DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Kate Birkel and is copyright (c) 1981 by Kate Birkel. This story is Rated PG. Originally printed in Sublight Readings #2, 1981.
Noli Me Tangere
"Do you know why you're not afraid of dying, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Every day you stay alive is one more day you might slip -- and let your human half peek out. That's it, isn't it? Insecurity! You wouldn't know what to do with a genuine warm, decent feeling!"
"That's it! I've had it!" Leonard McCoy's heavy breathing ripped jaggedly through the grim silence left by the Vulcan's departure from the briefing room. "I'm gonna strangle him with my own bare hands!"
"That won't solve the problem," Jim Kirk retorted sharply, not even bothering to take his eyes away from the door through which Spock had just exited.
"Ah ha!" McCoy pounced eagerly. "At least now you're admitting there's a problem."
Kirk wrenched his line of vision around to face the fuming medico. Then he turned toward the chief engineer, who nodded with grim agreement. "Bones, Scotty," he said helplessly.
"Jim, morale in the science department is as low as I've ever seen it." McCoy jumped in with both feet, regardless of the consequences. "Those people are scared to death down there. Spock's been riding them something fierce for the past three weeks. It's gotta stop!"
"Aye, Captain," Scott interposed softly. "If Mr. Spock spends more than ten minutes at a time in Engineering, I've got a mutiny on my hands."
"Jim, you've got to do something." McCoy hammered the point home. "Spock's never been this difficult before and I, for one, am not gonna put up with it much longer."
Kirk glanced back and forth between the two officers several times, one hand absently stroking his lower lip. Finally, he stood up. "Very well, gentlemen." His voice was cold. "I accept your judgement that Mr. Spock is presenting the ship with a problem. However," his voice hardened as he glared pointedly at McCoy. "I will talk to him about it."
McCoy faced the captain squarely. "Jim, I'm not out to get Spock. I've learned to live with him and his infernal Vulcan 'logic'," he explained defensively. "But if you don't get him down off his high horse pretty soon, Engineering isn't gonna be the only department to mutiny -- this whole damn ship will!"
"I said I'd talk to him!" Kirk's mouth tightened. "But you leave him alone until I do!"
McCoy's temper flared again. "Don't worry about that, Captain," he retorted icily. "You couldn't pay me enough to get near him!"
* * *
Spock was not on the bridge, nor was he down in the science section -- his favorite hiding spot. Kirk swore softly to himself, then back-tracked to Deck Five. There was no response to his repeated buzzing of the Vulcan's quarters. For a moment, Kirk considered the possibility of having the elusive first officer paged, then discarded the idea. Summoning the Vulcan to a formal confrontation did not strike him as the proper way to handle the situation this time.
Grimly, Kirk began the rounds of the ship, poking into any corner or nook where his fugitive quarry might be lurking.
* * *
Kirk's last hope paid off. He entered the observation deck to spy the sleek, black head over the back of a chair facing the observation ports. Warily, Kirk glanced around the room, but it was empty save Spock, and now himself. Everyone else had probably fled at the sight of the Vulcan. Kirk sighed. Unquestionably, Spock had brought it on himself fair and square. His behavior of the past three weeks had been -- and still was -- abominable. Even Kirk himself had nearly reached the limits of patience waiting for this particular episode of Vulcan churlishness to blow over.
On tiptoe, Kirk circled around to the side of Spock's chair. Immediately, he realized that the Vulcan was deep into a meditation trance. Spock's elbows were resting on his knees, long fingers steepled before closed eyes. The sharply contoured face was preternaturally still, as if carved from stone. Kirk could detect no respiration, and no other movement disturbed the rigidity of Spock's pose.
Making as little noise as possible, Kirk retreated back into the corridor. He used the nearby intercom to notify the bridge of his location, stressing that he did not wish to be disturbed unless it was an emergency. Then he returned to the observation deck and settled into a chair near Spock to wait.
* * *
Kirk turned from his study of the distant stars to find himself being scrutinized by a pair of wary brown eyes. "Beautiful, isn't it?" He made a casual gesture to indicate the starfield.
"I did not hear you enter." The steady gaze did not waver or hint at what Spock was thinking.
Kirk grinned crookedly. "You were -- busy."
"Indeed." It was a non-committal response, and did not hold an invitation for further conversation.
Kirk spoke anyway, determined to get past the blankness Spock had been projecting of late. "Did you find any answers out there?"
