DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story content and original characters are the creation and property of Joanne K. Seward. This story is rated G. This story was originally published in LoneStar Trek 6, edited by Laurie D. Haynes and Jan Meek, copyright 1993. It's been a while since it saw the light of day and since people were begging for stories...

IF THERE BE UNICORNS
Joanne K. Seward

The twinkling lights of the transporter effect died out, leaving landing party one free to take in their surroundings. Captain James T. Kirk gazed about him, absorbing the sight of lush, silver-green foliage and sage-colored turf. He drew a deep, cleansing breath, reveling in the herb-scented air.

Uhura's delighted sigh caught his wandering attention. "Why, it's beautiful, Captain."

Kirk nodded, tossing a glance in her direction. The communications officer's eyes were opened wide, as though to more fully appreciate the unspoiled beauty of the planet on which they stood. Her neck arched sinuously, like a cat's as she luxuriated in the warm sunlight.

"Agreed, Lieutenant," Kirk said softly. He allowed himself another moment of unalloyed pleasure, then turned to issue his orders.

As he did so, a quietly indulgent expression touched his eyes. Apparently, he and Uhura weren't the only ones struck by the untouched quality of the planet. The faces of the landing party were wreathed with smiles. Muscles, tensed in the moments before transport, were suddenly lax.

With one notable exception. An irrepressible grin suffused Kirk's features as he observed his first officer, already deeply involved with his tricorder. Spock'll never change, the captain mused.

He kept the thought to himself, saying only, "Spread out, people. We need as many readings as we can get. Fleet says Honoria is ideal for colonizing, but the conservation people disagree. It's up to us to get the whole story."

There were little nods and murmurs of assent, as the landing party shook themselves out of their dazed state and set to work, tricorders humming. Spock glanced up, unaware he'd been the object of Kirk's attention. "Given the amount of time we have been allotted, it is unlikely we will be able to accomplish that goal, Captain."

"No," Kirk conceded, tilting his head judiciously. "But it's our duty to try."

"Naturally." One angled brow inched upward. "I did not mean to imply otherwise."

Kirk hid a smile. "Of course, not, Spock." He bent to examine the springy surface underfoot, sniffing deeply. "Mmmm. This is where that smell is coming from. Reminds me of some kind of perfume or something."

"Indeed." Spock knelt as well, gently examining the mat-like plants, then waving the tricorder over them. "The scent given off by this groundcover is remarkably similar to that of Terran lavandula spica."

Kirk gave him a look which said, "Translation, please."

Spock complied with the unspoken command. "You," he explained, "would no doubt call it lavender. And you are correct. On Earth, it has been used for centuries in dried sachets and potpourri, as well as in a substance called 'toilet' water." From his expression, it was quite clear the name made absolutely no sense to the Vulcan.

Kirk had no chance to explain it though. All conversation was halted by Sulu's hushed, almost awed words. "Captain, there they are..." He pointed to a spot on the opposite side of the clearing, where meadow once again merged into woodland. "The unicorns, sir."

The helmsman's voice remained soft, yet it trembled with suppressed excitement. Spotting the animals, Kirk had no trouble understanding why. They stood where the shadows were deepest, their creamy white hides somehow blending seamlessly into the background. Built on the lines of spirited Arabian horses, their long silky manes and the single, twisting horn made them the epitome of those wondrous beasts of Terran myth.

"Ohhhh..." Once again, it was Uhura who vocalized what the others could only feel.

"Definitely agreed, Uhura," Kirk murmured, then still speaking softly, he reminded the landing party of their jobs, cautioning them to maintain a safe distance between themselves and the magnificent animals. "After all," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "it's our background that invests them with all sorts of magical qualities. Here, they're just wild animals. And I don't have to remind you, they've never seen people before. Don't frighten them." His lips tight, he added, "Leave that honor to someone else." There was no denying the cynicism which shaded his words.

Once again, the others responded with softly spoken 'ayes.' Watching them, Kirk switched on his own tricorder and began scanning the flora and fauna.

* * *

"Honoria! What kind of name for a planet is that?" Leonard McCoy gave the datapad he'd been using a shove, sending it slaloming across the slick surface of his desk. In its course, the device encountered a feinberger, several datatapes and an old coffee cup, complete with a thick sludge-like substance coating the bottom. The datapad, along with everything else, went over the edge with a crash and a clatter. "Aww. Hell. Just look at this mess!"

Christine Chapel stared balefully at her superior, then bent to retrieve what remained of the morning's work. Listening to the Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise grumble and growl, Chapel was beginning to wish Captain Kirk had included him in one of the landing parties. Either that, or he'd included her. She didn't care which, so long as she didn't have to listen to McCoy's unending monologue on all the varied and sundry things that could go wrong on a landing party.

Unable to bear another moment of McCoy's griping, she faced him, hands on slender hips, her expression one of long-suffering patience. "Leonard," she said with a sigh. Gambling on the true friendship that existed between them, she continued. "Enough already. The captain explained why he didn't include anyone from medical in the landing parties." Chapel gave a little laugh. "Why, he even justified his going down by taking a tricorder. Now when was the last time you can recall the famous Captain Kirk manning a tricorder?"

"Hmmph," McCoy snorted. "That's fine for you to say. You're not personally responsible for the health and well-being of our 'fearless leader.' If anything goes wrong down there, I'll be the one who has to pick up the pieces." Chapel shook her head. "There's no way you could keep him out of trouble, even if you were right next to him." She gave a little sigh, adding, "You know how the captain is... Besides, there are eight landing parties down there. If we were on the planet we'd have to beam up to the ship and back down to whichever party needed assistance. That'd mean two trips through the transporter. Think about it," Chapel said in her most reasonable voice, using her boss's well-known dislike of transporters to strengthen her case. "And, if that's not enough, remember, there's not one person down there who isn't skilled in first aid."

"I know. I know," McCoy admitted. "But I still can't help worrying."

Chapel smiled in response. "I do understand, Leonard."

The CMO nodded, his blue eyes sympathetic. "I know you do, Chris. I'm sorry for bein' such a grumpy old curmudgeon."

Chapel shook her head again, charmed by the apology. McCoy was like that. One minute she'd be ready to inject him with a neural paralyzer, the next she'd clean out the bilges (assuming she knew what they were) for him.

* * *

Spock worked his way with painstaking care around to the far side of the clearing, inching ever closer to the animal. A large portion of his mind was devoted to studying the readings displayed on the minute screen of his tricorder. At the same time, another part was fascinated by the incredible similarity between these animals and the legends and myths of his maternal planet. It would be a shame if these animals were to lose their homes the way the buffalo had on Earth, or the Verdigran qualkos had on their world. Unfortunately, the arrival of sentient beings almost always had an ill effect on native flora and fauna. Although aware of the Federation's need for planets suitable for colonization, Spock admitted to himself that he would prefer this particular planet not be one of them.

Across the meadow, Geological Technician Addams was also intent on the readings on a tricorder screen. He wished he could get a sample of the rock that edged the stream running through the field, but the captain had decreed that no tools, from the simplest mallet to phaser cutters, should be used this close to the unicorns for fear of frightening them. Casting an eye over his shoulder at the massive beasts, contentedly grazing on the aromatic groundcover, Addams couldn't agree more. He disliked any animal that was bigger than he was. One with a horn that looked ideal for shish-kebabing human beings was to be avoided all costs. Still looking nervously in the direction of the unicorns, he took an uneasy step down the bank of the stream.

Just then, one of the animals snorted loudly, startling Addams. His foot slipped on one of the water-polished rocks, and he went down on his back, sliding feet first down the bank and into the rushing water. "Aaaaaahhhh!"

Spock's head shot up, his acute hearing immediately pinpointing the source of the shout. It wasn't until a moment later that he realized his unguarded movement had made him the focus of the animal which he'd been studying.

The unicorn let out a sound that struck the Vulcan as something between an elephant's trumpet and the call of a lovesick moose. The rest of the herd galloped out of sight, disappearing at once into the sun-dappled darkness of the woods. Spock watched them go, his attention torn in two separate and opposite directions.

"Spock!" Kirk yelled helplessly from where he was helping Uhura and Sulu pull Addams from the stream.

The Vulcan turned toward the sound of the captain's voice. Kirk was gesturing wildly at something behind the first officer. It was with a mild sense of shock that Spock realized one of the unicorns, apparently the leader, was rushing toward him. Its intricate spiral horn was pointed directly at his middle.

* * *

"Bridge to Sickbay."

Fear twisting his gut, McCoy stabbed at the communicator on the wall. "McCoy here. What is it?"

"Doctor McCoy!" The second shift comm officer's voice held a note of relief. "One minute, sir." A moment of silence followed, then, "There's been an accident. The captain's party is preparing to beam up. Two injured. Geological Technician Addams, and..." He paused, clearly listening to another channel. "And Mister Spo--"

McCoy severed the connection before the comm officer could finish. He'd been waiting for this call ever since the landing parties beamed down. The only surprise was that it was Spock who was injured, not Kirk. "Emergency medteam to the transporter room. STAT!" He threw Chapel a look. "Get things ready here. I'll meet them in the transporter room." He was gone before the nurse could reply.

