‘All right, Commander?’
Spock stepped out of the shuttle-cab and breathed in the scent around him. He could recognise seven distinctive types of trees that he knew grew around the main building of Starfleet Headquarters. For a quarter of a second he allowed himself to savour the feeling of being outside and without a friend ‘taking care’ of him. Then he straightened out his Starfleet top, dropped the end of the cane to the ground, and turned to the cab pilot.
‘Would you help me to the door?’ he asked, covering his reluctance to ask with his flat tone.
‘Take my arm then,’ the man said, then asked, ‘Do Vulcans hold on, or do they do some kinda mind thing?’
‘Your arm will be sufficient,’ Spock said, reaching out to his voice.
‘Okay, Commander,’ he said cheerily, putting his arm to Spock’s hand. ‘Up a step, then it’s flat.’
‘Thank you,’ Spock nodded, following the moving arm up onto the path. He was familiar with this pathway up to the entrance of Starfleet Headquarters, but the dimensions seemed very different when he judged them by the noises and echoes he heard and the length of time it took to walk the paths, rather than by the faces of the buildings and the positions of the trees and flowerbeds. It all seemed very easy, however, compared to the rocky trails of Yosemite he had followed with Kirk yesterday. If he did this again, he would try it without help from the cab door. He passed into the cool of a shadow, and the cab-pilot said;
‘Okay - reception. Two steps up.’
‘Thank you,’ Spock said. Someone greeted him as he went through the doors, and he recognised the voice of Commodore Connor’s personal assistant.
‘Good afternoon, Lieutenant George,’ Spock nodded. He let go of the pilot’s arm, and said, ‘Thank you for your assistance.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
‘Mr Spock, I’ll show you the way to the office,’ George told him, and he took her offered arm. ‘It’s good to see you out of the hospital, sir,’ she said. ‘How are you now?’
‘Almost recovered,’ Spock told her. ‘I should thank you again for the thoughtful gift from the commodore’s office. I have no doubt that it was your choice, Lieutenant.’
‘Well - that’s true,’ she said half reluctantly. ‘But the commodore asked me to get you something. Captain Kirk is up in the commodore’s office now, Commander Spock,’ she said as they entered the elevator. ‘Fifth floor.’
The elevator sped upwards, then stopped again. The office was along a maze of corridors - Spock was unsure whether he would have found it even with perfect vision. At last a door swished open and the lieutenant took him through.
‘If you’d wait a moment please, sir,’ she said, stepping away from him. A switch clicked, and she said, ‘Commander Spock is here, Commodore.’
‘Send him in, then,’ Connor’s voice replied, slightly distorted through the intercom system.
‘Yes, sir.’ She came back to touch Spock’s arm. ‘Just forward here, sir. The door’s just ahead of you.’
As the door opened Spock felt the presence of Jim just the other side, and the more distant, reserved presence of Commodore Connor on the other side of the room. The room smelt of old wood, paper and alcohol, but he also caught the faint scent of Jim’s aftershave through all of that. As he stepped into the room Kirk came forward quickly and took him to a chair.
‘Permission to sit, Commander,’ Connor said as the Vulcan hesitated with his hand on the chair back. As Spock sat, the commodore said, ‘Good to see you again. Wine, Mr Spock?’
‘No, thank you, sir.’
Kirk sat down, then Connor asked, ‘So, Commander. How are you managing in your dark new world?’
‘Bob!’ Kirk said insistently.
‘Adequately, sir,’ Spock replied calmly. He felt almost normal today, with a combination of McCoy’s medicine and his own meditations, and he did not want the delicate balance upset. Connor was sure to question him about the explosion in his cutting, abrasive way, and Spock needed to sink deep into a protective shield of logic.
‘Do you want to put that stick somewhere?’
‘The cane is collapsible,’ Spock said, folding it and reaching forward to feel if there was a desk. His fingers touched a pile of old-fashioned, precariously balanced paperwork. He moved his hand along what of the surface he could reach, feeling for an empty space. The desk was rough-grained wood, odd for a Starfleet office. There were piles of paper on it, and something smooth and round, cold and heavy that was weighing some of the sheets down. There was obviously no room for the cane.
‘Do you mind not doing that?’ Connor said abruptly, as Spock explored the round object with his fingertips. He had just turned back from something he was doing on the other side of the room - perhaps putting the wine away.
Spock stopped, and lifted his head towards the voice. ‘Were you addressing me, sir?’
‘Of course I was!’ There was inexplicable impatience in his voice.
‘I am sorry. I did not catch the direction of your voice.’
‘Fine - but just be careful. I don’t know what you might break!’
Spock raised an eyebrow at that, but he drew back, put the cane on the floor, and rested his hands on his lap. On Vulcan, the blind were expected to use their senses, instead of following the rules of social behaviour as if they were sighted: but this was not Vulcan.
‘Out of curiosity, what was that object?’ Spock asked.
There was silence, then Kirk said quietly, ‘It’s a paperweight, Mr Spock - glass.’