"I do not understand." If anything, the Vulcan retreated further into his shell.
"I think you do." Deliberately, Kirk leaned forward in his chair, fixing the other with a hard look. "Care to talk about it?"
"There is nothing to discuss." Spock rose to his feet in a fluid movement. "If you will excuse me, I have duties elsewhere..."
Kirk shook his head. "They can wait, Spock. Sit down. You're not going anywhere until I find out exactly what's been bothering you."
"Is this an official inquiry?" Spock remained standing, staring woodenly ahead.
"No, but it soon could be!" Despite his good intentions to the contrary, Kirk's temper suddenly frayed. Three weeks of such remarks were taking their toll. He caught the almost imperceptible widening of Spock's eyes, and mentally cursed. For someone who claimed to have total emotional control, the Vulcan was remarkably touchy. Kirk moderated his tone of voice. "Look, Spock, this is strictly off the record, and I'd like to keep it that way if possible."
Spock nodded understanding, although his body lost none of its tenseness and the wary look was back in his eyes. "Very well, Captain." He perched on the edge of his chair, poised for instant flight.
Kirk stifled an exasperated snort. Spock was not prepared to yield an inch. "You've been in a foul mood for three weeks now, and I want an explanation."
Spock favored the Human with a supercilious glance. "Vulcans do not exhibit such things as 'moods', Captain."
"Don't try to pull that crap on me, Spock!" Kirk's mouth tightened. "I know you better than that. You might have McCoy and the others fooled, but not me."
"As you say, Captain." The Vulcan remained distant and unreadable.
Kirk's fingers drummed nervously on the arm of his chair as he studied the stony visage in front of him. Something had triggered this latest fit of the sullens, no matter how much Spock might deny it. And deny it he would -- to his dying breath. Spock never wearied of bragging how unemotional Vulcans were, how unclouded their mental processes by irrational thought patterns, how superior they were to others who had not lifted themselves above their passionate natures into realms of pure logic. Spock always managed to dredge up a 'logical' explanation for every action, no matter how trivial or serious. He had even found a reason other than cheap sentiment for saving McCoy's neck in the arena a few weeks back.
McCoy -- arena. Something that had been nagging at the back of Kirk's mind finally jelled into coherent thought. "This whole thing started right after we left Planet 892-IV, didn't it, Spock?" Kirk asked softly, eyes boring into the other's to gauge any reaction. "McCoy said something to you down there, didn't he? With all that was going on, you two managed to get into another argument." Peevish disgust tinged Kirk's words. "I thought something got left out of the story."
"Nothing out of the ordinary passed between Dr. McCoy and myself." Belying his statement, a hunted look flickered in Spock's eyes, then vanished as quickly as it had come.
"What did he say to you?" Kirk's voice grated as he thought of what he would like to do to his chief surgeon. The good doctor was convinced he had a duty to save Spock from himself, and nothing deterred him from his chosen course, no matter how often Kirk urged him to let up on the Vulcan. And Spock was too stubbornly proud to admit that the medico's words often hit home.
Spock maintained an obstinate silence.
"Do I have to make it an order?"
"It was nothing." At long last, Kirk was able to discern some small signs of unease in Spock's manner. "The doctor was under considerable strain at the time."
"So he did say something." Triumphantly, Kirk seized on upon the oblique admission.
Spock's eyes shifted away from the other's demanding look. "Yes."
"And that's what's been bothering you for the past few weeks." Kirk pressed further against the Vulcan's defenses, certain of his conclusions now.
"I am a Vulcan. Such trivialities mean nothing to me." Spock continued to gaze away at the far wall. "I have dismissed the incident from my mind."
"Like hell you have!" Kirk retorted with explosive force. "What did he say?"
"I would rather not repeat it."
"No, you'd rather take it out on the whole ship!" Kirk shot to his feet and went to stand in Spock's averted line of vision, hands on hips. "Well, I can't let you do that anymore, Spock. This sulking has got to stop!"
"Sulking, Captain?" The words were carved from a block of ice.
"Sulking, Spock," Kirk replied firmly. "You've got this entire ship in an uproar."
"I find that most difficult to believe," Spock retorted with a hint of asperity. "The majority of this ship's complement does not come into contact with me on any regular basis, and therefore would be unaffected by any erratic behavioral patterns I might exhibit." Swiftly he added, "If I were exhibiting any such behavior."
