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Commander Spock and Captain James T. Kirk stood at attention facing the monitor in Briefing Room B, awaiting the scheduled communication from Starbase Nine. At precisely 2100 hours Lieutenant Uhura notified them that the message was coming in. A moment later the face of Admiral Norris, head of the northwest quadrant, filled the screen.

The admiral's eyes darted from Spock to Kirk and back again. He nodded his head in acknowledgement but uncharacteristically did not smile. “Captain, are you aware of the recent discoveries in the Carina Nebula?”

Kirk cast a sidelong glance at his first officer. “Yes, Admiral. I know something about it. I'm sure that Mister Spock could fill me in on any details.”

Norris gaze returned to Spock. “Commander?”

The Vulcan answered without hesitation. “It has recently been discovered that the southernmost sector of the nebula contains an area in which complex elements are forming out of the molecular cloud. As this is an event rarely witnessed first hand, it has received much scientific attention in recent weeks.”

“Then you realize the importance of investigating the phenomenon?”

An eyebrow crept up. “Of course, Admiral. It could answer many questions concerning primal molecular formation as well as confirming or refuting the currently held theory of stellar evolution.”

“Quite correct.” Norris shifted in his chair. “We have, therefore, in conjunction with several civilian organizations, arranged to send one of Earth's top scientists out to you. He's already en route and should arrive in approximately eighteen hours. As the Enterprise is the closest fully-equipped vessel, she will be put at the disposal of the investigation efforts.”

Norris gave Spock a most peculiar look, one that the Vulcan returned without expression. “You are aware of who that scientist is, are you not?”

Spock stiffened slightly, a subtle sign of inner tension that Kirk did not miss. He leaned forward. “I don't know who he is, Admiral.”

Norris clasped his hands tightly together as he turned back. “His name is Morvallis, Sidney Morvallis of the United British Institutes and Museums. He's the leading Federation expert on chemical and molecular formations.”

Kirk's expression was blank. Norris cleared his throat, attention focused on the desk before him. “Captain, formations like this are virtually unheard of. There have only been two recorded accounts of its occurrence in the past hundred years.”

“I'm not questioning its scientific importance, Admiral.”

Norris continued as if the captain had not spoken. “It appears to be triggered by a complex series of events, very few of which, as Commander Spock can undoubtedly inform you, are adequately understood. And there's no way of knowing how long the effect will last. It's imperative that we get an expert in the field out there to study it as soon as possible. We dared not wait to find a more suitable candidate.”

His words trailed off. Kirk studied his grim face in confusion. “Admiral, I don't understand.”

Norris raised his head to look at him directly. “Captain, Sidney Morvallis is a notorious racist. He's on record for his beliefs in the biological inferiority of outworlders, is quite outspoken on the subject. He's lost several research positions due to his inability to work with some of the other scientists involved.” Norris' gaze returned to Spock.

Now the captain understood. Unfortunately. “Such ideas have been a source of embarrassment to all civilized people for centuries,” he said, his voice deceptively soft.

Norris sighed. “Not all, I'm afraid. And his intellectual brilliance has protected him. He's invaluable as a scientist and, consequently, these attitudes have been overlooked, although at times that has been difficult. Commander,” the admiral's attention wandered back and forth between them, clearly reflecting his unease, “you're one of Starfleet's experts in such matters. You should be able to work well together, complement one another in your range of expertise.” He glanced at his entwined fingers, the whitened skin, and slowly pulled them apart. “I am sorry about this. I hope that he'll exercise enough courtesy to respect your position.”

Norris hesitated. Here it comes, Kirk thought to himself. “Is there something else, sir?”

The admiral's expression hardened. “Yes, Jim, I'm afraid that there is. Yesterday Doctor Morvallis personally checked the personnel aboard your vessel. The information is not classified, not for someone with his clearance, and we had no legal right to deny him access. Not that it would have mattered in any event since it had already been decided to send him to the Enterprise.” Again, hesitation. “After he read the list, he asked that his status be changed to that of a priority-mission civilian.”

Kirk felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. He recognized the significance of that action. As a civilian on a priority mission, Morvallis would be beyond the reach of his authority. He'd have to do something little short of murder to end up in the brig. Obviously, he knew who he was dealing with and was careful to remove himself from possible retaliation. The implications of that action were not pleasant ones.

Norris seemed anxious to end the conversation. His hand reached for the intercom switch. “Again, Commander, I'm sorry for any embarrassment this may cause you. Good luck, gentlemen. Norris out.”

The viewscreen went dark.

Several seconds passed.

Spock stood quietly, composed and collected.

Kirk, for his part, was filled with rage and disgust: rage at Morvallis for his twisted, narrow-minded beliefs, and disgust at Starfleet for not telling him to take his request for upgraded status and stick it up his ass. To give in to him on this, knowing what it would mean to Spock, who was going to have to work closely with the man, was unforgivable.

“Jim.”

He looked up.

“Doctor Morvallis is a brilliant scientist. Starfleet was correct in sending him. And, in view of... circumstances, he likely would not have come without the change of status. As a civilian, they could not have ordered him to do so.”

True, not that it took the sting out of the situation one iota.

But, noting the sadness in Spock's eyes, Kirk let it go. “I suppose you're right.” He rested a hand lightly on the Vulcan's arm. “As usual.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Kirk strode into the transporter room ten minutes early to find Spock already there. The Vulcan's expression was placid, his posture relaxed. He inclined his head. “The Elsor is coming within beaming range, sir. We should receive their signal momentarily.”

“Very well.” Moving to Spock's side, he waited, trying to convince himself that Morvallis was a professional, that he'd undoubtedly be anxious to proceed with the mission without incident. That he wouldn't allow such a rare astronomical event to be disturbed by petty racial bickering.

All of these thoughts ran through Kirk's mind in the space of a few seconds and totally failed to reassure him. For earlier today he'd run a thorough records search of Sidney Morvallis, learned of the many unsavory incidents that had patterned his life, examples of such vicious bigotry it had left the captain stunned. To say that the man was intolerant would have been a gross understatement.

The reports of incidents were long, the most recent of which being a scientific conference on Melora V just two weeks before, one in which Morvallis had become so embroiled in a dispute with a Vulcan exobiologist it had almost ended up in a brawl. That, too, was an important event, as important in its own way as this one, but Morvallis seemed unaffected by that fact. The thought of what he must have said to the aged Vulcan to nearly provoke him to physical violence turned Kirk's blood cold.

“Captain?” Spock regarded him quizzically. “We are getting the signal.”

He mentally shook himself. “I'm sorry, Spock. I was thinking.”

A sober, understanding nod. The direction of Kirk's thoughts wasn't difficult to guess.

Lieutenant Kyle looked over at them. “I have the coordinates for beaming, sir.”

Kirk stared straight ahead. Morvallis' venom would not taint the atmosphere aboard his ship. He would make that crystal clear immediately. If the doctor wanted a confrontation, he would have one. But it wouldn't be with Spock or another alien crew member. It would be with the captain. And it would be now. “Energize.”

The form took shape in the chamber and, when transportation was complete, the wiry body came to life and stepped forward. A tall man, tall and spare, with a frame much like Spock's but far thinner. The Vulcan's fine muscle tone was absent in his lanky form and he looked weak despite his height. His skin was very pale, his straw-colored hair short and bristly, the sight of him bringing to Kirk's mind uncomfortable images from a dark period in Earth's history. The only thing missing was the uniform.

Morvallis smiled at him before turning to Spock. The smile stayed on his face but his teeth suddenly began to show. Slowly, his gaze wandered up and down the Vulcan's body.

Kirk stepped forward. “Welcome aboard, Doctor.” His words were clipped and he did not extend his hand. “I'm Captain James Kirk. This is my first officer, Commander Spock.”

Sidney Morvallis might be an unrepentant bigot but he wasn't stupid. He knew that the two men were friends, had been for a long time. As he walked off the platform, his teeth disappeared behind fine lips. “Greetings, Captain, Commander.” He bowed to the waist, his action including them both, and Kirk was unsure if the gesture was intended as a mockery.

“I've heard of your daring exploits, Captain. It is indeed a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Blue eyes darted over to Spock. “I've also heard of you, Commander. Your reputation as a scientist is well known to me, although I must admit to some surprise at learning that a Vulcan was serving on a starship filled with humans. You people usually stay among yourselves, do you not?”

