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) 1980 by Kate Birkel. This story is Rated PG13. It was originally published in Starweaver, 1980.
0748.5 hours. The turbo elevator shooshed open. Lt. Commander Spock stepped onto the bridge. He shot a quick but unobtrusive glance around, then nodded to himself. Aside from the new Captain, who seemed to be an early riser, none of the first watch bridge personnel had made their appearance yet.
Captain James T. Kirk swivelled the command chair slightly to see who had just come on the bridge. "Good morning, Mr. Spock."
After two weeks, it was still not quite acceptable to Spock to be greeted by this man, instead of Chris Pike.
"Good morning, Captain," Spock responded stiffly. Kaiidth! It was done. Chris Pike had moved on. This new human was the Captain of the Enterprise now. It had been Spock's own decision to remain on board rather than transfer to a totally new ship. He could not help but think though, that maybe he hadn't made the best decision. Enough. Resolutely, the Vulcan put the matter out of his mind. Face and eyes devoid of expression, he moved to the science station.
"Morning, Mr. Spock." Ensign Carla Pelham stood up and stretched her weary muscles. "Nothing to report, sir." Pelham was a holdover from Chris Pike's crew and had a lively respect and liking for the Vulcan. Alien he might be, but he *was* the best Science Officer in the Fleet. It was a pity others could not appreciate that simple fact.
"Thank you, Ensign. Dismissed." Spock slid into the chair.
Pelham stared doubtfully at the back of his head for a few seconds, then shrugged. Ever since the new captain had taken over the command chair, Spock had been totally Vulcan, but Pelham knew better. Under Chris Pike, the Vulcan had been more relaxed, permitting his elusive human half to peek out of those brown eyes occasionally. Well, she really couldn't blame him for being so stiff-necked. Chris Pike had valued Spock as a person as much as a science officer. This new captain showed no such interest. Both he and the new command crew seemed unable to see past the pointed ears and flaring eyebrows. Pelham shrugged again, it was their loss.
* * *
Spock's fingers began moving quickly, surely, through the maze of buttons and toggles on his board. He kept his eyes glued to the readout panels, firmly shutting out the sounds of the rest of the bridge crew arriving. He knew that unless it was in the line of duty, he would be undisturbed during the shift or in the long evening hours following.
One voice, however, he could not dismiss so easily. "Morning, Jim!" The First Officer was .5 minutes late for duty, as usual. Something buried deep within Spock's human heritage quivered with distaste. Of all the officers Kirk had brought with him to the Enterprise, Gary Mitchell was the only one Spock could not respect. Ignorant, egotistical, this First Officer was a far cry from Pike's Number One.
Spock felt no such antipathy for the other new officers. Kirk had handpicked them himself and Spock was deeply impressed with the Human's judgment. Uhura, Sulu, Scott, Kelso, Finney. They were professionals who knew and loved their jobs, but Mitchell left him cold. The man was competent enough as Navigator and Exec, but Spock simply could not respect him.
* * *
The day continued and Spock remained silent and withdrawn, focusing solely on his own duties. He responded with curt brevity to the questions directed at him. His reports of sensor readouts were equally concise and toneless. Hours ago, Chris Pike would have been at his shoulder demanding to know what was the problem this time, dammit. This crew did not have the faintest idea Spock was acting abnormally. It didn't occur to the Vulcan his own defensive mechanisms were helping to create the yawning chasm between himself and others.
Stubborn Vulcan pride saw Spock through another long, lonely day.
* * *
Hurrying to his quarters, Spock passed Mitchell and Scott in the corridor. He was acutely aware their conversation ceased when he drew abreast of them. They waited until he was out of Human earshot, forgetting his superior Vulcan hearing.
"Aye, that one gives me the creeps," Scott comment softly.
"He gives everyone the creeps," Mitchell agreed carelessly.
Spock kept his eyes straight forward, his face rigidly Vulcan.
* * *
Once in the safe haven of his quarters, Spock permitted himself the luxury of dropping his exaggerated Vulcan pose. He sat at his desk, staring morosely at the unlit view screen.
*Humans!* his Vulcan half thought in disgust. It was so irrational to base dislike on the basis of physical and cultural differences. Conveniently, he forgot the miseries of his half-Human childhood on Vulcan. At moments like this, Spock tended to shove his Humanness into a dark corner of his mind where it was no more than faint annoyance. Chris Pike had been an expert at ferreting out that Humanness, but Chris Pike was gone. The Vulcan remained in control.
* * *
"Doesn't he ever knock off?" Lt. Lee Kelso nudged Sulu, pointing his chin to where Spock was eating his dinner. As had become his habit during the last two weeks, his sole companion was a lit viewscreen.
"I don't think so," Sulu sighed ruefully. "But he sure is a good Science Officer. The people down in the Botany Labs think he's the greatest."
"The computer techs feel the same way," Lt. Uhura commented, sneaking a look at the engrossed Vulcan out of the corner of her eye. "I went down to check out the new relay system and they told me he'd already taken care of it and if I had any questions or problems to talk to him."
Kelso frowned. "That's what they told me, too. It's like they won't make a move down there without checking it out with him first." There was an undercurrent of hostility in Kelso's words.
At that moment, Spock snapped off his viewer and stood up. Carrying his tray, he moved gracefully past their table. Nothing in his face or demeanor indication he was remotely aware of them, or for that matter, anyone else in the mess hall.
Uhura stared thoughtfully at his retreating back. "I was talking to Ensign Pelham yesterday."
"Third Watch Science Officer?" Sulu asked.
Uhura nodded. "She seemed defensive about him. She kept saying we were hurting his feelings."
"Don't be silly!" Kelso snorted. "Vulcans don't have feelings."
"Carla told me he's part Human, though." A frown crossed Uhura's face. "She told me something else, too. She warned me to watch out for his sense of humor -- it was deadly."
"Dead is what she meant," Kelso said acidly. "He wouldn't know a joke if he stepped on it."
Uhura cast her mind over the last two weeks. Settling into her new job and responsibilities had not left her much time to study the Vulcan, but there had been a few occasions when she could have sworn she saw something in those dark eyes, before it was masked. "I wonder..." she said softly.
"Hi, people. What's up?" Gary Mitchell dropped into an empty chair, grinning expectantly at their serious faces.
"Uhura here is trying to convince us that Spock has a sense of humor," Kelso explained, shaking an admonishing finger at the communications officer.
Mitchell stared at Uhura, then broke into peals of laughter. "You've got to be kidding!"
Uhura gave it up.
* * *
Back in his quarters, Spock moved his Queen. The computer promptly countered with a move of its own. Stalemate. Spock sighed. Somebody on board the Enterprise had to know how to play the game properly...
* * *
"Energize, Mr. Kyle," Captain James T. Kirk ordered quietly.
"Aye, sir." Lt. Kyle's hands moved expertly over the transporter controls. "Now beaming in Dr. McCoy aboard, sir."
Kirk and the two officers with him straightened and faced the transporter platform. The form of the Enterprise's new Chief Medical Officer sparkled into existence.
Leonard McCoy carefully expelled the breath he was holding and unscrewed his eyes. Once more, his luck had held. He had survived another death defying trip through the damn atom scrambler.
McCoy focused on the man standing in front of him dressed in a gold shirt. That would be his new captain. "Lt. Commander Leonard McCoy reporting for duty, sir," McCoy announced lugubriously. Gingerly, he stepped down from the platform, running a quick mental check to ascertain everything was in its correct place and functioning properly. He sighed a little in relief, finding his body in order.
The Captain hid a grin. Through the Starfleet grapevine, he had heard of McCoy's aversion to the transporter and a few of the other little personality quirks which had made him one of the top surgeons and doctors in the Fleet. "Welcome board, Doctor. I'm Captain Kirk. This is the First Officer, Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell, and the Science Officer, Lt. Commander Spock." Kirk indicated the two officers.
Instantly, McCoy's transporter phobia was driven from his mind by a new source of dismay. A Vulcan -- the Science Officer was Vulcan! "Oh, my god." McCoy closed his eyes and moaned piteously to himself.
"Is something the matter, Doctor?" Kirk asked solicitously, knowing full well what the problem was.
"N-no..." McCoy shook his head. "If someone will show me the way to Sickbay, I'd like to get started."
"Mr. Spock," Kirk said.
"Yes, Captain." The Vulcan's voice was startlingly deep.
"Show Dr. McCoy around."
"Yes, sir." The Vulcan nodded stiffly, his face and eyes totally devoid of expression. "This way please, Doctor."
* * *
...SPOCK, LT. COMMANDER. U.S.S ENTERPRISE, CHIEF SCIENCE OFFICER.
McCoy looked up from the viewer shuddering. What in the galaxy was he going to do about this one? Vulcans were a rarity in Starfleet and he'd never even had to treat one before, much less assume full medical responsibility for one. And to complicate matters, this one was half Human. Not that the Science Officer had betrayed it by so much as a flicker of an eye during the tour of the ship yesterday.
"Nurse Hansen!" McCoy pressed the intercom button. "Come in here for a moment, would you?"
Almost before McCoy's finger left the button, the Head Nurse was in his office. A tall, raw boned woman, Hansen radiated competence. McCoy was sorry she was planning to retire as soon as he had settled into his new ship. Good Head Nurses were hard to find.