Kirk sounded embarrassed. Spock found it mildly surprising that his friend had the same inhibitions about touching, when it was such a logical thing to do.
‘It’s an antique Irish paperweight from the late twentieth century,’ Connor snapped impatiently. ‘What I want to know is what the hell paperweights have to do with anything we’re here for?’
‘Nothing, Commodore. I was merely interested by it,’ Spock said.
‘I’m more interested in this explosion, Mr Spock. Maybe we can talk about that?’ Commodore Connor said, and Spock could hear him shuffling the paper on his desk as if it had been disordered. ‘What can you tell me about it, Commander?’
‘Do you wish me to give you a detailed account of my recollection of events, sir?’
‘I assume Vulcan detail means every millisecond. Just give me an outline for now.’
Spock nodded, bringing the memories back to mind. ‘Fourteen eleven. I was on the bridge when the Pernician ambassador entered with a damage report detailing a problem in the phaser room. Ambassador Necuhay was insistent on observing the repair operation, and had requested that Captain Kirk perform the repairs. In the week he spent on the ship he had acquired a certain - reputation - for interfering in ship’s affairs. The captain sent me to repair the console. Fourteen nineteen. I met Ambassador Necuhay in the phaser room and dismissed the ensign present.’
‘That was - ’ A shuffling of paper. ‘Joanna Rosenberg?’
‘Yes, sir. I very much doubt she had any hand in - ’
‘Yes, she’s already been ruled out, Mr Spock. It’s you I’m interested in today. Carry on with your account.’
‘I ascertained the position and function of the relevant console, and knelt down before it to effect repairs.’
He paused as the memories became more hazy, trying to remember something that he had no desire to remember at all.
‘And?’ Connor asked.
‘My fingers were touching the edges of the hatch. Ambassador Necuhay was leaning over my shoulder, very close...’
‘Carry on, Commander.’
Spock hesitated. The memories were so fragmented, he was not sure what came next in the flashes of remembrance he had in his mind.
‘Commander?’ Connor pressed.
‘Bob, do you have to do this?’ Kirk asked impatiently.
‘I am interviewing the only witness, Captain Kirk. Yes, that is something I have to do. Commander?’
‘I - remember touching the hatch... Then the console exploded,’ Spock said flatly, trying to remain as detached as possible. ‘There was light for - zero point two eight seconds. The gas began to react with the cellular structure of my eyes...’
He felt his hands were shaking, and he clenched them hard on his knees. There was no logical reason to feel such fear at a memory.
‘Mr Spock,’ Kirk said, touching his arm lightly.
‘Carry on, Commander,’ Connor told him.
Spock pushed himself back into the memory, restraining anger at himself, trying to restrain any kind of emotion, until he was immersed in the splintered time stream of the explosion. He had to remind himself to speak.
‘A rush of noise. Darkness - I didn’t realise... I was deafened, for a moment... I could not lift the... I felt a beam - trapping the ambassador. The flames - I could hear the flames. Debris falling... He was dying, but I couldn’t lift it. There was heat, flames... I - smelt blood, burning. Debris in my way, great pain... The ambassador was dead... I could feel him, but no pulse, no breathing. The smell of blood...’
Jim’s firm voice brought him back like a life-belt from the paralysis of the fragmented memories. ‘Spock. Come out of it.’
‘Y-yes, sir,’ Spock said, shaking his head very slightly, pulling back his composure. For some reason the blackness seemed thicker and darker after going through that memory. He was gripping onto the edges of his seat with bloodless fingers, but in this darkness he felt disinclined to let go.
‘What about the part you’ve left out?’ Connor asked sceptically. ‘The most important part, between you fixing an ordinary fault, and the room becoming an inferno?’
Spock straightened up, and said, ‘I remember very little, Commodore. I was told I used a laser cutter - that would ignite coolant gas at the correct pressure.’
‘Why did you use a laser cutter?’
‘I have no memory of using it - I simply repeat what I have been told.’
‘It’s a little convenient, Mr Spock, that your great Vulcan memory should fail you just at the crucial moment.’
‘Indeed? I find it most inconvenient, Commodore,’ Spock said flatly. He knew that his face was pale, and that Jim was aware of the strain he was feeling, but he would not expose his weakness to the Commodore. ‘I do not deliberately hide the details. It is most disturbing that my memory should be so unreliable, but I have told you all that I remember.’
‘Mr Spock, are you aware of how important this is? What you saw or did not see could be crucial to this investigation.’
‘I am aware of that.’
‘Then tell me what you saw!’
Spock jerked back as he felt a sudden movement towards him - but there was a desk between, and the commodore was only leaning forward in his human-typical anger.
‘Bob, stop this,’ Kirk snapped back. ‘Stop punishing Spock for his genes. If he says he can’t remember, then he can’t remember. You know that he didn’t set up the explosion. That’s already been confirmed by all reports.’
‘Jim, I’m not being unreasonable. Commander Spock is the only witness. Someone has to get a full report out of him about what happened. Three of my people have already tried, and got less out of him than I have now.’