Spock didn't reply but Kirk could see the slight tension in his jaw. He took another step forward. That was all he was prepared to take. “Mister Kyle, Mister Spock, would you please leave us alone for a moment?”

Kyle shot Spock a sympathetic look. Without a word the two men left the room.

Kirk waited until the door closed before swinging around. Morvallis met his gaze, his snide grin fading as the captain approached, stopping when they were barely an arm's length apart. “Doctor Morvallis.” Despite the fire in his eyes, his voice was level and almost unnervingly calm. “You are aboard this vessel because Starfleet Command has ordered it. I've officially protested your presence and will tolerate no displays of bigotry while you are here. Your personal beliefs and attitudes are not my concern but you will keep them personal.”

Morvallis hesitated, then seemed to regain his footing as that oily smile returned. “I'm a civilian on a high priority mission, Captain. Surely you realize that I'm beyond your military authority.”

Kirk stepped closer, forcing Morvallis to back away from him. “I don't like to repeat myself, Doctor. If I hear that you've shown Commander Spock anything other than the respect his person and position deserve, I will personally knock your teeth down your throat once we get back to Starbase Nine. Is that clear?” The captain smiled and this time his teeth were showing.

Morvallis very nearly made an insolent response, then thought better of it. “Yes. Quite clear.”

“Good. Your quarters are on deck six, room 118. Would you like me to show you the way?”

The doctor glared at him, no longer attempting to disguise the hatred in his eyes. “No. I'll find it on my own, thank you.”

Kirk stood to one side and extended his arm for Morvallis to precede him into the corridor. Kyle stood, feigning disinterest, at the end of the hallway. Spock was nowhere to be seen. Seeing the captain and Morvallis step out, he moved toward them and began to enter the transporter room.

“Mister Kyle, did Mister Spock say where he'd be?”

“Yes, sir. He said he'd be in the main science lab.”

“Very well. I'll --- “

“Kyle,” Morvallis cut in. “A good British name.” He gave the transporter chief a friendly grin. And Anglo-Saxon to the core from the looks at him. Finally, a suitable candidate for conversation. “And you even have an accent. Where are you from?”

For a moment Kyle said nothing. He eyed Morvallis warily, aware of the doctor's reputation, before responding with a curt, “England.”

Nodding at the captain, he returned to his post.

Morvallis watched silently as the door slid shut.

Kirk, for his part, watched Morvallis. “Mister Spock is well respected aboard the Enterprise, Doctor. You would do well to remember that.”

Morvallis paused, uncertain if the words carried the hint of a threat. “I have a job to do here, Captain. That is my primary concern. I know of your Vulcan's reputation. He is competent to assist me. If he behaves himself, we'll have no trouble.”

Kirk fixed him with a piercing stare. “Commander Spock is not your 'assistant'.” His tone was frigid.

Morvallis met it evenly. “A slip of the tongue.”

“And he's not 'my' Vulcan. To you, he is Commander Spock. You'd do well to remember that as well.”

This time the threat was unmistakable. Morvallis shrugged, tried to sound indifferent. “We won't have any problems.”

“See that you don't.” Kirk held his gaze for another moment before turning and walking quickly down the corridor.

Malevolence returned to those icy blue eyes, growing with every step the captain took. When he'd finally passed from sight, Morvallis kicked a foot savagely against the wall. “Filthy peon,” he muttered. “Filthy, goddamn peon.”

 

 

*****

 

 

The first day began uneventfully. Morvallis and Spock worked in the same laboratory, separated by thirty feet of floor space and a thousand miles of bigotry. They'd been down here all morning. So far not a single word had passed between them.

Engrossed in his work, Spock felt no need to converse with the doctor. He ran his research without problems, rapidly scanning the scientific anomaly ahead, programming and correlating data.

From across the room, Morvallis studied him. A man who guarded his professional reputation with fanatical zeal, he found the speed with which the Vulcan worked impossible to equal. As the hours passed, a deep-seated fear of competition grew within him. Watching Spock out of the corner of his eye, he found himself believing that the Vulcan was filling his computer with meaningless facts, attempting to outdo his human rival by pretending he was working at such a relentless pace when, in reality, he was doing nothing at all.

Determined to call his bluff, Morvallis stood and walked rapidly across the room. Without asking permission, he leaned on Spock's shoulder, almost knocking him aside as he pushed forward to read the monitor. The complex mathematical equations that covered it stunned him, Morvallis realizing with a flash of panic that he didn't understand a good number of them.

Spock sat back in his chair. “Do you require assistance, Doctor?”

There was a hint of insolence in his tone that hit Morvallis like a blow to the chest. He straightened and moved away. “No. I have no need of your help.”

Spock showed no reaction and returned to his work, plotting, deliberately, Morvallis had no doubt, an excessively long formula onto his screen.

Stifling a vile comment, the doctor went back to his desk.

It was only a few minutes after this exchange that Captain Kirk entered the lab. He gave Morvallis a terse nod before walking to stand beside Spock. When the Vulcan glanced up, he smiled and sat in the chair at his side. “How's the research going?”

“Long range scanners are relaying considerable information.” Spock frowned ever so slightly. “But they still only provide a glimpse of what is going on inside the cloud.”

The captain noted his frustration. “You'll figure it out. Give yourself some time. You've only been at it for four hours.”

An amused expression came over Spock's face. Kirk rolled his eyes. “I know, four hours and an odd number of minutes and an odd number of seconds.”

“An even number of minutes, Captain.”

Kirk laughed aloud. He'd almost forgotten that Morvallis was there. “Touche, my friend. I did have a reason for coming to see you, other than your sterling company, of course. Chekov's been running your station on the bridge and he's just about beside himself with frustration. He wants to come down and help with your research. I realize that it'll take you longer to explain to him what you want than if you were to do it yourself but it'd be good experience and this sort of research has always been of particular interest to him.”

Spock nodded. “Quite correct. I should have thought of that myself. You may send him down immediately if you wish.”

“Good.” Reaching out, Kirk patted Spock affectionately on the arm, just caught Morvallis glaring at him from across the room. He turned to face him, deliberately leaving his hand where it was. “Is there something I can do for you, Doctor?”

Morvallis dropped his gaze to his terminal. “No.”

Kirk's, however, remained steady.

The doctor knew it, pretended otherwise as he busied himself with his work.

“Jim.”

Reluctantly, Kirk turned back.

“It is unimportant. So long as he doesn't interfere with my work, it is something to which I can adjust.”

The words did little to ease the captain's anger. “You shouldn't have to 'adjust' to it, Spock.”

Dark eyes softened. “It is not the first time I've encountered such sentiments. I am quite insensitive to it now.”

Sure, you are, Kirk thought, seeing the pain carefully concealed behind that Vulcan mask. But, knowing that pursuing the matter would only serve to increase Spock's embarrassment, the captain let it go.

“Very well.” He rose to his feet. “I'll send Chekov down right away. If you need any further help, be sure to let me know.” Both men understood the implication behind his words.

Shooting Morvallis a last warning stare, he left the room

Spock watched him go, met Morvallis' gaze as he turned back. For several seconds they simply looked at one another. Then, with an expression of indifference that clearly infuriated the doctor, Spock returned his attention to his board and continued to work.

 

 

*****

 

 

Ensign Chekov entered the science lab at a near run. Hearing the frantic sounds of his approach, Spock repressed a smile. Raising his head, he gave the navigator an amused look. “We are not that pressed for time, Mister Chekov. The effect has already been occurring for twenty-six days.”

Chekov made a visible effort to assume a calm and dignified demeanor. “Yes, sir.”

Spock pulled up a schematic on his monitor. “This is a report on the molecular components of the nebula in the area thirty-one arc minutes by forty-two. Do you recognize the constituent elements by their atomic weight?”

Glancing up, he saw Chekov still hovering behind him and gently inclined his head toward the chair at his side, the young Russian's deference inwardly pleasing him. “Sit, Mister Chekov.”

Chekov sat and, unconsciously mimicking his pose, studied the monitor. “Yes, sir. Hydrogen mainly, of course. Twenty-three percent helium, three percent sodium, five of methane and six of carbon...” He leaned closer and frowned. “I don't recognize this, though.”