"I've been scanning the medical files of the senior officers and have run into a bit of a problem."
Hansen grinned sympathetically. "Mr. Spock?"
"Mr. Spock." McCoy nodded in agreement. "His records are kind of sketchy. What's your opinion of him?"
"Mr. Spock is one of the nicest people on this ship," Hansen replied promptly. "He'll do anything for anyone." Noticing McCoy's puzzled frown, the nurse went on to explain. "He's being obnoxious right now. He's upset because Captain Pike was promoted off the Enterprise, so he's been sulking for the past two months. You'll just have to learn to live with it for a while."
McCoy winced, remembering the Science Officer's flat brown eyes. There didn't seem to be much of a future there. "What else can you tell me about him?"
Hansen grinned again. "Mr. Spock is undoubtedly the worst patient on this ship, although the new Captain seems to be a close second. He has absolutely no use for Sick Bay or Human medical knowledge."
"How do you people treat him?" McCoy asked faintly, feeling as if he were wandering blindly through Never Never Land.
"Well, that depends on the circumstances, Doctor," Hansen replied. "If Mr. Spock's conscious when they haul him in here, he tells us what to do. If he's unconscious, which thankfully doesn't happen too often, Dr. Boyce had a textbook we referred to. I don't think the Doctor took it with him, although I haven't looked for it to make sure. Do you want me to find it for you?"
"A textbook?" McCoy was totally bemused. "He tells you what to do or you use a textbook?"
Hansen gazed off into space above McCoy's head. "Dr. Boyce was an excellent Ship's Surgeon, but he just wasn't a match for Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock could con Dr. Boyce into believing almost anything."
"There'll be no more of that nonsense!" McCoy spoke forcefully. "I'm the Doctor here now." He frowned down at the file showing on the viewer. "I notice Mr. Spock is overdue for his annual physical. Any particular reason?"
"Dr. Boyce felt you might like to do it yourself -- give you a chance to see what he looks like under normal circumstances so you would have something to compare." Hansen paused for a moment, then uttered a sentence which made McCoy's blood run cold. "Mr. Spock is rather accident prone."
McCoy made a strangling sound in his throat. "What is that supposed to mean, Nurse Hansen?"
"You've heard the old expression, 'Curiosity killed the cat'? Well, Mr. Spock must be part cat because he's got enough curiosity for ten of 'em. He just doesn't watch where he's going sometimes and then we've got a mess on our hands." Hansen shrugged expressively.
McCoy squared his shoulders. "Well, Nurse, let's get Mr. Spock down here for his physical and get it over with." Firmly, he pushed the intercom button for the science station.
"Spock here," the alien's deep voice responded immediately.
"McCoy, Sick Bay. Your records indicate it's time for your annual physical. When can you come down?"
"The physical will have to wait, Doctor. I cannot waste my time with such trivialities at the present moment. Spock out."
"Now wait just a cotton pickin' moment!" McCoy sputtered. "Starfleet regulations..."
"I am perfectly aware of Starfleet regulations, Doctor." Spock's voice was impatient. "You will discover that I have precisely six point three days to report for my physical. Spock out."
McCoy's finger slid nervelessly off the intercom. He looked at Hansen, who merely looked back at him with a "Well, what else is new?" expression on her face.
"I'm not going to take this lying down!" McCoy swore. "Nurse, find that book. I'm going to the bridge!"
* * *
Spock slid off the examining table and glared balefully at the Chief Medical Officer. "Are you quite through now, Doctor?" he asked icily.
"Yes, Mr. Spock, I'm quite through." McCoy put his hands behind his back, rocking lightly on his heels. A self-satisfied grin lit up his face. "Thank you for your cooperation."
Wordlessly, the Vulcan stalked out of Sick Bay.
McCoy's grin faded. He had the examination results, but damned if he knew what they meant.
The Head Nurse came around the corner at the moment, clutching a cassette in her hand. "I found it, Doctor..."
* * *
"Medical team to the Transporter Room. Code 1."
McCoy ran from his office, Hansen falling into place behind him. They raced into the Turbolift. "Transporter Room!" McCoy barked.
McCoy and Hansen reached the transporter room just in time to watch Spock pitch forward off the platform onto his face. Scanner in hand, McCoy knelt next to the unconscious form. "What happened?"
"I don't know, Doctor," Kyle reported unhappily. "Mr. Spock transported down about half an hour ago. He said he needed a sample for the lab. Next thing I know he's calling to be brought up and that he's been injured."
McCoy ran the scanner over the Vulcan's body. The instrument squawked in protest. "Oh hell!"
Hansen snatched the scanner out of his hands. "Let me, Doctor." Quickly, she adjusted the scanner, then handed it back to McCoy. "Give that a try!"
McCoy ran the scanner again. Heartbeat, respiration, and pulse registered, but the frustrated Doctor had no idea what he was reading. Pocketing the useless instrument, McCoy gently rolled the Vulcan onto his back. The Doctor's stomach contracted.
Green blood was flowing profusely from a jagged long cut just above one upswept eyebrow, the front of the Science Officer's blue shirt was shredded, showing Spock's lean chest covered with grit and more green blood. One arm rested at an impossible angle, indication a probable fracture, and green blood was everywhere. Horribly fascinated, McCoy stared at it. Intellectually, he knew the Science Officer's blood was copper based, but face to face with the reality was a different matter. It wasn't right somehow.
"Is he going to be all right, Doctor?" Kirk's voice queried.
McCoy tore his eyes away from the revolting green blood. "I don't know yet, Captain. I have to get him to Sickbay."
* * *
"There. That ought to do it." McCoy stepped back from the operation table to snatch one last quick glance at the illustration in the text book. "I don't think I missed anything."
"Very good, Doctor." Hansen nodded. "Shall I prepare to close now?"
"Yes, Nurse." McCoy bent back over the Vulcan. Hansen slapped the electronic suturer into the open palm of his hand.
* * *
Worriedly, McCoy studied the diagnostic panel above the comatose Science Officer's bed. The readings were low, impossibly low, even for a Vulcan. Something was wrong and McCoy simply could not discover what it was. Several long hours of pouring over the Vulcan textbook had produced no clue as to the cause of the dismal life indications.
"Damn," McCoy muttered to himself, shoulders sagging briefly. // I've done everything I can think of, and still he doesn't respond. I've patched up worse and had 'em snap out of it faster... //
Depressed by his apparent failure, McCoy turned away.
* * *
"Doctor?" The alien's deep voice was a mere shadow of itself.
McCoy spun around, eyes automatically seeking the diagnostic panel. Unbelievably, they were zooming up to a more acceptable level. McCoy met the Vulcan's eyes. Something flickered in them -- amusement maybe? McCoy chided himself for an over active imagination.
McCoy cleared his throat. "How are you feeling, Mr. Spock?"
"I am fine, Doctor." Spock stirred restlessly in the bed. "Further treatment will be unnecessary. I will leave sickbay shortly."
McCoy put his fists on his hips and glared at his patient. "You are not fine, Mr. Spock. And you are not leaving this Sickbay until I say so. I've heard about your tendency to practice medicine without a license, but that's all over now. I am the doctor here -- not you."
The Vulcan cocked one eyebrow at the Human. "Such vehemence is irrational, Doctor. You will find that most of the internal injuries have healed themselves and that the bones have already started to fuse. I am a Vulcan and thus able to control and speed up the healing process."
McCoy whipped the scanner out of the pocket of his jacket and ran it over Spock's body. He frowned and looked at the thing. No matter how much he tinkered with it, it still didn't make sense. Vulcans!
Painfully, Spock tried to sit up.
"Oh, no, you don't!" McCoy pointed a stern finger at him. "You just lay right back down there." His expression softened a little. "Look, Spock. I have a responsibility to you and this ship. Letting you go would be a breach of ethics on my part. Until I am reasonably sure you are well enough, you're staying put."
"Doctor, your concern on my behalf is totally misplaced," Spock insisted harshly. "I neither desire it nor appreciate it. I am a Vulcan. Your ministrations are no longer necessary. My body is capable of healing itself. Any further meddling on your part will only delay that healing."
McCoy stiffened. "I may not know much about Vulcan physiology, Mr. Spock, but I know enough Human physiology to know that you are not ready to be discharged from this Sick Bay."
"Doctor, to all intents and purposes I am a Vulcan. My Human part is controlled by my Vulcan half. I am ready to leave Sickbay." Spock's voice was tight.
Instead of replying, McCoy busied himself with readying a hypo.
"What is that, Doctor?" Spock demanded. McCoy fancied he heard a note of worry in the alien's voice.
"A sedative to calm you down," McCoy replied shortly. "You're getting all excited and it can't be doing you any good."
"Becoming excited is a Human trait, Doctor," Spock announced icily. "I do not suffer from such irrational emotions."
The hypo hissed against the Vulcan's sinewy arm. "Well, you're giving a remarkable imitation, then, Mr. Spock." McCoy waited for the sedative to take effect. It didn't. The Vulcan's eye's remained wide open and staring. McCoy checked the hypo. Miserable Vulcan.
