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    As Spock carried on speaking, explaining slowly and gently, he could hear his mother crying and trying to stifle the sound. There were noises in the background, and then another voice came through the speaker - the voice of his father.

    ‘Amanda? ... To whom are you speaking? Have you received unwelcome news, my wife?’

    To anyone else Sarek’s voice would have sounded level and calm, but Spock could hear the note of curiosity and then worry in his father’s voice. Then Sarek said, ‘Spock, good evening. Or are you experiencing an alternate time of day there?’

    Amanda simply said, ‘Oh, Sarek,’ as if she couldn’t say anything more.

    ‘Father, I am blind,’ Spock said. Precise and direct - that was the best way to speak to another Vulcan, but the obvious tremble in his voice belied any pretensions to calm Vulcan logic.

    The pause after this was almost intolerable, and Spock said, ‘Sarek, are you still present?’, mindful of his father’s heart condition.

    There was another pause, and then Sarek said, ‘I am here, Spock. Your statement - was unexpected.’

    ‘I was not sure of any other way to break the news,’ Spock said, and for once as he spoke to his father he didn’t feel a need to drain every last drop of inflection from his voice.

    ‘What happened?’ Sarek asked.

    ‘A coolant gas explosion on the ship. A reaction with the gas took my sight. The blindness is total, and irreversible.’

    ‘Starfleet,’ Sarek muttered.

    Spock slumped back in his chair. He didn’t know how to cope with his father’s non-acceptance of his life choice right now. He didn’t want to have to deal with that extra burden at a time when he needed his family most. As he remembered that his every movement was visible to his father he straightened up to military posture, composing his face back to a calm expression.

    ‘Sarek,’ Amanda whispered.

    ‘Do you require our presence?’ Sarek asked, and Spock understood that as an apology. Sarek knew the implications of blindness for a Vulcan, and in these circumstances the duty to family came above even logic. ‘We can rendezvous with your ship within thirty-six hours.’

    Spock clenched his hands under the desk, fighting the urge to say *yes, please come, tell me what to do*. He had been managing alone since he was twenty, but he had never felt quite so much in need of his parents’ steady guidance.

    ‘No, thank you, father,’ he said. ‘I must manage alone.’

    ‘Spock, you don’t have to,’ his mother urged him gently.

    Spock wished that she hadn’t spoken, because the urge to give in grew ten-fold. He simply wanted to reach out to touch his mother’s hand.

    ‘I must manage alone,’ he repeated. ‘I shall visit as soon as there is a relaxation in my duties and I am able to take leave.’ That wasn’t a lie, as such - more a misdirection. Starfleet would grant him leave in seconds, but he was just afraid that if he did come home now it would be too hard to come back to the ship. ‘I simply wished to tell you,’ he said softly.

    ‘We understand,’ Sarek said, and Spock felt a surge of warmth, which made him wonder if a Vulcan’s telepathy could work through subspace. ‘Goodbye, my son.’

    ‘Spock,’ Amanda whispered, then the faint hiss of the speaker died. Perhaps Sarek had understood how hard it would be for him to cut the communication himself.

    Spock turned the communicator off with a sharp flick of his thumb, and rested back in the silence of his quarters, suddenly feeling very alone.

******

    When Lieutenant Uhura reported to Spock’s quarters she was momentarily surprised to find him sitting in intense darkness. As she hovered in the doorway to keep the light flooding in from the corridor, she saw that he was sitting at his desk behind a fragile construction of cards two levels high. His concentration was so intense she could almost feel it, but then he murmured, ‘Lights,’ and the cabin brightened to its usual warm red glow.

    ‘I have the data you asked for, Mr Spock,’ she told him, walking forward very slowly in case her movements made the pile tremble. ‘It’s quite interesting.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock said, but his attention was fixed solely on the movement of his hand as he reached out with another card. He placed it with perfect precision to finish the second level.

    ‘Mr Spock, that’s amazing,’ Uhura began, ‘but why - ’

    Spock reached out to place two more cards on the house, and for a moment they held, before wavering and collapsing the whole construction. The cards scattered across the table and onto the floor and his hands hovered over empty space.