“That is not surprising, Mister Chekov. It is ferrous oxide.”

Chekov's eyes widened. “Iron, sir!”

It was harder to hide the smile this time as Chekov drew even closer to look fixedly at the screen, as if the more intensive scrutiny would make the data easier to accept. Unconsciously, he brushed up against Spock's arm.

Suddenly, Morvallis was standing before them. “Get away from him, Vulcan swine.” He hissed the words through clenched teeth. “I might have expected something like this from a half-breed like you.”

For a second both Chekov and Spock sat staring at him in stunned silence. Abruptly, the navigator rose to his feet. “Doctor Morvallis, you will not speak to ---”

“Mister Chekov.” Spock's voice was sharp. “You are to go at once to the auxiliary science lab and run a scan of the area fifty-one arc minutes by seventy-nine, please.” His gaze remained locked on Morvallis as he spoke.

Hands balled into fists, Chekov cast him an outraged look. “Sir!”

“Now, Mister Chekov.”

Taking a deep breath, the navigator turned and stomped from the room.

After the doors closed, Spock stood and circled the table, Morvallis' sense of righteous indignation vanishing at the look in those steely eyes. Realized somewhat belatedly that there was a definite down side to his little display of bigotry, that this Vulcan, unlike the others he'd insulted over the years, had human blood in his veins. Vulcan strength and human anger: a highly dangerous combination.

Swallowing somewhat spasmodically, Morvallis backpedaled across the room.

Spock matched him step for step. “Whatever your feelings are concerning me,” he growled, “they will stay between us alone. You are never again to involve another member of this crew.”

Morvallis stumbled as he hit the far wall. Mutely, he nodded, breathing a heavy sign of relief as the Vulcan at last halted his relentless pursuit. Spock took a step back, and Morvallis, seeing it for the escape route it was, edged past him and returned to his own desk.

Spock watched as he hunkered down, well aware that, as with all creatures of his ilk, Morvallis was a coward at heart, his courage serving him best under a mask or in the dark. In the light, faced with direct opposition, it melted away like fog in the morning sun.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was two hours later when Morvallis approached Spock again. His steps were hesitant, and when the Vulcan lifted his head to look at him, he smiled, teeth carefully concealed behind thin lips. “We're colleagues, Commander,” he said contritely. “Let's bury the hatchet, shall we? Work together as professionals?”

Spock said nothing. His eyes were wary, his expression carved in stone.

The doctor's gaze dropped as he studied his manicured fingernails for a moment. “I'm sorry for my remarks of earlier. They were totally out of line. Will you accept my apologies?” His voice fairly dripped with sincerity. “I don't like the way I am, Commander. I know it doesn't seem like it but I really do want to change. I've been seeking therapy for years to try and make myself understand why I feel the way I do. Part of the blame, I know, is due to my father. He was a very narrow-minded man. Racial slurs were a standard part of conversation at the dinner table: 'slope head' this and 'lizard skinned' that.”

The suspicion in Spock's eyes softened by a fraction.

Fool. Sentimental, naive fool. He indicated the chair at his side. “May I?”

Still distrustful of his intentions, Spock nodded. Morvallis sat, studied the information on his monitor. He pointed to a particular entry. “What is the matter density here?”

“One hundred and seventy-two hydrogen atoms equivalent per cubic millimeter.”

Morvallis frowned. “But my report indicates a density three times higher only thirty arc seconds distant.”

One arched eyebrow lifted in surprise.

“Come on. I'll show you.” He stood, heard the Vulcan follow behind him, curiosity overshadowing his previous caution. Calling up the information, he indicated the relevant information. Spock leaned forward as data filled the screen.

“I've been running some chemical tests of my own to confirm the findings,” he commented innocuously.

Spock's gaze flashed to the mixing chamber beside the doctor's desk, then returned to the monitor.

Surreptitiously, Morvallis reached down to a tray hidden from view and pulled out a glass vial. Concealing the container in his palm, he leaned toward Spock as if to read the data with him. With a flick of his wrist, he tipped the vial onto its side.

An ugly hiss filled the room as the acid spilled across the back of Spock's hand. With a startled cry, he jerked away. Holding his arm out before him, he ran to the storage area, rapidly locating a neutralizing agent, well aware that Morvallis had made no move to help him. Breaking the seal with his teeth, he poured the solution over the burned flesh.

Morvallis finally stood and sauntered across the room. “So sorry, friend. You'll have to be more careful around dangerous chemicals.” He peered at the ugly wound with interest. “I'd call sickbay about that if I were you. Stuff's strong enough to eat right through to the nerve endings.” Snickering to himself, he strolled back to his desk and sat down, thoughts returning to the sublime beauty of the Carina Nebula.

 

 

*****

 

 

James Kirk stormed into sickbay just as his CMO was preparing to sterilize the wound. He took one look at Spock's hand and stiffened. The effort it took for him to control his temper was plainly visible to both men.

“Third degree burns, Jim.” McCoy spoke softly, attention on his work. “The entire skin surface is burned away. Fortunately, only a small portion of the hand is affected. He'll be back on duty in the morning.” He met Spock's gaze. “You should be able to control the pain without any problem. It'll be difficult to carry things for a while but this shouldn't seriously affect your work.”

Spock nodded silently, seemed relieved at the prognosis. McCoy was well aware that he was avoiding the captain's eyes.

Kirk stood over them, hands clenched into fists. “What happened?”

“A vial of acid spilled, sir.”

“Spilled? I never knew you to be careless, Spock, or to work so closely to dangerous chemicals.”

The Vulcan closed his eyes.

“Morvallis did it deliberately, didn't he?”

“Captain, please.”

“I don't intend to ask you again, Mister.”

Spock opened them again and fixed Kirk with a saddened expression. “I did not see it. I had turned away.”

“Convenient.”

“Please, captain, let it pass. I shall be more careful in the future.”

“There's no need for you to have to be careful on your own ship, damn it!”

“Jim.” Spock's voice dropped to a near whisper, knowing that it would moderate Kirk's tone as well. “This research is of extreme importance. I do not wish to see it jeopardized.”

The captain watched him in silence for a moment. And Spock knew that, regardless of his own words, Kirk had cut through the pretense immediately. The issue wasn't science or the advancement of knowledge and they both knew it. It was Spock, and the pain, the embarrassment and humiliation he felt over the whole sordid affair, a pain that dredged up memories of countless previous incidents in his life when the face of bigotry had reared up before him. Bitter memories that were best left untouched.

Kirk felt his anger begin to fade just a little. “What caused it, Spock?”

Spock shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Doctor Morvallis... misinterpreted...” Dark eyes turned up, pleading soundlessly to be allowed to keep silent.

Kirk clasped his hands behind his back and said nothing. The stiff posture gave Spock his answer.

Taking a deep breath, he related the incident. With each word, Kirk's anger grew until, by the time Spock had finished, his body radiated such smoldering fury it was almost tangible.

It didn't take a telepath to read what was in the captain's mind now. Spock had dealt with such intolerance before. It had tormented him since childhood and in a strange way he was used to it. But Morvallis' status on board the Enterprise protected him and he well knew that if Kirk did in fact confine him to quarters, or worse, the brig, as was clearly his intention, the repercussions could follow him for a very long time to come.

And the captain, as always, was Spock's primary concern. He would endure far more than a minor skin abrasion to protect his friend from Morvallis' venom. Far more.

“Jim,” he said softly, “I have no proof that the spill was intentional.”

Bullshit. Kirk's silent comment echoed distinctly inside his head but Spock ignored it and continued speaking. “I will exercise more caution in the future. And this investigation could irrevocably change the course of astrophysics. Surely that is the more important issue.”

“I'm not concerned with the course of astrophysics. I'm worried about you working with him.”

A faint smile touched the corners of Spock's mouth.

“All right,” Kirk added with visible reluctance. “I'll give him one more chance. But if there's a repeat of this I won't listen to any more arguments. Morvallis will spend the remainder of this trip in the brig, priority status and Carina Nebula or no.”

It was far more of a concession than Spock had expected. But then the two of them understood each other very well after all these years. “Thank you, Captain.”

Kirk turned to leave, then stopped at the door. “It's nearly lunch time. Are you hungry?”

“No.”

