Spock walked all day again, resting only when the sun beat down with particular ferocity in mid-afternoon. Even Vulcans didn’t go out in the day’s worst heat. The mid-meal and rest periods were always held then and activity was at a minimum until the sun began to lower into the west.
He had been headed north by northeast, the road following the general curve of the Se’han Hills as they skirted the Sas-a-Shar. He had been picturing a map of Vulcan in his mind as he walked and felt that he knew what lay at the southern end of the trail he followed. On the southwestern edge of the desert was the outpost of Al’Borak, in his day a small, rather inconsequential province whose major industry was salt and trace minerals mined from the hard pan of the desert. Quite probably he was following a caravan route between that area and ShiKahr.
Early in the afternoon, the path intersected a larger road running almost straight west to east and here his route curved and merged into the wider trail. Obviously this was a major thoroughfare and he had by this time a pretty good idea of where he was. This must be the road that ran between ShiKahr to the east and Tuldu’un to the west, one of the larger provinces.
And in the dust of the road was something he hadn’t seen so far on his journey — evidence of other people. Well, not people exactly, but hoofprints made by hoxa, the beautiful, fleet riding animals that had been standard transportation for millennia before technology replaced them with ground cars and air transports. The prints were headed east, toward Seleya, but he couldn’t tell how old they were. The road showed signs of a lot of usage, so the prints could be anything from hours to weeks old. Nevertheless, it heartened him and he set out again.
But the hours passed unbroken by any other sign of life and the sun climbed relentlessly higher and burned down hotter on the weary traveler. Along the road, Spock found a vinga bush in fruit and, although the berries weren’t quite ripe, he nevertheless picked and ate all that were remotely palatable. It took the sharpest edge off his hunger, but didn’t begin to satisfy him.
He kept walking until fatigue and the heat began to take their toll and he nearly fell as he stumbled on an uneven spot in the road. He told himself resolutely that he could keep going indefinitely, that to a Vulcan, sleep and food and water were of little consequence when pitted against the power of the mind. But his weary body told him otherwise. Finally he bowed to the logic of his situation. It was illogical to push oneself until complete collapse occurred. It was time to rest.
Unable to go any further, he found a shady spot in the lee of a rock face and slumped down beside it, closing his eyes. Completely exhausted, with even his Vulcan strength wavering, he gave in to the inevitable and sank back into the darkness engulfing him.
He might have slept there forever if it hadn’t been for the scream.
He jerked awake, wondering if he’d been dreaming. The late afternoon was still except for the wind sighing around the rocks and the distant keen of a hunting alo’oe soaring on the desert thermals. He sat up and ran a hand over his face, then peered up at the sun’s position to see how much time had passed. A dream. It must have been a dream. Time to get going again.
He was just climbing to his feet when the scream ripped the day’s quiet once again. It was coming from nearby and, this time, he determined that the sound had come from an animal, one that was terrified. A second later he understood why — the scratchy snarl of a le’matya sounded from the same location.
Spock drew his phaser and cautiously approached the location of the two combatants. The sounds intensified, the cat’s growls and hisses mingling with the clatter of hooves on rock and the frightened squeals of its prey.
As the Vulcan reached his destination, he peered cautiously over the rock face that separated them and stared at the battle just below him. The le’matya had cornered a big gray hox and was staying just out of reach of its slashing front hooves, but watching for an opportunity to leap in for the kill. This particular hox was obviously someone’s property. It was wearing full tack and trappings, the reins of its bridle still looped over its neck, carry bags hanging from its saddle.
Then Spock saw the body of a man lying motionless not far away at the side of the road. The science officer made a quick decision and took aim at the predator stalking the hox. The le’matya disappeared in burst of light, causing the hox to scream again and rear in terror.
Making sure that the cat’s mate wasn’t near, Spock then scrambled down the rock face and approached the trembling hox, talking to it soothingly. Sides heaving, it nevertheless pricked its ears toward him and listened. When he was sure it wouldn’t bolt, he left it and quickly went to the figure lying in the dust.
