DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Guinn Berger and are copyright (c) 1979 by Guinn Berger. This story originally appeared in Stardate: Unknown #5. Rated G.

The Third Way

Guinn Berger

"It is a curious fact of life that Nature will always have the last word, regardless of the intentions, plans and ideals of men..." Amar Laht, from "The Linger Death and Other Horrors", copyright 2115.

* * *

The planetwide celebrations of Federation Week were well into the third day on Vulcan. Like most such holidays, it was strictly observed, with ceremony, singing, dancing and logic competitions - but the atmosphere was anything but festive. The Vulcans might be having a good time in their own somber way, but James Kirk, Captain of the starship USS Enterprise, suspected there would be more hilarity at a funeral among Terrans than there was here on this supposedly happy occasion.

Star Fleet Central had decreed that the Enterprise was to attend the celebration, and Kirk really did not mind. It smacked of "politics" but the sort that could hurt nobody, and it gave Kirk's first officer and friend, Commander Spock, an opportunity to visit at home. Spock was half Vulcan, half Terran, but so dedicated to his Vulcan heritage that he managed to appear more Vulcan than the pure-blooded specimens he had been introducing to Kirk since their arrival.

"Here approaches Sentoc," the commander remarked as he and Kirk circulated among the guests at a rather crowded reception for the foreign embassy personnel. "My cousin."

"Cousin?" Kirk was surprised. "The high council member Sentoc?"

Spock nodded. "The family connection is distant, but he is a member of my tribe."

Sentoc advanced and presented the Vulcan sign of greeting. "Peace; long life, my kinsman."

Spock returned the gesture and offered a like blessing. "Live long and prosper, Sentoc. May I present my friend, James Kirk?"

Kirk exchanged greetings with the man, at the same time studying him covertly. Sentoc had much fame amongst Vulcans and was sometimes held as a shining example of Vulcan ideals to outworlders, although little explanation was offered as to why. He certainly looked ordinary, thought Kirk. Sentoc's mild brown eyes were set close together and seemed rather small. He had an undistinguished brow, ditto his nose, and a weak chin above a decidedly scrawny neck. All his features, taken together, made him utterly unremarkable. He spoke kindly to Terrans, however, which surprised Kirk - Vulcans generally having been rather severe, in his experience - and made several highly intelligent comments on interstellar relations before taking his leave of them.

"So that's Sentoc," said Kirk with a little smile playing over his face. "I don't mean to be rude, but what is it about him you all find so overwhelmingly impressive?"

"Sentoc has chosen the Third Way," said Spock. Kirk thought of the phrase as being in capitals, there was so much reverence in Spock's voice as he said it.

"What is this Third Way? Some religious order?"

"More than that, Captain. It is the utmost evidence of his dedication to the teachings of Surak."

Kirk shrugged, still smiling. "That's doesn't explain very much at all."

Unexpectedly, Spock gave him a peculiar, searching look.

"As you are my friend," he said, "I will tell you. It is a fact of Vulcan existence that no male can survive the pon farr, or time of mating, without access to a wife. There are times, however, when a wife dies or some insurmountable obstacle stands between her husband and herself. In such cases, the male either loses mental control and attempts forcibly to seize some other female - or he dies. When Sentoc's wife died, he came to know that there was, for him, no other. That is when he chose the Third Way. He has been alone for forty years with no wife, but he no longer experiences the burning madness."

"I don't understand. How is he immune?"

"Sentoc underwent a kind of surgery..."

A growing horror showed in Kirk's face. "My God, Spock ... you mean he's a castrate?"

Spock inclined his head and looked mildly surprised. "It was a logical decision, Jim - but requiring a certain courage to carry it out. As he is, Sentoc will neither die the slow death of the plak tow nor will he pose a threat to the well-being of others. It is true to all we value."

...And so utterly foreign to all that I have been taught to think and feel, Kirk realized. How could anyone - anyone - even contemplate such mutilation? Sentoc's face had seemed - serene. All passion was over for him; or did he perhaps hear the echoes of love long dead as he slept at night, and did he see his wife's face again in his dreams? Kirk shivered. He knew nothing of what it was to be a Vulcan, as Spock had said many times. Who was he to protest that the Third Way was not life at all, but living death?

Who, indeed?