* * *

"Spock!" Kirk knelt at his first officer's side, concern evident in his voice. One glance at the emerald flood staining the turf was enough to make him wish he'd given in to McCoy's request. Uncertain whether the Vulcan was even aware of his presence, he murmured, "Don't move," then reached for his communicator. Before he could reach it, though, Sulu was there, holding one ready. "We'll have you in Sickbay before you know it," Kirk assured. Flipping the device open, he signaled the Enterprise.

* * *

McCoy rushed through the partially-open doors of the transporter room, trailing the emergency team and its paraphernalia like a kite with an oversized tail. He shot an impatient look at the transporter chief, then turned his attention to the figures slowly coalescing on the platform. Or that was how it seemed to the CMO as he waited, adrenaline pounding through his body. No matter how many times he did this, his body always reacted the same way. Even before the figures solidified, he noted one of them was being supported on either side. Of the other three, one lay in a semi-fetal position, the last two crouched beside him.

The moment the sparkles of the transporter effect died away, McCoy was on the platform. He ran a cursory glance over Addams, taking in the dripping uniform and one-legged stance, then he turned his attention to the other, recumbent figure.

His eyes widened at the green puddle already forming on the transporter pad, and his nostrils were assailed by the alien scent of copper-based blood, and something else, something clean and spicy. "What the hell happened?" he barked.

Those unfamiliar with the physician, would have assumed he was angry. Jim Kirk knew better. He ignored the bellicose tone, explaining rapidly from his place at Spock's side. "He was gored by one of the unicorns. He's lost a lot of blood."

"I'll say." Even as he spoke, McCoy was motioning with one hand for an anti-grav stretcher, plying his feinberger back and forth over the injured Vulcan with the other. He pulled a spray hypo out of his kit, and applied it to the Vulcan's arm. "That'll help stabilize him." He gestured for the E-med team to move the Vulcan to the stretcher, then glanced in Addams direction. Seeing that Uhura and the last member of the party, botanist Hans Vetter had already bundled the geologist into a float chair, he nodded. "Okay, let's get them to sickbay."

Gently, Kirk tucked the edge of a lightweight thermal blanket around Spock's shoulder. Meeting McCoy's eyes across that prone figure, he waited, brows raised, high forehead furrowed, knowing McCoy would understand his unasked questions.

"I don't know yet, Jim. As soon as I know anything..." The physician let the sentence go unfinished.

Kirk nodded. He hadn't expected anything more.

"Cap...tain..."

Startled, Kirk looked down. He'd thought Spock had lapsed into unconsciousness. "It's okay, Spock. We're back on the Enterprise. Just take it easy. McCoy will take care of everything. You just relax and let him do his job."

"That'll be the day," McCoy grunted. With a jerk of his shoulder toward the med team, he said, "Let's go."

As the medics maneuvered the stretcher out of the transporter room, Spock shook his head. "Al...i...corns. Observ...ations..."

Hurrying alongside the gurney, Kirk said, "Don't worry. I have your tricorder." He patted the instrument which he'd slung over his shoulder alongside his own. "Everything is in here. You just take it easy."

The Vulcan shook his head again, becoming increasingly agitated. "You do not...understand."

Watching the medics carefully pilot the anti-grav into the waiting turbolift, McCoy growled, "I understand that you and I have an appointment in the OR, Mister Spock. Captain, I'll speak to you later." The doors slid together with a whisper, leaving Kirk to wonder what his first officer could have considered so important.

* * *

Leonard McCoy stepped into the room where Spock lay, a unit of blood being fed into a vein in his arm. Checking the readings overhead, then studying the scans run by his staff, he decided he'd seldom had to deal with injuries of this sort before. Puncture wounds inflicted by a horn that was at least a foot long weren't exactly an everyday happening on the Enterprise.

As far as he could determine, the animal had practically run Spock through. Along with the main puncture wound, there were a number of scrapes and bruises. McCoy swallowed hard. It was miraculous that none of the major organs had been affected. Lacerations, sure, even a nicked rib, but nothing that couldn't be fixed, nothing that wouldn't mend, given sufficient time. Still, it was going to take every bit of his skill to repair the damage.

Looking down at the unconscious Vulcan, McCoy sighed, then picking up a protoplaser, he set to work.

* * *

On the bridge, Kirk scrootched uneasily in his seat. Having issued orders to the remaining landing parties to avoid the alicorns, there wasn't much to for him to do but wait for word on Spock's condition. He was certain the Vulcan had been trying to tell him something before McCoy whisked him off to Sickbay. "But what?" he questioned softly.

"Sir?" Uhura's voice called him out of his reverie. She was seated at an auxiliary station. She'd decided she'd rather remain on the bridge, than wait in the silence of her cabin for news of the first officer.

"What? Oh. Nothing, Lieutenant."

Strolling to the side of the command chair, Uhura opened her dark eyes wide, giving the captain a look he recognized well.

"Okay, almost nothing," he amended with a wry smile. He considered for a moment. "Uhura... Did it strike you that Spock was trying to tell me something... something he considered important?"

"It did, sir." Uhura confirmed.

"Sulu?"

The helmsman swiveled his seat around to face the captain. "Yes, sir, it did."

Kirk ran a hand over his jaw in a gesture his officers were well acquainted with. "Me, too. I've gone through his tricorder record three times already... I wish I could figure out what it was."

Looking up, he noticed a rust-colored smear on Uhura's tunic. "By the way, what are you two doing on the bridge? According to my reckoning, you're supposed to be off duty." He raised his eyebrows, hazel eyes waiting for an explanation.

Uhura scrubbed at the stain with her thumb. "Begging the captain's pardon, but according to my reckoning, you're supposed to be off duty too," she said pointedly, neatly sidestepping.

"You look worse than we do, sir," Sulu added quietly.

Kirk was surprised to find Sulu was correct. The front of his uniform was liberally marked with brownish-green splotches of dried Vulcan blood, his knees streaked with mud and grass stains. "I didn't even notice... Okay," he said, after a moment's consideration. "We're all off duty as of now. McCoy's busy, but if he were here, he'd suggest showers and clean uniforms all around. Therefore, consider it an order, both of you."

Sulu and Uhura stared at him expectantly. Finally, Sulu said, "You too, sir."

Kirk grinned wryly, in acknowledgment. "Me, too, Mister Sulu." More softly, he asked rhetorically, "What kind of ship is it, where the helmsman tells the captain what to do?" He shook his head. "No, don't answer that," then turned to Chekov, who was manning the Science station in Spock's absence. "You have the conn, Mister Chekov. I'll be in my quarters if I'm needed."

"Aye, Keptin," the Russian responded, barely looking up from the transcript of Spock's tricordings he'd been studying. "You know, sair, it's hard to believe an animal so beautiful could attack Mister Spock so savagely."

The smile faded from Kirk's eyes as they again traveled to his stained tunic. "Believe it, Mister."

* * *

McCoy flicked a quick glance at the familiar presence at his side. "How's Addams?"

"Resting comfortably," Chapel replied. "He must have hit his head when he fell. He has a nice lump on it, plus the sprained ankle, of course. Nothing a little rest won't take care of." She paused, worried blue eyes scanning the monitors over Spock's head.

"Same here, Chris, so far as I can tell. But there's still lot's of mending to do, so, grab a protoplaser and dig in."

Chapel complied, again noting the readings. "He seems to be coming around."

McCoy sighed in disgust. "Damn. That's the third time now. I could swear he's fighting the sedative. I've already pumped him so full of chemicals, I hate to give him any more, but..." Reluctantly he picked up a spray-hypo and injected its contents.

Chapel palmed a protoplaser and set to work, her lips tightening at the sight of the more serious wounds McCoy had already dealt with. "Why?" she asked, knowing Spock would consider it illogical to resist having his injuries treated. All the same, he had been known to do just that, when he considered the reason sufficient.

"How the hell should I know? He's Spock," McCoy said, as though that explained everything. The physician changed the setting on the protoplaser he was using and began tackling another scrape. "Jim told him to relax and let us take care of him. Hmmph. Fat chance!"

Chapel's brow crinkled as she aimed her instrument at a spot on Spock's shoulder that was bleeding sluggishly. "What are you talking about, Leonard?" Out of the corner of her eye, she noted one of the other nurses replacing the empty IV bag with a fresh one.

"Hmm?" Concentrating on Spock's injuries, McCoy had lost track of what he'd been saying. "Oh, that... Spock kept tryin' to tell the captain something about the unicorns when we were getting him on the stretcher... Most likely he was a bit delirious."

Chapel frowned. None of the readings she'd seen indicated delirium. "Did he appear delirious?"

"Not that I noticed, but after all, what does a delirious Vulcan look like?"

Recalling the refresher course she'd recently taken in the care and treatment of non-human aliens, Chapel said dryly, "You'd notice." She put down the protoplaser, resisting the impulse to smooth Spock's hair. "That looks like the last one."

McCoy jerked his head in agreement. "Okay. There are still a whole bunch of minor bruises and abrasions, but they'll heal by themselves. Let's get him into a bed."

They settled Spock as comfortably as possible. Despite having been sealed with the protoplaser, the puncture wound would remain painful for some time. "I wonder if he has to be in any special position to enter a healing trance?" McCoy said.

Chapel thought about previous times when the Vulcan had found himself relegated to Sickbay. "Most likely he'd prefer to be on his back..."

"Un-unh." The CMO shook his head in a quick negative. "Right side. I don't want any pressure on that wound." With the help of another nurse, they slid a special force-field 'cushion' behind the Vulcan. It would provide support without actually touching him. That done, McCoy turned his attention to Chapel. "I suppose you're going to stay here?"

