Eclipse by Aconitum-Napellus
Summary:

Spock is blinded in an explosion on the Enterprise that also kills the Pernician Ambassador, and finds himself recovering on Earth as the ramifications of the explosion unfold.


Categories: Fiction Characters: McCoy, Uhura
Crossover Fandom: None
Genres: Kirk-Spock Friendship
Other Languages: None
Specific movie: None
Story Type: Action/Plot, Hurt/Comfort
Trope (OPTIONAL): None
Universe: ST:TOS Original Universe
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 13 Completed: Yes Word count: 83122 Read: 120001 Published: 09/20/2009 Updated: 09/20/2009
Story Notes:

I'm not sure if this is enough Kirk-Spock for this archive. It's friendship only, but I think it forms an important part of the story.

The sequel (Reconciliation) is available on fanfiction.net, fannation shades of moonlight, and deviantArt, under the same user name.

1. Chapter 1 by Aconitum-Napellus

2. Chapter 2 by Aconitum-Napellus

3. Chapter 3 by Aconitum-Napellus

4. Chapter 4 by Aconitum-Napellus

5. Chapter 5 by Aconitum-Napellus

6. Chapter 6 by Aconitum-Napellus

7. Chapter 7 by Aconitum-Napellus

8. Chapter 8 by Aconitum-Napellus

9. Chapter 9 by Aconitum-Napellus

10. Chapter 10 by Aconitum-Napellus

11. Chapter 11 by Aconitum-Napellus

12. Chapter 12 by Aconitum-Napellus

13. Epilogue by Aconitum-Napellus

Chapter 1 by Aconitum-Napellus

1

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5257.9

The Discovery crisis over and done with, we have in fact arrived at Pernicia in good time, and are about to greet the Pernician party and bring them aboard. I won’t hide the fact that this mission makes me edgy. All reports have only stressed the Pernician tendency to irritability and xenophobia, and one week can be a long time when an ambassador comes on board the ship. Nevertheless, we will greet them with all due respect, and try to make their journey as comfortable as possible, if only for the sake of the peace process. This peace process is another thing that makes me edgy, though. Mr Spock reminds me that peace is better than warfare even when the costs are high, but I’m not sure how high the Pernicians might bump those costs up.



‘I’m not sure that any peace deal is worth these starched-necked, whale-boned, cactus-lined torture instruments,’ Dr Leonard McCoy muttered, rubbing one finger under the collar of his Starfleet dress-uniform jacket.

Commander Spock glanced sideways at him, one eyebrow raised at his protest, wearing his own jacket as if it was a second skin.

‘Dr McCoy, you must surely be aware that the dress uniform contains neither starch, nor the bones of the order Cetacea, nor any kind of desert succulent,’ he said smoothly, with an enjoyment only obvious to those who knew the Vulcan as well as McCoy did.

‘Laugh if you want, but - ‘

‘I do not laugh,’ Spock said flatly.

‘Really?’ Captain James Kirk asked from behind him with a spark of amused disbelief in his voice.

The Vulcan first officer turned in the corridor to face his captain, protesting mildly, ‘Captain, you are well aware that Vulcans do not indulge in - ‘

‘Pah,’ McCoy said darkly, and Spock turned back to him, boring his eyes into the doctor’s back.

‘Doctor, are you attempting to dispute - ‘

‘Of course he is,’ Kirk interrupted. ‘Just like you’re trying to get his back up. Gentlemen, we all have to wear these uniforms and grin and bear it. Metaphorically,’ he said firmly as Spock opened his mouth. ‘This is important, and we can’t have the Pernicians coming aboard to see you two bickering, even if it is all in fun.’

‘So how long have we got, Jim?’ McCoy asked.

‘They should be beaming aboard in five minutes, and by all accounts they’re a difficult lot - I just want to be sure we’re ready for them.’ He gave a sideways glance at his Vulcan first officer before saying, ‘Apparently they have a great disregard for logic and non-emotionalism. You should like them, Spock.’

Spock gave him a piercing stare, as if not quite sure how to interpret that comment.

‘It should make the peace process interesting. Perhaps it is fortunate that my father is not negotiating in this deal.’

‘I don’t know, Spock,’ Kirk said seriously. ‘After seeing him in action at Babel, I’m inclined to belief he could soothe an attacking rattlesnake.’

‘Hmm,’ was the only reply Spock gave. Although the eighteen year rift between the father and son had healed a little on that trip, Kirk knew that it would take far longer than that for Spock to reconcile himself to his father’s disowning him, and for Sarek to get over his son’s ignoring his plans, disregarding all Vulcan tradition and joining Starfleet.

‘Jim, I don’t even understand why we’re having these talks,’ McCoy began. ‘Just because a bunch of stiff-necked, aggressive aliens decide they don’t like us - they surely haven’t got the gall to try to launch their weapons against the Federation just because they don’t like us.’

‘The Pernicians have not been at war with another planet for fifty-three years, Dr McCoy,’ Spock told him with the patient but slightly amused air of a teacher to a slow pupil. ‘Quite a record for them, I believe. These people possess an extraordinary amount of aggression, and they must unleash it on someone. They have been building up their weapons capability all this time.’

‘You mean they actually want to go to war with us?’ McCoy asked incredulously.

Spock shook his head, his dark eyes entirely serious again. ‘We are hoping not - but it did take a good deal of persuasion to get them this far. It took six months of negotiation just to persuade an ambassador to come to Earth and discuss peace. I would not be surprised, however, if somebody got hurt in the process of these negotiations.’

‘That’s what we’re here for, Bones,’ Kirk told his friend. ‘To make sure they get safely to Earth with no one being hurt - on either side.’

McCoy shrugged helplessly. ‘Well, we’d better put on our best smiles, Jim - and hope I don’t have cause to take out my medical kit.’

‘You may need it, Doctor, if you treat our guests to your usual bedside manner,’ Spock said flatly. To anyone but his two human friends, and those who knew him so well, they would have thought he was deadly serious. Kirk, however, could see the light in his eyes. Spock was fascinated at the chance to meet a new race, eager to study a new culture, and also, although he would never admit it, enlivened by the opportunity to argue with McCoy and win every time.

Spock kept his eyes fixed on the transporter as the shimmering gold haze began to form into eleven solid bodies, his first glimpse of a race he knew very little about, despite the impression he had deliberately given to Dr McCoy. As the forms became clearer he could see easily that five were women, six men, that they were all extraordinarily tall, that they all had long, hard braids of dark blue hair, and that the skin of all of them was vibrantly purple, ranging from a radiant violet in some to deepest indigo in others. As the forms resolved themselves he saw bright orange eyes contrasting with the purple skin, simple uniforms cladding nine of the aliens, and rich robes adorning the two foremost - a man and a woman. They were all quite beautiful, viewed with a purely abstract Vulcan appreciation of art and colour.

Captain Kirk stepped forward as the beam released their guests, and bowed his head slightly. On raising it, he had to lift his chin upwards to meet the eyes of these towering aliens.

‘Ambassador Necuhay, on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, I welcome you to the Enterprise. I hope you will enjoy the journey.’

The tallest male stepped down from the transporter in his trailing robes, but Kirk still had to look up to see his face.

‘It is far too hot on this ship.’

Spock stepped forward from behind the transporter console, and said with the smooth tones of diplomacy, ‘Ambassador, while the ship-wide temperature cannot be altered, I reassure you that the temperature in your quarters has been set to that of your homeworld.’

The man froze, and turned his head on its long neck to meet the Vulcan’s eyes. Even Spock had to admit that the orange reptilian eyes were slightly chilling when boring into his skull, no matter how pleasing the colour was.

‘You are the Vulcan?’

‘This is my First Officer, Commander Spock,’ Kirk said with a charming smile. Spock gave him a discreet sideways glance. He knew the captain well enough to be able to see through that over-friendly smile. He was annoyed, affronted at the ambassador’s manner, and masking it all as best he could. Kirk indicated the doctor on the other side of him. ‘Dr McCoy, our Chief Medical Officer.’

McCoy bowed slightly from the waist, smiled and said, ‘Pleased to meet you all.’

‘You think that we will need a doctor?’ the ambassador asked. He did not wait for an answer. ‘Show us our rooms.’

‘Mr Spock?’ Kirk asked, and Spock nodded.

‘If you will follow me.’

He waited for the rest of the aliens to step down from the transporter, then went to the doors.

‘This way please, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, indicating the corridor to the left.

As he walked he could feel the curious eyes of eleven aliens burning into his back, although all were stonily silent.

‘Will this be your first visit to Earth?’ he asked, turning slightly to see the ambassador.

The man nodded stiffly. ‘My first, and my last.’

‘I too hope that the peace negotiations will be a success,’ Spock said, although he was sure that was not what the Pernician had meant.

‘Vulcans,’ the ambassador muttered.

‘I was not aware that you were familiar with my species,’ Spock asked, maintaining his calm expression.

‘Are you all logical?’

‘Yes, sir, we are,’ Spock nodded. ‘It is the cornerstone of our civilisation.’

The ambassador turned to the woman in robes who walked beside him. ‘You see, Charia. All logical.’ He spoke the word as if it was obscene. ‘Rage is the cornerstone of ours,’ he said, turning back to the Vulcan. He spoke the word with relish.

‘Fascinating,’ Spock said with absolute sincerity.

******

‘Check.’

Kirk slid his castle smoothly across the board to challenge the black king, then leant back in his chair with a smile, studying his first officer’s face in the dim evening light of his quarters. He didn’t even look perturbed - but it was so hard to tell with the Vulcan’s equanimous disposition.

‘Try and get out of that one, Spock,’ he said with satisfaction, pouring himself another glass of deep red Altarian sherry.

Commander Spock didn’t even hesitate as he reached out to the lower level of the board to move his knight, and topple Kirk’s own king with a flick of his wrist.

‘Checkmate,’ he said evenly. ‘You were so intent on my king you neglected to guard your own, Jim.’

He moved his own glass aside to lean forward and deftly reset the figures on the board for their next game, then leaned back and looked into the face of his captain, waiting for comment.

‘If I didn’t know you better I’d think you sounded smug when you took my king,’ Kirk protested, trying not to flinch under the Vulcan’s piercing, unwavering gaze. Even after years of being friends with Spock he couldn’t get used to a Vulcan’s intense stare, and sometimes he wished his eyes didn’t look quite so permanently interested and intrigued.

‘It is fortunate that you know me better, then,’ Spock replied smoothly.

‘More sherry?’ Kirk asked, sitting up straighter and taking hold of the bottle. As he lifted it he saw that Spock’s glass was still almost full, while there was only a half-measure of liquid swirling in the bottom of the bottle. At that moment he realised that all through the game Spock had been quietly topping up Kirk’s glass as it emptied while studiously ignoring his own, only occasionally taking small sips.

‘You got me drunk!’ he realised with complete shock. He stared at the empty bottle, then back at the Vulcan’s face with a slowly growing numbness.

‘Captain?’ Spock asked, raising an eyebrow as if he had been surprised.

‘You crafty son-of-a-bitch! Spock, it’s not like you to cheat!’

‘Captain, my intention was not to cheat.’ The Vulcan stared for a moment at the wall beyond Kirk’s shoulder as if it was intensely interesting, then looked back at him and said, ‘I must admit to indulging in a minor experiment. It is a trick I have seen Lieutenant Commander Scott perform in difficult situations. I was anxious to observe the effects first hand.

‘Experiment - ’ Kirk repeated in disbelief.

‘It appears a most effective tool,’ Spock continued as if trying to justify the ploy. ‘While you displayed a mistaken confidence, your moves were far less rational than normal. You could have beaten me had you been entirely sober. I deliberately played under-par.’

‘Mr Spock, do you mind not using me for your off-duty - ’ Kirk began, but the intercom whistled, and he leaned over to answer it with a sigh. The Vulcan always managed to get out of awkward situations like this. The face of communications officer Lieutenant Uhura appeared on the screen, backed by a bridge that was half empty, showing how late at night it was.

‘What is it, Lieutenant?’ Kirk asked tiredly. ‘You know I’m off duty.’

‘I know, sir,’ she said guiltily. ‘It’s just - Ambassador Necuhay is insisting on seeing you. It - er - seems that his replicator is malfunctioning.’

‘Okay, I’ll sort it out,’ Kirk said tiredly. ‘Kirk out.’

He flicked the switch off, then turned around to face his chess companion, his sheer exasperation kindling sympathy even in his supposedly emotionless Vulcan friend.

‘Will you go yourself, Captain?’ Spock asked.

‘Why in hell does he need me?’ Kirk asked impatiently. ‘He needs a tech., not the captain of the ship. Why does he keep asking for me?’

‘Jim,’ Spock said softly, and as soon as Kirk looked up at the Vulcan he felt his calming influence - he was never sure if that was just because of the Vulcan’s enviable stillness, or because of some deliberate telepathy. ‘Remember that the situation between the Federation and Necuhay’s planet is dangerously unstable. What he sees as an insult could end the talks, or possibly even provoke war.’

‘So speaks the voice of reason,’ Kirk smiled. ‘Okay, I’ll go.’ He began to stand with a sigh, but as he stepped across the floor he wavered, and grabbed hold of the edge of the table. ‘Spock, what proof is that drink?’ he exclaimed.

The Vulcan hesitated, then deliberately looked at the bottle and not Kirk’s face as he admitted, ‘It is Altairian - the proof is rather high. I believed a more alcoholic drink would be the most effective for the purposes of the experiment.’

He stood and took hold of his captain’s arm, tightening his grip as the human swayed again. He led him through to the rest area of the small cabin and lowered him down to his bed, feeling a twinge of guilt that Vulcans should be immune to.

‘I suggest you drink a large quantity of water to help counter the dehydration which aids the formation of a hangover, and then try to sleep it off, Jim,’ he said softly. ‘Since your condition is my fault, I shall see to our irritable ambassador.’

‘He wants to see the captain, Spock,’ Kirk protested, but even as he struggled to sit up he could tell how ill-equipped he was right now to deal with the man.

‘He will be highly insulted if you go to him while you are inebriated,’ Spock said apologetically. ‘That is my doing, and I will go. We cannot risk war between Pernicia and the Federation, even if that is exactly what some people want.’

******

Spock pondered on the Pernicia-Federation situation as he left his captain’s cabin and walked along the curving corridors to the guests’ quarters. Many people in the Federation objected to the Pernicians’ strong and aggressive religious beliefs, their belligerent natures and their habit of making execution the solution to most crimes - crimes serious and absurd. Even the Vulcan philosophy of logic and pacifism was an insult to the Pernician religion, but none of this appeared to matter to the economists in the Federation, who were aware that Pernicia owned the largest reserves of dilithium of any known planet, that the Pernicians found little use in the substance, and that any peace talks could ultimately develop into trade-talks, and cheap, high-quality dilithium for the Federation’s ships.

Spock was gaining first hand experience of why people found Pernicians difficult. Ambassador Necuhay had been aboard the ship only a few days, but since his arrival he had complained, picked fights, destroyed the ship’s chapel, invaded the bridge, and constantly irritated the entire crew - with the exception of Spock himself, of course. He told himself while listening to every outburst that, while unreasonable, the ambassador’s character was the product of his genes and his society, and it was pointless to become irritated over a person’s genetic heritage. But after three days of displays of this genetic heritage, even Spock was becoming mildly impatient with the ambassador. The only consolation was that the trip was almost half over - in four days the ambassador would be beamed down to Earth and never be seen again on the Enterprise.

He pushed the buzzer by the door of the ambassador’s luxury quarters, gathering his reserves of calm and diplomacy. The door slid open immediately, and Spock stepped into the chill atmosphere that was mimicking the Pernician homeworld. The normally spartan and ordered guest quarters were strewn with rich fabrics, cushions, quilts and ornaments, and Spock picked his way around them delicately until he could see the ambassador. The highly-respected dignitary was lying back on a bed covered in Orion silks, almost hidden under a cluster of his nearly nude male and female entourage. Spock had not realised until now that Necuhay’s party was also his harem.

‘Ambassador,’ Spock said stiffly, trying to avert his eyes in a way that spoke of respect rather than of a deep embarrassment at walking in on this scene.

The ambassador elbowed one of his harem aside, and rose slowly from the private orgy, more and more of his long body becoming visible as he sat up.

‘You’re not the captain,’ he said. He sounded twice as drunk as Kirk had been. Had Kirk come to the door, he hardly would have noticed the captain’s condition compared to his own.

‘No, sir, I am not,’ Spock agreed. ‘I am the first officer. The captain is sleeping. Would you like me to return when you are dressed, sir?’

‘Dressed!’ Necuhay rose to his full, naked seven feet, his well-toned purple flesh throbbing disturbingly. ‘Why should I dress for a heretic? You disrobe, then we can talk on equal terms.’
 ‘No, sir,’ Spock said flatly. ‘You complained that your replicator was broken.’

The man’s flesh began to turn a vibrant shade of scarlet around his face and neck - Spock had seen this sign of annoyance many times before in the course of the week. It was only a matter of minutes before his neck sacs began to puff up and he assumed a fighting stance.

‘So I come onto your ship on a mission of goodwill, and your captain cannot bother to disturb himself for my problems, you come here to insult me with your logic, and then you will not even disrobe to accommodate me!’ the man exploded. ‘I shall never, never get over the rudeness I find on this ship!’

‘Your replicator, sir,’ Spock repeated patiently, refusing to be drawn into a pointless argument.

The man waved a purple arm at the machine and Spock turned to look at it. It was certainly broken - the front was entirely smashed, and it was plastered with alien food that smelt disconcertingly like rotting meat.

‘I shall call a technician to replace the device,’ Spock said diplomatically. ‘I apologise for your inconvenience.’

‘You fix it,’ the man insisted, stepping forward a little.

‘I am not a mechanic - I am the ship’s first officer. I shall call a technician. Good night, sir,’ Spock said flatly.

He retreated from the room before anything else could be said that would cause offence, relieved that his visit had been so brief. On his way back to his room he went through the names of the ship’s technicians in his mind to try to think of the most resilient personality, someone willing to do the strenuous task of pulling out a replicator while also fending off criticisms and complaints with tact and diplomacy. The only comfort he felt he could give the chosen tech. would be to promise them tomorrow morning off duty to recover from the ordeal.

******

Two days after Spock’s ‘experiment’ with the alcohol, Kirk was just shaking off the effects of the strong Altairian drink. What with that and the behaviour of the Pernicians, he was fast reaching the end of his tether, having barely spent a night without some call coming direct to his quarters from the ambassador insisting he fix something or straighten some problem out. But there were only two days left. He sat in his command chair staring out through the screen at the stars ahead relishing the peace. Nothing could go wrong in two days. He would unload his passengers, turn the ship around, and head off on some easier mission - such as keeping the Klingons under control or checking on the tribble situation of station K7.

    Sol was somewhere in that panorama of stars out ahead, and he gazed across the clusters of light, seeking it out. It was hard to imagine that there was a tiny planet circling that star. No matter how many times he returned to Earth, the beauty of the wheeling planets as they came in at impulse speed always staggered him, Saturn with its sparkling rings and myriad moons, Jupiter’s whirling storms, Mars’ marble-like surface spidered with clusters of colonies. Perhaps the trip was worth it just for that sight. He wasn’t going to have to disembark with the diplomats and start arguing about war and peace.

    The doors of the lift opened softly, but Kirk was lost in the spectacle on the viewscreen, and didn’t give them any attention until Spock’s voice said quietly, ‘Captain - ‘

    Kirk looked up, caught his eyes, then looked across to the elevator doors. The Pernician ambassador stood on the top level of the bridge just before the doors, hands clasped behind his back, his orange eyes sweeping censoriously across the bridge.

    Kirk stood up stiffly and turned to him. ‘Ambassador, I’m sorry. We can’t allow non-Starfleet personnel on the bridge.’

    The man finally deigned to look down at him. ‘Captain Kirk, I am the ambassador to the planet of Pernicia, on a mission of peace to the Federation council. I have the right to stand on a starship bridge belonging to that council.’

    ‘With all due respect, sir, this bridge belongs to Starfleet, not to the Federation council,’ Kirk countered.

    ‘I have the right to stand on a starship bridge when I am bringing reports of damage and offering my assistance,’ the ambassador continued officiously.

    Kirk’s eyes narrowed, and he climbed up the steps to where the ambassador stood. ‘Damage?’ he asked.

    The Pernician unclasped his hands and held out a data-pad to the captain. ‘Vital damage, while your ship is carrying a diplomatic party, which must be repaired by the captain of this ship.’

    ‘Sir, I’m not a repairman,’ Kirk said, smiling. Internally, he was cursing at whichever fool technician allowed the ambassador to get his hands on a damage report. He took the pad from the purple hand and glanced over the report.

    ‘I insist that the captain repair the fault with my assistance, in recompense for the promised tour of the ship which has not yet been executed.’

    ‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ Kirk muttered under his breath, but Necuhay’s eyes were focused directly on his face, and Spock’s eyes were burning holes in the back of his neck. He turned around slowly, and smiled.

    ‘Commander Spock.’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at Kirk’s tone of voice, but gave no other indication of his feelings.

    ‘This is a report from the phaser room, Mr Spock,’ Kirk said with a smile. ‘There appears to be a malfunction in the control console - the power’s fluctuating.’

    ‘I see, sir,’ Spock nodded. ‘I shall contact a technician.’ He began to turn back to his console, hand reaching for the intercom.

    ‘Commander Spock,’ Kirk said, and Spock turned back slowly. He was beginning to feel some pleasure in carefully manipulating his first officer in the way Spock had manipulated him two days before. ‘Mr Spock, I would like you to do some phaser repairs with Ambassador Necuhay as your assistant,’ he said sweetly.

    He could tell by the expression in Spock’s eyes that he wanted hard to find some vital excuse for avoiding the task, but Necuhay’s scrutiny had turned from the captain to him.

    ‘I would be honoured for the chance to work with the ambassador,’ he said blandly. ‘I am sure it will be an interesting experience.’

    Kirk could see the ambassador’s neck beginning to turn crimson. ‘I will have the captain,’ Necuhay snapped. ‘Only the captain.’

    ‘I’m sorry. The captain is very busy looking after the ship,’ Kirk said, controlling his tone of voice carefully. ‘My first officer will have to go. That is the best I can do.’

    ‘The first officer,’ Necuhay said, musing it over. He looked back at Spock, his piercing gaze travelling up and down the Vulcan’s body. Then he said, ‘Yes, he may do just as well. He is an important officer.’

    ‘Very important,’ Kirk nodded. ‘Mr Spock, call up the fault briefing to your computer. Ambassador Necuhay, Mr Spock will meet you in the phaser room in five minutes,’ he said lightly.

    Necuhay bowed his head very slightly, a look of immense satisfaction playing across his features. ‘I will look forward to it, Commander Spock,’ he said. He turned and went back into the elevator, and the doors closed.

    The tension dissolved from Spock’s shoulders as the man disappeared. ‘Captain, I have been working on an extensive survey of pulsars in this area,’ he said, glancing over at the burning myriad of stars on the viewscreen. ‘I am not sure that time permits - ’

    ‘Mr Spock, you will have plenty of time for stargazing after you have helped the ambassador,’ Kirk said sharply. He had no intention of letting the Vulcan crawl out of this now. ‘You’re not sending some poor unsuspecting tech down to suffer Necuhay’s complaints - it might scar them for life. After that trick with the alcohol, my Vulcan friend, you deserve all you damn well get in that phaser room.’

    ‘Captain, I have explained that that was not a trick, but a logical, scientific experiment,’ Spock began.

    ‘Well, my hangover wasn’t a logical, scientific headache. Mr Spock, the ambassador will be waiting for you. And when you’ve done, you can find out who told him about this.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Spock nodded, rather stiffly. He turned back to his computer, and began to read the details of the fault he was about to repair.


******

    Spock made his way down to the phaser room with complete, enforced calm, floating the heavy repair kit on an anti-grav in front of him. There was only one way to face Ambassador Necuhay, and that was with neutral detachment. If he came into the room looking the slightest bit irritated then he would probably come out of it with a black eye.

The ambassador was already waiting when he entered the room, glowering at a worried and small ensign who hovered on the other side of the space, trying to explain the problem to the towering purple alien.

‘Ensign,’ Spock said as he entered, and she looked at him with heartfelt relief. ‘Thank you - you may go,’ he said quietly.

‘She was explaining the fault,’ Necuhay said irritably.

Spock turned to him slowly, and looked at him through impassive eyes. ‘Yes, sir. However, I have been fully briefed on the situation. I can explain it to you. The ensign has other duties to perform.’

‘I’d just finished anyway,’ the woman began.

‘You may go, Ensign,’ he repeated, looking directly at her, hoping she would take the hint to leave before the ambassador could make any more objections. She caught his gaze and nodded before hurrying out of the door.

Necuhay half turned toward the door as if he was about to call her back, but evidently he changed his mind, because he turned back to look down at the Vulcan, and said officiously, ‘The fault is in this console,’ pointing with a thin finger at one of the computer consoles along the wall.

Spock nodded, noting with satisfaction that the console was switched off, and all functions rerouted to other areas.

‘I’ve heard all about your reputation,’ Necuhay added, and Spock wondered what he was supposed to infer from this.

‘Reputation?’

‘I have heard that you have a great skill for examining, then providing a completely logical solution that no one else has thought of.’

‘I shall try to live up to my reputation,’ Spock nodded gravely, unsure if maybe the statement had been intended as an insult. He pushed the tool kit forward to the console and lowered it to the ground, already absorbed in thinking about the task ahead - the task of pacifying his ‘help’ as well as making the repairs. Maybe the ambassador would tire of his token help in the work after an hour, and leave Spock to work in his own peace. Phasers were tricky, and malfunctions often took hours of fiddly work to fix. He was anticipating spending almost all the day here, probably leaving the room late, dirtied and stiff from crouching under low consoles. He had promised the captain a more equal replay of their three-dimensional chess game, but he wasn’t sure now that he’d make it in time.

‘Well, are you going to fix it, or are you going to stand there and admire its circuits?’ the ambassador asked irritably. ‘I suppose you’d make love to it if you had the chance?’

Spock resisted the urge to turn, raise a questioning eyebrow at the ambassador, and ask where he had got the erroneous idea that a Vulcan would make love to a computer. Instead he looked around at the rows of controls in front of him, surveying their functions. He hadn’t worked on the phasers for three months, but it only took a second to refamiliarise himself with the buttons. He quickly knelt down by the repair hatch in the appropriate console, and opened his tool kit. The report stated that in this morning’s drill session the power had died in mid-fire with no visible cause, and the theoretical beam strength had been erratic. He could appreciate the intense danger of the strength suddenly increasing or dropping while the phasers were actually firing.

He began to turn to the tool kit, but the ambassador had come to help, and he may as well be useful.

‘Ambassador, could you hand me the spanner to unbolt this cover?’ he said without looking around, and the man put it into his hand almost immediately. Spock took the instrument with mild surprise - maybe Federation culture wasn’t as alien to the ambassador as he tried to make it seem. He put the end of the spanner to the first nut, and began to turn. He unscrewed each nut in turn, then pulled them away from the bolts, and prepared to remove the cover.

‘Ambassador, you may wish to observe,’ he continued smoothly. ‘I am about to uncover the inner workings of the phaser power control console.’

‘I’m sure I’ll be able to suggest improvements,’ the man nodded, coming in a little too close for Vulcan comfort.

‘Can you see, sir?’ Spock asked, aware that sometimes in humans such a statement prompted a retreat by the observer.

‘As well as I can past you,’ Necuhay answered, pushing his lank, alien-scented body a little closer. Maybe Spock hadn’t got enough human-style sarcasm into the statement - or maybe the ambassador wouldn’t have noticed if he had. Spock shuffled silently sideways to make a little more space, then gently tried to prise the cover away from the hatch. The hatch jarred and stuck, and he let go again, mildly surprised at the unusual problem.

‘I now need a low-beam laser cutter,’ he said, and the tool was duly put into his hand. Spock focused the pale blue beam at the edge of the hatch, gently making the gap a millimetre wider as the tiny laser beam sliced through into the console.

Suddenly chaos erupted everywhere.

The hatch exploded outwards in a burst of pink and white heat and light, smashing both the men back against the opposite wall with a force that buckled the panels.

Spock struggled to draw in breath and keep conscious, aware of the blaze of flames and burning heat surrounding him. There was a bitter, toxic scent of coolant gas. A rending sound ground out above him, then a crash as the ceiling began to collapse around him.

*This will mean a fifteen hour job for the repair crews, closing the deck above, all manner of problems...*

Spock realised with a snap that he was slipping into unconsciousness against the wall. He dragged himself back to reality, forcing himself to be alert, forcing himself to feel the pain just so that it would shock him into staying awake. He couldn’t open his eyes against the blasting flames, and his ears were ringing persistently over every other sound he could hear. He concentrated hard on listening, and zeroing in on the moaning he could hear from somewhere. There was a smell of burning alien blood that made him want to vomit.

He struggled across the floor, keeping low to the ground, trying not to breathe the fumes. Even if he had wanted to stand up, he could feel bones broken somewhere, maybe the right tibia, the left knee, pelvis, ribs. The moaning sounded closer now and he groped blindly for the ambassador, aware that his life was in desperate danger. Both hands throbbed as if they had been crushed in a roller.

The tips of his fingers squashed into something damp and slickly smooth. He clutched at it, wincing at the pain and grating in his hands. It felt like the rich material of Necuhay’s clothes, and the sickening smell of blood became overwhelming. He didn’t have time to be sick. He used all his discipline to push away the nausea induced by the terrible stench and the shock from his own injuries.

He got his arms around the ambassador’s chest, and tried to pull him backwards, but something was pinning him to the ground, something long and angular that had fallen from above, that he didn’t have time to analyse. It was getting harder and harder to breathe - he had to get out of the room. The man struggled hard to press up against the weight, to help Spock wrench him free. Warm alien blood spread out over Spock’s hands, making them slip as he tried to grip under Necuhay’s shoulders. Too much blood, flowing out too fast.

He heard a long moan of pain, and recognised his own voice. Necuhay wasn’t moaning now. He knew the body he touched wasn’t breathing any more, and it was illogical to continue the rescue attempt, but no logic would make him leave this person to be burned into an anonymous black corpse. He wasn’t sure about Pernicians, but on Vulcan it was important for the body to be returned home.

He gave a final tug, and lurched backward, almost falling as the body jerked free. He staggered towards the door, dragging the dead weight, finding the way out more by instinct than memory. Then he collapsed on the ground, gasping with pain, vaguely aware of voices around him. He could hear the voices of crew he normally gave orders to - someone was yelling, screaming something about fetching a doctor. A blanket dropped over him and smothered the flames that were burning his clothes. There were hands touching him, trying to pry his arms from the dead body, but his muscles were locked still. Then he suddenly felt exhausted, the voices receded and dwindled away, and everything dissolved into nothingness.

Chapter 2 by Aconitum-Napellus

2

Dr Leonard McCoy took another mouthful of sweet black coffee, rubbed his eyes, then looked back again at the results of the month’s medical work. Colds were down, there had been fewer injuries incurred on away missions since he had started those team leader briefings. Mental illness and depression were up slightly. He would have to look at that. He turned the paper to view the next list of statistics as the tannoy whooped on above his head. He jumped in his chair, spilling a wave of coffee over the paper.

‘Damn!’

Spock would use this as an example of why officers should not use such archaic methods as paper print-outs - but then Spock was in love with computers.

The tannoy whooped once more, than an urgent voice snapped, ‘Dr McCoy to phaser room two. Two casualties. Fire crews to phaser room two.’

McCoy pushed the sodden papers aside and jumped to his feet, grabbing a medical kit and flicking on the intercom as he circled his desk.

‘Nurse Chapel.’

‘Here, sir,’ her voice replied immediately. ‘I’ve just mobilised a response team.’

‘Meet me there,’ he snapped, relieved and glad at his head nurse’s efficiency. He ran for the elevator, silently cursing ensigns who accidentally sparked off fires, checking in his kit for treatments for smoke inhalation and burns.

‘Phaser room two - emergency speed,’ he ordered, and was almost rocked off his feet as the lift sped sideways at double speed. He pressed a hand to the wall to steady himself as the lift stopped with a jerk, then lurched out of the doors as they slid open. Thank God this lift chute was near to the phaser room. As he rounded the curve of the corridor he could see smoke billowing out of a blackened doorway, and a crowd of people hovering over something on the floor.

‘Move back,’ he ordered, then gasped, ‘Good God, Spock!’ as he saw the green blood seeping through a fire blanket. The Vulcan’s head was clear of the end of the material, but the other body was covered over the face, the feet were sticking out of the bottom and the blood that was pooling on the floor was dark purple, exuding a smell that made him sick.

A lieutenant from engineering was kneeling beside the body, but as the doctor approached she stood up and shook her head. Her face was white, and she looked nauseous. ‘It’s the ambassador,’ she told him. ‘He’s dead, sir. We couldn’t do anything.’

‘That’s all right, Lieutenant - ’

‘Carere, sir.’

McCoy checked for life-signs for confirmation, then nodded, and turned his attention immediately to the Vulcan. Spock lay so still that for a moment he thought that he was dead too, but his medical scanner showed life signs that were steady if not strong.

‘What was the nature of the explosion?’ he asked without looking up, gently peeling the fire blanket back off the Vulcan’s burnt body. The burns were extensive, but they didn’t look too bad, thank God. Spock’s uniform, designed for a multitude of tough situations, had taken the most of the heat.

‘I don’t know,’ someone said, then Lieutenant Carere said, ‘We think it was phaser coolant, sir.’

‘Oh, God...’

He filled a hypo with tri-ox and released the drug into the Vulcan. Spock stirred a little at this, but didn’t open his eyes. At least the problem of possible asphyxiation was dealt with, but there were worse problems with coolant gas.

‘How long since the explosion?’

‘Er - maybe a minute, a minute and a half.’

The cluster of spectators parted and Nurse Chapel ran through, deep worry written on her face. Two orderlies with gurneys following swiftly behind.

‘Get Spock up on a trolley,’ McCoy snapped. ‘The ambassador’s dead - we need Spock in sick bay.’

With more urgency than simple duty demanded, the nurse knelt down by the Vulcan and helped to move him gently onto a stretcher, and up onto the gurney.

‘Treatment?’ she asked.

‘No - we need him in sick bay now.’

McCoy turned to follow the gurney up the corridor, but suddenly their way was blocked by a solid wall of ten towering purple Pernicians, staring at the body still on the floor. The tallest, robed woman stepped forward and put a hand on the gurney to stop it. The orderly pushed against it, but the slender arm was stronger than it looked.

‘You will treat the ambassador first,’ she said urgently.

‘He’s dead,’ McCoy snapped furiously. ‘Let us through. Commander Spock needs treatment.’

‘You will treat the ambassador,’ the woman said dangerously. There were tears glinting in her eyes, but that didn’t make her any less formidable. The mob began to inch forward behind her, and McCoy eyed them warily.

‘Please, move back,’ one of the orderlies warned them, and the wall stopped, but didn’t retreat.

‘Christine, go to sick bay on the double. Spock needs a hypo of diroxiline as soon as possible,’ McCoy snapped, hoping that she would be able to push through the crowd while the gurney couldn’t.

‘Sir, I might be able to make them move,’ she told him.

‘Do it then,’ he said urgently.

She walked up to the line of seven-foot aliens and paused, glancing up at the line of angry and anxious faces, wondering if she was about to get herself killed. But that did not matter. Spock was lying on a gurney behind her, and he desperately needed to be in sick bay. She raised her voice and said forcefully, ‘Let us pass, or I will call security and have all of you locked in separate cells. We will not let you perform the *nichi* rite and Ambassador Necuhay’s soul will stayed locked in his body until it rots.’

A look of utter horror spread over every one of the purple aliens’ faces. For a moment they were frozen, then they slowly and wordlessly parted to stand against the walls of the corridor, creating a passage through to the elevator doors.

McCoy put his hand on Spock’s stretcher, taking it away from the grasp of the attending orderly.

‘You and Wilson can take the ambassador’s body to the morgue, then let these people perform their rituals,’ he ordered, then turned without waiting for a response to steer the gurney through the lift doors. Chapel slipped through into the small enclosure and took her place near the Vulcan’s head, trying not to let her overwhelming worry show through her professional front.

‘So how in hell did you know about this death rite?’ McCoy asked her, trying to distract her from her worry.

She shrugged, not taking her eyes from the unconscious body on the stretcher. Her concern over the Vulcan’s condition overrode any feelings of triumph. ‘Library tapes. I make it a policy to study something about any aliens who come on board. *Nichi* is one of their most important rituals after death. Sir, you asked for diroxiline - ’ she began hesitantly.

McCoy bent over the Vulcan and lifted his eyelids with his thumb, running the scanner over the exposed irises. ‘We can’t worry about that now.’

‘Doctor!’

He flinched at that accusative exclamation, her shocked expression. ‘It’s too late - diroxiline would have no effect. We’ve got to get the burns treated - that’s our top priority now.’

******

Kirk thudded into the sick bay with a nauseous dread that he could not push away. The entire ship had shaken with the explosion, and all through the corridors of the ship rumours were reverberating that First Officer Spock was dead. He had heard people saying it as he ran, falling silent as he approached them.

He rounded the door into the ward. Relief surged through his body as he saw McCoy and Nurse Chapel bending over Spock’s body, gently transferring him to a soft bed, folding the blanket carefully up over a burnt chest that was covered in strips of fake skin. Spock was obviously badly injured, but he was not dead. He paused to draw in a cooling breath, then walked forward softly, and touched McCoy’s shoulder.

‘Bones?’

McCoy ignored his tone of urgency and continued to run his scanner over the Vulcan’s body. He looked up at the monitor panel above his head, then said, ‘Christine, sit with him. If he shows signs of waking, give him ten ccs of vendeline.’

‘Yes, Doctor,’ the nurse nodded. As she went to fetch a chair Kirk saw her face, crumpled with deep, weary sadness.

‘Bones?’ Kirk asked again.

McCoy turned around now and put his hand on Kirk’s shoulder to take him out of the room. ‘He’s all right, Jim,’ he said quietly. He waited until they were in his office and seated by his desk, then he wiped his hands over his face, and sighed tiredly.

‘He’s burnt, he has fractures, he’s inhaled smoke. He’s inhaled *coolant gas* smoke, which contains biproxiline, which has the nasty effect of producing extreme fatigue and reducing the clotting factor in his blood. But that’ll wear off over time. He’s treated for the burns, I’ll look at the breaks. He’ll heal.’

‘And the ambassador?’

‘Dead. He died almost immediately, as far as I can make out.’

Kirk uttered one bitter, ‘Hell...’

The whole mission, all the work done, everything had collapsed in one explosion. All of the light-years the Pernician ambassador had travelled had been for nothing - worse than nothing.
McCoy caught his eye - there was obviously something worse to come. ‘Jim, Spock - ’

‘You said he’ll heal,’ Kirk said anxiously. McCoy’s tired voice was not convincing him of that fact.

The doctor looked down at the desk as if he could not look at Kirk any more, then got sharply to his feet, and walked across the room. His back tensed with a shiver, then he turned around and stared blankly at the wall.

‘Bones, what in hell is wrong?’ Kirk asked impatiently. ‘You said he’ll heal!’

McCoy took in a breath, then looked direct into Jim’s eyes and said, ‘Spock’s blind, Jim. He will be for a long time.’

Kirk stared up at his friend’s face, unsure of what to say or do. The room had frozen around him. Spock, blind... Spock could not be blind. He stood stiffly, walked swiftly to the door of the ward. Spock was lying unconscious in bed with Chapel sitting next to him, her hand gently touching his head, tears on her face. There was no sign that he was blind.

He turned and went back to McCoy.

‘How soon will he see again?’ he asked, still letting a flicker of hope burn inside him. ‘How long is long?

‘Jim...’ McCoy said very softly. His face answered the question for him. Everything seemed to have slowed down in the frozen room. Everything was blue, crisp, everything was clear, but made no sense.

Kirk wiped a hand across his face. ‘Oh, God, Bones...’

‘I know.’

Kirk turned away and stared at the wall, trying to reconcile himself with the fact that Spock, his friend Spock, the one with the piercing, intelligent eyes, had just lost his sight forever.

‘Bones, can’t you do something?’ he asked, turning back. ‘Anything? There must be something?’

‘Jim, there’s nothing,’ McCoy said tiredly.

‘He still has his eyes, doesn’t he? There must be some way? For God’s sake, man! You can’t let Spock go blind - not Spock.’

‘He’s not going blind - he is blind. There is a thick layer of opaque cells interknitted into the cells of Spock’s own eyes,’ McCoy said with forced calm. ‘The only way to remove them without the chance of regrowth would be to cut out the lens, probably the iris, and all the solidified cells behind. Now, that would make him just as blind as he is now, and disfigured into the bargain. He could have clones made, but the eyes are part of the brain – in Vulcans they’re almost impossible to integrate successfully – so transplants tend to be cosmetic, not functional. There’s nothing I can do - nothing at all.’

‘Okay,’ Kirk said slowly.

McCoy nodded at his acceptance, but his frustration was evident as his fingers tugged aimlessly at a computer disc.

‘How much sight does he have?’ Kirk asked.

‘None. None at all.’ McCoy sounded almost too tired to speak now. ‘I don’t know - it’s possible there might be a little light entering his eyes, but I don’t think so. I’ve been treating those terrible burns. I haven’t had time to examine the eyes in full. That’s what I’m about to do now. But I won’t know what he can really see until he opens his eyes and tells me.’

Kirk stared over at the door again, then back at the doctor, and suddenly he needed to be moving, active. ‘I need to be on the bridge.’

‘Jim.’ McCoy caught his arm as he turned away, and said firmly, ‘Jim, go to your room. Sit down, get your head together, then come back here. Spock will need you.’

Kirk almost relented at that. He felt he needed to sleep, or just sit in silence - but he was the captain of his ship.

‘Bones, the ship needs me. I have to be on the bridge, at least for now. As soon as I can I’ll come back here. Tell Spock if he wakes up. Tell him I’ll be down as soon as I can - you know he’ll understand that.’

‘I know, Jim,’ McCoy sighed. Although his job was difficult, he didn’t envy Kirk his. But then there was the job of telling Spock...

******

The elevator doors opened onto the bridge. Kirk stood there for a few moments, taking in the sight. The circular room was humming with activity, and normally that would had given him a deep sense of satisfaction. Not this time. Lieutenant Uhura was bent over her communications station simultaneously taking in damage reports, sending out orders and parrying calls from the Pernician passengers. Lieutenant O’Neil was sitting at engineering re-routing functions away from the phaser room to other sites, while weapons control was busy shutting down all weapons and ordering diagnostics. It seemed that helm and navigation were the only places with nothing but routine work to do. Ensign Chekov and Lieutenant Sulu were attending to their instruments, but mostly they were exchanging quiet, subdued comments with each other. Chekov glanced up at Kirk as the lift doors closed, then briefly across at Spock’s science station. The console was empty. No one had been sent to take over Spock’s work yet.

Kirk moved over to the communications station, and touched a hand to Uhura’s red-clad shoulder. ‘Lieutenant Uhura,’ he said.

She turned round as if startled, and took the earpiece from her ear. ‘Yes, sir?’

‘Forget all those messages for now. I want you to send a communication to Starfleet Command. Send the same message to the Federation Council. They should be told.’

‘Yes, sir,’ she nodded, then asked tentatively, ‘Mr Spock? People have been saying he was - He’s not dead, is he, sir?’

‘No, Lieutenant,’ Kirk told her softly, and saw the relief spring into her brown eyes. ‘He’s not dead - but order Lieutenant Chafer to take over his station for now.’

Uhura gave the order swiftly through the comm system, then turned back to her captain. ‘And the message to Command, sir?’

‘Yes,’ Kirk nodded. He stood up straighter, fiddled with his top for a moment, then said, ‘Send this, Lieutenant - An explosion occurred today in the Enterprise phaser control room, at 14:23 hours. The Pernician ambassador was present, and was killed almost instantly. I send my deepest regrets. Also First Officer Spock was - ’ He faltered, cleared his throat, and began again. ‘First Officer Spock was blinded during the explosion. I recommend him for the Christopher Pike Medal for Bravery for his attempts to save the ambassador under horrific circumstances.’

There was a long silence. It seemed that the whole bridge was silent, until Lieutenant Uhura said, ‘Message sent, sir.’ She closed her eyes, then looked up at him slowly and asked, ‘Sir, is it - ’

‘Mr Spock - ’

Kirk stopped, looked around him to see that the whole bridge was staring at him, silently, in shock. He turned out to face his officers. He couldn’t bring himself to look into their eyes, so he focused on the viewscreen instead. As he did the lift doors opened and Spock’s replacement walked through. Spock’s replacement. The thought hurt more than he would ever have expected it to. He felt an unreasonable amount of bitterness towards the man walking over to Spock’s console, sitting in Spock’s seat, glancing over at him with eyes that were alive, that could see.

‘Mr Spock suffered permanent blindness in the explosion,’ he announced flatly, in a raised voice. ‘He’s very badly injured, and he’s sleeping in sick bay. He won’t be allowed visitors yet - I don’t want anyone disturbing him. Just - We will all have to carry on as normal,’ he said. He walked down the steps to his command chair. It felt as if the gravity had been turned up as he collapsed into the imitation leather seat. Slowly people were turning back to their consoles, and the low, shocked whispering was beginning.

‘Mr Sulu, increase to full warp speed,’ he said quietly. ‘Get us to Earth as soon as possible.’

******

The awareness of his own body came slowly back to Spock. He was submerged, surrounded by a numb warmth, a safe cradle of darkness. But slowly he was floating upwards, slowly feeling each part of his body with more certainty. The dim warmth was turning into burning pain. He was waking into a fire. The pain was ripping through numbing painkillers that weren’t working. Even before he was half awake he was vaguely aware of the distinctive scent of the Enterprise sick bay. Someone was saying his name - he seemed to be saying it over and over without pause, and Spock moaned in reply, just to make it stop.

‘Don’t try to move,’ the voice said. It was McCoy. Another voice was murmuring behind it, muffled as if he was hearing through water, then the doctor snapped, ‘Yes, dammit, his name is Spock, and he’s a Vulcan. Go do your accident investigating someplace else. Try the *accident* site.’

The noise pierced his aching head, but he could barely move his fingers, let alone press his hands over his ears. Even the thought of moving was tiring. The quiet of unconsciousness began to take him again, but an urgent question forced him to wake up. He wasn’t sure what it was until he actually said it.

‘The ambassador?’

‘He’s dead, Spock. His body was beamed down to Earth a few minutes ago.’

‘But - ’ Spock began. Only a few minutes ago he had been standing with the ambassador in a room, somewhere, talking to him, two days away from Earth. ‘Earth?’ It was so hard to work out coherent sentences.

‘We increased to full warp. Jim had orders to get the ambassador’s body to Earth as quickly as possible.’

There was another need, a stronger one. ‘Jim?’

‘He’s catching up on some rest. He’s been here pretty much full time.’

The immense tiredness would not let him nod. Nothing was real, he was trapped in a bizarre dream. It had to be a dream, because he had never felt such searing pain.

‘Spock - ’

The voice was softly grave, beginning to say something that Spock could tell was going to be terribly important, but then the pain in his body became too much, and he let the quiet take him again.

******

McCoy turned as someone came in from the corridor, and smiled wanly as Jim Kirk came through into the room.

‘Did you get some sleep like I told you to?’ was the first thing he asked his captain.

Kirk shrugged. ‘I tried - but no, I didn’t get any. How is he, Bones?’

‘He woke for a few moments,’ McCoy said, standing up and going over to the captain. Even though it had only been a day, Kirk looked as if he had been without sleep for weeks. ‘He wasn’t very coherent.’

‘Does that mean he has brain damage?’ Kirk asked, deep anxiety etched on his face.

‘No. It means he’s very tired, he’s very weak, and he’s very muddled from the painkillers he’s been given. He asked for you, though.’

‘You should have called me!’ he snapped, striding over towards the Vulcan.

The doctor came up behind him. ‘Jim, he was asleep again within a few seconds,’ McCoy told him gently.

Kirk shook his head, torn between relief that Spock was a little better, and grief at what had happened. ‘I’m sorry, Bones. I’m just tired.’ He turned back to the Vulcan’s burned and ravaged face. ‘He looks - ’

‘It all looks pretty bad right now,’ McCoy nodded. ‘But that’s the burns. They should heal without scarring. He’s going to hurt badly for a good few days - I don’t really want him awake through that. After that, the pain will be less, but he’ll be very weak and tired...’

‘I never should have sent him to do a tech’s work. You don’t send your first officer to fix broken consoles.’

‘It just happened, Jim,’ McCoy said tiredly. ‘No one’s fault.’

‘My God, Bones, I sent him as petty payback because he got me drunk for some experiment. I told him - ’ He shuddered, remembering. ‘I told him he deserved it. I told him - he’d have time for stargazing after he’d fixed that console...’

‘No one can see the future. Words are words - you can’t guard every one in case something happens.’

Kirk couldn’t reply. Spock had been blinded because he had tried to get useless revenge for something that didn’t even matter, and that thought choked him. He shook his head, almost whispered, ‘It should have been me.’

‘Then you’d be dead,’ McCoy said with harsh realism. ‘It was just a horrible accident - a freak accident. It would’ve happened to anyone who’d opened that hatch - but a human wouldn’t have survived.’

‘Nothing’s ever just an accident. There has to be a way of stopping it from ever happening again,’ he said with angry vehemence.

‘Jim - ’

‘Bones, have you told him yet - about his eyes?’ Kirk cut over him.

‘No... No, not yet. He hasn’t been well enough.’

‘He’s - he knows what it’s like,’ Kirk said feebly. ‘From Deneva, after the light treatment. At least he knows...’

He trailed off, thinking of those terrible few days when his brother died, his sister-in-law died, his nephew was left an orphan, and Spock had been wrestling with agonising pain only to be blinded, permanently everyone thought, by the cure. Even if it had only been for a few hours, those few hours had been terrible to sit through.

‘Sure,’ McCoy nodded, not saying what they were both thinking, that it was stupid to think that that experience would make this one any easier.

******

Spock woke again with a jerk. A firm hand was touching his arm, and it was dark, the sick bay equivalent of night. It was quiet too, and someone was sitting with him in the dark, but the hand didn’t belong to Jim. He blinked and closed his eyes again, then someone spoke.

    ‘Spock, it’s all right.’

    It was McCoy - but it was not all right. His whole body felt as if it was immersed in boiling water. There was a terrible acid pain searing through his face and his eyes. He had a vague recollection of a nightmare, but he couldn’t remember what it was about. After a long time his thoughts began to coalesce, and he tried to pull together in his mind what had happened to him. He knew it wasn’t just a nightmare. There was real pain, tearing through the numbing painkillers. The pain of burns. He could remember a fire, but - everything else was distant, and he couldn’t work out what the everything else had been. He began to try to suppress the pain, but ironically the painkillers numbed his ability to concentrate.

    ‘Spock it’s all right,’ McCoy said again, very gently. Spock wondered briefly why he was being so nice, why on Earth McCoy was holding such a concerned vigil over him.

    ‘W-what happened?’ he began.

    ‘You were in an accident, an explosion,’ McCoy said, still in that soft voice as if he was speaking to a child. Spock remembered a blast with a jolt, hitting his face, his body. He had been fixing something.

    ‘The ambassador?’ he asked suddenly.

    ‘He’s dead, Spock - I told you earlier. Don’t you remember?’

    He shook his head numbly. He had no memory of earlier. There was only a vague memory of an explosion and flames, then of holding something dead in his arms and not being able to let go.

    ‘Don’t you remember?’ McCoy repeated. ‘Do you remember what happened, Spock?’

    ‘No... Where is Jim?’ he asked, aware of an urgency in his voice that he should have been able to hide. There was still something that wasn’t right, that he should remember, but couldn’t.

    ‘He just went to the head - he’ll be back soon.’

    Spock felt the hiss of a hypo on his arm. Slowly new strength began to flow around his body and the muddiness gradually cleared from his mind.