//Back to square one,// Kirk thought ruefully. //Vulcans are not "moody."// "Dr. McCoy claims morale is at an all time low in the science department. Mr. Scott believes you are the source of a potential mutiny in Engineering."
"Indeed, Captain." One eyebrow expressed astonishment at the sweeping charges. "Am I to assume you concur in these opinions?"
"You can assume anything you damn well please!" Once more, Kirk's temper flared at Spock's deliberate obtuseness. "But I want this to end right now!" Almost before the words were out, Kirk realized his mistake and cursed himself mentally for his own stupidity.
Spock's eyes glittered with an alien intensity out of a suddenly frozen face. "As you say, Captain." He rose to his feet. "May I be excused now? I have neglected my duties far too long."
Kirk made an irritated gesture. "Go ahead, Spock. Just remember what I said."
"Of course, Captain."
Hands balled tightly at his sides, Kirk stared at the Vulcan's stiff, retreating back. //Failed again.// Disgust at his own ineptitude filled him. At the last moment, Spock always seemed to elude his most determined efforts to get behind the fence of Vulcan cold-bloodedness he maintained between himself and the world around him. The fence would come down just long enough for Kirk to catch a tantalizing glimpse of the spirit hiding behind it, only to go back up with the speed of light the moment Spock realized it had gone down. Kirk prided himself that Spock was more open, less defensive with him than anyone else aboard the Enterprise, but he was still painfully aware of the wide chasm yawning between them. But Kirk had made all the moves he could think of, said all the words he could. Any further action would have to come from Spock himself.
* * *
"If I have told you once, I have told you a dozen times to quit needling Spock!" Kirk leaned over the astonished medico's desk, lightning flashing from his eyes.
"I haven't talked to the man for days!" McCoy shot back, scrabbling through his memory for any incident of late that could have provoked this attack. "Who wants to?"
"You got into an argument with him down on 892-IV," Kirk stated with heat. "Why didn't you tell me about it?"
"Because I didn't think it mattered," McCoy retorted. "He was just being his usual superior Vulcan self. Besides, if I ran to you every time I had words with that pointy-eared computer, you'd have my head!"
"I'm gonna have your head if you don't leave him alone! Spock is not some damn laboratory specimen for you to dissect whenever you feel like you need something to do. He won't tell me what you said to him this time, but I hope you're happy with the results!"
"Are you blaming this on me?"
"You bet I am, Doctor!"
"If that fool Vulcan wants to get into a snit, that's his problem, not mine! If he didn't take himself so seriously all the time, life around here would be a lot easier!"
"Life would be a lot easier if you'd just get off his back once and for all. If he wants to be more Vulcan than Human, that's his choice. This poking at him all the time just makes him more defensive. You're never satisfied, though. You jump him no matter what he does or says. Either he's too Vulcan or too Human. Now lay off him!"
"With pleasure, Captain!"
* * *
On the surface, matters seemed to improve between Spock and those around him. He restrained himself from making impossible demands of his subordinates, and ceased the practice of critiquing that which did not measure up to his standards. The science department heaved a collective sigh of relief and applied themselves with renewed spirits to the jobs they had previously found so distressing. It took some days for the significance of the Vulcan's turnabout to sink in, and cause new consternation. As difficult as life had been under the old regime, at least their superior officer had taken an intense interest in all their endeavors. Now, it was as if they were in a vacuum. Reports were skimmed and signed with an unsettling apathy. Assignments were handed out with the same indifference. Relief soom metamorphised into new apprehension.
Kirk, too, found Spock's listlessness disquieting. Spock drifted through his duty shifts like a somnambulist, silent and withdrawn. No fault could be found with the performance of his duties, but that vital spark of life was gone. Nothing seemed to rouse any reaction from him. He had retreated into his own private world of thought, with not even the faintest twitch of an eyebrow to hint at what lay behind the self-imposed isolation.
* * *
Ramrod straight, Spock stood in front of Kirk's desk, a sheaf of papers held in one hand. "Captain, I am tendering you my formal resignation from Starfleet. I would appreciate it if you would expedite the matter."
"What!?" Thunderstruck, Kirk could only gape stupidly at the papers Spock was extending to him.
"I am resigning my commission," Spock repeated. No emotion marred the woodenness of his features.
"Is this some sort of a joke, Spock?" Kirk demanded in disbelief.
