Chapter 24

 

Brax!” Spock shouted and within a few seconds the big gray hox galloped up, already sensing his master’s urgency.  Spock sheathed the sword and vaulted into the saddle, reining Brax around toward the phaser-blasted gate.

Ansaric came running up.  “What’s happened?!”  He skidded to a halt at the sight of Stahl’s body then stared back up at Spock.

S’Von’s taken T’Preve!” Without further explanation, Spock drove his heels into Brax’s flanks and the big animal surged forward and was through the gate with a soaring leap.

Ansaric turned and sprinted towards his own hox, Kreyla.  Sokol!” he shouted.  “Take charge! Get that gate barred! The D’Khahlis’ attack will come there!”  And with that he galloped after his friend.

Spock rode hard after S’Von down the hillside toward the Valley of R’uhn s’vat,  ignoring the fighting still going on there, intent on catching his adversary.  Brax needed no urging, thundering eagerly after the fleeing figure, his fighting blood high.  Ahead of them, S’Von’s hox, carrying its double burden, could not maintain the speed necessary to outdistance its pursuers.

As they came to the swell of the next hill, S’Von reined in abruptly and unceremoniously dumped T’Preve from in front of him.  She managed to break her fall in her awkward landing, but S’Von was already spurring his hox unmercifully, forcing it up the hill.

Spock charged up a minute later, as T’Preve was painfully getting to her feet.  He drew back hard on the reins, causing Brax to dig in with a spray of dust as he slammed to a halt.

“Are you all right?!” Spock demanded of T’Preve.

“I think so,” she answered and just then Ansaric arrived, similarly pulling his mount up abruptly.

“See to her!” Spock ordered him and immediately was off again, pulling his sword from its sheath as he did so.  Brax stretched out in the chase, his muscles bulging under his lathered silver-gray coat.  S’Von had a good lead on them, however, and gained the top of the hill well before them.  There he flung himself off his hox and turned back to face his pursuer.

As they reached the slope of the hill and started up, Spock saw the other man retrieve an object from within his tunic and level it at them.  In the split second he recognized what it was and started to pull Brax around, a cobalt blue beam of light streaked out and struck the big gray hox full in the chest.

Brax gave a piercing, guttural scream and pitched forward at full gallop, going down hard onto his knees and chest, throwing Spock out of the saddle and over his head to land heavily on his back on the rough ground, jarring loose his grip on his sword.  It clattered away out of reach.

For a long moment, Spock lay stunned by the impact, the breath knocked out of him.  Vaguely, as his ears stopped ringing and his senses began to come back to him, he could hear Brax on the ground behind him, groaning in intense pain and scrabbling his suddenly weak legs against the stones and stunted grass of the hillside.  Far below, the sounds of battle still raged, the clang of steel against steel, the shouts of men and hoxa seeming far away and detached from him.

Gradually, his vision cleared from the star-strewn blackness he’d been seeing and he became aware of footsteps approaching.  In a moment, S’Von’s leering face came into view above him.  He was laughing mirthlessly as Spock stared up at him, still somewhat dazed.  He realized that he’d lost his sword and in desperation scrambled to reach it.  S’Von easily kicked it away from his reach.

“You see, Spock?” he said, almost pleasantly.  “It’s as I told you.  I don’t intend to go anywhere with you, or to die quietly.  I like it here in this time period.  Before, I was no one, just a scientist whom no one appreciated or listened to.  Here, I’m a king.  A god, even. Your pitiful loyalty to your clan and to preserving the status quo has brought you to this.”  He shrugged as if in regret.  “Now, I’m afraid I have no choice.  I must kill you and end this useless conflict between us.”

He looked down at the phaser pistol in his hand and reset a dial on it.  As S’Von leisurely worked with the power level on his phaser, Spock’s hand crept to the dagger still hanging at his side and he eased the weapon out until he had the blade itself between his fingers.

Finally S’Von was satisfied that he had the phaser at an appropriately deadly level and he looked back at the man on the ground before him.  “It’s really too bad.  Such a waste of a fine mind, but — what’s it the humans say?  Oh, yes — c’est le guerre.”  He pointed the phaser directly at Spock’s face and took aim.  “Goodbye, Spock,” he said with a smile.