    ‘The bridge,’ he began, struggling to sit up. ‘I must - ’

    ‘No, Mr Spock,’ McCoy told him, as Spock realised that he didn’t have enough strength even to sit. ‘Just lie still. The bridge can manage without you.’

    Spock lay still again, overcome with a wash of tiredness, trying to focus on McCoy’s face in the thick darkness.

    That was wrong... The darkness was wrong.

    There were no nightlights giving out enough glow for staff to see by. There was not even the soft light through from the examination room, or a pulse of light from the corridor when the doors opened and closed. No glimmer for his strong Vulcan eyes to make use of.

    ‘Spock, I need to speak to you,’ McCoy said, at the same time that Spock connected the too-total darkness and the acid pain in his eyes.

    ‘There is no need. I understand, Doctor,’ he said with a kind of numb acceptance, a numb, scientific realisation that McCoy was sitting in full light, and that none of it was entering his pupils. There was a silence that carried on for a long time, broken only by McCoy’s breathing. He felt cold.

    At last McCoy said, ‘The gas hit you straight in the eyes - Oh God, Spock,’ he choked off, and Spock knew that he was angry at his inability to help, lost for words to express his human sorrow.

    ‘I have been blind before,’ Spock said quietly, automatically, remembering Deneva. Blindness. Darkness, numbness, shock, inability...

    ‘Damn it, Spock! There’s no need for you to try and comfort me!’ Those words had been inexplicably angry, and there was another long pause, until the doctor said, ‘Spock, I’m sorry, really... I - ’

    ‘What is the extent of my injuries?’ Spock asked with a thin, unreal calm.

    ‘Your chest, arms and face were burnt by the exploding gas - the rest are only fire burns,’ McCoy began. ‘You broke five ribs, some bones in your arms and legs, fractured your pelvis and skull - those have all started to knit. You still have severe bruising and lacerations, concussion. Your hands were badly damaged - they took the first impact. I don’t want you to try to use them yet - but they will be fine. I’ve tried to ease your pain, but the burns are serious. You’re not in danger, but you are very ill.’

    There was a pause again, and Spock realised in the silence that he had hardly been listening to the summary he had asked for.

    ‘Spock, I have to ask - can you see any light? Anything at all?’

    Spock blinked through the thick blackness, searching uselessly. Finally he said, ‘No, Doctor. There is nothing.’

    ‘Okay,’ McCoy said very softly.

    ‘When the burns in my eyes heal - ’ he began, although he was devoid of that hope. He could sense McCoy’s deep anguish and dread of replying. ‘Or my inner eyelids recede - ’

    ‘Spock, the burns didn’t blind you.’ His voice was hesitant and shaking, and Spock forced himself to listen through the numbness. ‘It was a reaction with the gas, and your inner eyelids couldn’t protect you - the reaction was too fast. There - are abnormal cells - darkly opaque cells - that have grown in your pupils. They’re not going to recede. There’s nothing I can do.’

    Spock nodded, dimly aware of what McCoy was telling him, but everything was slowly becoming further and further away as he fell back into the void.

    Then he was caught up in a whirlwind of screaming and shaking that made his head feel as if it was coming apart. He tried to struggle away from the violent attack, but he had no strength to move. He lay engulfed in pain as a shrill voice screamed out nonsensical words at him. He moaned, and the shaking became stronger, pulling his body up and down off the bed.

    Just as suddenly he heard McCoy’s voice cry out, ‘What in hell do you think you’re doing?’ and the shaking ceased.

    The torrent of alien words abruptly turned into gasping wails, and a voice began to repeat through the sobs, ‘I was his wife, I was his wife.’

    Spock tried to speak, but all strength had been shaken out of him, and the pain and the voices by his bed faded away again into nothingness...

    ‘Spock didn’t do anything but try to save him,’ McCoy snapped, pulling the tall Pernician woman forcibly away from the bed. ‘I’m sorry for your loss, but if you don’t get out of this ward right now I’ll have you carried out.’ He stopped and sighed, seeing the slick of tears seeping from the woman’s eyes. He touched her arm gently. ‘Come through to my office, and we can talk.’

    The woman pulled away from him with a stiff shudder. ‘Do not touch me.’ She fixed her eyes on the Vulcan in the bed, and said coldly, ‘He will die,’ before turning stiffly and striding from the room.

    McCoy ignored the noise of the door closing behind her, turning back to Spock and bending over him with concern. He was unconscious again, and the Vulcan’s readings had dipped again, lower than they were before. It was hard to tell if this was normal unconsciousness, normal Vulcan healing, or just deep shock. In all the time Spock had spent unconscious he hadn’t appeared to be in a healing trance, and his injuries had healed no faster than any human’s injuries.

    At least Spock hadn’t asked him why the blindness was permanent. He couldn’t have sat there and told him that his sight could have been saved with one hypo had he been able to reach sick bay within two minutes, instead of standing and watching while the cells in Spock’s eyes became more and more hardened, eventually resistant to any kind of medicine, while Ambassador Necuhay’s entourage blocked the corridor.

    The door opened, and Kirk came in, hurrying in his step towards Spock when he saw McCoy’s face. ‘Bones?’

    ‘We just had Necuhay’s wife in here,’ McCoy said tiredly, turning back to check on the Vulcan. ‘I didn’t even know he had one. She shook Spock until he fell unconscious. I think she wanted to kill him, Jim.’

    Kirk went swiftly to the intercom and opened a channel. ‘Security to sick bay,’ he ordered sharply. ‘On no account are any of the late ambassador’s party to be allowed in here.’ He closed the channel and came back over to the doctor. ‘Did she aggravate his injuries?’

    ‘She didn’t help his bones heal, and she increased his pain and exhaustion, but he’ll be all right, Jim. He just needs a little more time now.’

    ‘But he’s at least been awake?’ he asked.

    McCoy smiled wanly. ‘He woke long enough for me to tell him that he’ll be blind for the rest of his life.’

    ‘I see,’ Kirk said slowly, going over to sit down by the sleeping Vulcan. He wasn’t sure what else to say. He touched the Vulcan’s forehead gently, then took hold of a limp, bandaged hand that had ugly burns running from under the sleeve down into the wraps. He cradled it gently, afraid of breaking it in its fragility.

    ‘Jim, don’t touch his hands,’ McCoy said softly, apologetically. ‘They were shattered in the blast. It’s important they’re left to heal fully.’

    Kirk laid the hand down, putting his on his friend’s arm instead. ‘How did he take it?’

    ‘He’s shocked. At least it’s not some terrible Vulcan repression, but he’ll take a long time to accept it.’

    ‘A Vulcan, Bones?’ Kirk asked. ‘I know it’ll be difficult, but won’t his logic - ’

    ‘You know Vulcans and incapacity don’t mix, Jim, and from a purely biological standpoint it’s not good for them to be deprived of light - their planet’s so bright they tend towards depression without it. He will accept it in the end. Physically, he’ll probably adapt better than a human.’

    ‘He looks so - I don’t know. Small, vulnerable.’

    ‘We’re all children when we’re sleeping, Jim. Even Vulcans.’

    ‘God, Bones. I have to call his parents, before the press tell them. We can’t have them find out that way...’

    McCoy shook his head. ‘They won’t. I asked after Sarek’s health a few days ago, and Spock said Amanda persuaded him to take a meditation break in a retreat someplace in the mountains. Spock’s the only one with their contact number.’

    ‘And Spock’s unconscious... Bones ... I hate to ask this - but can you wake him? I have to ask him about the explosion.’

    McCoy shook his head. ‘I’m not waking him up, Jim, no matter who orders it. But it doesn’t matter anyway. He doesn’t remember what happened. No, don’t worry, Jim,’ he said at the expression on Kirk’s face. ‘It’s quite natural. He’s suffered a huge trauma. It’ll come back to him - just not yet.’

    ‘I hope so,’ Kirk nodded. ‘We need to know what happened.’

    ‘You think it was deliberate?’

    ‘I don’t know. We won’t know until Spock can tell us what happened or the investigators turn something up.’ Kirk sighed tiredly. ‘This Pernician situation’s been going on for months. What a way for it to end.’

    ‘You really think it’s ended this time, Jim?’ McCoy asked. So many previous talks had fallen apart over technicalities and imagined insults, and then been revived.

    Jim shrugged helplessly. ‘Their ambassador’s just been pronounced dead, killed on a Federation starship. There’s no one to enter the talks - they weren’t happy about the talks being on Earth anyway. Hell, they weren’t even happy about talking. And now…’ he trailed off into silence, the frustration in his face melting into sadness.

    ‘Spock’s blind,’ McCoy finished gently.

    ‘He was my best officer,’ Kirk said angrily, resisting the urge to hit something. It made him shudder to look at his first officer lying so helpless, burned and broken. It was sometimes easy to forget how fragile a Vulcan’s body could be. ‘He was my best friend, Bones.’

    ‘He’s not dead, Jim,’ McCoy chided him softly. ‘He’ll need you.’

    ‘I know.’ Jim sighed heavily, looking down at the braid on his sleeves and wishing for once that it wasn’t there. ‘But he’s sleeping now, and the ship needs me. He’ll understand, if he wakes up.’

‘Of course he will,’ McCoy nodded, although every instinct made him want to tell Jim to damn his duty and stay with Spock, that every time Spock woke it was Jim he asked for.

    ‘Sure,’ Kirk muttered.

    He didn’t want to leave Spock alone, but he could hardly bear to look at him, to dwell on the consequences of what had happened. He left sick bay without looking back. Even in the elevator to the bridge he could smell the faint, acrid odour of burnt coolant gas and chemical extinguisher coming through the air conditioning. There was no way to escape from the reminders of the terrible explosion, of what had happened to his friend, no matter where he went.

    ‘Sir, I have a message in response to your report to Starfleet Command,’ Lieutenant Uhura said as he came through onto the bridge, and he smiled weakly, wishing that he could muster something with a bit more strength and conviction. Writing that report had been one of the hardest things he had ever done. It had taken hours.

‘Yes, Lieutenant?’ he asked. She looked crushed herself, and she couldn’t help the occasional glance across at the science station where a tech was minding Spock’s position. Even the tech, an ensign Kirk barely recognised, looked scared and upset.

‘From Commodore Connor, Starfleet Command. As soon as - ’ She hesitated, blinking as if dust had blown into her eyes, then looked up again. ‘As soon as he can be made ready, Commander Spock will be transported to the San Francisco Multi-Species Hospital, with Lieutenant Commander McCoy as attending physician, so as to be on Earth for the forthcoming inquest. They have no date for that as yet, sir.

‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Kirk nodded. He suddenly felt aged and tired.

‘The ship is to stay in orbit around Earth for twenty-four hours, then it is to resume the next mission.’
   
‘Resume...’ Kirk echoed.

‘That vaccine mission is vital, sir. We’re the only ship,’ Uhura reminded him, meeting his eyes.

‘Yes, I know, Lieutenant,’ Kirk nodded. It just seemed impossible to leave Spock on Earth and simply resume, as if nothing had happened. ‘I know that. And what about the talks?’

‘All formal negotiations have been suspended by the Pernicians. They’re - considering what action to take, sir.’

Chapter 3 by Aconitum-Napellus

3

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5263.7

My first officer, Commander Spock - my friend, Spock - is blind... Blind and seriously ill from his injuries. He has been ordered transferred to Earth for treatment there. I can’t say anyone is happy about that decision. My crew believes, as I do, that once Mr Spock leaves the ship he will not be allowed to return... The Enterprise will continue on the vaccine mission to Rigel, as scheduled. I am satisfied the mission should be trouble free. That is why I have applied for leave on Earth, and am leaving the ship in the capable hands of my chief engineer, Mr Scott. I have the feeling my first officer will need me far more than my ship.


Spock was still unconscious as he lay on a gurney on the Enterprise transporter, awaiting transport to the Multi-Species Hospital. McCoy couldn’t help fidgeting with the restraints that held the Vulcan firmly to the bed, pacing up and down, checking Spock’s condition, repositioning the suitcases - anything to delay taking an ill patient away from his sick bay, his ship. It only added to his nerves that the ambassador’s party had beamed down a few minutes ago, and the widow’s final message had been a cold reiteration of her earlier statement - Spock would die.

    ‘Sir, are you ready?’ Lieutenant Kyle asked at last. ‘The hospital keep calling.’

    ‘I guess - ’ he began.

    ‘Not quite ready,’ Kirk said, coming through the transporter room doors. He elbowed through with two large suitcases, and heaved them up onto the transporter. McCoy stared at him - it was usually so hard to get Kirk off his ship for anything more than a few days. ‘I’ve got Starfleet appointments on Earth,’ he explained briefly, ‘and then I’ve got leave coming.’

    ‘And so have I.’

    Kirk and McCoy both turned – McCoy’s mouth gaping in surprise. Uhura was struggling through the door with four suitcases attached to an anti-grav, and an odd shaped case over her shoulder.

    ‘So I guess you fixed the month of leave just in time?’ Kirk asked.

    She smiled. ‘I think your persuasive powers with Fleet Command are better than you know, Captain. And I haven’t been on holiday in a *long* time,’ she said as if she meant it, lugging the first case up onto the transporter. ‘I think Lieutenant Kelly is just about up to looking after my communications department.’

    ‘You both got leave?’ McCoy asked incredulously. ‘Jim, you must be a miracle worker!’

    ‘Well, that vaccine mission hardly demands my presence, Bones. I think Starfleet are eager to let me use up some of my leave time before I demand it all in one chunk and disappear to Alpha Centauri for a year.’

‘But why Uhura?’

    ‘Because I want someone with us who knows about legal affairs when the inquest comes round,’ Kirk told him.

    ‘Well, if she knows about anything, she sure knows how to over pack. What’s that?’ McCoy asked, pointing to the peculiar case.

    ‘Doctor, did you think of packing for Mr Spock?’ she asked, straightening up, and as McCoy gaped she said, ‘That is his lyre. Two of these cases are his clothes and some things he might need. He’s not going to be unconscious until the inquest, Doctor. I’ve booked into your hotel, Captain - the room next to yours and the doctor’s.’

    ‘Yours and the doctors?’ McCoy asked suspiciously of Kirk.

Kirk shrugged. ‘I heard you make your booking, and changed it to a double suite.’

‘And I have a double suite too,’ Uhura told him, ‘so we can be sure there’s room for Mr Spock when he comes out of hospital.’

    ‘Spying on your doctor?’ McCoy said to Kirk with mock shock.

    ‘Captain’s prerogative,’ Kirk said. He glanced at the stretcher on the transporter platform, at Spock’s unconscious face. His only excuse was that his best friend was blind, and he could not simply warp away in his starship leaving Spock to wake up alone and in the dark. ‘Come on, Bones - we’ve got to get Spock to that hospital.’

    He waited for the others to assemble themselves, then ordered, ‘Energise,’ and watched the walls of the transporter room dissolve and reassemble into the pastel-hued walls of the transporter chamber in the Multi-Species Hospital, San Francisco. They were met by uniformed orderlies, who began to help McCoy manoeuvre Spock’s stretcher from the transporter.

    ‘Will he be okay, Bones?’ Kirk asked as McCoy checked over the Vulcan’s readings.

    ‘He won’t get worse, Jim,’ McCoy replied. ‘Hopefully he’ll start getting stronger. Why?’ he asked, turning suspiciously to see that Kirk hadn’t moved from the transporter.

    ‘I just wanted to make sure he’ll be okay until I get back.’

    ‘They have a doctor here with ten years experience working with Vulcan patients,’ McCoy said, still with the suspicious tone in his voice. ‘Where are you going?’

    ‘I was ordered to report to Commodore Connor’s office at headquarters as soon as I arrived on Earth. I’ve already disobeyed that order by coming here first.’

    ‘Connor?’ McCoy asked suspiciously. ‘Isn’t that - ?’

    ‘The one who spent all evening insulting Spock at the Altair conference?’ Kirk nodded. ‘Yes, Bones, it’s that Connor - but don’t worry - I’ll defend Spock’s honour,’ he said with a mixture of humour and seriousness. ‘Bones, I have to go.’

    ‘Jim,’ McCoy started, and Kirk could see the beginnings of a protest. Lieutenant Uhura was simply looking at him with an expression of reproach, worse than all of McCoy’s protestations.

    ‘Call me at Connor’s office as soon as he wakes up again,’ Kirk cut through. ‘I have to go.’

******
   
    Commodore Connor’s office was an odd haven of Britishness in the American built complex of Starfleet Headquarters. It even smelt different to the rest of the building. Perhaps part of the reason for that scent was the antique pine furniture which filled the office - for some reason the commodore had seen fit to decorate in the retro style of the mid to late twentieth century. Jim found it strangely reassuring, however, to see furniture made of wood instead of standard Starfleet plastic, with books and note pads made of real paper strewn about the shelves.

    ‘Well, Jim?’ Commodore Connor said, turning from the panorama of the bay that was available from his window.

    ‘I know, I’m late, I should have come here rather than going to the hospital first,’ Kirk said as the door closed behind him.

    ‘That was a *well, Jim, how’s that Vulcan twin of yours?*, not a *well, Jim, why are you late?*. I know you’re attached to that walking computer-bank for some reason,’ Connor said with a smile. He went over to the sideboard and poured two glasses of rich red Earth wine, handing one to Kirk. ‘Sit down.’

    ‘Commander Spock is still unconscious. He’s being treated,’ Kirk replied. ‘But he should never have been taken off the Enterprise,’ he said with an edge to his voice.

Jim had always liked Bob - he was relaxed, intelligent, threw a hell of a party - but he could not understand, and did not want to understand, the open rudeness with which Connor treated Vulcans, especially Spock. Since the discovery of his odd dislike Kirk had never been quite happy trying to act at ease with the man.

    ‘Spock has to be here for the inquest - you know that, Jim.’

    ‘Are you sure it’s not just that they want him off the ship as soon as possible?’

    ‘So cynical!’ Connor said with a smile. ‘Why would we want him off the ship? I know your infamous first officer is a top-class scientist. I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s up and about and poking his Vulcan nose into the investigation.’

    Kirk put his glass down abruptly, the wine almost spilling on the sheaves of paper that littered Connor’s untidy desk. ‘Bob, you can be damn insensitive when you feel like it.’

    He bristled as the commodore laughed at his anger.

    ‘Come on, Jim - he’s a Vulcan. He’ll be well in two days and standing in here logically explaining why he should be the one to conduct the investigation, despite being involved knee-deep in the cause of it.’

    Kirk stared at the man for a moment in stunned amazement. ‘Bob, did no one tell you that Spock was blinded in the explosion - permanently blinded?’

    The man’s expression changed - he put his own glass down, and stared at it for a few seconds before meeting Kirk’s eyes again, utterly serious now.

    ‘No. No one told me, Jim. How bad is it?’

    ‘Complete, utter, total blindness,’ Kirk said bitterly. ‘Irreversible, permanent.’

    ‘God, that makes things awkward.’

    ‘I thought you didn’t want him ‘poking his Vulcan nose in’?’

    ‘That doesn’t mean I want him blind.’ He went back to the window and leant against the sill in the warm spring sun, folding his arms across his chest. ‘Jim, let me be blunt with you. We have a very sensitive situation on our hands. The Pernician negotiations were touchy enough as it is. Now the ambassador’s dead, and your Vulcan first officer is the only person who was in the room with him when it happened.’

    ‘What are you suggesting, Bob?’ Kirk asked impatiently.

    ‘We all know that the Pernicians don’t like the Vulcans, and that the Vulcans consider them to be a disruptive influence. As far as we can tell, the explosion would not have happened if Commander Spock had not used a non-standard tool to open a perfectly normal hatch that should be opened easily by hand.’

    Kirk stared at Connor, for a moment wondering if he was suffering from some kind of aphasia that made him hear the wrong words.

    ‘You think that Spock somehow set up this explosion?’ he asked incredulously, as the meaning of what Connor had said sunk into his brain.

    ‘Well...’ he shrugged.

    ‘Spock tried to save the ambassador’s life! He risked his own life!’

    ‘But he didn’t die, and Necuhay did,’ Connor said pointedly.

    ‘He lost his sight,’ Kirk pressed. ‘Spock is a scientist. He knows about chemical reactions, which is what made him go blind. Do you even know how important sight is to a Vulcan?’

    Connor leaned back in his chair and contemplated Kirk’s face. ‘Have you ever heard about a small, nasty group of Vulcan fanatics called the ke-shar? They’re prepared to do almost anything, sacrifice almost anything, to preserve logic in the Federation. It’s rather irregular, Jim, for the first officer of a ship to be fixing a minor problem. What was he even doing in there?’

    ‘I sent him there, okay?’ Kirk exploded bitterly, more angry at himself than at Connor. ‘I sent my best officer to have his sight blasted out of his eyes! That damn ambassador insisted that I went to fix the fault. I sent Spock in my place, and if I ever find who gave him that pad...’ He paused to take a breath, to control his feelings as Spock would warn him to. ‘Someone gave the ambassador that report knowing that he’d insist on helping with the repairs. Someone set up his murder - but it wasn’t Spock.’

    ‘Then we’ll have to think of other suspects,’ Connor said reasonably. ‘And have a talk with Commander Spock.’

    ‘I doubt the doctor will let you see him for a few days,’ Kirk said seriously. ‘He’s barely been conscious since the blast, and he doesn’t seem to remember much about it. Bob, was that a royal ‘we’, or are you pulling me in on this investigation?’

    ‘Jim, you’ve been given a month’s leave - that’s a long time for a starship captain to be away from his ship. I suppose the extent of your friend’s injuries is some explanation, although I’m not sure why you imagine a Vulcan could appreciate - ’

    ‘For God’s sake, Bob,’ Jim cut in impatiently. ‘God knows, you’re a friend of mine, you have been for three years, but I can’t sit here listening to you talking about Spock as if he’s some kind of monster.’

    ‘I’m just saying that if you’re going to be on Earth for a month, Starfleet wants you to be available. This is a very serious matter, and it happened on your ship, under your command.’

    ‘I came here to support Spock. He’s going to need a friend, not a captain constantly off on ’fleet business - that’s why I took leave.’

    ‘I’m not asking you to live here, Jim - I simply want you to do some work for us when we need you to. You’ve already got your doctor and your communications officer here to support your friend. A month’s leave is a long time when you’ve just had an incident like this on your ship.’

    ‘And if I don’t agree, my leave will be rescinded?’ Kirk nodded slowly, sick at this form of blackmail. ‘Okay, Commodore - I’ll do it. Just don’t call me up in the middle of the night.’

    ‘We’ll try not to,’ Connor said with a tight smile. ‘You’re dismissed, Jim.’

    Kirk nodded, and got up to go. As he reached the door, Connor said, ‘I’ll send Commander Spock a card - which hospital is he in?’

    ‘The Multi-Species hospital - that small place down by the sea. I’m sure Spock will appreciate a nice picture of the bay, or maybe a star-scene,’ he added with acerbity.

    ‘Okay - bad choice. I’ll ask my PA to think of something.’

    ‘You do that, Bob,’ Kirk said stiffly. ‘I’ll see you.’

    As he left he wished that Starfleet doors could slam. As it was, the door simply slid closed behind him, annoyingly silent. Even his impulse to hit his fist into the wall was curtailed, when he realised Bob’s brilliantly beautiful secretary was still sitting in the outer office watching him with a sympathetic smile on her face.

******

The sick bay felt very warm. As Spock came closer to consciousness he became aware that the room was almost as warm as Vulcan, the air as arid. Then he must be quite seriously ill. McCoy didn’t alter the air-conditioning for every non-human patient. But there was not much pain as he lay still - just an exhaustion that pervaded both body and mind.

    He lay for a long time listening to the noises around, outside his room. Occasional footsteps clicked past, quiet conversations moving with them that he couldn’t quite hear. Doors opened and shut, there were clatters and rustles, hundreds of minute noises that a human would never be able to discern. He wasn’t in sick bay. The sounds weren’t right.

    He stirred in the bed, and found that the movement of his skin against the blankets wasn’t as painful and rasping as it had been before. The burns were healing, and where previously broken bones had throbbed there were only dull aches. His body felt stiff and unused, as if he had been immobile for months. He couldn’t quite remember how long it had been, or what had happened to leave him lying in a strange place, burned and aching.

    He stretched out again, and opened his eyes slowly.

    Nothing changed.

    He blinked slowly, apprehensively, then blinked again.

    There was nothing but a thick blackness that stayed with him whichever way he looked. Nausea rose as a vague memory seeped back into his mind - one with no form or detail, but just one fact.

    *There was an explosion, and now I am blind.*

    The statement sunk like something cold through his mind. For now, there was nothing more than that in his memory. The events before, the cause of the explosion, what had happened afterwards, were all a blank. He remembered brilliant light and fire expanding towards his face, nothing more. Such amnesia was frustrating, but perhaps for now it was best not to remember. He needed to focus on his present situation, not the past one.

    He slowly, painfully, lifted an arm, tried to spread out the fingers of his hand before his face, but they were too stiff to move. Instead he waved his whole hand before his eyes, searching for some change in the tone of what he saw, some glimmer of light or darker shadow. There was nothing, no change, no hint of light in the encompassing darkness. His hand was invisible even a centimetre from his eyes. He was in an unidentified location, and he could not even see his own fingertips so close to wide-open eyes.

    A surge of panic began to wash over him, the feeling of sickness rising to his throat. He clamped down on the emotion ruthlessly. He didn’t know where he was, but he seemed to be in a safe environment - a hospital environment. All he had to do was find the requisite bell-push, and a nurse would come to him. But still, he was quite blind... The realisation of that fact felt like ice water trickling through his veins.

    *There is someone watching me.*

    That abrupt certainty helped to push the coldness away until he just felt a numb sense of loss. He focused on hearing, interpreting the small sounds and locating them. Some of those tiny noises he had heard must have been in this room. After a moment he could hear the soft rhythmic swish of breathing, very close to him, a subtle noise like a quiet-running medical scanner near his eyes. There was a scent of alien perfume, and make-up. Logic dictated that it would be a nurse checking on her patient, but he had lain listening for a long time and heard no one enter. The scrutiny felt somehow hostile.

    ‘Please identify yourself,’ he said.

    The anonymous visitor straightened up and soft muffled footsteps moved away hurriedly. Spock wasn’t sure why the word Pernician came into his mind at that moment. There had been Pernicians on the ship, and the visitor had been leaning over him with a cold feeling of satisfaction.

    *The Pernician ambassador died*, he remembered slowly.

    A door handle clicked, then clicked again, and the footfalls faded away. As they went Spock realised the importance of that clicking noise - the doors were manual, so he was definitely not on the ship. The heat was that of Vulcan, but the oxygen mix was richer, and the gravity was Earth standard. He tried to sit up, but tiredness pushed him back onto the pillow. It would be impossible to follow someone in this total darkness anyway. It had taken a moment to realise that outside this dark room there would be no normal, light, reassuring world.
   
He reached out to the intercom, instinct taking over, but this wasn’t the ship, and his hand swept aside cold glass instead. The glass clattered and splashed onto the floor, and all he could feel through his burned, painful fingers was a smooth table surface. He lay back against the pillow and laid his arms flat on the bed. He suddenly felt tired, oppressed by the strangeness of his situation. His usually eidetic memory had let him down - besides that, he did not understand why he was not on the ship. Nothing was right. Suddenly he was not even sure if there had been someone in his room. He had been waking, his mind had not been clear, and even now nothing made sense.

******
   
    The door clicked open again, and Spock turned his head towards the noise, instinct asking, *Jim?* before his Vulcan restraint could quell his need for his friend. He listened as the distinctive clack of Starfleet boots moved toward his bed. It could be any Starfleet officer, anywhere. He prepared to lower his mental shields just long enough to sense more about this new visitor, but then the steps stopped with a surprised, ‘Oh!’

*Lieutenant Uhura*. Although the utterance had been brief, that was definitely her voice.

    ‘Mr Spock, you’re awake,’ she said, drawing out a chair and sitting down. As she came closer he became aware that he could smell her familiar scent of perfume and makeup. He could hear her effort to keep negative emotion from her voice, despite the pulses of sadness he could sense from her.

‘Obviously,’ Spock nodded, still puzzled. He was not on the ship, and yet for some reason part of the ship’s crew was here with him.

‘How are you feeling, sir?’ she asked him with soft concern.

    Spock blinked, and turned his head back so that it lay straight on the pillow. He knew how he felt in the physical sense, but in the mental sense his feelings and lack of them were an unintelligible blur. The strongest, most easily recognised feelings were emptiness, and a kind of pain that he assumed was grief. Part of him was appalled at being seen like this by the Lieutenant - but part of him was just quietly grateful at her familiar presence in this strange place.

    ‘I believe my injuries are healing,’ he told Uhura. It was the best way to answer her question without bringing the distressing subject of emotions into it. No verbal explanation could adequately describe what he felt. ‘I am cold,’ he said as an afterthought.

    ‘I’ll find another blanket,’ she said, and she moved away from him, opened something with a catch, then laid another covering over his body. It helped the physical chill but did nothing for the ice inside.

    ‘I believe I knocked over a glass,’ he said after a pause. ‘Could you – ’

    ‘Oh ... down there.’

    And he heard Uhura moving, fetching something, setting the glass back on the table. She wiped a cloth on the floor, poured water, then set the water container back down again. All those sounds were clear, distinct, but formless.

    ‘I’m sorry you had to wake alone, sir,’ she said as she sat down. ‘I’d just gone down the corridor for a few minutes. We’ve been taking it in shifts.’

    Spock didn’t answer, unsure of what to say – unsure of who ‘we’ meant. He could not imagine that having Lieutenant Uhura there as he woke would make waking to blindness any easier. In fact, he was grateful he had been alone for that terrible moment of realisation.

    ‘I brought a selection of audio books, some music - and your lyre,’ she said with a forced change of subject, a forced brightness. ‘I know how monotonous it can be being confined to bed for a long time.’

    Catches were opened, and he felt the weight of the instrument settle onto his blanket. He lifted his hand and tentatively reached out to the warm polished wood.

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ he said, letting the tips of his fingers brush over the taut strings. A very faint burst of notes hummed into the air, but his burnt fingers throbbed at the touch, and the terrible fact that this darkness was permanent overwhelmed everything. This mundane conversation did not even seem real.

    ‘It was a kind thought, Lieutenant, but I cannot play the instrument. My hands – ’

    ‘Of course.’ She sounded ashamed, as if she had only just realised the lyre would not make things better. ‘I’ll put it down by your bed in its case. It’ll be safe there until your hands are healed.’

    ‘Undoubtedly. Thank you.’

    ‘Is there anything else you need, sir?’

    ‘My location,’ Spock asked. ‘This is not the ship?’

    ‘No, sir. You’re in the Multi-Species Hospital in San Francisco. The air-conditioning in your room is set to mimic Vulcan. You’ve been here for two days.’

    Spock lifted his eyebrow at the revelation that he had been sleeping for at least two days.

‘The time?’ he asked. The darkness around him and the stock sounds of a hospital afforded him no clues at all as to the time of day, and he was finding it unaccountably hard to correlate the shipboard time and his knowledge of earth’s cycles to work it out himself.

‘Just past fourteen hundred.’ There was a pause, then she said, ‘Fourteen sixteen, sir.’

‘Why am I not on the ship?’ was the next question he asked. Worse than waking to darkness, was waking to darkness in a completely unfamiliar place. He had no frame of reference but the bed he lay in and the position of the door.

    ‘Starfleet Command are holding an inquest into Ambassador Necuhay’s death, and they insisted on your presence. The Captain did his best to keep you on the ship, sir, to testify via subspace, but they just wouldn’t listen. But Captain Kirk and Dr McCoy beamed down to be with you.’

    ‘The captain is here too?’ Spock asked, only narrowly managing to hide the wave of relief that information provoked.

    ‘Yes, sir. He’s been sitting here for the last twelve hours or so. He just went back to the hotel for a shower and something to eat.’

‘I do not understand, Lieutenant,’ Spock began. ‘The ship is not here, but the Captain, First Officer, Chief Medical Officer and Communications Chief *are* here? Starfleet Command authorised this?’

‘Well – ’ Uhura began, almost guiltily. ‘For a start, Dr McCoy was ordered to come along with you. And the Captain and I both had leave stacked up, and the Captain can be very persuasive when he needs to be. No one wanted to leave you on your own in a hospital full of strangers. And the Captain thought I could be of help with the inquest. I’ve had some legal training.’

    ‘Lieutenant, you never cease to surprise me,’ Spock said, raising an eyebrow minutely. Then his brow furrowed, and he tried to sit up. ‘Who is in command of the Enterprise?’

    ‘Mr Scott, and he can manage just fine,’ Uhura assured him. ‘It’s a low risk mission. Lie down, sir,’ she urged him gently.

    Spock sank back to the mattress under her pressuring hands. Her hands stayed for a moment, then they let go, and he didn’t try to sit up again. The lieutenant appeared to have superior strength to him at the moment. That brief remembrance of duty had helped to take his mind away from the emptiness, but now there was nothing to distract him. He lay very still, feeling inordinately puzzled, then he asked, ‘What caused the blindness, Lieutenant? I am not sure I remember,’ he admitted.

    ‘Well - there was an explosion, Mr Spock,’ she began.

    ‘Yes, I know, but I do not remember the details. Were my eyes burnt, or struck by debris? Was there a brain injury? I do still have my eyes?’ he asked hesitantly. ‘I seem to be quite entirely without sight.’

    ‘Yes, of course you have your eyes!’ she said in shock. ‘Of course, Mr Spock. It was the coolant gas. It - caused cells to grow - ’

    Of course. He could remember McCoy speaking to him - oddly the memory had altered to give him the image of McCoy’s face.

    ‘I cannot feel them,’ he said.

    ‘The doctor was afraid you weren’t managing the pain. He attached a neuro-pain suppresser.’

    ‘Ah,’ Spock said. When he thought about it, he could feel the suppresser attached to his scalp – a small device that pinpointed specific areas of the brain to lessen the perception of pain. The doctor must have decided to set it at full level in the area of his eyes. ‘McCoy told me the blindness is permanent.’

    ‘Yes, Mr Spock, it is,’ Uhura said softly. Her voice was trembling.

    Spock lay silently in his bed, listening to his visitor’s breathing pattern and trying to readjust his thinking to accept this sudden, shocking change to his life. How could he listen to her grief when he could not control his own? Suddenly he felt very tired, he just wanted to sleep and not wake until there was light to wake him.

    ‘I’m so sorry, Mr Spock - I don’t know what to do,’ Uhura said. The catch in her voice almost made his own emotions break through this icy barrier of control. ‘The human thing would be to hug you, but - ’

    Spock reached out towards her and her two smaller hands pressed either side of his, linking him to something in this emptiness. Just those hands were a reassurance that he was not alone in this dark space, somehow soothing to his aching, stiff fingers. Finally he pulled his hand away from hers, before he could become dependant on this too-comforting contact.

    ‘If you wish to do something for me, Lieutenant, you could play the lyre, and sing,’ he said quietly. ‘I am tired - I do not feel like talking.’

    ‘Of course. I’d be glad to play for you, sir,’ she told him. ‘What would you like?’

    Spock shook his head. ‘Anything, Miss Uhura. I will trust your discretion in choosing.’

    He lay and listened as she filled the room with a familiar, gentle rec-room ballad, trying desperately to make the noise make sense and stop his mind from echoing over and over that there would never be anything but darkness.

******
   
    Spock didn’t hear the door open through the haze of Uhura’s music and his own haze of emptiness, but the strong, familiar voice of his visitor broke through immediately;

‘I hate to interrupt the concert, but - ’

    Uhura silenced the lyre strings under her palm and the hospital room echoed with the resonance of the last notes.

    ‘Captain!’ *Thank God*, he thought, although he knew that was a wholly human exclamation. He could sense the tightly repressed sadness in his friend.

    ‘I’ll go back to the hotel, Mr Spock,’ Uhura said quickly, standing up and moving away from him. ‘I’ll come back in the morning and play some more if you want me to.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock nodded. ‘I shall see you tomorrow.’ The knowledge that he would not actually *see* her made him shiver. Tomorrow would be dark too, just like today.

    As soon as the door clicked closed, Kirk came forward and clasped his hand gently around Spock’s. Abruptly Spock knew that Jim felt angry, bitter, sad, and that he was trying to hide those feelings. He began to raise his mental shields to block that flow of sensation, but as cold isolation rose he realised that he needed the contact. He relaxed the barriers again, fully conscious that the flow of feelings from Kirk’s mind was being exchanged for knowledge of the turmoil in his own. Jim’s angry emotions faded away into worry and sympathy. The urgent need for contact suddenly enabled Spock to curl his fingers around Jim’s, and he clung tightly and painfully to the hand to keep himself from falling back into that cold, isolated void. It took effort to stop himself ripping further into Jim’s thoughts, to read in his mind what his eyes were seeing - but even now he could never sanction that kind of intrusion, or ask for a glimpse of what had been taken from him. He had to adjust, not cling to the past.

    ‘How are you feeling?’ Kirk asked gently. Spock knew that his tight, clinging hand-clasp told Jim all he needed to know, and that the calm expression he was managing was no disguise, but he answered in the way that Jim would expect of him.

    ‘Tired. Unwell. Pleased that you are here. But you should not be - your presence at the inquest is not necessary.’

    ‘Yes, it is, as your captain,’ Kirk reminded him.

    ‘But not immediately.’

    ‘Not immediately. But my presence with *you* is necessary.’

    ‘I am grateful for your attendance, Jim,’ Spock said, and the pressure on his hand increased slightly, increasing the feelings of sadness and friendship he felt from Jim’s mind.

    The hand tore away from him as the sadness welled, and Spock shuddered in the sudden emptiness. Jim walked away, there was a long, hard silence, then he came back to take his hand again. Spock could feel a dampness warming between their skins, as if when Jim had been standing he had wiped his fingers across wet eyes.

    ‘God, Spock, I’m so sorry... If I could do something... I don’t know what to say.’

    Spock swallowed, remembering odd and vivid dreams he had experienced, of a room awash with blood, and Jim trapped under something heavy, dying. Jim’s hand was firm and alive in his, but nothing else seemed real. Even the pain was a dull and distant feeling.

    ‘I shall manage. I will adapt,’ he said with a conviction he didn’t feel.

    ‘Of course you will,’ Kirk said, and silence fell again, awkwardly.

    ‘Captain, what of the talks?’ Spock asked abruptly, needing something to fill that empty silence.

    ‘They were suspended - probably permanently - by the Pernicians.’

    ‘That is a great pity,’ Spock said, although he felt nothing about the talks. ‘Is there no hope for a resumption?’

    ‘Spock, the ambassador’s dead, the whole party’s shut up in mourning, Pernicia’s wondering whether to go to war with the Federation!’ Spock raised an eyebrow at that sharp reply, and Kirk said more gently, ‘The Federation’s trying to pacify them, but they’re having to communicate through the Pernician military chief, and you can imagine what that’s like. All he wants to do is blow up the Federation council. There’s no one left to hold talks between, even if they did still want to.’

    ‘That is disappointing, Captain.’

    ‘That is an understatement,’ Kirk replied.

    ‘Jim, if they will take your communication, would you convey my condolences to Ambassador Necuhay’s party?’ Spock asked.

    There was a pause, and Spock guessed from the gentle shaking that Kirk had nodded his head. ‘I will - I’ll try, but - ’

    Spock lay and waited for Kirk to continue, sensing his unease. ‘Jim?’

    ‘They were upset. You know what they’re like,’ Kirk shrugged. ‘His wife blamed you.’

    Spock suddenly remembered lying in sick bay and being shaken until the pain made him faint. He could feel bruises on his arms where she had held him.

    ‘I let the ambassador die.’

    ‘You stayed in a burning room trying to save the man, and you still stayed when you knew he was dead just to recover his body.’

    ‘Nevertheless, I could not save him.’

    ‘You did all you could.’

    ‘It was obviously not enough.’

    Spock fell silent, suddenly feeling ice cold in the hot, dry atmosphere. Even talking vaguely about the accident was distressing, a feeling that he could barely understand, let alone deal with. He wasn’t sure what to do.

    ‘I must attempt a healing trance,’ he told Kirk flatly.

    ‘I’ll stay with you,’ Kirk said softly.

    Spock rested back into the pillow and began to sink down into the trance that shock had not allowed him to attain before. He was aware that no amount of healing would lessen the darkness in his eyes, but he concentrated extra energy on that part of his body in a futile attempt.

    Kirk let go of Spock’s cold hand as he relaxed into trance. In this state he at least looked peaceful and at ease. McCoy had warned him that the Vulcan would be suffering from deep shock, but Jim had almost believed that Spock would just take this in the way that he took any other injury, with momentary annoyance at the inconvenience, then determination to heal. He hadn’t quite expected the white, shocked, lost expression on his face. He wasn’t sure how he could bring himself to slap Spock’s burned, bruised, blinded face when it came to bring him out of the trance.

    After a moment of stillness and silence the Vulcan tensed again, the muscles in his face twitching as if he was battling to keep the expression blank.

    ‘Jim?’

    The question had been trembling, almost desperate.

    ‘I’m still here,’ Kirk promised. He took hold again of the burned hand, remembering that Vulcans were conscious of everything while in trance. ‘I’ll stay here, Spock.’

    ‘I am finding it difficult,’ Spock said blankly, then he closed his eyes slowly, and tried to relax again.

    ‘You’ll get there,’ Kirk promised.

Chapter 4 by Aconitum-Napellus

4

    It had been a week since Spock had been beamed down to Earth, and every day Kirk had seen the burns healing over, the signs of pain slowly subsiding. The Vulcan’s healing trance had managed to accelerate the healing of his broken bones and burns, but it took a toll on his strength, combining with the effects of the biproxiline in his blood to leave him exhausted. The Vulcan was simply weak now, and in the dark.

    It was Spock’s mental condition that worried Jim - he was silent and introverted, lacking all of the incessant curiosity usually peculiar to his character. He barely spoke but to answer questions, barely ate but to appease the worries of his friends, and did everything with that white, distant expression. If he had been human, Kirk would immediately have termed him withdrawn, in shock. With a Vulcan, with Spock, he was not quite sure what the attitude meant. It was as if he was trying desperately to seem unemotional, but in place of serenity was a dark void.

    When he entered the room today he found the Vulcan sitting almost upright, even if it was through the aid of a stack of pillows and the propped up bed-head. In the moment before Spock noticed his presence Kirk saw the blank expression of utter boredom on his face, but then Spock turned his head towards him with a more composed expression and said, ‘Captain, good afternoon.’

    ‘Spock,’ Kirk smiled, settling in his usual chair by the bed. ‘How are you feeling now?’ he asked. He knew the response would have nothing to do with emotion.

    ‘Stronger,’ Spock said. ‘There is far less pain.’

    ‘Good - that’s good,’ Kirk nodded. He instinctively sought eye contact, but was rebuffed by Spock’s blank, damaged stare. ‘Has Bones been in? He said he would.’

    ‘Dr McCoy visited this morning,’ Spock nodded.

    Kirk nodded back, letting his gaze roam around the neat, warmly painted room. His eyes settled on a small, polished stone statue on the bedside cabinet that he had not seen before.

    ‘Someone been giving you presents?’ he asked. ‘That little stone ornament by your bed.’

    At last some interest livened the Vulcan’s face as he picked up the carved stone. As light moved over the curves and hollows it took on a fluid appearance.

    ‘It is a Vulcan meditation aid, to be used during periods of darkness - an organic silicon formation which changes its own structure at random periods. With concentration and focus I can cause it to move into certain formations.’

    As he spoke his fingers roamed over the curves, seeking out the contours. Kirk was pleased to see that his hands were regaining the agility and sensitivity they had possessed before the blast. It had been too painful to watch when Spock could barely move his fingers to perform any basic task. He had heard the Vulcan once muttering something darkly about ‘animal paws’ as a glass slipped from between them to the blankets. Now, although both arms still wore braces, his hands were looking more like the fine-boned hands of a scientist, or of an artist.

    ‘I’ve never seen it before.’

    ‘Commodore Connor sent it - via his assistant, Lieutenant George,’ he said, sounding rather intrigued by the fact. ‘A ‘get well’ token. Apparently the young woman had spent some time studying on Vulcan, and knew something of my culture.’

    ‘Lieutenant George, eh?’ Kirk asked with a smile. ‘You know that sick Vulcan routine always pulls them in. Joke, Spock,’ he said firmly as he saw the Vulcan beginning to react with slight irritation. ‘Just joking.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock said slowly. ‘I found it difficult enough to read human emotion when I could see people’s faces, Jim. I am trying to re-educate myself to interpret tone of voice. Forgive me if I sometimes miss your meaning.’

    ‘Maybe there’s just no excuse for a bad joke,’ Kirk smiled.
   
Spock put the stone back by his bed, and rested back into the soft pillows. ‘Perhaps not,’ he nodded gravely. ‘Joke, Captain,’ he added slightly awkwardly, as if he was uncomfortable with the word.
   
‘Spock, is there anything I can do for you, or get for you, while I’m here? I get the feeling you’ve been pretty neglected this morning.’
   
‘I have not been neglected, as you put it, Captain,’ Spock assured him. ‘It’s just that the good doctor could not stay long and I have had nothing with which to occupy myself. But you could open the window for me, Jim. I would like to hear what is outside.’
   
‘Sure – but they’re glass doors to the balcony, Spock, not a window.’
   
‘There is a balcony?’ Spock asked. He folded back the blankets and stood slowly, keeping a hand on the raised head-end of the bed. He half turned to the balcony doors, then stopped, and said, ‘Captain, could you help? My strength is not at the optimum level.’
   
‘Sure,’ Kirk nodded, then paused, and said, ‘Wait, Spock. Sit down a moment.’
   
The Vulcan stayed standing, his hand tensed around the bed-end, as Kirk quickly went to open the doors and take a soft chair from the corner to put it outside. When he turned back Spock was stepping slowly towards him, his hand out before him, intense concentration on his face. It was the first time he had seen the Vulcan standing since the accident.
   
‘Hang on, Spock,’ Kirk said quickly, stepping over to him. He took the Vulcan’s arm, let him rest his weight onto him, and carefully guided him across to the open doors. ‘Here, sit down,’ he said. He guided Spock’s hand to the chair and the Vulcan sank down gratefully into the cushions.
   
‘Thank you, Jim.’
   
Kirk turned quickly inside to hide his discomfort, aware that Spock had heightened his telepathic perception to compensate for his blindness. He was ashamed of the unease he had felt at helping his Vulcan friend across the brightly lit room and into the chair in the sunlight. He didn’t want to see Spock like that, and he knew that for all his logic and impassive words Spock hated to need that help. It was abhorrent to the Vulcan’s nature to touch anyone so closely, and just as abhorrent to him to show any kind of incapacity, even to his closest friends.

    Hell, avoiding Spock wouldn’t make dealing with his blindness any easier - he had to get used to seeing those dark eyes, and seeing past them. He composed his thoughts, picked up one of the light visitor’s chairs and went back out onto the balcony. Spock was leaning forward in the chair, the slight tilt of his head indicating he was listening intently.

    ‘There are trees?’ Spock asked as Kirk put his chair down. ‘Large-leafed, quite tall, randomly spaced - not a wood?’

    ‘That’s right,’ Kirk nodded, wishing he had thought to tell Spock about the balcony earlier. The difference to Spock from just being out here in the fresh air and noise was astounding. ‘It’s part of the hospital grounds. Park-like - trees, grass, flowerbeds.’

    ‘And hard-surfaced paths, pedestrians?’

    ‘Yes, between the trees. There’re some patients out for walks, visitors, and I think members of the public use it just to get from one side to the other.’

    ‘How big is the area?’ Spock asked, then shook his head. ‘Forgive me. It is not logical to require a thorough description of something I will never see – but I find it helps if I can visualise my surroundings.’

    ‘It sounds quite logical to want to know what’s around you, Spock,’ Kirk reassured him. ‘Don’t ever hold back from asking me to describe things for you.’

Spock nodded, turning his head back towards his friend. ‘In that case – would you tell me what you see?’

‘Well, I guess the park reaches about – umm – four hundred yards straight ahead of you, maybe eight left to right. It stretches around the whole hospital though,’ Kirk began, moving on to a description of trees and benches and flowerbeds, and their positions and colours, and the variety of people using them.

    ‘We are not very high up,’ Spock commented when he finished.

    ‘The room’s on the second floor.’

    Spock nodded, and his concentration increased. ‘And do I hear the ocean?’

    ‘I don’t, but I’m sure you can. You can’t see it from here, but it’s just down from the hospital grounds. There’s a road between with traffic.’ He smiled at the Vulcan’s renewed interest in life. Thank God for those delicately pointed ears with their superb range of hearing. ‘I could take you down there in a chair sometime, if the doctors allow it, and you’re well enough.’

    ‘It would be pleasant to be out of this room,’ Spock nodded. ‘Although not in a wheelchair, Jim. I have had some limited experience of that in my time here, and I do not find it pleasant to be pushed about by someone when I cannot see what is before me.’

    ‘I can understand that. When you’re stronger, then.’

    ‘Thank you. Captain, while I remember - I tried to contact the Enterprise this morning, but the communications system would not take off-planet calls. There are matters that I need to attend to.’

    Kirk laughed quietly at the Vulcan’s stubborn adherence to duty, even whilst sitting in pyjamas in a hospital on Earth.

    ‘Mr Spock, I have reorganised your shifts, I have cancelled your appointments, I have reassigned any work you were planning to do. I have even sent Janice Rand round to your quarters to be sure that there’s nothing that needs to be cleaned up or sorted out. You have nothing to worry about.’

    ‘Then I am redundant,’ Spock said flatly. He fell into silence, his expression dead. Then abruptly, sharply, he said, ‘Captain, your presence here is illogical and unwarranted. Your duties do not extend to accompanying officers on sick leave. When I am discharged from the hospital I shall go straight to a rehabilitation centre on Vulcan. An attendant will go with me, so your presence will not be necessary. From there - ’

    ‘From there what?’ Kirk snapped back, startled by Spock’s sudden dismissive sharpness. ‘You’ll drop out of Starfleet, exile your friends, become some kind of research scientist studying radiation levels in replicator food?’

    ‘Becoming a research scientist has far more appeal than being retired on disability pension, living on pity and two hour visits from my former colleagues during shoreleave!’

    ‘What, so if you leave Starfleet no one’s allowed to ever mention it again, no one’s allowed to enter your closed up, selfish Vulcan world and remind you about real life? Has anyone ever told you, Spock, that a dark mind is something far worse than a dark world?’

    ‘Have you been told, Kirk, that your pseudo-psychology is unwarranted, uninvited and offensive?’ Spock spat back, the roughness of a Vulcan accent coming through in the growing anger.

    ‘How dare you tell me I’m no more needed than a paid nurse! How dare you sit there coddled in that chair, wrapped in self-pity, with all of us running around ministering to you! You can’t see. So what? We all sleep in the dark, Spock, we’ve all been caught out in a power cut! We don’t give up - we cope!’

    Spock’s hands tensed so hard on the chair arms his knuckles stood out like clean bone. If Kirk had not been lost in his own heat of rage he would have seen the dangerous mask of Spock’s face that was frozen over the emotion in his words. His flat, clipped voice was loaded with dangerous Vulcan rage.

    ‘When have you ever been told that your light will never return? When have you ever spent eight days, fifteen hours, fifty-two minutes in utter blackness with the certainty that you must endure that blackness for almost two more centuries?’ Spock stood abruptly, shaking with anger, turning back towards his room. ‘How could you possibly even begin to understand Vulcan perceptions of - ’

    His words were cut as he smashed abruptly into the edge of the open door. The whole frame shook.

    ‘My God, Spock!’

    Kirk leapt up in time to catch him as he faltered back, groping for something to hold on to. Kirk lowered him back into his chair with exaggerated care and Spock leaned back, lifting one tired hand to touch his forehead tenderly. His face was white, apart from the dark green flush down one side where he had hit the edge of the door.