The man was dead, his neck broken. There were no other injuries on him, so Spock surmised that the le’matya must have attacked the hox, causing it to throw its rider. Then he sat back on his heels and studied the man.
His black hair was long and had been loosely tied with a leather thong. He was dressed in a style of clothing that Spock had never seen before although something about them was vaguely familiar. A long plain tunic overlay an undyed linen shirt, the sleeve hems laced snugly about the wrists and forearms, then the material blousing out from there. His breeches were leather and he wore laced knee-high, soft-soled boots. Splayed in the dust around him was a hooded cloak of a deep midnight blue, pinned at his throat with a silver and sapphire brooch, the only ornamentation in his attire. One hip sported a sheathed dagger and strapped around his waist was a sturdy leather belt from which hung the long thin scabbard of a sword.
Spock stood up and continued to stare down at the man, his attire beginning to click into place in the Vulcan’s mind. The style of dress was incredibly ancient, on the order of 6,000 years or more. He could scarcely believe the truth of it, but finally resigned himself to the fact that the when of his situation was Vulcan’s far distant past, about 4,000 years pre-Reform. It was a barbaric, savage time in Vulcan’s history with warring clans constantly fighting over water and land, when the highest technology was a weapon resembling a crossbow and the ability to smelt metal into swords and mail.
Had S’Von intended to come back to this time period or had it been an accident? He’d talked about going far enough back to circumvent Ni’ikhirchi power. There was still the question of where he was and how Spock was going to find him. But, for now, he decided to search the saddlebags on the hox’s harness and see if they held anything useful.
The animal snorted and watched him warily as he came up alongside it. He patted the mottled gray hide in reassurance, then proceeded to open the bags and examine their contents. One of his first discoveries was a packet of journey bread, thick, round wafers of grain and fruit pounded together. He immediately broke off a piece and popped it into his mouth, chewing as he continued his search. Two or three would take the place of a meal and would satisfy his hunger for a day. On the other side of the hox, he was delighted to find a full waterbag hanging from the saddle and this he took advantage of at once, washing down the bread with a judicious mouthful.
The saddlebags contained nothing of real value — a change of shirts, more journey bread. A rolled blanket was tied behind the saddle. Deep in one saddlebag was a small drawstring pouch containing some golden coins, not a fortune, but enough to cover any needs while traveling. There was no clue to the man’s identity or where he had come from. By the looks of his clothing and the trappings of the hox, he must be from a large House, though. And the sword indicated that he was no simple messenger. Only Householders, Elder Sons and warriors would have owned such weapons. The swordsmith’s art was an esoteric one and a sword was a prized possession, passed down with care and pride.
Spock realized something else. If he were deep within the past, he was dressed entirely wrong. His Starfleet uniform would stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. His presence would cause enough questions as it was and he did not wish to generate more. He needed clothing that would blend in and, unfortunately, he could see only one logical source of obtaining it.
Walking back to where the man lay, Spock looked down at him and spoke to him, respecting an ancient belief that the katra hovered around a person killed suddenly, looking either for a new home or the way to the next plane. “I grieve for thee, traveler,” he said in the old ritual tongue. “Thy death diminishes the People and the diversity of our world. I ask forgiveness now for what I must do, but my need is great. I claim thy clothing and thy possessions as my own. In payment, I will lay thy body underneath a cairn so that it is not defiled.”
With this said, he knelt back down and proceeded to undress the dead man. Once he had divested the other of his clothing, Spock picked up the body and carried the man to a long horizontal crevice he had spotted. Gently placing the body there, he spent the next hour carefully covering it over with rocks. It wouldn’t stop the scavengers from digging up the corpse, but it was not proper to leave it lying in the open as if discarding a broken tool.