"Your dosage was undoubtedly correct for a Human, Doctor," Spock commented coldly. "However, all you have succeeded in doing is making me thoroughly nauseated. Now, will you cease this infernal interfering?"
McCoy stared at Spock. Impasse, he thought.
* * *
Morosely, McCoy stared into the depths of his half empty coffee cup. Last night's stalemate with the Vulcan Science Officer was eating at him like a canker. As McCoy saw it, he could either establish his authority over the Vulcan from the start or give it up altogether -- and Leonard McCoy was not a man who gave up easily.
"Good morning, Doctor." The Captain stood in front of McCoy's desk. "I thought I'd stop in and check up on Mr. Spock."
"Oh, he'll survive," McCoy reported glumly. "I don't know if *I* will though."
Kirk nodded sympathetically. "Dr. Boyce recommended you for this post, you know," he remarked casually.
"Oh, great." McCoy groused. "Didn't anyone stop to think to ask me if I really wanted it?"
"Doctor, I understand your feelings." Kirk chose his words carefully. "Spock is a strange creature. I've been here for two months now and don't know any more about him than the day I stepped on board. None of us know him, but he is a fine officer and the best Science Officer in the fleet. Besides, Doctor, you will not be dealing with him often as a patient."
"I sincerely hope so." McCoy said gloomily. "Once is enough for me. That damn fool doesn't know when to give up." McCoy stood up. "Let's go take a look at him."
* * *
The Vulcan's eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow. McCoy glanced at the diagnostic panels. Once more they were reading abnormally low. McCoy gazed thoughtfully at the quiescent figure in the bed. An idea was forming in his mind -- one that did not bode well for the future.
"Mr. Spock?" McCoy spoke quietly. He watched the diagnostic panel rather than the Vulcan. "Mr. Spock?" A little louder this time. Yes -- the readings were on the rise.
Spock's eyes opened. "Yes, Doctor?"
"The Captain stopped by to see how you are doing," McCoy announced blandly.
The flat brown eyes shifted slightly to take in Kirk. "I am fine, sir." There was virtually no inflection to his voice. "I regret any inconvenience my absence from the bridge may have caused. I should be able to resume my duties as soon as Dr. McCoy sees fit to release me, which I trust will be shortly."
Kirk waved the apology away with a quick gesture. "What happened down there, Spock? We found your tricorder at the base of a cliff. Don't tell me you fell forty feet."
"No, Captain. Merely twenty feet five inches." Something ... chagrin? ... flickered in the eyes for one brief moment. "I miscalculated how much weight a small outcropping half way up the cliff would hold."
"Ah, Mr. Spock." Kirk regarded the Science Officer strangely. "What were you doing on that particular outcropping?"
"The sensor scans indicated a particularly prime example of an igneous rock formation previously unclassified there. I was merely endeavouring to secure a sample of it for the lab," Spock explained with great dignity.
"I see." Kirk thought for a moment. "In the future, Mr. Spock, would you please be a little more cautious?"
"Yes, Captain." Spock nodded. "I assure you, I had no intention of falling when I climbed up there."
"Glad to hear it, Mr. Spock. Report to the Bridge when Dr. McCoy releases you."
"Of course, sir."
As Kirk left Sick Bay, McCoy pulled out his scanner. Carefully he readjusted it to the Vulcan, or at least what he hoped was to the Vulcan. Spock eyed the instrument distastefully, but made no comment. Carefully, McCoy ran the instrument over the Science Officer's body.
"You seem to have made a miraculous recovery, Mr. Spock," the Doctor commented casually. "Your internal organs show no sign of injury at this moment. Your ribs and arm are healing nicely."
"I could have told you that, Doctor, without your having to resort to the scanner," Spock snapped. "May I go now?"
"Just a minute here." McCoy lifted the bandage over the cut forehead. There was scant evidence of the huge tear that had been there only a few hours previously.
"I don't suppose you'd care to tell me how you did it?" McCoy rocked on his heels, hands behind his back.
"I doubt you would understand the process, Doctor," Spock said with a hint of smugness. "It is a mental technique common among my people."
"Ummmm ...." McCoy commented neutrally. "Well, I see no further reason for holding you here. Check back with me tonight after you go off duty so that I can make sure you're not overdoing it."
"There is no need for that, Doctor," Spock demurred.
"Would you like to spend the rest of today in Sick Bay?" McCoy countered.
Suddenly gleaming brown eyes met twinkling blue ones. "I shall return for a checkup after my watch," the Vulcan nodded.
"Thank you Mr. Spock." McCoy concealed his feelings of triumph.
* * *
Thoughtfully, McCoy regarded the list of books he had written down, all dealing with Vulcan physiology. They ought to do for starters. Dr. Boyce's book was extremely limited in its scope. It neglected to mention anything about Vulcan ability to consciously control bodily functions, and after this morning's demonstration, McCoy was positive such a technique existed.
McCoy pulled a requisition blank from his desk drawer. Hopefully, he'd have a chance to study some of these before the Science Officer found another cliff to fall off. Playing one-ups-manship without knowing the ground rules was an uncomfortable situation.
"Doctor?" McCoy looked up to see the object of his concern standing in front of his desk, an almost pleasant expression on his face.
"Right on time, Mr. Spock," McCoy said approvingly.
"Of course, Doctor." One eyebrow rose partway up Spock's forehead. His eyes flickered over McCoy's requisition form, then sought a point above McCoy's head. "May I suggest Thompson's Vulcan Anatomy and Physiology? I find it has the least amount of error. I believe it is scheduled for publication in twenty-three days..."
* * *
Holding himself stiffly erect, Spock entered the small conference room. "You wished to speak to me, Captain?"
"Yes, I did, Mr. Spock." Kirk indicated the chair on the other side of the small table. "Please be seated."
With his usual feline grace, the Vulcan slipped into the offered chair. He propped his elbows on the edge of the table, steepling his fingers. His eyes were merely watchful, not betraying any of the thought processes behind them.
Kirk looked at the Science Officer, suddenly uncertain of how to begin. After nearly six months close association, the Vulcan was still an enigma to him. Not for the first time, he wondered if it was his imagination the Vulcan was beginning to be readable.
Spock waited patiently.
Finally, Kirk cleared his throat. "I seem to have a bit of a problem, Mr. Spock."
One eyebrow rose slightly. "Indeed, Captain." The voice was neutral, almost too much so.
"The position of First Officer must be filled." Kirk wasted no time beating around the bush. "I am asking you to accept it."
"I have stated before, Captain, I have no desire for a command position." Spock's reply was instantaneous, as if he had anticipated the request. "I find the duties of Science Officer enough to satisfy me."
Kirk nodded. It was in the Vulcan's file that he had refused the same offer before. Only that time, it had been First Officer of the Intrepid. That refusal could be interpreted two ways -- one, that Spock did not wish to leave the Enterprise, or two, he actually did not want the responsibility. Now Kirk knew from which angle to attack the problem. "I don't think the two positions would be mutually exclusive," Kirk suggested wryly. "In fact, I believe they would enhance one another."
"No, thank you, Captain," Spock refused again, politely.
"Look, Spock," Kirk leaned toward the Vulcan, his voice hardening. "We don't have much of a choice here. Frankly, you are the only one on board the Enterprise capable of handling the job. In fact, you have been handling it ever since Gary Mitchell's death." Kirk stumbled a little over the last three words. The wound was still too fresh.
"Only until a more suitable candidate was found," Spock insisted.
Kirk grit his teeth. It looked like it was going to be a long, uphill battle. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Mr. Scott wants the position even less than you do," Kirk replied brusquely. "Plus, I feel he is less qualified than you are."
The Vulcan stared at Kirk, his steepled fingers tapping against each other. "Mr. Sulu."
"Mr. Sulu is an excellent helmsman and will make a fine First Officer," Kirk smiled grimly. "...at some later date."
Spock's eyebrows rose. "Mr. DeSoto." Kirk thought he detected a note of desperation.
"Mr. DeSoto is perfectly capable of losing his head in a crisis." Kirk's voice was deadly.
The Science Officer's eyes sought a point above Kirk's head and his mouth tightened. "Miss Uhura."
"Not qualified enough. Give her a few more years." Kirk dismissed the lovely Communications Officer. "Any more bright ideas?"
Stubbornly, the Vulcan held his tongue.
Suddenly Kirk slammed his fist down on the table top. Spock looked at him quickly, then glanced away again. "Dammit, I want you in that spot! If I had wanted any of the others there, I would have asked them!"
Spock's eyes clouded momentarily. "Captain, a Vulcan Science Officer is one thing." His voice was oddly gentle. "A Vulcan First Officer would not be nearly as acceptable -- both on board this ship and to Starfleet. The crew of the Enterprise is 97.5 Human. I believe there would be a certain amount of friction."
"A very valid point, Mr. Spock," Kirk agreed, silkily. "Is that why you're refusing the post -- because you're afraid of trouble with the rest of the crew?"
"Fear is an emotion," Spock stated icily. "I am not an emotional being."
Kirk bit back his retort. "Look, Spock, I had two choices." Kirk tried to keep his tone reasonable. "I can either promote you into the First Officership or bring in an outsider. I would just as soon keep it within our ship. Most of the crew knows you and I don't think there is going to be that much static, certainly no more than you get ..." Kirk suddenly realized what he had been about to say and had the grace to flush.