    ‘I’ll fetch the doctor - ’

    ‘No. No, Jim,’ Spock protested. ‘I am all right. It is just a bruise.’

    Kirk stayed kneeling by his chair with his hands clenched around the Vulcan’s arms, which were still trembling with the aftermath of the deep rage.

    ‘I’m sorry,’ Kirk said sincerely, shocked at how ill and tired the Vulcan looked. ‘Everything I said - just forget it. I didn’t mean any of it. We’re both being driven to the edge by this thing, and I think something just snapped.’

    Spock did not reply. He took in a deep, shuddering breath as if he was crying, but his eyes remained dry. His body seemed to be trembling with the sheer effort of controlling whatever feelings were raging within. He closed his eyes slowly, drawing in a controlled, deliberate breath, then exhaling gradually. Finally he opened his eyes again, carefully wiping away a slight dampness with the tips of his fingers. He had come as close to crying as Kirk had seen him since the explosion.

    Eventually Spock said, ‘I am sorry, Jim. You should not have witnessed that.’

    ‘Spock, you’re my friend,’ Kirk said insistently. He clasped the Vulcan’s forearm firmly for a second. ‘I’m supposed to be here for you when you need me.’

    ‘I lost control...’

    ‘You’re blind, Spock. You’ve got a right to be angry about that. You’re still adjusting - you’re reacting quite normally for someone going through what you’re going through.’

    ‘But not logically - not as a Vulcan - and yet, entirely as a Vulcan.’

    ‘What logic is there in any of this?’ Kirk asked, staring straight ahead at the brilliant blue sky.

    Spock shook his head, looking immensely tired. ‘The fact of my blindness simply exists. And yet I cannot accept my condition with logic and equanimity. I simply *cannot*. And I do not know what else to do...’ Spock lifted his hands palm up, as if in a shrug. ‘That is why just now I became so angry as to forget two thousand years of Vulcan discipline.’

    Kirk stared into the depths of the calm green trees, unsure of how to respond.

    ‘You must understand, Jim, that I need activity. I need *something* to occupy my mind. As it is all I have is darkness and boredom. I have nothing to concentrate on but the fact that I cannot see.’

    ‘I know,’ Kirk nodded with a gentle smile. ‘But the doctors want you to rest – you know how tired you get when you do too much.’

    ‘Yes, I know,’ Spock nodded. ‘But when I do recover… I am – afraid of what will happen to me, Jim,’ he admitted hesitantly. ‘I do not want to leave the ship. It is my only home. I cannot return to my parents. I do not relish the thought of setting up home alone in a place unfamiliar to me – neither can I accept the idea of living with a carer.’

    ‘You won’t have to. I want you on my ship, Spock – as an officer as much as as a friend. But if you can’t stay, I’ll do all I can, at least to forestall it,’ Kirk promised. ‘Just at least for long enough for you to adjust to this. At the worst – well – if I can I’ll take leave long enough for you to get settled.’

    ‘Jim - ’ Spock hesitated, then said seriously, ‘Jim, I suggested that you leave because I do not want you to see my logic break down, or for you to see me so dependent, or feel bound to assist me.’

    ‘Friends help each other, Spock,’ Kirk said softly. ‘I’ll help you until you don’t need help any more. You remember that time when I bust my right arm, and you had to help me with almost everything? God, I felt embarrassed asking you to help me get dressed, but you told me, It’s logical. You are my friend, and you need my help. So there you go - it’s logical, Spock. You’re my friend, and you need my help.’

    Spock nodded silently - he could not argue at his own words. Kirk nodded back, smiling, then leaned back in his chair and gazed out at the view of swaying green trees splintered with glimpses of bright moving sea and startling blue sky. It was hard to comprehend that Spock could really see none of it; even harder to imagine the feelings that must be in the Vulcan’s head, the deep, deep emotion battling with the ingrained logic. It was hard to comprehend that his independent friend could not stand up and walk out of a room alone.

    When he looked back to Spock he saw the Vulcan’s eyes were closed and his breathing slow and relaxed, his face finally peaceful in exhausted sleep, but still scarred.

    ‘Goddammit, what was it that did this to him?’ he muttered under his breath. He could never imagine the Enterprise empty of the Vulcan’s presence, Spock living somewhere on Vulcan, adjusting to blindness, doing some planet-bound job rather than searching out new challenges in the stars.

    Spock stirred at his voice, and asked without opening his eyes, with barely any change in posture, ‘What was it, Jim?’

    ‘What?’ Kirk asked softly.

    ‘What was it that took my sight?’

    ‘Spock, you know - ’

    ‘It was an explosion in the phaser room, and the Pernician ambassador was killed. I was repairing a console. I know that much from being told, but I barely remember more than shadows, and what I see in sudden flashes.’

    ‘What do you see?’ Kirk asked curiously.

    Spock became less relaxed in the chair. ‘Sometimes I see the brief moment of bright light before my eyes succumbed to the cells. At other times I hear the ambassador’s voice, or smell his blood so vividly I believe there is blood in the room. Sometimes I feel an object I do not remember touching, or I suddenly hear and feel the flames on all sides of me. Of course, I also see things I could not possibly have seen, because I know that at that point I was blind. Sometimes the flashes are so vivid they seem more real than my reality here.’

    Kirk shuddered at that, and at the flat, calm way in which Spock had told him. He had a number of times seen the Vulcan suddenly go tense, or white, or suddenly shiver for no reason, but he had taken that to be sudden pain, not intense fear.

    ‘I need to know why this happened,’ he said. ‘If you know what happened, Jim - ’

    Kirk was surprised at that question. Until now Spock had not spoken about the explosion. He was not sure if that was because he did not want to, because he could remember so little about it, or because he had been so preoccupied with his blindness that he had thought of nothing else. He certainly hadn’t wanted to encourage him to take up interest in the investigation when the smallest activity seemed to tire him so much.

    ‘Spock, you don’t need to worry about it right now,’ Kirk began. ‘Bones wants your memories to come back naturally, and if you testify in the inquest they’ll want to know they’re your memories, not someone else’s.’

    ‘My testimony would only become vitally important if the investigators turned up evidence to prompt a criminal investigation.’

    ‘Yes,’ Kirk said cautiously.

    ‘Is there reason to believe that the inquest will become a criminal investigation?’

    ‘No - no, of course not. It was a simple accident,’ Kirk said firmly.

    Spock frowned briefly, but then he nodded, and rested back into the chair again. It was an indication of his distraction and tiredness that he did not question Kirk’s statement. He sat still for a moment, then turned his face back towards Kirk.

    ‘Jim, would you speak to Yeoman Rand - thank her for seeing to my quarters - but ask her to please make sure that nothing is moved. I want to know when I return that my rooms have not changed.’

    ‘Of course, Spock,’ he nodded.

    ‘Thank you, Jim,’ he said, and closed his eyes again. This time he fell into so deep a sleep that he did not even stir when McCoy came into the room.

    ‘Jim, what in God’s name have you been doing to him?’ the doctor exclaimed as soon as he saw the Vulcan’s face. ‘You’re with him for two hours and I find him out of bed, totally exhausted, and beaten up into the bargain.’

    ‘He walked into the door, Bones,’ Kirk said. ‘He got angry at something I said, he tried to walk away, and he walked into the door.’

    ‘I see,’ McCoy said dryly. He searched through his medical bag for a soft-tissue healer, and let the restoring ray play over the developing bruise down Spock’s face. ‘You’re supposed to come here to cheer him up, not to get into damn fights. You know the biproxiline makes him – ’

    ‘I know. I didn’t expect Spock to get angry,’ Kirk said. ‘I didn’t expect either of us to. I don’t know - I’m tense, he’s about as tense as Romulan warship on alert.’

    ‘Well that’s not surprising. He’s been blind, what - a week? Ten days? And confined to bed all that time. Just long enough to make him sick of it but not nearly long enough for him to come to terms with it.’

    ‘Until I saw him out of bed I hadn’t quite realised just how completely blind he was,’ Kirk admitted. ‘I don’t know what to say to him, seeing him like that. I’ve never seen him so angry - or so afraid.’

    ‘Spock’s not immune to bad emotion, Jim,’ McCoy reminded him.

    ‘I know. He told me that himself. I think it’s the first time he’s admitted that he’s not dealing well with this. You know, he’s counting how long he’s been blind to the minute.’

    ‘That doesn’t mean he’s abnormally obsessing. Just give him time, Jim. It’s a harsh thing to say, but he will get used to blindness. If he’s releasing his feelings instead of letting them fester that’s a good sign. He has to acknowledge his emotions before he can deal with them.’

    ‘Maybe you’re right. He is showing more interest in the outside world, initiating things instead of just answering questions. He asked about the explosion for the first time.’

    ‘And what did you say?’

    ‘I told him it was just an accident. I know he didn’t believe me - he just did me the courtesy of not telling me I’m lying to his face.’

    McCoy glanced at the Vulcan to be sure he really was deeply asleep. ‘Jim, you should tell him what you know.’

    ‘That’s the problem. What do I know - except that it probably wasn’t an accident? If I told him there was anything suspicious about it he’d find some way to get out there and exhaust himself trying to find out what really happened.’

    ‘Maybe so, but one of the worst things to do right now is to take away his responsibilities, his right to choose. It’s a mistake to think you have to protect him from the facts because he’s blind.’

    ‘I’m not, Bones - I’m protecting him because he’s ill. I just want to wait until he’s out of hospital.’

    McCoy shrugged - he obviously wasn’t going to persuade his friend. ‘So have you found anything else out?’
   
‘Nothing. Scotty’s teams on the ship haven’t found anything but normal debris yet. But you’d have to be a fool to think it was a simple accident. The ambassador was killed - an ambassador with a reputation for trouble-making.’

    ‘And what about the people down here? You’ve spent long enough up at headquarters.’

    ‘Only going over what happened since the Pernicians came onto the ship, going over crew records, psychological profiles... Going over Spock’s character...’

    ‘What about Spock’s character?’ McCoy asked, bristling.

    ‘How half-human he really is, whether or not he liked the ambassador, whether a Vulcan could commit murder if he believed it’s for a greater good.’

    ‘Who the hell do they - ’

    ‘They’ve ruled him out as a suspect now, but they still want to ask him about what happened,’ Kirk cut over McCoy’s protests. ‘It’s just sometimes people confuse logic with cold-bloodedness. All I can do is keep staving them off, deny their requests to interview him. I can’t have them come in and tell Spock the explosion was murder and he’s the only one who can tell them what happened.’

    ‘Spock must already know that it was murder. You said yourself, only a fool - ’

    ‘I don’t know if he remembers enough to suspect it deeply. He hasn’t been talking about it, and I’m not going to start probing him. For now - I don’t know if you’ve had lunch, but I’m starving. We should go leave him in peace to sleep.’

******

    After fifteen days in hospital, Spock was beginning to spend most of his time out of bed, sitting on the balcony where he could hear the noises of outside. He could rise from his balcony chair unaided and walk about his room with easy confidence. He had very few possessions here, and they were kept mostly on shelves or in his suitcases. The doctors, nurses and orderlies were good enough not to move things without telling him, and he could rely absolutely on things being where he expected them to be. Although he had never set eyes on the place around him, he could probably describe the room minutely to an interested listener, from his fingertip examinations and friends’ descriptions.

    What he did not know, and yearned to know, was what was outside of the door of his room. He had been out through it on occasion, but mostly in a disconcerting, floating anti-grav chair, on the way to examinations or physiotherapy. He knew that outside there was a long corridor, very close to his door was an elevator, and further down was a public ward that he was grateful not to be in - but no more than that. After so much inactivity, he yearned to simply take a walk – to take  pleasure in the mobility that he had always taken for granted.

    He finally made up his mind, moved to the door, and slipped it open. He stepped out into the black space, attuning his ears to the sounds around. There was very little activity here, but it was also here that he was most likely to be recognised by someone with the benefit of eyesight, and led back to bed like a misbehaving child. He heard the elevator doors across the corridor slide open, and a feminine, computerised voice said, ‘Doors opening. Level two. … Going up. Doors closing.’

    The noise led him like a beacon, across the corridor and a little way down it. He had always ignored such computerised aides before – they were for the blind, not for him. But now he was quietly grateful that such things still existed in this disability-poor planet. He reached forward and touched the coolly metallic doors. If logic prevailed, the buttons would be on the right, at chest height. They were – two buttons, both studded with Braille that he couldn’t read, but both also holding raised triangles, one pointing up, one down. He pressed the downward one, and waited. Inconsistently, there was no voice to tell him if the lift was actually coming – but finally the computerised voice spoke from within. ‘Doors opening. Level two, going down.’

    He stepped inside the lift, which seemed to be empty, and said clearly, ‘Level one.’

The lift did not move. It must be activated mechanically. He reached out to the wall to feel about for the buttons. Eventually he found them, illogically situated half-way into the lift, on the left hand side. But they did not help. They too were studded with Braille, but the numbers were not raised, and he did not want to inadvertently press an alarm. He stood still, stymied for the moment, frustrated at his inability to work a simple elevator. Then the doors slid open again, and a large-seeming person bustled in beside him.

    ‘Which floor’s yours?’

    A woman, out of breath. ‘First, please,’ Spock said, attempting to aim his eyes towards her face.

    She obviously saw nothing strange in him, because she continued, ‘Are you visiting?’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock nodded. In a manner of speaking, he was visiting this place – it was not his permanent abode. Although he still wore a slim metallic brace on his lower right arm, it was hidden by his jacket sleeve, and the woman could obviously not tell he was a patient here.

    ‘Yeah, me too. Don’t you get so bored, though? You just have to get out for a while.’

    Spock raised an eyebrow. Perhaps if she realised how tedious it was being alone in a hospital room, not permitted to go home, she would not be so quick to leave.

    The doors opened again, and he followed the large woman out of the lift, relying on the fact that she was leaving the building. Although the area he was in was large and filled with the noise of bustle and talking, he could rely on her bulk before him to clear his path and her footsteps to lead him, while carefully committing the route to memory for his return. He took for granted the fact that the floor was level, unwilling to draw attention to himself by shuffling his feet on the ground. They were heading for an area with an intermittent warm breeze – presumably coming in through the doors. Luckily they seemed to be sliding ones – most of all Spock had been dreading revolving ones, which would completely rob him of his sense of direction.

    He stepped through into the open air, moved off a little to the side, and stopped.

    Suddenly, without the confining help of walls and people, he felt intensely disabled in his darkness. There was a continuous noise of shuttles before him, and the occasional siren-blaring ambulance drawing up. Added to that, the ground was no longer the smooth hospital floor, but an uneven paved walkway. It would be far too dangerous to step forward into this place.

    Instead, he turned left, relying on the fact that there were gardens behind the hospital, and if he could only get around the building he would be able to find them. He walked slowly, one hand held unobtrusively in front of him, constantly vigilant for turns in the path or obstacles before him. He tried desperately to suppress his consciousness of the sight he must make, moving like one crippled, not aware of obstacles until his hand touched them and he moved around them like a man clinging to a cliff face. But eventually the path cleared of pillars, benches and what felt like concrete flower tubs. The noises of shuttles began to die away, replaced by the rustling of leaves. He picked up his pace a little, growing in confidence. It was dark around him, but nothing bad had happened yet. The smells and sounds matched his belief that he had reached the gardens. He managed to walk unhindered for a good few hundred metres, and began to increase his pace, growing more confident.

    But then something caught about his ankles, and he pitched forward with a soft gasp, landing on hands and knees on turf, jarring his still injured right arm. Groping about himself, he found a low chain fence – a visual marker at the edge of the lawn. But the fence was not straight – he had tripped near a right angle, and he could no longer tell which way he had been facing. He got to his feet and stepped gingerly back onto the path, trying to work out which way to go. On investigation, he found he was at some kind of cross-roads in the path – and hopelessly lost.

    All he needed was one flash of sight to orientate himself. Just one moment without these accursed cells blocking his eyes. But that was never going to happen. He stopped still, concern turning to apprehension, apprehension slowly blossoming into panic. Was he even in the gardens? Was the turf by the path a wide lawn, or merely a verge? Was he even still in the hospital grounds? He had no way to tell, and a shiver ran through him as he realised how completely and utterly helpless he was, everything an arm’s length away a mystery to him. How foolish could he have been to imagine he could do something like this without assistance? He clenched his fists at his sides, beating them gently into his thighs as a way of venting the frustration. It was quiet all around. There were no pedestrians about to help him, and despite his previous vigour, he was beginning to feel tired.

    Finally he decided. Staying here was doing nothing. He had to choose one path, and follow it. For no reason other than that he was right handed, he chose right, and began to step cautiously down the path. However, nothing seemed to change. There were no voices, no different sounds around him. He could hear the soft swish of traffic continuously in the background, but it didn’t help him to orientate himself. The noise of ambulances curved around him as they streamed out in various directions about the hospital, so even that didn’t help him. Finally he stumbled into something hard and thigh-high, and he discovered a bench in front of him. Exhausted, he sank down onto the seat, and leant back.

    He was not consciously counting the time passing, but he knew he had been sitting for over an hour, and that the air was beginning to cool as the evening drew in. Even summer in San Francisco was chill enough to his Vulcan blood, and his tolerance for cold was severely reduced by his physical weakness. But he didn’t know what to do. Moving meant risking becoming even more hopelessly lost. Staying here meant growing colder as night fell, and eventually being forced to sleep here on the bench. But sooner or later someone would miss him. They must do.

******

When Kirk came walking along the path he habitually took to the hospital, he didn’t expect to see anyone. This way was little used – that was why he liked it, because it gave him time to unwind before going in to see Spock. He was walking swiftly, conscious that Spock had not expected him at all that day, anticipating the surprise when he walked in. But he slowed his pace as he caught sight of a figure on a bench – someone sitting rigidly in the evening air, staring fixedly at the trees on the other side of the path. He came closer, curious. Not only was it unusual to see someone here – it was a someone who looked an awful lot like Spock. It was Spock!

    He broke into a run, pelting towards the bench. As he neared Spock flinched, raising his hands instinctively as if to defend himself against this unseen intruder.

    ‘Spock!’ Kirk called breathlessly. ‘It’s Jim.’

    ‘Captain?’ The Vulcan shot to his feet, turning wildly towards the sound of Kirk’s voice and moving towards him with his hands held out.

    ‘Stay there – the path’s not straight,’ Kirk called, seeing him making for one of the low fences that bounded the path. He skipped the fence himself, ran across the grass, and reached his friend, pressing a hand to a sudden stitch in his ribs. His face pale and strained, Spock reached out convulsively for Kirk’s hand, and on finding it gripped on like a lifeline, one hand clutched around Kirk’s hand, his other gripping on to Kirk’s forearm.

    ‘Commander, what in God’s name are you doing?’ Kirk exclaimed, the tone of command creeping into his voice.

    That very tone of voice seemed to help a little. Spock straightened up and took in a deep breath. ‘Investigative exploration, sir,’ he replied concisely.

    ‘Investigative – ’ Kirk echoed. ‘Mr Spock, please explain.’

    Spock shook his head. ‘I have been foolish,’ he said flatly.

    ‘Did you come out here on your own?’ Kirk asked incredulously. ‘How long have you been sitting there?’

    ‘One hour, seventeen minutes. I – became lost.’

    ‘What were you doing?’ Kirk repeated.

    ‘I believed I could manage to get to the gardens alone. I was wrong,’ Spock said simply.

    ‘Well, technically you are in the gardens,’ Kirk said, trying to sound encouraging. ‘Just maybe not in the bit you wanted to be in. I don’t think anyone comes round here.’

    ‘That is patently obvious,’ Spock said, raising an eyebrow and managing to look a little more like his old self. However, he was still holding onto Kirk’s hand and arm as if he thought he was standing on the edge of a cliff.

    ‘And how were you planning on getting back once you’d got there?’ Kirk asked automatically, not thinking about the effect his words would have.

Spock seemed to deflate at that question, and said very softly, ‘I do not know, Jim.’

‘You know that the biproxiline makes you more at risk of haemorrhage if you injure yourself?’

‘The clotting factor is almost back to normal now,’ Spock said quietly. ‘I would not have come out if it was not so.’

    ‘I assume you came without permission – without telling anyone?’

    Spock inclined his head very slightly, and Kirk sighed.

    ‘Commander Spock, do I have to *order* you to stay in that room of yours?’

    ‘Sir – ’ Spock faltered, then regained some measure of control. ‘Jim, I do not believe my behaviour warrants the brig.’

    ‘It’s not exactly a prison cell, Spock,’ Kirk protested.

    Spock raised an eyebrow. ‘I cannot work, I cannot read, I cannot leave the room because the nurses do not have time to assist me. I cannot even admire the view from my balcony.’

‘Locked in a dark room, without hope of release,’ Kirk muttered. ‘I can see your point, Mr Spock. And I will *try* to come more often, and find things to keep you occupied, and come out for walks with you. Perhaps if we go over a couple of these routes you’ll be able to remember them – you can try to build up a mental map of this place. Will that help?’

Spock nodded again, torn between gratitude and hating to have to feel that gratitude.

    ‘I’ll tell you what,’ Kirk said finally. ‘Are you tired?’

    ‘Not excessively,’ Spock said. An hour’s enforced rest on the bench had seen to that.

    ‘Well, there’s a café just back down the path. It’s probably closer than the hospital. How about we go down there and get something warm into you? I can call the hospital and tell them where you are, and we can get a cab back there afterwards.’

    ‘That sounds like an admirable plan,’ Spock nodded, finally releasing Kirk’s arm and straightening his jacket out with his hands. Any time away from his room would be time well spent, and now Kirk was here he could relax again. He felt out for Kirk’s arm again, taking hold of it lightly with his left hand for guidance. His right was throbbing dully from the fall.

    ‘Okay?’ Kirk asked, looking sideways at his first officer. ‘Ready?’

    Spock nodded once, then asked rather hesitantly, ‘You will warn me of steps, Jim, or changes in the ground?’

    ‘Of course, Spock,’ Kirk grinned. ‘What d’you take me for?’

    Once in the café, Kirk settled Spock in a high-backed booth seat, and went to call the hospital. When he returned he sat down opposite his Vulcan friend, and studied his face. He looked tired, but despite the obvious fear he had displayed earlier, he seemed quietly glad to be out of the hospital.

    ‘Well, they were concerned, but I sorted it out,’ he told Spock, picking up the menu. ‘You want me to read out the vegetarian options?’

    ‘If you would,’ Spock nodded. ‘I was approached by a waiter while you were gone. I took the liberty of ordering drinks. I thought you would like coffee.’

    ‘You thought right,’ Kirk nodded. He scanned his eyes down the menu to the vegetarian section, and recited the list to his friend. Soon they were sitting with full meals before them, and Spock carefully edged his fingers towards his place setting, feeling over the cutlery and working out the size of the plate before him.

    ‘Fries at two, salad at six, and vegetarian lasagne at ten,’ Kirk told him quietly. ‘I’m sorry there wasn’t more choice, Spock.’

    ‘I am perfectly content with this,’ Spock assured him, prodding his fork experimentally at the salad. Although Kirk had seen him eat in hospital, it always looked odd to him to see the confident Vulcan feeling so delicately for his food with the end of a knife and fork. He had tried one evening to eat his own dinner with his eyes closed, and immediately sympathised with his difficulty. It amazed him that Spock was always so precisely neat with his food.

‘So what made you try this solo expedition today, Mr Spock?’ Kirk asked finally, although he knew the answer – boredom, frustration, a deep desire to regain the freedom he had lost.

    ‘I felt relatively well, I had no visitors to alleviate the boredom, and I desired to know what was outside,’ Spock said simply. ‘I did not expect it to be so difficult. Perhaps I should have known.’

    ‘Bones has said that once you’re on your feet, it will get easier, fast,’ Kirk promised.

    Spock inclined his head in acknowledgement. ‘I was relatively successful until I left the building,’ he said. ‘But blindness and open spaces do not seem to mix.’

    ‘I’m sorry,’ Kirk said simply.

    Spock breathed in deeply, straightening his spine. ‘It cannot be changed. I must live with this – this disability. I must accept that there are some things I cannot do any more.’

    ‘A lot of the practical things can be remedied,’ Kirk pointed out.

    ‘Yes,’ Spock nodded. He was silent for a long moment, as if wondering whether or not to speak. Finally he broke his own silence. ‘I – would like simple things. To see what I am eating, for example. To see light, or colour, just for a moment. To – to see your face, Jim. I miss the faces of those around me.’

    ‘Basically, my old friend, you want to see,’ Kirk said softly.

    Spock inclined his head once in a spartan nod. ‘But that is impossible.’

    ‘How long has it been now, Spock?’ Kirk asked curiously, knowing he could rely on his First Officer’s innate sense of time.

    ‘Nineteen days, two hours, fifty-three minutes – approximately. I have been authoritatively assured that it will become easier with time.’

    Kirk could tell from his tone of voice that Spock found it hard to believe that assurance. Wordlessly, Kirk reached out to grip Spock’s forearm, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The Vulcan’s mask relaxed a little at that touch, an indefinable lightness suffusing his body. He straightened up again, felt for his cup on the table, and took a sip of coffee. Just that movement, though, as he felt for the cup, and felt again for space on the table before putting it down carefully distant from the edge, spoke eloquently of the ‘simple things’ Spock was having to overcome.

    ‘I suppose the boredom doesn’t help matters?’ Kirk asked him.

    ‘I am unused to such a lack of stimulation,’ Spock nodded. ‘I am used to being useful to those around me, rather than being a burden.’

    ‘You’re not a burden, Spock!’ Kirk protested instantly.

    ‘And yet you must lead me by the hand, read for me, find things for me, help me from place to place…’

    ‘Until you can do it for yourself, yes,’ Kirk nodded. There was no point in denying that truth. ‘But I also know that once you’re adapted I’ll be the one relying on you again, for that exquisite judgement, that intelligence – for everything you’re good at.’ He paused, thinking, then said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Spock. You’re much stronger – you’re proving that now. How about when we get back to the hospital we find your doctor and talk to her about some kind of training. You’re not getting anywhere lying in bed. Perhaps a week or so more in hospital with them helping you with things like mobility, and you’ll be ready to check yourself out.’

    ‘A paramount idea. And once I can manage the more mundane things, perhaps I could progress to more luxurious skills. I greatly desire to be able to read,’ Spock said, a more positive tone in his voice. ‘I find illiteracy intolerable.’ He ran his fingers over the chipped table edge. ‘I think I have the sensitivity in my fingers to learn Braille fairly easily.’

    ‘I’m sure you do,’ Kirk nodded. ‘With that superior Vulcan sense of touch.’

‘I am also convinced that one must be able to create a portable device which can scan text – perhaps even handwriting - and translate it to speech or Braille output.’

‘Well, there’s another project,’ Kirk grinned. ‘At this rate, Mr Spock, you won’t have time to remember to be bored.’

******

    Spock sat in a soft chair on the balcony of his hospital room, letting his body soak in the heat of sunshine magnified by adapted force fields. Even after three weeks of convalescence it seemed odd that the heat could penetrate to ease out the stubborn aches in his bones but the brilliant light couldn’t pierce his eyes. Even more strange, he had spent these three weeks doing almost nothing. He could remember no other time in his life when he had been forced into so much inactivity, and had felt so powerless to alter his situation. The shock of the first few days had been nothing in comparison to what he had felt later, when he was able to sit up, almost able to take part in the world, but frustrated in every effort by a web of darkness. He felt something like a precarious piece of debris caught in a tide – he had felt terrible, then a little better after the first few days, as he began to get used to coping with various tasks - but the stronger he became the more restrictive the darkness became to him.

He pressed his long fingers together in an effort to stop them needing to hold and manipulate something. There was no point in fidgeting like a child. Finally he lifted the lyre up from beside his chair and began to pick out a melody. If he could not see, he would have to concentrate on stimulating his other senses, and he had begun to take solace in the lyre more and more as one of the only occupations he could manage easily. He began to mimic in music the tones of the patients talking and walking down below him, using that exercise to help focus his mind. He had been dwelling on the darkness to the point of obsession, and he had to break that destructive cycle.

    Despite his efforts at concentration, it was almost impossible to focus on the music rather than the waves of feelings in his head. It wasn’t so much the lack of seeing basic things that produced the dark emotion. Metal still felt just like metal, smooth and quickly conductive of heat. The lyre under his hands still felt like wood. The same was true of all the commonplace things that he touched every day - they were just as real as ever. In a way he even felt more conscious of some things - of his toes, which were no longer far away from his eyes but part of the feeling of his whole body; of people outside in the corridor, who were now just as present as people inside his room.

    What wearied his mind was the constant, unremitting darkness, and the limitations, the dependency, of his movement and activity. There was a sickening simplicity in other people’s actions, while he struggled. Jim would sit and read effortlessly for an hour. He could remember precisely what Jim read, unconsciously count each page as it was turned, but when he picked the book up it meant nothing. He could feel the smooth warmth of the cover, the slight, unintelligible indentations made by the title, the rough dryness of the paper pages, but it meant nothing more, and that produced a deadness in him. For the first time in his life he realised the horrors of illiteracy.

    Up until this point today he had hardly had the chance to feel the crush of boredom. The afternoon had been spent outside, walking with a nurse - it had been the morning that held the more trying experience. A group of the explosion investigators, three presences of voice and smell, had been allowed finally to speak to him, but it was still inexplicably difficult to remember the explosion in the demanded detail, except in brief and shaking flashes that momentarily made him wonder if he was back in the room. It had been all he could do through the questioning to keep from pressing the call button just to make someone come who would help him out of the enveloping memories. He was not sure he even remembered why the Pernicians had been on the ship, or anything about them. After an hour he had pleaded exhaustion, and they had left. It was disturbing that it should be so hard to remember, and so harrowing to try.

    Spock laid his lyre down as he realised he had totally lost his concentration on the task at hand, and he leaned forward in his chair, listening to the goings on in the garden below. One of the staff was berating a patient for being out without permission, and the Tellarite patient grumbled in reply. Footsteps stumped away, followed by the lighter steps of the human, and unheeded protests. The noises faded, and Spock concentrated on the feel of the sun again. It was moving round towards the west, leaving an intense patch of warmth on the left side of his face. The noise of waves was softening as the day progressed.

    Someone passed through the outer door to his room, and he turned his ear to the noise, steeling himself for the forthcoming degradation of an examination of his healing wounds. But the vibrant mind emanations and the footsteps were Jim’s, and he sounded in a buoyant mood. Spock turned back to the warmth of the sun as Jim’s boots clicked across the room towards the balcony doors, bringing a faint smell of the streets outside.

    ‘Mr Spock, I have good news,’ Jim said as he rounded the doors. He sounded as if he was smiling. Spock stood and turned to him, face impassive. Unless someone had stumbled upon a cure for phaser-coolant blindness, he could think of no good news.

    ‘Yes, sir?’

    ‘I saw your doctor in the corridor. With a little persuasion, she decided you’re well enough to leave hospital. There’ll just be some forms - I can help you fill them out.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock said. ‘Thank you for informing me, Captain. I shall be ready to leave in the morning.’

    He turned back to the sun to conceal any lapse of expression from the captain. The news was not unexpected, and he knew his eyes would never heal. He knew he had to move on, and he really wanted to leave this hospital environment, but it seemed so soon to be living without the aid of nursing staff, with only three anxious friends watching his every unsure movement.

    He closed his eyes, telling himself firmly, *I must adapt*.

    ‘You can leave now, if you’re not tired,’ Kirk said. ‘I thought we could walk. You’ve spent too long in this room the last few days.’

    ‘Actually, I spent the greater part of the afternoon walking in the grounds, Captain,’ Spock told him, turning back now that he had worked the negative feelings out of his mind.

    ‘On your own?’ The delight was so strong in his voice that Spock hardly wanted to answer in the negative.

    ‘With a nurse. The staff have supplied me with a cane from a company in Europe. I was learning how to use it as an aid to navigation. I did spend some time without her guidance.’

    ‘How did you find it?’

    ‘Frustrating,’ Spock said with typical understatement, ‘but ultimately useful, Captain. Better than stumbling about with no kind of guidance. The cane is more help than I had imagined it would be.’

    ‘Well, that’s good. And I heard you’ve had a visit from the investigators?’

    ‘In the morning, yes - but I could remember nothing of significance.’

    ‘So I guess you’re tired after so much excitement in one day?’

    Spock could hear the smile in his captain’s voice. ‘I am not tired,’ he promised. ‘I shall have to change,’ he said, touching the soft material of his hospital pyjamas. He had never thought to ask what colour they were.

    ‘Will you need help?’ Kirk asked anxiously.

    ‘You could pick out the correct clothes, Captain - that is all,’ Spock reassured him. The dual role of friend and carer that Jim had slipped into made them both uncomfortable.

    ‘Sure. When you’re packed I’ll have your cases sent over to the hotel. Which one’s your uniform in?’

    ‘I won’t wear my uniform,’ Spock said, conscious of a feeling of regret. Illogical, but understandable. That simple statement meant that he would be leaving his job, his home, every friend he had, to forge a new life living alone and trying to adapt to blindness. ‘I am not in Starfleet now.’

    ‘Spock, you haven’t been retired,’ Kirk said quickly. ‘No one’s even thought of doing that.’

    ‘However, they soon will,’ he said calmly. ‘There never has been a science officer of my rank in Starfleet who was visually impaired, and I have not the slightest perception of light. Starfleet is not known for its active recruitment of disabled individuals. I have a black suit, Jim. I shall wear that, if you will locate it for me.’

    ‘Spock - ‘ Kirk began.

    ‘I believe it is in my large case. Lieutenant Uhura told me that she packed it,’ he said, going back through the open doorway into his room. He found his suitcase and lifted it up onto the bed, flicking the catches and opening the lid. ‘It may be in this one. The other case is by the wall beyond the bed.’ He straightened and stepped away from the case. ‘Could you pick out my suit, Captain, while I gather my belongings?’

    ‘Of course, Mr Spock,’ Kirk nodded. ‘I can talk to you about your job later.’

******

Spock walked with Jim through the city of San Francisco with a growing sense of confusion. His usually accurate sense of direction had ebbed away from him streets ago, and now he felt totally lost, despite Kirk’s attempts at describing the surroundings. Jim only needed to miss out telling him one street name or the direction of one turn to throw his entire conception of his route out of kilter. These busy streets were so different, both physically and in atmosphere, to the calm paths of the hospital gardens. He had tried at first simply walking near to Jim, without holding his arm, but he had discovered quickly how easy it was to lose the noise of his footsteps in the bustle around, to find himself veering away without realising it.

    He lifted his head to try to feel the direction of the sun on his face, or to make out the faint sound of waves. Perhaps he was walking due east, but which street he was walking on was a mystery. A stubborn sense of pride stopped him from asking Jim to name each street as they turned onto it. It wasn’t his captain’s place to spend all his time feeding him with information. He was already finding it difficult to restrain himself from asking about every ambiguous noise - noises he would probably not have thought twice about had he the luxury of a checking glance. There was too much noise and disorder in this human city.

    A wave of fatigue passed through his body, but he ignored it as a reasonable vestige of his time in hospital. He was prepared to be tired for at least a few days to come, trying to adjust to living in darkness in a new place. The whole business of doing everything in the dark was intolerably tiring, but at least with growing skill that was one thing that would improve.

    ‘All right, Spock?’ Kirk asked, repeating a question he had asked every hundred metres since leaving the hospital grounds.

    ‘Yes, Captain,’ Spock said patiently, moving sideways as Kirk’s arm led him around another obstacle before his new cane could touch it. The cane was hardly useful on these smooth sidewalks until Jim warned him of a step or a kerb, so he lifted the end up from the ground and held it against his body instead.

    ‘I have been wondering why it is necessary for the street to be punctuated so erratically with various obstacles,’ he admitted.

    ‘I guess we humans like chaos.’

    ‘Perhaps, Captain,’ Spock nodded. ‘But it will be necessary for me to navigate alone in this human chaos.’

    Kirk hesitated in his step, and asked, ‘You think you should try that, Spock - just yet?’

    ‘I have no intention of trying it at present, but it will be necessary in time. Maps can be converted into tactile format, and I should be able to memorise them - although I had not considered all these obstacles. They will make judging distances more difficult. However, I can equip myself with a navigational tricorder, which should help if I lose my bearings. The hospital also suggested that I should acquire a guide dog. I have decided that I will, as soon as it is feasible.’

    ‘A dog on the ship?’ Kirk asked doubtfully, and Spock let that pass. Even wearing civilian clothes, it was hard to imagine never returning to the ship - to his home.

    He followed his captain’s arm around a corner and they seemed to walk into a wall of scent and noise through which he could barely concentrate on Kirk’s conversation. Humans bumped past him carelessly as Jim led him through clusters of pedestrians. Aromas of food hung thick in the air, pungent and tangy, sweet, yeasty, fatty, fruity and earthy, sometimes accompanied by the clatter and noise of a busy cafe, at other times just the quiet chatter in a shop. These distractions of sounds and scents were fascinating to decipher, but gradually the unrelenting cacophony of noise became an assault on his ears.

    They crossed the street, turned another corner, and the soft hum of shuttles swung and increased on the left, the noises ebbed and flowed again. Spock became conscious of a growing feeling of dizziness. It was getting harder and harder to balance the more tired he became.

    A shattering noise exploded on his left. For a few moments he was unconscious of the street around him. There was only a dark burning room and horrific pain, crushing down on him, tighter and tighter - until Kirk’s voice pierced the memory.

    ‘Spock! *Spock,* you’re hurting me!’

    He was still standing on the street, and gripping Jim’s arm with bonecrushing force. He felt dizzy. He forced air back into his frozen lungs and uncurled his fingers slowly, aware that his heart rate had surged and the blood had drained from his cheeks. He let go of Jim’s arm, but just as quickly pressed his fingers back to it, feeling horribly lost in the busy street.

    ‘C-captain, I apologise,’ he began, clamping down on the fear. Just for an instant, he had really believed himself back in that room.

    ‘It’s okay,’ Kirk said quickly, putting a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of reassurance. ‘Just workmen - the antigrav failed on a metal panel.’

    ‘Yes, of course,’ Spock nodded, but he could not shake the ghost image of heat and pain.

    ‘Are you okay, Mr Spock?’ Kirk pressed.

    ‘Yes, fine,’ Spock said. It was incredibly hard to focus on Jim’s voice and separate it from the din around him. He wavered, and it became necessary to hold onto Jim’s arm with both hands just to balance.

    ‘Spock, are you sure you’re all right?’ Kirk asked. ‘Do you need to rest?’

    ‘No, Captain,’ Spock assured him, trying to make himself look more as he usually did. It was hard when he felt so odd inside. ‘I am quite all right.’

    ‘You look ready to faint,’ Kirk pressed. ‘Sit down here,’ he said, leading him over to a place with clattering china, and the smell of food. Somewhere opposite there was a distorted, rhythmic banging that kept on and on, and Spock forced himself to ignore it. Kirk touched the back of a chair and Spock slid his hand down to feel the smooth, cool metal. He sat down slowly, reaching out to feel a table, perhaps one of a cluster outside a cafe. Dizziness and nausea surged over him, then receded, and he realised that perhaps he had been close to fainting. Then Jim said softly, ‘What was that back there, Mr Spock? You froze.’

‘Just - a temporary lapse in control,’ Spock said truthfully enough. ‘The noise startled me.’

    ‘It did more than that. Come on, my Vulcan friend. Talk to me. You’re stressed - you have been since we left the hospital.’

    Spock hesitated, running one finger along the edge of the table. Kirk noticed the pause, and quickly reassured him. ‘It’s all right. No one’s listening. Now - what’s wrong, Spock?’

    ‘I am experiencing difficulty,’ Spock finally admitted awkwardly.

    ‘Difficulty - in not seeing?’

    The Vulcan nodded silently, wondering why that admission made him feel so ashamed.

    ‘No one expects you to find it easy, Spock! It’s okay to be scared.’

    ‘Scared?’ he echoed. He shook his head slowly, considering the word. With all their emotions, human words never seemed adequate to express feelings. Few humans realised how deep and how strong Vulcan emotions could be without control. ‘No. I am not scared. Disorientated could be partially accurate, or overwhelmed.’

    ‘Overwhelmed?’

    ‘By this torrent of sound around me, from the pedestrians in the street to the noise of your sleeve as it brushes the table.’ There was a rustle as Jim’s arms moved suddenly, as if in surprise that Spock could hear it. ‘My Vulcan hearing exposes me to a superfluity of noise to compensate for the darkness. It was acceptable in the quiet of the hospital grounds, but here it is confusing, and tiring to decipher.’

    ‘You’ll get used to it, in time,’ Kirk promised. ‘You’ll adjust.’

    Spock nodded slowly, unsure of whether he would. Jim perhaps thought that it was only the noise and his physical weakness that made him feel so tired, not the simple fact that his sight had gone, that he felt weighted down with loss, tired by restraining illogical anger, grief, fear, confusion. Sometimes he could control these feelings for minutes, hours, maybe a day at a time, then they resurfaced like a Klingon attack, stronger for the repression.

    ‘Yes, of course, Captain,’ Spock said. How could he explain to Jim that he felt that some part of him had died?

    ‘We can get the subway from here. I should’ve called a cab, instead of taking you out into the streets of San Francisco. I should have realised you’d be tired.’

‘There had to be a first time to come into the city,’ Spock said logically. He had to push aside his feelings, draw on cool rationalism. ‘I admit I am disconcerted by the experience, but it is something I will grow accustomed to. Which street is this, Jim?’

    ‘We’re on Market - just come off Oak.’

    Spock nodded - he should have recognised the noises and the echoes of the wide, busy street. He stood up slowly, keeping a hand on the table top. ‘Shall we proceed, Captain?’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk said, but his voice changed on the last syllable. ‘Oh, God.’

    ‘Captain, what is wrong?’ Spock asked, straining to hear anything odd in the medley of sounds.

    ‘Come with me,’ he said, putting his arm around Spock’s back and hustling him swiftly along the sidewalk. ‘We’re coming to steps.’

    ‘Up or down? Where are we going?’

    ‘Down - the subway.’

    ‘Captain, let me take your arm,’ he asked, disconcerted at Jim’s pushing from behind.

    ‘Okay. Hurry. Watch the steps.’

    Spock dropped the tip of the cane to the floor, and felt the concrete break off into a step, so he hurried after Jim’s arm that kept pulling him downwards, resisting the urge to hang on with both hands. He had to relax into the sea of noise, to trust Jim to guide him safely - that was the only way to make this guidance bearable. He could hear echoing noises of footsteps and subway shuttles far below, getting louder as they hurried further down under the streets. A cool wind breezed past him and then died again as somewhere a shuttle swept out of a tunnel and into a station.

    ‘Captain, what is wrong?’ he repeated more insistently, half-running down the steps. The noise echoed off the walls around him, merging with the noises of crowds below, but he could hear nothing suggestive of danger.

    ‘Reporters,’ Kirk explained quickly. ‘There was a pack of them coming down the street. They couldn’t get to you in hospital, but they’ve been harassing us for days. They’re more persistent than Romulans.’

    Spock turned instinctively at a sudden clutter of footsteps, and a voice echoed down the stairs, calling his name loudly and insistently.

    ‘Come on,’ Kirk urged him. ‘There’s one more flight, then we can get on the shuttle and lose them.’

    ‘Captain. Captain, please,’ Spock said, stopping short on the steps and resisting his pull. ‘I must speak to them. I have not the strength to run.’

    He could hear the jostling crowd getting closer, his name being called by a medley of voices.

    ‘Spock, we’ve got to catch that shuttle.’

    ‘The shuttle has already left. I have no choice but to speak to them,’ Spock said quietly. He drew himself up straight, smoothing the soft material of his jacket. Without any way to check on his appearance, he was sure that he looked as rumpled and tired as he felt inside. ‘They will take our flight as an admission of guilt, and put that on their news programmes. Once I have spoken, they will leave.’

    Kirk stifled a hard laugh. ‘Spock, I’ve given fifteen statements to the press. They still won’t leave me alone. You’re the victim - you’re like the prey to the hounds. They’ll rip you apart.’

    ‘Even so, I must - ‘ Spock began, but then the clutter of footsteps and a clamouring, unintelligible blur of voices surged down and reached him. A woman said sharply;

    ‘Commander Spock, can you turn to the camera? Turn to the camera, sir.’ She paused as he turned to her, and then her voice became steady and professional. ‘Commander Spock, you’ve just been released from Multi-Species Hospital today. How do you feel?’

    Spock fixed on that sharp, intrusive voice, tuning out the others that were clamouring for attention. The scent of human bodies and perfumes was like a wall before him.

    ‘My injuries are healing satisfactorily.’

    ‘Yes, but your feelings, Commander,’ the woman pressed. ‘You lost your sight only three weeks ago. Tell me how that feels.’

    ‘I am Vulcan - emotion is alien to me,’ Spock said, relieved that this excuse usually satisfied humans. ‘My sight loss is a simple fact.’

    ‘It’s been reported that your blindness is total, and tragically permanent.’

    ‘I would dispute the word tragic, but your statement is essentially true.’

    ‘And that’s enough for now. Mr Spock, let’s go,’ Kirk broke in loudly and brusquely.

    ‘In light of that,’ the journalist cut across in an iron tone, ‘what are your plans for the future, Commander Spock? Will you be resigning from Starfleet? Who would you like to see as the Enterprise’s next first officer?’

    ‘There will be no ‘next first officer’,’ Kirk said with clipped anger as Spock began to formulate a reply. ‘Commander Spock has not resigned, he has not retired, and he is still the first officer of my ship,’ Jim’s voice cracked as if he was disciplining an ensign. ‘Discussions are going on now about how to adapt the Enterprise for Mr Spock’s needs.’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at this announcement, but this was no time to begin questioning Jim about the statement.

    ‘Mr Spock, are the rumours true of your romance?’ a man’s voice came from further away. ‘Is Captain James Kirk more than just a commanding officer, and is this why such expense is being put towards ensuring you stay on his ship?’

    Kirk muttered, ‘For God’s sake.’ Spock simply ignored the question. He understood perfectly now how an animal felt when surrounded by poisonous le matyas.

    ‘The explosion, Mr Spock,’ the woman cut in again sharply. There was no escaping that voice. ‘It’s been reported that it was your use of an improper tool that sparked off the blast that killed the Pernician ambassador, an incident which could spark off war between the Federation and Pernicia. Do you feel any guilt about that?’

    ‘I have no memory of the tools I used. Guilt serves no useful purpose in a logical mind,’ Spock said. He could hear the odd deadness in his own voice, and he suddenly felt intolerably tired and weak.

    ‘This interview is over,’ Kirk said firmly. His hand gripped Spock’s arm, and Spock turned with him. The journalist’s voice reached out after him as he stepped down the stairs.

    ‘Commander Spock, have you spoken to the ambassador’s family?’

    Spock turned back slowly, and raised his chin to her voice. ‘I have not had that chance as yet,’ he told her calmly. ‘They will be in an isolation temple. They are grieving.’

    ‘Do you feel responsible for his death, Commander Spock? Can you tell me exactly what happened in the moments leading up to the explosion? Did you scan for gas before you used the laser cutter?’

    ‘I would have had no reason to suspect - ’

    ‘You do admit that it was your action that sparked the fatal explosion? Your mistake could be responsible for a war that would take millions of Federation lives.’

    ‘I have not analysed the chances of that happening, and I cannot comment,’ Spock said quietly. For a brief second he wondered if the explosion really had been the result of gross carelessness on his part. He shuddered as a memory flashed out at him, the gas hit his eyes, there was pain and sudden darkness. He could feel his awareness of his present surroundings fading away as the memory shrank down over him, wrapping him into a paralysing shroud of fear. He fought against the creeping recollection, trying to force himself to move, to break out of its grip. He wanted to be anywhere but here, anywhere where the effects of these emotional memories were hidden from all these watching eyes. A humming began to float up from below, getting louder, and he relaxed minutely.

    ‘Captain, the shuttle is arriving,’ he said. It was imperative that he get away from this crowd before the surging emotions inside broke through.

    ‘Mr Spock!’

    A hand touched his shoulder as he turned away, holding it just firmly enough to pull him back, just firmly enough to crack his taut, icy control. A rush of uncontrollable anger stabbed through the core of his body, white-hot, and he tore at the hand touching him. He was shouting at her, but all knowledge of what he was saying and doing was lost in the burning of anger.

    He reached and found the stair rail and stumbled away, downwards, just trying to get away from this place before he could do anything else that would make him guilty of assault. His whole body felt hot, vibrating with deep rage. A hand gripped hold of his arm, and he was about to rip it away when he felt Jim Kirk’s steady presence, and he let the man bustle him quickly down to the bottom of the stairs, and into a flat, echoing space. There was a sudden whoosh of cold air pushed before the arriving shuttle, and he shuddered as it hit him, caught between the noise of the shuttle and the clattering footsteps of journalists behind him.

    ‘Small step into the shuttle. Watch the gap,’ Kirk said, and Spock stumbled over a narrow gap and into another empty space. ‘Sit down there. There’s a seat behind you.’

    Kirk lowered Spock quickly into a cushioned seat, then swung round again to press the close button on the doors, cutting off the advance of the journalists as the shuttle began to push out of the station. He saw their faces frozen in half-asked questions and urgent anger, then the shuttle swept into the tunnel, and the mob was left behind on the platform.

    ‘Spock, are you okay all right?’ he asked, turning back to his friend.

    Spock took in a deep breath, the steam of rage slowly clearing from his mind. His hands were clenched around his cane in a death grip, and he relaxed them, flexing stiff fingers. He dropped the stick that he was beginning to abhor, that marked him out by Earth tradition as a blind man.

    The carriage began to vibrate as the shuttle accelerated to top speed. He could hear Kirk picking the cane up and folding it.

    ‘Spock?’

    ‘Did I say anything - undesirable?’ he asked slowly.

    Kirk sat down opposite him, and said, ‘You didn’t swear, if that’s what you’re asking. But I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had. I felt like decking her.’

    ‘And I didn’t injure the woman?’

    ‘No, but I think you scared her.’

    ‘I was tired,’ he said simply. It was the only explanation he could find for why he had exploded so uncharacteristically.

    There was quiet, and then Kirk’s hands closed over his, firm and steady. He wanted so much just to look up, to see the warm spark of reassurance in the hazel eyes, but he could not. He almost wanted to cry, but he could not let himself. He hadn’t realised until then just how much his hands were shaking. It was inexcusable that he should have lost control so badly, but he knew it wasn’t just tiredness or a few journalists’ insensitive questions that had produced that rage inside him.

    ‘Did I use a laser cutter before the explosion, Jim?’ he asked, remembering the journalist’s accusation.

    ‘Apparently,’ Kirk replied, sounding cautious. ‘One was found, and it had been turned on.’

    ‘Why should I have cause to use a cutter in such a simple operation?’

    ‘I don’t know,’ Kirk said softly. He let go of Spock’s hands briefly as he shifted around to take the seat beside him, and then the firm grip was back again. ‘Don’t worry. You’ll remember - you need to give it time.’

    ‘A laser hitting built up coolant gas would spark an explosion.’

    ‘Don’t think about it,’ Kirk pressed. ‘The explosion wasn’t your fault. That woman was trying to get a good story, and she deserved everything you said to her. They’re nothing more than hyenas scavenging for gossip. Should be rounded up and phasered.’

    ‘I shall not allow myself to lose control in such an unforgivable manner again,’ Spock promised, as much to himself as to Kirk. He couldn’t let the last shreds of coherence in his life slip away into emotionalism. But he did let himself slip sideways to rest against Jim’s shoulder as exhaustion claimed him.

Chapter 5 by Aconitum-Napellus

5

    As soon as the door of Kirk’s hotel room opened Spock could feel the undeniable presence of McCoy and Lieutenant Uhura, and their slight nervousness at his appearance in the doorway. Warmth was billowing out of the room, with a smell of human bodies, spicy air-freshener, and fresh coffee. There was a pause as he stood just inside the door, waiting for someone to speak. McCoy broke the silence.

