaj

Toni Cardinal-Price



It was Spock who first detected the planet; it appeared suddenly and inexplicably on his sensors. He informed the captain, and Kirk had left his command chair to join the science officer at his station, when three things happened in rapid succession. The engines of the mighty starship shut down completely, the life support systems on the bridge clicked off, and one by one, the bridge crew began to disappear.

Kirk turned widened eyes to Spock, who also glanced around in alarm. Then, suddenly, Spock too was gone and Kirk stood on the bridge alone. He looked around in alarm, then vanished.

It was no more than a split second later that Kirk found himself standing on a small platform, surrounded by his bewildered crew. A huge crowd of very human-looking people watched them with curiosity. It was McCoy who broke the stunned silence.

"Where in blue blazes are we?!"

Kirk turned to his first officer questioningly. "Spock...any ideas?"

"None, Captain," the tall Vulcan replied, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion. "There were no records of any planet in this quadrant of space. Furthermore, this planet did not appear on sensor scan until a moment before we were brought here." He paused and glanced around. "The inhabitants appear humanoid...however. Without my tricorder...."

"Yes..." Kirk interrupted. "Without readings, we can't be sure if they're human or merely adapting this appearance for our benefit." And as he observed the area surrounding them, he could see that they stood in the middle of some sort of market place. Crude stone dwellings lined the dirt street. "Looks almost primitive," he commented.

Spock nodded. "I would compare it roughly to your Earth's medieval period, Captain."

"Well, you seem to be attracting their attention, Spock," McCoy cut in, nudging the first officer. He gestured in the direction of the crowd, who seemed almost entranced by Spock's appearance. The Vulcan raised one eyebrow, but remained silent. "Well, Jim..." McCoy continued, turning to Kirk, "are we gonna just stand around here and be...." The doctor's words trailed off as two females approached them. One was an elderly woman, face wrinkled and hair graying, but her stance erect and steady. The other was a young girl who seemed no older than her teens, although the Enterprise crew knew aliens' appearances and apparent ages could be deceiving. The girl seemed frightened, but kept her place beside the woman. They moved to stand directly in front of Spock and the older woman studied him intently. After a few minutes, she nodded her head.

"It is as foretold...and as I have seen," she said loudly, her voice echoing across the suddenly silent crowd. "He is the one!"

There was a gasp from the crowd and the girl beside the woman reached out and clutched her arm. Her face was drawn with terror. "No, Mother! Please...you are mistaken surely! Not this one! He likens to a beast!"

"He is the one," the woman returned defiantly, as she continued to scrutinize the Vulcan. "So it shall be."

The girl beside her burst abruptly into tears, then turned and ran away, disappearing into the crowd.

Kirk watched with furrowed eyebrows, then turned to face the woman. "Are you responsible for bringing us here?" he demanded.

The woman looked at him coldly, then nodded once.

"Then where is the rest of my crew!? What's happened to my ship? Why have we been brought here?"

The woman held up one hand, her eyes softening slightly. "Your crew and your ship are unharmed. You have been brought here because it is the way of the dream...and the way of the prophecy. Are you the leader of these people?"

"I'm Captain James Kirk of the USS Enterprise. We represent the United Federation of Planets. What place is this?"

"Place?" the woman repeated, confusion in her eyes.

"What planet? What do you call this land...your world?"

"Our world is called Sun-Kie. We call our land, Tan-Kii."

Kirk looked at Spock questioningly, and Spock raised one eyebrow. "You mentioned that we were brought here because of the prophecy," the first officer stated. "By what power were we transferred to this planet?"

The woman studied the Vulcan again before answering. "It is by the power of the ancients. It is not to be discussed." She turned back to Kirk. "You will be treated as guests. You and the others may wait here until the prophecy is fulfilled, or if you wish, you may join your other crewmates back aboard your ship." She waved a hand to a dozen uniformed men who approached the Enterprise people. She gestured to Spock. "Escort him to the manor and have him wait in the chamber room."

The men stepped up to the Vulcan and took places on either side of him.

"Now wait a minute," Kirk objected, taking a step closer to his first officer. "What do you want with Spock?"

"He will not be harmed," the woman assured, softly. She nodded to the guards. "Take him."

Kirk moved to block the men, but Spock held out a restraining hand. "Captain...perhaps we should comply with her request for now," he said quietly. "We are far outnumbered and to resist would be, I believe, rather foolhardy."

Kirk glanced at theVulcan, then reluctantly nodded, and stepped back. The guards led Spock off the platform and through the crowd, which gaped in awe as the Vulcan passed them.

"What do you want with him?" Kirk demanded again, turning back to the woman. "What do you want with any of us?"

The woman stared at him for a moment, then looked past him to the rest of the Enterprise crew. "You will all be well treated at the manor during your stay. You need not fear...you will not be harmed. In five days you will be free to leave.''

"But what's all this talk about a prophecy? And why do you need Spock?" McCoy cut in, agitation in his voice.

"Your questions will be answered soon," the woman returned patiently. "I am called Kan-tu. I am the leader of my people. You will be taken to the guest wing of the manor. Please follow me." And she started to walk off the platform.

Kirk looked around at the rest of his bridge crew, then gestured for them to follow. They took their places behind the woman and walked into the crowd.

* * *

Spock had been led to a huge room in an enormous stone building which was located on the outskirts of the marketplace. He was left alone in the room, and he walked around, studying each object in the lavishly furnished room with an overwhelming curiosity. He had just picked up a metallic candlestick holder and was turning it over in his hands, when the doors suddenly clicked open. He turned in their direction and watched as a group of young girls entered the room, each carrying a small tray filled with assorted foods. They were being led by the girl who had been with the older woman in the market place. Several of the girls stared at Spock, wide-eyed, fright clearly on their faces.

"Put the trays down, then seat yourselves away from us," the girl of the market place instructed. She turned to Spock, her eyes avoiding his as she spoke. "I am Ta-Leen. There is food and drink for you. You will please make yourself comfortable." Her eyes darted to meet his for only a second, then lowered again. "You are an honored guest."

The girl's voice was toneless and wavery, and Spock watched her for a moment with confusion. Then he bowed his head slightly. "You are most gracious," he said hesitantly. "But may I ask what I have done to be treated so honorably?"

The girl turned away from him, and took a seat ih one of the big chairs in the room. "My mother, Kan-tu, will explain later. You will please partake of the food and drink."

Spock's eyebrows rose and he nodded slightly, then walked to a tray and picked up a goblet. He seated himself on a couch across from the girl and placed the goblet on a table in front of him.

"You do not yet drink?" the girl commented coldly. "Is there a different liquid you enjoy? This is wine of finest grade!"

"I am quite sure that it is," Spock returned politely. "I simply do not yet have a thirst."

"I...see." The young girl glanced over at her servant girls who sat a distance away. There was a long silence and Spock noticed that all the girls watching him had almost terrified looks on their faces. He shifted under the scrutiny and looked back at Ta-Leen. Her eyes darted quickly away from him and her hands twitched nervously in her lap.

"My appearance seems to disturb you...frighten you," Spock commented suddenly, in an effort to converse. "I assure you, my friends and I are peaceful men."

Ta-Leen looked at him strangely then and her words blurted out quickly. "But you are not like your other friends. Surely one of your parents must have been a beast!"

Spock's eyebrow soared. "My father is of a race different in appearance than your own," he stated evenly. "My mother's race is thesame as my friends'. I assure you, neither was a beast."

Ta-Leen seemed neither reassured nor convinced, and her eyes grew tearful. "I do not know why it must be you that Kan-tu foresees in her dream. I do not wish this!" She stood up abruptly, the tears freely flowing now. "You are repulsive to me! I do not wish this!" She stormed towards the door.

Spock watched in confusion as the doors opened and the girl ran straight into the arms of the woman who had been at the market place. The woman was momentarily startled, but placed her arms around the girl. "Ta-Leen," she said quietly, "you insult our guest. That is not acceptable. What is foreseen cannot be altered. You have your duty to attend to. Do not act as a child, Ta-Leen, but as our leader's mother." She gently pushed the girl away from her. "Go to your room and seek the words of understanding. Then you must prepare."

"Yes, Mother," Ta-Leen said obediently, sniffing back her tears. She left the room, followed by a few servant girls.

"You must forgive my daughter," the elder woman said to Spock as she approached him. "She is young...but she will not shirk her responsibility. I apologize for her insults."

Spock had risen as the woman moved and took her place in the chair Ta-Leen had vacated. He nodded slightly and sat back down. "I quite understand, madam. Unfamiliar appearances can be unnerving to some."

"Yes...yes," the woman murmured, her deep blue eyes studying him. "But it is as my dream foretold, and it shall be done accordingly."

"There are many questions I would like to ask you," Spock admitted.

"And I shall answer that which is possible. I am Kan-tu, ruler of the Kie people. Your friends called you...Spock?"

"Yes. May I inquire as to where my friends have been taken?"

"To a room in this manor. They will be treated well. No harm is to come to them."