"No more than I normally received," Spock finished for him, evenly, any trace of hurt carefully concealed. "Captain, I am perfectly aware I am an anomaly aboard the Enterprise. Accepting the post of First Officer would only aggravated an existing condition. Plus, I do not want the position," Spock finished up firmly.
"I don't have the authority to force you to take it." Kirk stared coldly at the Science Officer. "I just wish you would reconsider your reasons for not accepting it."
"I am satisfied with the duties of Science Officer," Spock repeated stubbornly. "I do not wish to command."
"And I think you are lying to yourself," Kirk spoke harshly.
For one incredible long moment hate blazed in the Vulcan's eyes. Then it was gone, replaced by the customary inscrutability. "I do not wish to discuss this any further."
Encouraged by that sign of life, Kirk pressed on. "Isn't it time you grew up a little, Mister? You've been in Starfleet for nearly eighteen years and Chief Science Officer for ten. You can't spend the rest of your life hiding in the sand."
The Vulcan took his time answering, examining his hands for several moments. "May I ask why you are so insistent that I take the post, rather than some other more qualified officer outside the Enterprise who would sincerely want it?"
Kirk squirmed a little. This was going to be difficult to explain without embarrassing the alien too much. "Because I think you've been playing a game with me for the last six months. I admit, you had us all fooled for a while, but I think some of us are beginning to catch on to the fact it is just a game."
Both of Spock's eyebrows rose into his hair. "I do not believe we have sustained any of our chess games for six months, Captain."
"I was not referring to a chess game, Mr. Spock," Kirk said sarcastically.
"Then I do not know to what you are referring, Captain."
"Be that as it may." Kirk shrugged the denial away. "You are the most qualified for the job on board this ship. You are the one person I can depend on not to lose your head in an emergency. As Science Officer, you already handle a great deal of the ship's business. In your own words, Spock, you are the logical choice."
"I see." Once again, the Science Officer's voice was completely neutral. "And when would this go into effect?"
Kirk hid his relief. "Immediately, Mr. Spock."
The Vulcan inclined his head briefly. "Very well, Captain. Then I accept. I trust neither of us has made a mistake this day."
"No, Mr. Spock, I don't believe either of us has made a mistake." Kirk stood up and offered the alien his hand.
Spock got to his feet and looked at Kirk's outstretched hand. Then, a dry hot hand crossed Kirk's cool one for a fraction of a second.
"Congratulations, Mr. Spock." Kirk grinned widely. "Let's go mind the store....."
* * *
Exhausted to the point of no return, Jim Kirk flopped down on the bed. The fight in the fierce Vulcan heat had taken more from him than he cared to admit. No wonder the First Officer ran around in thermal underwear all the time. Death Valley was a cold snap compared to Vulcan!
Thinking of his First Officer distracted Kirk from his own discomfort. The day's events must have been twice as hard on Spock, coming on top of at least two weeks of physical and mental stress beyond any Human's understanding. First, the rejection by T'Pring, then the knowledge he had killed his Captain, followed by the reunion in Sickbay. The latter had been the final straw for the Vulcan's normal imperturbably self control. Spock had managed to summon up a reasonably logical sounding explanation for his uncharacteristic emotional outbreak, but all three men knew it wasn't even remotely close to the truth.
Kirk's ruminations were disturbed by the door buzzer. Not bothering to stir from the bed, he called, "Come!"
McCoy entered the cabin, one hand wrapped protectively around the neck of a brandy bottle. "Doctor's orders," he said briskly.
"Of course." Kirk grinned.
The doctor rummaged around for a pair of glasses, pulled up a chair, handed one glass to Kirk, and then uncorked the precious bottle. Kirk sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
"How's Spock?" he asked, watching McCoy dispense the proper dosage.
"Sleeping like a log," McCoy replied smugly. "I lured him down to Sickbay for a quick scan and caught him with a sedative when he wasn't looking."
Kirk snickered. "That wasn't very ethical, Doctor."
"But effective," McCoy retorted. "He'll be okay in a couple of days. I think he just needs some sleep and decent food. I'd bet my last credit he hasn't slept a wink in the past two weeks."
Both men drank in silence for a few moments, cloaked in their own thoughts concerning the day's events.
"Jim," McCoy broke the silence abruptly. "I'm sending Starfleet a request for another doctor, one who's had experience with Vulcans."
Kirk nodded. "Bring me the forms tomorrow so I can sign 'em and get 'em off."
"Spock will still be my responsibility, but I need someone around who knows what he's doing," McCoy continued. "I thought I was finally learning my way around Spock and his backwards physiology -- and this thing blew up. Do you know there isn't one lousy reference to pon farr in that whole stack of Vulcan anatomy books I've got down there? All I knew for sure was that he was dying."
There was another short period of silence which Kirk disturbed this time to complain, "I don't understand it, Bones. How could a race as highly developed and intelligent as the Vulcans permit something like that fight today? Spock was honestly trying to kill me. This whole thing has been a disaster from the word go."
"That's why I'm getting another doctor," McCoy sighed. "The reproductive cycle is generally one of the most widely studied biological functions, yet I missed this thing by a mile. Makes me wonder what other nasty surprises Spock has hidden up his sleeve."
"Tell me about it," Kirk agreed morosely. "Like T'Pau at the wedding, or whatever you want to call it. And there's something else Spock never talks about -- his family. I offered him a chance to take a short leave at home since we were on Vulcan. We could have picked him up after the inauguration ceremonies with no trouble. He just sort of looked at me and said 'No, thank you.'" <Pic 5>
McCoy sloshed the brandy around in the glass, his lips pursed. "I'm beginning to think there's a lot more to Spock than we realize," he said slowly. "Like this home leave thing. I dug out his service records a while back -- the last time he refused leave. Today is the first time in eighteen years he's stepped foot on Vulcan. I noticed, too, he'd been offered the First Officer's post on the Intrepid a couple of years ago. It's funny. He's so damn Vulcan ... yet he avoids them like the plague."
"Did you get a chance to watch T'Pau and the others today?" Kirk asked.
"Did you notice how relaxed they all were compared to Spock? And I'm not referring to the way he's been for the last few days. I'm talking about how he is normally. I swear ... T'Pau nearly smiled at him. Maybe Spock's trying too hard to be Vulcan since he's part Human."
"Half-Human," McCoy corrected him absently.
"Half?" Kirk's jaw dropped.
"Sure ... didn't you know?" McCoy did a doubletake. "His mother."
"I didn't realize it was that close." Kirk was puzzled. "I always thought it was a grandmother or great-grandmother."
"There's so much we don't know about Spock!" McCoy swore in despair. "Like this mess today. He's been bonded to that ... that female," McCoy's voice shook with suppressed violence, "for nearly thirty years. But has he ever said one word about a wife? Hell, no! Do you realize we could mortally offend him without knowing it? He might have some weird taboo against pink roses or white shirts for all we know."
"That bothers me, too." Kirk shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot. "He won't tell us what it takes to be Vulcan. It's all trial and error. Push the wrong button and you get a readout that says, 'I am a Vulcan. Vulcans don't indulge in such irrational behavior patterns.'" Frustration showed clearly on Kirk's face. "Push the right button, and you get a blank stare."
"No, Jim. I think you're wrong there." McCoy disagreed quietly. "He didn't have to ask us to go down below with him. In fact, I was surprised he did. After all the dodging around he did to avoid letting us in on it, I would have thought taking us with him was the last thing he'd do. We may be getting further with him than either of us know. But we can't rush things too much. That monumental Vulcan pride, which we all know and love, has been severely traumatized. I've been divorced myself and it's no picnic. He needs time to get his perspective back."
"Yes ... but was he really married to her?" Kirk argued. "It's not as if he's spent any amount of time with her or anything of that nature. It's more like she left him standing at the altar."
"He had *something* with her for thirty years!" McCoy snapped. "How do we know what the heck happened way back then? It's still the same, his life is all messed up. What if that was the only chance he had to get married? If Vulcans bond all their children at age seven, there can't be that many unbonded females running around loose."
"But, then today wouldn't make any sense at all," Kirk objected. "If that Stonn had been bonded, he couldn't have claimed T'Pring. Or else there's going to be another challenge somewhere along the line."
McCoy shook his head. This was getting too deep for him. "Maybe we could go buy him a nice green Orion slave girl to get his mind off his problems."
"At least the color would be right," Kirk agreed solemnly, then broke down into a fit of laughter at the picture his mind conjured up of his First Officer in the arms of one of those legendary houris.
"There, that's better," McCoy grinned back. "It's Spock's problem for the time being. He'll just have to handle it in his own way. All we can do is listen to him if he decides to talk about it. And in a couple of years, he may be ready. After today, nothing he does is ever going to surprise me again."