    ‘I was trying to improve my co-ordination,’ he said, sweeping the cards up into a pile. ‘I believe that if I can be absolutely aware of where my hands are and have been, and the location of what they have touched, then I might do many things that you can do with sight. All I need is to enhance my awareness to its highest peak.’ He knocked the cards into a stack, then knelt down to pick up the others. ‘Evidently I need more practice.’

    ‘I can pick those up, sir,’ Uhura said quickly, coming forward.

    ‘You may be able to,’ Spock nodded, ‘but I would rather do it. Sit down, Lieutenant, and tell me what you found out.’

    Uhura slipped into the chair on the other side of his desk, and waited until the Vulcan had scooped a handful of cards back onto the table to put the pad into his hand. ‘All the information is here in the datapadd.’

    ‘Lieutenant,’ Spock began, frustration edging his voice.

    ‘Here, Mr Spock,’ she said, turning the pad on for him and putting his fingers to the top of the electronic page. Spock hesitated for a moment, then took the pad out of her hands and rested it on the table, feeling across the surface, one rising eyebrow showing his interest.

    ‘Mr Scott has just finished it,’ Uhura explained. ‘There never has been a Starfleet datapadd that could display braille before - this is the prototype.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock said slowly. ‘This is quite fascinating.’

    ‘It will take any disc, and translate the data into braille, but the screen displays normal type simultaneously, so that you can give reports to the captain on the same pad. I’m afraid it can’t interpret handwriting yet - just computer typed text - but it shouldn’t take too much adjustment to make that possible. The controls work just the same as the normal pad - we assumed they wouldn’t need labelling, sir.’

    ‘You are quite correct,’ Spock nodded. His fingers were flashing across the pad, faster than Uhura had seen anyone read the tactile writing. Of course, Spock was a Vulcan, with more sensitive fingers and a quicker mind than a human. ‘How many pages of data are there?’

    ‘About sixteen, sir - of standard writing, that is – more of braille,’ she said, silently reaching down to pick up some of the cards that had scattered further away. ‘Most of it’s facts and figures, statistics.’

    ‘Lieutenant, I have asked you not to pick up those cards,’ Spock said sternly as she bent, and she straightened up swiftly. ‘I shall find them when I am not busy.’

    ‘I - thought you might miss some, sir,’ she explained hesitantly.

    ‘There are fifty-two cards and two jokers. I shall make sure that I have picked up fifty-four cards. Lieutenant, some of these statistics are confusing in the way they are laid out.’

    ‘I know, sir - it needs some fine tuning. I really only brought the pad to show it to you. I can tell you what I found.’

    ‘Then please do so,’ Spock invited, laying his hands down.

    ‘About Pernician psychology - it seems that belligerence and irritability are congenital to the ambassador’s caste - the suth’an caste, the same as her husband. But my research also tells me that unprovoked violence and grudge-holding aren’t necessarily produced by caste - that’s more likely to come from individual personality. Physical aggression is more common in the suth’an caste than in, say, the nee’an, one of the lowest castes, but even so, I think that what the ambassador did to you was quite extreme.’

    ‘I have been considering the fact that the woman is grieving for her husband,’ Spock pointed out.

    ‘Yes, sir, but they have a - a sort of taboo.’

    ‘Yes?’ Spock asked. ‘Lieutenant, please elaborate.’

    Uhura hesitated, unsure of whether she was about to insult the Vulcan or not. ‘They think it dishonourable to harm a person who is weak or of a lower status, even if that person has harmed you. In their culture, an alien is always of a lower status, and - blindness makes you both weak and of the lowest status that a person can be.’

    ‘The word blind is often used as a metaphor for weakness, stupidity, carelessness,’ Spock nodded. Uhura was relieved to see that his calm expression hadn’t changed. ‘Many people on this ship use the word in that context. The blind are seen as a liability by many.’

    ‘Oh, I’m sure - ’ Uhura began.

    ‘No, Lieutenant - that fact is certain,’ Spock said.

    ‘I guess so,’ she said reluctantly. ‘But it means that she shouldn’t have hit you, sir.’

    ‘I see,’ Spock nodded, touching his jaw tenderly. ‘A logical law of society when the higher castes tend to be belligerent by nature. And yet she did hit me.’