Spock’s arm flashed in a blinding movement and instantly the hilt of the dagger materialized in the middle of S’Von’s shoulder with a solid thunk!  The scientist gave a grunt of surprise and pain and reflexively jerked the trigger on the phaser.  Spock rolled barely in time to avoid the sizzling blue beam that exploded the turf he had been occupying an instant before.  He scrambled to his feet, ready to tackle S’Von before he could fire another shot, but the smaller man’s attention was entirely focused on the blade sprouting from his shoulder.

Almost in slow motion, he sank to his knees, gingerly touching the weapon as if puzzling over how best to remove it.  Nerveless, his hand opened spasmodically and the phaser tumbled out of his grip onto the grass.  Instantly, Spock lunged for it, then he was standing over S’Von, holding the weapon pointed at the renegade’s head in a double-handed grip, oblivious to the irony of their reversed positions.

“Get up!” Spock ground out through clenched teeth, his breath still coming quick and deep, as much with anger as with exertion.

Slowly, with an effort, S’Von got to his feet, his good hand held tight against the injured shoulder, blood streaming down through his fingers.  “What now, Spock?” he questioned in a low, malicious voice.  “Do you still intend to miraculously find some time portal and drag me back to the future?  Tell me where it is then!  How you intend to accomplish this!”

Spock motioned with the phaser, his eyes hard.  “Move!” he said. 

“Where?  Shall we walk all the way back to Shar’ram?”  He grinned viciously.  “Your beast is dead, you know.”

Involuntarily, Spock glanced at the shuddering form of Brax, lying on his side in the grass, panting heavily with pain.  It was the opening S’Von needed.  He kicked upward, his heavy boot slamming into Spock’s hand and sending the phaser flying.  Spock both heard and felt the crunch of bones snapping in his left hand and jerked back with a cry, instinctively clutching the injured hand with his right, cradling it to his chest.

S’Von took the opportunity to clamp his teeth together and grip the hilt of the dagger still imbedded in his shoulder, then with one quick movement, yanked it free.  He couldn’t suppress a scream of pain, and staggered, nearly fainting at the agony of it.  But with iron determination he recovered and stared belligerently at Spock, who was huddled over his own injury and murderously watching S’Von.  Sliding the bloody dagger into his boot top, S’Von pressed his tunic into the gash, trying to stem the emerald flow soaking through the cloth.

Both men eyed each other warily and Spock did a quick reconnoiter for the phaser.  It had disappeared into the grass. For the moment, things seem to stand at an impasse.  Spock was weaponless and suffering a badly broken hand, but he was in better shape than his opponent.  For while S’Von was still armed with his own and Spock’s dagger, the shoulder wound was deep and probably had pierced bone.  S’Von was growing weak from loss of blood and from the agonizing pain.

“So, what now, Spock?” the renegade scientist questioned.  “I can still kill you, if I choose. But, listen to me, Spock – where’s the logic in dying?  Think, man!  Think what you’ve become! Think what you’ve done today and about the blood on your hands!”

Something deep within Spock was listening to him.  The wild blazing fire of bloodshed was beginning to leave his eyes, although he still remained wary and ready to attack at the first opportunity.  But S’Von had seen the change and continued with renewed vigor, “You were raised to peace and logic, not warfare and vengeance.  Where’s your logic now, Spock?  Where’s the pacificism in your soul?  They’re gone, aren’t they?  You’ve lost yourself, Spock.  You’ve corrupted your upbringing!”

Spock blinked and swallowed uncertainly. 

“Yes, you feel it, don’t you?” S’Von went on, edging away slightly, surreptitiously flicking a glance here and there at the ground, hoping to spot the phaser.  “All the years of peaceful scholarship — gone!  All the years of meditation and study to follow Surak’s teachings — gone!  The discipline and sacrifice and emotional control — gone!  While you hacked men to pieces again and again — and then kept looking for more!  Think what your father would say about the job you’ve done today, Spock. The wise and mighty Sarek — who has never touched a weapon in his life. Who believes that there is nothing intelligent beings can’t settle through talk and negotiation!  Think of his reaction.  What would he think of a son who had done what you’ve done today?”