Kirk shook his head at Spock's exasperating honesty. “That was a rhetorical question, my friend. On Earth, when someone asks if you're hungry, what they really mean is, 'will you eat with me?'”

Spock put on his best Vulcan face. “Then why not simply say so?”

The captain gave in gracefully, realizing that Spock was trying in his own clumsy way to lighten the mood. “Will you eat with me?”

“Yes.”

Kirk flashed McCoy a look. The doctor, pleased that someone was finally including him in the conversation, nodded. “I'm almost done. Five minutes more and then he can go.”

“Good.” Kirk's tone had grown harsh again. “I'll be back soon. There's something I have to do first.”

 

 

*****

 

 

Sidney Morvallis prowled around the laboratory, awaiting the summons. Fifteen minutes after Spock had nearly fled the room, cradling his burned hand against his chest, the intercom buzzed. Morvallis knew before he answered the call who would be on the other end.

But he was wrong. It was Uhura, her voice cool and distant, summoning him to the captain's quarters. As communications officer, she'd relayed Spock's hurried to call to sickbay, knew what had taken place here, and he could clearly hear the disdain in her tone, the undercurrent of pity and just a hint of disgust. It was, however, far from the first time he'd encountered such sentiments. Another bleeding heart, wailing about the plight of the inferior. Gods, the galaxy was infested with them.

Flipping off the intercom, he stared at the wall for a moment. Uhura's sympathies were a matter of no real importance. What was important was what she'd said, what she'd been told to say.

The captain of the Enterprise had summoned him indirectly, asserting his own authority over that of the doctor's. The rationale behind his action was very clear.

Sensing the scene about to unfold before him but not daring to ignore the call, Morvallis made his way reluctantly to Kirk's quarters.

 

 

*****

 

 

The captain was sitting at his desk, writing, when the door opened. Morvallis strode in, projecting confidence at his invulnerability, but fearful of the confrontation.

Kirk looked up and, putting the stylus aside, rose deliberately to his feet. “Doctor Morvallis, it is only due to the intercession of Commander Spock that you are not now under confinement. Regardless of your supposed belief that you are above my authority, on this ship, if I order you to be taken to the brig, that is exactly where you will go.”

He leaned forward, hands spread widely apart on the desk before him. “And you may be assured that I would have done so for what you did today were it not for my first officer's request that you be allowed to continue your work. Commander Spock will be back in the labs in the morning. If there are any more incidents, any more acid spills, any unforeseen occurrences; if he falls and breaks his neck, if anything happens to him and you're on the same deck at the same time, I'll haul your ass to the brig so fast it'll make your head spin. Do you understand me?”

Morvallis physically recoiled at the words, furious and calm at the same time, carrying no hint that they would not be backed up with actions should it become necessary. He hunched his shoulders and took a step away from the desk. “Captain, it was an accident,” he croaked.

Kirk straightened. “Get out of here, Morvallis.”

The doctor seemed to wilt under his intense gaze. Nodding at the wall, he turned and left the room, nearly stumbling in his haste to get out.

 

 

*****

 

 

James Kirk and his first officer entered the dining hall together. Although the level of conversation did not fall and no one seemed to pay their entrance any undue attention, Kirk noticed at once that there was an underlying tension that pervaded the room, one that grew stronger the moment they walked through the door.

He slowed his steps and scanned the room. The Enterprise crew was a well-trained one: they were not the type to indulge in gossip. And yet, living out in space, in their self-contained world, they were very much a closed community. Well-trained or not, the word had spread. Kirk could see it clearly in the eyes that glanced up to meet his own, eyes filled with dismay, bewilderment, and sympathy.

And anger. Most of all, what he saw in the eyes of his crew was anger.

Standing beside him, Spock hit the selector, giving every indication that he was oblivious to the uneasiness in the air, and made a move toward the tray that appeared behind the panel. Kirk slipped an arm ahead of him and picked it up.

“Captain, I assure you that I can carry it myself.” The low voice was a trifle more detached than usual.

Oblivious, indeed. Kirk cast him a sidelong glance. “I'll do it.”

Spock acquiesced, knew better than to contest the blunt statement.

Carrying the trays to an empty table, the captain sat down. Spock took the seat facing him, watched in silence as he slid over the pile of vegetables. For a moment, neither man spoke. Some of the tension began to fade from the room.

Kirk cleared his throat. “I don't want you working alone with Morvallis.”

Spock raised his head and gave him a very disapproving look.

Kirk ignored it. “I'm sorry, Spock. I don't trust him. I intend to order Chekov assigned to you full-time. You're not to be alone with him again.” Kirk recognized the stubbornness in those dark eyes. His own hardened accordingly. Two could play at this game. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Captain, I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”

“Someone like Morvallis doesn't believe in a direct assault. He'd try something backhanded, catch you off-guard. No.” Kirk shook his head. “I won't tell Chekov why he's been assigned to you. He's already excited about the work he's done and he won't question it. But I'm telling you. Keep him with you, understood?”

“Yes, sir.” A slight emphasis on the word 'sir', Spock concealing his embarrassment behind a show of annoyance.

Kirk knew it, felt some of his own harshness drain away. Spock was, after all, an innocent victim in the matter. Reaching out, he touched the Vulcan's arm. “I don't mean to make this any more difficult for you. I'm worried about you, that's all.”

Spock's severe expression softened. “I know, Jim,” he whispered. “I know.”

In the back of his mind, Kirk heard the sound of the doors opening. And, although the noise level remained relatively unchanged, he immediately sensed the mood shift, didn't have to look up to know the reason.

“Am I interrupting something?” A chair leg grated harshly along the floor as the pleasant sounding voice of Sidney Morvallis filled the air.

Both men looked up into his icy blue eyes. He smiled, gaze roaming back and forth between them, coming to rest finally on Kirk's fingers where they had draped across Spock's arm. Without thinking, the captain withdrew them, cursing himself silently for the spontaneous action.

Morvallis' attention shifted to Spock's bandaged hand. “I'm pleased to see that you'll be all right, Commander. I feel responsible for the accident. It was careless of me to work with those chemicals nearby. Please be assured that I'll do everything in my power to help you in the labs.” His smile widened, his tone almost nauseatingly saccharine. “May I?” He indicated the chair he had pulled out.

Kirk glared at him but said nothing. Spock inclined his head by a fraction.

Morvallis sat carelessly and leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Commander, I really do feel responsible for your accident. I realize now, after my little talk with the captain,” he shot Kirk a quick glance, reading in his expression that he hadn't told Spock of the discussion, “that we're both professionals. It's unseemly that we don't seem able to work together.”

“It's you who has the problem, Morvallis.”

The doctor continued to look at Spock, ignoring Kirk's comment. “I know that your injury will make it more difficult for you to work. Please feel free to ask for assistance whenever you need it.”

He grinned again and swiveled his head around to face Kirk. The captain viciously stabbed a piece of food with his fork.

“Well,” Morvallis slapped his hands against his knees and rose, “I suppose I may as well eat something since I'm here. Then perhaps we can go to the labs and try to figure out this peculiar phenomenon, eh, Commander?” He gave Spock another warm smile before walking to the selector. The crew member standing beside him in line, a geologist from Life Sciences, edged away, his expression one of disgust.

If Morvallis noticed, he gave no indication.

Kirk and Spock both watched him key in his selection and carry the tray back to the table. As he reseated himself, he tilted it slightly to one side. Spock visibly paled as a thin trickle of blood sloshed over the edge and sprinkled the table top.

Grasping his knife with gusto, Morvallis began to cut into the meat. More blood oozed from the serrated edges, forming a shallow pool around the steak. The doctor smacked his lips. “Done just right. Those synthesizers are amazing. I'd swear it was the real thing. Even smells right.” He sniffed, rolled his eyes in feigned delight.

Kirk stared at his own plate, could feel his ears begin to burn as much with the knowledge that he was powerless to do anything as with Spock's discomfort. Morvallis had selected a food on the Enterprise's ration list. His preference as to the manner of its preparation was also within guidelines. Obviously the man was taking care to stay just this side of the line.

Shoving a large piece into his mouth, Morvallis began to chew. “I hear you people are all vegetarians.” He kept his mouth open as he spoke, his teeth now stained red. “A pity. Great stuff. You don't know what you're missing.”