Chapel just smiled, not bothering to reply.

McCoy's eyebrow quirked. Though they never spoke of it, he was fully aware of Chapel's enduring affection for Spock. "That's what I figured." He thought for a moment. "At least try to get some rest."

Chapel nodded and settled herself on the chair next to Spock's bed.

* * *

Jim Kirk ignored the gold tunic he'd draped over the back of a chair, shrugging into an old but comfortable robe. Freshly showered, he felt like a different man from the one who'd peered back at him from the bathroom mirror only a short while ago. McCoy had called earlier, just as he was about to enter the shower, with news that Spock was out of surgery and his condition was stable. Kirk would have headed for Sickbay right then, but McCoy's next words had forestalled him.

"I know you're gonna want to see him, but why don't you wait a while before you come down? He won't be conscious for a some time yet."

Despite the weariness that made the CMO's voice a harsh imitation of its usual smooth tones, Kirk recognized an order when he heard one. "All right," he responded, priding himself on his calm manner.

It mustn't have been as convincing as he thought, because McCoy was peering at him as though he were a bug under a microscope. The CMO jabbed a finger at Kirk's image on his monitor. "How're you doing?"

"Okay, Bones. I just wish I could figure out--"

"Well, you don't look okay. I suppose you haven't eaten anything."

"How do you know?" Kirk asked defensively.

"How do I know?!!!" McCoy let out a derisive snort. "If you think I don't know how these things affect you, after all these years as your friendly family doctor--"

Kirk held his hands up, fending off a lecture. "Never mind! I'm sorry I asked."

"I'm sorry too. Look, why not try to eat something. It should help."

Kirk had taken the suggestion, eating a light meal, then savoring a cup of coffee, for once drinking it while it was still hot. Now, his stomach no longer complaining and headache almost gone, he was ready to go over Spock's data one more time.

He'd no more than settled down at his desk, when the privacy buzzer sounded. "Come..." His attention still on the screen, Kirk hardly spared a glance for his visitors.

"Captain," Uhura's lovely voice said from the other side of the desk.

Kirk looked up, startled to find both his comm officer and helmsman waiting for his attention. "I thought I told you two to take some time off..."

"Yes, sir. But it occurred to us that maybe a couple of fresh pairs of eyes might spot something you had missed. We got a copy of Spock's tricorder data from Chekov..." Sulu's voice trailed off, uncertain of the captain's reception.

"I see." A wry smile of understanding formed on Kirk's face.

"We think maybe we've found something," Uhura said.

"What it means though..." Sulu shrugged, looking uncertain.

Kirk swivelled the monitor so the screen was visible to everyone, then motioned for Uhura and Sulu to be seated. "Show me," he ordered.

Uhura sat on the edge of her chair and leaned forward. "Computer, play the last three minutes of this recording."

"Working," the machine responded, and the pictures on the screen flew past, too fast for the eye to see.

Kirk frowned. He knew the last few minutes of the tape showed little but a view of trampled grass, when the tricorder had lain, running but unnoticed, half-hidden by Spock's body. He remained silent though, trusting his officers.

"Take a look at this, sir." Sulu nodded in the direction of the monitor, and Kirk silently obeyed.

Once again, the captain watched as Spock turned toward Addams, the tricorder panning the alien meadow. He heard the call of the unicorn, then the sound of pounding hooves. His own voice yelled out Spock's name, sounding oddly unreal. Spock turned toward him then, suddenly aware of danger, focused on the rapidly approaching animal. The sound of impact, a weird, strangled exhalation, then everything went awry.

The Vulcan was falling, and with him the instrument. For one second - no, less than a second, a detached corner of Kirk's mind corrected -- the tricorder caught the expression on the injured officer's face as it and he crashed toward the lavender-scented turf. Kirk closed his eyes, not wanting to view that expression yet again.

"Captain! Did you see it?" Sulu's voice held an excited note.

"See what?" Kirk asked wearily. Watching the recording had brought the horror of that moment back full force. All too well, could he recall the strange sound the alicorn had made, how the animal had plunged its tapered horn into the Vulcan, then pulled it out, disappearing into the forest in the blink of an eye, the silence which had seemed to surround them, the odd taffy-like feel of his own limbs, struggling to reach Spock's side. Kirk rubbed his forehead, wishing he could forget.

"Mister Spock, his face -- didn't you see it, sir?" Uhura's voice echoed Sulu's excitement, but it held a note of concern as well.

"Uhura, I've watched that tape so many times..."

"But were you watching Mister Spock's face?"

"I don't understand," Kirk said, shaking his head.

"Sir, it seems to me, that Mister Spock displayed three distinct expressions. Hikaru agrees. We thought you would spot it too."

"I hadn't noticed, but I admit, I've been sort of trying to ignore that particular bit." Kirk leaned back in his chair, pausing for a moment. "Maybe you'd better show me again."

"Aye, sir." Uhura backed the tape up, running it in reverse until the Vulcan's face appeared. "Watch. I'll run it slowly." Doing so, she pointed to the screen. "Here, he looks startled... Here--" She pointed again, and Kirk found himself wincing. Pain was written clearly on the face of his first officer. "Even Mister Spock can't hide that kind of pain," Uhura said softly.

Kirk studied the image on the screen reluctantly, wishing he could turn away, wishing Uhura would hurry up and get to the point.

"But look here, Captain..." The tape moved forward ever-so-slightly, and Uhura spoke again. "Sulu and I both agree. There's almost a look of wonder in his eyes... What do you think, sir?"

Kirk leaned forward, studying Spock's features intently, a scowl transforming his own face. Uhura was correct. Spock did have a rather bemused expression on his face, one Kirk had seen many times, no matter how hard the Vulcan tried to conceal it. It was the one he wore when he'd discovered a new and intriguing lifeform, or an elegant solution to a scientific problem, or every once in a great while, when Kirk unexpectedly beat him at three-D chess. And Uhura's description was also correct. It could only be described as a look of wonder. But...

Kirk shook his head. "It doesn't make sense..."

Sulu met the captain's eyes calmly. "All the same--"

"All the same, it's there," Kirk completed.

Uhura pressed her lips together, giving a little nod.

"It's there all right." Sulu confirmed.

Kirk tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the desk. "Thank you, Nyota, Hikaru. I don't know what it means, but I intend to find out." His gaze traveled back to the screen. "If you two should have any more... uh, ideas, I'll be glad to hear them."

The two officers stood to leave. "You will, sir," Sulu vowed. "That's a promise."

* * *

The captain leaned over the medibed, concern written large in his hazel eyes. Chapel looked almost as bad as Spock himself. "Why don't you take a break, Nurse. I'll sit with him for a while."

"Thank you, Captain. But Doctor McCoy's orders were for a nurse to remain with him until further notice."

Kirk had expected as much. He nodded, his eyes returning to Spock's slack features. "How much longer will he be unconscious?"

"Probably another hour or so. He's not really unconscious, but in a deep sleep."

"Not a healing trance?"

"No, not yet," Chapel replied, her attention flickering from Kirk to her patient.

Kirk hated the thought of what he was going to do, but knew it had to be done. He watched for another moment, then asked, "Will he wake up before he goes into the trance?"

"Not really." Chapel was frowning now. She knew where all these questions were leading, but she was a Starfleet officer. As much as she disliked it, she had no choice but to give Kirk the information he required. "He may be conscious for a few minutes, but it's possible he'll slip into the trance without us knowing he's done so."

Kirk met her gaze, his expression one of concern. "Nurse, I have to talk to him. I have to find out what he was trying to tell me. Lives could depend on it. We still have a lot of people down there on the planet. What he knows... Well... It could be important."

"I understand," Chapel said, sounding resigned. Donning her best 'professional' attitude, she added, "Doctor McCoy or I will see to it that you're informed as soon as he shows any signs of waking, Captain."

Kirk took one last look at his first officer. "Thank you, Nurse Chapel," he said. He turned to leave Sickbay, only to find McCoy hovering at his shoulder.

As soon as they were out of earshot, McCoy gripped his arm. "You know, sometimes I find it hard to believe you, Jim."

"Bones--"

"I know. You're only doing your duty." McCoy's voice dripped sarcasm.

"Well, I am..." Kirk replied, ignoring McCoy's anger. He understood its source too well to take offense.

Kirk's manner seemed to take the wind out of McCoy's sails. "I know, Jim. I'm sorry. I guess I'm just tired."

"And worried?"

"Mmmhmm. He should be okay, but ... with Spock, I'm always scared that wacky hybrid mix of his will kick in, and something will go haywire."

"I know. I promise I'll try to keep it short." Kirk looked pointedly toward the turbolift.

McCoy gave a short nod of dismissal. "I'm gonna hold you to that."

Kirk nodded as well. "Understood, Bones."

* * *

Kirk stepped out of the turbolift just in time to hear the on-duty comm officer request that he contact the bridge.

"Here, Powell." Despite his preoccupation, Kirk enjoyed the way the young man's eyes popped and his eyebrows shot clear up to his regulation haircut at the sound of the captain's voice issuing from a point midway between the lift and command chair. "What is it?"