    ‘She must have been very angry about something,’ Uhura suggested.

    Spock leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, remembering the atmosphere in the room just before the woman had hit him. ‘She was experiencing some strong emotion. She was very angry - or possibly afraid.’

    ‘Of what, sir?’ Uhura asked curiously. The Vulcan stayed still, keeping his eyes closed, obviously deep in thought. At last he opened his eyes again, and clasped his hands together thoughtfully.

    ‘I do not know. I am not even sure that the emotion was fear. It was simply strong and violent. She believes that I killed her husband, Lieutenant. Swearing is a taboo on Earth, and yet many swear - taboos can be broken.’

    ‘I guess so - but I don’t trust them, Mr Spock. They were meant to be coming to Earth for peace, but I haven’t seen anything that makes me think they were sincere.’

    ‘You may be correct. In my own research I have discovered that while the Pernician leaders grudgingly agreed to peace talks, and many Pernicians are asking for peace, a certain amount of the population are thirsting for war.’

    He sat again in silence, and the expression on his face slowly melted from subtle interest to a kind of tired sadness. Uhura waited for him to say something, wondering for a moment if he had forgotten she was there. When he didn’t speak she asked, ‘Mr Spock, are you all right?’

    The Vulcan jerked back out of his reverie, and unclasped his hands to lay them flat on the desk. ‘I was momentarily distracted. Tell me more about the Pernicians.’

    ‘No, sir,’ Uhura said firmly, hoping the closeness that had come while they were on Earth was still valid here. ‘You tell me what’s wrong.’

    ‘There is nothing wrong. Rather, I have remedied a situation which needed attention. I have informed my parents of my circumstances,’ Spock said in a level voice.

    ‘I see,’ Uhura said, just as levelly, but with a note of uncertainty in her voice.

    Spock nodded slowly, and Uhura thought he didn’t want to say any more on the subject, but he seemed relieved at just saying that. Then slowly he said, ‘My mother wept. I was not sure how to respond to that.’

    ‘I think your mother is a strong woman, Mr Spock,’ Uhura said gently. ‘She will cry, but she’ll be all right.’

    ‘Yes,’ Spock said. He stood up abruptly and straightened out his uniform top. ‘I have a shift in two point five-three minutes. Would you accompany me to the bridge, Lieutenant?’

******

Spock met Kirk in the elevator on his way to begin his own shift. He managed to get one concession on the way up - that at least for this shift he could sit at his console alone, without the constant presence of a junior member of the crew to help him. He suspected that the reassurance from Uhura that she was ready at any time to help had convinced his captain, but maybe this small liberty would be the beginning of his route back to normal life.

    ‘I’ll take you to your chair,’ Kirk said as the elevator doors opened.

    ‘Captain, I have re-familiarised myself with the layout of the bridge,’ Spock said, standing away from his hand.

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk smiled. ‘No help unless you ask for it.’

    ‘As we agreed, sir,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Fine,’ Kirk said, and he walked down to his chair without letting himself watch the Vulcan walking across the bridge like most of the bridge officers were. He waited until he heard Spock relieve the officer on duty, then turned to him and said, ‘Status, Commander Spock?’

    There was a pause, perhaps slightly longer than usual, but no longer than a human would hesitate. Jim had expected slight delays since it was the Vulcan’s hands and ears taking in the information, rather than the piercing eyes that used to take in facts almost instantly.

    ‘Status normal, Captain,’ the Vulcan replied, turning his chair towards the captain. ‘No reported abnormalities in the last ten scans of the area.’

    ‘O-kay,’ Kirk said. It was slightly disconcerting that the Vulcan’s eyes were directed towards the top right of the viewscreen rather than his face. ‘I want you to run an on-going scan of the surrounding space - widest possible scope.’

    There was the slightest lift of the Vulcan’s eyebrow as he asked, ‘Searching for, sir?’

    ‘Searching for - ’ Kirk hesitated, thinking, then said, ‘Foreign bodies, spacial anomalies, er - warp capable space craft, planetary systems containing Class M planets. Log a detailed report of each notable find. Feed the results through to my earpiece as you get them.’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Spock nodded, turning immediately to his instruments. His expression had been unreadable, but Kirk knew he was aware that this was a test. Starfleet had demanded rigorous tests and positive results, and Jim knew inside that he wanted those assurances too.