The meat made a soft, grinding noise as he shredded it in his jaws. “Delicious, Kirk. My compliments to the chef. I may just have to get myself another.”

Spock was silent, gaze fixed downward as he toyed with the food on his plate. The scent of the nearly raw flesh threatened to strangle him.

Another cut into the soft muscle made his stomach roll over and he rose to his feet. Enough was enough. “Captain, if you will excuse me, I have a report to run.”

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left the room, crew members quickly sidestepping to allow him to pass.

Morvallis watched him go, a smug expression on his face. He shoved another piece into his mouth. “A bit touchy, isn't he? Should have stuck around. I'd have gotten to the fruit eventually.” He snickered.

It was the sound that did it. Suddenly, something in Kirk's mind seemed to snap. In one rapid gesture he stood, kicking his chair behind him with a loud crack.

As one, all eyes in the room turned to look at him. Conversation died abruptly.

He disregarded it completely. Grabbing a shocked Morvallis by the arm, he pulled him to his feet and dragged him toward the door. “Come on. We're going to have a little talk.”

Morvallis struggled ineffectually against the unyielding grip. “Let me go! How dare you manhandle me!”

Kirk turned as they stepped into the corridor, the anger in his eyes stilling Morvallis' tongue, and he let the captain pull his unresisting body to the nearest briefing room.

Forcing him into a chair, Kirk stood before him. “I intend to lodge a formal protest with Starfleet Command upon our return to Starbase.” His rage was more subdued now but no less dangerous. “I have a very good memory when it comes to things like this and I can assure you that I'll remember every slight, every insult, every degradation that you precipitate.” He put both hands on the arms of Morvallis' chair and leaned down until their noses were practically touching. “And I will order Spock to tell me of anything that occurs outside of my presence. He's a good second-in-command. He never refuses a direct order. And he never forgets anything.”

Morvallis drew back as far as he was able but Kirk moved with him. “I like my meat rare,” he bleated. “There's no crime in that.”

“Don't insult my intelligence, Morvallis. I know what you were doing. Everyone in that dining hall knew what you were doing.”

He straightened. “You seem to think that your brilliant mind will protect you, that your esteemed position will shield you from any backlash. Well, let me tell you something. I have a position of some power myself. I have friends in high places and could muster a very intimidating opposition to you if I so desired.” His eyes were hard as diamonds. “I don't like it when Spock is insulted. It irritates me. If I hear of one more incident, of any kind, I will use every bit of power and prestige I have. I'll call in every favor I'm owed, and I will personally destroy every shred of professional credibility you have left. Do I make myself perfectly clear?

Morvallis stared at the wall. “You do.”

Kirk took a step back. “Don't take me on, Morvallis. You'll lose.”

He paused, staring at the totally intimidating form cowering before him. An expression of open repugnance flashed across his face. Then he turned and left the room.

 

 

*****

 

 

Things seemed to settle down after that. Morvallis and Spock worked on opposite sides of the lab in virtual silence, the doctor occasionally shooting annoyed glances at Chekov as the young Russian asked another in his apparently endless series of questions. Finally, muttering that he needed peace and quiet in order to concentrate, he had his desk moved into a small adjoining room, pointedly locking the door every time he came and went.

Spock appeared indifferent. Chekov was plainly relieved to see him go.

And the captain, for his part, stayed out of it, determined not to further embarrass Spock with his hovering. Chekov would keep an eye on things, the navigator apparently recognizing his role as being primarily one of guardian, rarely leaving Spock's side.

Toward the end of the third day, however, the Enterprise drew near enough to send out the short-range probes, highly sensitive instruments designed for just this type of scenario. Knowing that they could provide the answers for which Spock had so diligently searched, Kirk made a point to be there as the data began to roll in.

Spock gave him a rather distracted nod before returning to his screen. “Presence of carbon, methane,” he dictated into the recorder. “Electrical impulses are increasing in frequency, their velocity factor now at a rate of six point eight angstroms and showing a refractive index of point nine five.” He pulled a disk from his computer and held it out. “Mister Chekov, go to the Number Three Lab, link into this sub-routine and run it through the spectrographic oscillator. I want those impulses closely monitored.”

Chekov bounded to his feet, grasped the disk with an enthusiastic, “yes, sir!” and took off at a run.

Spock continued to speak. “Readings of iron atoms within the nebula at a density of,“ dark eyes widened, “eight hundred and thirty-four per cubic millimeter.”

His voice held an edge of anticipation the likes of which Kirk had rarely heard. He bent over the screen, attempting to read the data along with him.

The door of Morvallis' room opened, the doctor sticking his head out. “Widen your field,” he barked. “I'm not getting it all.”

Spock complied without comment, rapidly adjusting his equipment, frustration clearly visible when his fingers failed to keep up with his thoughts. “There is displacement within the cloud. It appears to be... “ a long pause, “a gravitation distortion of some kind.”

His movements increased yet again, fingers flying across the board.

“Spock, what is it?”

“A moment.” More buttons pushed, more switches thrown. A veritable flood of data followed, a steady stream of information that made no sense to Kirk whatsoever.

Abruptly, Spock stopped it, replayed one particular set of entries. Replayed it again as if doubting the evidence of his own senses, before swiveling his chair around and giving Kirk a look that could only be described as one of wonder. “Jim, it may be a gravitational wave!”

Kirk smiled at his breathless excitement. “A what?”

“A gravitational wave. Until now, only a proposal of theoretical physics. The idea was aired initially by Einstein nearly three hundred and fifty years ago... Albert Einstein of Old Earth.”

He's almost babbling, Kirk thought in delight. “Yes, Mister Spock. I've heard of him.”

Spock just kept right on going, his mind running in a thousand directions at once. He gave no indication that he'd even heard Kirk's response. “The theory was picked up toward the end of the twentieth century in an attempt to form a grand unified theory of physics, to incorporate all four physical forces into one super symmetrical one. Three of the forces were combined fifty years earlier in the electroweak theory.” He tore his eyes away from the monitor to glance up at Kirk. “You already know of this, Captain.”

Kirk shook his head. “Not really. I remember something of it from a history of physics class years ago. That's your field. Explain it to me.”

Spock refocused on the screen. “The atomic forces, strong and weak, were combined into the electromagnetic spectrum to produce the electroweak theory. Many attempts were made to incorporate gravity, the other fundamental force of physics, into it. However,” he paused, attempted to put this into layman's terms, “as gravity exists as a unit of acceleration, not a physical field in and of itself, these efforts were unsuccessful. Einstein and others had predicted the existence of gravity in such a form, which they called gravitational waves, similar to electromagnetic waves, existing from the beginning of the physical universe. Weak, extremely elongated waves that would be impossible to detect unless they interacted with a highly charged mass.”

“Such as the Carina Nebula.”

Spock's expression changed, almost seemed to glow. “Indeed.” He made several more adjustments, shifting components around, highlighting some, deleting others. Suddenly he reached back and grabbed Kirk's wrist, “It is, Jim! Look!”

Entranced by the childlike joy of discovery on his face, Kirk bent forward and surveyed the mass of data.

“There is a displacement of two centimeters along the sine wave that would fit the theoretical characteristics of a gravitational wave. Very low energy, very narrow waveband. See how it disturbs the nearby molecules, exciting them with its transferred energy as it passes? That, in turn, begins a chain reaction and provides the necessary added energy to permit the formation of the more complex molecules.” Spock turned around, a true human smile on his face.

Kirk pulled up a chair while he took uncounted readings, his hands moving across the panel with ever-increasing speed, correlating densities, distances, displacements. Kirk sat back, totally lost, but content to watch the enthusiasm that four decades of training and discipline on Vulcan could not wash away.

Studying the huge amount of data, even Spock seemed to lose track of time, and when Uhura paged the captain nearly twenty minutes later, the sound jolted them both. Kirk stood, his eyes still on the monitor, and walked over to the wall intercom. Reaching up, he flipped the switch. “Kirk here.”

“Captain, I'm receiving a message from a Doctor Klarin of the Combined Science Research Group.”

“What does he want with me?”

“He isn't asking for you, sir. The call is for Doctor Morvallis.”

“Morvallis? He can't receive personal communications on a classified vessel. He knows that. And who is this Doctor Klarin, anyway?”

