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8

Captain’s Log, Personal, Stardate 5304.5

After almost two months on Earth, I can’t say I’m not impatient to get back to my ship. Earth is beautiful, but the Enterprise is my home. I know at least one person who feels the same - Spock is just as anxious to get back to the ship, and his job. Everything and everyone he knows is there, and I believe he needs that familiarity around him at the moment. I can’t say I’m totally at ease letting him back on the bridge, but I have to show faith in him. I know, logically, that there is very little one blind Vulcan can do to put the ship in danger. Maybe I’m just over-protective, of my friend and my ship. I look forward to having Mr Spock prove to me that not only is he safe, but that he is just as skilled and efficient as he has always been.


    Spock listened to the transporter at Starfleet Command hum and die away, taking the pile of cases to the Enterprise. He was aware of a subtle feeling of nervousness, that he analysed rather than suppressing immediately. He had spent the last few weeks adjusting to blindness, his friends seeing the slow transition from helplessness to a measure of self-sufficiency, but he was aware that no one on the ship had seen that transition. No one on this ship was used to it, and he did not know quite how they would react.

    The voice of Mr Scott reported through an intercom, ‘Cargo arrived, Lieutenant. We’ll be ready for the party in one minute.’

    ‘Aye, sir,’ the transporter operator responded. ‘Captain, if you’d like to get into position.’

    Spock stepped forward cautiously towards the transporter, pushing aside the nervousness. He could not control the crew’s reactions - they would have to adjust just as he had. He followed his friends up onto the transporter platform and began to search for the more metallic sound of the transporter disk through his cane.

    ‘Right here, Spock,’ McCoy said, turning him with a touch of his hand.

    ‘Thank you, Doctor,’ he nodded, and the doctor stepped away from him to position himself on a terminal.

    ‘Ready, Uhura?’ Kirk asked as the woman stepped onto the platform.

    ‘As ready as I ever am after two months on Earth,’ she said wistfully as she positioned herself.

    Spock braced himself for the mildly disorientating experience of transporting in darkness as he heard Scott giving the all clear from the ship, and the transporter operator said, ‘Energising.’

    The warm hum intensified through his body, momentarily stealing all sensation, then he felt weight and substance return, and he concentrated on keeping his balance as the grip of the beam faded. The familiar scent and sounds of the ship met him, and he relaxed minutely with the relief of being home. As he probed the platform with his cane Scott stepped from behind the operating panels.

    ‘Welcome aboard, Mr Spock, and welcome back,’ he said earnestly, with an unusual degree of gentleness in his voice.

    ‘Thank you, Mr Scott,’ Spock nodded, moving towards the front of the transporter, unsure of which terminal he had been beamed to.

    ‘Pernicians on board, Scotty?’ Kirk asked.

    ‘Aye,’ Scott said grimly. ‘All tucked away in their cabins, out of our way for now. Mr Spock, are you well?’ he asked with concern, coming to the edge of the platform. ‘Everyone’s been worrying their hair grey.’

    ‘I am fine, Mr Scott,’ Spock answered. ‘Thank you for your concern. Thank you, Mr Scott,’ he said more firmly, freezing as the man tried to help him down from the transporter. ‘I can use steps without assistance.’

    ‘We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you,’ Scott pressed.

    ‘I was negotiating two steps - I am unlikely to harm myself even if I did fall,’ Spock assured him. ‘I am not a china doll.’

    ‘Mr Spock,’ Kirk said softly. ‘Scotty’s just concerned.’

    ‘I simply ask that you moderate your concern to sensible levels, Mr Scott,’ Spock told him.

    ‘Aye, I’ll try,’ Scott nodded.

    ‘Now I am on board you can show me some of the adaptations you have been making.’

    ‘Right now, sir? Aye, right now,’ he nodded at Spock’s arched eyebrow. ‘They’re not finished yet, but I can give ye a rough tour.’

    ‘Thank you, Mr Scott. Mr Scott,’ he called as he heard the engineer making for the door. ‘While the steps were quite navigable, it would be quicker and easier if you were to guide me during the tour.’

    ‘Aye, of course,’ Scott said, coming back to the Vulcan and taking hold of his arm. Spock tactfully detached his fingers and repositioned so that he was holding Scott’s arm.

    ‘Like this, Mr Scott. Simply let me follow your lead. Thank you.’

******

    Although it was pleasant to be back in the familiar surroundings of the ship he had served on for over a decade, Spock still felt slightly lost. He had never realised before how many things there were that he only recognised by sight, how many people he identified only by face, how many places he used to stride across that now he had to cross tentatively, searching out the ground. And every person treated him with that same awkward cautiousness that Scott had greeted him with on beam up, as if he was about to break at their touch. Often it was a pleasure to simply retreat to solitude in his quarters, where everything was so easy and so familiar - until suddenly he found another simple task impossible, and had to call Jim for his assistance.

    It didn’t help that the whole ship was under the process of being torn up around him. Everywhere Scott’s engineering teams were working overtime and cluttering the corridors, stretching lines across his path, all due to a hasty, Starfleet-funded drive to alter the ship to his needs. Although Spock was grateful for the huge effort spent to ensure he could do his job safely and easily, he had never expected such a comprehensive refit. All the evidence suggested that this immense, thorough refit had its roots in guilt. Jim Kirk’s angry protests at the way this mission had been handled had received a stunning amount of silence, and coincidentally Mr Scott had received an order to refit the Enterprise for the needs of visually impaired crew, with an open budget.