    ‘Ensign Chekov,’ Kirk said, lowering his voice. He cringed inside, because he could feel Spock’s attention still on him. ‘Run the same scans from your console, and check them against Commander Spock’s. Report any discrepancies to me.’

    ‘Er - yes, sir,’ Chekov replied, the reluctance clear in his voice.

    At the end of an hour’s testing, results showed that Spock had missed nothing in his searching, while Chekov had overlooked two minor asteroids and a small gas cloud. Kirk looked over the readings for a final time, with a warm sense of relief at the Vulcan’s success, then went up to Spock’s station.

    ‘Well, Mr Spock.’

    Spock removed his ear piece and turned towards Kirk. ‘Captain?’

    ‘What can I say? There’s barely any difference from your work two months ago. When we walked onto the bridge I didn’t expect you to do so well.’

    ‘You said - barely any difference, Captain?’ Spock asked.

    ‘Just a very slight drop in speed - nothing major. You’re still faster than a human could be.’

    ‘Nevertheless, I shall try to correct the fault.’

    ‘I’m sure you will, Mr Spock.’

    ‘Are there any other tests you wish me to undergo, Captain?’ Spock asked, and Kirk winced, wishing it hadn’t been so obvious.

    ‘Just update on science department work over the last eight weeks, then carry on with normal duties, Mr Spock. Or test yourself, if you like. I can have Chekov cover the main science duties from his station.’

    ‘I am already updated, and the best test of my abilities is the performance of my normal duties,’ Spock replied.

    ‘Carry on, then, Mr Spock,’ Kirk nodded, then said in a quieter tone, ‘It’s good to see you back up here, Spock.’

    Spock nodded in acknowledgement of the sentiment, then turned back to his console. He reactivated his scanners, listening carefully to every blip and click his console made, and the flat computer readouts through the ear piece. In that way, if his attention was not distracted, he could take in as many as five different pieces of aural information at once, just as if glancing from screen to screen. With one hand on the read-out screen the capacity was increased, until it was up to his normal standard.

    Spock found that if he sat back, closed his eyes and relaxed, he could work at his station with total ease, instinctively, his hands finding everything that he needed, his ears taking in information and the general murmur around the rest of the bridge. It was only when he needed to touch the new braille read-out panel or feel a diagram that his hand could not reach instinctively to the right place, and the calm instinctive way of working was broken. The instinctual familiarity with these new adaptations would come with time, he knew.

    Meanwhile, it was odd how much more he knew now about what was happening around the bridge when he focused his attention outwards. Before, he had sat with his back to the rest of the bridge and only heard odd voices and noises. Now sitting with his back to the bridge was no different to sitting facing it. He could hear the insistent coded bleep from the communications console signalling a message from engineering, and Uhura’s soft voice answering - he could even hear the muffled voice of Engineer Scott through her earpiece. He could hear Lieutenant Bryson at the engineering station, her computer going through diagnostics of all the systems. There were the slow rhythmic noises of Ensign Chekov’s computer searching out stars and navigational beacons, Lieutenant Sulu speaking to him, making odd jokes and comments. He could even hear Jim Kirk’s hand movements at his command chair as he checked systems and altered the view on the viewscreen.

    He turned his attention back to the noises from his own console. One of the coded blips was signalling something interesting. He silenced the other channels and focussed in on that blip, assessing what it meant. A warp capable ship hovering at the edge of sensor range, perhaps simply on a similar course to the Enterprise. All the same, he would have been happier if he could have studied the probably blurred image of the ship on the screen, to let sight confirm what the computers suggested.

    He waited to hear a lull in activity at the communications console, then raised his voice slightly to ask, ‘Lieutenant Uhura, your assistance.’

    She came to his chair, and asked, ‘Yes, sir?’

    He touched a few buttons, then said, ‘Confirm this reading. I have transferred it to visual.’

    There was a moment of silence as she bent over the viewer, then she said, ‘Small craft at far range of the scanners. Capable of warp, moving parallel to this vessel. Weapons, unknown. Type, unidentifiable.’