"Oh! Sir! I didn't know -- uhh, that is, I didn't expect--"

Kirk smiled, familiar with the reaction. Powell, had grown up on a colony planet, and was still mildly awed at finding himself stationed aboard the Enterprise. "Understood, Ensign." He turned to face the conn. "Mister Chekov, you requested my presence?"

"Yes, sair." Chekov had already vacated the command chair. "We have a problem on the surface," he reported. "Landing party five has requested instructions."

"I see. Are they still on?" Kirk inquired, settling himself in his seat.

"Powell..." Chekov nodded to the comm officer, whose hands immediately flew over the panel. Green, Powell might be, but he knew communications.

"On screen, sir."

Kirk gave a quick nod of thanks, his attention already on the image on the huge viewscreen.

"Wren, here, Captain. Sir, we've been approached by a group of unicorns several times now. We've moved away each time, only to have it happen again. Knowing what happened to Mister Spock, well--" The officer broke off, waiting for the captain's instructions.

"Are you sure they followed you, Wren?" Kirk knew Laurence Wren well. He was an excellent exozoologist and an experienced officer. If he said the unicorns had approached the landing party, they probably had. All the same, the captain had to be certain.

"No doubt about it, sir. There was no sign of violence, but they are definitely following us."

"Where are they now?" Kirk asked, a slight frown crossing his even features.

"The other side of that outcropping," Wren replied, waving at a massive rock formation, "and getting closer."

"Okay, signal the transporter room for immediate beam up. I'll want to see your tricorder tapes as soon as you're aboard. Report to me in the main briefing room ASAP."

"Aye, sir. Landing party five out."

Kirk levered himself out of the command chair, aware of a sense of uneasiness. Spock had been trying to tell him something about the unicorns, and now this. He exhaled disgustedly, his breath making a little 'huff' noise. "Chekov--" He didn't bother to finish. The navigator was already on his feet and moving to replace him. "I'll be in main briefing if anyone needs me."

"Aye, sair."

* * *

The captain had no more than seated himself at the table in the briefing room with Wren and his team scattered around him, when the intercom signaled. "Damn!" Kirk muttered, stabbing the button in front of him. "What is it?," he demanded brusquely, then immediately wished the words unsaid, as a weary-looking McCoy peered out of the monitor at him. "Bones?"

"It looks like Spock is starting to come around, Jim."

"How long until he's fully awake?"

"No way to say. Could be a couple of minutes, could be half an hour. As for how lucid he'll be--" McCoy shook his head. "If you insist on talking to him, I'd suggest you get down here."

"I'll be right there," Kirk replied, getting to his feet at once.

He looked around the table. "Ladies and gentleman, I apologize for this interruption but--"

"No apology is needed, Captain." Wren picked up a couple of datatapes. "Everything you need to know is on these. Maybe you should take them with you. You may be down there for a while."

Kirk raised his eyebrows but accepted the offer graciously. "Good thinking, Mister Wren."

* * *

McCoy stood at the captain's side, explaining patiently. "He's slipped back again, Jim. I could try to wake him, but I'd rather not. He's blocking pain, and it'll be worse when he wakes up."

Knowing McCoy meant what he said, Kirk glanced at the indicator over Spock's head and swallowed hard. He knew enough about the biomonitors to recognize the word 'severe' as an understatement. "Can't you give him something?"

McCoy's lips pressed together in a firm line. "Vulcan's aren't human, Jim. Anything I give him could interfere with his body's own healing processes. I've pumped him full of antibiotics to ward off infection. Other than that..."

Kirk sighed, hearing the implied 'time will tell.' "I see." He tapped the edges of the tapes he held against one another.

McCoy poked a finger in the direction of the tapes. "If you were planning to have him to look at those, you can forget it. He won't be up to anything like that for a while."

Kirk smiled faintly. "Not even I'm that much of a slave driver, Bones. These are the reports from landing party five." He went on to inform McCoy of the odd behavior of the unicorns encountered by the landing party, adding, "I haven't had a chance to review the tapes yet."

"In that case, why don't you wait in my office? You can use the terminal in there."

Kirk's expressive eyes widened at the offer. "Doctor, sometimes you amaze me."

"Better you're busy looking at tapes in there, than bothering my staff, or worse still, clambering around down on that planet and getting into all sorts of trouble," McCoy retorted sternly. Easing up, he added, "It wouldn't hurt to pay Addams a visit while you're here."

* * *

Had McCoy been able to see the predicament landing party four had gotten itself into, he would have been even more certain of his opinion. The group had been surveying an area similar to the one where Spock and Addams were injured, when they discovered themselves to be surrounded by unicorns.

Somehow, the beasts had managed to avoid detection by the landing party's tricorders. They'd formed a widely spaced cordon around the landing party, then carefully closed in around the group, belying any image one might have of them as 'dumb' animals. Forced into a tight knot, their backs to each other, phasers at the ready, more than one member of the landing party was suddenly wishing she or he had been left behind on the Enterprise.

"Enterprise, come in please," Lieutenant Seana MacRae whispered into her communicator, watching cautiously for any adverse reaction on the part of the animals.

"Enterprise here. Could you speak up, please?" Powell's clear voice seemed to blast from the tiny speaker.

"No, I can't." MacRae's voice was low, but emphatic. "We have a problem down here. We're surrounded by unicorns."

The only response was a sibilant hiss which MacRae readily recognized as subdued swearing, then Chekov came on, his voice unusually soft, inquiring if he should initiate an emergency beam-up.

"I think so. The captain won't be happy if we use our phasers on them, and that's the only alternative I can see." One of the snowy animals inched toward her. Responding to the possible threat, the landing party pressed closer together, their shoulders touching. MacRae could feel a drop of sweat trickling toward one eye, but she forced herself to ignore the urge to wipe it away. Any movement might cause the unicorns to stampede, bringing her or one of her group into intimate contact with the shining lances adorning the beasts foreheads. "Hurry up, Enterprise," she implored. "Please..."

"Ve're hurrying, MacRae...Transporter lock has been established. Transporting now..."

The landing party felt the shivery tingle of the transporter beam surrounding them, then they disappeared in a flurry of sparkles. The last thing MacRae saw before the beam took her was the glowing eyes of the beasts, wide and almost red in the light of the transporter effect.

* * *

Kirk looked up from the tape he'd been studying at the near-silent entrance of a young Andorian nurse.

"Captain--"

The intercom whistled and Kirk's mouth tightened. What now? "Spock?" he asked the nurse, at the same time reaching toward the deskcomm.

"Almost awake, sir," she lisped. "Doctor McCoy said--"

Kirk nodded, then held up his hand in a 'wait' gesture, turning toward the screen. Chekov's features replaced the image of the unicorns that had been there only moments earlier. "What is it, Chekov?" He listened intently while the young Russian relayed news of landing party four's run-in with the unicorns.

"Damn!" Speaking almost in shorthand, Kirk issued a short series of orders. "Arrange immediate beam-up for all personnel remaining on the surface. Debriefing in one hour, main conference room. All landing party members and department heads to be present. Until then, you can reach me here. Kirk out." Pushing himself to his feet, the captain headed for Spock's bedside, leaving the blue-skinned nurse to catch up as best she could.

* * *

Animal behavior specialist Martin 'Doctor' Dolittle sank gratefully onto a protruding hunk of rose-flecked granite, glad for the opportunity to rest. Most of the time, he merely tolerated the nickname, but this time he truly felt like the fictitious Doctor, surveying a planet with beasts as wondrous and mythical as Dolittle's Great Pink Sea Snail, or the beautiful Luna Moth.

Despite that, Dolittle felt like he'd been slogging through mud and water for days now. His group, landing party seven, had been assigned an area where a wet patch of woodland devolved into outright swamp. Enjoying the feel of sun-warmed rock against his chilled posterior, Dolittle wished he'd managed to catch just a glimpse of the unicorns. "I guess I won't get to walk or talk with the animals this trip," he said to himself, waiting for the signal to prepare for beam- up.

Originally, the plan had been for landing party seven to spread out so as to cover the ground in the fastest possible manner. The warnings to remain together had arrived too late to prevent them from separating. After a flurry of quickly held communicator conferences, it had been decided that rather than waste time reassembling into one group, each member of the landing party would strike out toward their nearest neighbor, eventually meeting at a point mid-way between the two of them. They would complete their survey in pairs. To Dolittle, the compromise seemed a waste of time and energy. After all, none of them had so much as spotted one of the unicorns. And now, they'd been warned to prepare for immediate transport. It just beat everything.

Dolittle looked down at his mud-caked boots, wishing they were hip-waders. Wistfully, he thought about things like dry socks, toes that weren't as shriveled as pickled Centauran culquats, and boots that didn't ooze and squelch with collected mud and water. He considered taking them off, but decided he'd better not. It would be distinctly embarrassing to materialize, boot in hand!

Absently, Dolittle noted the soft sound of an animal moving in the undergrowth, and again he gave thanks that he'd at least reached a dry spot. He'd been warned it might be a while -- of the five landing parties remaining on the surface, his had been considered the least likely to encounter any interference from the unicorns.

There it is again, Dolittle thought, drawn from his reverie. He looked around, wondering what kind of animal was making the sound, and found himself gazing into the brown/gold eyes of a young unicorn. Or, he corrected himself, he supposed it to be young, given its slight build.

He caught himself just in time to prevent himself from inhaling sharply. The reports said Mister Spock had been attacked without provocation. This animal gave no sign of intending him any harm, but looking at that horn, gleaming in the sunlight, Dolittle wasn't about to take any chances.