‘That is not unreasonable - simply difficult at this time,’ Spock nodded, and he could feel Kirk’s surprise.
‘But it’s not urgent. You’re not interested in finding out what happened, Bob! You’re just seeing how far you can push him because of some petty aversion to Vulcans. If you knew how devastating this - .’
‘Captain,’ Spock intervened quietly, but with a touch of urgency.
‘Captain Kirk, I was carrying out my duty, just as you should do, instead of trying to get yourself thrown out of Starfleet,’ Connor said stiffly. There was a long pause, and Spock could feel the man’s attention firmly on him. ‘Mr Spock, I want a report on what happened as soon as you remember anything more. Your visual impairment doesn’t make you immune from the due processes of Starfleet.’
‘Of course not, sir,’ Spock nodded.
‘I hear you’re intending to stay on in your position on the Enterprise.’
‘Yes, sir. I have been informed that all I need is an assessment from the Chief Medical Officer outlining my capabilities and requirements. If the assessment board are satisfied, then I will resume my duties as soon as I am allowed by the Doctor.’
‘And do you believe you’re capable of being first officer of the finest ship in Starfleet?’
‘I already am, sir,’ Spock said flatly.
‘Then assuming you want to get back to work, you better take this disk,’ he said. ‘It’s an audio account of all of the investigators’ findings. It might help your flawed memory. Have fun.’
Spock raised an eyebrow at those last words. How could the commodore believe that fun could be found in listening to the findings on an explosion that had had such a shattering impact on his life? He reached out for the disk and the commodore put it into his hand.
‘Well, Commodore?’ Kirk asked, putting the stress on the title.
‘Okay. You’re both dismissed. I’ll see you around, Jim. Commander Spock - good luck.’
Spock stepped out of the door of his hotel suite with his tricorder slung over his shoulder. Lieutenant Uhura had finally found a company that could convert Starfleet tricorders for blind users, although only due to her considerable communications skills, and had had one beamed over immediately. He had not asked what the cost to Starfleet had been.
It was relatively easy to find the roof garden by simply getting to the elevator and ordering it up. When the doors slid open he could smell the faintly sea-tanged air of outside, and the plants of the roof garden. He stepped out of the lift feeling ahead with the cane, relieved to find that there was a path with slightly raised edges. Even so, he could not tell where to go when he could only hear surroundings by the wind in the leaves. He could hear people on the roof, birds alighting and flying away again, but there was no way to hear where the path led or seats were situated. He began very slowly along the path, feeling meticulously with the cane, but he had no idea where he was going. Then someone approached, and a male voice asked, ‘Excuse me. Do you need any help?’
‘Thank you,’ Spock said. ‘I would like to find a seat.’
‘I think there’s one at the other end,’ the man said, touching his arm. ‘I’ll take you there. It’s - Lieutenant Spock, isn’t it?’ he asked as they began along the path.
‘I’m across the corridor from you - Efion Davies. You were in that explosion on the Enterprise, weren’t you?’
‘Correct,’ Spock said, with less encouragement in his voice. He had no desire to speak to strangers about the explosion, even if they believed that giving guidance was an invitation to open up a conversation. He wanted to be free from being led by people, but a roof garden was no place to break away from guidance. He had been told there was a pool on this roof – an amenity he had no desire to try out while blind - and he didn’t want to find himself in it fully clothed.
‘Here’s your bench,’ the man said. ‘All the paths lead back to the lift, and the edge of the building’s just behind your back.’
‘Thank you,’ Spock said, sitting down.
‘I’ll see you around sometime then.’
‘You will have to vocalise your presence if you wish me to recognise you,’ Spock said as the man walked away.
‘Okay. See you.’
Spock leaned back on the bench and slipped the tiny earpiece of the tricorder into his ear. As he listened to the investigators’ reports on the explosion it became more and more clear to him how little they had found - or how little they had tried to find. Every piece of evidence was questionable, pointing to equipment faults or structural faults - faults that could not be blamed on any person. It seemed clear to him that Starfleet - or the Federation Council - was trying its best to smooth over the rift in the peace talks by finding no one at fault, either Pernician or Federation. It also seemed clear that if someone was going to be blamed, he was at the top of the list. Since he knew that he had not assassinated the ambassador, and since he was sure the explosion was deliberate, that could only mean that someone had anticipated the whole event and set it up, and even if he was not officially allowed to investigate, he would have to try.
The only way to make investigating easier when the ship arrived was to be able to read again. He slipped the disk Commodore Connor had given him out of the tricorder and inserted a new one just sent to him from the hospital - a short programme which would enhance his skill with braille and also teach him the Vulcan touch language. He put his fingers on the tactile screen which replaced the visual one and began the course. His problem with braille was not the code it was made up of - it had taken minutes to remember that with Uhura’s help. It took longer to learn to recognise the combinations with his fingertips. The Vulcan touch language was far easier to learn, with clearer symbols - but no human could ever remember the thousands of individual symbols, and adaptations on the ship had to be Starfleet standard, human standard. He simply had to persist with braille, and be grateful he had the sensitive Vulcan touch of his father, not the relatively dull sense of his mother.