Spock nodded, then his eyebrows furrowed questioningly. "By what power were you able to bring us to your planet?"

The woman looked momentarily surprised, then shook her head. "It is by the ancients. It shall not be discussed."

Spock's eyebrows rose. "I see... You said that the Enterprise and the rest of crew were safe?"

"Yes, none of your people are to be harmed, Spock. Your ship will remain in a suspended state in position close to our planet. It will be released when the prophecy is fulfilled. It was unavoidable that the group of your crewmates was brought here with you--the ancient's powers could not distinguish your appearance from the others. Only I knew you were the selected one when I saw you."

"Selected one?" Spock repeated, confusion plainly visible. "You speak of a prophecy...what does this refer to?"

A small smile appeared on the woman's lips then and she got up and walked to one of the trays of food. She took a goblet of wine, than reseated herself. "The prophecy is one from ancient times, and the dream is as I have foreseen. Your coming to our planet was predestined...and you shall complete the prophecy."

The Vulcan's head tilted slightly. "In what way?"

"Ours is a weakening race, Spock," the woman said, taking a sip from her goblet. "Conflict with others of this planet...disease, famine...all are contributing to the decline of our strength and domination. The prophecy tells of a leader who will bring peace and prosperity to our land...a leader who will forever be honored by our people. My dream has foreseen your coming to our land to fulfill the prophecy."

"I...do not quite understand," Spock confessed, bewildered. "How can I fulfill this prophecy?"

The woman raised her head proudly, her eyes steadily regarding him. "You and my daughter shall conceive the child that is to be our leader."

The surprise showed plainly on the Vulcan's face and he had to fight to control it. It was a moment before he could compose himself enough to speak. "Your daughter?" he said quietly. "That is...Ta-Leen, is it not?''

"Yes."

"But...she's a child...."

"She is of bearing age," Kan-tu said firmly. "She has seen nineteen Klee-ans. She will overcome her fear of you and will be a fit mother for your child."

Spock stood up abruptly, stunned by the conversation. "Kan-tu...it is not possible for her to bear my child," he said.

The woman's smile faded slightly as she watched him with determined eyes. "You will be mated...it has been prophesied."

"I do not mean disrespect to your people or your daughter, Kan-tu. But I cannot be the one to fulfill your prophecy."

"But...you are the one," the woman objected.

Spock shook his head. "That is not possible. Kan-tu, I am unable to sire children. I am a hybrid...a product of two races."

The woman's face remained blank and Spock felt a slight reluctance to continue the discussion. He dismissed the momentary emotion and continued, "Kan-tu...I am a sterile male."

There was a short silence before the older woman spoke. "That is a term unfamiliar to me. You seem to think yourself incapable, yet what do you base this upon? Surely you possess the necessary organ for the coupling?"

Taken aback again, Spock hesitated before answering. "That is not a factor of my sterility," he returned stiffly. "Physically, I am capable. However, biologically..."

"You will join with my daughter! The prophecy will be fulfilled!" Kan-tu interrupted him sharply. "We shall speak no more of this!" She stood up abruptly. "I must confer with my daughter and prepare her for the mating. You will please remain here and partake of the food and drink. I will return shortly."

Before Spock could object, Kan-tu strode from the room.

* * *

"Well...I must admit the accommodations are very nice, very nice indeed," McCoy commented, accepting a tiny morsel of food from a tray being held by an attractive young girl. The girl smiled at him, then held the tray out in front of Kirk. He shook his head and waved her away with his hand, then looked at his medical officer with furrowed eyebrows.

"Yes, accommodations may be fine for us, but what about Spock? What do they want with him, Bones? What do they want with any of us?"

McCoy shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know, Jim. This whole place is a mystery. We can only hope Kan-tu meant what she said about not wishing us harm." Kirk nodded grimly and glanced around the huge room. "This planet...these people, who could they be?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. This place is a mass of contradiction. These people seem simple enough, medieval, as Spock put it...and yet they possess the power shield their planet from our sensors and transport us down here."

"Yes, and they've got us pretty secure in here," Kirk added. "Have you tried that door? It's like pushing up against a mountain."

"And I'll just wager that there are guards behind that door who are just as unmovable."

Kirk nodded, his eyes narrowing as he tapped his fist against his leg. "If I only knew that the Enterprise was safe..." he said quietly. "If I could only be sure." His words trailed off as he watched three of his crew approaching. Sulu, Chekov, and Haines took seats in front of Kirk and McCoy and helped themselves to the food on the tray.

"Where's Uhura...and Kinny?" McCoy asked suddenly.

Sulu gestured towards an adjoining room. "They're back there. They have some of those old-style bath tubs and Uhura said they were going to try them out."

"I offered to help them," Chekov said, grinning, "but they said no. I was very hurt."

"I bet you were," McCoy mumbled, feigning sarcasm.

"Captain, I've checked for ways to escape," Sulu said quietly. "But there just aren't any. This place is as secure as the Enterprise brig."

"We need a weapon, sir," Lt.Haines added.

"Yes...a weapon," Kirk repeated thoughtfully."Keep searching this room for anything that could be of use to us," he directed, looking around the huge room again. Then his eyebrows wrinkled with concern. "I just wonder why they need Spock?"

* * *

The Vulcan first officer had just replaced his goblet of wine on the table in front of him and was starting to rise from his seat when the first wave of dizziness struck. Spock's eyes narrowed in confusion, and he glanced in the direction of the door, where a few servant girls watched him with fear. He shook his head slowly and attempted to stand, but his legs would not obey the brain-command. His mind raced in momentary panic as the room began to waver before his eyes. As his hand reached out for the wine goblet, he silently admonished himself for having been so careless. It was obvious that the wind had been drugged; he had been foolish to accept it.

Very slowly, darkness began to envelope him and he slipped silently into unconsciousness.

* * *

"Captain, I think I've found out why these people need Mr. Spock!"

Uhura was approaching the group of Enterprise men, followed by another woman who wore the uniform of an Enterprise ensign. Uhura's hair was splattered with tiny droplets of water and her eyes suggested concern as she took a seat across from Kirk.

"Go ahead, Lieutenant," Kirk urged, watching her intently. "What about Spock?"

"Well, Captain," Uhura began, glancing at the other woman, "Kareen and I were in the bath back there, and we struck up a conversation with one of the servant girls who was attending us. The girl said that Spock was here to fulfill a -- a prophecy made to these people long ago, by a group she called 'the ancients.' These 'ancients,' whatever they were, told the Kie people that a leader would be coming to them and..."

"And Spock's this leader!?"' McCoy interrupted, partially shocked.

"No, Doctor." Ensign Kareen Kinny hastily picked up Uhura's story. "But Mr. Spock is supposed to father this leader."

"What?" Both Kirk and McCoy exclaimed in unison.

There was a stunned silence for a long moment. McCoy was the first to speak. "The ruler's daughter..." he muttered thoughtfully. "She was the young girl at the market place then ... the one who got so upset when Kan-tu singled Spock out."

"Yes," Kirk nodded slowly. "And that's why they took Spock away. Those two are supposed to..."

"But she's just a kid, Jim," McCoy interjected. "Why, she couldn't be but in her middle teens."

"That's not all of it, Captain," Uhura interrupted. "The legend states that if the child is not conceived within the five nights of a period known as ... Seekaj, then the chosen mate must be put to death as a sacrifice to the ancients, in hope that they will allow another leader to be fathered in the future."

There was another long silence. Again McCoy broke the quiet. "Then ... if a child isn't conceived...Spock's to be killed?"

Uhura nodded miserably. "Yes, Doctor."

The Enterprise's medical officer turned to Kirk. "Then we're in a lot of trouble. Or rather, Spock's in a lot of trouble."

Confused faces stared back at him questioningly. "Why?" Chekov asked.

"Remember your science, Chekov," McCoy snapped. "Spock's a hybrid. He's sterile."

Kirk stood up abruptly and moved away from the group. He kept his back to them a few minutes, then turned. "We've got to explain that to Kan-tu. We've got to make her understand that Spock's not the...the 'being' of their prophecy."

"That might not be easy to do, Jim," McCoy returned. "She seemed pretty convinced that Spock was the one she had seen in her -- her dream, or whatever."

"We've got to make her understand," Kirk repeated. "Bones...you'll explain it to her. She's intelligent. She'll understand."

"I hope so," McCoy nodded solemnly. "For Spock's sake."

* * *

Kan-tu placed both her hands on her daughter's shoulders and drew the girl close in a gentle embrace as they stood before a huge pair of doors. "Do not tremble so, Ta-Leen," she whispered softly. "It is a great honor you perform for your people."

"I...I cannot help it, Mother," the girl returned, tears lining her cheeks. "I am so frightened!"

"But there is no need to fear," Kan-tu assured her. "He has been fully prepared, as you have asked. The experience should not be too unpleasant for you."

"It will be like mating with a beast!" Ta-Leen cried. "Oh, Mother, I do not wish our leader to resemble him!"

"Ta-Leen, this man seems to he a good man, and..."