Uhura hesitated. “That was the only identification he would give me, sir. He seemed very agitated.”

“Well, ask him... “

“Doctor Klarin,” Spock's low voice came from behind him, “is the Research Group's director. The organization is located on Starbase Six and was established seventeen years ago to study astral phenomena. It is a highly regarded scientific facility, sir.”

Kirk turned toward his first officer. “What in the hell does he want?”

“Captain,” Uhura abruptly cut in. “I'm receiving another call for Doctor Morvallis, from a representative of the United British Institutes and Museums.”

A strange look came into Spock's eyes as he glanced at the door to Morvallis' office.

And suddenly James Kirk had a very bad feeling.

“Hold on a minute, Lieutenant.” Walking over, he hit the buzzer with a closed fist. Punched in the command override when it failed to open, not really surprised at the sight that awaited him.

The room was empty. Morvallis' computers were on, their many screens filled with data, but the doctor himself was gone. At some point, while they'd been engrossed in Spock's discovery, he had quietly slipped away.

Kirk's expression hardened as he returned to the intercom. “Let me talk to Klarin, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, sir.”

There was a moment of silence as the channel switched over. Then the high-pitched voice Kirk recognized as belonging to an Alorian broke into the room. “Captain, you are honored indeed to be part of such an historic discovery!”

Kirk felt a knot tighten in his stomach. He looked over at Spock but the Vulcan had returned to his work. “What do you mean, Doctor?”

“Doctor Morvallis' report has just reached us. His discovery will revolutionize physics! To think, he had just vindicated a belief held for nearly four hundred years. A gravitational wave! I cannot adequately express my excitement!”

Overlying the Alorian's words was a cacophony of voices, all shouting at once, nearly drowning him out completely. “Everyone is going wild, Captain!' he yelled into the intercom. “I must offer my congratulations to Doctor Morvallis personally! This is wonderful, unbelievable!”

Kirk's hands clenched into fists. Spock, having given up his attempts at feigned indifference, looked away from his monitor and studied the floor.

At the sight of him, Kirk felt his temper flare. “Doctor Klarin,” he said, endeavoring to keep it from showing in his voice, “I'm afraid that this is a classified vessel. Doctor Morvallis was not given permission to come aboard with a private transmitter. If he contacted you without my knowledge he violated the status of the Enterprise. Any reports issued by this ship were to have come through official channels. You'll have to wait until you receive Starfleet confirmation. I must ask you to keep this information to yourself until then.”

“Captain Kirk!” Klarin squeaked in protest. “You cannot be serious! We can't keep secret about a discovery of this magnitude! And besides, it wouldn't make any difference. Doctor Morvallis has contacted other scientists. I've had a half-dozen calls in the last five minutes! Everyone knows about it! I must talk to him about this at once!”

Kirk's tone grew hard as granite, the anger quite audible now. “I'm sorry, Doctor. You'll have to wait for official word to come from Starfleet Command. Doctor Morvallis will be sending no more communications from this ship. Kirk out.”

Before Klarin could protest, Kirk cut off the transmission. “That son-of-a-bitch.”

Spock looked up, a stricken expression on his face. The thought of logging his find hadn't even occurred to him.

Kirk concentrated on controlling his breathing. “He won't get away with this, Spock.”

The Vulcan suddenly rose to his feet. “If you will excuse me, Captain, I'll be in my quarters for the remainder of the day. I am in need of private meditation.” Turning abruptly on one heel. Spock left the room.

His rapid departure surprised the captain and he stood, watching as the doors slid back into place. Spock's computer terminal was still on and he carefully saved his data file and shut off the power, resisting the almost overwhelming urge to pick up something breakable and hurl it against the wall.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was two hours later. The captain of the Enterprise sat at his desk, quietly dictating his report to Starfleet Command. His rage at Morvallis' actions had not dissipated in the slightest and he found himself drumming his fingers along the desktop, pounding his nails into the polished surface with enough force to nearly crack the edges.

The intercom buzzed. He stopped speaking and drew a deep breath. It wasn't hard to guess who was outside. “Come.”

The door opened but Spock remained still for a moment, standing in the corridor.

Kirk rose to his feet. “Come in, Mister Spock.”

Hands clasped behind him, Spock entered the dim quarters. He stood, obviously ill at ease, in the middle of the room. Glancing to one side, he eyed the voice recorder. The machine was still running, the gentle humming of its inner mechanisms loud in the silence.

“You are sending a message to Starfleet Command?” There was a faint inflection at the end of the statement, although it was clear that Spock already knew the answer to his question.

Kirk put the machine on stand-by. “Yes, I am.”

“Captain,“ the Vulcan shifted his weight, “I have always found scholarly disputes... distasteful. Such petty bickering has no place in science.”

“Sit down, Mister Spock.”

Spock's gaze rose to meet his own for the first time. He remained standing. “Jim, do not embroil yourself in the midst of a scientific scandal on my account. I know something of these squabbles. They can become quite personal.”

You'd be a sitting duck in a fight like that, wouldn't you, my friend, Kirk thought sadly.

But, of course, he didn't say that aloud. He said something quite different. “You deserve credit for the discovery. Morvallis stole it from you as surely as if he'd broken into your quarters and emptied them of everything you owned.”

“It is the discovery that is important.” Spock's eyes were filled with sadness. “Please, Jim. This entire situation as been most unpleasant for me. I'm gratified that the anomaly was finally understood but I have no wish to be connected with it any further. It will only bring back distasteful memories.”

Kirk looked at him, uncertain if Spock was being totally honest with him, or with himself. “Spock,” his voice was gentle now, the harsh edge to the words gone. “This discovery would bring great honor to you.”

“A footnote in history, the regard of strangers. It has no true significance.”

Kirk didn't answer. Spock studied the pattern on the rug at his feet. After a moment he glanced up to meet the captain's penetrating gaze. “Doctor Morvallis and I have no need for further interaction. The probe will have stored sufficient data within the next eighteen hours to allow us to begin our journey back to starbase. We need never see each other again. Please, Jim, I do not want to see him again. If you pursue this, I will have to do so. I will have to debate him, endure his slurs. It could go on for years.”

Kirk could see the pain in his eyes as every racial remark and slight he'd ever endured seemed to come back to haunt him. Morvallis was its living incarnation. And suddenly he knew that Spock was right. They were both better off free of the man.

Kirk smiled faintly. “Very well. Morvallis can have his glory. Maybe it'll bring him some happiness.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Spock began to leave. Kirk could see his shoulders slump. “Spock?”

The Vulcan glanced back. “Yes, sir.”

“How about a game of chess.”

Spock hesitated. “I should get back to the lab.”

Kirk turned off the machine and sat down, began rearranging the chess pieces. “You've done enough for one day. Why don't you take the rest of the night off?”

Spock didn't argue, knew that it wasn't really a suggestion.

Kirk's smile broadened. “Black or white?”

“You are the knight in shining armor and I am the Black Prince.”

Kirk's eyebrows rose in surprise. “Are you actually making a joke?”

Spock looked affronted. “Vulcans never joke.”

Kirk laughed softly. “Very well, my Black Prince. It's your move.”

 

 

*****

 

 

The following day passed quickly. Kirk kept busy retrieving probes, helping Spock and the other scientists correlate and organize the labs for the most efficient processing of information. His first officer professed satisfaction at the huge amount of usable data the probes had retrieved, commenting at one point that it would provide research material for decades. To anyone else, he appeared calm and at ease as he worked, apparently unruffled by the events of the previous day.

Kirk, however, could read him better than most anyone in the universe. He clearly sensed the Vulcan's underlying tension. Absorbing himself in his work, he counted the hours until Morvallis' pestilential presence would be removed from his ship.

The doctor, for his part, had the wisdom to stay away. No one saw him at all during the day cycle.

Probably working on his defense strategy, Kirk thought, recalling the order he'd given as soon as Spock had fled the labs the evening before; sending two of his largest, nastiest-looking security guards to Morvallis' quarters with orders to retrieve that secret personal transmitter. They'd found it within minutes, concealed in a hidden vest pocket, the incriminating evidence now resting safely in the captain's wall safe.