    So consoles were being refitted, tactile strips were being laid across the corridors to warn of doorways, braille signs were being placed by visual ones. Sitting here at his familiar science console the refit was still going on. Spock was interpreting the braille on small plastic strips he had prepared that were being stuck firmly next to every switch and instrument by Ensign Chekov. It was token work, but the only work which had been allowed to him after three days back on the ship. At least this was an opportunity to be on the bridge, instead making the endless exploratory forays into the corridors of the ship to reinforce his ability to walk about the place without assistance. Such expeditions were necessary, he knew, and they were getting easier, but it was difficult to forget the demoralisation of the first few attempts, when over-ambitious routes had ended in wandering lost in unfamiliar corridors, ultimately having to call out for help to the next passer-by.

    ‘And that, sir?’ Chekov was asking.

    Spock ran his finger over the small piece of plastic, and read, ‘Visual intelligence display - centre.’

    Chekov seemed to mutter at that, then Spock heard what sounded like a hand slapping at the boards.

    ‘Ensign?’ he asked, an eyebrow raised.

    ‘Vell, who vould include that?’ he asked with irritation.

    ‘Mr Chekov, do not be absurd,’ Spock said reasonably. ‘If I was so sensitive as to break down at every reference to sight I would have no place here on the bridge. I prepared labels for every button. I still need the screens to demonstrate points to others.’

    ‘Yes, sir, of course,’ he nodded, and pressed the tag down onto the surface. ‘And this?’

    ‘That is - long range scanners,’ Spock read in a monotone. Although it served an ultimately useful purpose, the whole exercise filled him with tedium. He should be working at his job. ‘Where is the next?’

    ‘That vas the last one, sir,’ Chekov said. Spock could hear a smile in his voice.

    Spock spread his fingers out gently over the console and left them like that for a few seconds, then he reached out purposefully to find the data analysis button. There it was, right under his finger, and he knew it was the right one without having to touch the tag underneath it. It was like that with all the controls. The braille tags were really just safety requirements, and they would be more useful on consoles with which he was not so familiar. He slipped an ear piece into his ear and activated it, and tested the computer’s newly programmed ability to describe a visual diagram. The description was precise and clear - there was something lacking, but he had never expected the computer to describe a picture just as he would see it.

    ‘That is quite satisfactory,’ he said, removing the earpiece. He almost expected Chekov to excuse himself and go back to the navigation console when he said that. He had to constantly remind himself that there was an extra chair at his station now, and at least for the present there was always to be a junior officer there to give him assistance. Spock thought that he may as well make use of that help, so he picked his cane up from the console and got to his feet.

    ‘Ensign, your assistance,’ he said. ‘I am going down to the phaser control room.’

    ‘The - er - phaser control room?’ Chekov echoed doubtfully.

    ‘Yes, Ensign.’ Spock reached out to his console, and felt about it lightly. ‘Can you see my tricorder?’

    ‘Er - yes, sir,’ Chekov nodded, picking it up and putting it into the Vulcan’s hand. Spock slung the instrument over his shoulder and began towards the lift.

    ‘Sir, the phaser room is still a wreck,’ Chekov said reluctantly, hesitating before the lift doors.

    Spock went in through the elevator doors, waited for Chekov to follow him, and ordered, ‘Deck eight. I know that the room is a wreck, Ensign. That is why I am going there. There would be little point in me waiting to investigate until after the evidence has been cleared away.’ He could sense the hesitation in the Russian beside him, so he said, ‘It is not your job to worry about my decisions, Ensign. It is your job to follow orders.’

******

    Spock could smell the charred remains of the phaser room as soon as the elevator doors slid open on deck eight. He hesitated for a split second as memories flooded back, but then reached out for Chekov’s arm, and followed him out into the corridor. A few metres down he stumbled as something snagged his foot, and he unfolded his cane quickly to feel a line that snaked across the floor.

    ‘Ensign, it would help vastly were you to warn me of obstacles before I trip on them,’ he said sharply, interrupting Chekov’s muttered apologies.

    ‘Er - There are some vires and conduits across the floor - they have been repairing some of the vall,’ Chekov said quietly.

    ‘Then you must tell me these things. I cannot see, Ensign,’ he said, still rather sharply.

    ‘I am sorry, Mr Spock,’ Chekov said earnestly, ‘but I am not used to guiding. I am not a nurse.’

    ‘Neither am I a blind man, Ensign,’ Spock said more softly.

    ‘Sir?’

    ‘I find it - strange - to say the least, to rely on another person simply to walk down to the phaser room and investigate a situation. If I spoke sharply, it was because of that.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Chekov said, rather uncertainly. ‘In Russia, independence is wery important.’

    ‘As it is in most cultures,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘In Russia, when a man loses his independence - ‘

    ‘Yes, Ensign. That is enough, thank you.’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

    Spock began forward, then stopped again, and said seriously, ‘Mr Chekov, I am aware that assisting me in this way does not fall within your range of studies as trainee science-officer. I would understand if you wish to be transferred elsewhere in the department, to a science specialist who does not have the problems that I have.’

    ‘No, sir!’ Chekov protested. ‘You are the best science specialist on the ship, Mr Spock. I vould be a fool to give up studying under you. I only need to get used to it - that is all.’

    ‘I suspect, Ensign, that you will become accustomed to my blindness far faster than I.’

    ‘Er - yes, sir... There are a few more vires over the floor, sir, but it is clear after a metre.’

    ‘Then proceed,’ Spock said, and Chekov carried on down the corridor. He paused as they rounded a corner, and Spock asked, ‘Ensign?’

    ‘Nothing, sir,’ Chekov said slowly, moving forward again. ‘I vas looking at the vall around the door. It is - The fire must have been terrible, sir.’