"He disgusts me! I will feel forever soiled by our mating."

"You will do as is required, "Kan-tu said sharply, annoyed now by her daughter. "And you will stop this foolishness!"

Ta-Leen lowered her head and nodded miserably. "Will you attend, Mother?"

"If you wish it."

"Yes...I do," Ta-Leen said, shivering. "I do not want to be alone with him."

"Your servants will attend you."

"But...I wish you there."

"All right, my child," Kan-tu returned, opening the doors before her. She looked back at Ta-Leen. "Come now...it is time."

Ta-Leen glanced at her mother once more, then walked through the doors, ignoring the trembling of her body.

* * *

Kirk turned to his side in restless sleep, then abruptly opened his eyes and glanced around the room. His crew slept soundly in thick cots that had been brought to them for comfort. The captain of the Enterprise sat up on his cot, stretched, then stood up and walked to a table. He was halfway across the room when he heard the click of the doors behind him. He swung around, startled.

Spock stood there, a mildly confused expression on his face. The Vulcan took one step forward and collapsed.

"Spock!" Kirk was to him in a flash, reaching him in time to catch him before Spock hit the floor. "Spock! Spock! What's wrong?!" Kirk looked at the two guards who stood in the doorway. "What did you do to him?!" he demanded angrily.

The guards glanced at one another, then shrugged and closed the doors once more.

Kirk stared down at his friend as he cradled Spock's head in his lap. "Spock !" he tried again. "Are you all right? Can you hear me?"

The Vulcan's eyes were open, but there was no sign of recognition.

"Bones! Bones!" Kirk called out.

"What in the name of..." McCoy mumbled, sitting up groggily, wiping sleep from his eyes. He stared blankly is Kirk's direction, then he was on his feet, helping the captain move Spock to one of the cots. The rest of the crew approached the cot with confused stares.

"Is he all right, Bones?" Kirk asked, watching McCoy examine the Vulcan. "What's wrong with him?"

"Well...without a medical scan, I can't be positive...but I'd say he's been drugged. Pretty powerful stuff, too. I think he'll be all right...he'll just need time for the drug to wear off. Spock! Spock!" He waved his hand in front of the Vulcan's eyes. There was no instinctive blink and McCoy frowned. "Yeah...pretty powerful stuff."

"Can we give him anything to help him?" Uhura asked worriedly.

"No...no, I don't think so. I think we'd just better let him rest." McCoy looked over to Kirk, who sat on the edge of the cot, staring down at the Vulcan. "He'll be all right, Jim," he reassured gently. Kirk glanced up and nodded, then continued to watch over the first officer with concerned eyes.

It was a little over two hours later that Kirk's voice broke the room's silence. "Bones! Come here!"

McCoy hurried over to where Spock lay and glanced down to the Vulcan looking at him in confusion.

"He blinked...and moved his hand," Kirk reported to the doctor.

"He's coming out of it then," McCoy returned, putting a hand around the Vulcan's shoulders and helping him sit up. "Spock...just take it easy now. You'll be all right. Sit here and take it easy."

The Vulcan remained still and silent, allowing the doctor to support him. Then, after a few minutes, he turned his head in Kirk's direction, his eyes narrowing. "Captain?"

"Yes. Spock," Kirk returned, relief showing on his face. "What happened?"

"The...wine," Spock started, his words coming out with difficulty. "I should have been...more cautious. The wine was...drugged."

"When did you drink the wine, Spock?" McCoy asked, examining the Vulcan's eyes.

"Not long...after they took me away."

"Then he's been out the entire night," Kirk commented, with a glance at McCoy. He turned back to the Vulcan. "Spock, do you remember anything that happened to you last night?"

The first officer shook his head very slowly. "No, Captain. I seem...unable to recall anything beyond the...conversation I had with Kan-tu, just before I was drugged."

"Conversation?"

"Yes." Spock straightened and looked at McCoy, who was continuing to continuing to scrutinize him. "You need no longer observe me so closely, doctor," Spock informed him. "I am quite recovered."

McCoy scowled back. "If you don't mind, Spock, I'll be the judge of that!"

"What conversation did you have with Kan-tu, Spock?" Kirk asked quickly, cutting the squabble before it started.

"Our conversation was short, and not very informative, Captain. I asked why we were brought here."

"And?" Kirk prodded.

Spock shifted and glanced around almost uneasily. "I believe these people have confused me with a being that has been prophesied to them," he said quietly. "The ruler, Kan-tu, foresaw in a dream that I would father a child that would become a leader of these people."

"Yes, Uhura learned some of that story from a servant girl," Kirk replied. "Did you explain...?"

"I tried to explain my hybridism and the resultant sterility," Spock interrupted, "but Kan-tu seemed...unwilling to accept my words."

"And she approves of your mating with her daughter," McCoy asked.

"Yes, Doctor," Spock returned. "She seems quite determined about the situation."

"Spock!" Kirk said suddenly. "Uhura said that the mating was supposed to happen during the five nights of a time these people call...Seekaj. Kan-tu has told us that we will be released unharmed, in five days."

Spock's eyebrows rose. "It would seem, then, Captain...that the mating period should have begun."

"Is it possible that it has?" Uhura asked, confusion in her eyes. "I mean...is it possible that the mating could have occurred without Mr. Spock knowing of it?"

The Enterprise crew glanced at each other questioningly and an uncomfortable silence followed.

"It may be possible," McCoy said, after a moment. "Spock was heavily drugged and unable to remember much."

"But...can a man?...I mean...is it possible to..." Chekov stammered, an incredulous look on his face. "I mean...without knowing it?!"

"There are drugs which enable the body to react to...certain stimulation," McCoy returned. "In his drugged state, Spock could have responded normally, but is now totally unable to remember that response."

Kirk straightened and glanced over at his first officer, who suddenly seemed uncomfortable with the conversation. "Then the mating could have taken place without Spock's knowing it," he said quietly. "And that may be their intention...to drug Spock each night."

"Captain, I intend to be wary of their attempts to drug me from now on."

"Yes, Spock, but that's not all of the problem," Kirk added, frowning. "Uhura also learned that if a child isn't conceived within this...period of Seekaj, the chosen father is put to death as some sort of sacrifice to these...ancient gods."

Spock's eyebrow skyrocketed. "I see..." he said, somberly. "That does present a problem."

"We've got to make Kan-tu understand," Kirk said. "Spock, do you remember how you were brought to this room? Do you know which direction your room is in?"

The Vulcan shook his head. "Unfortunately, no, Jim. I was quite incapacitated. Do you have a plan of escape?"

"Not yet. They've got us pretty secure in here. What about you?"

"I am kept under guard. However, I shall pursue the possibility of overcoming them. I believe Kan-tu is sincere about not wishing you and the others harmed, Captain. And I believe the Enterprise is indeed safe. But I do not yet know the power Kan-tu used to bring us here."

"Yes, well, if we can..." Kirk's words halted abruptly as the huge doors to the room clicked open. A half-dozen guards entered, then Kan-tu walked up and faced the Enterprise people.

"Mr. Spock...your presence is once more required," she said evenly. "You will come with me."

Spock glanced at Kirk, who moved to stand in front of his officer. "Kan-tu," Kirk said firmly, "we must speak with you for a minute."

The woman nodded once and remained where she was. "What is it, Captain?"

"Kan-tu..." Kirk began, walking closer. "We know why you need Spock, and why you brought us here. Spock has told you that he's unable to fulfill this...prophecy of yours and..."

"He is wrong," the woman interrupted sternly. "The prophecy shall be fulfilled. My people will have their leader."

"But Spock can't give you this...leader you seek," McCoy explained, also approaching the woman. "His hybridism causes sterility. He can't impregnate Ta-Leen."

Kan-tu regarded the men with narrowed eyes, then shook her head. "This is the time of Seekaj. The mating will take place. If Ta-Leen is not with child by the end of this period...Spock must die. It is the law of the ancients. It must be obeyed."

"But don't you understand?" Kirk objected. "Spock can't give you..."

"Enough!!" The woman's voice echoed throughout the large room. "Spock, you will follow me!"

"No!" Kirk cut in sharply.

"Captain," Spock whispered, drawing close to Kirk. "I may be more helpful in formulating an escape if I go with her."

Kirk frowned, then reluctantly nodded. "But talk to her again, Spock. Try to make her understand."

"Believe me, sir, I shall," the Vulcan assured, walking to where Kan-tu stood. The woman nodded to her guards and turned and exited with Spock. She waited until they were outside of the room before she turned to speak to him.

"My daughter waits in the garden. There is much she must learn from you. The guards will direct you."

And she walked away, leaving Spock staring after her in confusion.

* * *

The garden was enclosed by a huge wall, and Spock observed his surroundings closely as he followed the guards. They approached Ta-Leen, who sat on a small bench in a clearing. The girl stood up hastily, avoiding Spock's eyes, and motioned for him to sit down. The guards positioned themselves away from the two.