    ‘Well, look who’s here,’ he drawled in his warmest Southern accent, which made Spock acutely aware of the change in his friends’ attitudes towards him. McCoy had never been quite so welcoming and friendly in the past. ‘Welcome home, Spock.’

    ‘This is not my home, Doctor,’ Spock replied pedantically, facing into a space which could contain anything as far as he knew. ‘It is far from it.’

    ‘Home from hospital,’ McCoy shrugged passively, instead of arguing with Spock’s logic. His hand slapped on the seat of a chair. ‘Come sit down.’

    Spock waited until Kirk’s arm moved again, and followed him across the room. He sank down into the softly upholstered seat he was taken to, resting his unfit body into the cushions while trying not to expose his pain or fatigue to the doctor. It was a relief to find that the quiet shuttle journey and short walk to the hotel had helped to ease away the dark, illogical feelings of earlier, but he felt so tired, he just wanted to sit in this chair and not move.

    ‘Jim, you made him walk, didn’t you?’ McCoy asked with exasperation. ‘I told you it’s too far.’

    ‘I am quite fine, Doctor,’ Spock said firmly.

    ‘Yeah, and completely washed out with it.’

    ‘It’s good to see you out of hospital, Mr Spock,’ Lieutenant Uhura’s warm voice interrupted to defuse the argument. She walked across the carpet with muted footsteps, bringing the scent of rich coffee with her. Every movement in the room helped Spock to build up an idea of where he was. ‘I have a cup of coffee here for you, sir.’

‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock said. He held out his hand and Uhura put the handle of the hot, smooth mug to his fingers.

‘There’s a small table just by the left arm of the chair if you want to put the mug down,’ she told him.

Spock reached out to feel the smooth plastic surface and put his folded cane down on it, relieved to be free of the device. He leaned back into the chair again, sipping at the hot, aromatic coffee. It was surprising how incredibly tired he felt after the afternoon’s meagre exercise.

    He allowed himself a few moments to relax, then concentrated on his surroundings, trying to glean what he could from his remaining senses. It would be logical to ask, but more useful to be able to guess. The room sounded moderately large, it was obviously furnished with soft chairs, and the table by his seat. There was a scent of food in the air, so possibly there was a dining area. McCoy was opposite him, a few feet away, with Captain Kirk near him, and Uhura sitting off to his left. That meant three chairs beside his, or at least one and a sofa. The silence in the room was almost tactile in its awkward intensity - no words, but just odd rustles and chairs creaking and sounds of breathing, hands moving, human, awkward fidgeting.

    ‘So, Mr Spock - did you enjoy the walk here?’ McCoy began at last.

    ‘I did not,’ Spock said truthfully.

    ‘Okay... How does it feel to be out of hospital at last?’

‘Feel, Doctor?’ Spock repeated. He paused to consider the question, then said, ‘I was beginning to familiarise myself with the floor my hospital room was on. I shall have to begin that process again for this hotel.’

‘I meant are you glad to be out of hospital, if that computes in that electronic head of yours?’ McCoy asked more irritably.

    ‘That is much better, Doctor,’ Spock nodded approvingly.

    ‘What in hell do you mean?’ the doctor asked, his voice gaining a further degree of annoyance.

    ‘Simply that I am far more comfortable with your impolite responses and contemptuous remarks than with the unusual kindness with which you have been bombarding me lately,’ Spock responded smoothly.

‘Fine,’ McCoy said tetchily, but his doctor’s curiosity got the better of him as he asked, ‘You found somewhere that supplies canes, then?’

    Spock nodded sparsely, picking up the cane and holding it out toward the doctor for his perusal. ‘The hospital staff discovered a company in Northern Europe which manufactures implements for the visually impaired.’

    ‘And about time,’ McCoy muttered, taking the cane and examining its folded lengths. ‘You’d think in this day and age - ’

    Spock raised an eyebrow. ‘Doctor, it is the medical miracles of the twenty-third century that has left little market for devices for the maimed or blind of Earth. I am truly a minority.’

    ‘Oh - so I guess you’re glad I let you go blind, just to keep people in jobs?’ McCoy asked sardonically, replacing the cane on the table with a sharp clack.

    Spock did not reply - he could already feel McCoy’s regret at saying it. For some time he had felt the doctor’s guilt at not preventing the unpreventable, but there was nothing new he could say to reassure him there was no fault and no blame.

    ‘Lieutenant Uhura, may I have your attention?’ he asked, turning towards her.

    ‘Yes, sir?’

    ‘I would like to ask a favour of you, Lieutenant, for which your communications skills recommend you. Would you help me to learn a tactile language? I believe that Braille is the Starfleet standard.’

‘Then you’re staying in the fleet, sir?’ Uhura asked warmly. ‘On the ship?’

    ‘In Starfleet, according to the captain,’ Spock nodded. ‘But I have grave doubts about staying on the ship.’

    ‘Of course you’re staying on the ship,’ Kirk protested. ‘I told you that. They’re not about to lose the best first officer in the fleet to a desk job.’

    ‘A blind first officer,’ Spock reminded him. ‘Captain, I do not believe I am anywhere near capable - ’

‘Not now, but there’ll be adaptations, and you’ll spend time at a mobility centre for special training, perhaps be assigned an assistant.’

    ‘Starfleet entry requirements insist that a person serving active duty on a starship pass a number of visual-acuity tests. I could not possibly pass any test which involved my eyesight.’

    ‘Spock, you’re valuable to the fleet. They’re not asking you to pass any entry tests - you haven’t left. There’re just some special tests to be sure you can manage.’

    ‘I cannot manage everything, Jim, even with adaptive equipment. I would need assistance to perform over half of my duties...’

    ‘Spock, listen to me,’ Kirk assured him. ‘There’s almost nothing you’re called upon to do on board ship that can’t be adapted for blindness, or dealt with in some way. As for planetside missions – I probably shouldn’t send my First Officer into hazardous situations anyway, and on non-hazardous missions all you’ll need is a guide,’ Kirk said firmly. ‘You’re valuable to Starfleet, Spock. It’s not your ability to tell red from green or walk unaided through a room. It’s your mind they want, and they value that mind well enough to pay the salary of a special assistant for you rather than lose you. Even – and I’m not saying you will – but even if you have to lose the post of science officer, I need you as my First Officer, and I’m not letting you leave the Enterprise. Hell, we couldn’t manage without you.’

    ‘And a guide dog?’ Spock asked doubtfully. ‘That may become even more important to me in these circumstances.’

‘Well, a dog - ’ Kirk began.

    ‘Such an aid can dramatically increase independence, Jim. I must have independence.’

    ‘I know for a fact there’s a special programme training dogs suitable for space-workers,’ McCoy told him. ‘And I remember at least one case when a Starfleet worker was allowed a guide dog on a ship.’

    ‘And of course I’ll help you to learn Braille, sir,’ Uhura told him. ‘Anything to help you stay on the ship. I couldn’t stand evenings on that great ship without a duet or two with you in the rec rooms.’

Spock nodded approval. At least the reading would be one step towards managing his life, and he could take everything else as it came, step by step. And he could return to his home when the ship returned, rather than having to leave everything he knew behind. Just that knowledge felt like a warm balm through his bones. ‘Good. I shall speak to my therapist at the hospital and ask her to send the necessary equipment. There is another matter, Lieutenant - ’

    ‘Spock, she’s here on leave,’ Kirk protested.

    ‘And you can get shot of that ‘on-duty’ look on your face,’ McCoy added. ‘You’re meant to be resting.’

    ‘If you need help, I’ve got nothing planned, Mr Spock,’ Uhura said quickly, aware of how hard it was for the Vulcan to ask in the first place. ‘I came here to help you.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Spock said, with some relief. That made asking her to give up her free time a little easier. ‘I shall find the practicalities of investigating the explosion difficult, Lieutenant. It will probably require a certain amount of reading and writing, the study of visual images, and the simple practicalities of mobility.’

    ‘Spock, you’re not investigating the explosion!’ Kirk exclaimed.

    ‘It is a part of my duty as the science officer of the Enterprise.’

    ‘Now, look here, Spock,’ McCoy began. His voice moved forward as if he was leaning forward in his intensity.

    ‘Doctor, if you are about to protest about me working, you need not bother. My brain is functioning quite normally,’ Spock told him with a hint of irritation. ‘I must have some occupation while I am here.’

    ‘You’re not here to do anything! You’d be in a convalescence home if I wasn’t here,’ McCoy interrupted. ‘Goddammit, Spock, you’re recovering from massive injuries, and you’re blind. You’re not working - not yet.’

    ‘Doctor, the allocation of my duties is a matter for the captain, not you.’

    ‘Is it hell!’

    ‘Mr Spock,’ Kirk cut in authoritatively.

    ‘Yes, sir?’

    ‘I don’t want you trying to investigate this explosion,’ he said firmly, and Spock could feel McCoy’s satisfaction emanating from his mind.

    ‘Sir - ’ Spock faltered. He had expected this flat denial of his wish to work from McCoy, but not from Kirk. ‘Captain, if it is my blindness - ’

    ‘Yes, it’s your blindness - it’s your personal involvement. You opened the hatch, Spock, you were irreversibly injured. You’re too closely involved.’

    ‘Sir, you know that I do not let personal involvements influence my work,’ Spock countered, trying hard to keep a note of desperation out of his voice. Jim was right - he was personally involved, but he also just wanted to work, and he had never before had to argue for that right after he had left medical confinement.

    ‘Normally, yes, but at the moment, I just don’t know,’ Kirk said, sounding regretful at saying it. ‘You haven’t even wanted to talk about the explosion - now you want to investigate it. But even if I didn’t think you’d be influenced by your involvement, the rest of Starfleet would, the Pernicians would. If it comes to a criminal investigation – ’

    ‘Captain, you have told me quite firmly that the explosion was nothing but an accident. You have told me the inquest will find nothing else. It appears now that you took advantage of my lack of memory and lack of mobility to lie to me while you already held the opposite opinion.’

    Kirk winced at the words *took advantage*. Spock sat waiting for him to speak, cradling his hands around the smooth mug of coffee.

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk said finally, defensively. ‘I lied. What was I supposed to tell you while you were in intensive care half-conscious and seared with burns, then every day after that trying to come to terms with losing your sight? You had enough to worry about. I couldn’t have cared less if no one mentioned that damn explosion ever again. I know it’s my duty to care, but for once I was just a worried friend, not a starship captain.’

    ‘I was grateful that you were there almost every day, Captain,’ Spock said, ‘but if I had known that my incapacity was causing you to neglect your duties – ’

‘I’m on leave, Spock. Scotty’s managing everything on the ship. He’s sorted out an investigation team, and they’ve been going through everything in that room. All the preliminary reports suggest that a defect in a pipe let coolant into the workings.’

‘I see,’ Spock nodded. He put his mug down, and steepled his fingers in front of his face. It was disconcerting that he could not focus on the point his fingers made in the air. ‘But it is obvious that the explosion was the result of one of two things. Either it was caused by my own gross negligence, or it was a deliberate and calculated attempt to assassinate Ambassador Necuhay.’

    ‘Of course you weren’t negligent,’ McCoy said firmly. ‘You’re too damn efficient and methodical to be negligent.’

    ‘Then there has been an assassination.’

    ‘Perhaps,’ Kirk nodded. ‘Perhaps. But whatever it was, you’re not going to be part of the investigation team, Spock. At most you can tell them what you think, and what you saw. You’re too involved. Seeking out evidence isn’t your job.’

    Spock parted his lips as if to speak, but then sighed very quietly instead, and changed what he was about to say. ‘So Mr Scott is carrying out a criminal investigation?’

    ‘They’re looking for anything they can, and there’s a team here on Earth speaking to us and the Pernicians - but they haven’t found anything. There’s no suspicious evidence, Spock - there are barely any clues at all.’

    ‘Then may I state some facts, unofficially? I can see no harm in stating facts.’

    There was a long silence, then Kirk said, ‘Go ahead then, Commander.’

    ‘The ambassador came to the bridge holding a pad reporting damage that occurred only a week after regulation safety checks had been made throughout the ship and turned up nothing,’ Spock reminded his captain. ‘We may assume that Ambassador Necuhay found out about the fault before any of the senior staff did, because they would have reported directly to you. We must also assume that somebody left the pad unattended, or in some way allowed the ambassador to take hold of it. Usually faults such as these are repaired quietly and without fuss, reported to the captain as standard when the fault is detected, and then updated upon when the problem is repaired. Ambassador Necuhay had a well-known reputation throughout the ship for - ’

    ‘Sticking his nose in,’ McCoy helped as the Vulcan faltered.

‘Eloquently put,’ Spock nodded. ‘And still the problem was made known to him, the damage report was handed to him. Why would a person do that? Not to deliberately inconvenience a rival, because they could not know for sure who would be sent to repair the console.’

‘But to make sure the ambassador was in the room when the console blew,’ Kirk nodded. ‘But we know all that, Spock. What we don’t know is who gave him the pad, or who set up the explosion. Everyone on the ship has been interviewed. Everyone who had a motive has an alibi, and everyone without an alibi has no motive. By all accounts, no one on that ship could have deliberately set him up to kill him. The only evidence we know we can get at is in your head, Spock, and you haven’t been exactly forthcoming with the details.’

    ‘No,’ Spock said. ‘But still, I am the only living person who saw the console just before the explosion. Every piece of information about the explosion as I experienced it is here in my mind. I cannot see now, but I can remember.’

    ‘But, Spock, you can’t remember,’ McCoy objected. ‘You’ve said you don’t remember much more than that you were there to fix the console, there was a fire, and the ambassador was trapped. I could tell you more than that from reading the report.’

    ‘I am glad you have the luxury of reading, Doctor,’ Spock said, a little too acerbically. ‘But the memory is in my mind. I experience that memory in flashes which are both vivid and realistic. I shall recall that memory. It is simply a question of discipline.’

    ‘You didn’t tell me you were having flashbacks,’ McCoy said, the doctor in him coming forward again.

    ‘They are simple memories.’

    ‘They sound like vivid, traumatic flashbacks. Is there any fear, anxiety, panic accompanying them?’

    ‘Yes,’ Kirk said flatly, cutting across Spock’s reply. ‘Today in the street - there was an explosive noise. He practically broke my arm gripping onto it. He went pale, distant, his breathing speeded up, he had to sit down. I’d say he was having a flashback then. I think he had another on the subway.’

    ‘Spock?’ McCoy asked.

    ‘Doctor, there is nothing you can do about flashbacks,’ Spock told him flatly. ‘At least they help me to remember.’

    ‘Spock, if the memories are that traumatic - ’

‘Doctor, I am tired,’ Spock said firmly. ‘Please leave me alone for now.’

    He closed his eyes and rested into the softness of the chair, feeling oddly drained by the long discussion. He wasn’t quite sure how long he sat like that - his friends at least respected his request, and did not speak to him, and he suddenly found himself in a warm state perilously close to sleep.

    ‘Mr Spock, have you eaten this evening?’

    Lieutenant Uhura’s quiet question drew him out of the drowsiness.

    ‘Not yet, Lieutenant,’ he told her. He did not bother moving from his relaxed position, as he could not turn to meet her eyes.

    There was a short pause, then McCoy asked suspiciously, ‘And lunch?’

    ‘I did not eat lunch,’ he admitted, wondering if it was a nutritional imbalance in his body that was making him feel so tired. ‘I have had other concerns in my mind.’

    ‘I know that you don’t eat when you’re - distracted - by something,’ Uhura nodded, carefully avoiding the words upset or worried.

    ‘And you’re too damn thin,’ McCoy put in. ‘You’ve lost at least a stone in weight. If you could see yourself – ’

    ‘I cannot. Make your point, Lieutenant Uhura,’ Spock invited, ‘which I assume has little to do with your duty as a communications officer.’

    ‘You’re convalescing, and you need to eat, sir. Would you like me to get you something from the replicator?’

    ‘No, thank you, Lieutenant. But I would be interested in visiting the hotel restaurant,’ he said, cutting off the beginning of a protest from McCoy. He had to learn to cope with new places, and with managing everyday tasks in public, and it was best to start as soon as possible. ‘Hospital food – ’

    ‘Yes, I know, sir,’ she said with a smile. ‘Would you like to go now?’

    Spock tasted the remains of his coffee and found that it was cold. He put the mug down on the table and got to his feet. ‘Captain, Doctor, will you join us?’

‘Oh, we ate earlier, before I came to fetch you,’ Kirk told him, sounding half guilty. ‘You go with Uhura.’

‘I see. Lieutenant?’ He held out his hand to Uhura, rather hesitantly. ‘I shall require your assistance.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ she said, guiding his outstretched hand to her arm. His fingers encircled her upper arm lightly, and she walked forward, suppressing a feeling of uncertainty. It felt strange to be leading the Vulcan like this, for him to be relying on her for guidance. Although they had been for a few pleasant walks in the hospital gardens, then there had been the excuse of his lack of strength for his leaning on her arm.

‘Don’t get tired, Spock,’ McCoy said sternly as they reached the door.

    ‘The purpose of eating is to replenish energy, not to expend it,’ Spock reminded the doctor. ‘I should have thought that even the most basic medical training would tell you that.’

    Spock ignored the doctor’s exasperated hrumph, and followed Lieutenant Uhura out of the room and into the corridor that smelt of carpet cleaner and the traces of many different people. He made sure that he was committing every step to memory in order to help build up his knowledge of this vast building.

******

    ‘Lieutenant, I would like to speak to you,’ Spock told Uhura as they entered the elevator in the corridor. He waited until the doors had closed, then began, ‘We will be sharing a suite in this hotel for a short while, and you will have to bear with my problems and my need for a certain order in my surroundings and routine.’

    ‘Of course, Mr Spock.’

    ‘Would - you also help me to adapt to my circumstances?’ Spock asked, in an awkward, tentative tone the lieutenant was not used to hearing. ‘I have always valued my freedom. I would like to regain it as soon as possible.’

    Uhura smiled, aware of how deeply felt the need for freedom was in the Vulcan. There were many times that she had seen his probing fingers and sharp eyes relentlessly seeking a way out of enforced imprisonment. She had felt terrible seeing her friend in hospital, guiding his hand to a glass or helping him to walk around the sun-lit hospital grounds, seeing those eyes so bereft of life and light. She was just as anxious to see him leave this cage as he was.

    ‘Of course I’ll help you, Mr Spock,’ she promised. She stood for moment watching the floor numbers slowly changing as they descended, then she suddenly reached out and pressed the emergency stop button, halting it between floors. The lift shuddered to a stop, and Spock raised a quizzical eyebrow, reaching out to the wall to steady himself.

    ‘Lieutenant, why has the lift stopped?’

    ‘I wanted to speak to you, sir,’ she explained.

    ‘We were already speaking. I assume this is a matter of some delicacy?’

    ‘I think it is.’ She hesitated, wondering how to open this subject. She was fully aware of the breach of etiquette it was to probe into a Vulcan’s inner feelings, and yet she had to ask him for his own sake.

    ‘You may speak, Lieutenant,’ he prompted her.

    ‘Yes, I know,’ she said. ‘Mr Spock - I - I’m not sure how to ask this. I don’t want to offend you, or hurt you in any way.’

    ‘A simple question cannot offend me,’ Spock reassured her.

    She hesitated again, then looked up to see Spock standing with an air of perfect patience, one pointed ear turned slightly towards her. The phrase ‘all ears’ sprang to mind, but she could not quite smile at it.

    ‘Mr Spock, I know some Vulcans end their lives after becoming blind. I wanted - I had to make sure that you won’t be one of those Vulcans.’

    Spock stood silent, and without the clues his eyes usually gave she had no way of telling how he had received her statement. Finally he shook his head, and said, ‘You need not worry, Lieutenant. Stories of such suicides in my culture are greatly exaggerated.’

    ‘Sir, I know that committing suicide because of blindness is so common that there’s even a word and a ritual for it.’

    ‘The kah-en-fal,’ Spock said slowly, a hollow sound to his voice. ‘I did not know you were so well versed in the intricacies of Vulcan society, Lieutenant.’

    ‘I have reason to be well versed in that particular intricacy,’ Uhura said seriously. ‘Mr Spock, I had a Vulcan friend, a communications expert, who found she was losing her sight. She took poison, because she thought it was the logical alternative to a life without sight. Afterwards I found out that eighty-seven percent of Vulcans who lose their sight die in the first year.’

    ‘I shall not take poison,’ Spock assured her seriously.

    ‘But you are depressed, sir. I can see that much.’

    A look of impatience crept onto the Vulcan’s face. ‘Ms Uhura, you are a good officer, and, I trust, a good friend. However, I would prefer it if you did not attempt to psychoanalyse me.’

    ‘Mr Spock, friendship does not come on tap,’ she said with a degree of asperity. ‘You asked for my help - you can’t just turn away when you think you don’t need it. I am worried about you.’

    ‘Lieutenant,’ Spock said, reaching out to touch her shoulder as if to give the assurance his eyes should give. ‘I have been blind for only three weeks. I am unskilled, I am dependant, I am deprived of light. I do not find that in any way pleasant. That does not mean I am about to end my own life. That is all there is to the subject.’

    ‘All right, Mr Spock,’ Uhura nodded. ‘But just for me, for my peace of mind - will you promise not to take the kah-en-fal?’

    Spock sighed wearily, then said, ‘I give you my word that I shall not commit suicide. I shall not take the kah-en-fal.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Uhura said with a deep sense of relief. A Vulcan’s promise was not something often broken. ‘And you know, Mr Spock, that we’ll always be here to listen if you ever need to talk about anything...’

    ‘I appreciate that support,’ Spock nodded, ‘and I shall take advantage of it if I need it.’

    Uhura released the emergency stop and the lift jerked into motion. As the doors slid open at the next floor a rotund human man barged in, muttering, ‘Thought the damn thing’d flown away...standing here ages. You going all the way down?’

    Uhura glanced up at Spock, who merely raised an eyebrow a fraction, and said, ‘We are proceeding to the first floor, if that is where the restaurant is situated.’

    ‘Ahh, food - nothing like it to cure your ills,’ the man sighed, then leant forward, peered at the Vulcan, and said brightly, ‘Hey - here’s a joke - what would an Elibrian say to a blind man?’

    ‘I have no idea,’ Spock said flatly.

    ‘Anything he liked!’ The man paused, expectant, then said, ‘Sign language, you see. Elibrians use sign language.’

    ‘I am well aware of the idiosyncrasies of the Elibrian culture. I have written a study on them,’ Spock told him with an air of tired patience.

    ‘Y’know, it’s odd but I’ve never seen a blind Vulcan in all my life, and I’ve been on package tours to Vulcan...’

    Uhura winced. Spock stepped backward silently to give the man more room in the elevator.

    ‘Really?’ he asked dryly, and Uhura flinched at the tone, the kind the Vulcan used on cadets who were trying to explain away some gross offence. It was the closest he would ever get to sarcasm. ‘Perhaps you did not visit the appropriate areas.’

    ‘Maybe that was it,’ the man said blithely.

******
   
    Kirk sat in his room looking out at the view over the city, watching the lights in the buildings growing brighter as the sun sunk behind clustered houses in a gold and blood-red sea of clouds. He seemed doomed to spend the evening alone, since McCoy had disappeared into his room to read some medical journals on blindness in Vulcans, and Uhura had said she had work to do. Spock had seemed so tired and silent when he returned from his dinner that he thought it best to leave him to himself, to let him sleep or rest as he wanted to. It seemed strange sitting alone on an evening when usually he would have been in his quarters with his first officer, going over the day’s events and the next day’s duties.

    He sat for a while longer, as the traces of sunlight faded away and the sky became dark blue, then he finally sighed, and heaved himself out of his chair. If Spock was awake, there was no reason why he shouldn’t go talk to him. There was no reason why Spock not seeing would stop them talking about anything they wanted to. It just seemed that way, for any number of illogical reasons that Spock would not understand, and that he barely understood himself.

    He found Uhura alone in the sitting room of her and Spock’s suite, hunched over a computer on which he could see something that looked like a written conversation.

    ‘Are you still busy, Lieutenant?’ he asked curiously.

    ‘Just going through the transcripts of the statements the investigators collected, sir,’ she said, darkening the screen and turning away from the computer. ‘I thought it might shed some light on this whole business.’

    ‘And has it?’

    ‘None yet. Spock should be the best witness, but he doesn’t remember enough, and his testimony is – disjointed – to say the least. I start following a trail that makes sense, and it just breaks off, and I’m left without clues.’

    ‘Well, keep on trying, Lieutenant,’ he said encouragingly. Then he asked more seriously, ‘What do you think about it, Uhura? If they find for unlawful death in the inquest – how liable is Spock?’

    She sighed, staring for a moment at the computer screen before meeting his eyes. ‘It worries me, sir,’ she said honestly. ‘If we can prove there was a fault in maintenance, or even in construction, it’s not Mr Spock’s liability. If we can prove sabotage, again, it’s not his liability. But if he made a mistake…’

    ‘I just can’t believe that,’ Kirk said fiercely. ‘Not of *Spock*.’

    ‘I know, sir. But it’s not what we believe – it’s what they can prove. If the saboteur was clever enough to make it look as if it was Mr Spock’s fault, then he’ll be blamed. And if they prove he was negligent, then it’s possible he could be court-martialled, and - .’

    She trailed off, but Kirk knew what the unspoken words had been. Spock, stripped of his rank, booted out of Starfleet, sent off to a prison somewhere where he would be confined for an unthinkably long amount of years. He didn’t know what he would do in that situation, aside from buying himself a ship and taking Spock away somewhere before the law could take hold of him. He shook that thought out of his head. There would be no justice in the world if that happened.

 ‘What’s all this?’ he asked, indicating an extra link-up that was plugged into the computer.

    ‘Just a long range com-booster. Mr Spock asked for it so he could contact the ship.’

    ‘He’s supposed to be on sick leave, Lieutenant!’

    ‘He’s not sick, Captain,’ she told him pointedly. ‘You know Mr Spock - vacation isn’t in his vocabulary. He needs to keep in touch with the ship just as much as you do, sir.’

    ‘Okay, Lieutenant. I might go see if he wants company.’

    ‘He might be asleep,’ Uhura said doubtfully. ‘He looked very tired when he went into his room. I practically had to force him in through the door, but I could see he needed rest.’

    ‘It’s been a long day,’ Kirk nodded.

    ‘Especially for Mr Spock.’

    ‘Did something go wrong at dinner?’

    She shrugged. ‘Nothing specific, but I think he was testing himself, and he was very tired. It just wasn’t that easy. Then there was that man...’

    ‘Man?’ Kirk asked, curious at her expression.

    ‘We met him in the elevator. He followed us to dinner, sat on the table next to us, and insisted on cracking jokes all night and commenting on practically everything Mr Spock did. He started asking how he lost his sight. Mr Spock told him very calmly that it wasn’t his concern, but he also went very pale.’ She smiled at him sadly, and shrugged.

    ‘I think Spock was far more shaken by what he went through in that room, and by what’s he still going through, than he’ll admit to anyone,’ Kirk said seriously. He held her gaze for a moment, looking into her lively brown eyes, then sighed and looked over towards Spock’s door. ‘I’ll go see if he’s awake, and if he wants company.’

    Kirk opened Spock’s door very quietly, and as the light shone in he scanned the dark room for his friend. The bed was empty, but he saw a figure sitting in a chair by the balcony doors, fingers steepled in an attitude of meditation, silhouetted against moonlight.

    ‘May I come in?’ Kirk asked.

    Spock didn’t speak, and his hands didn’t move, but he nodded his head once. As Kirk reached for the light switch Spock said flatly, ‘I would like it off,’ as if he had somehow sensed the action.

    ‘Spock, you can’t see.’

    He lowered his hands slowly, flexing his fingers and then resting them on his knees. ‘No, sir. And neither can you.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk said slowly, deciding not to question him. He could understand a human wanting some sense of equal ground - maybe Spock wanted the same. He walked across the room slowly in the monochrome light, and pulled a chair over to sit opposite his friend. He sat looking out at the city lights, while Spock waited silently.

    ‘Spock, I’m sorry - about today,’ he said at last. ‘I should’ve gotten you away from those journalists.’

    ‘It was my decision to speak to them, Jim,’ Spock said.

    ‘I know,’ he nodded. ‘I know... But I’ve called Starfleet about it, and if they come within a hundred metres of you they’ll have the full force of the San Francisco police department to deal with.’

    ‘I appreciate that,’ Spock nodded. ‘Thank you, Jim.’

    ‘You know, Starfleet told me they’d asked permission to do a day in your life, in the interest of the public.’

    ‘I do not understand the human desire to amplify every piece of news into something akin to a piece of drama,’ Spock said, shaking his head. ‘My life can only be of concern to my friends and colleagues.’

    Kirk looked out at the city again, at the lights down in the streets flashing in rainbow colours, the rows of lights sparkling in the black forms of buildings, the stars flickering in the paler sky above. It was odd to see stars distorted by atmosphere, rather than as clear burning beacons in empty space.

    ‘What is the view?’ Spock asked quietly, as if intuition had told him that was where Kirk was looking.

    ‘Oh - the buildings - highrises mostly - and the sky. You know how San Francisco looks in the dark.’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock nodded. He fell into silence, until he murmured reflectively, ‘I had a dream, which was not all a dream.’

    Kirk looked up at the words, wondering if he had misheard.

    ‘Spock?’

    Spock turned his head towards him, and continued;
    ‘The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
     Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
     Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
     Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air:
     Morn came and went - and came, and brought no day.’

    ‘What is that, Mr Spock?’ Kirk asked curiously.

    ‘The opening of a poem by Lord Byron, Captain. I have no doubt that his dream was just a dream, but his nightmare becomes quite horrific. Byron describes a total loss of vision in those first few lines which corresponds startlingly with my own experience.’

    ‘Is that how you feel?’ Kirk asked.

    Spock was silent for a moment, then admitted, ‘Occasionally. I believe I shall become used to mastering the difficulties of the darkness, unlike the subjects of the poem.’

    ‘I’m glad,’ Kirk said.

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘I heard you had a trying dinner?’

    Kirk could just see that Spock had raised one eyebrow, then he sighed tiredly, and shook his head. Kirk thought he heard him mutter, ‘Humans...’

    ‘Spock, is there anything you want to do?’ Kirk asked after a long pause. ‘There’s a 2-D chess board in the other room. I could move your pieces for you - .’

    ‘I came in here to rest, and meditate,’ Spock said apologetically. ‘It has been a long day. Perhaps tomorrow. I admit I have missed playing – being able to play. But I should be able to hold the memory of our moves sufficiently to enable me to play.’

    ‘Well, maybe tomorrow we can test out your memory,’ Kirk smiled, and leant back in his chair. ‘You mind some company while you rest?’

    ‘No, Jim,’ Spock told him with an air of giving in. ‘You may stay.’ He turned his chair more towards Kirk’s, and then said, ‘Computer, bring lights to full brightness.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Kirk smiled as the lights slowly brightened. Finally he could see the Vulcan’s face in full light. He did look gaunt and exhausted, and for a moment he wondered if he should go, after ordering the Vulcan to bed. Spock was already wearing nightclothes, as if he had meant to go to bed, and had ended up simply sitting in this chair musing.

    ‘I shall be relieved to be back on the Enterprise,’ Spock said, interrupting his thoughts. ‘It is familiar to me.’

    ‘I know how you feel,’ Kirk smiled - but he knew the familiarity meant more to Spock - that he could put his hand out and know what was there, walk along corridors he had walked for ten years knowing the contours and remembering the colours. Sometimes he felt a mild jealousy of Spock who had known the Enterprise for so much longer than he, her captain, had known her, Spock who had watched her through all her traumas, triumphs and changes.

    ‘I believe I left the chess board set up in my room,’ Spock added. ‘We were not quite fairly matched in our last game.’

    ‘No...’ Kirk said. That game, for which I paid you back by taking your sight, he thought bitterly.

    ‘Jim, you did not know that the console was going to explode,’ Spock said softly, making Kirk wonder if the Vulcan used his telepathy more than he admitted to. ‘No one knew. It is futile to feel regret for something that cannot be altered.’

    ‘Someone knew,’ Kirk said pointedly. ‘Some bastard set up an explosion to kill a man, and you lost your sight.’

    ‘And that cannot be changed.’

    ‘How can you sit there and say that so calmly?’ Kirk asked indignantly.

    ‘Because it is true, Jim. The acceptance of that fact is the only logical way to reconcile myself with what has happened.’

    Spock stood and stepped sideways, reaching for the glass door to the balcony. Kirk half rose to help him, but then sank back again. Spock did not need help to open a door.

    ‘I do want to find the person who did this,’ Spock said as he opened the glass to let the night air in. He sat down again and breathed the fresh air in deeply. ‘There is a dangerous individual at large who has murdered and maimed. But even if the assassin is brought to justice I shall still be blind and Necuhay will still be dead. I cannot allow myself to feel anger over something which cannot be changed.’

    ‘Yes, I know,’ Kirk nodded. He could only hope that Spock would listen to his own advice.

    Spock went to the cases at the bottom of his bed, returning with a thick, hardcovered book. He felt over the cover once with sensitive fingers, then held it out to Kirk.

    ‘Captain, I think that this is Thelat’s Rivers of Stone.’

    Kirk took it from him and read the title that was pressed into the cover. ‘Yes, it is,’ he smiled. ‘You want me to read it?’

    ‘If you do not mind,’ Spock nodded. ‘I believe we only have two more chapters before the end.’

    ‘Of course I don’t mind,’ Kirk smiled. ‘I’ve been waiting to find out what happens. When the Andorians publicise something as a masterpiece, they’re sure as hell not lying.’

    He opened the book at the right page, and began to read. When he finally closed the novel, the sky outside was completely black, the lights in the buildings around dwindling as people went to bed.

    ‘So, what did you think?’ he asked the Vulcan.

    Spock blinked, as if coming back from another place in his mind. ‘A brilliantly calculated ending,’ he nodded. ‘Very unexpected. Thank you, Jim.’ He yawned discreetly, then stood slowly. Kirk jumped up to catch his arm as he wavered. ‘Thank you,’ he said again. ‘My sense of balance – ’

    ‘I know,’ Kirk nodded. ‘You’re tired.’

    ‘I should go to bed, Captain,’ Spock told him. ‘Or McCoy will come in and begin to lecture me on the need for rest.’

    ‘Do you need anything?’

    ‘Only sleep, Jim.’

    ‘I’ll leave you alone then,’ Kirk smiled, letting go of his arm. ‘Sleep well,’ he added as he walked though the door.

    ‘I shall, Captain,’ Spock said sincerely. ‘Goodnight, Jim.’

    ‘Goodnight, Spock.’

******

    Spock lay in bed considering his first day out of hospital since the devastating explosion. It had been - eventful, definitely, and very strange. But almost every day in the last three weeks had been strange. The strangest of all were the times when he woke without expecting to see, as if the blindness had been with him for years. The incident with the journalist hadn’t seemed so odd, because he had become used to these sudden spurts of frustrated anger that came and went in a flash. No - one of the strangest feelings had been the relief that had poured out as he stood in the elevator with Lieutenant Uhura, and had finally shared his pent up feelings with someone who hadn’t become emotional in response, or started suggesting names of suitable counsellors.

    He was accustomed now to the rooms, and accustomed to the idea of sharing them with Lieutenant Uhura. Although his Vulcan nature craved privacy he felt reassured by having a companion who could help as he needed it. He was relieved in a way that it would not be Jim having to care for him, and his captain could remain just his friend. He could retain a level of formality with Uhura that helped to skim over his frustration at his dependence. At least finally he was free of the restrictions of the hospital, he was free to move about as he wanted, to plan his routine as he wanted. He had spent his evening familiarising himself with the layout and amenities of the rooms, until Uhura had gently forced him to take rest. She had shown no surprise at his thoroughness, that he wanted to run his hands over everything in the room, feel every texture, know where each window and door was, pace out the distances between each object. Perhaps it was more than he needed to know, but he felt he needed the knowledge that sight would have given him instantly.

    He stared into the pitch blackness around him for a long time, his fingers steepled in front of him as he visualised negative emotion seeping away from his mind and flowing out through the tips of his two outstretched fingers. The darkness just before sleep was a warm thing, and ordinary - not blindness, but just night cocooning him. Every night in the hospital at this time a nurse had come in and seen him awake, and quietly made him take a dose of sedative. Then he would slip into an empty sleep with no dreams and no sense of time, from which he would wake and not know whether it was midnight or dawn without activating his speaking clock. Now at last he was allowed to lie and wait for a natural sleep to claim him. He unclasped his hands and rolled over onto his side, pulling the warm bedclothes up over his shoulders and curling into the warmth and quiet of night.

Chapter 6 by Aconitum-Napellus

6
   
    The terror burst through Spock’s mind with the violence of a wave, and he snapped his eyes open to a sea of blackness that only intensified the fear. He was lying in cold sweat, shreds of the nightmare still hanging in his mind. He was screaming for Jim. There had been vivid, abnormally bright images of Jim dying in the phaser room, held down by a strange writhing tangle of green snakes, red blood washing over the walls, the floor - the whole room was red with blood and fire. He could see, but everything was darkness, and his blood covered hands wouldn’t stop slipping from Jim’s dying body...

    There was a rush of footsteps into the room, and arms pressed firmly around him, holding him still. He instinctively pressed into that warmth and gasped for air, his head against a shoulder, against someone’s neck, trying to control the gasps that emerged as sobs. He still felt tangled in the nightmare because he couldn’t open his eyes to daylight, and he clasped on to the dear reality of this human body, desperate for someone to put a light on. He could feel silk against his face as the person cradled him against her chest, and he suddenly knew it wasn’t Jim - of course it wouldn’t be Jim.

    ‘It’s all right,’ Lieutenant Uhura’s voice said softly. Her mind was emanating concern and warm friendship. Her hand stroked up and down his back gently, then came back to hold him tightly. She began to repeat, ‘Shh, shh,’ as if she were soothing a baby to sleep.

    Spock tried desperately to hide, to eradicate, the surging fear, but it wasn’t all right. Nothing was all right. He had heard the light go on, he could hear the faint buzz of power, but he could see no light. There would never be any light. There was just the gaping void in his body again, the terrible emptiness. It would be such a relief to plunge from the balcony, to let death end the void in his chest. But he had made a promise, and he had to try to restore calm.

    Uhura’s arms loosened and let him lie back down onto the mattress, then her soft hands slipped into his and he tightened his fingers around them, holding on as if his life was dependant on the grasp. He lay for a long time in silence, inhaling and exhaling very slowly, breathing out the fear and pulling in calmness and stillness. Uhura sat silent, waiting until he was calm and ready to speak. The dream still felt more vivid than reality, and his head throbbed, but he managed gradually to force the images of blood and fire into the background.

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ he said at last. He relaxed his grip on her hands to let her pull away, but she kept the contact.

    ‘Would you like me to get the captain, sir?’ she asked gently.

    ‘There’s no need to disturb him - he will be sleeping,’ Spock replied, resisting the need to speak to Jim just to reassure himself that the dream had been just a dream.

    ‘You can talk to me about the dream,’ Uhura offered softly.

    ‘There is no need,’ he said. He drew his hands stiffly from hers and pulled the blanket up over his arms to hide the trembling that would not stop. ‘There was no logic to it.’

    ‘Dreams don’t have to be logical, Mr Spock,’ Uhura reminded him. ‘It doesn’t mean something’s wrong if they’re not.’ There was a long, tired pause, and Spock heard her trying to yawn silently. ‘Will you be able to sleep, sir?’

    ‘I should be able to.’

    ‘Should?’ Uhura echoed doubtfully. ‘I’ll get a dressing gown and a blanket and settle down in the reclining chair.’

    ‘Lieutenant, there is no need for you to - .’

    ‘Indulge me, Mr Spock,’ she said warmly. ‘Just for tonight. Is there anything I can get you to help you sleep? Would a warm drink help?’

    ‘Banahl root tea may help, if the replicator can produce it. It has a sedative effect.’

    ‘I’ll go find out, sir.’

    Spock lay and waited for her to return, silently grateful at her intuitive and diligent care. Nothing would have induced him to ask her directly to sit with him, but he needed that firm anchor to reality. Night had always been a useful, contemplative time, and it was a shock to suddenly find sleep so terrifying - an irrational fear that his well-trained mind should have been able to eliminate, but couldn’t. He would have to put himself through stern meditation practices to correct this error. But then, in an equation that suddenly occurred to him and made no sense, if he couldn’t see, he didn’t care.

    That thought would have to be corrected too, before the insidious loss of control went too far. But not tonight. Tonight he just wanted to sleep without the odd terror of nightmares or irrational feelings of depression.

    Uhura returned quietly with a cup of gently steaming tea, which she carried over to the Vulcan and put in his hands carefully.

    ‘It’s hot, but not too full,’ she warned him, holding her hands over his until she was sure they had stopped shaking.

    She left him sipping at the drink, and went to recline the easy chair as far as it would go, laying out a soft pillow and blankets on it. At she shook out the coverings she stole a quick glance at the Vulcan, and her worry over him increased. His expression was not of logical and intelligent calm. His face was a white mask that showed the remains of shock and repressed anger, slowly melting into a more disturbing apathy.

    She pushed all her worry aside though, shaking it out with the blanket so that she could turn back and speak to him without adding to his depression. She hesitated for a moment with her hand on the light switch, but darkness could have no effect on the Vulcan, so she turned it out and went back over to him in the pale moonlight. Out of the window she could still see a few lights blazing across the city; other people who could not sleep.

    ‘I’m going to settle down to sleep, sir,’ she told him. ‘I’m in the corner of the room, to your right. Just call me if you need to - don’t worry about waking me up.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant.’

    ‘Just sleep,’ Uhura said to him softly, taking his empty cup and touching his arm briefly. ‘And try to have sweet dreams.’

    ‘I shall endeavour to have no dreams at all,’ Spock promised her.

******

Spock woke slowly, becoming gradually aware of noises in his room. He lay still under the warm blankets, listening without opening his eyes, training his ears to identify the source of sounds as easily as if he had looked. That muffled, flapping noise was blankets being shaken out and folded up. The creaking was the back of the reclining chair being swivelled upright. Footsteps left the room, then returned accompanied by a clinking noise that defied his interpretation, and the clinking object was put down on a surface.

    He stopped listening to consider his physical condition. He felt stiff and aching after yesterday’s exercise, and extremely tired from his lack of sleep. The nightmares had been annoyingly persistent, waking him every few hours, but he refused to ask McCoy for sedatives and go back to drugged sleeps. The only element of the dreams which still disturbed him now was the recurring vision of green snakes. Some people might say that snakes were a sign of madness, and he preferred not to think about that.

    Something dropped onto the floor. Spock turned his head to the noise, asking, ‘Lieutenant?’

    ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Mr Spock.’ Uhura’s mellow voice was apologetic. ‘I didn’t want to wake you just yet.’

    He sat up, uncomfortable at his position here in bed with Uhura standing in the room. With the clarity of hindsight, he should not have allowed her to see him as he was last night either, no matter how terrifying the dream had been.

    ‘Did you drop something?’ he asked.

    ‘I knocked your comb off the dressing table.’ He heard her pick it up and put it back on the surface with a click. ‘I was trying to be quiet...’

    Spock reached out to his bedside table and pressed the soft button on the talking clock he had been given in the hospital. The computerised voice told him flatly that it was four minutes after nine.

    ‘I meant to wake at eight, Lieutenant,’ he told her, troubled at his own lack of discipline. ‘You have done me a service. Are the curtains open?’

    ‘Yes, sir. The sky’s clear, with just a few clouds - it’s a warm sunny day,’ she said, anticipating his question.

    Spock raised an eyebrow, wondering if the lieutenant had been taking lessons in mind reading. He had never been a great believer in intuition. It was easier to believe that Uhura knew him so well that she could anticipate his questions - although that was rather disturbing in itself.

    ‘A fine day, then,’ he nodded, then added quietly, ‘Lieutenant, thank you for your attention last night. I regret you were put to so much inconvenience.’

    ‘That’s all right, sir,’ she said, sounding glad that he had chosen to bring it up rather than wait for her to say something.

    Spock nodded silently, ending any more discussion on the subject. He was deeply grateful for her diligent care, but he preferred to leave the subject alone now day had come.

    He leant back against the headboard and closed his eyes, and a sudden flash of remembrance came into his mind before he could control it. His hands were touching something, slick with blood, feeling angles and hardness. His hands slid along it, and it stretched further than he could reach. There was a sick smell of blood, blood everywhere.

    ‘It was a beam,’ he said slowly.

    ‘Pardon, sir?’ Uhura asked, and Spock realised he had spoken aloud.

    ‘A beam, Lieutenant. Something pinned the ambassador to the floor. I believe it was a supporting beam which fell from the ceiling.’

    ‘Yes, sir. That’s what it said in the report,’ she said slowly, as if unsure of what to say about his sudden odd memory. There was a deep silence, then she said, ‘I brought a tray in with your breakfast, Mr Spock.’

    ‘Thank you - but I shall eat at the table outside,’ Spock told her. ‘Would you carry the tray through for me?’

    He folded back the cover and swung his legs slowly out of bed, oblivious to her faint disappointment.

    ‘Mr Spock - ’

    ‘I am no longer an invalid, Lieutenant,’ Spock said firmly. ‘I shall eat at the table outside. I also want you to show me how to work the replicator, so that I may prepare my own meals in the future.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ she said, with more professionalism than friendship in her voice.

    ‘That does not mean that I do not appreciate your help, Uhura,’ he told her, realising how his statement must have sounded to a human. ‘When I truly cannot manage, I shall accept it without question. However, I need to become self-sufficient so that I can manage in my own quarters. You can understand that?’

    ‘Of course I can, Mr Spock,’ Uhura told him, her voice warm again. ‘Would – er – would you like me to lay out your clothes?’

    ‘That would be helpful,’ he nodded. ‘Choose what you think best – I am not sure of what is in the cases.’

    ‘I’ll do that in a moment,’ she nodded. ‘I’ll just take your tray through now.’

    She picked up the specially prepared tray to take it through to the other room. Spock reached out to find his cane on the bedside table, then stood up slowly. His whole body still felt leaden, the residue of so long in a hospital bed. He would have to work at regaining his fitness. He heard Uhura pause, and her feet turned on the carpet, as if thinking about offering help. But as he shook the cane out straight with a snap of his wrist she turned back to the door.

    ‘I shall come through in a minute,’ Spock told her.

    ‘All right, sir. I’ll take the tray through to the table,’ she said. ‘Oh - and when you come to it, it’s toast at two o’clock, some fresh fruit at six, and soya strips at ten. There’s also a glass of orange juice, and a butter dish on the tray. I wasn’t sure if you wanted it on your toast.’

    ‘Thank you,’ he nodded.

    He listened to her leave, carrying the clinking tray, then he moved along the edge of the bed to find the cases on the floor at the foot. He popped open the lid of the first case and felt inside. There was a garment under his fingers, warm, soft, immaculately folded - but almost impossible to tell from any of the other folded wads of material. He withdrew his hands and sat back on his heels, wishing for a moment that he had a more varied wardrobe. He could not dress before Uhura picked out the clothes for him.

    He moved the two cases up to the head of the bed. He had felt drawer fronts in the large block of furniture by his bed, and now he drew one open and slid his fingers in to feel the wide, deep, empty space. He couldn’t choose his clothes, but he could unpack them and store them in these deep, hollow drawers. With some help he could arrange them all, one type of garment in each drawer, the colours arranged in separate piles. For now the most he could do was separate the garments - the colours meant nothing. The task gave him a chance to spend a few minutes in meditative silence before going back into the company of humans.

    That done, Spock went through to the table where Uhura had put his breakfast. The cool, smooth table-top felt like glass, and as he sat at it he wondered if it was clear or opaque. Last night Uhura had said it was coffee-coloured, but she had gone into his room, and he could not ask her if it was clear. The whole of breakfast was full of these fascinating tactile detective games. As he tried to spread butter evenly without applying it to his fingers, the door opened noisily and someone barged into the room.

    ‘Morning, Spock,’ McCoy said cheerfully. He strode across the room and ordered eggs, bacon and coffee from the replicator, mindless of how unpleasant Spock found the smell. How was it that McCoy could do that so mindlessly when he would need someone’s hands guiding his to the buttons and someone’s eyes to tell him what each one was marked?

    McCoy deposited his tray on the table with a clack and seated himself near the Vulcan, then proceeded to arrange his meal with a series of clatters and clinks.

    Spock stayed silent, giving the doctor time to apologise for his intrusion. When no apology came he said diplomatically, ‘If your own replicator is out of order, Doctor, I am sure that it can be repaired in no time.’

    ‘No - it’s fine - just came to have breakfast with you. Jim’s gone for a run, so - ’ Then his conversation was stifled as he pushed a load of food into his mouth.

    ‘More than two thousand years of so-called civilisation, and yet you still eat seared flesh like savages,’ Spock commented, listening to the noises of chewing and swallowing. ‘It is amazing that you have survived for so long.’

    ‘Yes, and your mother’s one of those flesh-eating barbarians,’ McCoy reminded him.

    ‘And she quite logically left Earth to wed a Vulcan. Doctor, I am not even dressed yet,’ Spock protested, abandoning any attempts at subtlety. ‘You did not ask to come in.’

    ‘I don’t mind seeing you in pyjamas, Spock - don’t worry - I’ve seen you in worse states. Anyway, they look just like the rest of your clothes. Have you got a morbid fascination with black?’

    For a moment the smell of bacon seemed horribly close to the smell in the phaser room as he had felt flames eating at his skin. Nausea rose, and he quelled it.

    ‘Dr McCoy, I cannot see - it matters very little to what colour my night attire is dyed,’ Spock said with restrained impatience. ‘The colour is sensible, inoffensive and eminently practical, to those who have the pleasure of observing it.’ He turned his attention back to his meal. If McCoy would not take the hint to leave, he would have to simply ignore and endure.

    ‘Need help with buttering that?’

    ‘No, thank you,’ Spock said, laying down the knife and taking a bite of his toast.

    ‘So how are you this morning?’ A medical scanner whirred as he spoke.

    ‘Then that is why you are in here?’

    ‘You look tired.’

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘Bad night?’

    ‘Yes.’

    ‘Vivid dreams? Headache?’ At Spock’s brief nod he said, ‘Your brain’s being deprived of visual stimuli - that can cause withdrawal symptoms in Vulcans. They’ll pass as you adjust.’

    ‘I do not need your medical toys to tell me that, Doctor. I have suffered headaches for three weeks.’

    ‘Burns feel okay? Any aches and pains?’

    ‘I have been discharged from hospital, Doctor,’ Spock reminded him.

    ‘Because I’m here to monitor your condition.’

    ‘I am feeling no pain, and only slight aches and stiffness where my bones have healed. Please deactivate that scanner and allow me to consume my meal in peace.’

    ‘Spock, I’m just monitoring your body readings - it doesn’t stop you from eating, for God’s sake.’

    ‘Doctor, even consuming a meal is a task which does not come easily to me right now. I would prefer not to be monitored as I do it.’

    The scanner clicked off. ‘Okay, Spock - I’ll let you off – for now.’

    ‘I’ve laid out your clothes, Mr Spock,’ Uhura called, emerging from his room. She stopped and pulled on some garment, saying, ‘Doctor, I didn’t know you were here. Mr Spock, I’ve put your clothes out in order on your bed.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘So you don’t mind Uhura walking about in her negligée?’ McCoy asked slyly.

    ‘Doctor, please,’ Spock said, wishing that McCoy would stop this incessant prodding, just for this morning. He did not feel strong enough in mind or body to parry McCoy’s comments.

    ‘I’m not wearing negligée, Mr Spock,’ Uhura promised. ‘I was wearing a night dress, and
now I’m wearing a dressing gown,’ she said, sitting down at the table where her breakfast was already waiting.

    ‘However, Doctor, it would make no difference to me if Lieutenant Uhura was stark naked,’ Spock told McCoy coldly.

    ‘Crankier than an Aldebaran sewer snake,’ McCoy muttered under his breath, almost silently, but Spock turned to him sharply, one eyebrow raised.