    ‘It was extremely fierce,’ Spock nodded, trying to suppress the inevitable emotions that rose with the memory and increased in intensity the closer he got. ‘The exploding gas can reach a temperature hot enough to melt tricidanium panels. Fortunately that flash was extremely brief. It was the resulting fire which caused the majority of the damage.’

    ‘Here ve are, sir,’ Chekov said abruptly, stopping where the smell of burnt plastic was most intense. He hesitated, waiting for the door to open, but it wasn’t hooked up to power. ‘The - er - door is not vorking,’ he said.

    Spock reached forward to the door and pushed. It jarred and stuck under his hand, then freed and slid open with a jerk. As the full smell of the room hit the outside air Spock could barely suppress a shudder. He didn’t pause in his step through the door, but he felt chilled at the faint scent of coolant gas, burnt equipment and burnt flesh. He knew that there were no Pernician remains in here, but of course there would still be blood - Pernician and Vulcan blood intermingled on the floor, preserved by the investigators as evidence of their movements after the explosion. Debris and ash crunched under his feet as he moved. He suddenly got a mental image of the black heat rippling around him, and he swallowed.

    ‘Mr Spock, I could look for vhat you vant and report back to you,’ Chekov offered tentatively, and Spock realised abruptly that his nervous state was evident to the ensign. Straight away he composed his features back to his normal mask, and lifted his head.

    ‘No, thank you, Ensign,’ he said. He turned at footsteps in the corridor, that were slowing towards the door, and someone stepped through into the room, feet crunching on the ash.

    ‘Commander Spock!’ a woman said, her surprise very evident.

    Spock nodded at the voice, momentarily struggling with his memory. While she sounded familiar, he couldn’t place the voice.

    ‘I am sorry - you will have to identify yourself,’ he admitted.

    ‘Lieutenant Karen Laughlan, sir.’

    Of course - one of the newer members of his science team, Spock realised. A forensic scientist that he had hand-picked from fifteen other applicants. She had always managed to look rather dishevelled, and covered in some dirt or another from the work that she did. Today she smelt faintly of soot and chemicals. He committed her voice firmly to memory, yet another of the store of names he had to reassociate with sounds and smells.

    ‘I didn’t expect to see you here, sir,’ she said. ‘Victims don’t usually like to revisit the accident scene.’

    ‘Avoidance would be illogical, Lieutenant. It is my duty to find out why this happened,’ Spock said.

    ‘Are you taking command of the investigation, sir?’ she asked, surprise sharpening her voice.

    ‘I am, but I expect my involvement to be more academic than practical, Lieutenant. I shall expect to hear your reports, and I shall give my opinions on the investigation, but your role will remain essentially the same.’

    ‘I haven’t read your full report on the explosion yet,’ she said rather tentatively.

    ‘There are many things which I unfortunately cannot remember,’ Spock said. ‘I have made a partial report, which you will find if you access my science station computer. In it there is a detailed and accurate account of what I can remember of the events in this room. If you have any further questions then I shall answer them if I am able, and I would like you to describe any evidence you have found to enable me to visualise it. Meanwhile, you can relay your findings to me now.’

    ‘Of course, sir,’ she nodded. There was a pause as she pulled something from a pocket. ‘I’ve been going through all the debris here with a fine-tooth comb,’ she began. ‘I’ve done DNA tests on the biological residue I’ve found - mostly that’s yours and Ambassador Necuhay’s.’

    ‘Biological residue?’ Spock echoed with ill-concealed distaste. ‘You mean blood?’

    ‘There was a lot of blood, yes,’ she nodded, a certain detached professionalism that Spock could appreciate touching her voice. ‘But there were some skin and hair samples belonging to other people in the room. All of it belongs to members of the duty crew who work regularly in this room. That’s one dead end. I’ve also looked at the console, but the damage is so extensive it’s almost impossible to find out anything. There were no coolant ducts in the console, but there were ducts threading through the wall behind it - theoretically the gas could leak into it through a sequence of cracks.’

    ‘Theoretically,’ Spock nodded, silently calculating the odds and finding them to be too slender to be significant. ‘But not very likely. I assume that the console is very badly damaged?’

    ‘It is a wreck, sir,’ Chekov said. He was silent for a moment, then added, ‘Barely anything left but twisted metal and burnt vires - everything’s black with soot and scorch marks.’

    ‘I need more description, Ensign,’ Spock asked.

    ‘Er...’ There was silence, and then Lieutenant Laughlan spoke.

    ‘The burn patterns show that the explosion blew a lot of the innards of the console out over the room, but I haven’t found anything significant in those blown out parts. The fire was obviously hot enough to disintegrate some of the circuits. There are very few patches that resisted the heat. A few of the plastics are melted, and they’ve pooled on the floor in a burnt mass. Most of the metal is intact, but blackened or tarnished. The hatch cover is gone - that was found on the other side of the room, and the front of the console was also blown out - it’s opened out like a flower. Is that enough, sir?’

    ‘That is quite adequate, Lieutenant,’ Spock said. He turned his head by habit towards where the console should be, then turned back with quickly hidden frustration.

    ‘Are you all right, sir?’ Chekov asked.

    ‘Yes, Ensign. I am merely attempting to ascertain the best method with which to tackle this problem without the use of my optical organs... Are there any sharp edges on the console, Miss Laughlan?’

    ‘Maybe a few, sir, but I haven’t been cut yet,’ the woman told him.

