DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. This story was written for the enjoyment of the author and no infringement of any existing copyright is intended nor is any profit realized or expected. The story contents are the creation and property of Chris Dickenson and copyright 1992 by Chris Dickenson. This story is rated PG. It is reprinted from Federation Classic #1.



By Virtue Fall

Chris Dickenson



"Now hear this. Now hear this. Court reporter to Sickbay, code blue urgent. Statements to be taken at once from Yeomen Burke and Sandaval. Repeat, court reporter to Sickbay, code blue urgent. Statements to be taken from Yeomen Burke and Sandaval." The page rang through the intercom in Sickbay, echoing loudly.

"This cannot work," Spock said from the diagnostic bed. "If Valeris ... killed them, she is far too intelligent--"

"If it is Valeris, she'd desperately," Kirk interrupted in a tone so low it was barely audible over the drone of the overhead monitors. "She killed Burke and Sandaval because you were getting too close to the truth. If she thinks they're alive and ready to talk, she'll have to kill them too. It's ... logical."

Spock winced at Kirk's choice of words and argued no more. A part of him had to agree with Kirk's reasoning. Any member of the Enterprise crew with an alpha six security clearance and a bit of persistence could have accessed Kirk's personal log entry. But only Kirk and Valeris had known the content of that damning entry.

Circumstantial evidence, he thought, daring for a moment to hope that Kirk was wrong. But there were too many other bits of circumstance now that the shadow of doubt had been cast. Too many memories.

Spock stared at the open door to the corridor, remembering the burn marks on Burke's temple -- high stun at close range administered at precisely the point where it would kill the quickest. It was a purely logical choice, considering the circumstances, performed in a ruthlessly cold and calculated fashion. Could a single Human overpower two victims in a relatively public place without creating a disturbance? Spock thought that unlikely. A Vulcan, however, utilizing the Vulcan nerve pinch, would find it an easy task. With both Burke and Sandaval incapacitated, it would be a simple matter to finish the job.

Another thought clamored for attention, another memory surfaced. Like Kirk's log entry, it was damning in retrospect. He had no choice but to remember as he waited in the dark for the murderer to come.

* * *

//The unpleasant aroma of charred and burning circuits filled Captain Spock's lungs as he stepped into the simulator. Bodies lay like broken dolls across the debris-strewn deck. As ventilation fans whisked smoke upward, the haze cleared somewhat, and three cadets rose from their corpse poses, chucking nervously.

One stood, brushing bits of charred upholstery from his shoulder, shaking his head. "If that second pack hadn't attacked, we'd have had the bastards."

Spock, unnoticed in the shadows, watched the play of emotions on Valeris' features as she ground a tight fist into the arm of the center seat and stood. "That is the point," she murmured in dawning awareness. "There is no way to win. The computer will respond to any tactical success with another attack force." Her jaw drew taut. "I am certain of it."

This was Valeris' second Kobyashi Maru examination. Like most cadets who someday hoped to captain a starship, the Vulcan cadet found this simulation a bitter pill to swallow. In her first exam, she'd only encountered three Klingon ships. This time, it had taken six to defeat her, and Spock knew for certain what Valeris could not -- that the computer had started to run the third auxiliary attack program. Her score would be quite high, tactically speaking.

"We took down five out of six," Valeris' crewmate offered encouragingly. "If the shields hadn't collapsed--"

"I should have destroyed them all," Valeris said softly, looking at the now blank screen above her as if she could by sheer force of will burn to ash that remaining mythical ship.

Valeris' voice was calm, her demeanor matter-of-factly Vulcan, but Spock sensed the force of exhilaration and hatred behind it. Such fierce emotion was uncommon for a full-blooded Vulcan. It unsettled Spock, reminding him of Sybok. He supposed, however, that the very aspect of her character which made it possible for her to enjoy a battle to the death also made possible her assimilation to the rigors of officers' training. In three weeks, Valeris would graduate at the top of her class, with honors -- the first Vulcan to do so. Spock allowed pride to replace his concern as Valeris finally saw him standing just inside the simulation.

"Captain." She straightened along with the other students in response to his presence.

Again, Spock sensed emotion at odds with her carefully-controlled expression and speech. This time, though, the emotions were pleasure and surprise.

"I found myself in the neighborhood," he explained as he stepped toward her. Then, more quietly, he added, "You distinguished yourself."

"This is not a test of my tactical abilities," Valeris announced, a trace of accusation in her eyes.

Spock clasped his hands behind his back, assuming a posture close to parade rest. "Tests are like life itself," he said slowly. "All may not be as it appears to be." He studied her closely for a moment before adding, "Will you take the test again?"

Valeris arched a brow and smiled a slight smile. "Perhaps I shall, sir. If only for the pleasure of annihilating that sixth ship."//

* * *

Arrogance, Spock thought, returning to the present as he glanced at Kirk's shrouded form. Kirk had accused him of arrogance, of placing principles before personalities. Spock had assumed that Kirk would be willing to escort Gorkon because Spock wished him to be willing. He had assumed Valeris innocent because it never occurred to him that she was capable of--

A slim figure blotted out the light from the corridor as it entered the darkened room. Warily, it moved toward the diagnostic beds, phaser poised. Spock saw her clearly, his eyes already adjusted to the dim light. Hope vanished as she closed the distance between them. He saw the phaser setting. This time, she was taking no chances -- it was set to kill.