    ‘I beg your pardon, Doctor?’

    McCoy shivered at the icy tone. The impact of that raised eyebrow was worse now than it ever had been. ‘Nothing. Nothing at all... So you’re eating toast this morning? Not very Vulcan.’

    Spock clenched his fists underneath the table, feeling tension building to danger point. ‘Dr McCoy, please cease! Can I not eat without you making a comment at every mouthful?’

    There was a short silence, and he reached out for his glass of orange juice, feeling for it in increasing circles of his palm on the table.

    ‘Here, Spock,’ McCoy said, taking his hand to guide it.

    Spock resisted the doctor’s hand, pulling away from his touch. ‘I can find it myself, Doctor. If you had not come in and displaced the arrangement of my crockery with your tray then I would not have to look for the glass.’

    He found it with another sweep of his hand, and picked it up to go through to his room, before his unreasonable anger at the doctor could explode. But as he moved he slammed into the bulk of an unexpected chair and stumbled, spilling a wash of juice down his clothes.

    ‘I’m sorry, Spock - I guess I pushed that out of my way as I came in,’ McCoy began, jumping up.

    ‘Doctor, I suggest you go back to your own room and rearrange your own furniture as much as it pleases you,’ Spock said coldly, all tolerance inside him suddenly snapping. ‘Last night I familiarised myself with the position of every object in this hotel suite, and I will not have you disrupt my routine. Kindly leave me alone.’

    McCoy’s hand touched his arm from behind as he turned away, and Spock held himself with rigid tension, willing the doctor to let go before his barely restrained anger burst through as violence.

    ‘Spock,’ the doctor began.

    ‘What do you want, Doctor?’

    ‘I’m sorry I disturbed things for you,’ McCoy said quietly. ‘I didn’t think.’

    ‘I am sure you did not,’ Spock said thinly, without turning. The anger at McCoy, at the darkness, built to a point that was burning and unbearable, and the orange-filled glass shattered in his fist. His hand began to drip with a mixture of juice and blood, but he felt no pain. McCoy’s soft hand closed gently around his iron-tense arm, and prised his fingers open to clean and treat the cuts.

    ‘Spock, this isn’t a good solution to tension,’ he said softly.

    ‘Then offer another suggestion,’ Spock said, his voice vibrating with taut emotion. He could barely feel McCoy’s ministrations. ‘Because all I want is to see, and if there is no logical way of bringing my sight back, then there is nothing left but the vastly illogical, such as trying to carve out these cursed cells with broken glass, or ripping open my veins in the hope that there is an afterlife where sight exists.’

    ‘Spock,’ McCoy said gently.

    ‘*Dis*-abled, *in*-valid, useless, helpless - I should not be allowed to live.’

    ‘Spock, you’re not on prehistoric Vulcan. There aren’t any codes of honour to live out.’

    ‘There is nothing wrong with my eyes,’ he said flatly, hiding the desperate emotion of that statement. ‘Why can these cells not be removed? Surely they can be removed, scraped off?’

    ‘Spock!’ McCoy tightened his grip on Spock’s wrist. ‘You know that would destroy your eyes. Spock, I know you must be very angry and frustrated and afraid,’ the doctor began very gently.

    Spock pulled his injured hand away from the doctor and clenched it hard. ‘You are attributing human emotions to my condition. I am not human.’

    ‘No. I’m attributing Vulcan emotions to a Vulcan. I’m not stupid, Spock, no matter how backward you think I am. I’ve researched the effects of blindness on Vulcans.’

    ‘Really, Doctor? And what did you find?’ Spock asked with dangerous calm.

    ‘Only that you’re liable to be suicidal. How are you feeling, Spock?’

    ‘Tired - of your company, Doctor.’ Spock reached out towards where he thought the chair was, and grasped at the air. ‘Where is the bedroom door?’

    ‘About three metres in front of you, a little to your left,’ Uhura told him quietly from across the room. She had been so silent he had almost forgotten about her presence.

‘Take care of that hand, and it’ll feel as good as new in an hour,’ McCoy said.

    Spock unfolded his cane with a deliberate snap and disappeared through his bedroom door, but his sharp, rigid shoulder blades suddenly relaxed and began to shake as the door closed.

    McCoy dropped back into a chair and shook his head. ‘Thank God he’s crying at last.’

    ‘Should somebody be with him, after what he said?’ Uhura asked with deep worry, turning towards the door. An image flashed into her head of Spock lying on the floor with gouged out eyes and slashed wrists, or Spock’s broken body lying smashed on the concrete sidewalk far below his balcony, and uncontrollable grief welled up inside her for her friend.

    ‘No,’ McCoy said quickly. ‘Leave him be for now.’

    ‘He said he wanted to kill himself!’

    ‘He’s not going to kill himself. That dangerous anger’s passed - now he’s just crying, which is far more healthy for him than what he’d do if one of us walked in on him in that state. He has to cry before he can start to accept this.’

    ‘Then what can we do, Doctor?’ Uhura asked helplessly.

    ‘Just help him. Talk to him, perhaps give him some anti-depressants, and physical, rehabilitative help. His whole identity’s bound up with his blindness right now. He’s inexperienced, unskilled, he’s still weak. He’s angry. He’s scared, Uhura. And he wasn’t taught anything but walking with a cane in that hospital. He needs to go to a rehabilitation centre.’

    ‘And are there any here?’

    ‘He wants to go to one on Vulcan, and I can understand that. The Ban-Shiar centre specialises in teaching how to use telepathic skills to enhance awareness of surroundings - that’s something a human place could never do. For now, we just treat him as Spock, and hope that he comes to accept that he still is Spock, whether he can see or not.’

******

    Spock stood on the balcony of his room listening to the sounds of shuttles and people walking far below, hoping there was no one who could witness the spectacle of a Vulcan shivering with uncontrollable tears. Everything was senseless, he had lost control of his life, lost control of his emotions. He was going slowly mad, just as every other blinded Vulcan did. For a moment he leant into the void over the balcony wall with the perverse thought that if he let himself plunge to the ground the impact as his head hit would jar the sight back into his eyes.

    He straightened up and reached a hand out into the air. There was light in that space, it was touching his hand, but he could not see it. He could not even see his fingernails to clean them. He could not look into a mirror and see the hot, illogical tears that were slipping down his cheeks. If he slid a blade along the radial arteries in his arms, he would not be able to see the green blood run out as he died. But he could not see the arteries to insert the blade. He would have to take poison. Poison was relatively easy for a scientist to acquire.

    But he had to keep his promise to Uhura, he could not let himself die in madness. He had to focus on something else, but it was so hard, and he suddenly felt so, so tired...

    Spock sank down to the concrete floor, and leant into the corner, pressing his head onto his knees and trembling violently, for once just letting the emotions surge out like floodwaters being released. Time stretched out until he had no sense of how long he had been tucked into this cold, damp corner, and finally he pressed his hands to his face, wiping away the salty water on his cheeks. At least the terrible, destructive anger had dissipated, and there was emptiness. It wasn’t the refreshing clarity of logic, but anything was better than the urge to kill someone or kill himself.

    He stood up slowly. Focus. That was essential. He pressed his hands hard onto the wall, and felt the moisture on them begin to seep away into the concrete. He had to focus his mind. How high was he standing? It was hard to judge the distance he was above ground when he was this far up, but the noises sounded at least fifty metres away, faintly echoing off the other buildings around. Slowly he analysed the echoes. He carefully refined his estimate to forty-two point five zero nine metres, and decided the ground below was hard - stone or concrete. Somewhere far away he could hear waves, and crying gulls, closer there were shuttles, human voices and footsteps. The rustling sound of leaves told him there were trees nearby, far below, possibly with animals or birds moving in them.

    He clenched his hands hard over the cold edge of the balcony, reminded by a twinge in his left of his unforgivable loss of control. He went back into his room and through into the small en-suite bathroom, where he stripped and stepped into the shower. The douche of hot water helped to push away any last feelings of anger, and to wash away the feeling of tears on his face. He stepped out of the shower feeling emotionally fragile, but at least in control. He dressed carefully, but he couldn’t find the cane that he had thrown aside in anger at his reliance on it. He walked back into the living area with focused calm, slowly and carefully. He could at least allow himself the small satisfaction of having showered, washed his hair, shaved and dressed, encountering no problems at all in the strange bathroom. But he was aware of the worried presences of McCoy and Lieutenant Uhura awaiting him. Their tension created a buzzing web that he could almost feel on his skin.

    ‘Doctor, Lieutenant, I must apologise to you both for my outburst,’ he said with as much feeling as his tight control would allow him.

    ‘It’s all right, sir - we understand,’ Uhura said gently. Spock thought that he could hear a tremor in her voice, and realised with a pang of guilt that she had been crying too.

    McCoy said nothing - instead he pulled the Vulcan into a warm hug. Spock did not protest, even leant into the hug which felt so reassuring in the darkness. McCoy, too, felt a little shaky, and Spock could sense his highly emotional state. Then he stepped back from the doctor and smoothed down his jacket.

    ‘God, I need a drink,’ Spock heard the doctor mutter as he stepped away. ‘I’m gonna hit that mini-bar. Want to join me, Spock?’

    ‘No, Doctor,’ Spock said firmly, afraid that if he began to consume alcohol now, it would be too difficult to refuse another, and another, until all of this nightmare was obliterated by drinking. ‘It is a little early.’

    ‘I guess you’re right. Just don’t you make a habit of breaking things with your bare hands,’ the doctor told the Vulcan firmly. ‘I know it gives me trade, but I’d rather see as little of that green blood as possible.’

    ‘I shall try not to,’ Spock said seriously.

    ‘I’m going to start giving you a shot of luxodin every morning, starting tomorrow. I should have done that from the start - you’re light-deprived, and it might just make things easier for now. I can give you something to help with the nightmares too – not a sedative – just a mild relaxant.’

    Spock nodded silently, surprising himself by his compliance. He simply wanted this turmoil to stop.

    ‘And you should talk to Dr M’Benga when we get back to the ship...’

    ‘Dr M’Benga, for all of his Vulcan training, is not a Vulcan Healer,’ Spock said with a shake of his head, then he said as if it was a shameful confession, ‘I would rather talk to you, McCoy.’

    ‘Okay,’ McCoy said. ‘Whenever you want to - I’ll always be around.’

    ‘Mr Spock, I’ve tried to pick up all the glass I can, but I’ll have to call room service to clean up the stain and make sure there’re no splinters left,’ Uhura said rather hesitantly.

    ‘I shall take care where I step,’ Spock nodded. ‘I would also rather that the captain was not told of my - lapse.’

    ‘Of course not, sir,’ Uhura reassured him quickly.

    McCoy hesitated for a moment at the Vulcan’s request, but Spock wasn’t on the ship, and there was no crew’s safety to worry about.

    ‘I won’t tell him,’ he promised, ‘if you think you’re going to be all right now.’

    Spock took in a deep breath, then said, ‘I am blind. What is is. There is no gain in arguing with that fact.’ A wholly Vulcan thought. *And I am fooling myself no less than the doctor*, he thought. ‘It will be better when I am fully accustomed with the dimensions of these rooms.’

    He went to an armchair and sank down into it, letting the coolness of logic settle through his body.

    ‘Adaptation is the only option, Doctor,’ he said. Even if he did not believe what he had said, he could try to live by those words until another option came along.

******

Kirk stepped out of the shower towelling water out of his hair, glad to have finally washed away the heat and sweat of running through the length of Golden Gate Park. As he stepped out of the room he almost bumped into his first officer, who was standing very stiffly just outside the bathroom door as if he was waiting for him. The Vulcan stepped back smoothly, relaxed, and said, ‘Good morning, sir. I trust you found your run stimulating?’

    ‘Er - ’ Kirk wrapped his towel around his waist, then realised the absurdity of the action when the Vulcan could see neither his nakedness nor the towel. ‘Very - but I haven’t been running all this time. I’ve been sitting in the Beach Chalet talking to a beautiful woman - and don’t give me that eyebrow - even a Vulcan could appreciate that kind of sculpture.’

    ‘Possibly, Captain,’ Spock said without conviction. ‘But I think personality will have to suffice for me now.’

    For a moment Kirk thought the Vulcan looked pale and rather fragile, but maybe that was just his imagination.

    ‘You know, I should have asked you if you wanted to come,’ he said, feeling suddenly guilty at the omission. Any other time he would have asked him, but everything seemed so different now.

    Spock shook his head. ‘Although a run would be pleasant, my exertions yesterday seem to have exhausted me. Perhaps another time.’

    ‘Sure. Sit down, Spock,’ he said. ‘There’s a chair to your left. I’ll go put some clothes on.’

    A look of muted embarrassment crossed the Vulcan’s face, and he stepped back as if to leave. ‘I did not realise - ’

    ‘It doesn’t matter, Spock - sit down.’ He disappeared through his bedroom door to get changed, and came back in his Starfleet uniform to see the Vulcan sitting very straight in the armchair, his gaze seemingly intent on the opposite wall. He was the only person who could make an armchair look like an office chair.

    ‘You are not on duty, sir?’ Spock asked as Kirk sat down.

    ‘No, I just - ’ Kirk paused, looked down at his top, then back at Spock’s dark, still eyes, before asking curiously, ‘Mr Spock, explain how you can tell that I’m in uniform?’

    He made a small shrugging movement with his hands. ‘The noise that particular type of fabric makes as you move. There is also a certain scent to the material, unique to the ’fleet cloth. I had not noticed these things until very recently.’

    ‘Well!’ Kirk said slowly. Sometimes it was more amazing what Spock did perceive than what he could not. He contemplated the Vulcan’s face, and noticed that he really did look pale and drained. Years of close friendship with the Vulcan had shown him that while Spock did not present emotions to the world, the repression often transformed them into a fatigue different to a simple tiredness of the body. ‘Spock, are you all right?’

    ‘Only tired, as I said, Jim,’ he admitted. ‘I had an unsettled night - and then was forced to endure McCoy at breakfast this morning - ’

    Kirk laughed at that. ‘Bones can be - ’

    ‘Extreme, overwhelming, intrusive...’

    ‘And a damn good friend.’

    Spock inclined his head to one side, considering. ‘Yes. McCoy is a good friend - but please do not tell him that.’

    ‘Of course not,’ Kirk smiled.

    ‘I think that the good doctor is on the verge of calling in psychological help for my condition,’ Spock said wryly.

    ‘Don’t be silly!’ Kirk said with a laugh. He paused, then asked more seriously, ‘Why would he do that, Spock?’

Spock gave a minimal shrug. Kirk got the impression that if he could see he would be looking away. ‘Perhaps because I am entangled within my own form of madness.’

    ‘You’re blind, Spock - you’re not mad,’ Kirk protested.

    ‘The two are closely linked in my society.’

    Spock exhaled softly, and Kirk looked up instinctively to meet blank eyes, with no opening in their onyx sheen for reassurance through a glance. Damn that explosion, that stupid, interfering ambassador...

    Spock sat motionless for a few moments, then shook his head tiredly. ‘Jim, my life seems to have no cohesion at the moment.’

    Kirk reached out to touch his hand - that would have to do in place of eye contact. He didn’t want to face another uncharacteristic outburst of emotion from his Vulcan friend. But these were hardly characteristic times. Spock seemed to take comfort in the touch, at least.

    ‘Your life will have cohesion again. You have to give it time. Just time.’

    To his relief, the Vulcan simply nodded. He looked tired, but not close to emotional collapse. ‘I have little choice but to give it time...’

    He leaned back into the chair, falling silent. Kirk could see the processes working in Spock’s face as he pulled on whatever logic he did have to bring himself out of this slump. It was hard for Spock when he found his logic faltering, but Kirk was glad the Vulcan had the deep resources of his philosophy to pull on when he needed it. Spock sat for a few moments, toying purposelessly with the folded links of his cane.

    ‘Captain, I had a dream last night,’ Spock said abruptly. He stopped, considered, then said, ‘No. That is not accurate. I had a nightmare - many nightmares.’

    His hands twisted on his folded cane as if the memory still disturbed him. Kirk waited. It was obvious that Spock was not just telling him for the sake of small talk.

    ‘I believe - that my subconscious mind was trying to tell me something about the explosion, but I cannot decipher the signs.’

    ‘Spock, I didn’t know you believed in dream interpretation,’ Kirk said, half smiling.

    ‘I do not subscribe to the views of Freud, but I do believe that sometimes the mind creates images in dreams which have significant connections to the real world.’

    ‘And what did you dream of?’ Kirk asked, leaning forward.

    Spock hesitated, embarrassment flitting across his face.

    ‘Amongst other things, green snakes, Captain, filled with danger.’

    ‘Spock, snakes are symbols of fear for lots of people.’

    ‘Yes - Lieutenant Uhura also pointed out that cultural stereotype,’ Spock said gravely. ‘Perhaps they meant nothing. Captain, I came here in part to tell you that I have had a communication from Commodore Connor at Starfleet Headquarters. He requests a meeting with both of us at 1500 hours on Tuesday.’

    ‘1500?’ Kirk sounded doubtful. ‘I’ll be across state in the morning - I might not have time to get back here for you. Maybe Bones or Uhura can - ’

    Spock shook his head. ‘I was not asking for your aid, Jim - I can take a shuttle-cab. I was merely informing you of the meeting.’

    ‘Are you sure?’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at his anxious question.

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk laughed. ‘I’m silly and overprotective, and you can manage just fine on your own. I’ll meet you at his office, then.’

    Spock nodded, almost began to speak, but then seemed to bite back the words.

    ‘Go on - spit it out, whatever you’re going to say,’ Kirk smiled.

    ‘I am rather reluctant to do so, after your assertion that I can *manage just fine on my own*,’ Spock said, with a hint of a smile on his lips that Kirk was relieved to see.

    ‘You’re allowed to depend on me too - I’m your friend. Go on - ask.’

    ‘I must have more practice with my cane, Jim, and for that I will need someone to accompany me. I shall need to take a rest first, but - would you come with me for a walk?’

    ‘Sure! You’re asking me to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes, Mr Spock. But you’re sure you won’t get tired?’

    ‘I am only a shuttle ride away from the hotel, wherever I am. I must re-build my endurance, and I wish to familiarise myself with travelling in more unpredictable environments than city streets. But I shall need your guidance, and your patience. My presence may - cramp your style?’ he asked, cocking his head to one side with the colloquialism.

    ‘You’re not going to cramp my style, Spock. Where do you want to go?’

    ‘I know you are fond of Yosemite, and I have heard it is an area of outstanding beauty. You have asked me to come there before, and I have always declined the invitation...’

    ‘Y-es,’ Kirk said cautiously, half thinking of rough ground and obstacles, half thinking this was a hell of a time for Spock to first experience the wonder of the place, through eyes which could not see. ‘Spock, wouldn’t a walk through the Golden Gate Park be easier?’

    ‘Easier, yes, but very little use for learning to use a cane on uneven ground. I believed there were some paths at Yosemite, Jim. Was I incorrect in my assumption?’

    ‘No, of course not,’ Kirk nodded. ‘And you’re right - it is a beautiful place, not just visually. We can hire a shuttle, make a day of it - ’

    Spock arched one eyebrow. ‘You mean to drive, Captain?’

    ‘Well I’m certainly not going to let you!’ At Spock’s expression of doubt he suddenly remembered. ‘Spock, that was a twentieth century automobile on Sigma Iotia, for God’s sake. It doesn’t make me a bad driver!’

    ‘Perhaps, but I prefer to remain intact, Captain. There are regular shuttles, and using public transport is another area where practice would be beneficial.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk nodded. He would have to get used to helping Spock with shuttles and uneven ground, at least for a while. And it would be a relief to get out of the city for a while, to do what he so often did on his vacations - go for a walk out in the wilds with his closest friend.

Chapter 7 by Aconitum-Napellus

7

    ‘All right, Commander?’

    Spock stepped out of the shuttle-cab and breathed in the scent around him. He could recognise seven distinctive types of trees that he knew grew around the main building of Starfleet Headquarters. For a quarter of a second he allowed himself to savour the feeling of being outside and without a friend ‘taking care’ of him. Then he straightened out his Starfleet top, dropped the end of the cane to the ground, and turned to the cab pilot.

    ‘Would you help me to the door?’ he asked, covering his reluctance to ask with his flat tone.

    ‘Take my arm then,’ the man said, then asked, ‘Do Vulcans hold on, or do they do some kinda mind thing?’

    ‘Your arm will be sufficient,’ Spock said, reaching out to his voice.

    ‘Okay, Commander,’ he said cheerily, putting his arm to Spock’s hand. ‘Up a step, then it’s flat.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Spock nodded, following the moving arm up onto the path. He was familiar with this pathway up to the entrance of Starfleet Headquarters, but the dimensions seemed very different when he judged them by the noises and echoes he heard and the length of time it took to walk the paths, rather than by the faces of the buildings and the positions of the trees and flowerbeds. It all seemed very easy, however, compared to the rocky trails of Yosemite he had followed with Kirk yesterday. If he did this again, he would try it without help from the cab door. He passed into the cool of a shadow, and the cab-pilot said;

    ‘Okay - reception. Two steps up.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Spock said. Someone greeted him as he went through the doors, and he recognised the voice of Commodore Connor’s personal assistant.

    ‘Good afternoon, Lieutenant George,’ Spock nodded. He let go of the pilot’s arm, and said, ‘Thank you for your assistance.’

    ‘Don’t mention it.’

    ‘Mr Spock, I’ll show you the way to the office,’ George told him, and he took her offered arm. ‘It’s good to see you out of the hospital, sir,’ she said. ‘How are you now?’

    ‘Almost recovered,’ Spock told her. ‘I should thank you again for the thoughtful gift from the commodore’s office. I have no doubt that it was your choice, Lieutenant.’

    ‘Well - that’s true,’ she said half reluctantly. ‘But the commodore asked me to get you something. Captain Kirk is up in the commodore’s office now, Commander Spock,’ she said as they entered the elevator. ‘Fifth floor.’

    The elevator sped upwards, then stopped again. The office was along a maze of corridors - Spock was unsure whether he would have found it even with perfect vision. At last a door swished open and the lieutenant took him through.

    ‘If you’d wait a moment please, sir,’ she said, stepping away from him. A switch clicked, and she said, ‘Commander Spock is here, Commodore.’

    ‘Send him in, then,’ Connor’s voice replied, slightly distorted through the intercom system.

    ‘Yes, sir.’ She came back to touch Spock’s arm. ‘Just forward here, sir. The door’s just ahead of you.’

    As the door opened Spock felt the presence of Jim just the other side, and the more distant, reserved presence of Commodore Connor on the other side of the room. The room smelt of old wood, paper and alcohol, but he also caught the faint scent of Jim’s aftershave through all of that. As he stepped into the room Kirk came forward quickly and took him to a chair.

    ‘Permission to sit, Commander,’ Connor said as the Vulcan hesitated with his hand on the chair back. As Spock sat, the commodore said, ‘Good to see you again. Wine, Mr Spock?’

    ‘No, thank you, sir.’

    Kirk sat down, then Connor asked, ‘So, Commander. How are you managing in your dark new world?’

    ‘Bob!’ Kirk said insistently.

    ‘Adequately, sir,’ Spock replied calmly. He felt almost normal today, with a combination of McCoy’s medicine and his own meditations, and he did not want the delicate balance upset. Connor was sure to question him about the explosion in his cutting, abrasive way, and Spock needed to sink deep into a protective shield of logic.

    ‘Do you want to put that stick somewhere?’

    ‘The cane is collapsible,’ Spock said, folding it and reaching forward to feel if there was a desk. His fingers touched a pile of old-fashioned, precariously balanced paperwork. He moved his hand along what of the surface he could reach, feeling for an empty space. The desk was rough-grained wood, odd for a Starfleet office. There were piles of paper on it, and something smooth and round, cold and heavy that was weighing some of the sheets down. There was obviously no room for the cane.

    ‘Do you mind not doing that?’ Connor said abruptly, as Spock explored the round object with his fingertips. He had just turned back from something he was doing on the other side of the room - perhaps putting the wine away.

    Spock stopped, and lifted his head towards the voice. ‘Were you addressing me, sir?’

    ‘Of course I was!’ There was inexplicable impatience in his voice.

    ‘I am sorry. I did not catch the direction of your voice.’

    ‘Fine - but just be careful. I don’t know what you might break!’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at that, but he drew back, put the cane on the floor, and rested his hands on his lap. On Vulcan, the blind were expected to use their senses, instead of following the rules of social behaviour as if they were sighted: but this was not Vulcan.

    ‘Out of curiosity, what was that object?’ Spock asked.

    There was silence, then Kirk said quietly, ‘It’s a paperweight, Mr Spock - glass.’

    Kirk sounded embarrassed. Spock found it mildly surprising that his friend had the same inhibitions about touching, when it was such a logical thing to do.

    ‘It’s an antique Irish paperweight from the late twentieth century,’ Connor snapped impatiently. ‘What I want to know is what the hell paperweights have to do with anything we’re here for?’

    ‘Nothing, Commodore. I was merely interested by it,’ Spock said.

    ‘I’m more interested in this explosion, Mr Spock. Maybe we can talk about that?’ Commodore Connor said, and Spock could hear him shuffling the paper on his desk as if it had been disordered. ‘What can you tell me about it, Commander?’

    ‘Do you wish me to give you a detailed account of my recollection of events, sir?’

    ‘I assume Vulcan detail means every millisecond. Just give me an outline for now.’

    Spock nodded, bringing the memories back to mind. ‘Fourteen eleven. I was on the bridge when the Pernician ambassador entered with a damage report detailing a problem in the phaser room. Ambassador Necuhay was insistent on observing the repair operation, and had requested that Captain Kirk perform the repairs. In the week he spent on the ship he had acquired a certain - reputation - for interfering in ship’s affairs. The captain sent me to repair the console. Fourteen nineteen. I met Ambassador Necuhay in the phaser room and dismissed the ensign present.’

    ‘That was - ’ A shuffling of paper. ‘Joanna Rosenberg?’

    ‘Yes, sir. I very much doubt she had any hand in - ’

    ‘Yes, she’s already been ruled out, Mr Spock. It’s you I’m interested in today. Carry on with your account.’

    ‘I ascertained the position and function of the relevant console, and knelt down before it to effect repairs.’

    He paused as the memories became more hazy, trying to remember something that he had no desire to remember at all.

    ‘And?’ Connor asked.

    ‘My fingers were touching the edges of the hatch. Ambassador Necuhay was leaning over my shoulder, very close...’

    ‘Carry on, Commander.’

    Spock hesitated. The memories were so fragmented, he was not sure what came next in the flashes of remembrance he had in his mind.

    ‘Commander?’ Connor pressed.

    ‘Bob, do you have to do this?’ Kirk asked impatiently.

    ‘I am interviewing the only witness, Captain Kirk. Yes, that is something I have to do. Commander?’

    ‘I - remember touching the hatch... Then the console exploded,’ Spock said flatly, trying to remain as detached as possible. ‘There was light for - zero point two eight seconds. The gas began to react with the cellular structure of my eyes...’

    He felt his hands were shaking, and he clenched them hard on his knees. There was no logical reason to feel such fear at a memory.

    ‘Mr Spock,’ Kirk said, touching his arm lightly.

    ‘Carry on, Commander,’ Connor told him.

    Spock pushed himself back into the memory, restraining anger at himself, trying to restrain any kind of emotion, until he was immersed in the splintered time stream of the explosion. He had to remind himself to speak.

    ‘A rush of noise. Darkness - I didn’t realise... I was deafened, for a moment... I could not lift the... I felt a beam - trapping the ambassador. The flames - I could hear the flames. Debris falling... He was dying, but I couldn’t lift it. There was heat, flames... I - smelt blood, burning. Debris in my way, great pain... The ambassador was dead... I could feel him, but no pulse, no breathing. The smell of blood...’

    Jim’s firm voice brought him back like a life-belt from the paralysis of the fragmented memories. ‘Spock. Come out of it.’

    ‘Y-yes, sir,’ Spock said, shaking his head very slightly, pulling back his composure. For some reason the blackness seemed thicker and darker after going through that memory. He was gripping onto the edges of his seat with bloodless fingers, but in this darkness he felt disinclined to let go.

    ‘What about the part you’ve left out?’ Connor asked sceptically. ‘The most important part, between you fixing an ordinary fault, and the room becoming an inferno?’

    Spock straightened up, and said, ‘I remember very little, Commodore. I was told I used a laser cutter - that would ignite coolant gas at the correct pressure.’

    ‘Why did you use a laser cutter?’

    ‘I have no memory of using it - I simply repeat what I have been told.’

    ‘It’s a little convenient, Mr Spock, that your great Vulcan memory should fail you just at the crucial moment.’

    ‘Indeed? I find it most inconvenient, Commodore,’ Spock said flatly. He knew that his face was pale, and that Jim was aware of the strain he was feeling, but he would not expose his weakness to the Commodore. ‘I do not deliberately hide the details. It is most disturbing that my memory should be so unreliable, but I have told you all that I remember.’

    ‘Mr Spock, are you aware of how important this is? What you saw or did not see could be crucial to this investigation.’

    ‘I am aware of that.’

    ‘Then tell me what you saw!’

    Spock jerked back as he felt a sudden movement towards him - but there was a desk between, and the commodore was only leaning forward in his human-typical anger.

    ‘Bob, stop this,’ Kirk snapped back. ‘Stop punishing Spock for his genes. If he says he can’t remember, then he can’t remember. You know that he didn’t set up the explosion. That’s already been confirmed by all reports.’

    ‘Jim, I’m not being unreasonable. Commander Spock is the only witness. Someone has to get a full report out of him about what happened. Three of my people have already tried, and got less out of him than I have now.’

    ‘That is not unreasonable - simply difficult at this time,’ Spock nodded, and he could feel Kirk’s surprise.

    ‘But it’s not urgent. You’re not interested in finding out what happened, Bob! You’re just seeing how far you can push him because of some petty aversion to Vulcans. If you knew how devastating this - .’

    ‘Captain,’ Spock intervened quietly, but with a touch of urgency.

    ‘Captain Kirk, I was carrying out my duty, just as you should do, instead of trying to get yourself thrown out of Starfleet,’ Connor said stiffly. There was a long pause, and Spock could feel the man’s attention firmly on him. ‘Mr Spock, I want a report on what happened as soon as you remember anything more. Your visual impairment doesn’t make you immune from the due processes of Starfleet.’

    ‘Of course not, sir,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘I hear you’re intending to stay on in your position on the Enterprise.’

    ‘Yes, sir. I have been informed that all I need is an assessment from the Chief Medical Officer outlining my capabilities and requirements. If the assessment board are satisfied, then I will resume my duties as soon as I am allowed by the Doctor.’

    ‘And do you believe you’re capable of being first officer of the finest ship in Starfleet?’

    ‘I already am, sir,’ Spock said flatly.

    ‘Then assuming you want to get back to work, you better take this disk,’ he said. ‘It’s an audio account of all of the investigators’ findings. It might help your flawed memory. Have fun.’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at those last words. How could the commodore believe that fun could be found in listening to the findings on an explosion that had had such a shattering impact on his life? He reached out for the disk and the commodore put it into his hand.

    ‘Well, Commodore?’ Kirk asked, putting the stress on the title.

    ‘Okay. You’re both dismissed. I’ll see you around, Jim. Commander Spock - good luck.’

******


    Spock stepped out of the door of his hotel suite with his tricorder slung over his shoulder. Lieutenant Uhura had finally found a company that could convert Starfleet tricorders for blind users, although only due to her considerable communications skills, and had had one beamed over immediately. He had not asked what the cost to Starfleet had been.

    It was relatively easy to find the roof garden by simply getting to the elevator and ordering it up. When the doors slid open he could smell the faintly sea-tanged air of outside, and the plants of the roof garden. He stepped out of the lift feeling ahead with the cane, relieved to find that there was a path with slightly raised edges. Even so, he could not tell where to go when he could only hear surroundings by the wind in the leaves. He could hear people on the roof, birds alighting and flying away again, but there was no way to hear where the path led or seats were situated. He began very slowly along the path, feeling meticulously with the cane, but he had no idea where he was going. Then someone approached, and a male voice asked, ‘Excuse me. Do you need any help?’

    ‘Thank you,’ Spock said. ‘I would like to find a seat.’

    ‘I think there’s one at the other end,’ the man said, touching his arm. ‘I’ll take you there. It’s - Lieutenant Spock, isn’t it?’ he asked as they began along the path.

    ‘Commander.’

    ‘I’m across the corridor from you - Efion Davies. You were in that explosion on the Enterprise, weren’t you?’

    ‘Correct,’ Spock said, with less encouragement in his voice. He had no desire to speak to strangers about the explosion, even if they believed that giving guidance was an invitation to open up a conversation. He wanted to be free from being led by people, but a roof garden was no place to break away from guidance. He had been told there was a pool on this roof – an amenity he had no desire to try out while blind - and he didn’t want to find himself in it fully clothed.

    ‘Here’s your bench,’ the man said. ‘All the paths lead back to the lift, and the edge of the building’s just behind your back.’

    ‘Thank you,’ Spock said, sitting down.

    ‘I’ll see you around sometime then.’

    ‘You will have to vocalise your presence if you wish me to recognise you,’ Spock said as the man walked away.

    ‘Okay. See you.’

    Spock leaned back on the bench and slipped the tiny earpiece of the tricorder into his ear. As he listened to the investigators’ reports on the explosion it became more and more clear to him how little they had found - or how little they had tried to find. Every piece of evidence was questionable, pointing to equipment faults or structural faults - faults that could not be blamed on any person. It seemed clear to him that Starfleet - or the Federation Council - was trying its best to smooth over the rift in the peace talks by finding no one at fault, either Pernician or Federation. It also seemed clear that if someone was going to be blamed, he was at the top of the list. Since he knew that he had not assassinated the ambassador, and since he was sure the explosion was deliberate, that could only mean that someone had anticipated the whole event and set it up, and even if he was not officially allowed to investigate, he would have to try.

    The only way to make investigating easier when the ship arrived was to be able to read again. He slipped the disk Commodore Connor had given him out of the tricorder and inserted a new one just sent to him from the hospital - a short programme which would enhance his skill with braille and also teach him the Vulcan touch language. He put his fingers on the tactile screen which replaced the visual one and began the course. His problem with braille was not the code it was made up of - it had taken minutes to remember that with Uhura’s help. It took longer to learn to recognise the combinations with his fingertips. The Vulcan touch language was far easier to learn, with clearer symbols - but no human could ever remember the thousands of individual symbols, and adaptations on the ship had to be Starfleet standard, human standard. He simply had to persist with braille, and be grateful he had the sensitive Vulcan touch of his father, not the relatively dull sense of his mother.

    Spock closed his eyes and tried again to read the simple sentence the tricorder had produced for him. It was slowly becoming easier to distinguish the slight textural differences. As he ran his finger across the panel he heard the elevator doors open at the other end of the roof garden, and felt Captain Kirk’s worried presence. There were ten short footsteps, the captain halted, Spock could sense his eyes on him, then the anxious emotions he could sense faded, Jim turned again and re-entered the lift. He felt a brief surge of annoyance at being checked up on like this, but he reminded himself that humans could not help their illogical actions. Perhaps it was only a sign of friendship.

He waited for a while to move after Kirk had come up to the roof, but he had heard from McCoy this morning that the captain had a meeting to attend. Spock assumed it was related to the explosion, although that had not been said. He wanted some time on his own, but he also had no intention of letting his captain disappear to the meeting alone and keep the details from him. He sat simultaneously counting the minutes and learning the tactile languages in the tricorder, until he knew that it was getting near the time for Kirk to leave. Then he roused himself from his bench and went back down to Kirk’s hotel room.

******

Kirk went to the door at Spock’s knock, and opened it to let his first officer in with a smile. The Vulcan stepped in through the door slowly, feeling ahead with his cane, looking more alien than usual in a dark chocolate Vulcan-designed suit that accentuated his Vulcan colouring and features.

    ‘Spock, where have you been?’ he asked. ‘I haven’t seen you all morning.’

    ‘I have been on the roof, Jim, as you well know,’ Spock replied. There was no anger on his face - only a slight, restrained Vulcan amusement which brought him back fully to looking like the Spock Jim knew, despite the clothes.

    ‘Er - yes, well...’

    ‘McCoy said you have a meeting to go to?’

    ‘Yes, in half an hour, with a junior Pernician minister.’

    ‘Captain,’ Spock began, and Kirk looked up at him, seeing the urgent-but-hesitant look on his face that meant he was about to make a request that he was sure would be denied. ‘Sir, I respectfully request permission to attend.’

    ‘No, Mr Spock,’ Kirk said firmly, hating himself as he said it. ‘I’m sorry.’

    ‘Captain, I am as much involved in this as any other person - perhaps more so,’ Spock pressed. ‘I am also your first officer.’

    ‘Yes, I know, Mr Spock, but the request is still denied,’ Kirk said. ‘This situation’s touchy enough as it is. God knows, I believe you weren’t responsible for the explosion, but the Pernicians – ’

    ‘I have no wish to provoke hostility, Captain,’ Spock said, and Kirk could see how important this was to him. The Vulcan would never persist in arguing with his captain’s orders without a very good reason. ‘I simply want to attend, as First Officer of the Enterprise, as a key witness to the explosion.’

    He didn’t add, as a useful, intelligent person, but Kirk could see his need.

    ‘If I were not blind, Captain, you would have asked me to accompany you on almost all of your engagements here on Earth,’ Spock said pointedly.

    Kirk didn’t know what to say. His silence had obviously gone on too long, for Spock pulled himself up taller with a dignity that made Kirk wince, and turned to the door.

    ‘Commander, I haven’t given you permission to leave yet,’ Kirk said as the Vulcan reached the door. Spock turned around at his words, holding himself rigidly to attention. ‘You can’t go to an official meeting like that, Mr Spock,’ Kirk said with a smile. ‘You’d better go get into uniform, or we’ll be late.’
   
    The meeting was in one of the grand, old buildings of San Francisco - a kind of joint embassy which let out rooms to representatives of planets that usually had no concerns on Earth, that had an odd smell that was a mingling of disuse and alien perfumes and foods. The Pernician minister’s office was just as odd - spartanly furnished, but superficially decorated with odd trappings and crests from Pernician culture.

    ‘I am very glad that you came, Captain Kirk,’ the minister said as they entered the room, and Kirk got the impression that he really meant it. ‘I am Minister Helsam - attendant to our recently departed ambassador.’

    There was no bitterness in the statement, and Kirk sighed with relief. This Pernician seemed far different from Ambassador Necuhay, from his appearance - barely six foot tall, and with a paler skin shade - to his manners, which were far more restrained.

    ‘Glad to meet you,’ Kirk nodded, bowing slightly rather than risking offence with a handshake. ‘This is my First Officer, Commander Spock,’ he said, glancing towards the Vulcan.

    ‘Of course,’ the minister said, and his expression faltered for a split second before becoming friendly again. ‘I have heard of you, Commander. I am deeply sorry for your loss.’

    ‘And I yours,’ Spock returned, grateful that his presence had caused no trouble so far.

    ‘Would you sit down?’ the Pernician invited them, then glanced at the desk where there was only one extra chair. ‘I’m sorry - I’ll fetch another seat.’

    He darted out of the room, and Kirk led Spock over to the seat and put his hand on the back. ‘Here, Spock - sit down.’

    Spock moved back a step, lifting his hand. ‘You, Captain,’ he said. ‘My blindness has no effect on my legs, or my rank.’

    ‘Of course, Mr Spock,’ Kirk smiled. He sat down, although he felt rather uncomfortable with Spock standing over him, holding the cane in front of him. Spock reached out before him with the cane, exploring the surroundings, and it hit into the desk edge.

    ‘What is this, Captain?’ he asked, reaching out to find it with his hand.

    ‘The minister’s desk.’

    The Vulcan tapped the cane on the floor, head cocked as if listening to the echoes. ‘The room is large?’

    ‘Medium,’ Kirk shrugged, smiling at the Vulcan’s insatiable curiosity. ‘But high. Four walls, two windows, a few Pernician ornaments - they have strange taste, I can tell you.’

    ‘Ahh, thank you, Minister Helsam,’ Spock said as the minister returned, and sat down in the chair that was brought to him. Helsam seated himself on the other side of the desk, and leaned forward towards Kirk.

    ‘Captain, I am sorry,’ he began with a finality which told Kirk exactly what this meeting was about. ‘I have spoken to the president of the Federation, and the president of Pernicia. The talks are over. There is no hope of resumption. I do not know what will happen now.’

    ‘If there is war,’ Kirk said seriously, ‘I can tell you one thing. I bear you no ill will personally, but if Pernicia sends out its warships they won’t last against Federation fire-power. You’re only one small planet.’

    ‘Yes,’ the minister nodded. ‘Except for one thing - that we have some veins of dilithium in our planet’s soil, and the Romulans have been speaking to us about it.’

    ‘The Romulans,’ Kirk echoed, a bitterness touching his voice. ‘I see.’

    ‘You see, Captain, your Federation told us that with peace they would offer us membership - because of our dilithium reserves. The Romulans offer the same deal, but they allow us independence, and our ambassador did not die on their ship.’

    Kirk didn’t bother trying to argue with that - he knew it was true. He was also certain that soon the Pernician homeworld would just become another pawn in the Federation-Romulan war, and no one would care about their petty threats of violence. They would be fighting off Romulan warbirds instead. He glanced sideways at his first officer, and saw he was sitting very stiffly in the chair. Of anyone on the ship, Spock had always been the most concerned about keeping peace. He had also seen the look on the Vulcan’s face when they had attacked a Romulan warship that had been commanded by a man with an uncanny similarity to his father. He had seen Spock’s reaction to the beautiful commander of a Romulan warbird a few years ago. Spock always did his duty, but there had also always been a hint that he hated firing on people who were Vulcan in body, if not in mind.

    ‘Minister, is there no hope of a reversal?’ Spock asked.

    ‘No, Commander,’ Helsam said. ‘There is also one more thing I must say - which concerns you. The Federation council and the Pernician government have jointly agreed that the investigation into the ambassador’s death will be dropped, and forgotten, with no blame laid on any head. There will be no official inquest.’

    Kirk bit his lip, and glanced again at Spock. They both knew that meant that the Federation had doubts about where blame lay, and that there was the possibility that Spock, and so the Federation, would be found guilty in a trial over the cause of the accident. It was a relief that Spock would not become a further victim of all this, perhaps even sent to a penal colony in order to save Federation face - but it was galling to have the investigation dropped for the sake of politics.

    ‘Finally, Captain, you have orders that your ship, the Enterprise, is the ship used to convey - safely - our ambassador, and attendants, back to Pernicia.’

    ‘Your ambassador - ‘ Kirk echoed. ‘I’m sorry - I thought that his body had already been shipped home.’

    ‘It has been, Captain,’ Spock nodded. ‘Almost immediately after the accident, as far as I know.’

    ‘Our new ambassador, Charia Necuhai,’ Helsam said. ‘The wife of Sheval Necuhay.’

    ‘I - see,’ Kirk said slowly. ‘Minister Helsam,’ he began reluctantly. ‘The ambassador’s wife threatened to kill my first officer.’

    ‘It was her duty to utter such a threat, Captain, but I doubt she would carry it out. I am afraid those are your orders. Hopefully very soon this whole sad business will be at an end.’

    ‘Not for Spock,’ Kirk muttered under his breath. He looked up to see the minister eyeing him quizzically. ‘Yes, Minister - hopefully it will be,’ he said.

    ‘Commander Spock, I do not know who was to blame in this situation. However, I am very sorry that your life has been afflicted in this way,’ Helsam said with feeling.

    Spock shook his head. ‘We are all pawns in a larger game,’ he said. ‘We must all play our part.’

    ‘Then the inquest into Ambassador Necuhay’s death and the investigation into the explosion will be cancelled, and your ship will return to Earth in readiness for the journey. I suggest, Captain Kirk, that the ambassador’s quarters are placed as far away from Commander Spock’s as is possible.’

******
   
    The heat of the sun washed around Spock’s body like a blanket, easing the aches he still suffered in various places. He and Kirk had deliberately altered their route to cut through part of Golden Gate Park, rather than walking back to the hotel through the streets. Spock could sense the scope of the park around him, busy with humans, leaves rustling softly, tree shadows flickering hot and cold over his face as he walked. The scent of cut grass and hot tarmac rose up around him. The sounds of the city outside were almost muffled to silence by the thick vegetation, the smells of the city masked by plants.

    Spock acknowledged the calming influence of these surroundings, but there were other matters on his mind - the perturbing way Starfleet seemed to have swept this whole business under the rug. Beside that there was the scientific pursuit of interpreting echoes, noises and changes in air current, registering the signals coming through the cane, and the more simple task of listening to Jim. Now he was in a quiet place he was renewing the experiment of walking without holding Jim’s arm, staying with him by listening to his movements and sensing his closeness.

    They stepped into an area pooled with sun. Jim turned sideways, and the sharp taps of Spock’s cane became muffled on grass.

    ‘Captain?’ he asked.

    ‘There’s an empty bench over there,’ Jim said. ‘The ground’s flat grass all the way to it.’ He paused, and then said as if in explanation, ‘I’m just as mad about what the minister told us as you are. Yes, I know you don’t feel anger,’ he said, as Spock opened his mouth, guiding the Vulcan’s hand to the back of the bench.

    As they sat Spock said, ‘You are correct that I do not feel anger, Jim, but - ’

    ‘Well, I’m mad as hell that you’re walking about in the dark and Starfleet brush it off to save a diplomatic incident.’

‘You are aware, Jim, that I could have been incarcerated if the matter had gone to trial,’ Spock said seriously. ‘I do not know that I could have endured that in my present condition.’

‘You never would have been sent to prison,’ Kirk protested, far more confident now than he had been before. ‘But now you won’t be cleared, either. They probably wouldn’t even pay you compensation if they could find some excuse.’

    ‘I do not want compensation, other than what will fund the necessary costs of my adaptations to blindness. I only did my duty.’

    ‘Your duty?’ Kirk echoed, and he saw Spock shrug very slightly. He knew that this was Spock, that he would give his life for his duty and not feel it was too much. But this seemed too much. No one should have to give that much up for Starfleet.

    ‘However, I am perplexed that Starfleet has allowed the explosion investigation to be cancelled,’ Spock told him. ‘Hundreds of ships use those blueprints for their phaser controls. If there is a flaw in the design, it must be found. If the explosion was deliberate, the assassin must be found.’

    ‘I know - and I intend to find him,’ Kirk said grimly. ‘That’s why we’re going to keep on investigating until we find out what happened.’

    ‘Starfleet has cancelled the investigation.’

    ‘Into the death of the Pernician ambassador. They haven’t cancelled the internal investigation I’m setting up to find out how my first officer was blinded during a simple repair operation. I want you to head that investigation, if you think you’re up to it.’

    ‘I will certainly need an assistant,’ Spock reminded him, ‘but I believe I am, as you say, up to it.’

    ‘I can sort that out for you. I guess you won’t need a permanent help – not constantly - but there are things Starfleet won’t let you do alone unless you can prove your capability. They also say you must go to a rehab school.’

    ‘When this investigation is over I intend to take leave and attend an institute on my home planet.’

    ‘I guess your parents’ll be glad to see you - they must have been devastated when you told them.’

    ‘My mother will be pleased to see me - if I visit,’ Spock said slowly.

    ‘If?’ Kirk echoed. ‘Spock, you couldn’t go to Vulcan and miss the chance to visit your parents! They must be eating themselves up with worry over you!’

    Spock was silent for a long moment, then he said, ‘I have not told my parents yet - and I would prefer that no one else contact them.’

    ‘Spock!’ Kirk began incredulously.

    ‘I will not have them told!’ Spock said sharply. He stood up quickly and took a few steps away, just to be away from Jim’s shocked emotions. His parents’ shock would be far worse to face. It was logical that they should be spared that shock for as long as it was possible.

    ‘Spock, how can you go through something like this alone?’ Kirk asked softly, coming up behind him.

    Spock stayed silent, then turned and went back to the bench. ‘I must think about reorganising the shifts of my science teams. Some of them will have to adjust their hours to assist me in my investigations. Then there is the explosion itself. I have a number of theories that I must consider. I am not sure that I shall be able to combine my normal duties with this investigation while I am adapting to working without sight, Captain.’

    ‘That’s okay,’ Kirk told him. He knew that when Spock withdrew into a shield of logic and duties it was not the time to pressure the Vulcan over emotional matters. ‘I can shuffle personnel to be sure there’s always someone to cover your shifts if you need it.’

    ‘It is also possible that I will not be able to adapt,’ Spock said gravely. ‘I may have to consider resigning my commission. I have considered teaching, at Starfleet or the Vulcan Science Academy.’

    There was a short silence, then Kirk said, ‘It won’t come to that. You’re intelligent, practical - you’ll be able to adapt. Plenty of visually impaired people manage.’

    Spock clenched his hands in a short gesture of frustration. ‘Captain, I am not visually impaired - I have no vision. I could decipher the equations of Siphak, but I cannot study slides or tell one replicator disk from another or find my way across the city alone.’

    ‘Spock, if you resign your commission, then I’ll have to resign too, and follow you back to Vulcan and make sure you become skilled enough to re-enter Starfleet. Do you know what a setback it’d be for a starship captain to resign and re-enlist at the bottom?’

    Spock cocked his head to one side. ‘Jim, you would not do that.’

    ‘I’d do what it takes to prove to you that you are capable of keeping your job on the ship.’ Kirk’s hand touched his shoulder, and Spock relaxed a little. ‘The accident was just over a month ago, and you’ve only been out of hospital for a week. You have to give it time. We’ve got ten more days before the Enterprise gets back here.’

    ‘Ten days, four hours, twenty-seven minutes, presuming the ship travels at a steady speed of Warp Five, and can leave its current assignment on time.’

    ‘Even better. You have ten days, four and a half hours to get used to this.’

    ‘It will take longer than ten days, Jim.’

    ‘I know - but I also know you’re doing well. You’re getting on with the braille, aren’t you? You’re almost reading?’

    Spock inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, then got to his feet and began making his way back to the path.

    ‘You see, Captain, I am improving at this,’ he said as Kirk joined him, lifting his cane towards his friend. ‘I have been practising at remembering routes, and using the cane.’

    Kirk smiled with mixed feelings of pride at Spock’s growing independence and slight sadness that his sense of achievement was derived from the simple matter of walking alone ten yards to a concrete path. Of course, when he imagined himself doing that blindfolded, it did seem like so much more of an achievement.

    ‘There you go, then,’ he smiled. ‘And before we leave Earth we’ll beam over to that European store and get every gadget and device that you need to help you. Once you’ve got past simple life-skills, you can start concentrating on what you need for your job. You’re the best first officer the fleet’s ever seen, Spock. I don’t intend losing you to some stupid accident. Even if for some reason you can’t manage first officer’s duties, you’ve got the science department.’

    Spock nodded in silent acknowledgement of that commitment. ‘I do consider myself fortunate, Jim, to have a friend such as you. Close friendship does not come easily to Vulcans, but I know that you will always be here,’ he said, moving his hand in the space beside him. ‘Whether you are here in reality, or whether I am on another planet.’

    Spock trailed off. T’hy’la had so many connotations when one tried to explain it to a human - brother, friend, lover, companion. There were so many shades and degrees of the word. Jim was not a lover, nor a brother in the biological sense - he was simply someone who was always there, who almost always understood, who played foil to his weaknesses just as Spock did for him. He had shared his thoughts with his captain so many times through mind-meld that Jim seemed almost part of the same flesh, filling the space of a real brother.

    ‘I am glad I can rely on you, Jim,’ he said simply. ‘Especially at this time. Your help is invaluable.’

    ‘And Sarek?’ Kirk asked, tentatively but determinedly.

    ‘My father... has often told me that the best way to learn is to experience. There is no logical help that either he or my mother could offer from so far away.’