    Spock nodded, and turned towards it. The woman caught hold of the Vulcan’s arm as he began stepping forward over the wreckage-strewn floor. ‘Sir, there’s a lot of junk on the floor. Let me help you.’ She held his arm loosely, hesitating nervously. ‘Sir, do you have no sight?’ she asked softly. ‘I know it’s unusual - ’

    ‘A logical question,’ Spock nodded. ‘In phaser coolant explosions, the victim is usually left black-blind, Lieutenant. There is no light entering my eyes.’

    ‘Oh,’ she said, as if there was nothing more she could say. ‘I’m sorry, sir.’

    She helped Spock over the wreckage on the floor until he was standing by the console. Spock reached forward slowly until his hands touched the wires and crumbling metal and plastic. He gently brushed over the dry grittiness, feeling over snaking wires and abrasive broken circuits until his fingers felt covered in soot and ash.

    ‘Nothing,’ he said softly, withdrawing his hands and brushing off the dust.

    ‘Sir, what did you expect to find?’ Laughlan asked, from close behind him. ‘Perhaps I could look?’

    ‘I am not sure,’ Spock said, ‘but it was not there. Lieutenant, try recalibrating your tricorder for anomalous readings and alien chemical structures. I shall endeavour to recall to memory what it is I am looking for. Ensign Chekov, would you take me to my quarters, then return to the bridge and ask for the captain to join me there?’

******

Kirk watched Spock’s face intensely as he sat opposite him in the Vulcan’s quarters. Spock was sitting behind his desk with his eyes closed, fingers steepled in an attitude of meditation, brow very slightly furrowed in concentration. He had no idea what Spock was doing - Spock had told him that he had an idea which might be of some help, and he would be grateful if Kirk would stay with him while he tried it out. It was typical of Spock not to reveal ideas until he was sure they would work, but he wished that for once the Vulcan had broken with tradition and been a little more revealing.

    Spock showed no signs of coming out of the trance, so Kirk turned away and let his eyes focus through the partition grille and onto the warm red colours and ornate ornaments of Spock’s sleeping area. It always seemed strange to find such depth of colour and richness of decoration, to see the ancient Vulcan weapons on the walls, in such a peaceful and spartan man’s quarters - but then it was only the rest area that was decorated like that. This living area was grey, barely decorated except by scientific models and instruments, an example of the Vulcan’s highly ordered life. And all of this in a room with a climate set to mimic the desert.

    The room had changed, though. Some of the ornaments were pushed into corners, no longer strategically arranged for the eye to catch. Where surfaces had been cluttered - and that was rare - the Vulcan had moved objects back to the wall or put them away, and in their places were new things. There was the small kinetic sculpture from Earth, and a variety of other tactile things - gifts from friends intended as sculpture, and a few odd collected objects appealing to the touch, many of them so strangely coloured or chosen as to make him think the owner was - well, he knew Spock was blind.

    Standing out from this tactile collection were a pile of thick braille books, a spare cane folded and waiting on the side, a little black oviform instrument that worked as a guider on planets with the necessary satellite systems. Beside that was an odd collection of wires, transmitters and switches - the beginnings of a prototype designed by Spock, McCoy and Mr Scott to emit sound only Vulcans could hear, to build up an echo-picture much as a bat used. Kirk hoped that particular experiment worked out right. If it did, Spock could at least navigate through a kind of shadow-world, knowing by the vague echoes of the presence of a tree or rock or wall before he touched it.

    Only one object surprised him in the room. On the morning before beaming up to the ship Spock had admitted quietly that he felt some ‘slight regret’ that he would never be able to see the Enterprise again. Kirk knew what Spock could not put in words - that he hated to miss the graceful shape of the ship hanging in black space, brilliant white against the stars, pinpricked with windows and running lights and tipped off by the great swirling masses of red at the end of the warp nacelles. Now sitting on one of the grey surfaces at the edge of Spock’s living quarters was a perfect scale model of the Enterprise. No one had heard the conversation to buy it for the Vulcan as a sentimental gift. Kirk could hardly believe that Spock would have allowed himself to buy a perfect model of the ship for the pure sake of being able to feel what he could not see, but the ship was there, and it had not been there before.

******
   
    Spock ignored his captain’s mental projections of interest and curiosity and let himself sink deeper and deeper into the trance, gradually relaxing into the chair, trying to ignore the invading tension. He began to eliminate the consciousness of his surroundings from his mind, forgetting the feeling of the chair, the smell of the room, the sound of Jim breathing opposite him. For over seven weeks he had been trying to escape his vague memories of the explosion. Now he wanted to remember it, and to remember in such detail that he had to be back in the phaser room, reliving those few moments as slowly as he could make them pass, as traumatic as those moments might be.

    He could clearly see the inspection panel, his hand holding the laser cutter, the beam about to touch the jammed part of the panel. The light was almost dazzling, the image so vivid that he felt as if he was there, seeing again, and for a moment he just wanted to stay in that moment, not to move on until the world blacked out before him.

    Spock forced himself past that moment of weakness, and focused on the laser cutter again. The tiny blue beam moved closer to the panel - he could see it in such detail that even the minute shakes of his hand were obvious, the pale green of the veins in his hand. The beam pierced the surface, the metal glowed and disappeared around it. The images began to speed up. He stopped, relaxed again, and started from the moment that the beam touched the gas and ignited it.

    The panel began to move, bending oddly under the force of the expanding gas. The middles of the sides were coming off first, billowing out towards his face. His own body hadn’t had time to react and move back yet. The light inside the console was bleaching out all other colours, but he could just make out the contours and twisting of wires and circuits inside.

    Abruptly the light exploded outwards, he could see the brightness a fraction of a millimetre from his eyes, he felt the terrible searing pain roasting his skin surface, his eyes burning. He was moving backward with the blast, ribs snapping under the force. The light turned pink, the glare faded, it darkened to brown-red and he could only see vague outlines of the room. Then they disappeared behind dark sepia, which turned finally to total blackness, just before the protective inner eyelids, too late, flicked across his eyes.