"My mother said...I should talk with you," Ta-Leen said hesitantly. She looked down at her hands, which rested nervously in her lap. "She says I must learn about your race so that I will be able to raise the child correctly."

Spock's eyebrow rose and he gave a small but perceptible sigh. "I have tried to explain to your mother...there will he no child."

Ta-Leen looked at him in confusion then, her dark eyes perplexed. Spock noticed that she did not seem as fearful of him today, but instead, seemed curious.

"But ... there must be a child! Mother has foreseen it, and the ancients have predicted it."

"I can give you no child," Spock repeated impatiently, startled to find himself growing annoyed. "Your mother chooses to disbelieve me, but even she cannot alter that fact."

Ta-Leen straightened where she sat and stared at the ground for a long moment. Then, "If there is a name you would prefer for our child, I shall have him so titled. Mother foresees it to be a boy."

Spock looked over at the girl and shook his head slightly. "You are a most stubborn young woman," he said quietly. "Much like your mother."

Ta-Leen glanced at him again and a small grin touched her lips. Then she turned her head away. "What the ancients have predicted, shall be. It is as simple as that."

"And yet...I have been told that if a child is not conceived, I shall be killed."

Ta-Leen stiffened. "That is so. It is the way of the ancient law. But Mother assures that the child will be conceived during these next days."

Spock took a deep breath as his face grew somber. "Ta-Leen," he began reluctantly, "while I was drugged last night, were we mated?"

The girl stood up abruptly and walked forward a few paces, keeping her back to him. "This is the time of Seekaj...the mating must take place."

Incredibly, Spock felt a surge of anger within at the thought of non-control over his own body. He stood up also and fought to dispel the emotion.. But the sense of violation remained.

"Why do you look so?" Ta-Leen said suddenly, facing him once again, "You appear...angry."

Spock remained silent for a few seconds as his dark eyes regarded her. "A Vulcan...the people of my father's race...." he began coldly, "consider the mating of two beings a deeply personal matter. It is an obscenity that one should be forced into a joining."

Ta-Leen's eyes immediately blazed. "And do you think I wish this?!" she exclaimed angrily. "To be mated with a...a creature as hideous as you?"

Spock abruptly looked away from the girl, stiffening slightly at her words. There was a long moment of silence then, that was finally broken by Ta-Leen's wavering voice. "Forgive me," she said quietly, taking a step closer to him. "I act...absurd and childish. I seek only to help my people and to provide them with the leader they so desperately wish." Her eyes lowered with shame. "I...I did not mean to...insult you. You cannot help having been born as you look. It's just that...you are my first male...and you are so very strange. I had wished my child to be beautiful. But...."

"I quite understand," Spock's deep voice assured. But his eyes continued to avoid hers.

"Come, let us sit down again, and you can tell me of your people," she said softly, moving back to sit on the bench. She motioned for him to do likewise. "I will need to know of your people...for our child's sake."'

Spock studied her face then, his eyebrows wrinkled in thought. Somberly, he gave a small defeated sigh, then walked to the bench, and sat down. He began explaining the Vulcan race to the girl beside him.

* * *

"And only after she left did she realize the picture had been changed!"

Spock watched curiously as Ta-Leen giggled delightedly at the finish of her own story, and he let his eyebrow rise in bewilderment. They had both talked for well over two hours in the garden, and now had moved inside the manor, to the larger drawing room. Several of the servant girls had joined them and sat giggling as Ta-Leen recited stories of her childhood.

"Do you not think it funny?" Ta-Leen said suddenly, glancing in Spock's direction. Then she smiled, "Oh yes...I'd forgotten. Those of your planet do not laugh, or cry or love, or hate." She turned back to the girls before her. "His people are betrothed as children," she explained with fascination. "And they are wed as adults."

"But...is it not...terrible without love?" one of the servant girls spoke up cautiously.

"There is an...understanding that exists between the two partners," Spock explained.

"But...are not the children loved by their parents?" another asked.

"There is a...degree of affection," Spock admitted. "And the responsibility of raising offspring."

"And do all look as strange as you?" still another asked.

"Hush!" Ta-Leen interrupted, clapping her hands once. "Your questions are foolish...they bore our guest. Is it not time for you to be preparing dinner?"

The girls got up quickly, then bowed their heads apologetically. They left the room.

"They will prepare food and drink for you," Ta-Leen informed.

"I am grateful," Spock returned. "However, I do not care to partake of any nourishment."

Ta-Leen's eyes narrowed with confusion. "But...why not?"

"People of Vulcan need not consume food each day,'" Spock answered. "And also..." He paused and his voice grew cold. "I have no desire to repeat the events of yesterday. I will not be drugged by your wine, nor forced into another mating."

The girl before him stared open-mouthed for a moment, then turned her face away. She stood up.

The silence between them was broken as the doors to the room opened and Kan-tu entered. She nodded once to Spock, who had risen from his chair. Then she looked at her daughter.

"Mother," Ta-Leen said quietly, walking towards the woman, "he does not wish to dine tonight." Her worried eyes searched Kan-tu's.

The elder woman glanced in Spock's direction again and Spock returned the look, unflinchingly. "I understand, daughter," she said, turning once more to Ta-Leen. "Go to your room now and prepare for tonight. I shall speak with him."

Ta-Leen hesitated, looked again at Spock, then nodded and left the room. Kan-tu walked to the chair across from the Vulcan and seated herself, motioning for him to do likewise. "Ta-Leen tells me you do not wish to dine," she said cooly, her eyes scrutinizing him.

"I do not wish to be drugged as I was yesterday," Spock returned, locking stares with the woman.

Kan-tu's eyes darted away from his then. "The drug is used because my daughter requested it," she said quietly. "And also because I do not believe you would willingly cooperate."

"You are quite correct, Kan-tu. I would not willingly cooperate."

The woman's brows furrowed with confusion. "I have never known a man unwilling to perform a duty such as this. Most would be delighted for the task."

"Vulcans are different," Spock explained, steepling his fingers. "Matings are not a casual function for us."

"Strange, very strange," Kan-tu replied softly. "But it is of little matter. Conception did not take place last night, so mating is again required tonight." Her eyes narrowed as she studied Spock intently. "The child of your loins shall indeed be unique. He will be the greatest of all leaders. I have seen this in my dream. You should be most proud."

"There will be no child," the Vulcan sighed, almost out of habit.

Kan-tu stood up then and walked towards the door. She stopped before reaching it, glanced back at him. "An intelligent being...and yet, so foolish." she whispered. Then she left the room, the doors locking behind her.

Alone again, Spock drew his mind inward in meditation. His day with Ta-Leen had inexplicably drained him. Her childish emotionalism and naivete played in his thoughts, exhausting him. The disturbance he still felt, knowing his body had been used, annoyed him, and he fought for control over the feelings.

The doors clicked open once and a number of servant girls entered, bringing food and drink. They lit nearby candles to ward off the dark, then left again, silently. Spock sat, unmoving, in the stillness of the room, ignoring the meal before him.

Hours passed before he became aware of the feeling. His mind snapped abruptly alert, only to be enshrouded in a fog-like haze as the room swam dizzily before him. His eyes widened in startled confusion and he attempted to stand, but his legs refused to obey the mental command. As he drifted into oblivion, his eyes focused on a candle placed to one side of him. He noticed only then the odd colored smoke rising from it. He blinked once, then darkness closed in.

* * *

Spock's consciousness returned slowly and it was a long moment before vision and mind cleared. He glanced around to find that he was still in the large drawing room, but was astonished to see strong daylight streaming through a window. With a twinge of alarm, he realized that the drug had kept him unconscious throughout the night again.

He lay quietly, summoning strength. But in the back recesses of his mind, he felt a growing humiliation at having again been drugged while his body was used for mating. An involuntary shudder passed through him and he took a deep breath for control. After a moment he stood up, pacing the room to relieve his inner tension. The opening of the doors caused him to halt his pacing, as he turned in their direction.

Ta-Leen entered, accompanied by six of her servants. Spock's eyebrows furrowed disdainfully and he turned away from them and stared out of the open window, to the garden below.

"I...thought you might like to walk in the garden again today," Ta-Leen spoke softly, a noticeable tremble to her voice.

Spock kept his back to her, but straightened his stance. "For what purpose?" he replied, his voice cold and toneless.

"We still have...things to discuss," the young girl returned, walking closer to him. "I must learn the special care our baby will require. You must tell me the correct method of raising a Vulcan son."

Spock turned to her then and momentary anger flared in his dark eyes. Ta-Leen's eyes widened fearfully, but she boldly remained in her place. Spock shuddered as he regained control and the fire in his eyes dulled. He bowed his head and said quietly, "It seems I have little choice but to do as you wish."

Ta-Leen's face grew pained, then she turned from him and motioned for him to follow.

* * *

They spent the afternoon in the garden as Spock answered Ta-Leen's questions and explained Vulcan customs to her. Ta-Leen listened with genuine interest, devoting full attention to Spock. She no longer seemed frightened of him, merely curious, and the change in her attitude puzzled the Vulcan.