Kirk had to admit the doctor was right in calling for caution, but it went against his grain to see the Vulcan, whom he had come to respect and value more than he ever thought possible, suffer any more than he already had. He thought back over the past year or so since he had taken over the Enterprise as Captain. Spock had at first appeared to be nothing more than a breathing extension of the computers he manipulated so brilliantly. But then, ever so slowly, Kirk had begun to penetrate the Science Officer's reserve, enough so to force him to accept the post of First Officer. That was a decision Kirk had never regretted. As First Officer, Spock had shored up his Captain like a pillar of stone, never pushing, but always there. And it hurt Kirk to think of that strength being eroded from within. Yet, it was incontestable that Spock was the author of his own private hells. This pon farr was a prime example of his inability to break out of the barriers he had erected around himself, for whatever reason they had been constructed in the first place. Spock had willingly chosen death over revealing a weakness. How many more times would he make the same decision?
McCoy sensed the Captain's unease. "Jim, we can't think for him, much as we'd like to. At the bottom line, he is a Vulcan. We can show him how to be Human, but we can't force him to be one. We can, however, learn to accept him as Vulcan. And hopefully, somewhere between the two, we can find him and he us."
Kirk nodded slowly. "You may be right, Doctor. But a few more days like today are going to make it pretty damn hard..."
* * *
"Bones ... Spock, ready?" Captain James T. Kirk hopped up onto the transporter platform next to him.
"As ready as I ever am to be scattered all over creation," Dr. Leonard McCoy grumbled, reluctantly joining the other two.
The Enterprise's transporter room faded out, to be replaced by its counterpart on Star Base III. A tall, heavy set man stood by the platform. "Jim! It's good to see you again," Commodore Jamison broke into a big smile. He nodded to the other two men. "Commander Spock, Dr. McCoy"
Kirk stepped off the platform and gripped the Commodore's outstretched hand. "It's been a long time, Frank. What's the problem? We were on our way to Aamana for the coronation when Starfleet diverted us here."
"Let's go into my office, Jim," the Commodore said heavily.
* * *
"I really don't know what the hell is going on, Jim." Jamison tipped his chair back, folding his hands across his stomach. "I can't get any information out of the Aamanese themselves. Normally, we don't mess with them much. They're a nice enough people, or at least they were up until the last couple of years or so. All they wanted was to be left alone. Now all of a sudden I'm getting reports of Klingon activity in that solar system. The old royal house had no use for the Klingons, even though Aamana lies closer to the Empire than to the Federation. But this Lord Marn seems to be encouraging them."
"We know," Kirk commented grimly. "Officially, we are attending the coronation. Unofficially, we're investigation Klingon activity. But if you can't tell me anything, why are we here?"
"I ... uh ... have a .. uh ... passenger for you," Jamison said carefully, too carefully. "The Aamanese government has ... uh ... 'requested' we put her on the fastest ship to Aamana. You were in the neighborhood and on your way there."
Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Who is she, Frank?"
"The Lady Kita." The other three in the room didn't notice Spock lean forward a trace. "She and an attendant were visiting on the planet Thanos when the Lady went totally insane and killed the attendant. The Thanosians panicked and dumped her on us."
"What have your people done for her?"
"Nothing." Jamison held up a hand to forestall McCoy's protests. "The Aamanese are a Vulcanoid race with highly developed psi powers. My people were afraid to mess. Instead, we informed the Aamanese she was here and requested instructions for treatment. We were told in no uncertain terms to do nothing!" The Commodore was clearly upset. "Just put her on a ship to Aamana. Jim, there's something fishy about this whole thing. She's mad as a hatter, yes, but there is something else there."
Kirk stood up. "Let's go."
* * *
The Lady Kita was standing near the Transporter station, a doctor and two orderlies watching her carefully. She was a small woman, extremely slender, with the flaring eyebrows and brown eyes of the Vulcanoid race, and dressed in a long, flowing gown, black hair cascading to her knees. There was a rigid, blank look on her delicately carved face, her eyes cloudy, unreadable. But it was not her physical appearance which arrested attention. It was the aura of raw power emanating from her.
"My god," Kirk muttered, glancing at Sock to see if he had felt it, also. Evidently the Vulcan had, because he was standing stock-still, both eyebrows lost in his hair. "What is it, Spock?"
"Unknown, Captain," Spock replied, almost absentmindedly.
"Might be psychic overspill," McCoy suggested brusquely. "Commodore Jamison said that the Aamanese have highly developed psi powers. We're probably catching the backlash of her insanity."
Spock looked at the doctor, his thoughts totally unreadable. "Yes, Doctor, that is a logical suggestion." He failed to voice the rest of his opinion, that it was not *the* answer. A gentle, silvery laugh floated briefly through his mind. His eyebrows remained lost in his bangs.
The Starbase doctor stepped forward and handed a cassette to McCoy. "She is extremely violent, Doctor. Right now, she's carrying a load of tranqs that would drop a Denebian slime devil. That's the best we could do for her. I suggest you do the same. Otherwise your entire ship is going to have a massive headache until you get rid of her."
McCoy accepted the cassette gingerly. "Oh."
* * *
"The High King died three months ago." Spock stood beside Kirk's command chair, hands clasped loosely behind his back, eyes staring into nothingness. "A regency under Lord Marn, who is not of the royal line, was declared in the absence of the Heir. The Princess vanished from Aamana eight of your earth years ago."
"Vanished, Mr. Spock?"
"Vanished, Captain." Spock repeated firmly. "There has never been a explanation offered by the Aamanese. At the time of her disappearance, the High King's mind was beginning to disintegrate, unfortunately, a common occurrence in the royal line of Aamana. Lord Marn's influence and power began to manifest itself at the same time. As the High King sank further into insanity, Lord Marn assumed more of the King's functions. Now that the High King is dead, Lord Marn has declared the Princess legally dead, the line of *no Lathul* is finished, and himself the logical man to take over the Kingship."
"But isn't there another member of the royal family who could become High King?" Kirk demanded.
"Not really, Captain. The royal family is not prolific. There are a couple of cadet branches, but it appears unlikely any member of them has the ability to be a High King."
"What does it take to become a High King, Mr. Spock?"
"Extremely high psi powers, Captain," Spock replied promptly. "Higher than either of us could imagine. The High King rules more empathically than legislatively."
Kirk winced. "After experiencing the Lady Kita, I hate to think of running into a member of the royal family."
"The Lady is insane, Captain," Spock reminded him. "She has no control over her mind. A competent, capable High King would have been able to exert considerable influence over the gestalt of Aamana."
Kirk stretched restlessly. "Yet you said the *no Lathul* were riddled with insanity. That would make for a pretty uncomfortable gestalt."
"Indeed, Captain," Spock agreed. "That is one of Lord Marn's arguments for a new dynasty. He personally does not appear to have the high psi powers necessary for the Kingship. I believe he has access to a mechanical device which boosts his psi powers."
Kirk glared at his First Officer. "That I find hard to..." He was interrupted by the sound of the intercom. "Kirk here."
"Sickbay, McCoy." The doctor sounded unhappy. "Could you send Spock down here? All the damn bio-comps have flipped their little circuits. I'm a doctor, not a repairman!"
Spock cocked an eyebrow speculatively. "On my way, Doctor."
* * *
Spock strolled into Sickbay to face an irate McCoy and frazzled Nurse Chapel. "What seems to be the problem, Doctor?"
"Christine tried to do a work up on the Lady Kita and the bio-comps went nuts!" McCoy snarled. "Even the miserable scanners won't work. As for the monitor..."
"Indeed, Doctor," Spock commented impassively.
McCoy grit his teeth. Damn Vulcan! "Would you please fix them?"
"I shall endeavor to do so, Doctor."
* * *
Spock pushed several buttons and peered at a few circuits in the bio-comp, then straightened and stood back. "May I see the patient, Doctor?"
"Sure." McCoy shrugged. "But what does that have to do with anything?"
The look Spock gave McCoy was tinged with amusement. "There is nothing wrong with your bio-comp, Doctor. I would be willing to say there is equally nothing wrong with your monitor."
McCoy's eyes widened. "Now why didn't I think of that!" he exclaimed disgustedly.
Spock barely restrained himself from answering.
* * *
The Lady Kita was in a private room. At Spock's request, McCoy left them alone. Spock stood quietly by the bed and stared at the Aamanese woman. The black eyes were still impenetrable cloudy, the face still blank. The aura of power was unmistakable, the face still blank. A feeling of doubt crept into the Vulcan. He had been so positive on Starbase III. Reluctantly ... hesitantly, Spock reached a hand out to touch that mad face.
"That won't be necessary, Mr. Spock." The amused voice spoke in fluent, idiomatic Vulcan. "Long life and prosperity." The Lady Kita sat up, eyes and face dancing impishly.
Spock allowed his hand to fall back to his side. He glanced up at the monitor above the bed. Healthy, stable Vulcanoid readings. "You are not insane," he stated quietly.
"Not for lack of trying!" Lady Kita snapped. "Miserable Klingons and their lousy Mindsifter. Reduced me to a gibbering idiot for three whole weeks."
Spock regarded her impassively. "I felicitate you on your complete recovery."
The Lady Kita looked at him for a moment, then broke down into spasms of helpless laughter. "Who else but a Vulcan!" ahe finally managed to gasp. "Thank you, Mr. Spock."
Radiating disapproval, Spock placed his hands behind his back. "You are also the missing heir, Princess Sikitaini ni Lathul."