"Joke. I know, Spock." Kirk waved the well-worn response away. "What brought this on?"
"I have made a personal decision, Captain. I no longer wish to continue my career in Starfleet." The non-explanation was delivered with unbreechable finality.
Carefully, Kirk accepted the papers and scanned them. They were all in order, completely filled out -- not that he had expected anything less from the perfectionist across the desk from him. "You're sure about this?"
"My mind is made up, Captain."
Kirk continued to stare at the papers, eyes blurred by the sudden shock. Spock and the Enterprise. Somehow, the two seemed to go together in his mind. It bordered on the blasphemous to even think of separating the two. The day Jim Kirk had taken over the Enterprise, Spock had been aboard her, firmly entrenched as science officer, highly recommended by his departing captain. It was so natural for Kirk to turn and say "Opinion, Mr. Spock?", to have the knowledge of the galaxy in such close proximity. It would be a habit hard to break. Well, he would just have to. His hand reached for the pen that would make it official. Midway, he stopped. "No, dammit, I'm not going to sign these!" Defiantly, he shoved them back at Spock, who stared at him with open dismay before shuttering his face again. With one corner of his mind, Kirk noted the reaction and was faintly cheered by the first sign of life the Vulcan had shown in several long days. "I want an explanation of this, Mister. I thought you liked it here on the Enterprise. There isn't another science officer in Starfleet who can compete with you. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?"
Spock's eyes rounded at the vehemence of Kirk's attack. "It is personal, Captain," he explained uneasily. "I do not wish to discuss the matter."
Kirk stood up and leaned over his desk, hazel eyes blazing. "Not this time, Spock. I'm not letting you weasel out of it that easy. I think you at least owe me the courtesy of an explanation."
Mutely, Spock stared down at the rejected papers, refusing to meet the other's anger.
"Say something, dammit!" Kirk shouted, frustration aggravating his concern.
"Very well, Captain." Spock sighed after an interminable moment. "My continuing presence aboard the Enterprise is a threat to the crew's morale."
Kirk's anger dissipated into stunned incredulity. He sank back into his chair, a bemused expression on his face. "This crew has put up with you for damn near fifteen years, Spock. Why quit now?"
"I beg your pardon, Captain?" Both eyebrows shot up into the Vulcan's hairline as he grasped the implications of the words "Put up with?"
"You heard me right the first time." Kirk pressed the point home. "This crew is more than ready to tolerate your moods and quirks. They're proud to serve under you. Hell, most of the science people in Starfleet have a permanent request for transfer to the Enterprise on file. You never gave that a thought, did you?"
"The Enterprise has an excellent reputation," Spock evaded the question. "Naturally, it is a favored assignment."
"They want to work under you, Spock. And it's worth it to them to put up," again the raised eyebrows, "with your exacting standards. They all come off this ship better scientists than when they first came aboard. You perform a very valuable service for Starfleet."
Spock had no reply for that, but unease was settling around him like a cloud. Praise was foreign to the Vulcan nature and made Spock uncomfortable even under normal circumstances.
Kirk leaned back in his chair to survey the results so far achieved. Spock was not as immune to Human emotionalism as he liked to pretend, and was beginning to squirm under the pressure his captain was exerting. Kirk decided that it would not hurt to apply a little more of the same. "Of course, all that means nothing to you. Vulcans are above taking foolish pride in their work and their reputations." He fixed the other with a piercing stare, silently defying him to deny the statement.
Spock did not pick up the gauntlet, sidestepping it instead. "That has nothing to do with the case at hand. I am concerned for the welfare of this ship."
"Like hell you are!" With deliberate force, Kirk brought his fist down on the table. There was no visible reaction from Spock. "There's something else behind this, Spock, and I think I know what it is. What McCoy said to you on 892-IV a few weeks back is still bothering you, isn't it?"
"Dr. McCoy's opinions mean nothing to me." Nothing in Spock's manner hinted at an even remote possibility that he was not speaking the truth.
"Do you want me to get him up here to tell me himself what he said?" Kirk's hand poised over the intercom.
Spock's own hand darted out to deter him. "That will not be necessary, Captain."
Satisfied, Kirk allowed his hand to drop back to the desk. "I'm waiting, Spock," he prompted gently when the explanation was not immediately forthcoming.
"Dr. McCoy's words are immaterial." Spock gazed abstractedly at a point beyond Kirk. "However, they have given me much cause for thought and I find my conclusions most distressing." He stopped short, as if afraid he had revealed too much.