Once his grim job was done, Spock stood in silent meditation for a long moment, head bowed and fingers steepled before his face, preparing to recite the ritual of the na’Tha’thhya, wishing the man’s katra peace and safe journey as it went to rejoin the great overlying consciousness of the a’Tha, the spirit that lived within all things and bound each Vulcan together in a subtle, indefinable way. It wasn’t anything so obvious as telepathy. Spock himself could not exactly explain it. The closest he had ever been able to come was when the Intrepid had been destroyed and he’d felt the 400 Vulcans on board die. He had finally said to McCoy, “Call it a deep seated understanding of the way things happen to Vulcans.” It was not a satisfactory explanation and it sounded simplistic and illogical to him, but there were just some things that could not be said in English or Galactic Standard. They were Vulcan concepts and had to be expressed in Vulcan to Vulcans. A human did not have the psychological or historical background to understand it.
His thoughts flicked briefly to the humans he knew and their erroneous belief that Vulcans were a non-spiritual people. Religion among humans was as varied as the individual, but one thing they had in common was the conviction that their beliefs were the correct ones. And because Vulcans did not overtly practice religious ceremonies or publicly worship a creator god, most humans believed Vulcans to be atheistic, totally secular-minded beings. They simply did not understand that, to a Vulcan, spiritual beliefs were intensely personal and were not discussed outside the family group, particularly not in the noisy, contentious manner that humans proclaimed and argued and sometimes warred over their own religions. Usually the Eldest of a family tutored the younger members. And so, daunted though he might have been by his venerable great-grandmother, as a boy Spock had taken his questions to T’Pau and had come to respect the formidable wisdom she had gained over her long lifespan.
Ready now, Spock lifted his head and clapped his hands together once to gain the attention of the ancestors. Then in Old Tongue, he spoke the formal words that opened the way for the katra.
“Hear the one who speaks! I am Spock, son of Sarek, son of Skon, of the Clan Ni’ikhirch. I address the ancestors of the one whose katra awaits to enter your presence. The identity of this katra is unknown to me, but he is known to Those Who Wait. He has died unable to pass his katra to another that it might be fused into that one’s living soul. Therefore take this spirit back where it may join again with the Creators and become One with Being. Welcome it, my Fathers, into the lifeforce of the People until it finds its way into heart and mind once more.”
He clapped his hands again and bowed his head in the close of the ritual, then turned away from the grave.
Abruptly, the wind kicked up and a little dust devil whirled into being around him, blinding him and making him cough. He attempted to step out of it but it would not release him from its grasp. Indeed, it grew higher and stronger and the spinning sand choked and disoriented him. Throwing his arms up over his face, he again sought to escape, but vertigo slammed into him and he lost his footing, going down heavily into the dust. The sand continued to pummel him and he rolled up into a ball, protecting his face, covering his head with his arms.
The wind picked up in intensity and began to howl. It would not leave him alone. It poked and prodded and jabbed at him, blowing up his shirt and rushing across his back and chest. It almost seemed as if phantom fingers were probing into him, tickling, scratching, gouging. And then he felt something else in the whirlwind, a presence, hammering at his mind, searching for entry, demanding entry.
“No!” he shouted at it, still covering himself. “I’m not the one! Leave me!”
It would not. Indeed, it seemed to redouble its efforts, coming at him from all directions. The wind got underneath him, flipped him over, surged around him. As it tumbled him, he tried to get face down once more and rolled into a protected ball, but the whirlwind was too strong. Fighting to breathe and keep the choking sand out of his face, Spock inadvertently lowered his mental barriers to the presence battering its way into his mind. At once it leaped through the breach. He struggled to bar it but could not maintain the mental disciplines he needed while simultaneously battling the blasting wind.
Immediately, the presence overwhelmed him, engulfing his whole being in a tightly whirling cloud of energy and emotion, binding him, blanketing him. He cried out in protest and clutched his temples as the presence shot through synapses and down nerve fibers, deep into his brain, smothering him with its suffocating existence, soaking into his soul as water into sand, joining with him, fusing with his consciousness, becoming part of him.
Then it was over as abruptly as it had begun. The wind died away and the stillness of the desert afternoon fell once more. Slowly, the sand drifted back to the ground and Spock raised his head, blinking in confusion and coughing out the dust that had filled his lungs. He pushed himself up to a kneeling position and sat for some time, searching through his mind, sorting out the memories and emotions that had suddenly appeared. His own psyche still dominated and he knew that he had lost no part of himself, but below, on a lower level, he had acquired something new. A new part of himself that was settling in as if it had always been there.