The tiny Aamanese grinned wryly at him. "Very perceptive of you. Unfortunately for me, Lord Marn and Captain Kaz were just as perceptive." Angrily, she bounced off the bed. "I wasn't expecting that at all! They scrambled my brains before I even knew what hit me. Then they murdered my aunt." Her mouth tightened. "By the time I was able to reorganize my mind, I was already on Starbase III and those idiots were pumping me full of tranquilizers!" Indignation blazed on her face.
"Why didn't they just kill you?" Spock queried. "It appears to me that they would be better off with you dead as you are supposed to be."
"Lord Marn is not as quite as secure on his throne as he would like to be," the Lady Kita explained. "Yes, I am supposed to be dead, but I understand there is a core of doubt on Aamana. Lord Marn was able to rule through my father for years. Regency for an insane High King is acceptable to the Aamanese. Disposing of a millennium old dynasty may prove to be not as acceptable. If it is unacceptable, Lord Marn will be able to produce a live, but thoroughly insane, High Queen. Thus, the proprieties are observed."
"But why are you playing along with them?" Spock was genuinely puzzled.
The Lady made a disgusted face. "Power, Mr. Spock. Or rather, my lack of it right now. Lord Marn controls the Mind Enhancer, which puts him at my natural psi level. Given time to prepare, Lord Marn might be able to defeat me." She sighed heavily. "And there is another reason. When I left Aamana eight years ago, I *was* on the verge of insanity. I could not control myself, much less an entire world. Now that I have gained that control, I will have to prove I have it." She sat back down on the bed.
Quietly, Spock asked, "What do you propose to do?"
"I must challenge Lord Marn." The Lady looked down at the floor. "After that, I don't know. Lord Marn has totally disrupted the gestalt of Aamana. My people are not what they were eight years ago. Even if I succeed in getting rid of him, I don't know if I can restore the gestalt." There was misery in her eyes as she looked back up at Spock. "But I must try, Mr. Spock. I *am* the High Queen. Yet... I am still afraid. I may or may not be able to defeat the Mind Enhancer."
"May I help?"
"If I need help, yes... I will ask you." The Lady looked at Spock soberly. "I must warn you of one thing. You are a Vulcan and aware of the Mind Enhancer. You have the mental discipline to deal with it ... to protect your mind. The Humans on board this hip could very easily be destroyed by it. If Marn even thinks they have information concerning me, he will not hesitate to use it on them."
* * *
"Well, Spock?" McCoy demanded edgily.
"Yes, Doctor?" Spock looked at McCoy innocently.
"Was she screwing up the bio-comps and the rest of the medical equipment?" McCoy tried to keep from grinding his teeth. //Spock was doing it to him deliberately,// he moaned to himself. // Claimed he had no sense of humor. Lousy Vulcan humor is what he had. Wring his Vulcan neck someday.//
"Of course she was, Doctor," Spock said calmly. "I believe it is a manifestation of the insanity she is currently exhibiting."
"Can we get a decent work-up on her?"
"I doubt it, Doctor."
"Fat lot of help you are..." McCoy grumbled nastily.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "If I remember correctly, Doctor, on the occasion of my last physical you strongly suggested I gain a few pounds."
Unbelieving, McCoy stared at the impassive Vulcan. "Get the hell out of my Sickbay!" he suddenly screamed.
* * *
Kirk and Spock settled down in the briefing room to resume their interrupted conversation. Spock punched up a visual of Aamana on the viewer. It was a small planet, class M, with a sparce land mass.
"Aamana lies in the disputed area between the Federation and the Klingon Empire." Spock leaned both elbows on the conference table, making a steeple of his forefingers. "Until recently the Aamanese have observed a strict policy of neutrality. They seemed to feel neither side was worth bothering with."
"Then how can Lord Marn drag them into the Klingon camp?" Kirk demanded explosively.
Spock chose his words carefully. "The Aamanese have lost their hereditary, natural ruler. As I stated earlier, the *no Lathul* Kings had the mental ability to control the emotional atmosphere of the entire Aamanese population. That control is not being exercised by Lord Marn properly. The Aamanese are Vulcanoids and are perfectly capable of sliding back into barbarism and savagery. Peace does not come easily to us."
Kirk glanced sharply at his First Officer. The planet Vulcan had found peace at a price. There were other Vulcanoids, specifically the Romulans, who were not peaceful at all.
Ignoring Kirk's reaction, Spock continued. "I speculate the Klingons have dangled the lure of adventure and excitement in front of their eyes."
"So now the Aamanese are getting antsy," Kirk interjected.
Spock looked at him reproachfully. "*I* would not have put it quite that way, Captain."
"You never do, Spock!" Kirk grinned ruefully. He became serious. "So Lord Marn is the main problem."
"So it seems."
"We have two choices," Kirk mused. "We can either try to change Marn's mind, or find the lost Princess." Idly, he tapped on the table. "Is she really dead, like Lord Marn claims?"
"That appears to be what the Aamanese believe, Captain," Spock said carefully, finding his hands fascinating. "There have been no reliable reports concerning her presence or well being for several years."
There was something familiar about the Vulcan's pose and words. Kirk shot a quick, suspicious look at his First Officer. // He's stonewalling //, Kirk realized despairingly and he groaned inwardly. The Vulcan was a past master in the art. He could walk around a subject for days on end and never give a straight answer. // Sure Vulcan's don't lie, // Jim Kirk through bitterly. // They just edit the hell out of the truth!// It wasn't fair! Other Starship Captains had nice, normal Human First Officers. And what did Jim Kirk have? Jim Kirk had a walking computer with pointed ears! Jim Kirk was also developing a raging headache. He sighed. "What can you tell me about the royal heir?" He tried to keep the sarcasm out of this voice.
"Only child of the last High King. The mother was from a cadet branch of the Royal House and died approximately seven point five years ago. The High King never remarried. The girl seems to have been extremely intelligent and gifted with unusually strong psi powers, even for the *no Lathul.*"
"Would she have made an able High Queen?" Kirk asked hopefully. He knew the Vulcan was still playing the game. After so many years of close association, there was no way he could not know. But he also knew there had to be a logical reason behind it. Spock did not gratuitously stonewall. It didn't make his headache any better.
"There is always that possibility."
Kirk tried one more tack. "Would she favor the Federation?"
"Again, there is that possibility, although the *no Lathul* have traditionally opted for neutrality."
Abruptly, Kirk stood up. "Thank you, Mr. Spock. I am going to Sickbay. I have a headache." It was a point-blank accusation.
* * *
Twenty hours later, the Enterprise reached her destination and assumed orbit around the planet. About to beam down to the planet's surface for a conference with the soon to be High King, Kirk and Spock were called to Sickbay by McCoy.
The two men entered the Sickbay and were sent on to the Lady Kita's private room by Nurse Chapel. There they found McCoy and Dr. M'Benga, who had trained on Vulcan, working frantically over the tiny Aamanese woman.
"What's the problem, Bones?" Kirk asked.
McCoy turned a haggard face to them. "I don't know, Jim." He spoke bitterly. "M'Benga doesn't know either. Three hours ago, the Lady seemed to enter a coma. Since then, everything has gone straight down hill. I've pumped everything into her I can think of. M'Benga's done the same. She's still deteriorating. We sent a distress signal to the Aamanese and they won't respond. She's going to die at this rate, Jim, and there's not a damn thing we can do!" There was frustration in every line.
"May I, Doctor?" Spock stepped to the head of the bed.
"You can't do her any harm, Spock," McCoy said wearily. "Maybe you can get through to her."
Spock firmly placed his hand on the Lady's thin face. He set his mind. There was no response. Puzzled, he glanced at the monitor. Yes, the readings were dangerously low. He closed his eyes and tried again. Still there was no response. He reached further and further down into her mind, all to no purpose. There was simply nothing there. Finally, he retreated.
Three expectant faces waited. "I am sorry, gentlemen." He shook his head slightly, concealing his own confusion. "I went as far as I dared. The Lady Kita is beyond my reach."
* * *
"I bid you welcome, gentlemen." Lord Marn stood courteously behind his desk. Despite his pleasant words and actions, there was something vaguely nasty about him that Kirk did not like.
"Thank you, Lord Marn," Kirk spoke shortly. "Let's get down to business. The Federation wishes to know why Aamana is suddenly encouraging the Klingons in this solar system and what your intentions are."
Lord Marn pointed to two chairs in front of his desk and sat down himself. He began fingering a small white cube shaped object. "Your Federation has no right to meddle in Aamanese internal affairs, Captain Kirk. Aamana is an independent planet. We have no treaty or agreement with the Federation."
"The Federation has always respected Aamanese neutrality." Kirk emphasized the word. "However, a Klingon presence on Aamana would be a serious breach of our security in this sector.
"Federation security does not concern me in the least, Captain," Marn declared carelessly. "Aamanese interests do. At the moment, I feel the Klingons serve those interests more than the Federation."
"What interests, Lord Marn?" Kirk asked silkily. "Your claim to the throne, perhaps?"
Marn sent an inscrutable look at Kirk. "My claim to the throne is beyond question, Captain." He continued to finger the white cube. Spock eyed it speculatively, then wiped his mind clear of all except the immediate conversation.
"Do you have unquestionable proof the heir is dead?" Kirk pushed on.