"In other words, you did something Human and McCoy caught you at it." Kirk interpreted that which was not spoken.
"Ah -- not exactly, Captain." Spock's glance shifted a fraction.
//Oh, goody,// Kirk thought sourly. //Twenty questions.// "You did something Vulcan and McCoy got mad at you for it."
There was an almost imperceptible nod, but no further explanation was offered.
Kirk sighed. This one was all uphill, and victory was not at all certain. "Look, Spock, McCoy is just trying to help you, according to his own lights. I admit, he has a funny way of doing it, but he really thinks he's doing the right thing. And he does have one good point -- you are not pure Vulcan, and you never will be."
"Captain, I was raised to be Vulcan. Nothing will ever change that either." Some of Spock's inner turmoil was beginning to show through in his soft voice.
"But you've been slipping lately, haven't you?" Kirk zeroed in for the kill, now certain of the ground under his feet. "You've been enjoying your work and the people around you. You've gotten angry and you've been hurt. Vulcans don't do those sorts of things, do they? Those are Human reactions. So you're getting out before it's too late and you totally forget how to be Vulcan."
"Your analysis of the situation is unwarranted," Spock announced with chill disdain.
//Bulls-eye!// Kirk kept his jubilation securely under wraps. "You have a different explanation then, Mr. Spock?"
"I have accomplished my goals in Starfleet. I am now ready to return to Vulcan and assume my responsibilities there..."
"You'll have to watch yourself even closer there, I would think. Your Father seems to be a real stickler for all the rules," Kirk remarked in an offhand manner.
"I foresee no difficulties of that nature, Captain." In a Human, the response could almost be labeled "huffy".
"What do you intend to do on Vulcan?"
"I shall join the staff of the Vulcan Science Academy, of course."
"That should be a nice, safe place." Kirk's voice dripped sympathy. "Everyone knows academicians are a little strange anyway."
"Captain!" Spock uttered a strangled protest, his iron control starting to erode. He made a swift recovery, mask sliding back onto place. "A member of the Vulcan Science Academy is held in high esteem by my race."
"Of course, you may find life a little boring there." Warming to his role of sympathizer, Kirk continued on as if Spock had not spoken. "No new alien life forms to study, no contact with others except Vulcans. But you've always said how superior Vulcan culture is compared to anything else you've ever encountered in the universe. Maybe it will be a relief to you to get off this irrational ship and back into a way of life you understand. Just think -- nothing but rational logic all around you!" Kirk finished up with a dramatic period.
"Captain, your levity is most unbecoming!" Spock censured him sharply, but some of the unnatural stiffness was leaving his pose.
His point made, Kirk decided that it was time to switch tactics. "Spock, you can't run away from it for the rest of your life." He spoke softly, measuring the other as he went along, sensing that the battle had finally turned in his favor. "In your own terms, it is not rational for you to turn your back on half your life. Distasteful as you may find it, you are half Human. You may want to be wholly Vulcan, but that's impossible -- even for you. And that's what makes you a top notch officer. You don't lose your head in a bad situation, but you've also learned to temper some of your decisions with Human understanding."
"My decisions are reached logically. I do not allow personal feelings to cloud my thinking." The response was automatic, made from habit.
"You're wrong there, Spock." Kirk saw the chink in the armor and made a direct thrust at it. "This decision of yours to leave Starfleet is not based on logic. You've allowed your own personal fears of not being Vulcan enough to disturb your thinking."
Two raised eyebrows registered the accuracy of Kirk's aim. "Indeed, Captain?" Spock questioned in his normal, even voice.
Kirk judged that enough had been said. He reached for the papers which were lying neglected in the middle of the desk. "Do you still want me to sign these?"
Spock clasped his hands loosely behind his back and stared expressionlessly down at the papers. "Perhaps it would be wise to think about it for a few more days," he allowed.
"You do that, Spock," Kirk agreed, with genial good will. "In the meantime..."
"In the meantime, what, Captain?" Spock prompted.
"What? Oh." Kirk recalled himself. "It has nothing to do with you, Spock."
"Very well, Captain." Papers in hand, Spock withdrew from the room.
As soon as the door had closed safely behind Spock, Kirk picked up his fallen thread of thought. //In the meantime, Mr. Spock, I am going to strangle a certain doctor with my own bare hands!//