They talked into the early evening, and when it grew dark, returned to the drawing room. "I will send a girl to prepare a meal for you if you wish," Ta-Leen offered, lighting a candle as Spock seated himself on the large couch.

Spock glanced at her, the puzzled look on his face replaced by a sudden tightness. "That will not be necessary," he returned tonelessly. "Perhaps the wine will not be drugged this time, but it seems you have other ways of incapacitating a guest."

Ta-Leen's eyes darted away from his then as she bit her lip in misery. "I...regret the deception...and the fact that you must be drugged," she said timidly. "But the mating must take place. And you are so...uncooperative.'' She looked at him again. "You must understand. I was fearful of you at first, because of your strange looks. And also, this is the first mating for me...and I wished my mother and servants to be there to instruct me."

Spock's eyes narrowed abruptly. "Your mother?" he whispered incredulously. "Do you mean...your mother attends the mating?"

"Why...yes," Ta-Leen returned innocently. "And my servants do also. They are needed to prepare you and tend you when the mating is finished."

Spock rose abruptly from the couch and walked to the window. He was trembling as he battled the emotion within. "So," he said finally, bitterly. "I am not only the pawn in this ritual, but I am entertainment for your spectators as well."

"No! No, it is not that way!" Ta-Leen objected, running up and halting a few paces behind him. "It is a duty we perform. It is not meant to humiliate you!"

Spock turned to her then, his eyes softening a little. "It is not humiliation, Ta-Leen," he said quietly. "What I am being made to do is a violation of my Vulcan philosophy. A forced joining....with a stranger...for no constructive purpose."

"But there is a purpose!" Ta-Lenn objected. "Our child!"

Spock sighed and shook his head slowly. He walked back to the couch and sat.

A short silence passed, then Ta-Leen said quietly, "You do not wish a child by me, do you?" Her eyes searched his apprehensively. "I am repulsive to you...is that it?"

Spock's eyebrow skyrocketed, then furrowed as he looked at her in confusion. "Ta-Leen, it is quite the contrary. You are the one who has stated that you find me repulsive...hideous."

"I was frightened by your difference from us...by your strange looks," she admitted, her dark eyes studying him. "But not so much now, I think. I have seen you to be a gentle man, and I will be proud of my child's father."

"Ta-Leen..."

"I know. I know. You will tell me that there will be no child. Do you wish death so strongly that you will not even have faith in our ancients' legend?"

"The ancients cannot change everything," Spock returned somberly. "And Vulcans hold little stock in faith..."

Ta-Leen's eyes lowered then and she stared at the floor for a moment. Giving a small sigh, she said, "I must leave now, preparation will begin soon."

The Vulcan's eyes suddenly darkened. "Yes," he said, stonily. "How is it to be done tonight, Ta-Leen? Am I to be drugged by wine...or candle incense...or by some other method?"

Ta-Leen's face wrinkled with pain, and she turned abruptly from him, half-running to the door. Stopping a few paces before it, she kept her back to him, and sobbed, "I'm sorry!" Then she dashed from the room.

* * *

"Spock!? Come on, Spock! Wake up! That's it...come on!"

Spock's mind whirled in confusion and fought for reality as the familiar voice coaxed him to consciousness. His eyes opened slowly and he forced his vision to clear and found McCoy staring at him with concerned eyes.

"That's it, Spock. Now just lie there and get some strength back. You'll be all right...just stay conscious now. Understand?"

Spock tried to nod, but his neck muscles didn't respond.

McCoy saw the flicker in the Vulcan's eyes and gave him a reassuring grin. "The effects are temporary, Spock. You'll be over it in a while. Just concentrate on getting your strength back."

Spock obeyed, struggling to recall how the drug had been administered this time. But memory was a blur in his mind, so he let his gaze wander. He found Kan-tu and Ta-Leen standing behind McCoy, watching with frightened faces. Tears reddened Ta-Leen's eyes and her voice wavered when she spoke to McCoy.

"Will he be all right?"

McCoy turned to look at the two and nodded curtly. "This drug, or whatever it is you've been givin' him...is wearing down his system. It's takin' him longer to recover because his resistance is low." He stood up then. "If you continue givin' him this drug, I don't know what might happen! You might kill him!"

Ta-Leen's eyes widened and she glanced at her mother. Kan-tu looked steadily at McCoy. "The drug is only to be used twice more...tonight and tomorrow night."

"But why!?" McCoy cut in, exasperated. "I've explained to you about Spock's sterility. Why won't you accept it?"

"We need the leader our ancients have promised us," Kan-tu returned stubbornly.

"And you'll kill Spock because he can't provide this leader for you? That's hardly logical, Kan-tu!"

The elder woman walked away and moved to stand by the window. McCoy watched with mounting frustration, then turned back to check on Spock. Ta-Leen also knelt next to the cot and to the doctor's surprise, held one of the Vulcan's hands in her own. Her face streamed with tears when she glanced over at McCoy.

"Are you certain he will be all right?" she sobbed.

"Yes...yes, I believe so." The doctor's eyes narrowed with confusion. "Ta-Leen, why are you crying for Spock? I thought you hated him. I thought you despised his looks."

The girl's eyes turned back to Spock as she sniffed. "I was frightened and foolish. His appearance was different, and I didn't understand. But he is a good man...and it would make me proud to bear his son." Her head lowered. "I know he despises our mating...and I regret that we deceive him by drugging him." Her eyes closed as tears fell.

McCoy's brows furrowed and he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Then he looked down and saw Spock watching them with confusion. "Spock," he said quietly, "can you talk?"

"Yes...yes, Doctor," the Vulcan returned hoarsely. "I am...beginning to...regain control." His gaze shifted to the girl. "Ta-Leen?"

She looked up at him with brimming eyes, then stood up and ran to where Kan-tu stood. The woman enfolded her daughter in her arms.

"I've tried to explain to them again about your sterility, Spock, but they just won't listen," McCoy explained. His voice lowered. "We're gonna have to do something fast. There are only two nights left."

Spock drew a deep breath, then looked over to where Kan-tu and Ta-Leen stood. "Kan-tu," he said weakly, "may I speak with the doctor in private?"

The elder woman hesitated for a brief moment, then nodded and left the room with her daughter. As soon as they had gone, McCoy turned back to Spock. "Jim's got a plan," he said quietly. "We're gonna have to overcome the guards and get to Kan-tu. Jim thinks she must be the only one who knows how the ancient power works. If we can get her, we can have her transport us back to the ship."

Spock studied the doctor somberly for a few seconds then gave a small sigh. "In my condition, I would be quite unable to help you."

"The drug will be wearing off in a few hours. We'll try to escape then."

"In a few hours they will be coming again to give me another dose," Spock reminded him.

McCoy frowned. "Then we'll just have to count on you being unable to help. We can do it, Spock! We've got Sulu, Chekov, Haines, and Uhura and Kinny...."

"Doctor, the guards appear quite formidable and none of you have weapons."

"That doesn't matter. When we overpower the guards, we'll have weapons."

Spock considered this for a moment, then shook his head. "The odds are not favorable, Doctor...and I cannot allow any of you to be harmed on my behalf."

"Your behalf!" McCoy returned angrily. "In case you haven't noticed, Spock, we're captives here too!"

"Yes, Doctor, But I believe you will all be released, unharmed, when Seekaj is over."

"And where does that leave you? You'll be executed!"

Spock looked away from the doctor for a brief moment. "You cannot risk your lives on a hopeless chance."

"Spock, when did you start becoming such a defeatist?! We're not leaving without you!" McCoy's scowl disappeared, and he said gently, "so get that through your thick Vulcan head."

"Doctor, I have..." Spock's words abruptly halted as the doors opened and Kan-tu and her daughter re-entered.

"Doctor, the guards are waiting to escort you back," the elder woman said. "You may leave us. We shall call you if you are again required."

McCoy gave them a look of total disapproval, then glanced back at Spock. Their eyes met and locked gazes briefly, then McCoy stood and walked slowly from the room.

"We are sorry that the drug so weakens you," Kan-tu began, walking closer to the cot where Spock lay. "We would not use it if it were not necessary. It was your decision not to cooperate."

Spock remained silent, but pushed himself into a sitting position.

"The drug will be used only twice more," Kan-tu continued. "Unless the child is conceived tonight."

Spock glanced at her coldly.

"Spock...we do not wish you to die," the elder woman said abruptly, sitting on the edge of the cot and placing her hand on the Vulcan's arm. "But you must understand. If you do not give Ta-Leen the child, we will have to obey the laws of our ancients."

"I do understand, Kan-tu," Spock replied. "But that cannot change anything. There will be no child."

A long silence passed before Kan-tu again spoke. "If there is no conception, and if there is to be an execution," she said sadly, "then I must ask you...do you wish your friends present?"

Spock looked at her oddly for a moment, then shook his head slowly. "No, Kan-tu."

"It is your right if you wish it."

Again the Vulcan shook his head, and his eyes stared at the floor.