"The heir as been missing for eight years." Lord Marn smiled coldly. "I really don't believe she will return to dispute my claim to the throne at this late date. All other members of the Royal Family have accepted her death. None of them wish the throne, however. The old dynasty is dead, Captain. Tomorrow is the start of the new one."
"But is she dead?" Kirk insisted.
"Captain," Spock said quietly, warningly. Both Marn and Kirk shot hard looks at him. The Vulcan betrayed nothing.
"There will be no Challenge to my throne, Captain Kirk." There was supreme self confidence in Lord Marn's voice and posture. He stood up. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have several small details to attend to for the coronation. I trust you and your officers still plan to attend?"
Kirk and Spock also stood. "Of course, Lord Marn," Kirk replied easily, his anger under control. "Good day."
"Oh, Captain," Marn added casually. "I have been informed the Lady Kita is still aboard the Enterprise. Her family is most anxious for her return."
Kirk stared incredulously at the Aamanese. "The Lady is dying Lord Marn. Dr. McCoy notified your government of that several hours ago and begged for an Aamanese doctor to attend her."
"But that is too bad, Captain," Marn replied smoothly. "I shall remedy that immediately."
* * *
Kirk slammed his fist down on the conference table. He glared at the stoic Vulcan. "I don't like it, Spock! He seems way too confident of himself."
"I agree, Captain." The Vulcan was making patterns with his fingers.
"He acts as if he has seen the corpse!" Kirk continued. "And you didn't help any."
Sublimely unruffled, Spock glanced mildly at the infuriated Kirk. "I did not see any logical conclusion to the argument. I did see where it could lead to a serious disagreement that could further worsen the Federation's relationship with Lord Marn."
That stopped Kirk in his tracks. Spock was the level-headed one, the one Kirk depended on to keep calm in any situation. Railing at him for doing his job wouldn't solve anything. "My apologies, Spock," Kirk sighed.
"Unnecessary, Captain." Was there a hint of amusement in those deep dark eyes? Kirk conceded the possibility. Vulcan opinion of Human hotheadedness...
"Bridge to Captain Kirk... Bridge to Captain Kirk." The intercom interrupted them.
"Yes, Mr. Sulu." Kirk put his finger on the switch.
"A Klingon vessel now establishing orbit around Aamana, Captain," Sulu reported crisply. "Transporter Room reports Lord Marn's personal physician just beamed aboard."
"On my way, Mr. Sulu. Kirk out." Kirk stood up. "Spock, go keep an eye on that doctor, would you? Something smells fishy here. There's more to that Lady than meets the eye." Kirk's voice trailed off. He looked at Spock, stark, frank horror in his eyes. "No..." he protested faintly. "It can't be.. She isn't..."
Spock was prepared for this moment. He had known all along the Human would make one of his intuitive leaps. "Yes, Captain, she is," he said quietly.
Kirk sank limply back into his chair. "Why didn't you tell me? I knew you were keeping something from me. I just didn't know it was this."
"She asked me not to," Spock said simply.
"You have talked with her?"
"Yes." Spock looked him square in the eye. "Jim, you must believe there is nothing you can do to help her now. Lord Marn has possession of the Mind Enhancer. None of us can fight that, not even me. She is beyond my reach. Let her die in peace."
"Can you?" Kirk demanded harshly.
"Yes, Jim, I can." Spock kept his eyes locked onto Kirk's, totally perjuring his Vulcan soul.
* * *
"He's hiding behind the planet for right now, Captain." Sulu relinquished the command chair. "It looks like Kaz to me."
Kirk made a face. Kaz was an ambitious, ruthless man, determined to reach the top. Securing Aamana for the Empire would be a nice little feather in his cap. "Open hailing frequencies, Lt. Uhura." Kirk sat down in the command chair and squared his shoulders. "Put it on visual."
The communications officer bent over her board, fingers dancing lightly over the controls. "Hailing frequencies now open, Captain. Now receiving."
An evil, grinning face filled the main viewing screen. "Captain Kirk, such a pleasure to meet you at last." Kaz's voice dripped through the speakers.
"The pleasure is all mine, Captain Kaz." Kirk forced himself to smile pleasantly. "What is your reason for being in Aamanese space?"
Kaz's grin did not waver in the least. "I was unaware I had to answer to you, Kirk. Aamana is a free planet. The Federation has no control over this sector. But it so happens I am the Empire's official representative to Lord Marn's coronation. I could ask you the same."
"I am here as the Federation representative to the Coronation," Kirk replied shortly. "I warn you, Kaz, the Federation will not tolerate any of your hanky-panky out here."
"Hanky-panky, Kirk?" The Klingon was innocence personified. "I am here on a purely diplomatic errand. Until tomorrow." The image faded out.
Kirk swung his chair in the direction of the science console, when Ensign Chekov was filled in for the absent Spock. "Mr. Chekov, I want that slimy bastard under 24 hour watch. If he so much as breathes heavy, I want a report."
"Yessir!" Chekov said smartly.
"Uhura, I want a recording of anything that comes out of or goes into that ship."
Kirk stood up. "Mr. Sulu, you have the con again. I'm going to Sickbay."
* * *
The knot of people surrounding the Lady Kita's bed was silent when Kirk entered the room. He could see that McCoy and M'Benga were both angry. The Aamanese physician had a defensive look on his face. Spock showed nothing.
"Well, Doctor?" Kirk demanded impatiently of the Aamanese.
The Aamanese straightened his shoulders and looked defiantly at Kirk. "My examination shows that there is nothing organically wrong with the Lady Kita. I believe in her insanity she is willing her own death. There is absolutely nothing I can do for her!"
"You're a doctor, dammit!" McCoy broke in angrily. "At least try something! Anything is better than letting her die!"
"Bones!" Kirk held up his hand to silence McCoy. "Did Lord Marn tell you to let her die?" His voice was harsh.
The Aamanese physician seemed to shrink a little and his gaze wavered. "You know." He said in a whisper. Kirk nodded. "No, Captain, Lord Marn did not issue those instructions. It is true I can do nothing for her." There was an unmistakable look of agony on his face. "I cared for her from the moment of her birth. She grew up under my eyes. I loved her more than my own children. Her mind is irretrievably gone. Let her die, Captain."
Total chagrin overtook the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer. "I'm sorry, Doctor," Leonard McCoy said gently.
"Bones, M'Benga, take him out and get him a cup of coffee or something," Kirk ordered.
"I wish to remain on board, Captain." The Aamanese Doctor smiled bleakly. "I brought her into the world. I will watch her pass from it."
Pity for the heartbroken man filled Kirk. "Of course, Doctor. But go with Dr. McCoy and Dr. M'Benga for right now." Kirk waited until they were out of earshot. "Spock?"
The Vulcan took a slow breath before making his report. "He is telling the truth, Captain. The Lady Kita is willing herself to die and there is nothing he can do about it. It is not uncommon among Vulcanoids."
"So Lord Marn becomes High King without one word of protest from anyone!" Kirk snorted.
"It would seem so," the Vulcan said with an air of finality.
Kirk spat out a single word and turned on his heel.
Spock looked down at the dying woman, a nagging doubt in his mind. He felt his hand reach out of its own volition to touch the white, sunken face. //Spock?// a tiny voice asked in his mind.
That silvery laugh drifted briefly through his mind. //I thank you, Mr. Spock.//
//It is not you whom I protect.// The Vulcan's thought was rigid.
//But of course, I knew that.// There was no recrimination in the Aamanese's thought, just calm acceptance. //I am grateful, however, to benefit from that protection.//
//I saw and felt the Mind Enhancer.// Spock projected an image of the white cube shaped object which Lord Marn had handled.
//Yes, that's it.// There was a momentary hesitation. //How strong was he?//
Spock projected what he had felt.
//That bad, eh?// There was a feeling of discouraged disgust. //Well, the worst I can do is lose and really wind up an idiot!//
* * *
Spock looked up from his console on the bridge and nodded briefly at Kirk. "I believe Lord Marn and Captain Kaz have concluded some sort of an agreement. If I am not mistaken, it is supposed to take effect immediately after the Coronation." He stopped speaking and began playing with his switches again. A few moments later he looked back up at Kirk, disdain written plainly on his face. "Kaz is reminding Lord Marn of a favor."
"What favor, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked.
"Clearing the way to the Aamanese throne." Spock's face became distant, unreadable.
"What!" Kirk shot to his feet and hurried over to the Science Officer's side. "Repeat that."
"Kaz admits to using the Mindsifter to drive the Lady Kita insane in order to secure the Aamanese throne for Lord Marn." Spock's fingers drifted idly over the console, his eyes watching the screens absent-mindedly. "Unfortunately, however, not in so many words. I do not believe it is sufficient to prove either party's guilt."
Kirk's shoulders slumped. "That tears it, then, Spock," he said heavily. "Lord Marn refuses to receive us again before the coronation and that woman is almost dead."
"Correction, Jim." McCoy's despondent voice said behind him. "That woman is dead."
* * *
Kirk, McCoy, Scott and Uhura materialized on the pathway leading to the Xanir, the Hall of Coronation. Spock had remained on board the Enterprise in order to handle the final disposition of the Lady Kita's body. The Aamanese doctor, totally broken, had beamed back down to the planet immediately after the death.