“My father is capable of killing,” Spock argued but his tone was unconvincing.  “Logically and efficiently.”

Logically, Spock.   Did you logically hack off heads and arms and legs today?  Explain the logic of it to me.  Explain it in terms Surak would understand and approve.  Quote me the Tenets on mayhem and murder.”

S’Von moved slightly to his left, and there it was, lying just a few feet away.  He looked back up at Spock, gauging the right time to make a dive for the phaser and finish off his opponent once and for all.

But, even as the logical, peaceful man inside him battled the ancestral warrior he had become, Spock had seen S’Von’s glance and then read the triumph on his face.  He did his own quick glimpse at his surroundings and saw his sword just to his right and he tensed himself for action simultaneous with the sudden tightening of S’Von’s muscles.

Both men seemed to move at the same instant.  As S’Von dived for the phaser, Spock threw himself into a shoulder roll and, suddenly, the Sword of Kh’Liorah seemed to leap of its own accord into his right hand.  He was on his feet in a split second, already bringing the sword up in an instinctive but futile attempt to parry the blast of the phaser shot that hit him.

The force of the explosion knocked him backwards to the ground and it took his spinning head an eternity to clear.  When it did, he groggily struggled to a sitting position, the weight of the sword still in his right hand.

Ten feet away lay the lifeless body of S’Von, his chest blown open in a smouldering, mangled ruin.  Spock got to his feet, dazed, and tried to make sense of the chaotic impressions that assaulted him.  And then he knew.  The polished, silver surface of the sword had acted like a mirror, reflecting the deadly beam in full force back to S’Von, ending the renegade scientist’s mad reign of terror.

The sound of hoofbeats startled Spock out of his stunned reverie and he spun toward the sound, then relaxed as he saw that it was Ansaric, T’Preve sitting side-saddle in front of him.  As Ansaric drew up his hox, she slipped down, landed lightly on her feet, and ran to her husband, throwing her arms around his neck.  He caught her up, mindful of his painfully swelling left hand, holding her close and burying his face in her disheveled cloud of black hair.

At last Spock drew away from her, gazing down into her face as if he could not believe that she was safe and with him, that the nightmare was over, or nearly so, and that soon he would go back to Shar’ram with her to the life he had given up hope of ever having.

She was peering up at him with her love shining in her eyes, when suddenly her expression crumpled into one of fear and she gasped in terror, staring past him.

Expecting an attack, Spock whirled, ready to face an enemy — and froze in utter amazement at what he saw.  A half-dozen men in bright tunics and black pants were running toward him, led by Jim Kirk.  Even as he watched, another half dozen materialized out of thin air behind him, all with phasers drawn and ready.

As Kirk reached the Vulcan’s side, Spock moved almost without thinking, sheathing the sword and throwing his arms around his friend, thumping him soundly on the back with his good hand in joy at their reunion.  Kirk returned the sentiment, relieved beyond words, his emotions surging up into his throat.  Then Spock held his captain off to drink in his features and presence.

To Kirk, his first officer was barely recognizable, dressed in battle gear of another time and place, hair long and matted, face streaked with mud.  A trickle of green blood worked its way down across his face, leaving a verdant trail through the grime.  But the dark brown eyes shone with wonder beneath the upswept brows and, most amazing of all, a delighted grin pulled at Spock’s mouth, revealing even, white teeth.  “Jim!” he whispered, as if he could not believe that Kirk was real.  Jim!

“Spock!  Are you all right?” Kirk demanded. 

“Captain!”  The Vulcan was still dazed, both from the events he had just endured and from the sudden and unexpected appearance of his shipmates.  “What— How did you—?”

“We’ve been searching history for you through the Guardian,” Kirk explained, satisfied that his first officer was not seriously injured.  “It’s taken us ten days to find you.”

“Ten days?” Spock repeated.  “I’ve been here nearly three months, Captain.”