Spock closed his eyes and tried again to read the simple sentence the tricorder had produced for him. It was slowly becoming easier to distinguish the slight textural differences. As he ran his finger across the panel he heard the elevator doors open at the other end of the roof garden, and felt Captain Kirk’s worried presence. There were ten short footsteps, the captain halted, Spock could sense his eyes on him, then the anxious emotions he could sense faded, Jim turned again and re-entered the lift. He felt a brief surge of annoyance at being checked up on like this, but he reminded himself that humans could not help their illogical actions. Perhaps it was only a sign of friendship.
He waited for a while to move after Kirk had come up to the roof, but he had heard from McCoy this morning that the captain had a meeting to attend. Spock assumed it was related to the explosion, although that had not been said. He wanted some time on his own, but he also had no intention of letting his captain disappear to the meeting alone and keep the details from him. He sat simultaneously counting the minutes and learning the tactile languages in the tricorder, until he knew that it was getting near the time for Kirk to leave. Then he roused himself from his bench and went back down to Kirk’s hotel room.
Kirk went to the door at Spock’s knock, and opened it to let his first officer in with a smile. The Vulcan stepped in through the door slowly, feeling ahead with his cane, looking more alien than usual in a dark chocolate Vulcan-designed suit that accentuated his Vulcan colouring and features.
‘Spock, where have you been?’ he asked. ‘I haven’t seen you all morning.’
‘I have been on the roof, Jim, as you well know,’ Spock replied. There was no anger on his face - only a slight, restrained Vulcan amusement which brought him back fully to looking like the Spock Jim knew, despite the clothes.
‘Er - yes, well...’
‘McCoy said you have a meeting to go to?’
‘Yes, in half an hour, with a junior Pernician minister.’
‘Captain,’ Spock began, and Kirk looked up at him, seeing the urgent-but-hesitant look on his face that meant he was about to make a request that he was sure would be denied. ‘Sir, I respectfully request permission to attend.’
‘No, Mr Spock,’ Kirk said firmly, hating himself as he said it. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Captain, I am as much involved in this as any other person - perhaps more so,’ Spock pressed. ‘I am also your first officer.’
‘Yes, I know, Mr Spock, but the request is still denied,’ Kirk said. ‘This situation’s touchy enough as it is. God knows, I believe you weren’t responsible for the explosion, but the Pernicians – ’
‘I have no wish to provoke hostility, Captain,’ Spock said, and Kirk could see how important this was to him. The Vulcan would never persist in arguing with his captain’s orders without a very good reason. ‘I simply want to attend, as First Officer of the Enterprise, as a key witness to the explosion.’
He didn’t add, as a useful, intelligent person, but Kirk could see his need.
‘If I were not blind, Captain, you would have asked me to accompany you on almost all of your engagements here on Earth,’ Spock said pointedly.
Kirk didn’t know what to say. His silence had obviously gone on too long, for Spock pulled himself up taller with a dignity that made Kirk wince, and turned to the door.
‘Commander, I haven’t given you permission to leave yet,’ Kirk said as the Vulcan reached the door. Spock turned around at his words, holding himself rigidly to attention. ‘You can’t go to an official meeting like that, Mr Spock,’ Kirk said with a smile. ‘You’d better go get into uniform, or we’ll be late.’
The meeting was in one of the grand, old buildings of San Francisco - a kind of joint embassy which let out rooms to representatives of planets that usually had no concerns on Earth, that had an odd smell that was a mingling of disuse and alien perfumes and foods. The Pernician minister’s office was just as odd - spartanly furnished, but superficially decorated with odd trappings and crests from Pernician culture.
‘I am very glad that you came, Captain Kirk,’ the minister said as they entered the room, and Kirk got the impression that he really meant it. ‘I am Minister Helsam - attendant to our recently departed ambassador.’
There was no bitterness in the statement, and Kirk sighed with relief. This Pernician seemed far different from Ambassador Necuhay, from his appearance - barely six foot tall, and with a paler skin shade - to his manners, which were far more restrained.
‘Glad to meet you,’ Kirk nodded, bowing slightly rather than risking offence with a handshake. ‘This is my First Officer, Commander Spock,’ he said, glancing towards the Vulcan.
‘Of course,’ the minister said, and his expression faltered for a split second before becoming friendly again. ‘I have heard of you, Commander. I am deeply sorry for your loss.’
‘And I yours,’ Spock returned, grateful that his presence had caused no trouble so far.
‘Would you sit down?’ the Pernician invited them, then glanced at the desk where there was only one extra chair. ‘I’m sorry - I’ll fetch another seat.’
He darted out of the room, and Kirk led Spock over to the seat and put his hand on the back. ‘Here, Spock - sit down.’
Spock moved back a step, lifting his hand. ‘You, Captain,’ he said. ‘My blindness has no effect on my legs, or my rank.’
