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 If he had been human, Kirk would immediately have termed him withdrawn, in shock.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.
‘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.’
‘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.
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.
‘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.