“The dimensional paradox,” Kirk nodded, then continued, “Once we located you, we had to make sure we came through at the precise moment we needed to reach you.  We mistimed it, though.  I wanted to arrive so that we could arrest Dr. S’Von and bring him back for trial.”  He indicated S’Von’s body with a wave of his phaser.

“You would have been forced to kill him if you had arrived earlier.”  Spock was starting to sag a bit, the adrenalin high of combat and reunion beginning to fade. “He was utterly mad, Captain.  He would not have gone back with you.  I know that now.”

He looked around him and observed that the battle had moved farther up the valley toward Shar’ram and that the little village was fully engulfed in flames now.  Even at this distance, he could see enemy troops beginning to swarm against the walls of the fortress and knew that the end was near.  A feeling of intense sadness settled on him like a heavy mantle.  Scattered across the valley below was the bloody aftermath of the clash. The bodies of men and hoxa, living and dead, lay strewn in heaps, clouds of arrows sprouted from the ground like grotesque flowers, blood lay in pools, and, most macabre of all, severed limbs and heads, hacked off by close quarters sword combat, gave mute testimony to the carnage.

Spock slowly shook his head in horror and despair.  “All because of one madman,” he murmured.  “How many good men have died today?”  His throat constricted with emotion.  “How many have I killed...?”

Abruptly, a low groan a short distance away made Spock aware that his hox was still down, lying on his side nearby, breathing rapidly.  He went immediately to the animal’s side and knelt down at its head, stroking the muddy gray hide.  Brax...” he whispered.  A quick examination revealed that the phaser blast Brax had taken had mortally wounded him.  He was dying.  The hox turned a trusting eye on his master and seemed to beg for relief from his pain.

Spock could not deny him this last kindness.  Placing his good hand on the big blood-streaked head, he closed his eyes and dropped his chin onto his chest, concentrating.  Mind-melding with an animal was entirely different from joining his thoughts with a Vulcan or human, but Spock took control of the stallion’s body and mind.  First, he eased the pain until there was only blessed numbness, then he led Brax down into deep sleep.  When the hox sighed deeply and slipped into unconsciousness, Spock mentally backed away from the animal’s mind and turned his attention to physical matters.  Quickly and as gently as he could, he stilled the big, gallant heart until it had ceased beating.  Brax exhaled one last time and lay still.

Slowly, Spock got to his feet and stood gazing down at the dead hox.  Kirk quietly walked up beside him and Spock hurriedly turned away from him so that the other man would not see the tears in his eyes.  Quickly, he wiped his face, unaware that his muddy gauntlet had left streaks of blood and dirt across his features.

Kirk understood and put a companionable arm around his friend’s shoulders.  “Sometimes easing a loved one’s pain can be the hardest death of all,” he said softly.

“He served me well and never faltered,” Spock acknowledged.  “I shall miss him.”

One of the Starfleet security guards approached them.  “Sir, we’ve recovered the phasers Dr. S’Von brought with him.  They’re all accounted for.  And we have his body secured.  We can go anytime you’re ready, sir.”

Kirk turned to his first officer.  “Anytime you’re ready, Mr. Spock.”

“Go?”  The realization suddenly hit him and Spock turned to stare at the young woman standing across the field, clutching Ansaric in fear.  “I can’t go, Captain.  Not now ... I mean ...”

Kirk looked in T’Preve’s direction and understood.  “I don’t blame you, Spock.  She’s lovely.  But what about the Enterprise?  Your life back there?”

Spock’s face clearly showed his uncertainty and agitation.  He was hopelessly torn between the two destinies that faced him — to stay here with his wife and child in a time that was not his own, or to leave his bonded mate and return to the time period in which he belonged.

He looked from Kirk to T’Preve and back again and for a long moment Kirk could clearly see the conflict that raged within him. Then the internal battle quelled and his face settled into resignation, an oddly peaceful expression. 

“I’m sorry, Jim,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I truly am sorry.  But I have to stay with her. I can’t leave her.  Not now.”  He reached out and gripped Kirk’s arm with his right hand, attempting to convey all that he was feeling in that one final touch.  Then, almost as if moving in a dream, he turned and walked toward T’Preve.