"Very well," the woman said quietly. "My people will be greatly saddened if you are to die, Spock. We have waited many years for our leader."

Spock drew a deep breath and exhaled heavily. "I...regret that I cannot help."

Kan-tu got up slowly then and walked to her daughter. "I will go to your room, Ta-Leen," she said softly. "Come soon to begin preparation."

"Yes, Mother," the girl whispered.

"Kan-tu." Spock's voice halted the woman. She looked at the Vulcan, who stood up and approached her. "Kan-tu," he repeated. "My friends... Can you return them to their ship?"

The woman's eyebrows drew together in confusion. "Return them? They are to be returned after the period of Seekaj. I have promised this."

"I want...I wish them returned now, Kan-tu. It is not necessary that they remain."

"But...the doctor. He is needed in case your reaction to our drug should worsen."

"I will be given only two more doses of the drug. I shall survive that. Kan-tu, please. Return my friends to the Enterprise."

The woman studied him silently for a long moment, then finally nodded. "If it is your wish, Spock, it shall be done."

The Vulcan bowed his head. "Thank you."

Kan-tu nodded once, then left the room. Spock glanced over at Ta-Leen, who stood across from him, then turned and walked back towards the cot. As he approached it, a wave of dizziness overcame him and he reached out a hand to steady himself. Ta-Leen was beside him in a moment, her frail arms straining to keep him from falling as she helped him to the cot and watched him lie back down. Spock closed his eyes as he silently summoned strength. When he finally opened them, he found Ta-Leen kneeling beside the cot, watching him in despair.

"My poor strange one," she said sadly, her voice wavering. "I am so sorry for what we do to you. I wish you had never been brought to us...for I now believe you will die here."

Spock's eyebrows furrowed. "Then you believe me when I say there will be no child?"

"I...I believe..." She turned her head away as tears started to fall, "that you do not wish a child by me, and that you have chosen to die instead."

The confusion in Spock's eyes deepened and he felt suddenly sad. He put out one hand, hesitantly, and brushed away a tear that slid down the girl's cheek. Ta-Leen looked at him, startled.

"You are so young," Spock said quietly, strangely. "I wish your people could have their leader, Ta-Leen. I wish I could provide this...child for you." His hand trembled as he drew it back. "I am deeply sorry that I cannot."

Ta-Leen got up slowly then as more tears began to fall. She turned to leave, but before reaching the door, she stopped and looked back at him. "Perhaps tonight..." she whispered. "If you would only believe..." Her words trailed off in defeat, then she silently left the room.

Spock remained on the cot and concentrated on rebuilding his strength. His mind puzzled over the situation, and he found that he possessed a strange compassion for Ta-Leen. It seemed somehow tragic to him, that she should be forced into the situation that existed. She was so young... vulnerable. To be shackled with such a responsibility... He realized that she felt she was failing her people, and that brought a strange twinge of regret within him.. He was aware that a peculiar fondness was developing for the girl. That frightened, defiant child of just a few days ago had become a compassionate and understanding young woman and he admired that. He found himself illogically wishing that he could give her the child she so badly wanted.

Spock shuddered at the foreign emotional responses he was feeling and turned as he heard the sound of the doors opening. Kan-tu walked toward him, a goblet in her hands.

Spock sat up as she approached, and she stopped in front of him and held the goblet out. He looked at the wine in the glass, then turned his dark eyes to the woman's face.

"I am sorry, Spock," she said quietly, somberly. "It is again time for the mating."

Spock inhaled deeply against the wave of futility that encompassed him, then slowly reached up for the goblet and placed to his lips.

* * *

Reality returned slowly. He fought for control against the darkness that held him in its grip. There was no other sensation within him, except the stirring of his mind to consciousness and the instinctive knowledge that he still existed.

His sense of hearing was unaffected, and the sound of breathing, louder than normal, touched his ears. His eyes refused the brain-command to open, and a twinge of panic gripped him. Unbearably long minutes passed before his eyelids finally responded to the demand and opened, only to a darkness somehow more disconcerting than his unconscious state. With alarm, Spock realized that time had lost him and he was unaware of how long he had been unconscious. He drew in as deep a breath as his strength permitted and turned his mind to concentration, closing his eyes with the effort. A sound close by startled him, and his eyelids shot open once more.

"You are awake!" a voice exclaimed. "Oh, thank the ancient gods for that! I was beginning to doubt you would ever return!"

It was Ta-Leen, and as she moved into his line of vision, he saw her tear-streaked face brighten with a tiny smile. Her wide eyes watched him anxiously. She reached out and adjusted a small pillow under his head, her smile fading. "The drug was hard on you again, my strange one. You have been unconscious this entire day."

Spock's mind raced with the information. If he had been unconscious throughout the day, then tonight was the fifth and final night. Tomorrow would bring his death. A momentary shiver of helplessness passed through him and he looked back at the girl. He tried to speak, with little success, and closed his eyes again.

"You will be able to speak in a short while. Just relax, as your doctor told you. You will regain your strength." Ta-Leen's voice wavered then. "You must regain your strength."

Spock obeyed, remaining there, summoning reserve energy from depleted stores within. After many long minutes, his eyes opened and he attempted speech again. This time he was successful. "My friends ..." he said hoarsely. "Where are they?"

"My mother returned them to the ship, as you asked. They will be freed in the morning." Her eyes lowered. "I wish with all my heart for you to be among them."

Spock looked at her oddly, then glanced around. Through the darkness, he could see he was still in the drawing room and only the cot he lay on had been added. In the background one lone candle flickered on a table and outlined several faces of servant girls, who watched him with a strange sadness. A few of the girls were crying.

"Can I have anything prepared for you?" Ta-Leen asked softly. "If you desire food or drink for your strength?"

Spock shook his head slightly and nodded in the direction of the servants. "Why do they weep?"

Ta-Leen's~eyes met him again and wetness sprang to them once more. "They cry because the child is not conceived...and they do not wish you dead. They have grown as fond of you as I have." A tear slid down her cheek. She reached out a trembling hand and touched his face. "How could I ever have feared and hated you?" she said quietly. "For surely you are the most gentle of men." She drew back her hand after a moment and wiped her eyes. Then she stood up and turned to her servant girls. "Leave us now," she said somberly. "Tonight we shall be alone."

Spock watched with silent confusion as the girls stood up and bowed to Ta-Leen, then walked from the room. Ta-Leen remained by the doors for a few seconds, then turned and walked back to the cot. ''There will be no drug this time, Spock," she assured him. Then her wide eyes grew pleading. "If you would just believe that the child can be conceived tonight, then perhaps he will be." Her hand reached out again and rested on Spock's chest. "I cannot bear the thought of your dying," she sobbed. "I believe...I believe that I may even...love you."

Spock's brows drew together in startled confusion and he was speechless as his eyes met hers. Then, suddenly, Ta-Leen's hands moved to her neck and she began to unfasten her dress.

"Ta-Leen..." Spock whispered hastily. "I cannot help you. Even if we mate tonight, there can be no child!"

"Please...do not say that," she returned miserably, pushing the dress off her shoulders and dropping it to the floor. She stepped from it, then drew her undergarment over her head. Spock averted his eyes from her nudity, only to realize with startled shock that beneath the thin sheet covering him he, too, was naked. After a moment, Ta-Leen lifted the sheet and drew it over herself as she lay down beside him. "Believe that we can make the child tonight," she repeated, pressing close to him. "Please believe it."

Spock closed his eyes, feeling the warmth and smoothness of her body against his. He trembled at the unaccustomed touching. "Ta-Leen! Remember what I have told you of myself and my father's race. I cannot return your love...."

"I do not ask that," she interrupted quietly, her face close to his. "I ask only that I be allowed to mate with you...without the drug. I want you to share the moment of our joining and believe in the ancients' prophecy with me." Her fingers traced lines across his chest as she frowned. "I know it displeases you to have to mate with me, but..."

"Ta-Leen...it is not that," Spock said quickly, turning to her. His eyes opened and they looked at each other for a long moment, and Spock struggled against the wave of compassion that engulfed him. "I have explained to you the Vulcan way," he said hoarsely, "It is not that you displease me."

"Then let me do what I must," she begged, touching two fingers to his lips to halt his objection. "Let me mate with you on this last night of Seekaj, and believe with me that the leader will be conceived."

Spock took a deep breath as he looked into the girl's eyes and saw the quiet desperation there. "Ta-Leen..."

This time she stopped his words by pressing her lips gently to his and putting her arms around his neck. Spock felt a wave of dizziness at the startling realization that emotions kept deeply hidden were struggling to surface. Her mouth was soft and light against his, her body warm and demanding. Her hands caressed him with an incredible tenderness and a child-like eagerness and fascination.

As the kiss continued, Spock was awed by the response of his own body. He reasoned logically that some of the drug must still be affecting him, preventing his Vulcan half from total control, for it was a long moment before he finally pulled away and looked at her in open wonder.

"My strange one," Ta-Leen whispered, placing her head against his chest. ''I do love you. With all my heart. From the first night of our mating, til now...I have grown to love you more each day."