Spock reached up to turn on the light, eyeing her as shock registered on her features. Valeris froze indecisively as Spock's voice finally broke the silence.

"You have to shoot," he said. Spock sat up, casting the sheet aside, never breaking eye contact with the startled lieutenant. "If you are logical, you have to shoot," he taunted, his voice falling like dropping icicles between them.

"I do not want to," Valeris said softly, her eyes wide with confusion.

"What you want is irrelevant," Spock snapped as he rose from the bed. "What you've chosen is at hand." Valeris took a step back, stunned by the force of his anger.

Kirk sprang from the other bed, eyeing Spock sympathetically, but his words were for Valeris. "I'd just as soon you didn't."

At that moment, Spock almost wished that she would shoot. Then he would not have to bear the humiliation of being so blindly arrogant, so utterly wrong. He had taken pride in her! And she had killed, was willing to kill again to undo all the good he had sought to do. Blind to the plea in Valeris' expression, Spock knocked the phaser out of her hand with enough force to send the heavy weapon skittering like a thimble across the deck.

The three remained frozen, speechless, until Leonard McCoy stepped out from the shadows. "The operation is over."

* * *

"I did not fire. You cannot prove anything," Valeris said, her face a mask of smug satisfaction as she faced her accusers on the Enterprise bridge.

"Yes, I can," Kirk countered from the center seat. "At my trial my personal log was used against me. How long did you wait outside my quarters before I noticed you?"

Valeris considered this, then looked at Spock. The Vulcan first officer stood to Kirk's right. He had remained stonily silent since they'd left Sickbay, fighting the emotions which roiled beneath his calm facade.

"You knew?" Valeris queried. When Spock did not respond, she continued, "I tried to tell you but you would not listen."

Spock conquered enough anger to speak, although disappointment was audible in each syllable. "Neither of us was hearing very well that night, Lieutenant. The things I tried to tell you about having faith--"

"You have betrayed the Federation," Valeris interrupted, then raked the entire bridge crew with a scathing glance. "All of you."

"And what do you think you're doing?" McCoy demanded.

"Saving Starfleet," Valeris responded with conviction. "Klingons cannot be trusted." Seeing no measure of support in the stony gazes of her shipmates, Valeris turned to Kirk, a man she'd stood by and watched convicted of her crime. Her voice was low. "Sir, you said so yourself. They killed your son. Did you not wish Gorkon dead? 'Let them die,' you said. Did I misinterpret you?"

Spock watched as Kirk shrank beneath the weight of Valeris' plea. The Vulcan's stomach wrenched at the pain he witnessed on Kirk's haggard features. The captain had looked this way during his trial when his own words had been used against him. It was too much to repeat it again. James T. Kirk was an honorable man, for all his faults. To hear his own prejudice, to look into the lieutenant's eyes and see the mirror of his own distrust and hatred... Spock could only guess at the difficulty of Kirk's task.

"And you were right," Valeris continued when Kirk made no response. Spock looked at the Vulcan lieutenant and was suddenly reminded so wholly of Sybok that his knees trembled beneath him. The light in Valeris' eyes was the same light he had seen so many times in Sybok's eyes as he spoke of Sha ka ree. It was the light of fanatic madness. Some by sin, and some by virtue fall, Spock thought sadly.

"They conspired with us to assassinate their own chancellor," Valeris continued calmly. "How trustworthy can they be?"

"Klingons and Federation members conspiring together," McCoy muttered in a mixture of wonder and disgust.

"Who's 'us?'" Kirk demanded of Valeris.

"Everyone who stands to lose from peace," she answered in calm defiance.

"Names, Lieutenant," Kirk ordered.

"My comrades will make certain all of your ship to shore transmissions are jammed," the lieutenant replied, her posture and air as prim as a school girl reciting her lessons.

"Names, Lieutenant," Kirk roared, his patience snapping.

"I do not remember," Valeris said, turning away from Kirk. Her smug arrogance angered Spock. He was ashamed for her, so ashamed.

"A lie?" Spock demanded of Valeris, hoping to make her feel humiliation, anger, anything to shock her into responding. There was a hint of a threat in not just his voice, but his eyes as well.

Valeris turned and met his gaze, totally unrepentant. "A choice," she corrected smugly.

Spock stared at her, his anger building into rage as he replayed in his thoughts her self-righteous insolence as she refused Kirk, the corpses in the turbolift, Kirk and McCoy's trial, and the brutal death of a great man committed to peace -- a man he had persuaded to trust him. And Spock had trusted Valeris.

With lightning clarity, Spock realized that the fault was ultimately his. He had initiated the talks with Gorkon. He had volunteered Kirk and the Enterprise. And he had sponsored Valeris to Starfleet Academy. His fault. His responsibility. And, like Kirk he would be held accountable for the death and destruction wrought by those in his command. If not by Starfleet, then surely by a higher authority. The events he had set in motion could not be allowed to play out in this fashion. No more would die because of him.

