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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

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.

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