The Xanir was a relic of a violent past so common of the Vulcanoid race. There was but the single pathway leading to the crest of the high hill on which the Hall was located. Tall, forbidding walls recalled the time when the Xanir was the primary fortress of the High Kings.
* * *
The actual Hall of Coronation was a squat, circular building inside the walls. A solemn young man bowed to them at the single entrance and led them inside.
Kirk was immediately struck by the total lack of ornamentation of the interior of the hall. The walls rose straight up, grey and rough hewn with few windows to break their solidity. A huge skylight in the arched ceiling provided most of the light. Dominating the interior was a large circular dais in the exact center of the hall. A single throne, again grey and roughly hewn, sat on the dais. Maybe Spock would have understood the Xanir and felt comfortable in it. James Kirk didn't and was uncomfortable.
The tiers of rough, wooden benches leading away from the dais were packed with Aamanese, but there was no sound in the great hall. The Enterprise officers looked at each other, then away. Kirk could feel the undercurrents of grief and restlessness. The total silence unnerved him.
Wordlessly, the solemn young man led them to the first row of benches in a place off to one side of the throne. As they sat down they could see Kaz and three of his aides seated to the other side of the throne. Kirk ached to say something to McCoy and Scotty, but the silence around him kept him from doing so. He could detect the same conflict in the other three officers. He could not detect any discomfort in the smug Klingons, which further irritated him.
A gong sounded hollowly behind them. Kirk twisted around to see a young boy dressed in a white robe pace slowly down the aisle toward the dais. The boy mounted the few steps and went to stand in front of the throne.
"The High King, Areth ni Lathul, is dead!" the boy cried aloud. He paused for a few moments. There was no reaction from the Aamanese that Kirk could detect. "The Heir, Lady Sikitalni ni Lathul, is dead." Again no reaction. Kirk felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on edge. Next to him, McCoy stirred. "I, Gran ni Lathul claim the throne. Do any challenge?"
On cue, Lord Marn's voice echoed through the Hall. "I challenge."
The youngster bent his head. "I surrender to your challenge." He prostrated himself in front of the empty throne. Kirk fought down a feeling of frustrated rage. A ten year old child!
* * *
Spock strode into Sickbay, stopping to check with Nurse Chapel. "I will not be needing any assistance with the corpse, Nurse," he instructed her firmly. "There are certain Aamanese rituals common to both our people which must be observed. Please inform the rest of the medical staff to remain out of the room. I trust my previous orders to that effect have been followed?"
"Of course, Mr. Spock," Chapel replied. "Dr. McCoy saw to it himself before he left. No one has been in there."
"Very well, Nurse. Please continue with what you were doing."
* * *
As Spock entered the small room containing the supposed corpse, a very much alive Lady rose from where she had been sitting on the edge of the bed.
"You are ready to beam down, Highness?" Spock asked.
"I am not High Queen, yet, Mr. Spock," the Lady reminded him, a touch of asperity in her voice. "There is still the Challenge. I have been preparing myself for it. You must prepare yourself also." She placed herself solidly in front of the Vulcan. "This will not be easy. Were it not for the Mind Enhancer, I would not ask this of you. However, you are Vulcan, and have the necessary mental ability and discipline to withstand it. You will not be in direct contact with Lord Marn. I will merely draw on some of your strength to bolster my own. I believe I can guarantee no damage to your mind outside of a headache."
"I have heard of your skill in this area," Spock commented. "It is not generally done among Vulcans."
"I was under the impression you had severed relations with your family." The Lady was surprised.
"Not all of my family," Spock retorted. "I am not without my sources of information."
The Lady laughed with appreciation. "I am sorry I did not meet you earlier, Mr. Spock. Some members of the family are quite boring."
"At the moment, I do not regard this as a family matter," Spock said shortly. "This is strictly Federation business, and I am an officer of Starfleet. To lose Aamana to the Klingons would be a severe blow to Federation affairs in this quadrant."
The Lady's levity vanished. "Quite right, Mr. Spock, and also most logical." She closed her eyes and began to concentrate. "You must enter a light trance state at the time of beaming down so that I may draw upon your mind immediately. Now, we must go. Lord Marn has just issued Challenge to my young cousin."
* * *
The gong sounded again. Lord Marn, also dressed in a white robe, walked toward the dais. An aura of power, reminding Kirk of the dead Princess, seemed to radiate from the man as he strode up the steps and took a stance in front of the prostrate child.
"The dynasty of Lathul has surrendered the throne!" he announced in a powerful voice. "I, Marn ni Drason, claim the throne. Does any challenge?"
A familiar hum filled the room. Two shapes began forming on the platform.
"I, Sikitalni ni Lathul, Challenge!" The words rang through the great hall. The Lady Kita stood on one edge of the platform dressed in a long, flowing white robe. Spock, in his blue science uniform, seemed totally out of place.
"Oh my god..!" Kirk half rose from his seat, only to be pushed back down by McCoy. "Bones, that's Spock..!"
"You can't help him, Jim! Look at him!" McCoy whispered furiously. The Vulcan was rigid, eyes closed, his face stone. "Marn has the Mind Enhancer! Keep out of their way!"
Against all his instincts, Kirk remained seated, eyes fixed unblinking on the dais. He was aware the Aamanese surrounding them had finally broken their silence. The sounds of whisperings and rustlings filled the charged air.
On the dais, Sikitalni took one step forward. She raised her arm and pointed to Marn. "Do you accept Challenge?" her voice echoed strongly through the hall. Spock remained where he was, totally engulfed in his trance.
"I accept Challenge!" Lord Marn stood his ground defiantly, staring at her.
"Then die!" Sikitalni screamed.
Kirk could not have moved now, even if his life depended on it. His mind was rocked by waves of sensation. Before his unwavering stare, the tiny Aamanese woman seemed to grow in stature, a red haze swirling around her. Lord Marn seemed to grow also. Endless moments passed. The waves of sensation grew more intense. There were moans of pain from the Aamanese watchers. The boy on the dais screamed in agony, hands to his head. Lord Marn's image began to shiver. "I AM QUEEN!" Sikitalni towered over the crumbling figure of Lord Marn, her triumphant shriek overfilling the Hall.
It was over. Sikitalni stood there, again a tiny figure in white. His face ashen, Spock placed his hands over his ears and pitched forward. Pandemonium broke out in the Hall as the High Queen bent over the still screaming boy.
In his haste to reach the fallen Spock, Kirk failed to notice Kaz and his aides scuttle out of the Hall.
* * *
Stomping into Sickbay, Kirk paused long enough to check out Christine Chapel, a usually reliable barometer of Vulcan well being. Just a few shallow furrows on that telltale forehead. Some of the tension drained out of him. Three hours of imagining the worst had put him in a lousy frame of mind.
Spock was lying flat on his back in bed, eyes closed tightly. McCoy was hovering over him.
McCoy looked up, a sly grin on his face. "Oh, he'll survive this time, Jim, but he's got the granddaddy of all headaches. Likely to have it for a while, too."
"Serves him right!" Kirk snapped, masking his relief. "Sneaking around behind our backs."
The prone Vulcan cracked his eyes open a slit. "Captain, Doctor, must you speak so loudly?" he queried weakly. The eyes dropped shut again.
"Damn fool!" Kirk swore at him ... but in a lower voice. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because he was trying to keep you from getting your brains scrambled,"a feminine voice replied tartly.
Kirk and McCoy jerked around to see the High Queen of Aamana standing in the Sickbay doorway. Both men stared at her. She smiled mischievously, then moved to Spock's side. "Mr. Spock?" Her voice was gentle. The Vulcan stirred. She reached out to touch his forehead. "May I?"
The High Queen closed her eyes, intense concentration apparent in her expression. The harsh lines around Spock's mouth relaxed, then his entire body seemed to go limp. Sikitalni smiled gently then turned to Kirk and McCoy. "I owe him that," she explained. "He will sleep now for several hours. When he awakens, the pain will be gone." She paused for a moment, then spoke briskly. "Now, Captain Kirk, you and I have a treaty to discuss."
* * *
Aamana faded in the viewer. Kirk sat in his command chair feeling fairly satisfied. The treaty was not all he had hoped it would be. The High Queen had stopped short of actually joining the Federation, but had promised an end to Klingon activity in the area. In the end she had held out a possibility of total commitment to the Federation at some time in the future, once Aamanese internal problems were solved and the succession assured.
The entrance to the Bridge whooshed open and Spock and McCoy stepped onto the Bridge.
"I've certified him medically fit to resume his duties." McCoy took a position on one side of the command chair, Spock the other. "Whatever the High Queen did to him, worked."
Kirk glanced up at the impassive Vulcan, then winked surreptitiously at McCoy. "She certainly was a pretty little thing, wasn't she, Spock?"
Spock looked at Kirk sideways, his brows partially uplifted. "I had not noticed, Captain," he said gravely.
"She seemed kind of concerned about the succession to the throne, too," McCoy drawled.
"I don't know why that would be, gentlemen." Spock paused momentarily. "After all, she is betrothed to my second cousin." He regarded Kirk and McCoy's stunned expressions. "The Princess spent eight years on Vulcan learning to control her mind, but it is much easier to breed Vulcan control into the royal line." He nodded briefly to the other two, then strolled casually to his Science Console.