Kirk allowed himself a rather vengeful smile, secretly felt great satisfaction with the knowledge that, although he had promised Spock to drop the issue of the wave discovery, he'd made no such commitment with regards to the transmitter. Smuggling a communications device aboard a classified vessel was a Federation offense and he fully intended to nail Morvallis' hide to the wall with it.

The chronometer over his head read 1623 hours when the final probe was brought back on board. Walking to the wall intercom, Kirk gratefully gave the order to set course for Starbase Nine.

Turning quickly to one side, he saw Spock watching him once again; had realized hours before that his first officer had kept him under constant, albeit surreptitious, observation since early morning. And now, studying his guardedly intent expression, he began to wonder if all that talk about not wanting to endure Morvallis' racial slurs was a smokescreen. Spock had, by his own admission, lived with such behavior all his life; had long since come to terms with it. What he couldn't endure were attacks directed at his captain and, standing here, looking at him now, Kirk suddenly realized the true reason for his decision not to fight. Mentally kicked himself on the backside, wondered how it was possible he hadn't realized it from the start. It was, after all, perfectly in character.

Spock had not seen himself stripped of his reputation, one already held in near awe by the scientific community in general. Nor did he concern himself with the fame that was rightly his. Such things had never held great importance to the logical mind.

What did hold importance to Spock was the human standing before him. And what he saw when he thought of contesting Morvallis was as clear to Kirk now as if it had been written across the wall behind him.

He saw the image of Morvallis turning his venom on him, dragging him into the confrontation, inundating him in a morass of mudslinging that would have damaged the reputations of both men. And that scenario was, for Spock, unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.

His brow furrowed as the thought settled into a grim certainty. He looked into Spock's suddenly very open expression, reading confirmation in those sad eyes. “It's damned unfair and you know it.”

The Vulcan turned away. He had no answer.

 

 

*****

 

 

Sidney Morvallis worked in silence. The ship was quiet, settled into its night cycle. The chronometer read 0113 hours. Quickly, he prepared the chamber for his chemical experiment.

Cold blue eyes looked up to survey the shining machines and computers that filled the room. He'd thought he was prepared for the sophisticated equipment aboard the Enterprise, but the reality of her state-of-the-art technology had left him quite speechless. Here, at last, were the tools he needed, tools denied him in his civilian laboratories on Earth; the chamber at his side easily capable of generating temperatures and pressures far in excess of anything he'd been able to work with previously. The military, he thought in disgust. Some things never change. The military always gets the best of everything.

But now, ironically, that same military would work in his favor, enable him to carry out a plan he'd been formulating ever since he'd gotten Starfleet's request; the sole reason, in fact, that he had agreed to participate in the study at all. The discovery of the gravitational wave was a fluke, a bonus; a prize the gullible Vulcan had dropped into his lap.

No. Morvallis smiled as he adjusted his dials. What he really wanted wasn't to uncover a previously only theorized hypothesis, or even fathom the complexities of the Carina Nebula. He wanted to literally create something: a new element to be added to the Periodic Table, the first ever designed by the hand of man. He'd been working on the project for years but, denied the equipment he needed, had been unable to put it into operation.

Until now.

Heart racing in anticipation, Morvallis surveyed the atomic structure. One, the most simple, the other, the most complex. Hydrogen and iron: the beginning and end of the atomic chain. To incorporate their nuclei into a single element would be a revolution beyond anything done in the history of physics. And, with the tools surrounding him, he could do it. He'd labored long and hard to work out the method, finding the elusive point where fusion and fission were nearly identical, the atomic core frozen between splitting apart and joining together. That in and of itself was the accomplishment of a lifetime.

But for Morvallis it was not enough. He had to take it that one step further, combine the two forces at the precise moment of greatest stress. He was well aware of the hazardous nature of the experiment, filled as it was with unknowns. If the power of the atomic fission wasn't contained by the structuring, if the bonds weren't perfectly aligned, the energy released by the nuclei would vaporize the entire ship.

However, the equipment was here and he dared not ask for help in monitoring the atomic flow. The experiment was far too dangerous. Spock would never have sanctioned it. Not in a million years.

So the doctor worked in secret, in the quiet of the night, counting on his own brilliant mind to provide him with the help he needed. It was a familiar pattern. He'd found all that he required within himself during the course of his life. His reputation gave him the fulfillment he needed, that he craved as a drug addict craves an opiate. He lived on the high regard of strangers, had wrapped himself within the cocoon of his own insularity; living proof that one man could be an island, and a successful one at that. His intelligence had provided him with the means to exist without relying on others. He'd always been alone. He enjoyed being alone and saw no reason to change the way he was now.

And so, alone, he'd planned this out carefully, crept to the labs for the past two nights to set the stage. Tonight he would come on silent feet and run the test, that, if successful, would make his name a legend in the annals of science.

And that, after all, was what Sidney Morvallis wanted more than life itself.

 

 

*****

 

 

The buzzer echoed gently in his mind and the captain of the Enterprise awoke from his light sleep within seconds. Blinking his eyes, he kicked off the blankets and rose, pulling a robe around his shoulders. “Come.”

The door opened and, even in the darkness, he smiled as he made out the familiar silhouette in the hallway.

Spock stepped inside, Kirk's grin fading at the look on the Vulcan's face. “What's wrong?”

“Captain,” Spock approached, “I apologize for disturbing you at such an hour.”

Something Kirk knew he'd never have done without good cause. Running his fingers through his hair, he reached for his tunic. “What is it?”

Spock's troubled gaze met his own. “It concerns Doctor Morvallis.”

Of course it did. “What about him?”

“He has been engaging in unauthorized research.”

“What kind of research?”

“Unknown, Jim. He has not allowed me access to his files. However, I noted this afternoon that the radiation dials on the chemical vacuum chamber he's been using were altered.”

Spock looked away uneasily. “He has the right to conduct independent research. What is disturbing is that he chooses to do so surreptitiously, at night, when the laboratory is empty.”

Kirk realized the direction his thoughts were taking. “Do you think it poses a danger to the ship?”

“Work with atomic structure is always dangerous.”

Kirk nodded as he pulled on his pants and boots. “Is he in the labs now?”

“I believe so.”

Kirk looked up. “You believe so?”

“I did not wish to spy.” Spock showed a flash of embarrassment. “In view of the doctor's animosity toward me, I felt it would appear unseemly.”

Unseemly was a distant second to the safety of the Enterprise. “So, he's in the lab?”

“He is.”

 

 

*****

 

 

The door to the science lab opened quietly and Morvallis spun around to face the two men as they entered. He spread his arms widely apart, trying ineffectually to block their view of the chamber behind him.

“Doctor.” Kirk said sharply, “what are you doing?”

Spock attempted to walk past, Morvallis reaching out to push him away. Kirk caught his arm and held it easily. “I said, what are you doing?”

“Research.” Morvallis' voice was high-pitched and strained. He fixed wide eyes on Spock as the Vulcan moved around him to study the equipment. “I'm trying to control the pressure level,” he blurted. “I was trying to control the pressure but it's building too fast. The atomic structure has somehow affected the pressure.”

Spock leaned over the mass of dials, hit the temperature gauge with his good hand. “Why didn't you lower this?” Sitting down, he typed a long series of mathematical equations onto the monitor.

Morvallis, clearly in a panic, tried to pull out of Kirk's grasp. “It's going to explode! Let me out!”

“I have stabilized the pressure. There will be no atomic blast.” Spock's voice was level as he continued working without interruption, ordering the computer to perform a dozen complex maneuvers one after another. The chamber digested his commands but was unable to follow them all in the brief time remaining.

“Captain, get out.” Spock's eyes remained locked on the monitor as he tried once again to lower the temperature. “It is nearing a critical pressure level. I may not be able to control it. Get out. Now!

Morvallis raced for the door. Kirk hesitated, then, propelled by a premonition, grabbed Spock from behind, pulling the startled Vulcan out of his chair.

An instant later the chamber blew. Kirk managed to keep his arms around Spock's waist as the pressure wave drove them backward, somehow able to control his fall and pull Spock behind the partition that saved both of their lives. Metal flew past, embedding in the ceiling and walls, slamming into the partition like a series of gunshots. Turning, he saw Morvallis cower behind a reinforced bulkhead, knees drawn up to his chest, whimpering. Letting out a gasp of fear, the man scurried farther away as the ceiling directly overhead began to collapse.