    He pushed instinctively away from the explosion in his mind, and suddenly he was on the ground, tangled with the chair. There was soft carpet under his cheek and hands, the room was cool and quiet, but he could feel the enveloping flames washing over his body. The darkness engulfed him like a shroud. He wanted to curl into a foetal position and wait for the darkness to go, but hands grabbed at his arms, pulling him back to reality. The flames retreated, and Jim pulled him to his feet and hustled him through into his sleeping area. He sank onto the softness of his bed, shaking, Jim’s hands keeping him from sitting.

    ‘Are you all right, Spock?’ Kirk’s voice asked, filled with anxiety. ‘Spock, what happened?’

    He stared into the blackness, battling sickness. A moment ago he had been looking at the grey panels of the console, the multi-coloured circuits and the white fire, and that had snapped away in an instant. The dark would not melt, he could not see Jim’s anxious, enquiring face. Even imagining that face was hard now. He had to grasp onto the mattress, feel the soft embroidery of his bedcovering, slowly reattach himself to the reality around him.

    ‘Mr Spock? Spock, do you need Bones?’

    ‘No, Captain,’ Spock said blankly. ‘I - I was momentarily unnerved by the sight. I think...’

    ‘The sight? Spock, what do you mean? Are you all right?’

    ‘Y-yes, sir.’ Spock closed his eyes, swallowed, and tried to regain the composure of a highly trained Starfleet officer. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, keeping a firm grasp on the edge of the bed as he swung his legs to the floor. Kirk moved away quickly, then returned and pushed a cold glass to his lips, supporting him with a hand behind his back.

    ‘Swallow that,’ he said firmly. ‘No arguments.’

    Spock swallowed, and the powerful Vulcan drink burnt down his throat, making him cough.

    ‘I was meditating,’ he began.

    ‘Yes, I could tell,’ Kirk said impatiently, ‘but I’ve never seen you act like that before.’

    ‘I knew that I had seen or experienced something during the explosion that was vital to remember, but I could not. I went to the phaser room today because I was certain that I would find something of significance in the console. However, I found nothing but burned circuits.’

    ‘Spock, I could have told you that just by looking!’ Kirk said.

    ‘Of course,’ Spock nodded, curtailing his own irrational envy at that statement. ‘But I was sure that there was something in that console. The only way to remember was to relive the explosion in meditation, second by second.’

    Jim’s hand pressed his arm firmly, a welcome touch in the darkness. ‘Spock, you didn’t have to put yourself through that!’

    ‘It was necessary. More necessary than I had realised. Now I remember what happened, Jim, I believe it will be far easier to deal with that memory. I should have done this far sooner.’

    ‘But why now? What was it you thought you’d find out?’

    ‘I have told you, Jim, about the vivid, nightmarish dreams which have been interrupting my sleep. I have been trying to explain the green tendrils which appeared with regularity in the form of snakes, of vines, of ropes. There was no logic to that vision - and yet there must be. My mind would not simply produce fantasies with no basis.’

    ‘And?’ Kirk prompted him.

    ‘A moment before the gas blinded me I saw a pipe in the console that was not in the plans.’

    ‘Spock, how can you be so sure of the plans?’

    ‘I know I cannot check now, but I did study the plans before the explosion in order that I could correct the supposed fault. If memory serves, that pipe was not in those plans.’

    ‘Since you have an eidetic memory, Mr Spock, that’s good enough for me,’ Kirk said confidently. ‘Tell me about this pipe.’

    Spock closed his eyes, drawing out the picture with his hands as he spoke. ‘It was green, approximately two centimetres in diameter. It ran from one side to the other, and was punctured with evenly spaced holes. The gas appeared to flow out of the holes.’

    ‘Then we have proof!’ Kirk exclaimed. ‘All we need to do is find that pipe - ‘

    ‘There is no pipe, Jim,’ Spock cut through. ‘At least, it did not survive the explosion. I felt nothing in the console. Even if it had been out of reach of my hands, or blown to somewhere else in the room, Lieutenant Laughlan would have found it, and she found nothing. It must have disintegrated totally in the blast.’

    ‘There’s another problem,’ Kirk said, doubt invading his voice. ‘It was the laser cutter that ignited the gas. How could anyone possibly know that you’d use a laser cutter?’

    ‘The hatch is made to slip off once the bolts are removed. The hatch did not slip off - it stuck. Whatever the cause, it forced me to use the cutter - the logical tool - and ignite the gas. The assassination attempt was almost foolproof. Coolant gas alone can kill - I have experienced its effects before - but an explosion gives little time to escape, and it destroys evidence. I believe it was only my Vulcan physiology and training which saved me from death.’

    ‘Thank God. Well, we’ll find evidence. There’s always a little evidence, no matter how small,’ Kirk said grimly.

    ‘There is the possibility. I will instruct Lieutenant Laughlan to begin searching for fragments of that tube.’

    ‘Good. So this really has turned into a murder investigation.’

    ‘It is more than murder, Captain,’ Spock said seriously. ‘Whoever did this must have known that a possible result could be war.’

    Kirk touched his shoulder with a firm hand, with an understanding which reached beneath words. ‘I’m sorry, Spock. This should never have happened, never.’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock nodded slowly. He suddenly felt very tired - the trauma of the deep meditation had taken more out of him than he had realised in his convalescent state.

    ‘Spock, take the rest of your shift off,’ Kirk told him. ‘Get some sleep - you look like you need it.’