‘Of course, Mr Spock,’ Kirk smiled. He sat down, although he felt rather uncomfortable with Spock standing over him, holding the cane in front of him. Spock reached out before him with the cane, exploring the surroundings, and it hit into the desk edge.
‘What is this, Captain?’ he asked, reaching out to find it with his hand.
‘The minister’s desk.’
The Vulcan tapped the cane on the floor, head cocked as if listening to the echoes. ‘The room is large?’
‘Medium,’ Kirk shrugged, smiling at the Vulcan’s insatiable curiosity. ‘But high. Four walls, two windows, a few Pernician ornaments - they have strange taste, I can tell you.’
‘Ahh, thank you, Minister Helsam,’ Spock said as the minister returned, and sat down in the chair that was brought to him. Helsam seated himself on the other side of the desk, and leaned forward towards Kirk.
‘Captain, I am sorry,’ he began with a finality which told Kirk exactly what this meeting was about. ‘I have spoken to the president of the Federation, and the president of Pernicia. The talks are over. There is no hope of resumption. I do not know what will happen now.’
‘If there is war,’ Kirk said seriously, ‘I can tell you one thing. I bear you no ill will personally, but if Pernicia sends out its warships they won’t last against Federation fire-power. You’re only one small planet.’
‘Yes,’ the minister nodded. ‘Except for one thing - that we have some veins of dilithium in our planet’s soil, and the Romulans have been speaking to us about it.’
‘The Romulans,’ Kirk echoed, a bitterness touching his voice. ‘I see.’
‘You see, Captain, your Federation told us that with peace they would offer us membership - because of our dilithium reserves. The Romulans offer the same deal, but they allow us independence, and our ambassador did not die on their ship.’
Kirk didn’t bother trying to argue with that - he knew it was true. He was also certain that soon the Pernician homeworld would just become another pawn in the Federation-Romulan war, and no one would care about their petty threats of violence. They would be fighting off Romulan warbirds instead. He glanced sideways at his first officer, and saw he was sitting very stiffly in the chair. Of anyone on the ship, Spock had always been the most concerned about keeping peace. He had also seen the look on the Vulcan’s face when they had attacked a Romulan warship that had been commanded by a man with an uncanny similarity to his father. He had seen Spock’s reaction to the beautiful commander of a Romulan warbird a few years ago. Spock always did his duty, but there had also always been a hint that he hated firing on people who were Vulcan in body, if not in mind.
‘Minister, is there no hope of a reversal?’ Spock asked.
‘No, Commander,’ Helsam said. ‘There is also one more thing I must say - which concerns you. The Federation council and the Pernician government have jointly agreed that the investigation into the ambassador’s death will be dropped, and forgotten, with no blame laid on any head. There will be no official inquest.’
Kirk bit his lip, and glanced again at Spock. They both knew that meant that the Federation had doubts about where blame lay, and that there was the possibility that Spock, and so the Federation, would be found guilty in a trial over the cause of the accident. It was a relief that Spock would not become a further victim of all this, perhaps even sent to a penal colony in order to save Federation face - but it was galling to have the investigation dropped for the sake of politics.
‘Finally, Captain, you have orders that your ship, the Enterprise, is the ship used to convey - safely - our ambassador, and attendants, back to Pernicia.’
‘Your ambassador - ‘ Kirk echoed. ‘I’m sorry - I thought that his body had already been shipped home.’
‘It has been, Captain,’ Spock nodded. ‘Almost immediately after the accident, as far as I know.’
‘Our new ambassador, Charia Necuhai,’ Helsam said. ‘The wife of Sheval Necuhay.’
‘I - see,’ Kirk said slowly. ‘Minister Helsam,’ he began reluctantly. ‘The ambassador’s wife threatened to kill my first officer.’
‘It was her duty to utter such a threat, Captain, but I doubt she would carry it out. I am afraid those are your orders. Hopefully very soon this whole sad business will be at an end.’
‘Not for Spock,’ Kirk muttered under his breath. He looked up to see the minister eyeing him quizzically. ‘Yes, Minister - hopefully it will be,’ he said.
‘Commander Spock, I do not know who was to blame in this situation. However, I am very sorry that your life has been afflicted in this way,’ Helsam said with feeling.
Spock shook his head. ‘We are all pawns in a larger game,’ he said. ‘We must all play our part.’
‘Then the inquest into Ambassador Necuhay’s death and the investigation into the explosion will be cancelled, and your ship will return to Earth in readiness for the journey. I suggest, Captain Kirk, that the ambassador’s quarters are placed as far away from Commander Spock’s as is possible.’
The heat of the sun washed around Spock’s body like a blanket, easing the aches he still suffered in various places. He and Kirk had deliberately altered their route to cut through part of Golden Gate Park, rather than walking back to the hotel through the streets. Spock could sense the scope of the park around him, busy with humans, leaves rustling softly, tree shadows flickering hot and cold over his face as he walked. The scent of cut grass and hot tarmac rose up around him. The sounds of the city outside were almost muffled to silence by the thick vegetation, the smells of the city masked by plants.