    ‘You cannot make out any recognisable features to the vessel?’

    ‘No, sir. It’s too far away to make out.’

    ‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Spock nodded.

    ‘Danger, sir?’ she asked with curiosity in her voice.

    He shook his head. ‘Apparently not at the present moment. It is not within weapons range, it has not performed any aggressive moves. It is simply there. Thank you, Lieutenant - that is all.’

    ‘What is it, Mr Spock?’ Kirk asked as Uhura moved away, and Spock realised he had been listening to the exchange.

    ‘A ship, Captain,’ he replied without turning. ‘It is running parallel to us, but I can ascertain no danger at present.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk said. ‘Keep monitoring.’

    ‘Yes, sir.’

    Spock retreated back into the world of his science duties, keeping one ear on that quiet blipping of the anonymous ship. He did not emerge from that world until a firm hand touched his shoulder, and he became aware of Kirk standing behind him. Once he focused his attention on his duties it was very easy in the darkness to become cut off from the outside world of the bridge.

    ‘Yes, Captain?’ he asked.

    ‘What do you mean, yes, Captain?’ Kirk asked. ‘I called your name three times. Where were you?’

    ‘I apologise, sir - I was concentrating.’

    ‘You look tired, Mr Spock. I guess it’s been a long day.’

    ‘I have been subject to an unusual amount of activity,’ Spock admitted. ‘It is nothing to be concerned about.’

    ‘Okay,’ Kirk smiled. ‘I was asking you if you wanted to come down to a rec. room for dinner?’

    Spock blinked, checked the time in his head, and realised that his shift had just finished. All the same, he hesitated at the idea of eating in the rec. room.

    ‘Spock?’ Kirk asked, then said very quietly, ‘You don’t have to worry about eating down there. You’re just as neat as you always were. You can’t take all your meals in your room.’

‘Dinner would be pleasant,’ Spock nodded, standing up. ‘So would some time in the recreation room. I have not been there for quite a while.’

******

Spock collected his Vulcan lyre on the way down to the recreation room, and now he sat with the instrument resting against his chair as he took spoonfuls of hot plomeek soup. Jim was sitting opposite him, steadily devouring a chicken salad in between conversation. Behind Kirk’s voice and the noise of his eating he could hear the room slowly filling with off-duty crew. He got the impression from the snippets of talk he overheard that they were there out of curiosity more than a desire for relaxation. He had spent most of his off-duty time so far in his or friends’ quarters, allowing himself the luxury of such familiar surroundings, and this was the first time he had been seen in a rec room, the first time many of the crew had seen him blind. But it was difficult eating under such scrutiny, and Kirk was obviously distracted by the whispers.

‘So I believe I should rotate Chekov’s duties with Yeoman Tamura,’ Spock continued, aware that he only had half of his captain’s attention. ‘She has proved a most able assistant in the past, and Chekov should have some opportunity to work with a sighted mentor. He can share Tamura’s hours with Lieutenant Llewelyn, whilst she will benefit from the bridge experience.’

‘Hmm,’ Jim said.

Spock took a spoonful of soup, then cocked his head, and said, ‘Captain, I do not believe you have been listening to a word I was saying.’

‘What?’ Kirk asked.

‘I was talking of rotating Chekov’s duties, Jim.’

‘Mr Spock, my crew is treating you like a damn freak show,’ Kirk muttered.

‘They would not be in Starfleet if they did not possess a natural sense of curiosity. However, I will say something,’ he said, aware he was doing it more to satisfy Jim than himself.

Spock pushed his chair out and got to his feet. As he turned to face the room the chatter around him faded without him having to say a word.

‘Your attention please,’ he said, and the final voices died down. The door opened, and he was aware that McCoy was standing in the entrance, listening. ‘I am quite aware of the curiosity you are all feeling concerning my situation. I do not condemn it, but I should attempt to lay some rumours to rest. I assume you all know how I was blinded almost two months ago.’