    Spock closed his eyes briefly, for a moment consumed with exhaustion, but then he shook his head and stood up from the bed, Kirk’s hand helping him.

    ‘There are more important issues than my rest to deal with, Captain. The new ambassador must be told of what I saw. Her husband was assassinated - now I am sure of that, and I should be present when she is told. My action caused the explosion.’

    ‘Spock, you can’t still believe that it was your fault,’ Kirk protested.

    ‘I know it was not my fault. But it was my responsibility,’ he said gravely.

    ‘Yes,’ Kirk nodded. He knew as well as Spock did that responsibility always lay with the senior officer. That was why he felt so responsible himself.

    ‘It is also my responsibility to report what I saw to the ambassador,’ Spock said, with a certain heaviness in his voice. ‘Where is my cane?’

    ‘Over here, on your desk,’ Kirk said with a sigh. He could order the Vulcan to rest, but it wouldn’t do any good. He couldn’t protect Spock from the Pernicians as if he was a child. He picked up the cane and handed it to the Vulcan, then said, ‘I’ll call her to briefing room six, Mr Spock. Are you okay to meet me there in ten minutes?’

    ‘If you are asking if I can find my way alone, then I am sure that I can,’ Spock nodded.

******
   
    Kirk sat facing the new Pernician ambassador across the table, alternating glances between her proud and rather angry face, and the briefing room door behind the woman’s shoulder. This woman was even taller than her husband had been, and she perched awkwardly on the human-sized chair, her hands clasped on the table in front of her. Kirk couldn’t help noticing her long, pointed nails, painted in the human fashion, but in a vibrant orange which set off the purple of her skin. He was sure that the nails were fake - perhaps the woman had scanned human records, and worn them for the intimidating effect. If her caste was the same as her husband’s - and he had decided that it must be - it didn’t bode well for the talks.

    The door slid open behind the woman’s back, but she didn’t look round. As Kirk saw his first officer standing rather tentatively in the doorway he said, ‘Ahh, Commander Spock,’ and got up quickly to go to him.

    ‘I am all right, Captain,’ Spock said, raising his hand to stop him. He went forward to the table and guided himself round to a seat next to Kirk’s. ‘This deck has not yet been converted to my needs,’ was the only excuse Spock gave for his lateness, and Kirk could tell that he did not approve of himself even using that one.

    ‘That’s fine, Commander,’ Kirk said, keeping his tone lightly official. As Spock sat Kirk took a glance at the ambassador opposite, and saw an ugly expression cross her already irritated-looking face.

    ‘So at last you can begin,’ she said, barely waiting for the Vulcan to settle in the chair. She leant forward slowly, and said, ‘You wanted to make something known to me.’

    She was looking at the Vulcan, and Kirk felt a twist of anger in his stomach. She was deliberately trying to catch the Vulcan out, to make his blindness a problem. But Spock’s highly developed sense of hearing was accurate enough to tell to whom her question was directed, and he answered smoothly, ‘Yes, Madam Ambassador. A fact about the explosion which - ‘

    ‘You caused,’ the woman finished for him. ‘Which murdered my husband.’

    ‘I agree that someone murdered your husband,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Mr Spock spent some time in meditation this afternoon,’ Kirk took over from him, seeing the woman about to make another comment. ‘Vulcans have the ability to recall memories and pick out points in them which they may not have been aware of at the time. Mr Spock relived the explosion.’ As he said that the woman trembled, but he could understand that as she imagined the explosion that killed her husband.

    ‘As the explosion occurred and the inside of the console was exposed, I saw a pipe leading through the workings, which carried coolant gas into the console,’ Spock said. ‘The pipe was not meant to be there.’

    ‘I see,’ the woman said very slowly, her expression suddenly frozen. ‘And you have identified this pipe in the wreckage?’

    Kirk flinched at that flaw in this whole thing - that the only evidence was Spock’s memory, and Spock had remembered very little about the explosion after it happened. He met the woman’s eyes, unnerved by the uncompromising stare, and admitted, ‘Mr Spock has only just recalled this evidence. I have crew searching at this moment for physical evidence of the pipe.’

    ‘And you are taking the word of this Vulcan?’ the woman asked, her voice shaking dangerously.

    ‘Commander Spock has no reason to lie,’ Kirk said.

    ‘No reason!’ She was standing up very slowly, and her height was becoming very evident. ‘He causes an explosion, he kills my beloved husband, and then he feels guilt and lies to save himself.’

    ‘Madam Ambassador, that accusation is based only on emotion,’ Spock began. ‘I understand that you are grieving, but - ’

    ‘You understand!’

    There was a swift flash of purple as the woman’s hand whipped out, and suddenly Spock was lying against the wall on the other side of the room, pressing a hand to the side of his face and blinking dazedly.

    ‘You will not make investigations into my husband’s death - you will let him rest!’ the woman spat, then turned on her heel and strode out of the room, forced to duck as she passed through the door.

    Kirk started after her, snapping furiously, ‘Ambassador!’

    ‘Captain!’ Spock said. He was beginning to sit up, using the wall for support, still with one hand cradling his cheek. ‘I would not advise pursuit. It would only cause an incident.’

    Kirk hesitated in the doorway as the woman strode away, but ultimately Spock’s condition was more important than chasing her. Arguing, and confronting her with the heat of anger wouldn’t do anyone any good. He turned back and went quickly to kneel by his friend, worried at the pallor of his face.

    ‘There’s already been an incident.’

    ‘I do understand her grief, Jim,’ Spock said.

    Kirk looked into Spock’s eyes, and nodded. Over the past few weeks he had sometimes felt that Spock was mourning more for the loss of a life than a sense.