"Spock." Kirk's voice could not cut through Spock's thoughts. He did not hear the captain's voice on a conscious level, nor would he ever know if Kirk was asking him to try what he was about to do or warning him not to. If he had known, it would not have mattered.

Spock saw in Valeris the virtual embodiment of every time in his life when logic had been twisted and used as a weapon against him. He had encountered it so many times, from so many individuals. T'Pau, T'Pring, T'Sai ... and even, on occasion, Sarek. Spock had told Valeris that logic was the beginning of wisdom. But she did not seek wisdom, or truth or honor. To Valeris, logic was a tool to be used with no thought for the pain and destruction it might leave in its wake.

Valeris' smug satisfaction turned to trepidation as she saw Spock advancing on her. When he grabbed her, wrenching her around, she pushed back, fear radiating from her wide eyes. She stared at him, completely unable to connect this being with the Spock she had known. Roughly, uncaring of any discomfort he might be causing her, Spock yanked Valeris closer, the fingers of his right hand spreading over her cheek and temple.

Even with panic to fuel them, Valeris' mental barriers were easy to breach. Spock's initial impression of her mind would have shocked him had he experienced it even days ago. Now it only added to his self-contempt for trusting her. This, stripped bare of his expectations, was the real Valeris.

Striding through the echoing corridors of her mind, Spock all but ignored the childhood memories, the isolated experiences which lay partially exposed through doors which swung negligently ajar.

He bypassed the accumulated experiences of her Starfleet education, each course of study neatly shelved and catalogued. Single-minded, he moved to the door at the end of the corridor. Behind that door, Spock knew, the conspirators were waiting. The lock was new and securely fastened. Spock concentrated, his fingers restlessly probing Valeris' face as he mentally heaved himself against the door ... again. And again. With a groan of protest, the door finally gave way.

Spock found himself in Admiral Cartwright's office. "Cartwright," he whispered from numb lips.

"Starfleet!" Chekov's voice was distant, barely registering. It was enough of a distraction, though, that Spock had to fight to stay in Valeris' mind. He concentrated, and the image cleared. Cartwright was seated at his desk, eyes intent on the comscreen. Spock stepped into the room, moving behind the admiral to see what image held his attention.

"Who else?" came Kirk's voice, disembodied as it filtered through Spock's mind.

"General Chang," Spock said, recognizing the image on the screen.

"Who else?" Spock looked about him. To his right stood Valeris. The figure beside her... "The Romulan ambassador."

"Where is the peace conference?" Kirk demanded, the urgency in his voice audible even here in the recesses of Valeris' mind. "Where is the peace conference?"

It was not here, Spock realized as he looked into Valeris' panicked expression. She turned and ran from him, leaving the admiral's office behind, racing through echoing corridors. Spock felt her resistance as he followed her. Doors slammed around him as she attempted to close her mind to his probe, but he pursued, intent on finding the answered to Kirk's question. Without the location of the conference, they would be helpless to stop another assassination.

Spock raised another hand to Valeris' face, following her through corridors which twisted and turned, maze-like. It was difficult to concentrate this far from himself. An alien pressure surrounded him like water at a great depth. He was unwelcome here, and every fiber of her being struggled against this intrusion.

He heard Valeris cry out, her moans of agony ringing in his ears as he struggled to keep pace with her. She darted ahead, frantic to escape. When he was nearing the point where withdrawal would be crucial to both their survival, Spock rounded a corner to find Valeris trapped in a cul-de-sac There were no doors here, no escape.

The peace conference, his voice thundered in her mind, echoing of bare walls and reverberating around them. Valeris fell to her knees, sobbing, her hands over her ears. She was shaking her head, mouth moving to form an inarticulate plea. Dazed and winded, Spock looked about him, suddenly understanding. There were no doors here because the information he sought was not in Valeris' mind.

Abruptly, he withdrew, his entire body relaxing by degrees as he returned to himself. What he experienced upon returning to his own mind was worse than his anger, far worse than Valeris' betrayal. The enormity of what he'd done overwhelmed him and filled him with self-loathing.

"She does not know," Spock whispered aloud, only a trace of his hidden tears filtering into his voice.

"Then we're dead," Scott said in grim tones.

Spock sighed heavily as he forced himself to switch realities. His human shipmates could not understand the magnitude of what he'd just done. Perhaps only Kirk would know the difference between a meld agreed upon mutually and ... force. Spock did not allow himself the luxury or comfort of seeing the understanding in Kirk's eyes. This was not the time. With considerable effort, Spock moved away from Valeris, conscious that all eyes were upon him. His rage at the lieutenant was gone. What remained he would deal with at another time. Self-recrimination could wait. The conference could not.

"I've been dead before," Spock said blandly, then stiffened with determination. "Contact Excelsior. She'll have the coordinates."

THE END

"In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see." -- Spock, "The Tholian Web"

1