There was a murmur of agreement, so Spock continued, ‘That blindness is total and permanent, and that is why there are so many equipment conversions being implemented about the ship. I may need some extra assistance while adapting to my situation, but my rank and duties remain unchanged. Do not be afraid to offer help, or to ask questions about my blindness. I would rather you ask than misunderstand. It is most important that you remember that although I may appear changed because of the practical problems my blindness engenders, I am the same person that I was two months ago. Thank you.’

He sat back down. The silence in the room continued for a moment, then was slowly replaced by a quiet murmuring. Then a voice raised above the rest - Spock recognised the Irish accent immediately.

‘Commander Spock?’

‘Yes, Lieutenant Riley?’ he asked.

‘Sir, are you going to play us some tunes, or just torment us by leaving that lyre where everyone can see it?’

‘I may play it later, Lieutenant,’ Spock answered. ‘I am eating at present. You will have to be patient.’

    ‘Well, I’ll call Uhura down anyway, sir,’ he replied. ‘She’ll be wanting to sing along.’

‘As you wish,’ Spock nodded, turning back to his now lukewarm soup. He pushed it aside, and started on a plate of roasted vegetables and soya chunks that had thankfully retained their heat.

‘Well, Mr Spock, you’ve given them something to talk about,’ McCoy said as he strolled across the room.

‘That was not my intention, Doctor,’ Spock replied. ‘I could hear a few quite fantastical rumours in their conversations, and I simply wished to quell them before they got out of hand. Having people believe I had been demoted to Lieutenant and reassigned to Stellar Cartography would not be conducive to crew discipline.’

‘Well, no. So how did your shift go, Mr Spock?’ McCoy asked, sitting down near him and slapping down a tray. Spock could smell something like cheese flan - after that morning in the hotel McCoy had been oddly considerate about not consuming too much red meat in front of him.

‘Quite smoothly, just as I had expected. As you intimated earlier, Doctor, it does not take sight to sit at a console monitoring sensor data. There was only one unusual event to take my attention.’

‘Which was?’ McCoy asked, concern edging his voice.

‘Just a ship, Bones,’ Kirk told him. ‘A small unidentifiable craft moving parallel to us. It hasn’t done anything - it’s just hanging out there. For all we know it could just be a lone traveller sticking near us for safety. I’d be worried if I was a pilot on my own travelling towards Romulan space.’

‘So it’s not Romulan? You haven’t tried contacting them?’

‘To the first question, probably not,’ Spock replied. ‘And we have not attempted contact. At this point we are simply watching.’

‘You think it might be hostile, Jim?’

‘You just never know,’ Kirk shrugged. ‘It’s better to be ready for danger and get none than to blindly ignore it and get blown out of the sky.’

‘I have my shift replacement constantly monitoring the object, Doctor,’ Spock said. ‘She will call me if anything changes.’

‘And what about those Pernicians?’

‘I have not run into the Pernicians since my encounter in the briefing room. I shall not say that I have missed their presence.’

‘You ready for your command shift in the morning?’

‘I have made the necessary preparations,’ Spock said. He wanted to treat this just as it was - an ordinary shift in the captain’s chair. He was already familiar with the controls there and had felt the adaptations on the arm panels.

‘Talking about your shift,’ Kirk said. He waited until Spock finished the last piece of roast Vulcan gfa on his plate, and pushed something across the table to him. ‘I wanted to give you this.’

Spock wiped his fingers on his napkin, and reached out to feel a thick book, bound in a plush cover that felt warm and soft and smooth to his skin. There was tactile writing on the cover. He turned it to him, and felt over the raised lines.

‘T’Pel’s Meditations on Space and Science,’ he read aloud. He felt into the centre pages of the book, picking up fragments of words and phrases with his fingers. The paper felt rich and expensive. ‘Her newest publication. Thank you, Jim. I had wanted to read this.’

‘I know,’ Kirk smiled. ‘I thought you’d like it.’

‘Captain, I am unaware of any current celebration requiring the giving of gifts?’
‘Try the first page,’ Kirk said, and Spock opened the book, to feel the words inside, *For getting back onto the bridge, from your captain and friend.*

‘Then you knew I would succeed?’ Spock asked, half-amused. ‘You must have bought this on Earth?’

‘Of course I knew you’d succeed! I had it printed by that little company you told me about in Europe - picked it up on the day we beamed back to the ship.’