    ‘Are you all right?’ he asked anxiously.

    ‘Yes, sir - simply dazed.’

    ‘Let me look,’ Kirk said, and pulled the Vulcan’s hand away to see four deep cuts across his face, drawn by the long fake nails. ‘You’re bleeding,’ he muttered. ‘Come on - you need to see McCoy.’

    He put his hands under the Vulcan’s arms and helped him to stand and walk. It was only as he lowered him down to the chair in McCoy’s examination room that he realised quite how pale the Vulcan looked.

    ‘Stay there - I’ll get Bones,’ he said, letting go of his arm. He went across to call McCoy on the intercom in the wall, then went back to the Vulcan.

    ‘Here’s your cane, Spock,’ he said, putting it into his hands. As Spock’s feeling fingers closed around it a surge of anger coursed through him. If only the Pernicians had never come onto this ship, never even existed, if only Spock had never gone into that room, he would not be looking at those dead brown eyes and seeing Spock’s fingers feeling for things which should be taken in at a glance. ‘That damn woman...’ he muttered.

    ‘I was surprised at the ambassador’s illogical level of anger at news which should be encouraging.’

    ‘Spock, this is a woman who threatened to kill you a few weeks ago!’ Kirk said incredulously.

    ‘Then her anger was spontaneous, fuelled by grief. This time I sensed no such spontaneity. It was as if she had come into the room prepared to injure me.’ He shook his head. ‘I have never understood the emotion of hate. Perhaps it was that.’

    He was interrupted by the doctor coming through the door. His pace quickened as he saw Spock, and he shot a questioning glance at Kirk. The green flush in Spock’s face had taken on the form of a perfect Pernician palm print.

    ‘Our lady ambassador,’ Kirk said shortly. ‘She hit him.’

    ‘Yes, I can see that,’ McCoy said, coming forward to look at the Vulcan. ‘How much does it hurt, Spock?’

    ‘Quite considerably.’

    It only took a few minutes to clean away the blood and heal the scratches, until there was only a faint flush of bruising and faded lines down his cheek.

    ‘Are you dizzy, Spock?’ McCoy asked, holding out his scanner towards the Vulcan’s face.

    ‘A little.’

    ‘You didn’t lose consciousness?’

    ‘I believe not.’

    ‘Well, your jaw has a hairline fracture, here on the left,’ he said, pointing but not quite touching. He took an instrument from a cupboard and turned the beam onto Spock’s jaw. ‘Hold still.’

    ‘What is that, Doctor?’

    ‘Hold still. It’s a bone-knitter. The bones should be set in a minute or so. But I want you to rest. Rest, Spock,’ he repeated more forcefully. ‘You understand that? No standing on the bridge, no work in the labs, for at least two hours. Sleep if possible. Otherwise just lie in bed and do nothing. Then you can get back to work if you insist - but take it easy. Just because you’re in your uniform and you’ve got that stick it doesn’t mean you can go out tapdancing or anything.’

    ‘Doctor, I have never tapdanced. Why would you imagine I should consider tapdancing in my present circumstances?’ Spock asked.

    ‘Just hold still,’ McCoy told him again. ‘Try to keep your clever comments to yourself until I’ve finished with that jaw.’ He held the beam over the bone for another minute, then scanned the area and said, ‘Okay. You’re free to go.’

    ‘Thank you, Doctor.’

    He stood up from the chair and pulled the wrinkles from his top, then took hold of the chair back again as if he was still unsteady.

    ‘Spock, you were scheduled for your first full shift on the bridge later,’ Kirk began rather hesitantly.

    ‘I shall be able to work my shift, Captain,’ Spock assured him.

    ‘Are you sure?’ Kirk asked.

    ‘Dr McCoy has done excellent work on my injury. I shall be fully recovered by then.’

    ‘I know, but - ‘ Kirk began slowly, reluctantly.

    ‘Captain, I have been judged capable of resuming my duties on this ship,’ Spock said, a weariness touching the words.

    ‘Jim, let the man work,’ McCoy urged him. ‘That’s what he’s here for. He’s blind, and that means - what? - he can’t level those piercing stares at people, or see a viewscreen that’s black anyway.’

    ‘I am your first officer, sir,’ Spock added. ‘If I cannot work then I should not be on this ship.’

    ‘Yes - yes I know,’ Kirk said. ‘I know you’re capable - it’s just that it’s your first shift.’

    ‘Necessarily so. I shall be fine, Jim,’ Spock said more softly, recognising Jim’s illogical concern as simple over-protectiveness, both of him and of Jim’s precious Enterprise. ‘I have already spent time on the bridge - this shift is not much longer.’

    ‘Fine. Settled,’ McCoy said. ‘Jim, will you go with him down to his cabin? He still needs some support, and I want to make sure he gets there.’

    ‘Captain, with regard to the recent incident - I think it would be a good idea to review tapes of Pernician psychology,’ Spock said, as if the doctor hadn’t spoken. ‘I cannot fathom the ambassador’s behaviour, but it could be something peculiar to her race rather than indicative of some other problem.’

    ‘Bed, Spock,’ McCoy said forcefully from behind him.

    ‘I thought that Lieutenant Uhura could be assigned to the task,’ Spock said, ignoring the doctor with a skill built from years of practice. ‘I would also like her to find details of the history of Pernician war and negotiations. I shall call her from my quarters.’