SPOCK!!

The ground shook with the power of the deep voice reverberating around them.  T’Preve screamed and Ansaric’s hox reared and tried to bolt before the young man got the animal under control.

Spock whipped around and stared up at the sky, searching for the source, although he knew the speaker and why it spoke.

Spock!” the voice rumbled again, this time a bit softer.  You must return.  Now.

“I can’t leave her!” he shouted back at the sky.  “You know I can’t!”

Your time here has run its course,” the voice answered implacably.  Time must resume its flow.  Your continued presence here will disrupt that stream.  Come.  Now.

“Please!” he begged.  “Let her come back with me, then!”

Her place and time are here, just as yours is in the world you know.  You have fulfilled your function here.   You must return to the desert whence you came.  Her time is soon to come.  She must remain.  The future is within her.

With the force of an impacting comet, sudden comprehension slammed the breath from Spock’s lungs with an explosive gasp and he staggered under its weight.  He understood now, understood fully.  The future is within her.  Of course.  He suddenly knew where he was in time and history, understood his role in that history, understood who T’Preve was and the pivotal role she would play here in the past.  The future is within her.

It was the legend come to life, to shattering reality.  He was the man from the desert who had loved a princess and then disappeared into the mists of time.  She was T’Riffa, her name confused by oral tellings and re-tellings of the tale as it was passed down through the years, not the daughter of the Householder but the daughter of the House.  And the battle they had just fought was the fall of Shar’ram, the Usurper was whoever led the D’Khahli troops now.  And his son, yet to be born, would come out of the wilderness to take back Seleya and sire a line from which would one day rise Surak the Great and ultimately Spock himself. The time paradox had come full circle.  He had become his own ancestor!

As understanding settled upon him, so finally did serenity and acceptance.  Time must resume its flow.  The future is within her.  Spock nodded in resignation and addressed the Guardian.  “There’s something I have to do first,” he said.

Walking away from Kirk and the group of Federation men, he went down the hillside to where T’Preve and Ansaric were standing in terrified awe.  As he approached, Ansaric dropped to his knees and prostrated himself.

Spock quickly bent to lift him to his feet.  “Don’t bow to me, Ansaric,” he said.

“But, master — the strange men!  The voice!”

“I cannot explain so that you would understand, Ansaric.  Just know that they are men like ourselves.  No more and no less.  Simply from another place.”  He clasped his young friend by the shoulder with his right hand, favoring his broken left, and gazed into Ansaric’s handsome face, as begrimed from battle as his companion.  Ansaric, I must lay a trust on you.”

“Anything, master.  I will undertake to fulfill it.”

Spock awkwardly unbuckled the sword belt from around his waist and handed over the scabbarded weapon.  This time no unseen force prevented him from placing it into another’s hands and Spock knew that the sword was no longer his. 

Glancing solemnly at his wife, he addressed his young friend. “T’Preve is with child.  You must protect them at all costs.  Take her and ride as far as you can away from here until you find a land where you will be safe as the boy grows to manhood.  Keep the sword for my son.  When he is old enough, give it to him and train him to use it.  He will be the salvation of our people. And tell him about me.”

“I will, my lord.  It will be sung for ages to come.”

Ansaric, I entrust them both to your care,” he answered, turning again to look at his wife, unable to tear his eyes from T’Preve’s beautiful face, now showing clearly that she knew what he was saying, what was happening.  “Serve them well.”

“Master, you’re not coming back with us?”  There were tears streaking the squire’s dirty cheeks.

“No,” Spock answered, shaking his head.  “I must return with my friends to my own place. My duty here is finished.”

“Why can’t we come with you?  I’ll serve you there!”

“No, Ansaric.  Your place is here.  You must remember and tell what has occurred here.”

Spock turned to T’Preve and reached out for her.  At once, she was in his arms, clutching him frantically, tears flowing down her face.  “I can’t lose you!  I can’t!  How will I live without you?!”