He studied the animal cautiously, careful not to meet its eye. With some species, that was as good as issuing an open challenge to a Klingon.

The unicorn inched closer, and Dolittle swallowed hard. He couldn't decide whether to pray for immediate beam-up, or a chance to study the gorgeous creature standing less than a meter away, steadily regarding him with those deep, placid eyes.

Finally he couldn't stand the silence any longer. Softly, so as not to chance frightening the animal, he spoke. "Hi, there, fella. Whatcha doing? Am I bothering you? If I am, I'll be glad to leave."

The animal watched him closely, seeming to listen to his words. Dolittle continued speaking, always in that gentle voice. If asked, he couldn't have recalled what he was saying, but he kept it up, staring in amazement as the animal approached him, finally laying its head in his lap.

Great, just great, he thought, then meeting those hypnotic eyes, he began to stroke its sleek coat.

* * *

Kirk looked down at his first officer and friend, trying to mask the effect Spock's appearance had on him. To say the Vulcan looked like death warmed over would be like saying Mount Everest was a big hill. An understatement of the highest caliber. "Spock?" he murmured, not certain whether the Vulcan was even aware of his presence.

"Jim..."

The voice was a faint echo of its usual sonorous tones, and McCoy, glaring at Kirk from the other side of the bed, shook his head in disapproval.

"I'm here." Kirk tried to ignore the CMO, just as he was trying to ignore the overhead monitor. It indicated a pain level that was almost off the scale. "Spock, I need to know what you were trying to tell me when we brought you aboard. I know you're hurting, but it's important."

"U--Understood..." The dark eyes flickered shut, and Spock drew a shallow breath. A tremor of pain twisted his narrow lips, forging deep lines in his thin cheeks. He opened his eyes again. "S-- sentient, Jim."

Kirk's eyes widened, but what he'd seen on the datatape had prepared him for something like this. However, he had to be certain he understood what Spock was trying to tell him. "Who is sentient, Spock? The unicorns? Are you telling me the unicorns are sentient?"

Spock gave a tiny nod. "Alicorns..." he corrected.

The captain grinned. Even wounded and hurting, surrounded by the imposing paraphernalia of Sickbay, Spock would never allow an improper identification.

"Alicorns," Kirk repeated, then opened his mouth to ask another question.

McCoy had been eyeing the monitors closely. Now he hastened to intervene. "That's enough, Captain. My patient needs to get some--" The intercom sounded, muted here in Sickbay. "Saved by the bell," the CMO concluded.

Kirk crossed to the wall unit, muttering something McCoy couldn't distinguish. All the same, he suspected it wasn't something you'd find in the volume titled, Language Appropriate for Use by Starfleet Officers.

"Okay, Spock, that's enough talkin' for now," McCoy said briskly, taking full advantage of the interruption. "Time for you to go into that healing trance of yours. And don't you worry a bit. Jim can take it from here." More gently he inquired if the Vulcan wanted something for the pain and received, as he'd expected, a negative response. Then, seeing that Kirk had finished with the comm and severed the connection, McCoy herded the captain toward the door, barely allowing him time to tell Spock he'd been missed and to 'get better quick,' before he shooed him out.

* * *

"Damn..." Kirk uttered the profanity with a weary sigh as he headed toward the main door of Sickbay.

McCoy had already assured Kirk that Spock would be okay, so he knew that wasn't what was bothering him. "What's wrong, Jim?"

The captain passed a hand over his eyes. "According to Spock, the unicorns are sentient. The tapes Wren gave me seem to confirm his statement. If he's right -- and I'm sure he is -- we've shot the whole non-interference directive to hell. We went down there with tricorders and communicators, beamed out in full view--"

"Well, it certainly wasn't your fault, Jim. Starfleet ordered this survey on the basis of other teams' prelims," McCoy reminded him, coming to a halt near the door. "No one mentioned any possibility that the animals were sentient. You're in the clear."

"It's worse than you know, Bones. That was the bridge calling. Everyone has been beamed up with the exception of Martin Dolittle. He's still down on the planet."

McCoy's forehead creased with concern. "Have they located him?"

Kirk frowned in return. "Scotty knows exactly where he is. Trouble is, he's in physical contact with one of the unicorns..."

"Oh-boy..." McCoy wasn't surprised. He was fairly well acquainted with Dolittle. Kirk's report fit with what he knew. He suspected that, given a chance, the animal specialist would somehow figure out a way to make physical contact with just about any life form imaginable. That he'd somehow managed to come into contact with one of the unicorns seemed downright normal. It did present a number of problems from the captain's point of view, however. "Well, maybe he can figure out a way to communicate with them--"

"And maybe he can be gored like Spock was."

"Do you think that's likely?"

"How the hell should I know?" Kirk's voice rose ever so slightly, then collecting himself, he said, "Sorry, Bones. No reason to take it out on you." Returning to the matter at hand, he continued, "I have no idea what kind of creatures the uni--alicorns are, and you didn't give me enough time to question Spock about it."

"Sorry, Jim, but you could see the kind of pain he's in."

Kirk nodded agreement. "Now it's up to me to figure out what to do about Dolittle and how we can patch up this mess. I'll just have to do it without Spock's input."

"I'll do anything I can to help--" McCoy offered gamely.

"I know you will, and thanks," Kirk replied, all the time aware of the huge dark circles of fatigue and worry marring the doctor's sympathetic features.

* * *

This would be pleasant, if it weren't for the big one, Dolittle thought, enjoying the pressure of the young unicorn against his thigh, its head cradled in his lap. He continued petting and stroking the silky mane. "Is that your mother?" he inquired softly, knowing the little animal couldn't understand the words, but hoping his tone would be enough to communicate his good intentions, because the animal which had taken up guard duty only a few meters from where he sat was a good many inches taller than he was and possessed a formidable half meter long horn.

His communicator beeped, and Dolittle watched nervously to see how the gleaming beasts would react. This was the second time it had signaled. The first time, he'd managed to work the device off his belt and into his hand, but he'd been afraid to open it. Working one-handed, he'd have had to give it a good flick of the wrist, and he wasn't about to try that, not with the big unicorn looking on. "That's my family calling me," he informed the huge female. "I think it's time for me to go home now." Giving the smaller animal a gentle shove in her direction, he added, "It's probably time for you to go, too." Moving cautiously, he opened the grid. "Dolittle, here, Enterprise. Uhh...you may have noticed I have a little problem."

"This is the captain, Dolittle. We have you and two unicorns in our sensors." Kirk kept his voice low, his tone unthreatening. "Can you describe your situation?"

"Glad to know you noticed, sir," Dolittle joked nervously, then he glanced up at the animals. The juvenile had moved a few feet away, but the female had inched closer, meeting it halfway. Deciding the unicorns held precedence over Starfleet rank, at least for the moment, he said, "See, I told you. It's time for me to go home. Maybe I can come and play again another day." He could have sworn they gave him a quizzical look.

"Dolittle?" Kirk's hushed voice through the tiny speaker sounded as though he feared for the lieutenant's sanity.

"Nothing, sir. Just talking to the unicorns. One is an adult female, the other, I assume, her young. They're still too close for safe beam-up, sir."

"Understood, Dolittle. Mr. Scott has the transporter locked onto you. If you could get another half-meter between you and the beasts--"

"I'll try," Dolittle said staunchly, hoping the captain couldn't tell he was scared stiff. Cautiously, he moved first one foot and then the other, sliding his rump back along the rock. All the while, he kept a careful eye on the two animals. The female had taken to inspecting every inch of the young one's hide. "H-how's that, sir?"

"Excellent, Lieutenant," Kirk responded, doing his part. "Just a bit more now, and we'll have you aboard before you know it."

Again Dolittle slid backward. He could feel the rough surface of the boulder tearing at the seat of his pants. The two unicorns watched him curiously, as though wondering what he could possibly be doing.

"Good, Dolittle. Hold on now. We're bringing you in."

Over the open communicator, Dolittle could hear Kirk give the order to energize, then the transporter effect took him. Caught in its beam, he watched in wonder as the two magnificent beasts took off into the soggy woods, silken tails and shining hooves gleaming in the sunlight.

* * *

Dolittle scrambled to his feet. "Mister Scott, I could kiss you!"

The engineer gave a sympathetic chuckle. "I'll just bet you could, laddie. H'ever, I'd prefer it if you waited until you were a bit less mucky."

Dolittle looked down, noticing anew his muddy uniform and soggy footwear. "I see what you mean."

"The captain's waitin' for ye in the main conference room." Scott informed him, then considering Dolittle's bedraggled appearance, and the muddy footprints he was leaving on the deckplates, added, "Mayhap, he won't mind waitin' another minute or two while you change your boots."

"Do you think so?" The thought of dry clothes was intoxicating, now that the inevitable shakes were setting in.

"Aye," Scott said, waving him toward the doors. Not too many people would have had the courage to sit there, not moving a muscle, faced with the sight of that spear-like horn. Not after hearing what had happened to Mister Spock. The lad deserved a chance to at least get into some dry clothing before answering the captain's questions. "Best be quick though."

* * *

Kirk's mouth crept upward at the corners as he listened to Dolittle's earnest report. Despite Scott's suggestion, the captain could discern a streak of dried mud on Dolittle's cheek. There was a line of dirt under the young man's nails, and the lavender scent Kirk had come to associate with Honoria clung to his skin.