He knew what had happened, though he had only read of it, had never actually seen it occur. He had undergone katra’tolok, the invasion into one’s mind of a remnant spirit. The traveler’s katra had refused to dissipate. Instead, it had identified a living host and the words of the na’Tha’thhya had called it into him. It happened occasionally when the deceased possessed a very strong, stubborn will and there was unfinished business that it refused to release. If the katra hadn’t been planted into another body before the host died, the displaced spirit might forcefully invade the nearest living person.
Spock closed his eyes and concentrated. “Get out!” he ordered and tried doggedly to force the invader from his mind, but it had already intertwined itself into his own katra, the two melding into one. The interloper wouldn’t budge, weaving itself ever deeper into Spock’s consciousness. Strange how right it felt, how comfortable. Already he could scarcely distinguish it from his own self.
After determinedly struggling with the katra for some time, he gave up trying, frustrated and angry. The thing was like a splinter under the skin that one could not worry free. He would just have to ignore it for the time being. Perhaps it would do no harm and would not bother him after he got used to its being there. In any case, he decided that he could not remove it from his mind by himself. If it proved too intrusive, he would have to seek out a reldai and have it ejected through a long and complicated mind meld. When he returned home — if he got home — he made a note to himself to contact the High Priestess T’Lar and arrange to have the delicate procedure done. For the time being, he would pay it no more attention and see if it would fade away of its own accord.
This decided, he set up a psychic block around the interloping katra. It took mental discipline, but it was something he was well skilled in doing. His mental barriers now in place, he got to his feet, took a deep breath, and returned to the task at hand, examining his newly acquired clothing.
His Starfleet uniform was filthy and torn and wasn’t smelling very fresh anymore. He was glad to get out of it. Generally a fastidious person, he’d been wearing the same clothes for four long, hot days. And it was with relief that he pulled his boots off. They definitely hadn’t been designed for walking over miles of rocky terrain. His aching feet were blistered and bleeding, making him realize that once the boots came off, he wouldn’t be getting them back on for a while. His boot stockings were stuck to his skin with dried blood and he winced as he peeled them off, pulling open the blisters again. For a few moments, he sat examining the damage to his feet, already beginning to swell painfully now that the confining leather boots were gone. He wished fleetingly for a medkit and antiseptic salve, but he dismissed the thought quickly, it being just as productive to wish for a hot meal and beaker of saya. He stripped off his blue tunic and picked up the linen shirt.
The dead man was much his size, though broader through the shoulders and a little bit taller, he estimated. All the clothing had been hand-sewn with small, neat stitches and he dressed quickly, admiring the work in the garments. These had been carefully made and evidenced a prosperous house. Sitting down on a rock, Spock pulled on the soft-soled boots and laced them up. They felt wonderful and immediately reminded him of the shoes he’d always worn at home. He’d hardly ever worn hard-soled Terran footwear until he became a cadet at the Academy and such boots were part of the uniform.
Once dressed in his new attire, Spock folded up his uniform and stuffed it into one of the saddlebags. The boots were a problem, but he managed to stow them in the carrysack tied to the saddle. His tricorder and communicator were also slipped into the bag, but his phaser he kept with him. He tore two long strips of cloth from his ripped black t-shirt and fashioned them into a belt. The phaser had a strip of fabristik along its sides which enabled it to cling tenaciously to woven cloth such as cotton or linen. It would have stuck quite nicely to the linen shirt but Spock wanted it out of sight. He slapped the weapon against his make-shift cotton belt and adjusted it so that he could get at it underneath the tunic. Buckling on the dagger belt around his hips, he settled it so that it wouldn’t interfere with his phaser.