Spock acknowledged the calming influence of these surroundings, but there were other matters on his mind - the perturbing way Starfleet seemed to have swept this whole business under the rug. Beside that there was the scientific pursuit of interpreting echoes, noises and changes in air current, registering the signals coming through the cane, and the more simple task of listening to Jim. Now he was in a quiet place he was renewing the experiment of walking without holding Jim’s arm, staying with him by listening to his movements and sensing his closeness.
They stepped into an area pooled with sun. Jim turned sideways, and the sharp taps of Spock’s cane became muffled on grass.
‘Captain?’ he asked.
‘There’s an empty bench over there,’ Jim said. ‘The ground’s flat grass all the way to it.’ He paused, and then said as if in explanation, ‘I’m just as mad about what the minister told us as you are. Yes, I know you don’t feel anger,’ he said, as Spock opened his mouth, guiding the Vulcan’s hand to the back of the bench.
As they sat Spock said, ‘You are correct that I do not feel anger, Jim, but - ’
‘Well, I’m mad as hell that you’re walking about in the dark and Starfleet brush it off to save a diplomatic incident.’
‘You are aware, Jim, that I could have been incarcerated if the matter had gone to trial,’ Spock said seriously. ‘I do not know that I could have endured that in my present condition.’
‘You never would have been sent to prison,’ Kirk protested, far more confident now than he had been before. ‘But now you won’t be cleared, either. They probably wouldn’t even pay you compensation if they could find some excuse.’
‘I do not want compensation, other than what will fund the necessary costs of my adaptations to blindness. I only did my duty.’
‘Your duty?’ Kirk echoed, and he saw Spock shrug very slightly. He knew that this was Spock, that he would give his life for his duty and not feel it was too much. But this seemed too much. No one should have to give that much up for Starfleet.
‘However, I am perplexed that Starfleet has allowed the explosion investigation to be cancelled,’ Spock told him. ‘Hundreds of ships use those blueprints for their phaser controls. If there is a flaw in the design, it must be found. If the explosion was deliberate, the assassin must be found.’
‘I know - and I intend to find him,’ Kirk said grimly. ‘That’s why we’re going to keep on investigating until we find out what happened.’
‘Starfleet has cancelled the investigation.’
‘Into the death of the Pernician ambassador. They haven’t cancelled the internal investigation I’m setting up to find out how my first officer was blinded during a simple repair operation. I want you to head that investigation, if you think you’re up to it.’
‘I will certainly need an assistant,’ Spock reminded him, ‘but I believe I am, as you say, up to it.’
‘I can sort that out for you. I guess you won’t need a permanent help – not constantly - but there are things Starfleet won’t let you do alone unless you can prove your capability. They also say you must go to a rehab school.’
‘When this investigation is over I intend to take leave and attend an institute on my home planet.’
‘I guess your parents’ll be glad to see you - they must have been devastated when you told them.’
‘My mother will be pleased to see me - if I visit,’ Spock said slowly.
‘If?’ Kirk echoed. ‘Spock, you couldn’t go to Vulcan and miss the chance to visit your parents! They must be eating themselves up with worry over you!’
Spock was silent for a long moment, then he said, ‘I have not told my parents yet - and I would prefer that no one else contact them.’
‘Spock!’ Kirk began incredulously.
‘I will not have them told!’ Spock said sharply. He stood up quickly and took a few steps away, just to be away from Jim’s shocked emotions. His parents’ shock would be far worse to face. It was logical that they should be spared that shock for as long as it was possible.
‘Spock, how can you go through something like this alone?’ Kirk asked softly, coming up behind him.
Spock stayed silent, then turned and went back to the bench. ‘I must think about reorganising the shifts of my science teams. Some of them will have to adjust their hours to assist me in my investigations. Then there is the explosion itself. I have a number of theories that I must consider. I am not sure that I shall be able to combine my normal duties with this investigation while I am adapting to working without sight, Captain.’
‘That’s okay,’ Kirk told him. He knew that when Spock withdrew into a shield of logic and duties it was not the time to pressure the Vulcan over emotional matters. ‘I can shuffle personnel to be sure there’s always someone to cover your shifts if you need it.’
‘It is also possible that I will not be able to adapt,’ Spock said gravely. ‘I may have to consider resigning my commission. I have considered teaching, at Starfleet or the Vulcan Science Academy.’
There was a short silence, then Kirk said, ‘It won’t come to that. You’re intelligent, practical - you’ll be able to adapt. Plenty of visually impaired people manage.’
Spock clenched his hands in a short gesture of frustration. ‘Captain, I am not visually impaired - I have no vision. I could decipher the equations of Siphak, but I cannot study slides or tell one replicator disk from another or find my way across the city alone.’
‘Spock, if you resign your commission, then I’ll have to resign too, and follow you back to Vulcan and make sure you become skilled enough to re-enter Starfleet. Do you know what a setback it’d be for a starship captain to resign and re-enlist at the bottom?’
Spock cocked his head to one side. ‘Jim, you would not do that.’
