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.’
‘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?’
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.
‘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.’