Spock's eyebrows furrowed as realization suddenly dawned in him. "Of course..." he said quietly. "Yes...of course!" He reached out with his hand and turned her face towards his. "Ta-Leen...I understand now why you feel this way about our mating." His dark eyes narrowed as he began to explain. "When a Vulcan mates, there is an accompanying mind-link that occurs...a joining of two minds into one. Even drugged, my mind must have linked with yours, although I should have remembered...I should be able to remember that." He paused, momentarily confused, then shook his head. "No matter...the drug must have obscured the linking. But it is the linking that creates this feeling you have for me. Can you understand that?"

Her eyes were confused. "I don't...fully understand," she replied. "I know only that I love you."

"But it is because of the mind-link. It bonds us together with a feeling of affection...devotion." He hesitated briefly. "It produces a...degree of desire for you within me also."

The girl lying beside him smiled then and her arms tightened around him. "Then let our mating tonight be enjoyed by both of us," she whispered. "I wish for you to be conscious as our bodies meet." Again her mouth pressed gently to his, blocking his reply.

Stunned by the extent of his desire for her, Spock found himself responding to her kiss, and after a moment his arms moved slowly around her. As her fingers traveled lightly over his body in exploration, he felt a warmth flowing into his loins, and when her hand moved to his genitals, he was erect and ready for joining. He trembled at her touch, feeling the shuddering of her own body as he held her.

The sweet taste of her mouth was intoxicating, the frailness of her body, alluring. Almost as if in a dream, Spock found himself moving to mount her as tender hands guided and encouraged him. As he stared down at her with blurred vision, her eyes grew silently pleading and he was lost to the depths of her passion. He entered her, and the wet warmth of her body engulfed him, imprisoned him....controlled him until there could be no thought of escape. The Vulcan barrier was swept away and defenses surrendered to the pleasure he felt.

His mind reached out instinctively and joined hers in a dizzying moment of frenzy. He felt her immediate fear of the linking, but through his own thoughts, he calmed her, reassured her, and soon her mind accepted him as willingly as her body had done. Deep in her thoughts he saw the love she felt for him, the innocent, child-like awe he evoked in her. He saw concern and desperation for the child she so badly wanted. He experienced her fear that he would die in the morning and felt the overwhelming sorrow it would cause her.

After only a slight hesitation, his own thoughts surrendered to her cautious and timid probing. The things Ta-leen saw there confused her, but with Spock's encouragement, she probed deeper, and the confusion turned once more to fascination. He allowed her mind to see things which he had long kept hidden from all others, and the intimacy of the moment almost overwhelmed them both.

Then the physical took precedence over the mental as their bodies demanded full attention. Minds remained linked in a strange euphoria and there was almost an excruciating pain as they drew close to climax. Suddenly Ta-Leen was emitting quiet cries of pleasure as her body contracted and drained the life-force that burst from Spock's loins. Drawn down into a dizzying swirl of rapid heartbeat and breathlessness, the one thought that transcended into Spock's mind from hers was the desperate belief that the child had been conceived.

In the silent after-time, she remained in his arms, and after the mind-link dissolved, looked up at him with loving eyes. "You were my first male, Spock...and I shall never love another. If you are taken from me, I shall surely die!" Her face pressed against the warmth of his chest and rested there.

He held her gently in his arms until her steady breathing told him that she slept. Then he moved slightly away, until he could look fully at her face.

The woman of moments ago was a child once again, as her body relaxed in peaceful slumber. A tiny smile crept to the Vulcan's lips as he felt the affection for her that their bonding had created. Then, instantly the smile was gone, as saddening reality enveloped him once more. Very gently, he reached out his hand and placed his fingers in position on Ta-Leen's face, shivering at the invasion to her mind.

He erased the love she felt for him, permitting only a sense of friendship to remain. He wiped away the fear and pain that the thought of his death produced in her and replaced it with understanding and belief that the decision would be justified. He returned to her the assurance that she had not failed her people by not bearing his child and placed the fault entirely upon himself.

He broke the mind meld very slowly, and let his eyes linger on her peaceful face for a long moment. Then, trembling with exhaustion and an aching sadness within, he laid his head back down and closed his eyes.

* * *

He awoke alone. Glancing around the room, the room, he saw no sign of Ta-Leen...no indication that the night just passed had even been real. But sitting up slowly, he found his strength almost fully returned. Looking down at the end of the cot, he saw his uniform, neatly folded.

He stood up and walked to the draped window and parted the curtains, allowing the morning's warm sunlight to bathe his body. Then he moved to where his uniform lay and began dressing somberly, his mind playing over the events to come.

He felt no fear at dying, but instead felt a sadness that he could not at least have given Ta-Leen the child so wanted. His melding with her mind had deeply affected him. Her desperation to help her people left an inexplicable pain within him, for he had, in a sense, failed her.

Spock shivered at the sorrow he felt and summoned control. As he pulled on his boots, thoughts of the Enterprise, and of his friends aboard, taunted his mind. He wished deeply that they would not mourn him, because the thought of their pain increased his own. He drew his uniform tunic over his head and returned to the window, looking at the garden below. The smell of fragrant flowers touched his nostrils and the song of some feathered species reached his ears. In a few hours it would all be gone and he would pass to whatever existence lay beyond that of life.

The image of Amanda, his mother, passed quickly through his mind as he thought of the sorrow she would feel at his death. For a fleeting moment, he desperately wished he could see her and let her know those emotions he had never permitted himself to show her. He closed his eyes as the pain deepened and he remained in front of the window until the opening of the doors, claimed his attention.

Kan-tu entered the room, followed by Ta-Leen. The young girl ran to him and grabbed his hand, her face glowing with excitement. "The child is conceived!" she exclaimed happily, her dark eyes shining. "It will be a healthy boy who will become our people's greatest leader!"

Spock stared at her, completely stunned, then turned questioningly to Kan-tu.

"Ta-Leen speaks the truth, Spock," the elder woman assured, her own face showing pleasure. "You have given our people their leader."

It was a long moment before the Vulcan recovered enough. to speak. "But...that is not possible," he stammered. "I could not have....''

"The child will look like you...Mother has foreseen it,'' Ta-Leen giggled with joy. "And I shall call him Spock, after his noble father." She squeezed his hand. "You are free to return to your friends and you ship."

"Ta-Leen!" Spock objected. "I could not have fathered this child. You are mistaken."

"Spock..." Kan-tu sighed affectionately, walking closer to him. "You seem determined to lowly regard yourself. Learn to have faith in yourself and in the forces surrounding you." She smiled. "You shall be greatly missed and forever honored by our people. One day, perhaps, if the powers permit it, you may even return to meet your son. Until then, Spock, go in peace." She touched her hand to his cheek, then stepped back.

Ta-Leen approached him again then and reached up to give him a small kiss. "We shall never forget what you have done for us, Spock," she said softly. "I shall raise your son as you have taught me, and he will know of his father, and be proud of him."

"Ta-Leen," Spock began, shaking his head, "it is not possible for me to have...."

"My dear strange one," the girl interrupted with a giggle. "Oh, I shall miss you. And I will hold your memory forever close to my heart." Her hand touched his face also. "Go in peace, my dearest friend. Return to us one day."

Spock opened his mouth to protest, but suddenly a blackness enveloped him. When light returned, he was standing on the Enterprise bridge, facing his captain. They stared blankly at each other for a short moment before either could react.

"Spock!!" Kirk was on his feet, his hands reaching out to grip the Vulcan's shoulders. The broad smile on his face turned to confusion. "Spock...what happened?"

The Vulcan's eyebrow raised as, he overcame the bewilderment he felt. "Unknown, Captain. Kan-tu evidently has decided to release me. She assures me that we are free to leave this area now."

Kirk turned to the helm. "Sulu?"

The oriental helmsman touched a few buttons, then turned to Kirk. "Helm responding, sir. We have power!"

Kirk glanced back at Spock, then turned to his navigator. "Mr. Chekov..."

But the young Russian had anticipated his captain's question and shook his head. "No sign of any planet on sensors, Captain. And no abnormal energy readings."

Kirk again turned to Spock, then shrugged. "I guess we never will find our just who Kan-tu and her people really were."

"Spock," McCoy said, approaching the Vulcan. "You said Kan-tu decided to release you. Why?"

Spock regarded McCoy with a raised eyebrow. "Unknown, Doctor. However, just before I was returned here, Kan-tu and Ta-Leen came to me to inform me that the child they sought had been conceived."

A startled silence passed. Then Kirk, and McCoy exclaimed in unison, "What?!!"

Spock shifted position and lowered his voice. "They seem to believe that I had ... impregnated Ta-Leen."

"But...that's impossible!" McCoy said, also lowering his voice as he stared at Spock, wide-eyed.

"I agree, Doctor. However, I do not understand why Ta-Leen and her mother would choose to lie about such a situation."

"Yes," Kirk agreed, brows furrowed in thought. "They seemed determined to obey their ancient rules. I just can't picture them deceiving their own people about the leader they've waited so long for."