"I have no doubt the animals were as placid as you describe, Lieutenant. What I need to know, is what possessed them to attack Mister Spock. We also need to determine whether they are truly sentient, as Spock believes."

"I'm certain they're intelligent, Captain."

"Can you communicate with them?" McCoy queried. He'd trailed into the room on Dolittle's heels, looking weary but not worried, a fact Kirk had unconsciously taken note of.

"Talk to them, Doctor?" Dolittle shook his head. "That's another matter all together, sir."

"But If I'm not mistaken, Dolittle, you were conversing with them." Kirk's voice went up a little at the end of the statement, requesting additional information.

Dolittle looked sheepish. "Well, yes, sir, I was, but it was just like I would talk to a dog or hamster or goldfish--" Dolittle flushed at the chuckles that greeted his statement. "You know, sir, just talking, hoping to keep them calm..." Trying to stay calm myself, he added mentally.

"I see," Kirk replied. In fact, he did see, both what Dolittle said, and the unspoken corollary. He'd done the same thing himself on occasions too numerous to recall. "So, there's no way you can think of to communicate with them directly?"

"No, sir."

Kirk's mouth tightened, creating tired lines that hadn't been there a few hours ago. "Does anyone have anything to add?" He scanned the faces assembled in front of him. His gaze fell on his communications officer. "Uhura?" he questioned, hoping she would pull some sort of miracle out of a hat.

"Other than observing the unicorns and trying to learn how they communicate with each other..." She shook her head. "No, sir. I'm sorry." Without Spock's telepathic abilities, it could take months or even years to find a way to communicate with the unicorns. Starfleet had requested results of the survey be transmitted within seventy-two hours. There was no way they could make that deadline, with less than one third of the terrestrial survey completed and the landing parties confined to the ship.

"Hmmph," Kirk grunted. Again he looked around at the tired faces. "Okay. If anyone thinks of anything, no matter how unimportant it may seem, I want to know about it immediately. The bridge will know where to contact me. Chekov, inform the Science department that they are to continue the survey via ship-based scanners. Dismissed."

Kirk watched them file out of the conference room, then, aware of McCoy's scrutiny, closed his eyes, fighting off the headache that was just waiting in the wings. "How's Spock?"

"Stable. Better than I would have expected. It's amazing, Jim." McCoy's face took on an animated expression despite the lines of weariness and the exaggerated circles beneath his eyes. "None of his internal organs was punctured. Scraped, lacerated, bruised. But not punctured. He lost a lot of blood, of course, but ever since that business with Sarek, I've insisted on him donating a unit as often as is safe. With stasis shelf-life, I could probably transfuse a roomful of Vulcans with T-negative blood. One pointy-eared Human/Vulcan hybrid presents no problem. As long as there are no set-backs..."

Kirk mentally girded his loins. "How long before he's able to return to duty, Bones?"

McCoy's eyebrows shot up. "Whoa, now. Just hold your horses, Captain, sir! I said Spock was stable, not that he's ready to dance a jig! It will be at least a day before he even comes out of the healing trance. I can't tell you anything more until then."

"I see." McCoy watched silently as Kirk's fingers crept toward the spot where the headache was forming. "What do you intend to tell Starfleet?"

"The truth, what else?" The captain replied curtly, getting to his feet and beginning to pace.

"Which is..."

"That I don't think this planet is suitable for colonization due to the presence of an indigenous sentient species."

"You have no proof of that, and Starfleet is gonna want proof."

"Spock said--"

McCoy shook his head. "Spock's fallible, Jim. Once in a while, he actually makes mistakes... Hell, he's only Hu--" The physician broke off abruptly, realizing what he'd almost said. Trying to cover his slip, he added, "Heck. You remember that acetylcholine test as well as I do."

Kirk couldn't help grinning. "Only because you're never going to let any of us forget it. Seriously though, you're right. That's why I have to go back down there first thing tomorrow."

McCoy bounded out of his chair. He glared at the captain. "After what happened to Spock? My God, Jim! Are you out of your mind?"

Kirk ceased his relentless to and fro long enough to reply. "No, Doctor. Just determined." Once again he began pacing. This time, McCoy fell into step with him

"Determined to do what? Get a hole drilled through you?"

"No. Determined to discover if Spock is correct about the unicorns."

"And what if he is?" McCoy grabbed Kirk's arm and spun him around so they were face to face. "It still doesn't explain why Spock was attacked. If the alicorns, as he persists in calling them, are sentient, why would they harm another intelligent being? Believe me, Jim, those animals are probably just that, animals, and Spock's belief is the product of a mind disordered by pain and shock."

"Dolittle doesn't think so, nor do Wren or MacRae. And sentient beings have been known to harm other sentient beings."

"C'mon, Jim. Dolittle and Wren say that we'd probably discover slime worms are intelligent, if we could only figure out a way to talk to them. "

"I know, Bones." Kirk met McCoy's worried eyes. "I know...but I have to check it out."

"By going down there alone?"

"Of course not. I'll be taking Dolittle, Wren and MacRae, as well as Uhura. She's a wiz at non-verbal communication."

"And a security guard?"

Kirk grinned wryly. "And a security guard."

McCoy returned the grin, his eyes twinkling. "How about a chief medical officer?"

Kirk had to give him points for trying. "Forget it, Bones," he chuckled. "You're needed here."

* * *

Having ascertained that the unicorns had not yet begun moving about, the landing party beamed down shortly before planetary first light. They brought with them a pre-fabricated observation blind which maintenance and construction had spent the night camouflaging to look like an outcropping of the local granite. They also wore, after much consideration on Kirk's part and much argument on McCoy's, tunics made of the super-lightweight 'armor' Starfleet recommended for unavoidable physical conflicts. The tunics were undeniably light, but as Uhura commented, and Kirk silently agreed, they were also incredibly hot and sticky.

"I just hope everyone remembered to use deodorant," she murmured, shifting uncomfortably on the small stool she'd claimed as hers. "Otherwise, the unicorns are going to smell us a kilometer away."

Kirk, who was seated next to her, shot an offended grin in the comm officer's direction. "Are you implying I smell, Lieutenant Uhura?"

A mock-innocent smile covered her dusky features. "Oh, no, Captain. Just that it's going to get a little toasty in here after a while."

"That it is." Kirk nodded, giving her one of his wide-eyed looks. "Maybe next time we'll have to figure out a way to have some sort of air-scrubbers installed." Turning his head, he checked to see that the other members of the landing party had settled in. Although the blind was a self-contained unit and fairly soundproof, they had no way of knowing just how acute the unicorns senses were. Kirk wanted no unnecessary movement or sound once the animals were nearby.

Wren and MacRae huddled in one corner of the more or less three-sided structure, leaving the last corner to Dolittle and the security guard. Time passed slowly. Backs grew stiff and necks cramped. Kirk's leg fell asleep, then when he inadvertently moved it, sent almost unbearable tingles of returning circulation shooting from his toes to his hip.

Finally, long after the Enterprise contingent had begun silently cursing their confinement, the unicorns made their appearance.

"Sir..."

Kirk turned to face Dolittle, once again setting off the agonizing sensation of 'pins and needles.'

"There. Due east. Just coming into range of the external sensors."

"I see them, Lieutenant."

All eyes focused on the approaching herd. "Wow," the security guard whispered. The only one of the group who hadn't been involved in yesterday's landing parties, he was seeing the animals for the first time, impressively silhouetted against the rising sun.

Kirk merely nodded, and the group fell silent again, watching the grazing animals intently. Forgotten were cramped limbs and overly warm bodies. All attention was centered on the amazing beasts just beyond the carefully disguised viewing ports.

Several times one or two of them approached the seeming 'rock,' pawing and snorting as though aware it had not been there the previous day. Occasionally, the animals would form clusters, rubbing their long horns against each other, reminding the observers of the way cats twine themselves around available ankles. For four full hours the landing party watched, then almost imperceptibly the animals moved away, ambling off into the woods. At last, Kirk gave an enormous yawn, stretching his arms high over his head and arching his back. Taking it as a sign to relax, the rest of the landing party responded in kind.

"Well, people. What do you think? Any signs of sentience?"

"Sir, the beasts undoubtedly possess some degree of sentience, as do all animals above the level of--"

Kirk shook his head. "Spare me, Wren. We've spent five hours roasting in this oven. We all know the arguments for animal intelligence, and I would be the first to agree with you. What we need to know it whether the unicorns possess what Starfleet and the Federation Colonial Authority consider to be intelligence." He softened the reprimand with a smile. "Opinions?"

"I still believe them to be sentient, Captain. I know there's no outward evidence, but yesterday when that colt ... nuzzled me..." Dolittle shrugged, unable to think of a better word, "I was certain of it."

"Proof, Dolittle, we need proof," Kirk said sternly. "Did anyone notice anything that could be construed as communication? Any sounds or touching, anything?"

"Sir, what about that nuzzling behavior?" Uhura got up, stretched until her spine made popping sounds, then dropped back onto the stool. She met the captain's eyes, waiting.

"I take it you think it might mean something..." Kirk replied, certain there was more. It wasn't Uhura's style to speak up unless she had something worth saying.

"Well..." She took a breath. "It could be a form of communication, couldn't it?"

"You tell me, Nyota," he invited.