He held her close then gently and reluctantly pushed her away, caressing her wet face between his hands, unmindful of the smudges his gloves were leaving behind.  He could only see the pain in her wonderful eyes, could only remember the incredible joy of their short time together, could only imagine the life he would be missing without her by his side.  But already he was feeling the inescapable pull of the Guardian’s force, drawing him back through the time portal, to his real time...

He bent to kiss her and suddenly the wind whirled up around them, spinning up dust and sand into a twisting column of debris.  The vortex tore at their clothes and threatened to knock them off their feet, but Spock held fiercely onto T’Preve, his feet braced against the wind, and she clutched him just as hard, her cry of alarm nearly lost in the roar of the wind.

Abruptly, Spock felt as if the cyclone was reaching down into him and ripping away a chunk of his soul, severing nerves and ganglion and memories that had intertwined inexorably with his own.  His hoarse scream joined with T’Preve’s as she jerked back in his arms, bucking as if seized by invisible claws.  Wind swirled tightly around her, trying to wrench her from his arms, but he held onto her with fierce determination.

At last the whirlwind died away and T’Preve collapsed against him.  As he sank to the ground and held her, Ansaric and then Kirk came running up.  The Vulcan and Human eyed each other uncertainly for a second, then both bent over Spock, who was stroking the unbroken fingers of his left hand along T’Preve’s pale cheek.

Her eyes fluttered and she came awake, looking confused, then cried out and flung her arms around Spock’s neck, clinging to him in terror.

“It’s all right, t’hy’la,” he whispered.  “It’s all right. You’re safe. Can you stand?”

“Yes, I think so,” she murmured back and Spock helped her to her feet.  “What happened? What was that?”

“How do you feel?” he questioned in return.

“Strange...” she answered introspectively.  “Almost as if ... as if...”

“As if someone else has taken up residence inside you?” Spock finished for her. 

She stared at him, amazed, then something in her eyes changed slightly, as if she were searching her inner soul.  “No ... not in me...”  Looking down, she slid her hand onto her abdomen, still flat and firm, but holding within its sanctuary the growing orb of developing life.

Spock stroked her cheek, understanding.  “Get her far away from here, Ansaric, and protect her with your last drop of blood.  Heya has chosen the next Bearer of Kh’Liorah.  She carries the Heir of Solan.”

Katra’tolok,” Ansaric breathed with reverence and suddenly knew what he had just witnessed.

The Guardian’s voice rumbled around them again.  All is as it should be. Return now!

“Come on, Spock!” Kirk said urgently and turned to quickly rejoin the other humans waiting for him. 

Spock hesitated for another moment, gazing deeply into T’Preve’s rich mahogany-colored eyes, now swimming in tears, and he slipped his hands in caress around her face, heedless of the pain that shot through his broken, mangled left one.  Tenderly, he bent to press his mouth to hers, tasting for a last time the sweetness of her lips, drinking in the warm scent of her skin, sinking his fingers into the thick silken strands of her hair.

When at last he lifted his head, he knew it was time to go.  “Farewell, my  t’hy’la, my heart,” he whispered. “I will never forget you.  Never.”

She broke down and sobbed and Ansaric stepped closer to put his arms around her, allowing Spock to leave them.  Though stricken, the young man shakily held up his hand in the salute he had seen Spock do earlier.  “Live long and prosper, my lord.”

Spock answered solemnly, around the lump in his throat, “Peace and long life to you, Ansaric.”  Turning one last anguished look on his wife’s beautiful, grief-stricken face, he turned and hurried back up the hillside to where his companions waited with S’Von’s body. 

It was later said in songs and epics, told on long winter evenings when the rain battered against shutters or during summer storms when the winds howled around rooftops and lightning danced along the eaves, that the man from the desert and his strange companions were messengers from the gods, sent by Heya to send into safety the mother of the King.  For who but Heya could have caused such miraculous happenings and brought about the reincarnation of Solan the Great?  And when their jobs were done, the gods called the messengers back to them with an equally great miracle. 

For, in the presence of witnesses who told the tale to all that would hear, the very sky parted to receive them, and they leaped into the air and vanished utterly from sight.  And none were ever seen on Vulcan again.