"Well, as I said in the beginning," McCoy put in, "they were a people with a mass of inconsistencies. It would've been interesting to study their civilization." He half grinned and clapped Spock on the shoulder. "Well, I'm glad it's over, anyhow. Spock, you look a little tired. Why don't you come on down to sickbay and let me check you over. That drug they were givin' you may have weakened your system."

Expecting a denial, Kirk. was. surprised when Spock nodded.

"I was planning to accompany you, Doctor," the Vulcan said, glancing at Kirk. "That is, if I am not required here?"

"Go ahead, Spock. We'll be okay up here without you," Kirk grinned. "But I'm glad Kan-tu decided to release you. We would have missed you around here."

"Now wait a minute, Jim, " McCoy interrupted, a tease in his eyes. "We could've managed."

The Vulcan officer regarded the two men with patient eyes as he gave a tolerant sigh. Then he turned and headed for the turbolift. McCoy winked at Kirk, who fought to suppress a laugh. Then the doctor followed Spock.

Inside the turbo-lift, a moment of silence passed before the Vulcan spoke. "Doctor...there is a specific test I wish to undergo," he said stiffly, keeping his eyes directed to the closed doors before him. "I will elaborate once we reach sickbay."

McCoy looked at him, confused, then shrugged. "Whatever you say, Spock. You do look tired, though. I might put you on a vitamin supplement." The doctor grinned. "If there's one thing I don't need on this ship, it's an anemic Vulcan."

Spock glanced at the doctor, his left eyebrow creeping into his hairline. Then he turned back to stare at the closed doors before him as he gave a small sigh.

* * *

"Jim...could you come down to sickbay? There's something I want to talk to you about."

McCoy's words played over in Kirk's mind as he vacated his command chair and left the helm to Sulu. He entered the turbo-lift, deep in thought. A twinge of worry was creeping into his mind. Something was wrong. Spock hadn't returned to his station. And now McCoy's call.... The Enterprise captain shifted position and impatiently tapped his thigh with his hand. When the turbo-lift halted, he practically ran out the door.

"Bones...what is it?!"

The doctor looked up from a tape viewer and motioned for Kirk to sit down. The captain remained standing. "Come on, Bones. What is it?"

McCoy noticed Kirk's almost desperate look then and he gave a half-grin. "Hold it, Jim, don't look so worried. Spock's okay. There's nothing wrong with him. Oh, his system is a little run down from Kan-tu's drug, but other than that, he's perfectly healthy."

Kirk relaxed noticeably.

"There's just one thing..."

The captain tensed again.

"Spock asked me to run a certain test on him, and the results... Well, the results will make scientific history."

"Why? "

"Jim, Spock's fertile. I ran three complete test on him, and he's fertile!"

Kirk stared at the doctor, open-mouthed, for a full- half-minute before he could speak. "Bones, that's impossible!"

"That's what I said when I first took the reading," McCoy returned. "But the instruments and medical computers don't lie, Jim. He's fertile!"

Kirk shook his head in confusion. "But...how?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. Could be something in Kan-tu's drug...maybe even in some sort of power she used on him. Who knows? I'll be running more tests on him over the next few days. The reaction to this from Starfleet and Vulcan scientists should be astounding."

"And it's possible then..." Kirk began slowly," that Ta-Leen was telling the truth when she told Spock she was pregnant."

"Well...I can't say for sure, Jim, but it does increase the possibility."

"Where's Spock?"

"I sent him to his quarters. I gave him a supplement for his anemia, and I think he should get some rest." McCoy's eyebrows furrowed then. "Jim...he seemed pretty somber after the results of the test. I thought maybe...well, I thought you might talk to him."

Kirk's eyes met the doctor's, and he nodded slowly.

* * *

He pushed the buzzer once and there was an immediate response as the doors swished open. Kirk stepped into the room and faced the Vulcan first officer. "Spock," Kirk said quietly, a small grin crossing his lips, "can we talk?"

Spock nodded and gestured to a chair, but Kirk declined and walked across the room. He glanced at some of the ancient Vulcan artifacts that lined the shelves, then turned around to find the Vulcan had seated himself. Spock's hands were clasped in a meditative position, but his dark eyes watched Kirk patiently, silently.

"You...feel all right?" the Enterprise captain asked with a weak attempt at starting a conversation.

"Yes...I feel...quite well, Captain." The dark eyes lowered then and stared at an invisible object on the floor.

"Spock...Bones told me about the test."

There was a short silence, then Spock nodded. "I surmised that, Jim."

Kirk tapped a fist to his palm several times, carefully weighing his next words. Then he leaned back and sat on the edge of the Vulcan's desk. "Why did you ask McCoy to run that particular test on you?"

Spock straightened slightly and gave a small shrug. "I was...curious to see why Ta-Leen and her mother would believe so adamantly that I had fathered a child."

A long silence passed as Kirk studied his friend. "Do you think that Ta-Leen was pregnant, then?" he asked finally.

Spock's eyebrow`raised and he took a deep breath. "I believe that she would not lie to her people," he returned. "Or to me."

Kirk nodded somberly.

"That does not, however, alter the fact that there will be no child," Spock continued, standing up abruptly and walking across the room. He stopped in front of the far wall and stood, looking up at an ancient Vulcan weapon that hung there. "Ta-Leen's body chemistry is, no doubt, far different than my own. An embryo with the chemistry elements of my body could not survive in hers."

"But...your mother," Kirk started.

"I was removed from her womb after one month, Captain," Spock explained. "And was implanted again several months later. The most capable scientists on Vulcan handled the thousands of tests, operations, minute changes, that made my mother's system and mine compatible." He turned from the wall and looked at Kirk. "I do not believe even Kan-tu and her ancients possess such knowledge or capabilities. There will be no child." Spock walked back to the chair and sat down.

Kirk watched his friend, curiously taken aback by the strong sense of regret that radiated from him. "Spock," he said suddenly, hopping off the desk where he sat. "The girl, Ta-Leen. She meant something to you, didn't she?"

Spock stiffened and one eyebrow raised. He looked up at Kirk. "We were bonded, Jim," he said quietly.

Kirk's eyes widened with. shack and confusion. "But...you were drugged...."

"Nevertheless, our minds did link," Spock returned. "And it is not as easy to forget the joining of thoughts as it is to forget the joining of bodies." Then the Vulcan's head lowered. "Also...last night...I was not unconscious."

Kirk had to fight then to keep the amazement out of his voice. "But...why not?"

There was slight, perceptible trembling of the Vulcan's hands as he clenched them together. He looked up at Kirk. "It was her choice," he said softly. "And mine."

Kirk nodded and put his hand on the Vulcan's thin shoulder. "I understand, Spock," he said gently. "Will you be all right?"

Spock nodded slightly.

Kirk straightened and kept his hand on the Vulcan's shoulder. "And Ta-Leen...she must have loved you...."

"I replaced that feeling with a lesser one." Spock admitted, keeping his eyes averted from Kirk's. "I did not want her saddened if I was to die."

Kirk's eyes wrinkled as he heard the barely audible tone of pain as his officer spoke, and he knew that Spock would suffer because of the bonding. He might be able to remove the love from Ta-Leen's mind, but who was to remove it from his own? "Spock," Kirk said suddenly, giving a half grin in an attempt to ease the tension that seemed suffocating. "I wouldn't be so sure about there being no chance for that child. Ta-Leen seemed like a pretty determined young lady and..." His words trailed off as the Vulcan looked at him with confusion. "Well...I guess what I'm trying to say is, if Ta-Leen did have your child, Spock, I believe he'd grow up to be every bit as great a man as his father."

Spock stared at his captain, bewildered, then a hint of amusement showed in his dark eyes. "You exhibit typically Human emotionalism, Jim," he said quietly, "in your illogical belief that the child will be born."

"Perhaps," Kirk returned, taking his hand from his friend's shoulder and heading for the door. "Just...perhaps." The door opened, and he exited.

Spock sat back in his chair, his fingers once more steepled. Jim...his friend...and the smile appeared on the Vulcan's mouth once again. He realized that his captain was trying to produce a degree of satisfaction in him by believing the child he had given Ta-Leen would indeed be born. Totally Human irrationality. And yet, there was a sort of satisfaction in that thought. Illogical, but there, nonetheless.

Spock's eyes closed in meditation then, and though he tried to prevent it, the image of a young girl kept crossing his mind. After a while, he surrendered to the memory of Ta-Leen.

EPILOGUE

The woman reached out and took the blanket-wrapped bundle from her daughter's outstretched arms, cuddling it close to her and drawing the blanket slightly away to peek at the treasure within.

"Just like him, Mother," the girl in the bed said weakly. "Just as you foresaw."

Kan-tu held the bundle tighter as wetness clouded her eyes. She looked down at her daughter and smiled. "Our leader, Ta-Leen," she whispered, placing the blanketed infant once more in the girl's arms. "He shall be the greatest of all."

THE END