"I think it could, sir."

"Dolittle?" Kirk questioned, adding, "With the exception of Spock, you're the only one who's had any physical contact with the unicorns. Is it possible the horn is a sensory organ?"

"I don't know, sir..." Dolittle's brow furrowed, causing tiny crinkles to appear in his suntanned skin.

For the first time, the security guard, a young man with skin the color of roasted almonds and shoulders the size of Wren's and Dolittle's together, volunteered a question. "What was the horn like? I mean, what did it feel like? Was it hard or soft, rough or smooth?"

"Good questions, Ensign N'reia." Kirk turned to Dolittle, waiting for his response.

Dolittle was thoughtful. "Actually, it was kind of weird. Not hard like a horn is supposed to be. At least not like a rhino's horn, or an elephant's tusk. Oh, it was hard, but it was covered with a soft membrane -- almost like skin."

"Hmm," Kirk said. "Maybe that's why Spock wasn't hurt worse than he was."

"Maybe. But a sensory organ..." Dolittle shook his head doubtfully. "I don't know, Captain."

"What about a broadcast antenna, Dolittle?" Uhura responded to their startled expressions with a wide-eyed stare. "Well, honestly, that's what it looks like!"

Kirk considered. "You're right. Lieutenant. Could it be? Could they be broadcasting their thoughts?"

Dolittle and Wren looked at each other.

"Well, of course--"

"There are precedents--"

They both shook their heads. "But we haven't picked up any signals on the equipment. There would have to be some sort of wave signature."

It was Uhura's turn to ponder. She was silent for a few moments, aware of the captain's scrutiny. "Not necessarily," she said finally. "I can't pick up a mind meld electronically, and yet there is definitely communication taking place, some sort of message being transferred."

"Hmmm. Telepathy," Kirk mused. "I think you're right, Uhura. All of which makes it more vital that we have Spock's input." Kirk sighed. "N'reia, signal the ship. Uhura, I'll have a report ready for transmission in less than an hour. Okay, people, let's get our tails out of this hot-house and back to the Enterprise." Kirk took the proffered communicator from the security guard and flipped it open. "Beam us up, Scotty."

* * *

The moment the landing party materialized on the transporter pads, Kirk was in motion, heading for the console, hitting the intercom with his thumb.

"Sickbay. McCoy here," a voice drawled through the speaker.

Kirk didn't bother to identify himself. "How's Spock? Is he showing any signs of waking up?" Spock would probably correct him for that bit of imprecise language -- properly speaking, one didn't 'wake up' from a trance -- but Kirk said it anyway, waiting impatiently for a reply.

There was a slight delay, some muffled noises, then McCoy's voice, obviously directed away from the pick-up, ordering "Don't even think about it!" Finally, he responded directly. "He's awake, Jim, and anxious to talk to you. I had to threaten him with restraints just to keep him from trying to beam down to the planet."

Kirk felt the huge smile spreading across his face. It was matched by the ones worn by Uhura and Scott. The rest of the landing party looked genuinely relieved, and Kirk wondered momentarily if the Vulcan had any concept of the real, if restrained, affection the crew had for him.

"I'm glad to hear it, Doctor McCoy. Tell him I'll be there in a few minutes."

"You might as well tell him yourself, Captain. Those pointy ears of his are positively bending toward the communit!"

Kirk chuckled, then, finger on the switch, said, "Five minutes, Mister Spock."

A faint, rather raspy-sounding voice replied, "Affirmative, Captain," in counterpoint to McCoy's "Do you want to ruin all my hard work?!!! Get your head back on that pillow, you damn fool Vulcan!"

Kirk released the toggle, the odd tightness in his chest easing for the first time since he'd known what was about to happen but was helpless to prevent it. Things were beginning to get back to normal.

* * *

But they weren't. Not really. Kirk could tell the instant he spotted the waxen pallor of Spock's complexion, and the tightness around the narrow mouth and eyes.

"Bones?" Kirk questioned, ignoring the Vulcan's greeting.

McCoy too, rode rough-shod over his patient's attempt to convince the captain that his condition was improving. "See, Spock? Even Jim knows you're not recovered, and he's the poorest excuse for a doctor in three sectors."

To Kirk, the CMO responded, "As far as I can tell, he came out of the trance way too soon. He'll live. He'll even eventually be glad of it, but for the time being, he's in lousy shape." The doctor turned to glower at the first officer.

"It was necessary, Captain. I had to tell you--"

"That the unicorns are telepaths. Uhura figured it out."

"Indeed." Spock closed his eyes, relaxing back onto the pillows.

Kirk smiled at his first officer's use of what Kirk considered one of his pet words. "Indeed, Mister Spock. She had a little help from Wren, MacRae and Dolittle. N'reia, too. He's going to make a good officer someday."

"Affirmative. I have suggested that he transfer to a different department. Security has something of a reputation..."

A grimace crossed Kirk's features. He didn't need to reminded of the high mortality rate experienced by Security. "Understood, Spock. What area did you have in mind?"

"Engineering... or Sciences... He has an excellent background in both."

"Well, he certainly proved it today. Both MacRae and Wren were sure the unicorns were communicating, but they couldn't figure out how."

"Jim..." McCoy shot a warning glance in the direction of the biomonitor.

Kirk nodded. In just the few minutes he'd been here, Spock's color had gone from white to greenish-grey. He still had questions he needed answered, though. "Spock, do you have any idea why the unicorn attacked you? Most telepathic species aren't violent."

"Fear. When Addams fell, the unicorn was frightened. It attacked instinctively." Spock recalled the sense of regret that had touched his mind as the animal withdrew its horn from his side. The memory of how that spiral horn felt as it slid unwillingly from his flesh caused him a moment of renewed nausea. He took a cautious breath, then swallowed hard.

"Jim," McCoy said in a firmer, more commanding tone.

Again Kirk nodded. This time he gave in to temptation, reaching out a hand and placing it ever so gently on Spock's shoulder. "Time to rest, Mister Spock. I have a job only you can do, and McCoy's not letting you out of here before you're healed, so..."

Spock had known Kirk would require his assistance ever since he'd realized the unicorns were telepathic. An expression which could have passed for a smile touched his eyes. "Understood, Jim. Twelve hours."

McCoy's eyes bugged out, reminding Kirk of the blue-eyed frogs of Selphia III. "Twelve hours! Bull. Jim--"

Spock closed his eyes, consciously slowing his heartbeat. "Twelve hours, Captain," he reiterated.

* * *

Twelve hours later, true to his prediction, Spock stood beside his captain on the transporter platform. McCoy stood at Spock's other side, as close to the Vulcan as possible, without risking the loss of an arm or leg in the dematerialization process.

"Jim, he's not well enough for this. I'm warnin' you--"

"Doctor, I assure you, I am healed."

"In a pig's eye! Captain--"

Kirk shook his head, a look of grim acceptance on his face. He knew McCoy was right. Spock's face was the color of chalk, and Kirk had seen how his legs trembled as he ascended the steps to the transporter. "Bones, I understand your objections, but this is important. We'll make it as quick as possible, then I promise, I'll personally escort Spock back to Sickbay."

"I'm goin' to hold you to that, Captain."

Kirk sighed, recognizing the use of his rank as equivalent to various epithets he could call to mind. "Noted, Doctor." He checked that the other members of the landing party were positioned, then glanced at Scott who stood behind the console. "Energize."

They beamed down to the same meadow where Spock had been attacked. As he had the day before, Kirk had chosen the predawn hour, but this time there was no blind, only the landing party, standing still and exposed in the clearing. Dolittle and Wren immediately began moving their tricorders from side to side, while N'reia stood stock still, putting Kirk in mind of a live sensing device, trying to pick up the scent of its prey.

"Whew! It's cold," McCoy commented, watching his breath turn into miniature clouds. He shot a concerned glance at Spock, hoping the body armor Kirk had again ordered would provide adequate insulation against the chill.

"It'll warm up as soon as the sun rises," Kirk replied in a preoccupied tone.

McCoy merely grunted.

"Captain."

Kirk turned in Spock's direction, silently questioning.

"The alicorns are approaching. I can ... sense them."

Kirk caught the slight hesitation. Spock was a touch-telepath. It was unusual for him to be able to sense another being at this distance, more so for him to admit it. "Not hear them, Spock?"

The Vulcan looked distinctly uncomfortable. "No. I ... sense ... their mental activity."

Kirk raised his eyebrows, but let it go. Spock's non-expression was confirmation enough of the odd statement. "Can you tell where they are?"

"Not precisely."

"Approximately, then."

Spock looked toward the woods. "That way. They are approaching cautiously."

Kirk glanced at the three younger members of the landing party. There was much quiet checking of data, then N'reia nodded. "Mister Spock is correct, Captain. There is a large group of unicorns one half kilometer to the northeast, and they are moving in this direction."

"What are their intentions, Spock? Can you tell?" Kirk kept his voice relaxed, trying not to pressure the Vulcan.

"No ... and, yes." Spock looked at the captain. "I believe they are afraid we will harm them."

"They think we want revenge?" Spock nodded. "Perhaps. Or it could be simple fear that after what occurred, we will 'shoot first' and ask questions later. Understandable, given the situation."

Kirk wrinkled his forehead. "Can we reassure them somehow? Let them know we want to communicate with them, not harm them?"