******

    Spock woke with the dawn. He wasn’t sure what had woken him - maybe it was the chorus of birds, maybe just his skin sensing the growing light. He had expected to lose all sense of day and night with his blindness, but on Earth it wasn’t just light that marked the hours. He stood up and went out onto the balcony, standing in the fresh sea-tanged air, imagining the dawn around him, long shadows of buildings slowly shrinking as the sun rose. It was a blessing of his memory that he could recall the image of dawn over San Francisco almost photographically.

    He could also remember a vague nightmarish dream that had not woken him, where he had been lost in the streets below, his eyes shut by a lead-like heaviness - but he was beginning to learn now to control those dreams, and had slowly opened his eyes, seen calm and welcome images for the first time in many long nights of bad dreams. Finally he could feel some kind of equilibrium returning both in his dreaming and waking life - the darkness was no longer quite so devastating and trapping, and the sight in his dreams was no longer so cruel and tantalising. Logic was returning.

    He went back inside and took his uniform from the drawer and laid it on his bed, then went out to the bathroom to shower and shave. When he stepped out into the hotel corridor he had every intention of going up to the roof garden to sit in the growing warmth and life of day, but as he turned towards the elevator another early riser met him in the corridor - he seemed to be jogging on the spot.

    ‘Good morning, Commander Spock,’ the man said briskly, and Spock recognised him as Mr Davies, the guest across the hall. He nodded politely, then turned back towards the elevator, unwilling to start up a conversation with a near-stranger.

    ‘Just going for a quick jog along by the ocean,’ the man said before he could go through the door. ‘Do you want to come?’ he asked as an afterthought. ‘Gets boring sometimes with no conversation - and a run’s just the thing to work out tension.’

    ‘I am not tense, Mr Davies,’ Spock corrected him, ‘but the invitation is appreciated.’

    ‘It’s a beautiful morning for a run, Commander,’ the man urged him as the Vulcan turned towards the lift again. ‘The streets will be near empty.’

    Spock paused in the hallway, reflecting on the hours he had spent sitting in chairs, walking slowly by following other people’s moving arms, relocating to different chairs and sitting again with nothing to do. He barely knew this man, but in a way it was easier to rely on a stranger for help than a friend.

    ‘I shall come with you,’ he decided suddenly. ‘Give me a moment, and I shall meet you here.’

    ‘Okay, Mr Spock,’ the man nodded.

    ‘Mr Davies - ‘

    ‘Efion, please,’ he urged him. ‘I always say that if you jog together you should at least be on first name terms.’

    ‘Mr Davies, can you tell me the precise time?’ Spock asked. He hadn’t realised before how often he kept his internal clock in time by the cues of clocks or the sun.

    ‘Precisely?’ There was a pause, then the man said, ‘Five fifty nine and seventeen seconds, Mr Spock. I’ll wait out here for you.’

    Spock slipped back into the room to leave a message on the computer for Uhura, and to remove the blue uniform top. The black trousers and T-shirt were far more suitable for running.

    The jog along the silent streets was certainly refreshing. After he had forced himself to overcome the unease of running in total darkness, and to trust the man guiding him, it felt good to let his body take that simple exercise. Weeks and days of inactivity had made him weak and stagnant. It was strange and slightly distasteful though, clinging onto the arm of someone with whom he had only ever exchanged polite words.

    The crashing of waves intruded upon his thoughts as they approached the beach, and suddenly there were noises of other dawn-risers, fitness fanatics and nature lovers. The full salty taste of the sea air hit his face as they left the last building behind, and they jogged across a wide stretch of concrete to the beach edge.

    ‘Steps down here, Mr Spock,’ his guide said, slowing down, and Spock followed him down carefully. They stopped at the bottom, and the man took in a deep breath of air. ‘There’s nothing to compare to the beauty of this beach at dawn,’ he sighed. ‘Except the beauty of the beaches at home in Wales.’

    ‘Then you are not a permanent resident in the hotel?’ Spock asked.

    ‘Not quite, Commander. I’m over here for work - I actually research molluscs. Not the most exciting job, you might think, but it keeps me absorbed.’

    ‘I am sure,’ Spock nodded. ‘People sometimes think it is far more stimulating, and certainly more romantic, to research stars, but they each have their unknown qualities and their predictable facts. Mr Davies, how far did you intend to run?’

    ‘Maybe another mile or two, and then back, if you’re up to it, Commander.’

    ‘I am certainly ‘up to it’,’ Spock nodded. ‘I am in need of exercise.’

    Spock was mildly surprised when he tired after only one more mile, but he elected to sit on the beach and let Mr Davies take in a full run. As he sat every healing injury in his body ached - he had almost forgotten the burns and the broken bones, but obviously the scars were not completely healed.

    He listened as the soft thud of the man’s footsteps disappeared along the beach, and was struck for a moment wondering what he would do if he did not return. The answer was simple, logical - call out for help from a stranger, and find a cab to return to the hotel. But, however logical, he was repulsed by the idea of wandering on the sand calling for help. There was no reason why Davies should not come back.

    He quelled the thought, and sat still on the damp sand, listening to the crashing of the waves in front of him, analysing the patterns of their arrivals and apparent size. These tumultuous rhythms of the Pacific Ocean seemed such a natural aid to meditation that he wondered if he had inherited just as much of his mother’s Earth instinct as he had of his father’s Vulcan loyalty. It felt just as natural to sit on damp salty sand and hear the waves as it did to stand behind a window on Vulcan staring out into the red depths of a scouring sandstorm. Both had their mathematical complexities.

    Spock closed his eyes and drew his legs up to his chest, resting his arms on his knees and concentrating on the wave patterns. They were far enough away for him to forget about the tide. He began to visualise the explosion in front of him, just staring at the sight of it, blocking out all memories of the sounds and smells. There was something in that split second of light - he just could not remember what it was. Whatever it was, he had not had time to consciously assimilate it into his memories.

    As he sat staring at that memory of the light the memory of his dreams flashed into his mind - all of those dreams which had green snakes writhing about him, tendrils of green plants growing over his body, green ropes used to bind his eyes, to strangle his friends, himself, the Pernician. That surely meant something. As he began to focus on the problem something in his mind jerked him away from it, and he heard the waves again. Some annoying, illogical, traumatic feeling would not let him remember, and he just had to wait until the memories were blunt enough to be remembered without pain. He turned away from the memory of the explosion and recalled the warm light of the Earth’s sun instead, letting himself sink into the wonderful brightness until the view seemed real.

    The ship would be arriving in a matter of days, and then it would be rhythms of engines and shifts and duties governing his life rather than the rhythms of the sea and hotel life. Spock did not regret the imminent resumption of normal life - it would be a relief to be back on the ship that he knew with instinct rather than with eyes - but he felt some regret that he would lose the small sounds and smells of nature that were here. On the ship, day and night were marked by varying lighting, the tiny garden area of plants was expanded by murals, things were made purely to soothe the eye.

    Here on Earth the stimuli to his senses were almost overwhelming. Jim had arranged trips to concerts, to fragrant, tactile gardens, to a sculpture exhibition where he could run his hands over the carvings. He had even arranged that Spock be allowed to play the hotel’s grand piano if he wished. Spock welcomed his friend’s efforts, even if it was sometimes tiring. It was good to give his inquiring mind something to feed on while he was away from ship duty, and to take his attention away from the problems of the darkness.

    Being on the ship meant one thing at least - the chance to be close again to the Pernicians, to investigate the ruins of the phaser room, to try at last to find what the investigators had not. It would be easier with artefacts to touch, odours to smell, real objects rather than words on a tape. Perhaps on the ship the meaning of those green snakes would become clear.

Chapter 8 by Aconitum-Napellus

8

Captain’s Log, Personal, Stardate 5304.5

After almost two months on Earth, I can’t say I’m not impatient to get back to my ship. Earth is beautiful, but the Enterprise is my home. I know at least one person who feels the same - Spock is just as anxious to get back to the ship, and his job. Everything and everyone he knows is there, and I believe he needs that familiarity around him at the moment. I can’t say I’m totally at ease letting him back on the bridge, but I have to show faith in him. I know, logically, that there is very little one blind Vulcan can do to put the ship in danger. Maybe I’m just over-protective, of my friend and my ship. I look forward to having Mr Spock prove to me that not only is he safe, but that he is just as skilled and efficient as he has always been.


    Spock listened to the transporter at Starfleet Command hum and die away, taking the pile of cases to the Enterprise. He was aware of a subtle feeling of nervousness, that he analysed rather than suppressing immediately. He had spent the last few weeks adjusting to blindness, his friends seeing the slow transition from helplessness to a measure of self-sufficiency, but he was aware that no one on the ship had seen that transition. No one on this ship was used to it, and he did not know quite how they would react.

    The voice of Mr Scott reported through an intercom, ‘Cargo arrived, Lieutenant. We’ll be ready for the party in one minute.’

    ‘Aye, sir,’ the transporter operator responded. ‘Captain, if you’d like to get into position.’

    Spock stepped forward cautiously towards the transporter, pushing aside the nervousness. He could not control the crew’s reactions - they would have to adjust just as he had. He followed his friends up onto the transporter platform and began to search for the more metallic sound of the transporter disk through his cane.

    ‘Right here, Spock,’ McCoy said, turning him with a touch of his hand.

    ‘Thank you, Doctor,’ he nodded, and the doctor stepped away from him to position himself on a terminal.

    ‘Ready, Uhura?’ Kirk asked as the woman stepped onto the platform.

    ‘As ready as I ever am after two months on Earth,’ she said wistfully as she positioned herself.

    Spock braced himself for the mildly disorientating experience of transporting in darkness as he heard Scott giving the all clear from the ship, and the transporter operator said, ‘Energising.’

    The warm hum intensified through his body, momentarily stealing all sensation, then he felt weight and substance return, and he concentrated on keeping his balance as the grip of the beam faded. The familiar scent and sounds of the ship met him, and he relaxed minutely with the relief of being home. As he probed the platform with his cane Scott stepped from behind the operating panels.

    ‘Welcome aboard, Mr Spock, and welcome back,’ he said earnestly, with an unusual degree of gentleness in his voice.

    ‘Thank you, Mr Scott,’ Spock nodded, moving towards the front of the transporter, unsure of which terminal he had been beamed to.

    ‘Pernicians on board, Scotty?’ Kirk asked.

    ‘Aye,’ Scott said grimly. ‘All tucked away in their cabins, out of our way for now. Mr Spock, are you well?’ he asked with concern, coming to the edge of the platform. ‘Everyone’s been worrying their hair grey.’

    ‘I am fine, Mr Scott,’ Spock answered. ‘Thank you for your concern. Thank you, Mr Scott,’ he said more firmly, freezing as the man tried to help him down from the transporter. ‘I can use steps without assistance.’

    ‘We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you,’ Scott pressed.

    ‘I was negotiating two steps - I am unlikely to harm myself even if I did fall,’ Spock assured him. ‘I am not a china doll.’

    ‘Mr Spock,’ Kirk said softly. ‘Scotty’s just concerned.’

    ‘I simply ask that you moderate your concern to sensible levels, Mr Scott,’ Spock told him.

    ‘Aye, I’ll try,’ Scott nodded.

    ‘Now I am on board you can show me some of the adaptations you have been making.’

    ‘Right now, sir? Aye, right now,’ he nodded at Spock’s arched eyebrow. ‘They’re not finished yet, but I can give ye a rough tour.’

    ‘Thank you, Mr Scott. Mr Scott,’ he called as he heard the engineer making for the door. ‘While the steps were quite navigable, it would be quicker and easier if you were to guide me during the tour.’

    ‘Aye, of course,’ Scott said, coming back to the Vulcan and taking hold of his arm. Spock tactfully detached his fingers and repositioned so that he was holding Scott’s arm.

    ‘Like this, Mr Scott. Simply let me follow your lead. Thank you.’

******

    Although it was pleasant to be back in the familiar surroundings of the ship he had served on for over a decade, Spock still felt slightly lost. He had never realised before how many things there were that he only recognised by sight, how many people he identified only by face, how many places he used to stride across that now he had to cross tentatively, searching out the ground. And every person treated him with that same awkward cautiousness that Scott had greeted him with on beam up, as if he was about to break at their touch. Often it was a pleasure to simply retreat to solitude in his quarters, where everything was so easy and so familiar - until suddenly he found another simple task impossible, and had to call Jim for his assistance.

    It didn’t help that the whole ship was under the process of being torn up around him. Everywhere Scott’s engineering teams were working overtime and cluttering the corridors, stretching lines across his path, all due to a hasty, Starfleet-funded drive to alter the ship to his needs. Although Spock was grateful for the huge effort spent to ensure he could do his job safely and easily, he had never expected such a comprehensive refit. All the evidence suggested that this immense, thorough refit had its roots in guilt. Jim Kirk’s angry protests at the way this mission had been handled had received a stunning amount of silence, and coincidentally Mr Scott had received an order to refit the Enterprise for the needs of visually impaired crew, with an open budget.

    So consoles were being refitted, tactile strips were being laid across the corridors to warn of doorways, braille signs were being placed by visual ones. Sitting here at his familiar science console the refit was still going on. Spock was interpreting the braille on small plastic strips he had prepared that were being stuck firmly next to every switch and instrument by Ensign Chekov. It was token work, but the only work which had been allowed to him after three days back on the ship. At least this was an opportunity to be on the bridge, instead making the endless exploratory forays into the corridors of the ship to reinforce his ability to walk about the place without assistance. Such expeditions were necessary, he knew, and they were getting easier, but it was difficult to forget the demoralisation of the first few attempts, when over-ambitious routes had ended in wandering lost in unfamiliar corridors, ultimately having to call out for help to the next passer-by.

    ‘And that, sir?’ Chekov was asking.

    Spock ran his finger over the small piece of plastic, and read, ‘Visual intelligence display - centre.’

    Chekov seemed to mutter at that, then Spock heard what sounded like a hand slapping at the boards.

    ‘Ensign?’ he asked, an eyebrow raised.

    ‘Vell, who vould include that?’ he asked with irritation.

    ‘Mr Chekov, do not be absurd,’ Spock said reasonably. ‘If I was so sensitive as to break down at every reference to sight I would have no place here on the bridge. I prepared labels for every button. I still need the screens to demonstrate points to others.’

    ‘Yes, sir, of course,’ he nodded, and pressed the tag down onto the surface. ‘And this?’

    ‘That is - long range scanners,’ Spock read in a monotone. Although it served an ultimately useful purpose, the whole exercise filled him with tedium. He should be working at his job. ‘Where is the next?’

    ‘That vas the last one, sir,’ Chekov said. Spock could hear a smile in his voice.

    Spock spread his fingers out gently over the console and left them like that for a few seconds, then he reached out purposefully to find the data analysis button. There it was, right under his finger, and he knew it was the right one without having to touch the tag underneath it. It was like that with all the controls. The braille tags were really just safety requirements, and they would be more useful on consoles with which he was not so familiar. He slipped an ear piece into his ear and activated it, and tested the computer’s newly programmed ability to describe a visual diagram. The description was precise and clear - there was something lacking, but he had never expected the computer to describe a picture just as he would see it.

    ‘That is quite satisfactory,’ he said, removing the earpiece. He almost expected Chekov to excuse himself and go back to the navigation console when he said that. He had to constantly remind himself that there was an extra chair at his station now, and at least for the present there was always to be a junior officer there to give him assistance. Spock thought that he may as well make use of that help, so he picked his cane up from the console and got to his feet.

    ‘Ensign, your assistance,’ he said. ‘I am going down to the phaser control room.’

    ‘The - er - phaser control room?’ Chekov echoed doubtfully.

    ‘Yes, Ensign.’ Spock reached out to his console, and felt about it lightly. ‘Can you see my tricorder?’

    ‘Er - yes, sir,’ Chekov nodded, picking it up and putting it into the Vulcan’s hand. Spock slung the instrument over his shoulder and began towards the lift.

    ‘Sir, the phaser room is still a wreck,’ Chekov said reluctantly, hesitating before the lift doors.

    Spock went in through the elevator doors, waited for Chekov to follow him, and ordered, ‘Deck eight. I know that the room is a wreck, Ensign. That is why I am going there. There would be little point in me waiting to investigate until after the evidence has been cleared away.’ He could sense the hesitation in the Russian beside him, so he said, ‘It is not your job to worry about my decisions, Ensign. It is your job to follow orders.’

******

    Spock could smell the charred remains of the phaser room as soon as the elevator doors slid open on deck eight. He hesitated for a split second as memories flooded back, but then reached out for Chekov’s arm, and followed him out into the corridor. A few metres down he stumbled as something snagged his foot, and he unfolded his cane quickly to feel a line that snaked across the floor.

    ‘Ensign, it would help vastly were you to warn me of obstacles before I trip on them,’ he said sharply, interrupting Chekov’s muttered apologies.

    ‘Er - There are some vires and conduits across the floor - they have been repairing some of the vall,’ Chekov said quietly.

    ‘Then you must tell me these things. I cannot see, Ensign,’ he said, still rather sharply.

    ‘I am sorry, Mr Spock,’ Chekov said earnestly, ‘but I am not used to guiding. I am not a nurse.’

    ‘Neither am I a blind man, Ensign,’ Spock said more softly.

    ‘Sir?’

    ‘I find it - strange - to say the least, to rely on another person simply to walk down to the phaser room and investigate a situation. If I spoke sharply, it was because of that.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Chekov said, rather uncertainly. ‘In Russia, independence is wery important.’

    ‘As it is in most cultures,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘In Russia, when a man loses his independence - ‘

    ‘Yes, Ensign. That is enough, thank you.’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

    Spock began forward, then stopped again, and said seriously, ‘Mr Chekov, I am aware that assisting me in this way does not fall within your range of studies as trainee science-officer. I would understand if you wish to be transferred elsewhere in the department, to a science specialist who does not have the problems that I have.’

    ‘No, sir!’ Chekov protested. ‘You are the best science specialist on the ship, Mr Spock. I vould be a fool to give up studying under you. I only need to get used to it - that is all.’

    ‘I suspect, Ensign, that you will become accustomed to my blindness far faster than I.’

    ‘Er - yes, sir... There are a few more vires over the floor, sir, but it is clear after a metre.’

    ‘Then proceed,’ Spock said, and Chekov carried on down the corridor. He paused as they rounded a corner, and Spock asked, ‘Ensign?’

    ‘Nothing, sir,’ Chekov said slowly, moving forward again. ‘I vas looking at the vall around the door. It is - The fire must have been terrible, sir.’

    ‘It was extremely fierce,’ Spock nodded, trying to suppress the inevitable emotions that rose with the memory and increased in intensity the closer he got. ‘The exploding gas can reach a temperature hot enough to melt tricidanium panels. Fortunately that flash was extremely brief. It was the resulting fire which caused the majority of the damage.’

    ‘Here ve are, sir,’ Chekov said abruptly, stopping where the smell of burnt plastic was most intense. He hesitated, waiting for the door to open, but it wasn’t hooked up to power. ‘The - er - door is not vorking,’ he said.

    Spock reached forward to the door and pushed. It jarred and stuck under his hand, then freed and slid open with a jerk. As the full smell of the room hit the outside air Spock could barely suppress a shudder. He didn’t pause in his step through the door, but he felt chilled at the faint scent of coolant gas, burnt equipment and burnt flesh. He knew that there were no Pernician remains in here, but of course there would still be blood - Pernician and Vulcan blood intermingled on the floor, preserved by the investigators as evidence of their movements after the explosion. Debris and ash crunched under his feet as he moved. He suddenly got a mental image of the black heat rippling around him, and he swallowed.

    ‘Mr Spock, I could look for vhat you vant and report back to you,’ Chekov offered tentatively, and Spock realised abruptly that his nervous state was evident to the ensign. Straight away he composed his features back to his normal mask, and lifted his head.

    ‘No, thank you, Ensign,’ he said. He turned at footsteps in the corridor, that were slowing towards the door, and someone stepped through into the room, feet crunching on the ash.

    ‘Commander Spock!’ a woman said, her surprise very evident.

    Spock nodded at the voice, momentarily struggling with his memory. While she sounded familiar, he couldn’t place the voice.

    ‘I am sorry - you will have to identify yourself,’ he admitted.

    ‘Lieutenant Karen Laughlan, sir.’

    Of course - one of the newer members of his science team, Spock realised. A forensic scientist that he had hand-picked from fifteen other applicants. She had always managed to look rather dishevelled, and covered in some dirt or another from the work that she did. Today she smelt faintly of soot and chemicals. He committed her voice firmly to memory, yet another of the store of names he had to reassociate with sounds and smells.

    ‘I didn’t expect to see you here, sir,’ she said. ‘Victims don’t usually like to revisit the accident scene.’

    ‘Avoidance would be illogical, Lieutenant. It is my duty to find out why this happened,’ Spock said.

    ‘Are you taking command of the investigation, sir?’ she asked, surprise sharpening her voice.

    ‘I am, but I expect my involvement to be more academic than practical, Lieutenant. I shall expect to hear your reports, and I shall give my opinions on the investigation, but your role will remain essentially the same.’

    ‘I haven’t read your full report on the explosion yet,’ she said rather tentatively.

    ‘There are many things which I unfortunately cannot remember,’ Spock said. ‘I have made a partial report, which you will find if you access my science station computer. In it there is a detailed and accurate account of what I can remember of the events in this room. If you have any further questions then I shall answer them if I am able, and I would like you to describe any evidence you have found to enable me to visualise it. Meanwhile, you can relay your findings to me now.’

    ‘Of course, sir,’ she nodded. There was a pause as she pulled something from a pocket. ‘I’ve been going through all the debris here with a fine-tooth comb,’ she began. ‘I’ve done DNA tests on the biological residue I’ve found - mostly that’s yours and Ambassador Necuhay’s.’

    ‘Biological residue?’ Spock echoed with ill-concealed distaste. ‘You mean blood?’

    ‘There was a lot of blood, yes,’ she nodded, a certain detached professionalism that Spock could appreciate touching her voice. ‘But there were some skin and hair samples belonging to other people in the room. All of it belongs to members of the duty crew who work regularly in this room. That’s one dead end. I’ve also looked at the console, but the damage is so extensive it’s almost impossible to find out anything. There were no coolant ducts in the console, but there were ducts threading through the wall behind it - theoretically the gas could leak into it through a sequence of cracks.’

    ‘Theoretically,’ Spock nodded, silently calculating the odds and finding them to be too slender to be significant. ‘But not very likely. I assume that the console is very badly damaged?’

    ‘It is a wreck, sir,’ Chekov said. He was silent for a moment, then added, ‘Barely anything left but twisted metal and burnt vires - everything’s black with soot and scorch marks.’

    ‘I need more description, Ensign,’ Spock asked.

    ‘Er...’ There was silence, and then Lieutenant Laughlan spoke.

    ‘The burn patterns show that the explosion blew a lot of the innards of the console out over the room, but I haven’t found anything significant in those blown out parts. The fire was obviously hot enough to disintegrate some of the circuits. There are very few patches that resisted the heat. A few of the plastics are melted, and they’ve pooled on the floor in a burnt mass. Most of the metal is intact, but blackened or tarnished. The hatch cover is gone - that was found on the other side of the room, and the front of the console was also blown out - it’s opened out like a flower. Is that enough, sir?’

    ‘That is quite adequate, Lieutenant,’ Spock said. He turned his head by habit towards where the console should be, then turned back with quickly hidden frustration.

    ‘Are you all right, sir?’ Chekov asked.

    ‘Yes, Ensign. I am merely attempting to ascertain the best method with which to tackle this problem without the use of my optical organs... Are there any sharp edges on the console, Miss Laughlan?’

    ‘Maybe a few, sir, but I haven’t been cut yet,’ the woman told him.

    Spock nodded, and turned towards it. The woman caught hold of the Vulcan’s arm as he began stepping forward over the wreckage-strewn floor. ‘Sir, there’s a lot of junk on the floor. Let me help you.’ She held his arm loosely, hesitating nervously. ‘Sir, do you have no sight?’ she asked softly. ‘I know it’s unusual - ’

    ‘A logical question,’ Spock nodded. ‘In phaser coolant explosions, the victim is usually left black-blind, Lieutenant. There is no light entering my eyes.’

    ‘Oh,’ she said, as if there was nothing more she could say. ‘I’m sorry, sir.’

    She helped Spock over the wreckage on the floor until he was standing by the console. Spock reached forward slowly until his hands touched the wires and crumbling metal and plastic. He gently brushed over the dry grittiness, feeling over snaking wires and abrasive broken circuits until his fingers felt covered in soot and ash.

    ‘Nothing,’ he said softly, withdrawing his hands and brushing off the dust.

    ‘Sir, what did you expect to find?’ Laughlan asked, from close behind him. ‘Perhaps I could look?’

    ‘I am not sure,’ Spock said, ‘but it was not there. Lieutenant, try recalibrating your tricorder for anomalous readings and alien chemical structures. I shall endeavour to recall to memory what it is I am looking for. Ensign Chekov, would you take me to my quarters, then return to the bridge and ask for the captain to join me there?’

******

Kirk watched Spock’s face intensely as he sat opposite him in the Vulcan’s quarters. Spock was sitting behind his desk with his eyes closed, fingers steepled in an attitude of meditation, brow very slightly furrowed in concentration. He had no idea what Spock was doing - Spock had told him that he had an idea which might be of some help, and he would be grateful if Kirk would stay with him while he tried it out. It was typical of Spock not to reveal ideas until he was sure they would work, but he wished that for once the Vulcan had broken with tradition and been a little more revealing.

    Spock showed no signs of coming out of the trance, so Kirk turned away and let his eyes focus through the partition grille and onto the warm red colours and ornate ornaments of Spock’s sleeping area. It always seemed strange to find such depth of colour and richness of decoration, to see the ancient Vulcan weapons on the walls, in such a peaceful and spartan man’s quarters - but then it was only the rest area that was decorated like that. This living area was grey, barely decorated except by scientific models and instruments, an example of the Vulcan’s highly ordered life. And all of this in a room with a climate set to mimic the desert.

    The room had changed, though. Some of the ornaments were pushed into corners, no longer strategically arranged for the eye to catch. Where surfaces had been cluttered - and that was rare - the Vulcan had moved objects back to the wall or put them away, and in their places were new things. There was the small kinetic sculpture from Earth, and a variety of other tactile things - gifts from friends intended as sculpture, and a few odd collected objects appealing to the touch, many of them so strangely coloured or chosen as to make him think the owner was - well, he knew Spock was blind.

    Standing out from this tactile collection were a pile of thick braille books, a spare cane folded and waiting on the side, a little black oviform instrument that worked as a guider on planets with the necessary satellite systems. Beside that was an odd collection of wires, transmitters and switches - the beginnings of a prototype designed by Spock, McCoy and Mr Scott to emit sound only Vulcans could hear, to build up an echo-picture much as a bat used. Kirk hoped that particular experiment worked out right. If it did, Spock could at least navigate through a kind of shadow-world, knowing by the vague echoes of the presence of a tree or rock or wall before he touched it.

    Only one object surprised him in the room. On the morning before beaming up to the ship Spock had admitted quietly that he felt some ‘slight regret’ that he would never be able to see the Enterprise again. Kirk knew what Spock could not put in words - that he hated to miss the graceful shape of the ship hanging in black space, brilliant white against the stars, pinpricked with windows and running lights and tipped off by the great swirling masses of red at the end of the warp nacelles. Now sitting on one of the grey surfaces at the edge of Spock’s living quarters was a perfect scale model of the Enterprise. No one had heard the conversation to buy it for the Vulcan as a sentimental gift. Kirk could hardly believe that Spock would have allowed himself to buy a perfect model of the ship for the pure sake of being able to feel what he could not see, but the ship was there, and it had not been there before.

******
   
    Spock ignored his captain’s mental projections of interest and curiosity and let himself sink deeper and deeper into the trance, gradually relaxing into the chair, trying to ignore the invading tension. He began to eliminate the consciousness of his surroundings from his mind, forgetting the feeling of the chair, the smell of the room, the sound of Jim breathing opposite him. For over seven weeks he had been trying to escape his vague memories of the explosion. Now he wanted to remember it, and to remember in such detail that he had to be back in the phaser room, reliving those few moments as slowly as he could make them pass, as traumatic as those moments might be.

    He could clearly see the inspection panel, his hand holding the laser cutter, the beam about to touch the jammed part of the panel. The light was almost dazzling, the image so vivid that he felt as if he was there, seeing again, and for a moment he just wanted to stay in that moment, not to move on until the world blacked out before him.

    Spock forced himself past that moment of weakness, and focused on the laser cutter again. The tiny blue beam moved closer to the panel - he could see it in such detail that even the minute shakes of his hand were obvious, the pale green of the veins in his hand. The beam pierced the surface, the metal glowed and disappeared around it. The images began to speed up. He stopped, relaxed again, and started from the moment that the beam touched the gas and ignited it.

    The panel began to move, bending oddly under the force of the expanding gas. The middles of the sides were coming off first, billowing out towards his face. His own body hadn’t had time to react and move back yet. The light inside the console was bleaching out all other colours, but he could just make out the contours and twisting of wires and circuits inside.

    Abruptly the light exploded outwards, he could see the brightness a fraction of a millimetre from his eyes, he felt the terrible searing pain roasting his skin surface, his eyes burning. He was moving backward with the blast, ribs snapping under the force. The light turned pink, the glare faded, it darkened to brown-red and he could only see vague outlines of the room. Then they disappeared behind dark sepia, which turned finally to total blackness, just before the protective inner eyelids, too late, flicked across his eyes.

    He pushed instinctively away from the explosion in his mind, and suddenly he was on the ground, tangled with the chair. There was soft carpet under his cheek and hands, the room was cool and quiet, but he could feel the enveloping flames washing over his body. The darkness engulfed him like a shroud. He wanted to curl into a foetal position and wait for the darkness to go, but hands grabbed at his arms, pulling him back to reality. The flames retreated, and Jim pulled him to his feet and hustled him through into his sleeping area. He sank onto the softness of his bed, shaking, Jim’s hands keeping him from sitting.

    ‘Are you all right, Spock?’ Kirk’s voice asked, filled with anxiety. ‘Spock, what happened?’

    He stared into the blackness, battling sickness. A moment ago he had been looking at the grey panels of the console, the multi-coloured circuits and the white fire, and that had snapped away in an instant. The dark would not melt, he could not see Jim’s anxious, enquiring face. Even imagining that face was hard now. He had to grasp onto the mattress, feel the soft embroidery of his bedcovering, slowly reattach himself to the reality around him.

    ‘Mr Spock? Spock, do you need Bones?’

    ‘No, Captain,’ Spock said blankly. ‘I - I was momentarily unnerved by the sight. I think...’

    ‘The sight? Spock, what do you mean? Are you all right?’

    ‘Y-yes, sir.’ Spock closed his eyes, swallowed, and tried to regain the composure of a highly trained Starfleet officer. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, keeping a firm grasp on the edge of the bed as he swung his legs to the floor. Kirk moved away quickly, then returned and pushed a cold glass to his lips, supporting him with a hand behind his back.

    ‘Swallow that,’ he said firmly. ‘No arguments.’

    Spock swallowed, and the powerful Vulcan drink burnt down his throat, making him cough.

    ‘I was meditating,’ he began.

    ‘Yes, I could tell,’ Kirk said impatiently, ‘but I’ve never seen you act like that before.’

    ‘I knew that I had seen or experienced something during the explosion that was vital to remember, but I could not. I went to the phaser room today because I was certain that I would find something of significance in the console. However, I found nothing but burned circuits.’

    ‘Spock, I could have told you that just by looking!’ Kirk said.

    ‘Of course,’ Spock nodded, curtailing his own irrational envy at that statement. ‘But I was sure that there was something in that console. The only way to remember was to relive the explosion in meditation, second by second.’

    Jim’s hand pressed his arm firmly, a welcome touch in the darkness. ‘Spock, you didn’t have to put yourself through that!’

    ‘It was necessary. More necessary than I had realised. Now I remember what happened, Jim, I believe it will be far easier to deal with that memory. I should have done this far sooner.’

    ‘But why now? What was it you thought you’d find out?’

    ‘I have told you, Jim, about the vivid, nightmarish dreams which have been interrupting my sleep. I have been trying to explain the green tendrils which appeared with regularity in the form of snakes, of vines, of ropes. There was no logic to that vision - and yet there must be. My mind would not simply produce fantasies with no basis.’

    ‘And?’ Kirk prompted him.

    ‘A moment before the gas blinded me I saw a pipe in the console that was not in the plans.’

    ‘Spock, how can you be so sure of the plans?’

    ‘I know I cannot check now, but I did study the plans before the explosion in order that I could correct the supposed fault. If memory serves, that pipe was not in those plans.’

    ‘Since you have an eidetic memory, Mr Spock, that’s good enough for me,’ Kirk said confidently. ‘Tell me about this pipe.’

    Spock closed his eyes, drawing out the picture with his hands as he spoke. ‘It was green, approximately two centimetres in diameter. It ran from one side to the other, and was punctured with evenly spaced holes. The gas appeared to flow out of the holes.’

    ‘Then we have proof!’ Kirk exclaimed. ‘All we need to do is find that pipe - ‘

    ‘There is no pipe, Jim,’ Spock cut through. ‘At least, it did not survive the explosion. I felt nothing in the console. Even if it had been out of reach of my hands, or blown to somewhere else in the room, Lieutenant Laughlan would have found it, and she found nothing. It must have disintegrated totally in the blast.’

    ‘There’s another problem,’ Kirk said, doubt invading his voice. ‘It was the laser cutter that ignited the gas. How could anyone possibly know that you’d use a laser cutter?’

    ‘The hatch is made to slip off once the bolts are removed. The hatch did not slip off - it stuck. Whatever the cause, it forced me to use the cutter - the logical tool - and ignite the gas. The assassination attempt was almost foolproof. Coolant gas alone can kill - I have experienced its effects before - but an explosion gives little time to escape, and it destroys evidence. I believe it was only my Vulcan physiology and training which saved me from death.’

    ‘Thank God. Well, we’ll find evidence. There’s always a little evidence, no matter how small,’ Kirk said grimly.

    ‘There is the possibility. I will instruct Lieutenant Laughlan to begin searching for fragments of that tube.’

    ‘Good. So this really has turned into a murder investigation.’

    ‘It is more than murder, Captain,’ Spock said seriously. ‘Whoever did this must have known that a possible result could be war.’

    Kirk touched his shoulder with a firm hand, with an understanding which reached beneath words. ‘I’m sorry, Spock. This should never have happened, never.’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock nodded slowly. He suddenly felt very tired - the trauma of the deep meditation had taken more out of him than he had realised in his convalescent state.

    ‘Spock, take the rest of your shift off,’ Kirk told him. ‘Get some sleep - you look like you need it.’

    Spock closed his eyes briefly, for a moment consumed with exhaustion, but then he shook his head and stood up from the bed, Kirk’s hand helping him.

    ‘There are more important issues than my rest to deal with, Captain. The new ambassador must be told of what I saw. Her husband was assassinated - now I am sure of that, and I should be present when she is told. My action caused the explosion.’

    ‘Spock, you can’t still believe that it was your fault,’ Kirk protested.

    ‘I know it was not my fault. But it was my responsibility,’ he said gravely.

    ‘Yes,’ Kirk nodded. He knew as well as Spock did that responsibility always lay with the senior officer. That was why he felt so responsible himself.

    ‘It is also my responsibility to report what I saw to the ambassador,’ Spock said, with a certain heaviness in his voice. ‘Where is my cane?’

    ‘Over here, on your desk,’ Kirk said with a sigh. He could order the Vulcan to rest, but it wouldn’t do any good. He couldn’t protect Spock from the Pernicians as if he was a child. He picked up the cane and handed it to the Vulcan, then said, ‘I’ll call her to briefing room six, Mr Spock. Are you okay to meet me there in ten minutes?’

    ‘If you are asking if I can find my way alone, then I am sure that I can,’ Spock nodded.

******
   
    Kirk sat facing the new Pernician ambassador across the table, alternating glances between her proud and rather angry face, and the briefing room door behind the woman’s shoulder. This woman was even taller than her husband had been, and she perched awkwardly on the human-sized chair, her hands clasped on the table in front of her. Kirk couldn’t help noticing her long, pointed nails, painted in the human fashion, but in a vibrant orange which set off the purple of her skin. He was sure that the nails were fake - perhaps the woman had scanned human records, and worn them for the intimidating effect. If her caste was the same as her husband’s - and he had decided that it must be - it didn’t bode well for the talks.

    The door slid open behind the woman’s back, but she didn’t look round. As Kirk saw his first officer standing rather tentatively in the doorway he said, ‘Ahh, Commander Spock,’ and got up quickly to go to him.

    ‘I am all right, Captain,’ Spock said, raising his hand to stop him. He went forward to the table and guided himself round to a seat next to Kirk’s. ‘This deck has not yet been converted to my needs,’ was the only excuse Spock gave for his lateness, and Kirk could tell that he did not approve of himself even using that one.

    ‘That’s fine, Commander,’ Kirk said, keeping his tone lightly official. As Spock sat Kirk took a glance at the ambassador opposite, and saw an ugly expression cross her already irritated-looking face.

    ‘So at last you can begin,’ she said, barely waiting for the Vulcan to settle in the chair. She leant forward slowly, and said, ‘You wanted to make something known to me.’

    She was looking at the Vulcan, and Kirk felt a twist of anger in his stomach. She was deliberately trying to catch the Vulcan out, to make his blindness a problem. But Spock’s highly developed sense of hearing was accurate enough to tell to whom her question was directed, and he answered smoothly, ‘Yes, Madam Ambassador. A fact about the explosion which - ‘

    ‘You caused,’ the woman finished for him. ‘Which murdered my husband.’

    ‘I agree that someone murdered your husband,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Mr Spock spent some time in meditation this afternoon,’ Kirk took over from him, seeing the woman about to make another comment. ‘Vulcans have the ability to recall memories and pick out points in them which they may not have been aware of at the time. Mr Spock relived the explosion.’ As he said that the woman trembled, but he could understand that as she imagined the explosion that killed her husband.

    ‘As the explosion occurred and the inside of the console was exposed, I saw a pipe leading through the workings, which carried coolant gas into the console,’ Spock said. ‘The pipe was not meant to be there.’

    ‘I see,’ the woman said very slowly, her expression suddenly frozen. ‘And you have identified this pipe in the wreckage?’

    Kirk flinched at that flaw in this whole thing - that the only evidence was Spock’s memory, and Spock had remembered very little about the explosion after it happened. He met the woman’s eyes, unnerved by the uncompromising stare, and admitted, ‘Mr Spock has only just recalled this evidence. I have crew searching at this moment for physical evidence of the pipe.’

    ‘And you are taking the word of this Vulcan?’ the woman asked, her voice shaking dangerously.

    ‘Commander Spock has no reason to lie,’ Kirk said.

    ‘No reason!’ She was standing up very slowly, and her height was becoming very evident. ‘He causes an explosion, he kills my beloved husband, and then he feels guilt and lies to save himself.’

    ‘Madam Ambassador, that accusation is based only on emotion,’ Spock began. ‘I understand that you are grieving, but - ’

    ‘You understand!’

    There was a swift flash of purple as the woman’s hand whipped out, and suddenly Spock was lying against the wall on the other side of the room, pressing a hand to the side of his face and blinking dazedly.

    ‘You will not make investigations into my husband’s death - you will let him rest!’ the woman spat, then turned on her heel and strode out of the room, forced to duck as she passed through the door.

    Kirk started after her, snapping furiously, ‘Ambassador!’

    ‘Captain!’ Spock said. He was beginning to sit up, using the wall for support, still with one hand cradling his cheek. ‘I would not advise pursuit. It would only cause an incident.’

    Kirk hesitated in the doorway as the woman strode away, but ultimately Spock’s condition was more important than chasing her. Arguing, and confronting her with the heat of anger wouldn’t do anyone any good. He turned back and went quickly to kneel by his friend, worried at the pallor of his face.

    ‘There’s already been an incident.’

    ‘I do understand her grief, Jim,’ Spock said.

    Kirk looked into Spock’s eyes, and nodded. Over the past few weeks he had sometimes felt that Spock was mourning more for the loss of a life than a sense.

    ‘Are you all right?’ he asked anxiously.

    ‘Yes, sir - simply dazed.’

    ‘Let me look,’ Kirk said, and pulled the Vulcan’s hand away to see four deep cuts across his face, drawn by the long fake nails. ‘You’re bleeding,’ he muttered. ‘Come on - you need to see McCoy.’

    He put his hands under the Vulcan’s arms and helped him to stand and walk. It was only as he lowered him down to the chair in McCoy’s examination room that he realised quite how pale the Vulcan looked.

    ‘Stay there - I’ll get Bones,’ he said, letting go of his arm. He went across to call McCoy on the intercom in the wall, then went back to the Vulcan.

    ‘Here’s your cane, Spock,’ he said, putting it into his hands. As Spock’s feeling fingers closed around it a surge of anger coursed through him. If only the Pernicians had never come onto this ship, never even existed, if only Spock had never gone into that room, he would not be looking at those dead brown eyes and seeing Spock’s fingers feeling for things which should be taken in at a glance. ‘That damn woman...’ he muttered.

    ‘I was surprised at the ambassador’s illogical level of anger at news which should be encouraging.’

    ‘Spock, this is a woman who threatened to kill you a few weeks ago!’ Kirk said incredulously.

    ‘Then her anger was spontaneous, fuelled by grief. This time I sensed no such spontaneity. It was as if she had come into the room prepared to injure me.’ He shook his head. ‘I have never understood the emotion of hate. Perhaps it was that.’

    He was interrupted by the doctor coming through the door. His pace quickened as he saw Spock, and he shot a questioning glance at Kirk. The green flush in Spock’s face had taken on the form of a perfect Pernician palm print.

    ‘Our lady ambassador,’ Kirk said shortly. ‘She hit him.’

    ‘Yes, I can see that,’ McCoy said, coming forward to look at the Vulcan. ‘How much does it hurt, Spock?’

    ‘Quite considerably.’

    It only took a few minutes to clean away the blood and heal the scratches, until there was only a faint flush of bruising and faded lines down his cheek.

    ‘Are you dizzy, Spock?’ McCoy asked, holding out his scanner towards the Vulcan’s face.

    ‘A little.’

    ‘You didn’t lose consciousness?’

    ‘I believe not.’

    ‘Well, your jaw has a hairline fracture, here on the left,’ he said, pointing but not quite touching. He took an instrument from a cupboard and turned the beam onto Spock’s jaw. ‘Hold still.’

    ‘What is that, Doctor?’

    ‘Hold still. It’s a bone-knitter. The bones should be set in a minute or so. But I want you to rest. Rest, Spock,’ he repeated more forcefully. ‘You understand that? No standing on the bridge, no work in the labs, for at least two hours. Sleep if possible. Otherwise just lie in bed and do nothing. Then you can get back to work if you insist - but take it easy. Just because you’re in your uniform and you’ve got that stick it doesn’t mean you can go out tapdancing or anything.’

    ‘Doctor, I have never tapdanced. Why would you imagine I should consider tapdancing in my present circumstances?’ Spock asked.

    ‘Just hold still,’ McCoy told him again. ‘Try to keep your clever comments to yourself until I’ve finished with that jaw.’ He held the beam over the bone for another minute, then scanned the area and said, ‘Okay. You’re free to go.’

    ‘Thank you, Doctor.’

    He stood up from the chair and pulled the wrinkles from his top, then took hold of the chair back again as if he was still unsteady.

    ‘Spock, you were scheduled for your first full shift on the bridge later,’ Kirk began rather hesitantly.

    ‘I shall be able to work my shift, Captain,’ Spock assured him.

    ‘Are you sure?’ Kirk asked.

    ‘Dr McCoy has done excellent work on my injury. I shall be fully recovered by then.’

    ‘I know, but - ‘ Kirk began slowly, reluctantly.

    ‘Captain, I have been judged capable of resuming my duties on this ship,’ Spock said, a weariness touching the words.

    ‘Jim, let the man work,’ McCoy urged him. ‘That’s what he’s here for. He’s blind, and that means - what? - he can’t level those piercing stares at people, or see a viewscreen that’s black anyway.’

    ‘I am your first officer, sir,’ Spock added. ‘If I cannot work then I should not be on this ship.’

    ‘Yes - yes I know,’ Kirk said. ‘I know you’re capable - it’s just that it’s your first shift.’

    ‘Necessarily so. I shall be fine, Jim,’ Spock said more softly, recognising Jim’s illogical concern as simple over-protectiveness, both of him and of Jim’s precious Enterprise. ‘I have already spent time on the bridge - this shift is not much longer.’

    ‘Fine. Settled,’ McCoy said. ‘Jim, will you go with him down to his cabin? He still needs some support, and I want to make sure he gets there.’

    ‘Captain, with regard to the recent incident - I think it would be a good idea to review tapes of Pernician psychology,’ Spock said, as if the doctor hadn’t spoken. ‘I cannot fathom the ambassador’s behaviour, but it could be something peculiar to her race rather than indicative of some other problem.’

    ‘Bed, Spock,’ McCoy said forcefully from behind him.

    ‘I thought that Lieutenant Uhura could be assigned to the task,’ Spock said, ignoring the doctor with a skill built from years of practice. ‘I would also like her to find details of the history of Pernician war and negotiations. I shall call her from my quarters.’

******
   
    As soon as Kirk had walked with Spock to his quarters he strode determinedly down to the ambassador’s cabin. Although Spock had protested that he was fine now, Kirk had left feeling absolutely sick at the woman’s actions. He swept down the corridor and overrode the security code in her door, walking straight into the room without knocking. If he had wanted to shock her it hadn’t worked - she had hardly flinched as he burst into the lavishly decorated quarters, but merely glanced up, then turned her attention back to the computer screen on the desk.

    ‘Yes, Captain?’ she asked.

    ‘You had absolutely no right to assault my first officer!’ Kirk snapped, barely able contain his anger, particularly when she was responding with such calm.

    ‘He let my husband die, and now he lies about the cause of the explosion,’ Necuhai said.

    ‘I don’t care about any of that. How dare you hit a blind man with no warning!’

    ‘Then I am required to warn your blind Vulcan before I strike? Does a blow hurt a blind Vulcan more than it hurts any other person?’

    ‘That’s not the point. Look at me,’ Kirk said, angry at her apparent disinterest, then repeated, ‘Look at me,’ and turned the computer screen away from her with a flick of his hand. There was nothing on the screen. She held her gaze for a moment on where the screen had been, then impassively moved her eyes to Kirk’s face.

    ‘I want my husband to be left to rest - every investigation makes him weep in his grave,’ she said with a voice like ice. ‘Your Vulcan let him die - I have said I shall not blame him further, if you simply let it rest at that.’

    ‘I will not let it rest,’ Kirk said, becoming even more angry. ‘When something like this happens on my ship - ‘

    ‘You have been ordered to close your investigation. There is no more talk - negotiations are over. No more looking to why my husband died. Let him rest.’ The ambassador said this in a sudden rush of rage, rising to her feet, but Kirk didn’t step back.

    ‘Madam, I don’t give a damn about how your husband died!’ Kirk stormed. ‘I am trying to find out how my first officer lost his sight, and that is an internal investigation, nothing to do with Pernicia.’

    ‘Your first officer lost his light because he is a careless, stupid man, and he deserves to live in darkness. He deserves to die. Leave my cabin, Kirk. I will not speak with you again. You deserve no favour from me.’

    And she sat down at her desk again and turned away from him, folding her arms across her thin chest in a motion of defiance.

    ‘Gladly,’ Kirk said with feeling. He was beyond caring about diplomacy, now there were no talks to protect. He turned and stalked out of the cabin, wishing there was some way to make these sliding doors slam.

******
   
    For once, Spock was doing as McCoy told him to - almost. He had been sitting at his desk as he spoke to Uhura, but his unsteadiness had forced him into bed, and now he lay under the blanket with his palms resting on the soft material and his eyes closed. But he wasn’t resting - or not quite as McCoy would define it. He didn’t want to sleep or meditate, and it was almost beyond his capabilities to spend two hours awake, out of meditation, but not thinking.

    It was logical to spend this time thinking about the problem in hand - the Pernicians. He remembered how the new Pernician ambassador looked - tall, almost as dark as her husband, with hair of a deep Prussian blue, that hung down her back in long woven strands. That told him only that she was probably the same caste as him, but nothing about her personality, and why she behaved with such anger towards him.

    He had seen aspects of grief in emotional beings before, and he could fully understand her spontaneous attack on him just after the explosion, but her anger had been sustained for almost eight weeks now. It was that he found hard to understand - the fact that its intensity was just as strong as it had been in sick bay when she had shaken him unconscious. But then, he was a logical and rational being, and not long ago he had crushed a glass in his hand through uncontrollable frustration. He barely understood the surgings of grief and anger in his own body. Maybe losing a husband produced the same kind of irrationalities, making a person angry at information which should please.

    He shook his head at the incomprehensible gamut of emotions that seethed within alien beings. Even the emotions of the beings who were closest to him - humans - were impossible to understand, and that included the human emotions that were playing in his own head. He was aware that the emotions were becoming too strong, and he began to trace a finger along the tactile design of his over-blanket, trying to use the lines of the traditional Vulcan pattern to reconnect himself with the clarity and familiarity of logic. The embroidered colours of deep red and purple had always reminded him of Vulcan sunsets. But he would never see another Vulcan sunset, or any of those familiar home sights, the faces of parents...

    *Even an exercise to reaffirm logic provokes the emotions I try to purge.*

    Spock lifted his hands from the blanket and clenched his fists. It was almost intolerable to have those vibrant sunset colours taken away from him. He knew that if he was faced with the person who had set the explosion, then he would have difficulty in restraining himself from some kind of physical, savage retribution. Spock felt a sudden pang for the colours of Vulcan, the sunsets of Vulcan that he had last seen almost a year ago. Since returning to the ship he had often felt in danger of losing his sense of day and night, that here was only marked by dimming and brightening of lights he couldn’t see. Sometimes he felt in danger of losing his very sense of light, losing his memory of what it was to see. He would not let that happen.

    Spock swung his legs out of bed and went round to sit at his desk in his living quarters. He reached out to the computer screen that stood at the end of the desk and requested a security bypass of the communications station - an abuse of his rank, but something he needed to do. He wanted this call to be private.

    ‘Computer.’

    ‘Working.’

    ‘Make a subspace call to a private communicator on Vulcan - Ambassador Sarek and Amanda Grayson, Shi-Kahr province. Authorisation: Spock, S-179-276-SP.’

    There was a long pause as the computer worked, but the ship was passing relatively near to Vulcan and the signal would take only seconds to reach there. As Spock remembered to turn on the reading lamp that was of no use to him now, there was a quiet blip, and a voice saying, ‘Hello? ... Spock! It’s so good to see your face!’

    The voice was his mother, and Spock reached out to the screen, touching the smooth surface that held the image of his mother’s face.

    ‘Mother, I have something to tell you,’ he began.

Chapter 9 by Aconitum-Napellus

9

    As Spock carried on speaking, explaining slowly and gently, he could hear his mother crying and trying to stifle the sound. There were noises in the background, and then another voice came through the speaker - the voice of his father.

    ‘Amanda? ... To whom are you speaking? Have you received unwelcome news, my wife?’

    To anyone else Sarek’s voice would have sounded level and calm, but Spock could hear the note of curiosity and then worry in his father’s voice. Then Sarek said, ‘Spock, good evening. Or are you experiencing an alternate time of day there?’

    Amanda simply said, ‘Oh, Sarek,’ as if she couldn’t say anything more.

    ‘Father, I am blind,’ Spock said. Precise and direct - that was the best way to speak to another Vulcan, but the obvious tremble in his voice belied any pretensions to calm Vulcan logic.

    The pause after this was almost intolerable, and Spock said, ‘Sarek, are you still present?’, mindful of his father’s heart condition.

    There was another pause, and then Sarek said, ‘I am here, Spock. Your statement - was unexpected.’

    ‘I was not sure of any other way to break the news,’ Spock said, and for once as he spoke to his father he didn’t feel a need to drain every last drop of inflection from his voice.