‘Your confidence is reassuring, Jim,’ Spock told him. ‘It is in Vulcan touch language,’ he said, running his fingers again over the cover of the book.

‘You’re okay with that, aren’t you?’

‘I am learning,’ Spock nodded. ‘Although it is more like learning a new language than a new alphabet. I am simply surprised - I know braille is standard for Starfleet.’

‘And it will be on all the facilities here - but it doesn’t have to be for your personal belongings. It took seven volumes in braille - it’s only one in this format.’

Spock raised an eyebrow slowly, feeling the four-inch thickness of the book before him. ‘I have said that when someone can invent a more compact form of braille, my life will become far easier. Perhaps the touch language is that compact form.’

The door opened, and Spock became aware of Lieutenant Uhura, accompanied by a few other people. He recognised the relaxed chatter of Nurse Chapel, Lieutenant Sulu, Mr Scott and Ensign Chekov, moving towards his table.

‘Lieutenant, I take it you have come to sing?’ he asked as Uhura approached.

‘And brought her own audience,’ Kirk said light-heartedly. ‘Sit down, all of you. I’m off duty - you can sit at the captain’s table. Spock, you gonna play?’

‘I will play,’ Spock nodded. ‘But I will have coffee first.’

Kirk stacked the trays up together and stood up. ‘Anyone else for coffee?’ At the chorus of affirmatives, he sighed a long-suffering sigh. ‘Coffee for eight, then. Anyone want to help me carry?’

‘I’ll help, sir,’ Sulu said quickly.

Spock listened to them go, then picked up his lyre and rested the base on his leg, touching the tightly stretched strings to check the tuning. There was something reassuring in the aged scent of the wood and the low vibrations the strings sent through his body. Then he put the instrument back down to wait for his drink. There was also something reassuring in the familiar routine of sitting in a rec. room with most of the bridge crew, engaged in simple conversation over drinks.

The evening was a pleasant mixture of music and song, with respites for refreshment, during which Spock found many of the rest of the group at the table had yet to settle into the relaxed acceptance of Kirk, McCoy and Uhura. Scott had spent time with him talking about the adaptations, and Chekov had been helping him, but for Sulu and Chapel this was the first time they had had the chance to speak to him since the accident. Even so, Spock was slowly realising that at least part of the tension he felt around people unused to his blindness came from his own unease, and with his own acceptance it was far easier to deal with their hesitancy.

‘So, Mr Spock, how’re you finding all my changes around the ship?’ Scott asked from the far end of the table.

‘Extremely useful, Mr Scott,’ Spock nodded. ‘You have saved me a great deal of trouble in making the place so accessible.’

‘Aye, well - it was Starfleet who paid for it,’ Scott said modestly.

‘But you who directed all the changes. It must have taken considerable research.’

‘Just a few nights’ work, and some good contacts. I had the director of a wee rehab place in Glasgow beam up and show me what you’d need, Mr Spock. Christine here helped me with all of the planning and sent out all the orders for parts.’

‘Thank you, Nurse Chapel,’ Spock nodded, turning his head in her direction, focussing intently on the scents and sounds of her. Perhaps it was illogical, but he was struck by a sudden desire just to *see* her face. ‘I greatly appreciate your effort.’

‘I just wanted the ship to be ready for you, sir,’ she replied with as much modesty as Scott. ‘Are you going to play us another song, Mr Spock?’

‘What do you wish to hear?’ Spock asked amiably. Scott had been plying him with whiskeys since his arrival, and while alcohol had little effect on Vulcans, his human half was susceptible. He felt pleasantly relaxed, but kept it in the back of his mind to ask Kirk to accompany him to his cabin door, considering the disorientation that alcohol could bring.

‘How about Salek’s requiem for the Vulcan lyre?’ she asked. Spock wondered if she knew that that piece was one of his favourites.

‘The requiem is not a song, Nurse,’ he reminded her.

‘No, but it’s a beautiful piece of music.’

‘Yes,’ Spock nodded, placing his fingers to the strings. It was becoming late, he realised as he began the piece, but this was the most relaxed evening he had had in a long while. Since tomorrow was his first command shift, now seemed the time to relax.

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