"Perhaps we have already done so, Jim. The ... feelings ... are getting closer. Much closer."

Kirk glanced at N'reia, who nodded confirmation. The captain smiled, trying to ease the lines of tension in Spock's face. "Okay, then. People, you're hereby ordered to think only good thou--" Suddenly sensing an undefined change in the air, Kirk broke off, visually scanning the clearing. He caught a glimpse of white through the surrounding trees, then the unicorns were there. They formed a circle around the landing party, looking for all the world like pale ghosts in the first light of dawn.

"Would you look at that..." The words trailed off, a look of amazement replacing the doctor's previous expression of grumpy stolidity.

Despite the very real possibility of danger, Kirk could only smile. McCoy had only listened to awed descriptions of the animals, or viewed them on a monitor. Finding oneself surrounded by them had a much greater impact.

"Captain--" Dolittle nodded in the direction of a small one, standing just off to their left. "I think that's my unicorn over there."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but it's the only juvenile I see, and I swear, it looks like it wants to come closer, but something is restraining it."

"The mother?" McCoy queried, then he shook his head almost imperceptibly. "Uh-oh. What's happening now?"

"I don't know..." Kirk looked at his first officer out of the corner of his eye. "Spock?"

The Vulcan's gaze was directed toward a huge beast, which was approaching them at a regal pace, head held high. As it approached, the other unicorns moved out of its way, creating an open path to where the landing party stood. "I believe that is the alicorn that..." His eyes flickered involuntarily to his injured side.

Kirk agreed. "It looks like it." As the majestic animal came to a halt only meters away, he noted it held a clump of the fragrant groundcover in its mouth. "I wonder what that's for?"

"Unknown. However ... I believe it wishes to communicate with me." The Vulcan stepped away from the group, moving to meet the unicorn.

"Spock!"

Though the word was hardly above a whisper, Kirk shot an annoyed look at McCoy. Who could predict what would cause the animal to attack again? Around them, the circle of unicorns shifted, putting the landing party just off center, making the stallion and Spock the focal point.

"Jim," McCoy hissed. "Are you just going to stand there and let him go through with this?"
McCoy's words grated on Kirk's nerves. Watching tall ears twitch, he suspected they grated on the unicorns' as well. He forced himself to remain calm. "For the moment, Doctor. Unless you have a better suggestion..."

McCoy's mouth pinched up, but he said nothing.

Kirk's gaze was locked on his first officer. Spock's danger was real, though, for the time, not that much greater than that of the rest of the landing party. Should the unicorns become frightened, the resulting stampede would be unlikely to leave any of them unharmed if, indeed, alive.

The Vulcan was less than a meter from the unicorn when he paused. Standing at attention, his head high, he held his hand out in the Vulcan salute. "Peace, and long life," Spock said, then he bowed.

To Kirk, it was as though Spock were greeting a planetary leader, or the President of the Federation Council. Maybe, he mused, that's precisely what he's doing.

The unicorn regarded Spock with seeming solemnity, then it bowed its head as well, placing the lavender-scented mass at Spock's feet.

Spock bowed again. "It is necessary for our peoples to communicate," he said. "I sense that you desire this as well. However, I am unable to understand all of your thoughts. For my people, physical contact is necessary. May I touch you?"

Kirk held his breath. This was what they'd come for, but as always, telepathic contact was fraught with dangers. At his side, he could feel McCoy stiffen, but thankfully, the doctor remained silent.

In the center of the circle, the unicorn bowed its head, then lowered itself majestically to the ground. Taking this for acquiescence, Spock knelt and reached with his hand and his mind. The landing party, the meadow, the surrounding woods faded and changed. He was one with the unicorn, Tataara.

* * *

Spock gazed around him, seeing with Tataara's eyes, Tataara's thoughts. Everything was slightly altered. The alicorns were visible to him as individuals with names and personalities; the Starfleet contingent had a strange, elongated conformity. MacRae, the only female in the landing party, appeared little different from her male captain and colleagues. And everything was endowed with a purple cast that accorded well with the lavender-like scent of the herbs beneath him.

"These are your people? You are their leader?" he asked.

"These are the people. I am only one of many leaders. These--" Spock felt the unicorn's mental gesture toward the landing party, "--these are your people."

Kirk and Spock had gone over all of this prior to beaming down. Given the circumstances, Kirk had decided it would be best to be open with the unicorns, and Spock supported his decision.

"They are," Spock replied, then knowing what would come next, he 'showed' Tataara the Federation, the many planets, the many kinds of people. Finally he showed the unicorn his relationship to his family, his shipmates, his captain. Having gone this far, Spock 'explained' the Federation's interest in Honoria.

"Your people would come to live on the land?" Tataara's thought-voice inquired inside Spock's mind.

"Only if your people permit it," Spock replied. "Now that we know you are sentient, we would require your permission."

"I see." Tataara considered this, taking in all Spock had shown him about the Federation and its peoples. "There are problems. Communication for one... And, we should have to know your people better before we could give an answer. Perhaps a small herd of your people, ones who can speak as we are, could come and get to know us better..."

"A logical solution, Tataara," Spock replied, then sensing the unicorn pulling away, he allowed the meld to dissolve.

* * *

Leonard McCoy peered at the readings on the panel over the bed. Forcing back the smile of satisfaction that was attempting to transform his face, he proceeded to scold his less-than-willing patient.

"Spock, you should have known you weren't up to a meld," he drawled. "I don't pretend to understand how that healing trance of yours works, but I do know it takes more than twelve hours to heal a chipped rib, lacerated liver and the rest of that bruised mess you call a body. Now just lay there and heal, do you hear me?"

"Doctor, I have not left this bed for the last seven point seven three hours. I assure you--"

Jim Kirk's entrance created a welcome diversion. "Maybe he'll rest easier when he hears my news, Bones." He surveyed the reluctant Vulcan and said, "Mister Spock. It's nice to see you looking green again, instead of that greyish-white."

Spock allowed himself a small sigh. "Captain--"

McCoy pursed his lips, ignoring the interjection. "If he gets out of that bed, he'll be the color of paper again before you know it, Jim..."

"Doctor--"

Kirk ignored Spock as well. "I'm sure he'll be a model patient, Bones. After all, he has my sterling example to follow." The captain bit the inside of his cheek, waiting for the explosion.

McCoy complied willingly. "Your example!!! You've got to be kidding. You're the worst patient in Starfleet." He glared at Kirk indignantly, but a smile won out when the captain burst into the first uninhibited laughter he'd exhibited since Spock was injured. "You!" the doctor grumbled in mock accusation.

"It's your own fault," Kirk needled. "You make it so easy."

McCoy had hardly acknowledged the point, when Kirk pulled a chair over and sat down at the first officer's bedside.

"Spock, we received a communication from Starfleet. Our recommendation against the colonization of Honoria has been accepted. As of yesterday, it's officially a 'hands off' planet. In compliance with--" Kirk hesitated, then gave the closest approximation he could of the thought-name Spock had learned from the unicorn. "--Tataara's wishes, a team of telepaths is being briefed. They should arrive at Honoria within the next fourteen days, local time. In the meantime, the Enterprise is to remain here, fending off the newshounds. That leaves you with plenty of time to loll about in bed, getting better."

"Captain--" Spock attempted to sit up, only to find Kirk's hand gently but firmly pushing his shoulders back onto the pillow.

"Un-unh, Spock. If you won't stay because McCoy says so, do it for me. You gave us a fright. When I saw the wound, all that blood, I thought we'd lost you."

"Jim, I was not that seriously injured."

McCoy rolled his eyes and made much ado of reading Spock's chart on the datapad he held.

Kirk smiled gently. "Humor me. Okay?"

Unable to resist the coaxing light in those hazel eyes, Spock sighed, then answered, "Very well, Captain."

Kirk grinned, as much at McCoy's relieved expression as at the obvious reluctance Spock displayed.

"Well, now that that's settled," McCoy interjected, "I have a question of my own. What's going to happen with Dolittle, Jim? Is he going to stay on Honoria? He looked so..." The CMO shrugged. "...wistful, watching Spock meld with..." He licked his lips, then gave it a try, "Tataara?"

Kirk shook his head. "I don't know, Bones. It's ironic, isn't it? The kid finally gets a chance to talk to the animals, and he can't pull it off."

Spock unbent a little, now that his health was not a topic of conversation. "Martin Dolittle has a great deal of empathic ability. It is more than possible he will be able to develop it to the point where he is able to communicate with the Honorians. It is, as your Human saying goes, up to him."

Kirk considered this, then nodded. "You may be right, Spock. At any rate, I'm leaving the decision whether to remain on Honoria up to him as well."

Just then the intercom whistled, and Uhura's voice issued from the speaker, requesting the captain's presence on the bridge.

Kirk got to his feet. "Duty calls, gentlemen." He strode toward the door, then glancing over his shoulder, paused. The irrepressible grin once more sat lightly on his tanned features. "See to it that Spock gets the best of care, Bones. When we're finished fighting off the galactic press corps, I'll be ready for shore leave, and someone is going to have to mind the store!"

McCoy groaned, and Spock's eyebrow inched ceiling-ward, both officers knowing too well the condition Kirk would be in when he returned from that leave.

Kirk chuckled at their response, then bounded out the door, his spirits renewed by the dual good fortune of his first officer's returning health and a first contact with a new race of intelligent beings.

THE END