    ‘What happened?’ Sarek asked.

    ‘A coolant gas explosion on the ship. A reaction with the gas took my sight. The blindness is total, and irreversible.’

    ‘Starfleet,’ Sarek muttered.

    Spock slumped back in his chair. He didn’t know how to cope with his father’s non-acceptance of his life choice right now. He didn’t want to have to deal with that extra burden at a time when he needed his family most. As he remembered that his every movement was visible to his father he straightened up to military posture, composing his face back to a calm expression.

    ‘Sarek,’ Amanda whispered.

    ‘Do you require our presence?’ Sarek asked, and Spock understood that as an apology. Sarek knew the implications of blindness for a Vulcan, and in these circumstances the duty to family came above even logic. ‘We can rendezvous with your ship within thirty-six hours.’

    Spock clenched his hands under the desk, fighting the urge to say *yes, please come, tell me what to do*. He had been managing alone since he was twenty, but he had never felt quite so much in need of his parents’ steady guidance.

    ‘No, thank you, father,’ he said. ‘I must manage alone.’

    ‘Spock, you don’t have to,’ his mother urged him gently.

    Spock wished that she hadn’t spoken, because the urge to give in grew ten-fold. He simply wanted to reach out to touch his mother’s hand.

    ‘I must manage alone,’ he repeated. ‘I shall visit as soon as there is a relaxation in my duties and I am able to take leave.’ That wasn’t a lie, as such - more a misdirection. Starfleet would grant him leave in seconds, but he was just afraid that if he did come home now it would be too hard to come back to the ship. ‘I simply wished to tell you,’ he said softly.

    ‘We understand,’ Sarek said, and Spock felt a surge of warmth, which made him wonder if a Vulcan’s telepathy could work through subspace. ‘Goodbye, my son.’

    ‘Spock,’ Amanda whispered, then the faint hiss of the speaker died. Perhaps Sarek had understood how hard it would be for him to cut the communication himself.

    Spock turned the communicator off with a sharp flick of his thumb, and rested back in the silence of his quarters, suddenly feeling very alone.

******

    When Lieutenant Uhura reported to Spock’s quarters she was momentarily surprised to find him sitting in intense darkness. As she hovered in the doorway to keep the light flooding in from the corridor, she saw that he was sitting at his desk behind a fragile construction of cards two levels high. His concentration was so intense she could almost feel it, but then he murmured, ‘Lights,’ and the cabin brightened to its usual warm red glow.

    ‘I have the data you asked for, Mr Spock,’ she told him, walking forward very slowly in case her movements made the pile tremble. ‘It’s quite interesting.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock said, but his attention was fixed solely on the movement of his hand as he reached out with another card. He placed it with perfect precision to finish the second level.

    ‘Mr Spock, that’s amazing,’ Uhura began, ‘but why - ’

    Spock reached out to place two more cards on the house, and for a moment they held, before wavering and collapsing the whole construction. The cards scattered across the table and onto the floor and his hands hovered over empty space.

    ‘I was trying to improve my co-ordination,’ he said, sweeping the cards up into a pile. ‘I believe that if I can be absolutely aware of where my hands are and have been, and the location of what they have touched, then I might do many things that you can do with sight. All I need is to enhance my awareness to its highest peak.’ He knocked the cards into a stack, then knelt down to pick up the others. ‘Evidently I need more practice.’

    ‘I can pick those up, sir,’ Uhura said quickly, coming forward.

    ‘You may be able to,’ Spock nodded, ‘but I would rather do it. Sit down, Lieutenant, and tell me what you found out.’

    Uhura slipped into the chair on the other side of his desk, and waited until the Vulcan had scooped a handful of cards back onto the table to put the pad into his hand. ‘All the information is here in the datapadd.’

    ‘Lieutenant,’ Spock began, frustration edging his voice.

    ‘Here, Mr Spock,’ she said, turning the pad on for him and putting his fingers to the top of the electronic page. Spock hesitated for a moment, then took the pad out of her hands and rested it on the table, feeling across the surface, one rising eyebrow showing his interest.

    ‘Mr Scott has just finished it,’ Uhura explained. ‘There never has been a Starfleet datapadd that could display braille before - this is the prototype.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock said slowly. ‘This is quite fascinating.’

    ‘It will take any disc, and translate the data into braille, but the screen displays normal type simultaneously, so that you can give reports to the captain on the same pad. I’m afraid it can’t interpret handwriting yet - just computer typed text - but it shouldn’t take too much adjustment to make that possible. The controls work just the same as the normal pad - we assumed they wouldn’t need labelling, sir.’

    ‘You are quite correct,’ Spock nodded. His fingers were flashing across the pad, faster than Uhura had seen anyone read the tactile writing. Of course, Spock was a Vulcan, with more sensitive fingers and a quicker mind than a human. ‘How many pages of data are there?’

    ‘About sixteen, sir - of standard writing, that is – more of braille,’ she said, silently reaching down to pick up some of the cards that had scattered further away. ‘Most of it’s facts and figures, statistics.’

    ‘Lieutenant, I have asked you not to pick up those cards,’ Spock said sternly as she bent, and she straightened up swiftly. ‘I shall find them when I am not busy.’

    ‘I - thought you might miss some, sir,’ she explained hesitantly.

    ‘There are fifty-two cards and two jokers. I shall make sure that I have picked up fifty-four cards. Lieutenant, some of these statistics are confusing in the way they are laid out.’

    ‘I know, sir - it needs some fine tuning. I really only brought the pad to show it to you. I can tell you what I found.’

    ‘Then please do so,’ Spock invited, laying his hands down.

    ‘About Pernician psychology - it seems that belligerence and irritability are congenital to the ambassador’s caste - the suth’an caste, the same as her husband. But my research also tells me that unprovoked violence and grudge-holding aren’t necessarily produced by caste - that’s more likely to come from individual personality. Physical aggression is more common in the suth’an caste than in, say, the nee’an, one of the lowest castes, but even so, I think that what the ambassador did to you was quite extreme.’

    ‘I have been considering the fact that the woman is grieving for her husband,’ Spock pointed out.

    ‘Yes, sir, but they have a - a sort of taboo.’

    ‘Yes?’ Spock asked. ‘Lieutenant, please elaborate.’

    Uhura hesitated, unsure of whether she was about to insult the Vulcan or not. ‘They think it dishonourable to harm a person who is weak or of a lower status, even if that person has harmed you. In their culture, an alien is always of a lower status, and - blindness makes you both weak and of the lowest status that a person can be.’

    ‘The word blind is often used as a metaphor for weakness, stupidity, carelessness,’ Spock nodded. Uhura was relieved to see that his calm expression hadn’t changed. ‘Many people on this ship use the word in that context. The blind are seen as a liability by many.’

    ‘Oh, I’m sure - ’ Uhura began.

    ‘No, Lieutenant - that fact is certain,’ Spock said.

    ‘I guess so,’ she said reluctantly. ‘But it means that she shouldn’t have hit you, sir.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock nodded, touching his jaw tenderly. ‘A logical law of society when the higher castes tend to be belligerent by nature. And yet she did hit me.’

    ‘She must have been very angry about something,’ Uhura suggested.

    Spock leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, remembering the atmosphere in the room just before the woman had hit him. ‘She was experiencing some strong emotion. She was very angry - or possibly afraid.’

    ‘Of what, sir?’ Uhura asked curiously. The Vulcan stayed still, keeping his eyes closed, obviously deep in thought. At last he opened his eyes again, and clasped his hands together thoughtfully.

    ‘I do not know. I am not even sure that the emotion was fear. It was simply strong and violent. She believes that I killed her husband, Lieutenant. Swearing is a taboo on Earth, and yet many swear - taboos can be broken.’

    ‘I guess so - but I don’t trust them, Mr Spock. They were meant to be coming to Earth for peace, but I haven’t seen anything that makes me think they were sincere.’

    ‘You may be correct. In my own research I have discovered that while the Pernician leaders grudgingly agreed to peace talks, and many Pernicians are asking for peace, a certain amount of the population are thirsting for war.’

    He sat again in silence, and the expression on his face slowly melted from subtle interest to a kind of tired sadness. Uhura waited for him to say something, wondering for a moment if he had forgotten she was there. When he didn’t speak she asked, ‘Mr Spock, are you all right?’

    The Vulcan jerked back out of his reverie, and unclasped his hands to lay them flat on the desk. ‘I was momentarily distracted. Tell me more about the Pernicians.’

    ‘No, sir,’ Uhura said firmly, hoping the closeness that had come while they were on Earth was still valid here. ‘You tell me what’s wrong.’

    ‘There is nothing wrong. Rather, I have remedied a situation which needed attention. I have informed my parents of my circumstances,’ Spock said in a level voice.

    ‘I see,’ Uhura said, just as levelly, but with a note of uncertainty in her voice.

    Spock nodded slowly, and Uhura thought he didn’t want to say any more on the subject, but he seemed relieved at just saying that. Then slowly he said, ‘My mother wept. I was not sure how to respond to that.’

    ‘I think your mother is a strong woman, Mr Spock,’ Uhura said gently. ‘She will cry, but she’ll be all right.’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock said. He stood up abruptly and straightened out his uniform top. ‘I have a shift in two point five-three minutes. Would you accompany me to the bridge, Lieutenant?’

******

Spock met Kirk in the elevator on his way to begin his own shift. He managed to get one concession on the way up - that at least for this shift he could sit at his console alone, without the constant presence of a junior member of the crew to help him. He suspected that the reassurance from Uhura that she was ready at any time to help had convinced his captain, but maybe this small liberty would be the beginning of his route back to normal life.

    ‘I’ll take you to your chair,’ Kirk said as the elevator doors opened.

    ‘Captain, I have re-familiarised myself with the layout of the bridge,’ Spock said, standing away from his hand.

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk smiled. ‘No help unless you ask for it.’

    ‘As we agreed, sir,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Fine,’ Kirk said, and he walked down to his chair without letting himself watch the Vulcan walking across the bridge like most of the bridge officers were. He waited until he heard Spock relieve the officer on duty, then turned to him and said, ‘Status, Commander Spock?’

    There was a pause, perhaps slightly longer than usual, but no longer than a human would hesitate. Jim had expected slight delays since it was the Vulcan’s hands and ears taking in the information, rather than the piercing eyes that used to take in facts almost instantly.

    ‘Status normal, Captain,’ the Vulcan replied, turning his chair towards the captain. ‘No reported abnormalities in the last ten scans of the area.’

    ‘O-kay,’ Kirk said. It was slightly disconcerting that the Vulcan’s eyes were directed towards the top right of the viewscreen rather than his face. ‘I want you to run an on-going scan of the surrounding space - widest possible scope.’

    There was the slightest lift of the Vulcan’s eyebrow as he asked, ‘Searching for, sir?’

    ‘Searching for - ’ Kirk hesitated, thinking, then said, ‘Foreign bodies, spacial anomalies, er - warp capable space craft, planetary systems containing Class M planets. Log a detailed report of each notable find. Feed the results through to my earpiece as you get them.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Spock nodded, turning immediately to his instruments. His expression had been unreadable, but Kirk knew he was aware that this was a test. Starfleet had demanded rigorous tests and positive results, and Jim knew inside that he wanted those assurances too.

    ‘Ensign Chekov,’ Kirk said, lowering his voice. He cringed inside, because he could feel Spock’s attention still on him. ‘Run the same scans from your console, and check them against Commander Spock’s. Report any discrepancies to me.’

    ‘Er - yes, sir,’ Chekov replied, the reluctance clear in his voice.

    At the end of an hour’s testing, results showed that Spock had missed nothing in his searching, while Chekov had overlooked two minor asteroids and a small gas cloud. Kirk looked over the readings for a final time, with a warm sense of relief at the Vulcan’s success, then went up to Spock’s station.

    ‘Well, Mr Spock.’

    Spock removed his ear piece and turned towards Kirk. ‘Captain?’

    ‘What can I say? There’s barely any difference from your work two months ago. When we walked onto the bridge I didn’t expect you to do so well.’

    ‘You said - barely any difference, Captain?’ Spock asked.

    ‘Just a very slight drop in speed - nothing major. You’re still faster than a human could be.’

    ‘Nevertheless, I shall try to correct the fault.’

    ‘I’m sure you will, Mr Spock.’

    ‘Are there any other tests you wish me to undergo, Captain?’ Spock asked, and Kirk winced, wishing it hadn’t been so obvious.

    ‘Just update on science department work over the last eight weeks, then carry on with normal duties, Mr Spock. Or test yourself, if you like. I can have Chekov cover the main science duties from his station.’

    ‘I am already updated, and the best test of my abilities is the performance of my normal duties,’ Spock replied.

    ‘Carry on, then, Mr Spock,’ Kirk nodded, then said in a quieter tone, ‘It’s good to see you back up here, Spock.’

    Spock nodded in acknowledgement of the sentiment, then turned back to his console. He reactivated his scanners, listening carefully to every blip and click his console made, and the flat computer readouts through the ear piece. In that way, if his attention was not distracted, he could take in as many as five different pieces of aural information at once, just as if glancing from screen to screen. With one hand on the read-out screen the capacity was increased, until it was up to his normal standard.

    Spock found that if he sat back, closed his eyes and relaxed, he could work at his station with total ease, instinctively, his hands finding everything that he needed, his ears taking in information and the general murmur around the rest of the bridge. It was only when he needed to touch the new braille read-out panel or feel a diagram that his hand could not reach instinctively to the right place, and the calm instinctive way of working was broken. The instinctual familiarity with these new adaptations would come with time, he knew.

    Meanwhile, it was odd how much more he knew now about what was happening around the bridge when he focused his attention outwards. Before, he had sat with his back to the rest of the bridge and only heard odd voices and noises. Now sitting with his back to the bridge was no different to sitting facing it. He could hear the insistent coded bleep from the communications console signalling a message from engineering, and Uhura’s soft voice answering - he could even hear the muffled voice of Engineer Scott through her earpiece. He could hear Lieutenant Bryson at the engineering station, her computer going through diagnostics of all the systems. There were the slow rhythmic noises of Ensign Chekov’s computer searching out stars and navigational beacons, Lieutenant Sulu speaking to him, making odd jokes and comments. He could even hear Jim Kirk’s hand movements at his command chair as he checked systems and altered the view on the viewscreen.

    He turned his attention back to the noises from his own console. One of the coded blips was signalling something interesting. He silenced the other channels and focussed in on that blip, assessing what it meant. A warp capable ship hovering at the edge of sensor range, perhaps simply on a similar course to the Enterprise. All the same, he would have been happier if he could have studied the probably blurred image of the ship on the screen, to let sight confirm what the computers suggested.

    He waited to hear a lull in activity at the communications console, then raised his voice slightly to ask, ‘Lieutenant Uhura, your assistance.’

    She came to his chair, and asked, ‘Yes, sir?’

    He touched a few buttons, then said, ‘Confirm this reading. I have transferred it to visual.’

    There was a moment of silence as she bent over the viewer, then she said, ‘Small craft at far range of the scanners. Capable of warp, moving parallel to this vessel. Weapons, unknown. Type, unidentifiable.’

    ‘You cannot make out any recognisable features to the vessel?’

    ‘No, sir. It’s too far away to make out.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Danger, sir?’ she asked with curiosity in her voice.

    He shook his head. ‘Apparently not at the present moment. It is not within weapons range, it has not performed any aggressive moves. It is simply there. Thank you, Lieutenant - that is all.’

    ‘What is it, Mr Spock?’ Kirk asked as Uhura moved away, and Spock realised he had been listening to the exchange.

    ‘A ship, Captain,’ he replied without turning. ‘It is running parallel to us, but I can ascertain no danger at present.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk said. ‘Keep monitoring.’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

    Spock retreated back into the world of his science duties, keeping one ear on that quiet blipping of the anonymous ship. He did not emerge from that world until a firm hand touched his shoulder, and he became aware of Kirk standing behind him. Once he focused his attention on his duties it was very easy in the darkness to become cut off from the outside world of the bridge.

    ‘Yes, Captain?’ he asked.

    ‘What do you mean, yes, Captain?’ Kirk asked. ‘I called your name three times. Where were you?’

    ‘I apologise, sir - I was concentrating.’

    ‘You look tired, Mr Spock. I guess it’s been a long day.’

    ‘I have been subject to an unusual amount of activity,’ Spock admitted. ‘It is nothing to be concerned about.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk smiled. ‘I was asking you if you wanted to come down to a rec. room for dinner?’

    Spock blinked, checked the time in his head, and realised that his shift had just finished. All the same, he hesitated at the idea of eating in the rec. room.

    ‘Spock?’ Kirk asked, then said very quietly, ‘You don’t have to worry about eating down there. You’re just as neat as you always were. You can’t take all your meals in your room.’

‘Dinner would be pleasant,’ Spock nodded, standing up. ‘So would some time in the recreation room. I have not been there for quite a while.’

******

Spock collected his Vulcan lyre on the way down to the recreation room, and now he sat with the instrument resting against his chair as he took spoonfuls of hot plomeek soup. Jim was sitting opposite him, steadily devouring a chicken salad in between conversation. Behind Kirk’s voice and the noise of his eating he could hear the room slowly filling with off-duty crew. He got the impression from the snippets of talk he overheard that they were there out of curiosity more than a desire for relaxation. He had spent most of his off-duty time so far in his or friends’ quarters, allowing himself the luxury of such familiar surroundings, and this was the first time he had been seen in a rec room, the first time many of the crew had seen him blind. But it was difficult eating under such scrutiny, and Kirk was obviously distracted by the whispers.

‘So I believe I should rotate Chekov’s duties with Yeoman Tamura,’ Spock continued, aware that he only had half of his captain’s attention. ‘She has proved a most able assistant in the past, and Chekov should have some opportunity to work with a sighted mentor. He can share Tamura’s hours with Lieutenant Llewelyn, whilst she will benefit from the bridge experience.’

‘Hmm,’ Jim said.

Spock took a spoonful of soup, then cocked his head, and said, ‘Captain, I do not believe you have been listening to a word I was saying.’

‘What?’ Kirk asked.

‘I was talking of rotating Chekov’s duties, Jim.’

‘Mr Spock, my crew is treating you like a damn freak show,’ Kirk muttered.

‘They would not be in Starfleet if they did not possess a natural sense of curiosity. However, I will say something,’ he said, aware he was doing it more to satisfy Jim than himself.

Spock pushed his chair out and got to his feet. As he turned to face the room the chatter around him faded without him having to say a word.

‘Your attention please,’ he said, and the final voices died down. The door opened, and he was aware that McCoy was standing in the entrance, listening. ‘I am quite aware of the curiosity you are all feeling concerning my situation. I do not condemn it, but I should attempt to lay some rumours to rest. I assume you all know how I was blinded almost two months ago.’

There was a murmur of agreement, so Spock continued, ‘That blindness is total and permanent, and that is why there are so many equipment conversions being implemented about the ship. I may need some extra assistance while adapting to my situation, but my rank and duties remain unchanged. Do not be afraid to offer help, or to ask questions about my blindness. I would rather you ask than misunderstand. It is most important that you remember that although I may appear changed because of the practical problems my blindness engenders, I am the same person that I was two months ago. Thank you.’

He sat back down. The silence in the room continued for a moment, then was slowly replaced by a quiet murmuring. Then a voice raised above the rest - Spock recognised the Irish accent immediately.

‘Commander Spock?’

‘Yes, Lieutenant Riley?’ he asked.

‘Sir, are you going to play us some tunes, or just torment us by leaving that lyre where everyone can see it?’

‘I may play it later, Lieutenant,’ Spock answered. ‘I am eating at present. You will have to be patient.’

    ‘Well, I’ll call Uhura down anyway, sir,’ he replied. ‘She’ll be wanting to sing along.’

‘As you wish,’ Spock nodded, turning back to his now lukewarm soup. He pushed it aside, and started on a plate of roasted vegetables and soya chunks that had thankfully retained their heat.

‘Well, Mr Spock, you’ve given them something to talk about,’ McCoy said as he strolled across the room.

‘That was not my intention, Doctor,’ Spock replied. ‘I could hear a few quite fantastical rumours in their conversations, and I simply wished to quell them before they got out of hand. Having people believe I had been demoted to Lieutenant and reassigned to Stellar Cartography would not be conducive to crew discipline.’

‘Well, no. So how did your shift go, Mr Spock?’ McCoy asked, sitting down near him and slapping down a tray. Spock could smell something like cheese flan - after that morning in the hotel McCoy had been oddly considerate about not consuming too much red meat in front of him.

‘Quite smoothly, just as I had expected. As you intimated earlier, Doctor, it does not take sight to sit at a console monitoring sensor data. There was only one unusual event to take my attention.’

‘Which was?’ McCoy asked, concern edging his voice.

‘Just a ship, Bones,’ Kirk told him. ‘A small unidentifiable craft moving parallel to us. It hasn’t done anything - it’s just hanging out there. For all we know it could just be a lone traveller sticking near us for safety. I’d be worried if I was a pilot on my own travelling towards Romulan space.’

‘So it’s not Romulan? You haven’t tried contacting them?’

‘To the first question, probably not,’ Spock replied. ‘And we have not attempted contact. At this point we are simply watching.’

‘You think it might be hostile, Jim?’

‘You just never know,’ Kirk shrugged. ‘It’s better to be ready for danger and get none than to blindly ignore it and get blown out of the sky.’

‘I have my shift replacement constantly monitoring the object, Doctor,’ Spock said. ‘She will call me if anything changes.’

‘And what about those Pernicians?’

‘I have not run into the Pernicians since my encounter in the briefing room. I shall not say that I have missed their presence.’

‘You ready for your command shift in the morning?’

‘I have made the necessary preparations,’ Spock said. He wanted to treat this just as it was - an ordinary shift in the captain’s chair. He was already familiar with the controls there and had felt the adaptations on the arm panels.

‘Talking about your shift,’ Kirk said. He waited until Spock finished the last piece of roast Vulcan gfa on his plate, and pushed something across the table to him. ‘I wanted to give you this.’

Spock wiped his fingers on his napkin, and reached out to feel a thick book, bound in a plush cover that felt warm and soft and smooth to his skin. There was tactile writing on the cover. He turned it to him, and felt over the raised lines.

‘T’Pel’s Meditations on Space and Science,’ he read aloud. He felt into the centre pages of the book, picking up fragments of words and phrases with his fingers. The paper felt rich and expensive. ‘Her newest publication. Thank you, Jim. I had wanted to read this.’

‘I know,’ Kirk smiled. ‘I thought you’d like it.’

‘Captain, I am unaware of any current celebration requiring the giving of gifts?’
‘Try the first page,’ Kirk said, and Spock opened the book, to feel the words inside, *For getting back onto the bridge, from your captain and friend.*

‘Then you knew I would succeed?’ Spock asked, half-amused. ‘You must have bought this on Earth?’

‘Of course I knew you’d succeed! I had it printed by that little company you told me about in Europe - picked it up on the day we beamed back to the ship.’

‘Your confidence is reassuring, Jim,’ Spock told him. ‘It is in Vulcan touch language,’ he said, running his fingers again over the cover of the book.

‘You’re okay with that, aren’t you?’

‘I am learning,’ Spock nodded. ‘Although it is more like learning a new language than a new alphabet. I am simply surprised - I know braille is standard for Starfleet.’

‘And it will be on all the facilities here - but it doesn’t have to be for your personal belongings. It took seven volumes in braille - it’s only one in this format.’

Spock raised an eyebrow slowly, feeling the four-inch thickness of the book before him. ‘I have said that when someone can invent a more compact form of braille, my life will become far easier. Perhaps the touch language is that compact form.’

The door opened, and Spock became aware of Lieutenant Uhura, accompanied by a few other people. He recognised the relaxed chatter of Nurse Chapel, Lieutenant Sulu, Mr Scott and Ensign Chekov, moving towards his table.

‘Lieutenant, I take it you have come to sing?’ he asked as Uhura approached.

‘And brought her own audience,’ Kirk said light-heartedly. ‘Sit down, all of you. I’m off duty - you can sit at the captain’s table. Spock, you gonna play?’

‘I will play,’ Spock nodded. ‘But I will have coffee first.’

Kirk stacked the trays up together and stood up. ‘Anyone else for coffee?’ At the chorus of affirmatives, he sighed a long-suffering sigh. ‘Coffee for eight, then. Anyone want to help me carry?’

‘I’ll help, sir,’ Sulu said quickly.

Spock listened to them go, then picked up his lyre and rested the base on his leg, touching the tightly stretched strings to check the tuning. There was something reassuring in the aged scent of the wood and the low vibrations the strings sent through his body. Then he put the instrument back down to wait for his drink. There was also something reassuring in the familiar routine of sitting in a rec. room with most of the bridge crew, engaged in simple conversation over drinks.

The evening was a pleasant mixture of music and song, with respites for refreshment, during which Spock found many of the rest of the group at the table had yet to settle into the relaxed acceptance of Kirk, McCoy and Uhura. Scott had spent time with him talking about the adaptations, and Chekov had been helping him, but for Sulu and Chapel this was the first time they had had the chance to speak to him since the accident. Even so, Spock was slowly realising that at least part of the tension he felt around people unused to his blindness came from his own unease, and with his own acceptance it was far easier to deal with their hesitancy.

‘So, Mr Spock, how’re you finding all my changes around the ship?’ Scott asked from the far end of the table.

‘Extremely useful, Mr Scott,’ Spock nodded. ‘You have saved me a great deal of trouble in making the place so accessible.’

‘Aye, well - it was Starfleet who paid for it,’ Scott said modestly.

‘But you who directed all the changes. It must have taken considerable research.’

‘Just a few nights’ work, and some good contacts. I had the director of a wee rehab place in Glasgow beam up and show me what you’d need, Mr Spock. Christine here helped me with all of the planning and sent out all the orders for parts.’

‘Thank you, Nurse Chapel,’ Spock nodded, turning his head in her direction, focussing intently on the scents and sounds of her. Perhaps it was illogical, but he was struck by a sudden desire just to *see* her face. ‘I greatly appreciate your effort.’

‘I just wanted the ship to be ready for you, sir,’ she replied with as much modesty as Scott. ‘Are you going to play us another song, Mr Spock?’

‘What do you wish to hear?’ Spock asked amiably. Scott had been plying him with whiskeys since his arrival, and while alcohol had little effect on Vulcans, his human half was susceptible. He felt pleasantly relaxed, but kept it in the back of his mind to ask Kirk to accompany him to his cabin door, considering the disorientation that alcohol could bring.

‘How about Salek’s requiem for the Vulcan lyre?’ she asked. Spock wondered if she knew that that piece was one of his favourites.

‘The requiem is not a song, Nurse,’ he reminded her.

‘No, but it’s a beautiful piece of music.’

‘Yes,’ Spock nodded, placing his fingers to the strings. It was becoming late, he realised as he began the piece, but this was the most relaxed evening he had had in a long while. Since tomorrow was his first command shift, now seemed the time to relax.

Chapter 10 by Aconitum-Napellus

10

Spock sat down in the command chair with mixed feelings of confidence and apprehension. While he had complete faith in his ability as a commander, he was also aware that he had spent only one full shift at his own station since being released from sick leave, that he didn’t seek command at the best of times, and that if confronted with anything abnormal or unusual this would be his first test of how capable he really was, perhaps even put his place as first officer in jeopardy. But hopefully nothing abnormal or unusual would happen, and all he had to do was sit in the chair and command.

Spock pushed aside his worries, folded up his cane, and put it on the arm of the chair. He reached out to his left to feel the small control panel that was set into the other arm. Here too, the little braille labels were clearly marking the controls. He closed his eyes briefly, bringing the duty roster into his mind. It was best to avoid names at first though, rather than make a mistake in his first minute on the bridge.

‘Helm, confirm course and speed,’ he asked.

‘We’re headed straight to Pernicia,’ was the reply from the helm. ‘Warp seven, sir.’
   
‘Seven,’ Spock nodded. That was just above cruising speed - and the voice matched the name on the roster. ‘Thank you, Lieutenant Hill.’

He slipped his ear piece into his ear, ignoring the short intake of breath at the helm as if the man thought it astonishing that Spock could recognise him by voice alone. Spock closed his eyes and listened to the computer’s description of the viewscreen, and wasn’t surprised to hear that the view comprised several thousand known stars of varying magnitudes, no unexpected anomalies, no ships and no other hazards. He began to update himself on the night’s occurrences. His first command shift since becoming blind thankfully had all the signs of being quiet and trouble free.

A crewmember entered the bridge and stepped down to his chair.

‘Sir, the fuel consumption report,’ the hesitant voice said at his shoulder, and Spock removed the ear piece and automatically held out his hand. Immediately he realised his slip, and clenched his fist, lowering it back to his lap.

‘Please read the report, - ’ Spock hesitated, then asked, ‘Your name?’

‘Lieutenant Giles, sir,’ the woman said softly.

‘Lieutenant Giles,’ he nodded evenly, and sat listening to the reel of figures, concentrating to be sure that everything added up and there were no mistakes. ‘Quite satisfactory,’ he nodded as she finished. ‘Would you give me the pen, and show me where to sign?’

Her nervousness felt even stronger through the contact as her hand touched his and guided it to the line at the bottom of the pad. Spock signed slowly and carefully, hoping that the signature wasn’t as sloping and spiderish as it felt. As the woman took the pad back he heard his cane clatter to the floor, and she stepped back, effusing nervous apologies.

‘I - er - I - ’

Spock waited patiently, until the cold end of the cane touched his hand. He took it and replaced it on the arm of his chair.

‘Lieutenant, you need not be afraid of reference to the fact that I am blind - it would be vastly illogical for me to take offence at your reminder of something of which I am very well aware.’

‘Yes, sir,’ she said softly.

‘I do not bite, Lieutenant,’ he added. ‘I am vegetarian by choice.’

‘Yes, sir,’ the woman said, a little more brightly. The cheerfulness fitted her much better, and the memory of her appearance flooded into Spock’s mind. ‘Thank you, Mr Spock.’

‘You may go, Lieutenant,’ he said.

He listened to her turn and climb back up the steps to leave the bridge, then replaced his earpiece and retreated back into his contemplation. The shift passed in almost total silence, broken only by the occasional update from the surrounding stations, and once by the almost obligatory visit from Dr McCoy, who stood at his shoulder talking while Spock replied with noncommittal answers, with his attention on the noises around him rather than McCoy’s prattle. When McCoy left it was immediately easier to hear what was happening around him. Because of this he heard the soft blip from Lieutenant Uhura’s console, the noise of her putting her earpiece into her ear, a recording disc into the slot, and could sense her firm attention as she listened to what was being said. Therefore he wasn’t surprised when she called softly, ‘Mr Spock?’

Spock went up to her station before she could come to him and her chair creaked as she turned around to face him. He could smell her perfume evaporating warmly around him. That voice and that perfume were as familiar to him now as her face had been.

‘What have you found, Lieutenant?’ he asked.

‘An intercepted transmission from a non-standard communicator, not tied into the ship’s system. If you tune in your earpiece I’ll play it back to you, sir.’

Spock nodded, and put a hand to his ear to hear the message better. There was a short burst of static, then a voice, cold, businesslike, female. ‘Rendezvous in six hours. Beam from these co-ordinates, then disable.’

‘I guess there’s no need for me to tell you where I pinpointed the beam from,’ Uhura said as he removed the earpiece.

‘The Pernician quarters?’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

    ‘And directed toward the unknown ship?’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

‘I see,’ Spock said. ‘Lieutenant Bryson, has the alien ship changed course?’ he asked, turning towards the science station.

    There was a pause, then, ‘No, sir. Still running parallel to us. There have been no signals sent from the ship, but it did receive the communication from our ship.’

    ‘Thank you.’ He exhaled slowly, then said, ‘Take command, Lieutenant Uhura. I shall be with the captain. Keep monitoring for transmissions, and call me immediately anything alters. Lieutenant Bryson, keep an eye on that ship.’

    ‘Aye, sir,’ both women said simultaneously.

    Uhura slipped something square into his hand. ‘This is the disc with the message on it, Mr Spock.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant.’

Spock closed his hand around the hard disc, and made for the elevator. He would never have spoken the illogical thought aloud, but it felt good to have a situation like this to deal with, after weeks of doing nothing.

******

Spock moved along the dark corridors swiftly with one hand out to the wall, counting his paces carefully, and sensing rather than knowing that crewmembers were moving out of the way for him. Kirk answered the doorchime immediately, and Spock went through as the door slipped away from under his fingertips.

‘Come in, Mr Spock - I’ll be out in a second,’ Kirk said as the Vulcan entered. Spock waited by the doorway - the voice was coming from Kirk’s sleeping area, and he didn’t want to intrude if his captain was only half dressed.

‘Were you lying down, sir?’ Spock asked.

‘Just reading.’ He came through into the living area, and said, ‘Sit down, Spock. Chair’s a metre in front of you, by my desk.’

Spock went forward to the chair, remembering carefully that this room was a mirror image of his, not identical.

‘Captain, we have a problem,’ Spock said as he sat.

‘I can take command if you’re finding it hard,’ Kirk offered.

‘Not of a personal nature, sir,’ Spock corrected him. ‘Lieutenant Uhura just intercepted an alien transmission from within our ship, directed towards our shadow. I have the disc here, but I can repeat the message verbatim.’

‘And?’ Kirk asked, leaning forward across the desk.

‘Rendezvous in six hours. Beam from these co-ordinates, then disable. The voice was that of Ambassador Necuhai. The transmission came from her quarters.’

‘Give me the disc.’ Kirk took it from his hand and dropped it into the computer slot. He played the message twice, then leaned back again in his chair, and breathed out slowly. ‘Disable? Disable what? Us, the thing to be beamed?’

‘I do not know, Captain. Whatever it is, we have six hours to find out.’

‘Who did you leave in command?’

‘Lieutenant Uhura. I have ordered her to keep scanning for signals.’

    ‘Good - I need someone reliable up there.’ He flicked the intercom open, and said, ‘Kirk to Uhura.’

‘Uhura here.’

    ‘Uhura, deal with everything as normal. Keep your channel scanning discreet. I’m going to find out what this is about. Can you locate the ambassador for me?’

    There was a short pause, then Uhura said, ‘Scanning, sir. It might take a few minutes - I have to separate her readings from the other Pernicians.’

    ‘Call me when you locate her, Lieutenant. Kirk out.’

    ‘Aye, sir,’ she said. ‘Uhura out.’

    The channel went silent. Spock counted a minute before the intercom whistled again, and Kirk reached out to answer it. ‘Kirk here.’

    ‘Uhura, sir. The Pernician ambassador is in Recreation Room Nine, with four of her entourage. There’s no one else in there.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Kirk replied, and cut the channel. ‘Spock, would she have time to get to that room after sending that message?’ he asked curiously.

    ‘It is possible.’ He cocked his head to one side, indicating a joke. ‘I find travel times are considerably speeded up by long legs and eyesight.’

    Kirk laughed softly, then said, ‘Well, Mr Spock. I think I should pay Ambassador Nechuhai a visit.’

    ‘I think that would be wise, sir,’ Spock nodded, getting to his feet. As he did, Kirk put a hand to his arm.

‘Not you, Mr Spock,’ he said gently. ‘I want you to stay here. I don’t know what might happen.’

‘Sir, we have been through this argument many times, even before I lost my sight. I am your first officer,’ Spock replied, stepping away from his hand.

There was a long pause, then Kirk said, ‘Then take my arm. But, Mr Spock, be careful.’

Spock’s eyebrow rose slowly. ‘I would never be anything but careful, sir.’

******

As Kirk turned into the corridor he almost bumped into the blue-clad figure of Lieutenant Laughlan. She looked breathless, and held something in her hand in a small plastic bag.

‘Captain, Commander Spock! I have something to show you,’ she said.

‘Lieutenant, we’re on urgent business,’ Kirk said impatiently. ‘Can this wait?’
   
She shook her head, holding up the bag. It seemed to have some kind of a plastic fragment in it.

‘Captain, I have new evidence relating to the phaser room explosion.’

Kirk gave her new attention at those words. ‘Report, Lieutenant,’ he said sharply.
   
‘Sir - I found a piece of the pipe that Mr Spock saw in the console. It was half embedded in the wall, in the corner of the room up at the ceiling, which is why I didn’t find it earlier. It could not have come into contact with any Pernicians after the explosion, but I found partial imprints of Pernician fingerprints on it, and this, sir.’ She held up the bag to him, and he could see now through the plastic that it was a tiny fragment of pipe. She turned the fragment over in her hands. ‘Here, sir.’

Kirk stared at the tiny piece of pipe, wondering what she was trying to show him.

‘Lieutenant?’ Spock asked. ‘Please describe.’

‘It’s a fragment of the pipe, sir - roughly three centimetres in length, split in half, quite jagged. There’s a dark stain running down what was the outside of the pipe. Here, Captain,’ she said, running her finger down a thin mark that looked like a dried trickle of liquid. ‘I haven’t been able to match it yet to any one person, but it’s Pernician blood, and it was deposited two days before the explosion happened. I’d say whoever it was nicked their finger while cutting the length of pipe, or getting it into the workings. There’s no way the blood could have got in there two days before the explosion unless a Pernician was there.’

‘It is confirmation enough,’ Spock nodded.

‘If we need more, I’ve begun reconstructing the wall where the pipe led through. There was a crudely cut hole leading through to the coolant pipes behind, and the same glue around the edges to fix the pipe as there was on the edges of the hatch.’

‘And this took almost two months to find out?’ Kirk asked sharply. ‘Commander Spock has managed things like this in half the time!’

‘Seven weeks five days is not an unreasonable amount of time for a human when extensive damage is involved,’ Spock told him. ‘Captain, remember the urgency of our mission.’

‘Yes. Lieutenant, make sure all your findings are logged and backed up.’

‘Of course, sir,’ she said, sounding slightly surprised that he should think he had to tell her.

******

    Kirk could hear Pernician voices before the door to Recreation Room Nine slid open. He led Spock through, and the door shut after them. The Pernicians were seated around the table, the ambassador, three other Pernician women, and a man. As the door closed the ambassador looked up, and Kirk saw impatience and anger sparking in her eyes.

‘Captain, if you have brought your Vulcan here to harass me - ’ she began dangerously.

‘Madam Ambassador, Commander Spock and I have come here to ask you a few questions,’ Kirk said tightly. ‘No, don’t get up,’ he said as she began to get to her feet.

She ignored him, and rose up to her full height. Kirk’s head was barely level with the ends of her deep blue braided hair. The other Pernicians rose up behind her, spreading out subtly, giving Kirk a feeling of unease.

‘Ask, Captain,’ she said.

‘Tell me about that ship, Ambassador,’ Kirk said plainly. Hopefully he would get some plain answers.

‘Give me a clue as to which ship you are talking about, and I shall try to answer your question.’

‘I have been monitoring a ship which has been running parallel to the Enterprise for some 15.3752 hours,’ Spock said smoothly. ‘It is a Pernician vessel. Recent events have confirmed that.’

‘Your Vulcan is able to watch ships without his light?’ the ambassador asked, not even looking at Spock.

‘Ambassador, there is a Pernician ship out there, we heard the message you sent to it, we’ve found the evidence that Pernician hands set up the explosion in the phaser room. There’s no point in you denying anything,’ Kirk said impatiently. ‘We know your plans.’

Her expression set, and her eyes bored into Kirk’s head. ‘Captain Kirk, my husband was killed. You are now telling me that I killed him?’

Kirk could see that if he was not careful her anger was going to erupt, and that would be dangerous for everyone. His own anger was barely sheathed beneath a relatively calm facade. He glanced at Spock, who was standing quietly listening to the conversation, then back at the woman, and the anger burned stronger. Spock would not be standing there with that cane in his hands and those deep brown eyes cut off from the world if it was not for this woman’s selfish, war-provoking actions.

‘Ambassador, I am going to call a security team, and you are going to go back to your quarters,’ he said flatly. ‘I’m sure that a Starfleet team on the nearest starbase will be able to get some answers.’

He turned towards the intercom, but he was brought up short by a long grey weapon pointed straight at him. The four attending Pernicians had slowly circled around until two were by the door, one was standing near Spock, and the forth was standing in front of him now, her slim, grey, alien weapon pointed unwaveringly at his chest.

‘What?’

Kirk had not had the chance to express his own surprise. That exclamation had come from the lips of Ambassador Necuhai. She was staring at her attendants as if they had gone mad. Her shocked eyes finally fell on the woman who was threatening Kirk.

‘Jliel?’

‘Charia, your mind is not so slow,’ the woman, Jliel, said in a cold, precise voice. Kirk flinched at that voice, and one of Spock’s eyebrows slowly raised in surprise. The tone was almost identical to that of the ambassador. The message had been sent by this woman, not by Charia Necuhai. ‘Come over here, Charia. You’ll be in the way if we have to shoot.’

Spock’s eyebrow climbed even higher. ‘Captain?’ he asked.

‘You?’ the ambassador asked, not giving Kirk a chance to respond. She moved slowly across the room to face the woman. ‘You, Jliel, killed my husband?’

‘No. I helped to keep our world a warring world,’ Jliel said flatly, and Kirk shuddered at the sincerity in those words. The woman’s hair braids were scraped up on top of her head to increase her height, and her eyes burned dark red in her light purple skull, giving her words a fanatical edge. The ambassador stared at Kirk, at Spock, then at each Pernician in turn, then she went back to her chair at the table and sat down stiffly. She would not allow herself to slump.

‘Continue, Jliel,’ she said flatly, with a deep resignation.

‘So,’ the woman said. She pointed one purple finger at the door, and said, ‘Sevaln.’

The tall, muscular male Pernician moved to the door and pushed onto it a small round device which held in place as if it was magnetic.

‘Captain, please explain,’ Spock pressed, taking a step towards Kirk.

‘Put that stick down,’ Jliel said flatly.

Spock said nothing, but the slight raising of one eyebrow was enough of a question.

‘Do as she says, Spock,’ Kirk said. ‘They have weapons.’

Spock bent very slowly to put the folded cane on the floor, then straightened up again. The woman beckoned the male, he picked the cane up and laid it on the table. She pulled out two chairs and set them a few metres apart.

‘Kirk, sit down,’ she said, pointing to one of the chairs.

Kirk stepped slowly over to the chair and sat down on it, alternating his glance between the Pernician ambassador and Spock’s face. His hands were wrenched behind the back of the chair and clipped together in a pair of slim, grey cuffs. He tried to pull his wrists apart, not because he had any hope that they would break, but because of the frustration he felt at having walked into this trap and at being helpless to assist Spock if he needed it.

‘Captain?’ Spock asked.

‘My hands are tied. Don’t try anything.’

‘No,’ the woman said coldly. ‘Tell him nothing that his eyes should tell him. Communicate nothing.’

As Spock stood in the middle of the room his hands too were cuffed together behind his back. Jliel moved around to stand in front of him, and she slapped his face hard.

‘Arrogant, interfering, pestilent Vulcan!’

Spock took a half step back at the slap, but he only raised an eyebrow slowly at the odd verbal abuse. ‘I have done nothing that was not in the performance of my duties,’ he said flatly.

‘You should have died in the explosion. You should have seen nothing.’

She wheeled him around, pulling at the fabric of his top, and pushed him back to the empty chair.

‘Sit down,’ she said, and Kirk was amazed at the contempt that she could pack into just those two words.

Spock did not move a muscle - instead, he said coldly, ‘I am blind - that is your doing. My hands are bound - that is also your doing. Show me where the chair is.’

The woman impatiently manhandled him backwards and pushed him down into the seat. Spock leaned back into the chair without a word, seemingly unaffected by the awkward position of his tied arms behind him.

‘So, Jliel,’ the ambassador said from her seat at the table. ‘I assume you have worked out a plan?’

‘Of course. I ordered a ship as soon as I found they knew of the pipe. We will leave as soon as it becomes possible. We must be close enough to Pernician space to warp into its protection.’

‘Very well,’ she nodded. She stood up, seeming to pull together her dignity as she did, and folded her arms across her chest. ‘Meanwhile, I am still ambassador, Jliel. You are under my command.’

‘Of course,’ the woman nodded, and Kirk was rather surprised at her simple acquiescence. ‘You are the wife of Sheval. His authority over me is now yours.’

‘As long as you remember that,’ she said firmly.

******

    Kirk sat and looked across into his first officer’s face. The last thirty silent minutes had seemed more like an hour. If Spock could see, a hundred subtle expressions could be sent and interpreted across that silent gap, but Spock sat motionless as if he was alone in the room. All Kirk could do was sit and wait. He could do nothing when occasionally the bored guards decided to aim a kick at the Vulcan’s legs, or when they swiped at his head with his own cane or taunted him for their own amusement. Spock barely reacted to the abuse other than trying to avoid the blow if he heard it coming.

    ‘How long is this going to go on?’ Kirk asked at last, levelling his gaze at Jliel. She was standing stiffly at the end of the table, alternating her focus between him and Spock.

‘Until we can leave this ship. I am not about to let you arrest me, Captain Kirk, and put me in one of your cells. Once we’re back in Pernician space, and your ship is limping out here with no warp engines to move with, nothing can be done.’

‘What makes you think we’re just going to let you beam out of here?’ Kirk asked incredulously. ‘As soon as your ship comes into transporter range, we’ll raise our shields, and you’ll be trapped in here.’

‘We have weapons, Captain. We are capable of weakening your shields enough to beam out.’

‘So why don’t you just blow us up?’ Kirk asked with a black recklessness. ‘Then you’d get your war.’

‘Captain, I do not want peace, I do not want to be forced under your Federation law to stop our people warring against each other, but neither do I want my entire race slaughtered by Federation ships as we would be if we destroyed a starship. I am not going to destroy something quite so important. One life should be enough to ensure your Federation never asks for peace again.’

‘One life?’ Kirk echoed. He glanced across at Spock, aware for the first time that the Vulcan was in serious danger. ‘Whose life?’

‘Well now, let me see, Captain,’ the woman said in an intensely patronising tone. ‘If I killed you, your Vulcan would accept it logically and go back to his studies. If I kill your Vulcan, as he should have been killed two months ago, you will rage and grieve, and insist that the Federation never again allows a Pernician into your space. You are an influential man, Captain Kirk.’

Kirk bit his lip, angry that he could not simply deny the truth of what she had said. He could never accept peace from a race who had deliberately killed his friend to prevent that peace.

‘And then, Captain Kirk, we will be left to ourselves, and our wars, and your immoral, irreligious Federation citizens will never be brought together with pure Pernicians and be allowed to taint their minds.’

‘She appears to be a fanatic, Captain,’ Spock observed.

He had not reacted to the death threat other than by a minute lift of one eyebrow. Kirk was suddenly struck with the chilling thought that perhaps Spock did not mind death as an alternative to blindness - but all of those feelings seemed to have been confined to his time on Earth. If anything, Spock was coming out of that dark time. Kirk had seen less of the sudden dull silences or shocking outbreaks of emotion. He could not let Spock die now, just when he was beginning to live again.

******

Lieutenant Uhura glanced at the chronometer again, taking in the time. It had been almost forty minutes since Spock had left the bridge - plenty of time for him and the captain to speak to the Pernician ambassador and put her in a security cell or confine her to quarters. By now Kirk should be up on the bridge taking command, giving orders to close on the shadowing ship and investigate its purpose.

    ‘Lieutenant Bryson, what’s that ship doing now?’ she asked, turning her chair towards the science console.

    The woman straightened up and pushed a strand of blond hair away from her pale face. ‘Still out there - but it’s not running parallel any more. It’s closed by a thousand kilometres. It still doesn’t show any signs of confronting us though.’

    ‘Okay, Jen,’ Uhura smiled. She looked out at the viewscreen - the ship was still barely visible except as a tiny white dot on the screen - although perhaps it was a little larger than it had been. ‘Sulu, how long before we reach Pernician space?’

    There was a pause as he checked his instruments, then he looked up and met her eyes as he said, ‘Five hours, twenty-three minutes.’

    Uhura nodded, oddly glad that the shift had changed and now Sulu and Chekov were at the helm rather than officers she barely knew. It was reassuring to have them there.

    She flicked open the intercom. ‘Uhura to Captain Kirk.’ She waited a few seconds for a reply, then tried, ‘Lieutenant Uhura to Recreation Room Nine... Uhura to Mr Spock.’

    She waited long enough to be sure there was going to be no reply. Sulu glanced over his shoulder at her, exchanging a worried look.

    ‘It looks like Ambassador Necuhai set up the explosion,’ she explained softly. ‘The captain went to confront her. I guess Mr Spock went too.’ She turned back to Bryson, and said, ‘Jen, run a scan of rec room nine. See who’s in there.’

    ‘I can go down there,’ Chekov offered, half rising from his chair.

    ‘Not while you’re on duty here, mister,’ she said firmly, half amused at his enthusiasm. She had heard Chekov grumble a few times at being asked to act as Mr Spock’s unofficial helper since he returned to the ship, but she had also heard him in a recreation room one night when one of the other ensigns had questioned Spock’s competence. All of his defensive hackles had raised and he had soundly told the ensign exactly how bigoted and prejudiced her views were.

    ‘The captain’s down there too, Pavel,’ Sulu said with an amused smile. ‘If Mr Spock needs help he’s not alone.’

    ‘Jen, have you got that scan?’ Uhura asked, becoming slowly more anxious as time ticked on.

    ‘Y-es,’ she said slowly, bending over the scanner column. ‘Five Pernicians, one human, one Vulcan.’

    ‘Can you tell where they are in the room?’

    ‘One second,’ she said. ‘I’m just overlaying the plan... Two Pernicians at the door, one at the end of the table, one standing by the wall at the back, one a metre out from the wall at the end of the room. The captain and Mr Spock are in the middle of the room, two metres apart.’

    Uhura grimaced at that. The captain and Spock were circled by Pernicians, and not answering the intercom.

    ‘I’m not sure,’ Bryson said hesitantly, turning from her station, ‘but I think they might have weapons.’

    ‘Weapons should have been picked up the moment they beamed onto the ship!’ Uhura said in shock.

    ‘They’re shielded somehow, but just barely readable.’

    ‘How many?’

    ‘Four, held by each of the aliens excepting the one at the table.’

     She flicked open a channel, and ordered, ‘Lieutenant Uhura to Security.’

    ‘Security. Lieutenant Shriver here.’

    ‘Take a team down to Recreation Room Nine,’ she ordered. ‘But be discreet. There are five Pernicians in there, four of them armed, and the captain and Mr Spock may be in danger. If the door doesn’t open, don’t bang on it and let them know you’re outside. Send another team to apprehend the rest of the Pernicians on the ship. Put them in a holding cell and don’t let them communicate with anyone.’

    ‘Acknowledged. We’re on our way.’

    The time it took for a team to reach the room seemed like hours to Uhura on the bridge, but she knew it would take them only a minute at most. Finally the call came back;

    ‘The door won’t open, Lieutenant. We didn’t make a sound - they shouldn’t know we’re out here.’

    ‘Okay, Shriver,’ Uhura nodded, then closed that channel and opened another. ‘Uhura to Engineering. Mr Scott?’

    ‘Aye, lass?’ came the prompt response.

    ‘Mr Scott, how are you at cutting through doors?’

Chapter 11 by Aconitum-Napellus

11

    Uhura left Sulu in the command chair to go and meet Scott, stopping by security on the way to check that the remaining Pernicians had been rounded up. She found the five of them each in separate cells, all of them irate and screaming. One had even hurled himself continually at the forcefield until he had collapsed and was now lying exhausted on the bed in the cell, muttering unintelligible Pernician curses.

    She quickly left the holding area and went down to the recreation room, where Scott was waiting at the door with two of his lieutenants and a huge kit of tools floating on an antigrav. The lieutenants were glancing anxiously at the door behind which they knew Kirk and Spock were trapped, but Scott was already eyeing up the dimensions, alternating glances between the door and a detailed schematic on the floor. The three security officers on guard were standing tensely but silently in the corridor, phasers on their hips.

    ‘Scotty, come down here a little way,’ Uhura said softly, and he followed her down the corridor away from the room. ‘What do you think?’ she asked as soon as they were far enough away to talk in normal voices.