******
   
    As soon as Kirk had walked with Spock to his quarters he strode determinedly down to the ambassador’s cabin. Although Spock had protested that he was fine now, Kirk had left feeling absolutely sick at the woman’s actions. He swept down the corridor and overrode the security code in her door, walking straight into the room without knocking. If he had wanted to shock her it hadn’t worked - she had hardly flinched as he burst into the lavishly decorated quarters, but merely glanced up, then turned her attention back to the computer screen on the desk.

    ‘Yes, Captain?’ she asked.

    ‘You had absolutely no right to assault my first officer!’ Kirk snapped, barely able contain his anger, particularly when she was responding with such calm.

    ‘He let my husband die, and now he lies about the cause of the explosion,’ Necuhai said.

    ‘I don’t care about any of that. How dare you hit a blind man with no warning!’

    ‘Then I am required to warn your blind Vulcan before I strike? Does a blow hurt a blind Vulcan more than it hurts any other person?’

    ‘That’s not the point. Look at me,’ Kirk said, angry at her apparent disinterest, then repeated, ‘Look at me,’ and turned the computer screen away from her with a flick of his hand. There was nothing on the screen. She held her gaze for a moment on where the screen had been, then impassively moved her eyes to Kirk’s face.

    ‘I want my husband to be left to rest - every investigation makes him weep in his grave,’ she said with a voice like ice. ‘Your Vulcan let him die - I have said I shall not blame him further, if you simply let it rest at that.’

    ‘I will not let it rest,’ Kirk said, becoming even more angry. ‘When something like this happens on my ship - ‘

    ‘You have been ordered to close your investigation. There is no more talk - negotiations are over. No more looking to why my husband died. Let him rest.’ The ambassador said this in a sudden rush of rage, rising to her feet, but Kirk didn’t step back.

    ‘Madam, I don’t give a damn about how your husband died!’ Kirk stormed. ‘I am trying to find out how my first officer lost his sight, and that is an internal investigation, nothing to do with Pernicia.’

    ‘Your first officer lost his light because he is a careless, stupid man, and he deserves to live in darkness. He deserves to die. Leave my cabin, Kirk. I will not speak with you again. You deserve no favour from me.’

    And she sat down at her desk again and turned away from him, folding her arms across her thin chest in a motion of defiance.

    ‘Gladly,’ Kirk said with feeling. He was beyond caring about diplomacy, now there were no talks to protect. He turned and stalked out of the cabin, wishing there was some way to make these sliding doors slam.

******
   
    For once, Spock was doing as McCoy told him to - almost. He had been sitting at his desk as he spoke to Uhura, but his unsteadiness had forced him into bed, and now he lay under the blanket with his palms resting on the soft material and his eyes closed. But he wasn’t resting - or not quite as McCoy would define it. He didn’t want to sleep or meditate, and it was almost beyond his capabilities to spend two hours awake, out of meditation, but not thinking.

    It was logical to spend this time thinking about the problem in hand - the Pernicians. He remembered how the new Pernician ambassador looked - tall, almost as dark as her husband, with hair of a deep Prussian blue, that hung down her back in long woven strands. That told him only that she was probably the same caste as him, but nothing about her personality, and why she behaved with such anger towards him.

    He had seen aspects of grief in emotional beings before, and he could fully understand her spontaneous attack on him just after the explosion, but her anger had been sustained for almost eight weeks now. It was that he found hard to understand - the fact that its intensity was just as strong as it had been in sick bay when she had shaken him unconscious. But then, he was a logical and rational being, and not long ago he had crushed a glass in his hand through uncontrollable frustration. He barely understood the surgings of grief and anger in his own body. Maybe losing a husband produced the same kind of irrationalities, making a person angry at information which should please.

    He shook his head at the incomprehensible gamut of emotions that seethed within alien beings. Even the emotions of the beings who were closest to him - humans - were impossible to understand, and that included the human emotions that were playing in his own head. He was aware that the emotions were becoming too strong, and he began to trace a finger along the tactile design of his over-blanket, trying to use the lines of the traditional Vulcan pattern to reconnect himself with the clarity and familiarity of logic. The embroidered colours of deep red and purple had always reminded him of Vulcan sunsets. But he would never see another Vulcan sunset, or any of those familiar home sights, the faces of parents...

    *Even an exercise to reaffirm logic provokes the emotions I try to purge.*

    Spock lifted his hands from the blanket and clenched his fists. It was almost intolerable to have those vibrant sunset colours taken away from him. He knew that if he was faced with the person who had set the explosion, then he would have difficulty in restraining himself from some kind of physical, savage retribution. Spock felt a sudden pang for the colours of Vulcan, the sunsets of Vulcan that he had last seen almost a year ago. Since returning to the ship he had often felt in danger of losing his sense of day and night, that here was only marked by dimming and brightening of lights he couldn’t see. Sometimes he felt in danger of losing his very sense of light, losing his memory of what it was to see. He would not let that happen.

    Spock swung his legs out of bed and went round to sit at his desk in his living quarters. He reached out to the computer screen that stood at the end of the desk and requested a security bypass of the communications station - an abuse of his rank, but something he needed to do. He wanted this call to be private.

    ‘Computer.’

    ‘Working.’

    ‘Make a subspace call to a private communicator on Vulcan - Ambassador Sarek and Amanda Grayson, Shi-Kahr province. Authorisation: Spock, S-179-276-SP.’

    There was a long pause as the computer worked, but the ship was passing relatively near to Vulcan and the signal would take only seconds to reach there. As Spock remembered to turn on the reading lamp that was of no use to him now, there was a quiet blip, and a voice saying, ‘Hello? ... Spock! It’s so good to see your face!’

    The voice was his mother, and Spock reached out to the screen, touching the smooth surface that held the image of his mother’s face.

    ‘Mother, I have something to tell you,’ he began.

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