‘I’d do what it takes to prove to you that you are capable of keeping your job on the ship.’ Kirk’s hand touched his shoulder, and Spock relaxed a little. ‘The accident was just over a month ago, and you’ve only been out of hospital for a week. You have to give it time. We’ve got ten more days before the Enterprise gets back here.’
‘Ten days, four hours, twenty-seven minutes, presuming the ship travels at a steady speed of Warp Five, and can leave its current assignment on time.’
‘Even better. You have ten days, four and a half hours to get used to this.’
‘It will take longer than ten days, Jim.’
‘I know - but I also know you’re doing well. You’re getting on with the braille, aren’t you? You’re almost reading?’
Spock inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, then got to his feet and began making his way back to the path.
‘You see, Captain, I am improving at this,’ he said as Kirk joined him, lifting his cane towards his friend. ‘I have been practising at remembering routes, and using the cane.’
Kirk smiled with mixed feelings of pride at Spock’s growing independence and slight sadness that his sense of achievement was derived from the simple matter of walking alone ten yards to a concrete path. Of course, when he imagined himself doing that blindfolded, it did seem like so much more of an achievement.
‘There you go, then,’ he smiled. ‘And before we leave Earth we’ll beam over to that European store and get every gadget and device that you need to help you. Once you’ve got past simple life-skills, you can start concentrating on what you need for your job. You’re the best first officer the fleet’s ever seen, Spock. I don’t intend losing you to some stupid accident. Even if for some reason you can’t manage first officer’s duties, you’ve got the science department.’
Spock nodded in silent acknowledgement of that commitment. ‘I do consider myself fortunate, Jim, to have a friend such as you. Close friendship does not come easily to Vulcans, but I know that you will always be here,’ he said, moving his hand in the space beside him. ‘Whether you are here in reality, or whether I am on another planet.’
Spock trailed off. T’hy’la had so many connotations when one tried to explain it to a human - brother, friend, lover, companion. There were so many shades and degrees of the word. Jim was not a lover, nor a brother in the biological sense - he was simply someone who was always there, who almost always understood, who played foil to his weaknesses just as Spock did for him. He had shared his thoughts with his captain so many times through mind-meld that Jim seemed almost part of the same flesh, filling the space of a real brother.
‘I am glad I can rely on you, Jim,’ he said simply. ‘Especially at this time. Your help is invaluable.’
‘And Sarek?’ Kirk asked, tentatively but determinedly.
‘My father... has often told me that the best way to learn is to experience. There is no logical help that either he or my mother could offer from so far away.’
Spock woke with the dawn. He wasn’t sure what had woken him - maybe it was the chorus of birds, maybe just his skin sensing the growing light. He had expected to lose all sense of day and night with his blindness, but on Earth it wasn’t just light that marked the hours. He stood up and went out onto the balcony, standing in the fresh sea-tanged air, imagining the dawn around him, long shadows of buildings slowly shrinking as the sun rose. It was a blessing of his memory that he could recall the image of dawn over San Francisco almost photographically.
He could also remember a vague nightmarish dream that had not woken him, where he had been lost in the streets below, his eyes shut by a lead-like heaviness - but he was beginning to learn now to control those dreams, and had slowly opened his eyes, seen calm and welcome images for the first time in many long nights of bad dreams. Finally he could feel some kind of equilibrium returning both in his dreaming and waking life - the darkness was no longer quite so devastating and trapping, and the sight in his dreams was no longer so cruel and tantalising. Logic was returning.
He went back inside and took his uniform from the drawer and laid it on his bed, then went out to the bathroom to shower and shave. When he stepped out into the hotel corridor he had every intention of going up to the roof garden to sit in the growing warmth and life of day, but as he turned towards the elevator another early riser met him in the corridor - he seemed to be jogging on the spot.
‘Good morning, Commander Spock,’ the man said briskly, and Spock recognised him as Mr Davies, the guest across the hall. He nodded politely, then turned back towards the elevator, unwilling to start up a conversation with a near-stranger.
‘Just going for a quick jog along by the ocean,’ the man said before he could go through the door. ‘Do you want to come?’ he asked as an afterthought. ‘Gets boring sometimes with no conversation - and a run’s just the thing to work out tension.’
‘I am not tense, Mr Davies,’ Spock corrected him, ‘but the invitation is appreciated.’
‘It’s a beautiful morning for a run, Commander,’ the man urged him as the Vulcan turned towards the lift again. ‘The streets will be near empty.’
Spock paused in the hallway, reflecting on the hours he had spent sitting in chairs, walking slowly by following other people’s moving arms, relocating to different chairs and sitting again with nothing to do. He barely knew this man, but in a way it was easier to rely on a stranger for help than a friend.
‘I shall come with you,’ he decided suddenly. ‘Give me a moment, and I shall meet you here.’
‘Okay, Mr Spock,’ the man nodded.
‘Mr Davies - ‘
‘Efion, please,’ he urged him. ‘I always say that if you jog together you should at least be on first name terms.’
‘Mr Davies, can you tell me the precise time?’ Spock asked. He hadn’t realised before how often he kept his internal clock in time by the cues of clocks or the sun.