    Scott scratched his head worriedly. ‘We’ve identified some kind of electronic device keeping the door locked shut, but I canna see any way of neutralising it. I could cut round it in maybe - half an hour - with a sonic cutter.’

    Uhura shook her head. ‘No good - they’d hear it. We can’t risk the captain and Mr Spock. We have to take them by surprise.’

    ‘Aye, I know. The only other alternative is a low-power laser - the kind Mr Spock was using when he was blinded. It’d be silent all right, but it’d take a wee bit longer.’

    ‘How long?’

    ‘Maybe six hours.’

    ‘Scotty, we have five,’ Uhura said.

    Scott sighed, staring at the wall, perhaps visualising the internal make-up of it at he thought about cutting through the door.

    ‘If I cut far enough through, lassie, we could use an air-pressure battering ram, and smash out the weakened panel in a second. That would save us an hour or so.’

    ‘Do it, Mr Scott,’ Uhura told him. ‘Only be quiet. No noise until you use the battering ram.’

    ‘Aye, I’ll get to it,’ Scott nodded.

    The deep worry on the chief engineer’s face only reassured Uhura more. It was when he worried most deeply that he got his work done the fastest. It was only in the direst situations that Mr Scott produced one of his miracles, and this situation was dire.

******
   
    Spock sat in his chair, waiting. His arms were beginning to ache behind his back, his fingers becoming numb from the pressure of leaning on them for almost two hours. He shuffled himself in the chair, and immediately his head was caught by a whack of his cane, and Jliel said;
   
‘Don’t move, Vulcan.’

    ‘My arms are becoming numb.’

    ‘When you die, that will hardly matter.’

    Spock raised an eyebrow at the sharp retort. He could sense Jim becoming more and more enraged, and he knew that the human’s odd shufflings had more to do with that anger than any physical discomfort. They had all heard Uhura’s concerned voice calling through the intercom, so he knew that she must have deduced what had happened, but so far nothing drastic had transpired. The Pernicians were simply becoming more edgy, more irritable and irrational. However, Spock did have a vague idea that something might be happening. He had caught the odd noise outside the door, inaudible to the others in the room.

    ‘May I stretch my legs?’ he asked.

    ‘When you die - ’ Jliel began again, but the Pernician ambassador cut across.

    ‘If it will make him quiet, let him walk around the room - once only.’

    Spock had got the impression that the woman’s antipathy towards him had eased very, very slightly since the revelation about Jliel, but he could not count on that gaining him and Kirk any meaningful assistance.

    ‘Stand,’ the Pernician named Sevaln said shortly.

    Spock got slowly to his feet, wavering on aching legs. He waited, and finally said dryly, ‘As you recall, you blinded me, Ms Jliel. I will need assistance.’

    A Pernician hand gripped at his arm, and Spock began to walk, exaggerating the slowness and unsteadiness to keep his walk at the slowest pace possible.

    As they passed the door, Spock focused all his attention on the sounds he could hear. There were voices, very low, murmuring - perhaps one of them belonged to Mr Scott. Then the clink of perhaps a tool, and a shuffle of feet. Added to that, he could hear the low harmonic hum of a laser cutter, the pitch too low for the ears of humans or Pernicians. He returned to his seat sure of what was happening, but doubtful as to the usefulness of the attempt. According to his calculations it would take six point one five hours to cut through the door, and they did not have that long. There was no way that he could communicate what he knew to Kirk - but Kirk would gain very little from knowing. He could do nothing himself but wait and hope that Scott would pull forth one of his miracles.

    ‘I am surprised, Ambassador, at your calm acceptance of the fact that your aide Jliel murdered your husband,’ he began. Talking would hopefully reduce the chance of any noises from outside being heard.

    ‘I do not believe now that my aide Jliel did murder my husband,’ Necuhai said calmly. ‘I am sure my aide Jliel did alter your phaser controls to create a problem, but she did not make my husband take a damage report up to your bridge.’

    ‘Sheval Necuhay knew exactly what he was doing,’ Jliel said crisply. ‘He was willing to risk himself to keep our world safe.’

    ‘It was a suicide mission?’ Kirk asked incredulously. ‘Kamikaze?’

    ‘It was not suicide. He was strong - he thought he would live. It was only meant to produce distrust and stop these ridiculous talks.’

    ‘And what about Spock?’ Kirk asked, the anger in his voice growing into hot rage. ‘Would he have let Spock die? Didn’t he care that he was risking an innocent person?’

    ‘There are always casualties in war.’

    ‘This isn’t war! This is terrorism. Spock’s blind, for God’s sake. You’ve taken his sight for life!’

    ‘Do you think I did not research the effects of the gas?’ Jliel asked sharply. ‘That is the beauty of coolant gas - that is why it was the chosen method. If the explosion does not kill, it takes the sight. It leaves no witnesses. All it took was a delay to prevent the Vulcan getting the necessary treatment, a check in the hospital to be sure that he saw nothing - ’

    Kirk saw a look of sheer rage flash across Spock’s face. All of his muscles tensed as if he was about to leap up from the chair, then he closed his eyes very slowly and forced himself to relax. Even so, all of the colour had drained from his face at the revelation that his blindness was not even a result of an assassination attempt gone wrong, but a deliberate and carefully worked out strategy.

    ‘Then your plan was almost flawless,’ Spock said quietly.

    Kirk could only admire Spock’s self control, and be glad that his own human emotions allowed him to express the hatred he felt for the Pernicians in a way the Spock never could.

    ‘When you are arrested - and you will be arrested - I will take great pleasure in pulling every string I can to have you taken to the furthest, coldest, most torturous penal colony I can think of,’ he said seriously. ‘And the moment I have you alone in a cell, I will relish seeing how you feel as I burn out your sight with a phaser beam.’

    Spock flinched at those words, but made no comment.

    ‘It’s what they deserve, Spock,’ he said flatly. ‘They deliberately tried to destroy your life.’

    ‘His life is not to be very long,’ Jliel said flatly. ‘So you are lucky, Vulcan.’

    ‘I do not understand why you have not already killed me, if that is your intention,’ Spock said.

    ‘Spock!’ Kirk hissed incredulously.

    ‘Because as a last resort we may need hostages. You will die, Vulcan, but you will die when your death is most useful to us.’

    Spock leaned back in his chair, considering all that he had just heard. All of that muddled time around the explosion was becoming clear. Ambassador Necuhay had come to the bridge and made sure he would be in the phaser room, he had handed him the laser cutter, he had seemed familiar with the tools. He had leaned in towards the hatch almost, in retrospect, as if he wanted to be injured. It was only Pernician arrogance that had kept him from believing he would ever be killed. Spock remembered nothing of the Pernicians delaying his treatment, but he could imagine how a group of these towering aliens could make things very awkward for Dr McCoy, to deliberately let his sight seep away. He did remember being conscious of someone in his room as he awoke on Earth. As for the ending of his own life now - he did not seek death, but if the Enterprise crewmembers outside the door did not cut through in time, he was resigned to his fate.

******

    Uhura stood silently in the corridor for a moment, watching Scott and his red-shirted assistants as they bent around the door, each working on a section with the pale-beamed cutters, slowly, silently making the grooves deeper and deeper. She was impressed at how silent they were, managing each to work around the other without a word between them.

    She came up behind them softly, and whispered, ‘Mr Scott, how are you going with that door?’

    ‘Another hour, lass,’ Scott whispered grimly, not turning from the job. ‘What about that ship?’

    ‘Coming in closer. It’s going to meet with us just before we reach Pernician space. They’ve timed it well.’

    ‘Aye - well, we’ll have to hope that their timing isn’t quite so good.’

    ‘We have our shields up, so they’re not going anywhere without a fight.’

    ‘A fight is what we don’t want,’ Scott said seriously. ‘Mr Spock didn’t live through that fire and get back to my Enterprise just to be shot by some knotty-haired purple fanatic.’

    Uhura smiled at that. It seemed that every person who knew about this situation had not given a thought to Captain Kirk’s safety, but could only see the injustice of Spock adjusting to his blindness only to have his life threatened again by these warlike aliens.

    ‘I just have to get this door open,’ Scott muttered. ‘When this is all over I’m going to have a wee word with those designers who make these doors so hard to get through.’

    ‘Carry on, Scotty,’ Uhura smiled, touching his shoulder. She went to lean against the opposite wall and watch proceedings. Somehow it helped to actually see the grooves in the door becoming deeper, giving her the physical proof that something was actually happening.

    Watching the pale blue beams working up and down the door was becoming almost hypnotic as she stared at them minute after minute. Finally she was distracted by footsteps, and she glanced up the corridor to see the blue figure of Dr McCoy just emerging from a turbolift. She hurried swiftly to meet him. The last thing she wanted was to have McCoy stride down and start raving outside that door about the danger Spock and Kirk were in.

    ‘Well, Lieutenant?’ McCoy asked as she reached him. He was bouncing on his toes, which Uhura knew was a sign of his deep frustration.

    ‘Maybe another half hour now,’ she said softly.

    ‘Dammit, Spock’s in there - ’ he began.

    ‘And he’d be the first one to tell you that it’s illogical to be more worried about him just because he’s blind,’ she reminded him.

    ‘Sure he would, but it’s not true. If he could see, he’d at least have a fighting chance of grabbing a weapon or dodging a phaser beam.’

    ‘If he’s not tied up or unconscious,’ Uhura said seriously. ‘Doctor, there are five Pernicians in there, four with weapons. Mr Spock would be a fool to try to fight them even if he could see - and I know that Mr Spock isn’t a fool.’

    ‘There’s going to be bloodshed,’ McCoy said seriously. ‘The moment they get through that door - ’

    ‘Doctor, I want you to go back to your sick bay - ’

    ‘Dammit, I have every right to be down here - ’ McCoy began angrily.

    ‘And prepare for casualties,’ Uhura said firmly, cutting through his protests without resorting to shouting.

    ‘Lieutenant - ’ McCoy began again angrily.

    ‘Dr McCoy, Mr Spock left me in command,’ Uhura said firmly. ‘Until he or the captain can say any different, I am still in command. I want you to go down to your sick bay and get a medical team together so that when that door goes down you’re waiting down the corridor to help anyone who’s hurt. That’s likely to be the captain or Mr Spock, and I know that you’ll want them to have the fastest possible treatment if something does happen. If a Pernician is injured, I want him or her kept alive to stand trial for what they’ve done. Now go sort that team.’

    McCoy turned on his heel without a word and stalked back into the elevator, but Uhura could see some of his indignant anger fading as he went. She smiled at that. The idea of having a medical team standing by was valid, but it was also a good way of keeping McCoy silent for at least a little while, so that she could use her energies on commanding the ship rather than trying to keep him from making some noise that the Pernicians might hear.

    ‘Lassie,’ Scott hissed from down the corridor, and Uhura quickly went back to his side. ‘Ten minutes,’ he said softly, ‘Then we can use the battering ram.’

******

    Kirk shuffled again in his chair, but it would be pushing his luck to ask to take a walk as Spock had. The Pernicians saw Spock’s blind eyes as making him completely ineffectual, so they had probably not considered that Spock had any ulterior motive, but they would not take the same chance with him.

    ‘Mr Spock, how long have we been in here?’ he asked, ignoring the Pernicians to look directly at the Vulcan.

    ‘Five point one three seven hours,’ Spock said without even appearing to think about it.

    ‘I suppose something to eat from the replicator is out of the question?’ he asked, looking at the ambassador now.

    ‘Within an hour, Captain Kirk, you will be free to eat all the food you like, and your Vulcan will be dead and no longer in need of food. How will food now profit you?’

    Kirk shrugged, then flexed his tired fingers behind his back. ‘How about a visit to the toilet?’

    ‘Be silent.’

    Kirk acquiesced, but he had no intention of just sitting and waiting for Spock to be killed. He could do nothing to help him, but he could at least make the Pernicians’ last hour on the ship as difficult as possible. He was sure that something must be happening outside the room by now. Uhura would not have ignored the fact that neither he nor Spock had responded to hails. He had to leave her to do whatever she thought best, and trust in the fact that she would get them out. He just hated the feeling of being out of control on his own ship.

    He watched as one of the female Pernician guards walked slowly around the room, glad that they seemed as tired of all this as he was. She stretched out her arms, checked the setting on her weapon, then stopped in her prowling and leaned her long form tiredly against the door.

    Kirk glanced at Spock, wishing he could feel some of the equanimity and calm that the Vulcan was managing. Spock was the one taking all of the abuse from these aliens, but he was sitting quietly as if in meditation, the un-focused appearance of his eyes only increasing that impression. He could feel a tension under that calm, however. Something inside the Vulcan had snapped at the revelation of the deliberateness of his blinding.

    He looked back to the Pernician by the door as she stiffened. She straightened up, turned around, stared at the door for a moment, then pressed her palm against the surface by the magnetic lock.

    ‘Ambassador, this door is warm,’ she said seriously.

    ‘The ship is kept constantly heated - some conduits run through into the doors,’ Spock said flatly, and Kirk hid his surprise at the barefaced, implausible lie. It was obvious that Spock knew something that he didn’t.

    ‘Ambassador, this door is hot,’ the woman repeated. ‘Here it is hot.’ She moved her palm sideways on the door. ‘Here, it is cool.’

    The ambassador got to her feet, starting forward like a tensed animal. Jliel moved with her, staring suspiciously at the door. She jerked round to fix her eyes on Kirk, and said;

    ‘Get up, both of you!’

    ‘There is a vibration,’ the guard said, her palm still on the door.

    ‘Move back to the wall,’ Jliel ordered.

    Kirk stepped back slowly, and said cautiously, ‘Spock, come back towards me. There’s nothing behind you.’

    The Vulcan stayed stiffly in the middle of the floor. Kirk could see by the Pernicians’ faces that his lack of cooperation was beginning to get dangerous. He could understand a human’s bitterness, but he had never seen Spock act in quite this way.

    ‘Just do it, Commander. That’s an order,’ Kirk snapped, and with no change of expression Spock began to step slowly backwards.

    ‘Stand apart,’ Jliel said as they reached the wall, and Kirk reluctantly moved along the wall away from Spock.

    ‘What are they doing to that door?’ the ambassador asked angrily. ‘Vulcan, tell me!’

    Spock stayed silent.

    ‘Tell me!’

    ‘I have no sight,’ Spock said, an unusual tone of mockery tingeing his voice. ‘How could I possibly know more than you?’

    There was a sudden thud from outside, and the door shook. An irregular circular shape around the lock buckled and bent. The room exploded in noise as the Pernicians began to panic, wavering between Jliel and the ambassador for orders.

    ‘Shoot the Vulcan,’ Ambassador Necuhai’s voice rose shrieking above the rest. ‘Shoot him!’

    ‘Ambassador - ’ Jliel began, turning.

    ‘Shoot him! I will not let them ask for peace again! Shoot him!’

    Before Kirk could move she had wrenched a weapon from the nearest Pernician guard, aimed it and depressed the trigger. The bright red energy hit Spock, surged over his body, and died away. The Vulcan crumpled to the floor in the same moment that the door crashed open and Kirk ducked flat as stunning phaser beams swept the room.

    The five Pernicians toppled to the floor as Starfleet security teams raced into the room, and Kirk wrenched at the cuffs on his hands, crawling towards Spock.

    ‘Spock!’ he screamed. ‘God, no!’ He could not even reach out to touch the Vulcan’s body. A blue figure pushed through the red ones, and Kirk let out breath he had not realised he’d been holding. ‘Bones, here! Disruptor - it looked like disruptor energy.’

    McCoy fought through the crush of bodies to reach the Vulcan, kneeling down beside him and slamming his medical bag to the floor. Kirk felt someone cutting through the bonds on his wrists and he could suddenly reach out and touch Spock’s face. The naked skin was covered in a horrible green rash - the effect of disruptor fire bursting capillaries, disintegrating the very cells of his first officer’s body. A security guard was cutting the cuffs from Spock’s wrists, and his hands came back covered in blood. The Vulcan looked dead, but he suddenly convulsed and coughed, and green blood spilled out of his mouth and washed over his chest.

    ‘Bones?’ Kirk asked in horror.

    ‘God, there’s no time,’ McCoy muttered. ‘He’ll die on the stretcher before I can get him into stasis.’

    ‘No, he won’t! It’s only one deck up!’ Kirk said urgently. A gurney was pushing through behind him, and he swept Spock up off the floor and onto the stretcher, pushing it out of the room before McCoy could pick up his bag. ‘Call sick bay to set up the stasis field.’

    He heard Scott begin the order as he ran into the elevator.

    ‘Sick bay, emergency speed.’

    McCoy just had time to slip into the elevator as the door closed, and immediately began to pump drugs into the Vulcan’s body.

    ‘What’s that?’ Kirk asked urgently.

    ‘Blood coagulator - only hope to keep him from bleeding to death,’ McCoy muttered, deep in concentration. ‘Goddammit, Spock, don’t die. Hold on...’

    The Vulcan coughed again, spraying blood, and for a moment his eyes opened, bloodshot, horribly blank, moving as if he was searching to see something. Why was it worse, so much worse, that Spock was blind and so terribly injured? Kirk took hold of Spock’s blistered and bleeding hand, dimly aware that now McCoy was pushing the trolley. Spock’s mouth moved, he formed the word, ‘Jim?’

    ‘I’m here, Spock,’ Kirk promised. ‘You’ll be fine. Just - ’ The words choked in his throat and he bit back tears. ‘Hold on,’ he whispered.

    Suddenly they were in sick bay. McCoy didn’t hesitate as they reached the emergency room, manhandling Spock off the gurney and onto a diagnostic bed where Chapel was already setting up the stasis field.

    ‘Okay, turn it on,’ he said, stepping backwards.

    ‘Bones?’ Kirk asked, as a coloured field shimmered on and engulfed his friend’s body. Somehow Chapel was managing to reach into the field with protective gloves to cut away the Vulcan’s bloodsoaked clothes, revealing the damaged body.

    ‘Don’t know yet,’ McCoy muttered. ‘We have to give him time, hope the effect didn’t reach his brain. It’s usually worse where the centre of the beam hits, and it looks like it centred on Spock’s stomach, if you look at the pattern of disruption.’

    Kirk fixed his eyes on Spock’s body, feeling sick at the sight of pooled and mottled blood under his skin, wishing he could reach through the field to touch his friend. But that field at least had stopped the cell degeneration, was stopping Spock’s heart from literally pumping the blood out through his skin. McCoy was busy scanning the body, checking readings, handing drugs to Chapel to administer through the field. After a moment he felt McCoy’s hand warmly on his arm.

    ‘Jim, Spock’s resilient. The weapon wasn’t as strong as Klingon or Romulan disruptors - that’s why he’s not dead. He shows damage mostly to the intestines and kidneys - it’s his heart, brain and lungs that we’d really have to worry about, and they weren’t so hard hit.’

    ‘He was coughing up blood, Bones...’

    ‘There is damage to his lungs - it’s just not so bad.’ He looked up to the nurse standing on the other side of the bed. Her face was white, and she was shaking. Her gloved hands were smeared with green blood. ‘Christine, he’ll need quite constant blood transfusions,’ he said gently. ‘Go get five litres for now from the blood bank, and then - take the day off,’ he said kindly. ‘Lambert can relieve you.’

    ‘No, sir,’ she said, her voice shaking. She looked up slowly, and composed herself. ‘No, sir. I’m fine - I’d like to be here.’

    ‘Okay,’ McCoy nodded. ‘Get that blood, then.’ As soon as she had left the room he looked at Kirk, and sighed. ‘Jim, you should get some rest. He’s not going to be stirring for a couple of days at the least.’

    ‘Is he out of danger yet, Bones?’

    McCoy shook his head tiredly. ‘Not yet. I need to get that blood into him, try to repair what damage I can, then I can ease the field a little, see how well his body copes. He has to survive for at least two hours before I can really say he’s got a good chance of living.’

    ‘Then I’m staying here for two hours,’ Kirk said resolutely, pulling up a chair and sitting down by the Vulcan’s bed. He shuddered suddenly, and rubbed his hands over his face. ‘We nearly lost him in that explosion. I’m damned if we’re going to lose him now.’

    ‘We won’t lose him.’

    ‘Oh, God, Bones - I can’t stay here - I’ve got calls to make.’

    ‘Make them from here,’ McCoy said firmly. ‘You don’t have to be on that bridge to make calls.’

    ‘I guess so,’ Kirk nodded. He took a long look at the Vulcan’s face, then went across to the other side of the room, composing the list of people in his mind. Starfleet, the Federation Council, the Pernician homeworld ... Spock’s parents. He shuddered at the thought of making that call. They had only just been told of his blindness, and now he had to call and tell them it was possible they would never see their son again. The first call he made was to the bridge.

    ‘Lieutenant Uhura here,’ the woman answered promptly, and he smiled at the reassuring face on the computer screen. ‘Sir, how’s Mr Spock?’

    ‘We don’t know yet,’ Kirk said honestly. ‘But you did well, Uhura. You handled everything perfectly.’

    ‘Not quite,’ Uhura said. ‘If we hadn’t burst in - ’

    Her eyes seemed to be focused above his shoulder, and he realised that Spock was visible in the background of the shot. He moved the screen until Spock was out of view. He didn’t want that image on the huge screen in the bridge.

    ‘They were going to shoot Spock anyway. If you hadn’t burst in he’d be dead now. Lieutenant, what’s that ship doing?’

    ‘I’ve hailed them, sir. As soon as they heard our call they turned tail and headed into Pernician space. They fired a shot, but it didn’t even reach us.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk nodded. ‘Don’t follow them into their space. Change heading for Starbase 3. Tell them to expect ten criminals for their holding cells.’

Chapter 12 by Aconitum-Napellus

12

    Kirk tossed and turned in his bunk, trying to convince himself he was near sleep. It wasn’t working. The moment he slept he woke from vivid nightmares. When he lay awake all he could see in the darkness was the image of Spock’s body lying there in sick bay, the skin pooled with leaking blood.

    ‘Dammit!’

    He sat up and threw the blankets aside impatiently. It was no use trying to sleep. He had known that when he finally went to bed that night, or he would have changed out of his uniform rather than just falling into bed in the clothes he wore. There were still smears of blood down his top, turned black and dry now.

    ‘Lights,’ he ordered, and as they came on he stripped off the soiled top and pulled on a fresh one. He glanced at the time. Three fifteen a.m..

    He was not surprised on entering sick bay to find McCoy still sitting there, slumped over his desk in the twilit room, sleeping head resting on folded arms.

    Kirk moved his gaze to see Spock. There was a nurse on duty sitting at the foot of the black bed, and as he caught her eye she smiled gently.

    ‘Improving, sir,’ she said to his unasked question.

    Kirk nodded, and went softly to the Vulcan’s side. The blood under his skin was blackening, he appeared bruised all over. Every breath he took was separated by an interminable amount of time, and each one was a slow, shallow, difficult rasp. If that was improvement, he hated to think what degeneration would look like.

    ‘The stasis field is at fifty percent now,’ the nurse said, getting to her feet. ‘If you want to touch him, Captain, use these.’

    Kirk took the pair of gloves she held out to him, and slipped them on to protect his arms from the numbing effect of the stasis field. He pushed his hand through the faintly lit field. He could feel the odd tingling even through the glove as he closed his fingers around Spock’s unmoving hand. He had the horrible feeling that if he pressured too hard the hand would disintegrate, each cell individually weakened by the disruptor effect.

    ‘Can he hear?’ he asked the nurse softly, not taking his eyes off the Vulcan’s face.

    ‘No, sir. He won’t be aware of anything until the field’s fully down.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk nodded. He closed his other hand around the Vulcan’s, rested his head down onto the edge of the bed outside the stasis field, and closed his eyes. If he couldn’t sleep, he would have to just sit here in his tiredness, and wait.

******

    Kirk blinked slowly, letting his eyes focus on his surroundings. Sick bay. He was in sick bay, and he must have fallen asleep. The lights were fully on, signifying day. He moved his head slightly, and realised that someone had slipped a pillow under it some time in the night. That same person had carefully draped a blanket around his shoulders.
   
He sat up, turning to thank McCoy for the thought, and saw that the doctor had also been ministered to by someone, his head cradled now by a thick pillow just like Kirk’s instead of his arms.
   
‘Coffee, Captain,’ a voice said from behind him, and he turned to see Christine Chapel holding out a steaming cup with a soft smile on her face.
   
He took it wordlessly and swallowed a hot mouthful, then looked back to Spock.
   
‘He’s doing well,’ Chapel told him. She put on her gloves and reached into the field to put Kirk’s unneeded pillow under the Vulcan’s head, smoothing the black hair as she rested his head back into it. ‘He won’t feel it, but it makes him look more comfortable,’ she explained with a shrug.
   
‘Illogical,’ Kirk said, half smiling.
   
‘Yes. Illogical,’ she nodded, and her voice caught on that word. Kirk took a harder look at her face, seeing the lines of tiredness.
   
‘How long have you been here, Nurse?’ he asked.
   
‘Just a few hours. I - had a little trouble sleeping,’ she admitted.
   
‘Just like us all,’ Kirk nodded.
   
There was an intercom whistle, and Chapel turned quickly to answer it.
   
‘Sick bay. Nurse Chapel here,’ she said crisply.
   
‘There’s a communication for Captain Kirk coming through on screen,’ a male voice replied. Kirk recognised it as one of the night shift communications officers, one of the many people who ran his ship so competently while he was sleeping. The man must be about to go off duty.
   
‘Acknowledged,’ Chapel said, and turned on the computer screen, swivelling it towards Kirk.
   
Kirk shuddered as he saw the symbol on the screen - that of the Vulcan sub-space communications system. He had tried calling Spock’s parents last night, but no one had answered, and he hadn’t had the heart to tell them what had happened via a recorded message. He had simply asked for them to contact the ship.
   
He carried his chair over to the screen and sat down before it, combing through his hair with his fingers. He took in a breath, then said, ‘Kirk here.’
   
The screen dissolved into the image of Ambassador Sarek, his face calm as always, backed by the dark, warm image of the study in Spock’s Vulcan home.
   
‘Captain Kirk, I believe you wished to speak to me,’ he said calmly.
   
‘Is the Lady Amanda not at home?’ Kirk asked. ‘I would rather speak to you both.’
   
‘My wife is teaching. You must speak to me.’
   
Kirk was not sure whether he felt calmed or terrified by that warm but logical voice. Sarek’s tone was less harsh than that of some other Vulcans, but Kirk was also aware of the hard edge that voice could take on, and of the cold danger of an angered Vulcan. He did not know how Sarek would react to this news.
   
‘Ambassador - ‘ he began.
   
‘This is about my son,’ Sarek said. A logical assumption, not a guess, Kirk reminded himself. ‘I am already aware that Spock has lost his sight. Does our son need our presence?’
   
Kirk quickly suppressed the surprise he felt at those words. Sarek seemed so oddly concerned, compassionate, so quick to offer help. It gave him some idea of how blindness was seen by Vulcans, for this deeply logical man to offer up his help to his son just like that. As ambassador of Vulcan, Sarek surely had work that he could not just drop easily to minister to his adult, independent son.
   
‘No,’ Kirk said softly. ‘Spock is - he’s not dead,’ he said quickly.
   
‘I would know if my son was dead, Kirk,’ Sarek said, impatience edging into his voice. ‘What has happened?’
   
‘He - is very badly injured. He was caught by a disruptor shot. He’s in a stasis field, and he is healing very slowly as that field is reduced. I just wanted to tell you, Ambassador,’ Kirk said, ‘seeing how long it was before you knew that Spock was blinded.’
   
‘I appreciate that consideration,’ Sarek said.
   
Kirk could not be sure if there was sarcasm in those words. He doubted that Sarek of Vulcan would use sarcasm. But any other parent would have screamed, *what was my blind son doing being exposed to disruptor shots? How could you let that happen?* Or was that Kirk’s own voice asking those questions?
   

Sarek simply considered him slowly, then said, ‘Kirk, you care deeply for my son.’
   
‘Yes,’ Kirk nodded, although he knew that had been a statement, not a question.
   
‘Then I trust him to your care,’ Sarek said. ‘When he wakes, tell him that his parents wish him well.’
   
‘Yes, sir,’ Kirk nodded, suddenly feeling very humble. Spock had been trusted to his care the moment he had come under his command, and it was under that command that Spock had been blinded, and was now lying unconscious behind him. How could Sarek trust him to anything concerning his son?
   
‘Live long and prosper, Captain Kirk. Good night,’ the Vulcan said, and the screen abruptly went blank.
   
McCoy stirred at his desk, and looked up, bleary-eyed. ‘Jim?’ Then suddenly his eyes widened, he sat up straight and said, ‘Spock!’ He stumbled to his feet, and almost tripped on the blanket trailing from his shoulders. ‘What the hell - ’
   
‘Doctor, Mr Spock is stable,’ Christine Chapel said, taking the blanket from him and folding it expertly. ‘He’s a little stronger, and the potential for bleeding is reducing. I think we can relax the field a little more.’
   
‘Let me be the judge of that,’ McCoy said roughly, going to the Vulcan’s side.
   
Kirk smiled at the doctor. He was sure that Chapel knew as well how to treat Spock as McCoy did. She was practically a doctor in her knowledge and experience. McCoy just always had to be sure himself, and always in control in his sick bay.
   
McCoy looked up and down Spock’s body, glanced up at the monitoring scanners, then reached in with a gloved hand to touch the Vulcan’s skin, the human touch that he trusted far more than any of his machines. Finally he nodded, and turned down the dial a little further. As he did, Spock moved very slightly, and took in a slightly deeper breath of air.
   
‘He’s going to be fine, Jim,’ the doctor smiled. ‘Come back in two days, and perhaps he’ll even speak to you. God, Vulcan recuperative powers are amazing...’
   
‘Thank God,’ Kirk smiled.
   
‘Yes. Thank God.’

******

    Two days later, Kirk watched the Vulcan with a gentle smile as he stirred in the bed, opened his eyes slowly, and blinked blindly at the room. His skin was still mottled and bruised, he still looked ill, but finally he was out of the stasis field and in a ward bed, off life support and with none of the drips containing blood, food and medicines running down to needles in his body.
   
‘Jim,’ he said slowly. His voice was almost a moan. The Vulcan closed his eyes again, and stirred uncomfortably, then moaned long and low.
   
‘Spock,’ Kirk said softly, and he laid his hand on the Vulcan’s arm. ‘You’re okay.’
   
‘The disruptor...’ His words were slow and slurred.
   
‘We got you to sick bay in time. You’re going to be all right.’
   
He moaned again, and Kirk asked anxiously, ‘Are you in pain?’
   
Even in this state the Vulcan managed to raise an eyebrow at that question. ‘C-considerable pain,’ Spock sighed.
   
‘Don’t talk then,’ Kirk told him gently, then ignored his own advice as he asked, ‘Spock, are you okay? You seemed so - bitter - before they shot you...’
   
‘I - I am all right, J-jim. I think...’
   
He opened his eyes again a crack, swallowed dryly, then coughed, and Kirk carefully put a cup of water to his lips. Spock swallowed as the cold water touched his mouth, some of it dribbling down round his neck and into the bed. The coldness on his skin appeared to rouse him further out of the dim and aching semi-consciousness, and he grasped at the bedclothes around him, trying to hold on as consciousness brought new pain and disorientation.
   
‘Jim...w-what is that light?’ he asked.
   
Kirk eyed the Vulcan with mounting concern, wondering if the disruptor shot had been enough to cause brain damage. He didn’t want to call a doctor just yet.
   
‘You’re in sick bay,’ he repeated to the Vulcan. ‘You’re going to be all right. Just give it time.’
   
Spock blinked again, then opened his eyes wide, turning his head slowly. ‘J-jim, there is light,’ he said, bringing an insistence into his tone. ‘Very blurred - a minute blur...lightness.’
   
Kirk looked down at the blank, blind stare of his dark eyes, and touched the Vulcan’s shoulder gently. ‘Okay, Spock,’ he smiled. ‘Just try to sleep. You must be very tired.’
   
‘Jim!’ Spock said. ‘I...am not deranged...or d-delirious.’ The very effort to speak was obviously exhausting him. ‘P-please, get Dr McCoy.’
   
‘Okay,’ Kirk smiled slowly. He went across the room to the intercom, and opened a channel. ‘Dr McCoy, report to sick bay... There you go, Spock,’ he said gently, coming back to sit down. ‘Satisfied?’
   
‘Yes, sir,’ Spock whispered. His eyes were beginning to close again, and he forced himself awake with effort.
   
McCoy came in through the sliding doors, and smiled as he saw Spock. ‘So he’s awake at last?’ he asked, coming forward.
   
Kirk stood up quickly and went to stop him on the far side of the ward. ‘Bones, he keeps talking about light,’ he whispered softly.
   
McCoy glanced over at the Vulcan, then back at Kirk. ‘Well, he’s been through a huge trauma. The brain can play tricks. It doesn’t mean he’s brain damaged.’
   
‘Th-thank you...for your confidence...Doctor,’ Spock breathed from across the ward, and McCoy went to him quickly.
   
‘Well, Spock, if you can manage sarcasm, you can’t be that ill,’ he said warmly. ‘One day you’ll shock us all by getting to the edge of death and not coming back.’
   
‘Not on my shift,’ Kirk said, and he meant that with all seriousness.
   
‘Doctor...please check my eyes,’ Spock said, his voice still laced with tiredness.
   
‘Okay, Spock,’ McCoy said, letting all of the Georgia country doctor come through in his voice. ‘You just lie back ‘n’ relax now.’
   
He went to get a scanner, then came back and moved it swiftly over the Vulcan’s eyes. He checked the reading, blinked, then moved it back, far more slowly this time.
   
‘Bones?’ Kirk asked.
   
‘Mr Spock, why did you want me to check your eyes?’ McCoy asked slowly, glancing at Kirk.
   
Spock blinked, and sighed. ‘Obviously, Doctor...because I th-thought I s-saw something.’
   
‘And what was that, Spock?’ McCoy asked.
   
‘A blur... A t-tiny blur of light...very small, dim...b-but - ‘ Spock took in a deep breath, determined to get one sentence out without stopping. ‘It is noticeable, Doctor, after t-two months of utter darkness.’
   
‘Spock - ‘ McCoy hesitated, then said, ‘Spock, there is a slight – a *very* slight - change in the cells. Perhaps one or two are dislodged, in your right eye. You may be seeing through a tiny, tiny hole in the covering of cells.’

    Kirk stared at McCoy, his mind alternating between joy at the possible truth, and anger at what must be a sick, insensitive joke. Spock had been blinded for life, and he had only just come to accept that.

    ‘Bones, if you’re kidding around - ‘ he began dangerously.

    ‘Jim!’ McCoy said indignantly. ‘For God’s sake, I’m not that callous!’

    Spock closed his eyes very suddenly. His face went blank, and Kirk could see that he was trying to control some surge of emotion. A tell-tale tear squeezed out from under one eyelid and rolled down his face. Kirk held onto the Vulcan’s hand tightly as Spock lay stone-still, until finally he relaxed back into the bed, and said slowly, ‘Thank you, Doctor.’ After a long moment he said, ‘Th-the disruptor effect?’

    ‘Possibly,’ McCoy nodded. ‘It is designed to cause cell breakdown. Perhaps if these cells aren’t quite as strong as the normal body cells they’re lodged onto...’

    Spock nodded very slowly, then asked, ‘The Pernicians?’

    ‘In the brig in Starbase 3, awaiting trial,’ Kirk smiled, thinking God, *Spock, get your priorities right*. ‘Hopefully they’ll be there a long time.’

    ‘And yet, if they h-had not fired on me...’

    ‘If they hadn’t come on the ship in the first place,’ Kirk said darkly.

    ‘That d-does not matter,’ Spock said tiredly. ‘I - I can see...’

    ‘Now, Spock, you can’t see,’ McCoy began seriously. ‘There’s hardly any change, and if it was the disruptors it’ll take time to devise a way of applying the effect safely, and then it’ll take time, even if we can apply it...’

    ‘Bones,’ Kirk interrupted. He indicated the Vulcan with a smile. Spock’s eyes were closed and he was sleeping peacefully. ‘I don’t think he heard any of that.’

    ‘Well, he can sleep for now,’ McCoy said seriously, ‘but sometime he’s gonna have to wake up and realise he won’t be looking into that science scanner tomorrow. He might take longer to recover his sight than he’s spent blind so far. It might not even work.’

    ‘I’m sure he’ll listen to all that perfectly logically when he’s up and about and thinking straight,’ Kirk nodded. ‘But we might as well let him enjoy the promise of sight for now.’

    ‘Yes, and I’m sure you will,’ McCoy smiled. ‘Just don’t go spreading it around. It’s not even a certainty yet.’

******

    Kirk could clearly see the change in Spock the next time he visited him in sick bay. He came into the ward to see the Vulcan sitting up in bed, his fingers skimming swiftly over a mound of print-outs. He had become used to seeing these braille print-outs and was slowly beginning to recognise some of the letter forms. He could see now as he looked over the Vulcan’s shoulder that these documents had something to do with disruptor effects.
   
‘The doctor believes I shall be able to leave sick bay within three days,’ Spock said, his fingers still moving across the page. ‘I must be prepared for the work in the lab. It should not take too long to rig up a small disrupting beam that I can direct towards my eyes - ’

    Kirk glanced doubtfully across at McCoy, who had come from his office to stand in the doorway.

    ‘I want to run a lot more tests,’ McCoy said seriously, coming through into the room. ‘It looks like the disruptor effect has broken down minute particles in the opaque cell covering, Jim. Spock’s seeing through a very few tiny holes a micrometer across. He’s also jumping the gun,’ he said as he reached the bed, looking pointedly at the Vulcan. He sighed, because Spock was oblivious to his look. ‘I saw the titles of those files you printed off. That disruptor almost killed you, and you’ve gained a minute change in your eyes. It’s going to take research and time. You won’t wake up tomorrow with twenty-twenty vision - and don’t think I’m going to let you aim a disruptor beam anywhere while you can’t see! If you didn’t kill yourself you’d slaughter some helpless lab technician.’

    ‘Then I shall find an assistant to direct the beam. Doctor, I am willing to suffer the disruptor effects,’ Spock said flatly, laying his hands flat on the paper. His dangerous determination was obvious in his voice and the set expression of his face.

‘Well, I’m not willing to keep patching you up like I did over the last few days,’ McCoy said angrily. ‘You were *that* close to death, Spock.’

    ‘But I did not die.’

    ‘You’re a scientist - you know how it works,’ McCoy said in exasperation, his anger contrasting vibrantly with Spock’s calm. ‘When you find a treatment for something you don’t just rush ahead and dose the patient with as much of it as you can. You study it, you isolate the factors responsible for the effect, you experiment, work out dosage, side effects, long-term effectiveness... It takes a long time.’

    ‘A very narrowly focused beam directed accurately at the cells - ’

    ‘Could give you your sight, could reach through to your retinas and destroy them, could reach through to your brain and kill you... Goddammit, Spock - ’

‘Bones,’ Kirk said, putting a hand on the doctor’s arm as he could see him becoming ready to burst.
   
‘Your blindness isn’t fatal,’ the doctor tried again in a more conciliatory tone. ‘Now, I’ll help you work out this treatment, but I won’t risk your life for it. Too many hits with a disruptor might break down those black cells, but they might break down the normal cells in your eyes too. You could end up cured of the cell covering, but just as blind, with less hope of ever seeing.’

    ‘Dr McCoy, I will take that chance,’ Spock said, ‘and you have no power to order me not to.’

    ‘Spock - ’ Kirk began.

    ‘Well fine, Commander,’ McCoy stormed over him. ‘Go ahead and kill yourself, sir. I’ll be damned if I’ll help you take that chance. I’m damned if I’ll be the one to mop up all those little pools of green blood after you’ve just succeeded in drilling out your computerised brain with disruptor beams!’

    ‘Bones!’ Kirk snapped, grabbing his arm as he began to stride away. ‘Spock. Both of you. I am your captain, and I order you both to shut up, stop arguing, and listen!’

    He was momentarily surprised that silence actually fell at his words.

    ‘You are both going to work together on this,’ Kirk said firmly. ‘Spock, you’re not going to rush out and kill yourself on a quest for a cure. As soon as you’re well I will allocate you and Bones time out of your shifts to work together in the lab. You’re the scientist, the physicist, Spock. You can research the disruptor effect. Bones, you’re the doctor, the biologist. You research the effects on Spock. Neither of you are going to try it out on Spock until you’ve presented a report to me and had your results checked over and confirmed by two other doctors. Then, Mr Spock, Bones can apply the treatment, *if* it turns out to be a treatment. Agreed?’

    He was even more taken aback when both the Vulcan and McCoy echoed, ‘Agreed, sir.’

    ‘Spock - I - er - I’m sorry I got so angry,’ McCoy began, staring down at his feet.

    Spock raised an eyebrow slowly, then said, ‘May I continue my reading, Captain?’

    ‘No, Mr Spock,’ he said, gathering up Spock’s papers and putting them out of his reach on the next bed. ‘You may not continue your reading. I came to visit you in sick bay, and I’m going to visit, without your nose buried in print-outs.’

    Spock’s eyebrow raised even further, and finally he said, ‘Doctor, I accept your apology. I offer you my own. You understand that my sight is important to me.’

    ‘Of course I do,’ McCoy said warmly. ‘How could we not know?’

    ‘Doctor, would you do something for me?’ Spock continued. ‘I promised the captain a chess game some time ago. It seems I have the time free now for such a game. Would you move the pieces for me - and ensure that the captain does not cheat?’

    ‘Sure, Spock,’ McCoy smiled.

    Kirk got to his feet, grateful that peace had at last been restored. ‘I’ll go get the board.’

Epilogue by Aconitum-Napellus

Epilogue - Two Months Later

    Spock sat near the back of the temporary stage in the ship’s gym, staring out at the dim, darkened blur of the crew’s uniforms. By moving his eyes to move the tiny spot of semi-sight he could make out the dark grey smudge of the wall behind them, merging into the blackness that made up the majority of his vision. He was far more aware of the crew by the warm mingling of scent and slight sounds than by that blur, but with a little imagination he could picture the rows of ship’s crew, the back wall of the gym, the doors to the side that made no impression in his dark, limited vision. But at least that dark blur was sight, of some sort. It was the daily proof that the treatment for his eyes was working, slowly but steadily.

    The proof that he could not see, not well enough for him to be classified anything but blind, was sitting next to him in the form of a large alsatian dog with a bright yellow harness that, held close to his face, he could just discern the colour of. The dog was, as McCoy had termed it, a ‘godsend’, as had been the rehabilitation course he had taken on Vulcan. He had taught the dog not only to lead him about, but also to take him to certain people whom she recognised by face and by name. Two days ago he had been on his first planetside mission in which he had left the landing party on his own, without a human guide, and relied on the dog to lead him back when his work was done. The sense of freedom had been almost overwhelming.

    ‘Well, you all know why we’re here today,’ Captain Kirk’s voice rang out from centre-stage. ‘I guess we’ve all got pretty used to Commander Spock’s blindness, and we were all overjoyed to hear that the treatment that he and Dr McCoy have been working on is slowly restoring his sight. However, on the day that the explosion happened on this ship I requested that Mr Spock be granted the Christopher Pike Medal for Bravery. That request has been honoured, and today I can present that medal. Mr Spock?’

    Spock got to his feet, telling the dog softly, ‘Find Captain Kirk’, and he followed the pull of her harness across the stage. A month ago he would never have walked across a raised platform without using the cane to warn him of the edge.

‘Mr Spock, I’m very glad to present you with the Christopher Pike Medal for Bravery, with a donation from the Christopher Pike injury fund, for your outstanding courage and diligence to duty both during and after the phaser room explosion of stardate 6163.8.’

Spock stood silent, faintly discomfited by the situation. He had had no choice but to be in the explosion or to live without sight afterwards. He had done nothing brave. However, he could feel pride emanating from his friend. Perhaps the medal ceremony was worth it for the pleasure it gave his other shipmates. He could donate the award money to the charity which had supplied him with the guide dog and training.

    He stood still while Kirk’s hands carefully pinned the medal onto the smooth material of his uniform top, then reached up as the hands withdrew to gently run his fingers over the small metal badge, feeling the shape and contours.

    ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said as Kirk stepped away from him. ‘I am honoured.’

    The crowd down below him erupted into a chorus of cheers, led by Mr Scott’s rousing voice, and Kirk took the opportunity to lean forward and say, ‘I’m sorry, Spock - I know you don’t think medals are right - but you earned it. It was Scotty and McCoy who turned this thing into a surprise party.’

‘It is indeed a surprise,’ Spock said. ‘I did not deduce from the applause that I was about to be subjected to an informal reception.’

    ‘Any excuse for a party,’ Kirk shrugged. ‘You know Scotty and Bones. I think the alcohol’s going to be flowing tonight. Personally, I think ship morale needs boosting. Everyone’s been a little quiet since your accident.’

    ‘Why should my misfortune affect the performance of the crew?’ Spock asked innocently, staying firmly in his Vulcan role.

    ‘Because they care, Spock, and you know they do,’ Kirk smiled. ‘And you know that you deserved that medal.’

    ‘I appreciate the gesture, sir,’ Spock nodded, ‘but I see nothing to celebrate in what happened.’

    ‘The honour’s for your bravery in trying to save Necuhay without even thinking about your own safety,’ Kirk insisted gently. He touched his arm and said, ‘Come on, Mr Spock. Shall we go eat?’

    ‘Am I expected to stay for the refreshments, sir?’

    ‘I think people would appreciate it, Commander,’ Kirk said wryly. ‘It is in your honour.’

    ‘Of course, sir,’ Spock nodded. ‘Sacha, follow,’ he told the dog, and he followed Kirk down off the stage and into a recreation room across the hall where food smells permeated the air.

    ‘They put streamers and balloons up, but I guess that’s more for everyone else’s benefit than yours,’ Kirk told him apologetically.

    Spock looked upwards, blinking in a useless but instinctive attempt to make the blur clearer. ‘That may be true, Captain. I cannot make out the balloons.’

    ‘There’s an empty table just a few yards in front of you. You sit down there, and I’ll fill our plates from the buffet.’

    Spock nodded, and gave the dog the image of the table. He had shocked his trainers on the brief course on Earth when he had knelt down and melded with his guide dog, teaching her himself how to take him to a place when he showed her what he believed it to look like. Spock had immediately taken to this intelligent alsatian who had no problem with the odd scent of an alien or the odd sensation of another being sharing thoughts with her animal mind.

    ‘There you go, Spock,’ Kirk said, and Spock reached out to feel the plate of finger food Kirk had picked for him. ‘And Andorian sherry,’ he said, putting a glass into his hand. ‘Congratulations.’

    ‘For allowing myself to be blinded?’

    ‘For coming out the other end of a terrible time, and coming out sane. It’s been four months...’

    ‘Four months, twelve days, sixteen hours, twenty-three minutes,’ Spock corrected, conscious that perhaps it should not be so easy to reel off the exact amount of time.

    ‘Okay. And for almost two months of that you were distraught, Spock - there’s no point in denying that.’

    ‘Distraught, angry, fearful. Even occasionally suicidal,’ Spock nodded. It was easier to admit that now he was free of those destructive feelings. ‘I know, Jim.’

    ‘And now you’ve worked out that disruptor treatment with Bones... It’ll take time, but - ’

‘But it will work,’ Spock nodded, rolling the delicate flute of the glass in his fingers. It would be pleasant to see the crystalline structures and light refractions of glass again.
   
‘And there are two hundred odd other people in the Federation singing your praises right now.’

‘Three hundred sixty three is the precise recorded number of people blinded by phaser coolant in the Federation,’ Spock corrected him. ‘No doubt there are more in the Klingon and Romulan Empires.’
   
‘And of course you’ll share this knowledge with them?’ Kirk asked.
   
Spock raised an eyebrow. ‘The doctor and I broadcast the schematics on a free channel the moment we were sure of the instrument’s effectiveness, Captain. I will not let politics allow people to stay sightless in areas where the blind are treated as worse than animals.’

    ‘No, of course not,’ Kirk smiled. ‘Like on Pernicia.’

    ‘That is one place,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘God, what makes me really angry is that the Pernicians got everything they wanted through this,’ Kirk said abruptly. ‘Sure, their ambassador and a few of their people are in a Federation correctional unit, but all this violence just to prevent a peace that we thought was best for their planet...’

    ‘People’s perceptions of ‘best’ are only perceptions,’ Spock said gravely. ‘The Pernicians believe that a state of war is ‘best’ - at least, enough of them do to prevent that peace.’

    ‘Yes, and what about the ones who’re tired of the war and the bloodshed?’

    ‘We can do nothing about those people,’ Spock said calmly. He took a large sip of his drink, and it burned down his throat, settling warmly in his stomach. ‘From what I have gleaned from my studies of Pernician psychology, I believe that even had they gained peace, they would soon be thirsting for war again. They wanted a respite, not a permanent ceasefire. It is not logical to impose peace upon a people who have no frame of reference for it.’

    ‘Well, we sure went through some hell to find that out. *You* did, Spock.’

    ‘It is also illogical to dwell on the past. We have all learnt something, Captain. I do not wish to lose what I have learnt.’

    ‘Talking philosophy, gentlemen?’ McCoy asked from behind Spock’s back, and he put a steadying hand on his dog’s back as she sat up under the table.

    ‘Just talking, Dr McCoy.’

    ‘Sit down, Bones,’ Kirk said warmly. ‘Join us.’

    ‘Sure,’ McCoy said, settling himself down at the table and putting something down on it with a clunk. ‘Spock, what is it with this dog?’

Spock raised an eyebrow, hearing the odd wet noise of his dignified alsatian unashamedly licking McCoy’s hands. The dog was gentle and loving with him, but always calm and almost Vulcan in her restraint. With the doctor she rolled upon her back, put her legs in the air, and grovelled.

    ‘Perhaps it is your accent, Doctor,’ he suggested. ‘Sacha was raised in your home state.’

    ‘I think it’s just living with a Vulcan. She must be emotionally deprived.’

    Spock opened his mouth to disagree, but the doctor said quickly, ‘Well, Spock, shall I fill your glass? How about Sacha? I’d like to see what a drunk guide dog could do with a drunk Vulcan master.’

    ‘You may fill my glass,’ Spock nodded, not rising to the bait. He drained the narrow glass of the sherry Kirk had given him, then held it out to McCoy. He felt it become heavier as liquid poured. He half fancied that he could see pale blue moving as his glass filled, but when he tasted the liquid he found it was traditional Earth whisky.

‘Spock, you’ll give yourself cross-eyes,’ McCoy said abruptly, and Spock realised how hard he had been staring at the perceived sight. ‘You won’t be able to focus yet. You can barely see at all.’

‘I am fully aware of that,’ Spock nodded, realising that the blue had just been McCoy’s sleeve. He closed his eyes against the deceptive vision, and reached down to touch the dog that had stopped grovelling and had come to lean against his leg. It was easier to rely on the learnt skills of touch rather than trusting this scrap of sight.

‘Don’t worry, Spock,’ McCoy said, misinterpreting his silence. ‘You’re getting your next treatment in a few days. It’s just the effects - ‘

‘Can be damaging when accumulated at too fast a rate,’ Spock nodded. ‘I am aware of that too, Doctor.’

‘As long as we just keep the rate of destruction faster than the rate of regrowth, you’ll be fine.’
   
‘Yes, Doctor,’ Spock nodded again, opening his eyes again to the small blur of colour.

    ‘Mr Spock, how’d you like to take this bottle down to your quarters?’ Kirk asked abruptly, and Spock became aware again of the noise of the party around him. ‘I don’t think it’s proper for the captain to get drunk in front of the crew.’

‘No,’ McCoy agreed. ‘And they might never trust me again.’

    ‘Do they trust you, Doctor?’ Spock asked innocently, then nodded his head, and said, ‘If you are intent on getting me inebriated, gentleman, the familiar contours of my cabin is the best place for that to happen. Shall we go?’

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