Then he turned his attention to the sword, still in the leather scabbard dangling from the double-wrapped belt that supported it. Designed to absorb impact, the bone-sheathed hilt was tightly wrapped in leather, long enough that it could be wielded either one- or two-handed. The guard was a straight polished length of brass with downward pointing tips. The pommel was a simple round, also of brass, but set into it was a fiery red crystal, rounded and unfaceted. A fine weapon but ordinary enough.
And then he drew it from its scabbard.
The sword seemed to burst into flame and burn with a light all its own. Its radiance lit up the surrounding area with a blazing incandescence, nearly blinding him. Hastily, he shoved the weapon back into its scabbard. The light shut off.
Amazed, he stared at the sword, so unassuming when sheathed, and wondered if it had truly shone that way or if it was just reflected sunlight. Cautiously, he drew it again, careful not to expose more than an inch or so. Again, the sword seemed to flare, and now he determined that the highly polished finish flashed like a mirror. Nevertheless, he could see now that the blade was intricately engraved, runes and brass filigreed swirls chased over the silver surface. He eased the sword out of the scabbard a bit more and saw that the chasing tapered off and the rest of the blade was pure and free of ornamentation, its edge honed to razor sharpness.
It was beautiful. And as deadly as a photon blast. It felt very good in his hand, the weight just right, and it sang to something so deep within him that he could scarcely recognize it when it answered. It was a feeling of wildness, of savage power. It was the voice of his ancestors, surging up from the unimaginable depths of time, echoing through his soul like the howl of a storm across Vulcan’s Forge.
For a fraction of a second, he found himself on a battlefield, surrounded by the bodies of his enemies, slain by his own hand. The wind billowed and snapped his cape around him and swept his long black hair from his face, a face wrought from granite and fire. He thrust the bloodied sword into the air and shouted with victory, and his troops answered back with a roar of acclamation.
Staggered, Spock closed his eyes and shook his head, clearing the bizarre vision from his mind. It had not been him and yet it had been. Was it a future he had seen? Or an alternate timeline? Or had he glimpsed some other man’s life, perhaps the dead man he had just buried, the previous owner of the weapon, a fraction of katra-vision triggered by the sword?
Unable to understand what had just happened, he slid the sword back into its sheath and then, almost without conscious will, wrapped the swordbelt around his waist, buckling it in place. The weight of the sword was scarcely noticeable, so well-balanced was the weapon and its support. Something whispered that this was his sword — always had been his sword, that it was back where it belonged at his side and they had been reunited into a proper symmetry.
It felt good and as if a missing part was back in its true setting. And, if there was a small flame of barbarism and savagery beginning to flare deep within him, if he breathed a little deeper of the hot clean desert air, and felt a kinship with the untamed alo’oe soaring above him on the rising evening thermals ... then that was good and right as well. He had sprung from this land. He was home.
With a flourish, he swirled the midnight blue cape around his shoulders and pinned it into place. Walking toward the gray hox that awaited him, he felt like a different person. Suddenly, he felt that he belonged here in this world, in this time, and that the other Spock, the starship officer, was only a fading dream. Logic seemed a distant, meaningless concept to him, a waste of energy when one had fine steel at his side.
The hox had stood remarkably calm when Spock had been battered and thrown about by the whirlwind, as if not surprised at what was happening, and now it tossed its head in recognition of its new master, champing at the bit in its mouth. Spock patted its thick neck then gathered the reins in one hand as he grasped the saddle, put his foot in the stirrup and swung up onto the animal’s back. This felt right, too, as if it was where he was meant to be. He paused for a second to puzzle over this, for it made no sense to him. Although he had ridden hoxa occasionally as a child, it had been on a recreational basis. He had very little experience with the beasts and surely should not feel as comfortable in the saddle as he did now. But something about this particular hox bespoke confidence and partnership, though Spock couldn’t explain why he felt this. He shook the sensation away as unimportant. The saddle fit him like a glove and he felt empowered in his new guise.
A strange feeling of excitement suffusing him, Spock turned the hox eastward toward Seleya, looming on the horizon, and touched his heels to the animal’s flanks. The hox snorted in eagerness and broke into a smooth gallop down the wide, dusty road.