‘Precisely?’ There was a pause, then the man said, ‘Five fifty nine and seventeen seconds, Mr Spock. I’ll wait out here for you.’
Spock slipped back into the room to leave a message on the computer for Uhura, and to remove the blue uniform top. The black trousers and T-shirt were far more suitable for running.
The jog along the silent streets was certainly refreshing. After he had forced himself to overcome the unease of running in total darkness, and to trust the man guiding him, it felt good to let his body take that simple exercise. Weeks and days of inactivity had made him weak and stagnant. It was strange and slightly distasteful though, clinging onto the arm of someone with whom he had only ever exchanged polite words.
The crashing of waves intruded upon his thoughts as they approached the beach, and suddenly there were noises of other dawn-risers, fitness fanatics and nature lovers. The full salty taste of the sea air hit his face as they left the last building behind, and they jogged across a wide stretch of concrete to the beach edge.
‘Steps down here, Mr Spock,’ his guide said, slowing down, and Spock followed him down carefully. They stopped at the bottom, and the man took in a deep breath of air. ‘There’s nothing to compare to the beauty of this beach at dawn,’ he sighed. ‘Except the beauty of the beaches at home in Wales.’
‘Then you are not a permanent resident in the hotel?’ Spock asked.
‘Not quite, Commander. I’m over here for work - I actually research molluscs. Not the most exciting job, you might think, but it keeps me absorbed.’
‘I am sure,’ Spock nodded. ‘People sometimes think it is far more stimulating, and certainly more romantic, to research stars, but they each have their unknown qualities and their predictable facts. Mr Davies, how far did you intend to run?’
‘Maybe another mile or two, and then back, if you’re up to it, Commander.’
‘I am certainly ‘up to it’,’ Spock nodded. ‘I am in need of exercise.’
Spock was mildly surprised when he tired after only one more mile, but he elected to sit on the beach and let Mr Davies take in a full run. As he sat every healing injury in his body ached - he had almost forgotten the burns and the broken bones, but obviously the scars were not completely healed.
He listened as the soft thud of the man’s footsteps disappeared along the beach, and was struck for a moment wondering what he would do if he did not return. The answer was simple, logical - call out for help from a stranger, and find a cab to return to the hotel. But, however logical, he was repulsed by the idea of wandering on the sand calling for help. There was no reason why Davies should not come back.
He quelled the thought, and sat still on the damp sand, listening to the crashing of the waves in front of him, analysing the patterns of their arrivals and apparent size. These tumultuous rhythms of the Pacific Ocean seemed such a natural aid to meditation that he wondered if he had inherited just as much of his mother’s Earth instinct as he had of his father’s Vulcan loyalty. It felt just as natural to sit on damp salty sand and hear the waves as it did to stand behind a window on Vulcan staring out into the red depths of a scouring sandstorm. Both had their mathematical complexities.
Spock closed his eyes and drew his legs up to his chest, resting his arms on his knees and concentrating on the wave patterns. They were far enough away for him to forget about the tide. He began to visualise the explosion in front of him, just staring at the sight of it, blocking out all memories of the sounds and smells. There was something in that split second of light - he just could not remember what it was. Whatever it was, he had not had time to consciously assimilate it into his memories.
As he sat staring at that memory of the light the memory of his dreams flashed into his mind - all of those dreams which had green snakes writhing about him, tendrils of green plants growing over his body, green ropes used to bind his eyes, to strangle his friends, himself, the Pernician. That surely meant something. As he began to focus on the problem something in his mind jerked him away from it, and he heard the waves again. Some annoying, illogical, traumatic feeling would not let him remember, and he just had to wait until the memories were blunt enough to be remembered without pain. He turned away from the memory of the explosion and recalled the warm light of the Earth’s sun instead, letting himself sink into the wonderful brightness until the view seemed real.
The ship would be arriving in a matter of days, and then it would be rhythms of engines and shifts and duties governing his life rather than the rhythms of the sea and hotel life. Spock did not regret the imminent resumption of normal life - it would be a relief to be back on the ship that he knew with instinct rather than with eyes - but he felt some regret that he would lose the small sounds and smells of nature that were here. On the ship, day and night were marked by varying lighting, the tiny garden area of plants was expanded by murals, things were made purely to soothe the eye.
Here on Earth the stimuli to his senses were almost overwhelming. Jim had arranged trips to concerts, to fragrant, tactile gardens, to a sculpture exhibition where he could run his hands over the carvings. He had even arranged that Spock be allowed to play the hotel’s grand piano if he wished. Spock welcomed his friend’s efforts, even if it was sometimes tiring. It was good to give his inquiring mind something to feed on while he was away from ship duty, and to take his attention away from the problems of the darkness.
Being on the ship meant one thing at least - the chance to be close again to the Pernicians, to investigate the ruins of the phaser room, to try at last to find what the investigators had not. It would be easier with artefacts to touch, odours to smell, real objects rather than words on a tape. Perhaps on the ship the meaning of those green snakes would become clear.