Bending over, Kirk protected Spock as best he could, one arm shielding the Vulcan's upturned face as chunks of it rained down on their heads. He could feel the jagged tear in Spock's tunic, the warm blood cover his hand. In the chaos of the moment, he didn't realize that the blood was his own.

Abruptly, an unearthly silence descended. Morvallis looked up, face twisted into a horrified grimace as a low, ominous groaning came from across the room. The support beams there, having taken the full impact of the blast, were splintered and cracked. As if in slow motion, they started to sag, the cracks widening until they snapped apart completely, a good third of the ceiling crashing down over the doorway. When it fell, it took part of the bulkhead with it, burying the entrance behind a pile of twisted debris.

The silence returned, Morvallis quickly dispelling it as he began to squeal, his voice filled with such blind terror it was virtually unrecognizable.

Feeling an odd numbness, Kirk rose up to knock the rubble from his back. “Spock, are you all... all... “

His words trailed off as the room seemed to grow very cold, that momentary surge of adrenaline vanishing without a trace. Resting one hand on his abdomen, he pulled it away to see with some surprise that his fingers were coated in blood. Stifling a groan as Spock squirmed out from beneath him, he looked into the distraught alien eyes, desperately struggling to hold on to the consciousness that was rapidly fading away. “I... I'm...”

But it was not to be and the last thing the captain saw before slipping into that black void was Spock, his face white as chalk, reaching out to break his fall.

 

 

*****

 

 

Spock caught the slumping body before it hit the floor. Wrapping his arms around Kirk's back, he eased him down. Blood streamed from a gash in the Vulcan's forehead, flooding his eyes and blinding him. Probable concussion, he thought distantly as he tore a strip from the bottom of his tunic and wrapped it tightly around his head. Wiping an arm over his eyes, he tried to clear his vision.

Kirk lay before him as still as death. His head was thrown back, his mouth partially open. A thin slice of metal protruded from the left side of his abdomen, a steady stream of blood oozing from around the wound, running down the sides of his tunic to spread out on the floor beneath him.

Spock probed the area around the fragment. It was lodged between the fourth and fifth rib, bobbing gently with every beat of Kirk's heart. The blood flow was serious but not life-threatening, at least not yet. The ominous movement of the metal, however, warned him that a deep vein or artery lay nearby.

Suddenly, Kirk groaned and began to stir. “Lie still.” Resting a hand lightly across his forehead, Spock held him down. “You must lie still. Do not attempt to move.”

Hazel eyes opened to focus on his face, partially obscured by the makeshift bandage. “Spock,” he whispered. “Are you... are you all right?”

The blast had shattered Spock's delicate eardrums, Kirk's words sounding as if they were spoken through a layer of cotton wadding. Despite that, he found that he understood him. “Yes.” The partial deafness made his voice sound strange.

“How... how serious... “ Kirk reached toward the fragment, Spock grasping his hand to hold it firmly within his own. “Lie still,” he repeated, his mind clearing enough to click on a detailed diagram of the human cardiovascular system. “It is very close to the left gastric artery. I think it best to do nothing. Help will arrive momentarily.”

Kirk nodded, body tensing as he fought to keep silent. Spock splayed his fingers and laid them against the sides of his face. “I will... help you with the pain.”

Kirk weakly brushed him away, hearing the hesitation, knowing the effort would sap his own strength. “No. No. Save... save your... yo...“

Spock could see him struggle to stay awake, to fight off the darkness that threatened to overwhelm him once again, but the injury was just too severe and the captain had no chance. His eyelids fluttered for a moment in hopeless defiance before his eyes rolled up white and, mercifully, he lapsed into unconsciousness for the second time.

Shouts came from the corridor. Voices, muted and soft; pounding at the door as fire alarms wailed in the background. “Is anyone inside?” someone yelled.

Spock called out a response, unsure if they could even hear him. “Yes, the captain and Doctor Morvallis are here!”

“Is anything burning in there?”

The hallway was crowded now, people barking orders, things being pushed around.

“No!” Spock shouted to compensate, the effort sending his blood pressure into the mid-three hundreds, and he held his breath, attempted to regain some measure of control.

A different voice. It sounded like Mister Scott.

“All right, Mister Spock. All right. We're going to cut through the bulkhead to get to you. I've got another team working on the south wall. They'll come in from the storage area on the far side.”

“You must... “ A massive bolt of pain suddenly lanced through his head and Spock clutched at his waist, doubling over until his face brushed against the captain's shoulder.

And felt, with a horror the likes of which he'd never experienced before, the touch of metal against his arm where he touched it. The contact was light but it was enough. The fragment shifted by half an inch and tore a gaping hole in the artery.

Blood suddenly began to pour out along the sides of its serrated edges, spurting with every beat of the captain's heart.

For a terrifying, eternal second, Spock froze. No! Ruthlessly, he shook himself out of it. This is not Jim. A mantra he'd been practicing in the back of his mind for years. You must not think of him as Jim. He is an injured crew mate, nothing more; and you know what to do. Focus!

Willing his nerves to be steady, he took a deep, cleansing breath and, in one fluid motion, removed the fragment, pressing against the wound with the flat of his hand.

The bleeding didn't even slow down.

“Morvallis, help me!”

The doctor sat, huddled against the wall, hoping, no doubt, that Spock had forgotten his very existence. Which, until that moment, he had.

No longer, however. “Doctor!”

Morvallis drew away. “I can't,” he whined. “I'm hurt, too!”

Spock flashed him a wild look. “The captain will bleed to death. Help me!

Recognizing the desperation in his voice, Morvallis apparently thought it wise to obey. Skittering over, he knelt at Spock's side.

“Take off your jacket and hold it against the wound.”

Mutely, he did so, rolling it into a rough ball. Spock pulled away, a surge of blood jetting forth as Morvallis slammed the jacket down.

Shifting, Spock covered it with both hands and leaned forward. He was sweating profusely, more from fear than pain, the perspiration mixing with blood that oozed from his now saturated headband to obscure his vision once again.

McCoy's voice penetrated the room. “Spock! Spock, what's going on?!”

The captain face was darkening, showed a distinct tinge of blue. “Doctor McCoy!” The anguish in his tone carried clearly into the corridor beyond. “We need help quickly! The captain is hemorrhaging very badly!”

There was a momentary pause. “What's his heart rate?”

“Forty-two per minute.” Somehow the Vulcan part of his brain was still functioning. “Blood pressure correspondingly low, seventy over fifty.” He shot a glance at Morvallis. “Raise his legs. Put your arms under his hips and raise his legs.”

“Elevate his legs, Spock!” McCoy again. “Keep the blood flowing to his brain or he'll go into shock!”

Spock barely heard the doctor's words. His gaze was on a dumbstruck Morvallis, his eyes like those of a raging beast. “Do it!” he roared.

Morvallis didn't need to hear that again. With trembling hands, he obeyed, his quaking rendering the movements awkward. Spock dared not lessen pressure on the artery and he watched in enraged silence as the doctor jolted Kirk's inert body in a clumsy attempt to put himself beneath it.

“Spock, did you hear me!?” McCoy was beside himself, helplessly trapped on the outside.

“Yes! You must hurry! The captain... “ A powerful sense of disorientation came out of nowhere, slamming into him, and Spock stopped speaking for a moment. Hanging his head, he gasped for air, desperate to remain conscious.

“Spock!” McCoy again, his voice at a fever pitch. “What's happening?”

The room was spinning, tilting in a crazy arc, his body swaying to compensate, thoughts beginning to fragment. From above came the sounds of what remained of the ceiling shifting position as it, too, started to go. Turning enormous eyes upward, Morvallis let out a yelp and jerked away, dashing halfway across the room before he dared to stop.

Spock wrapped his free arm around Kirk's head as another rain of metal and debris crashed down on them.

“What happened!” McCoy pounded both fists frantically against the wall. “What just happened?!”

Spock opened his mouth to answer when he suddenly realized that the artery beneath his fingers had stilled. Blood no longer flowed.

He focused downward. “Jim?”

The chest was unmoving. The captain was not breathing.

“Doctor McCoy, hurry!”

Pulling away bloodstained fingers, he separated the captain's clenched jaws. Clearing his tongue out of the way, he began to breathe, pushing air from his own aching lungs into Kirk's. The effort elevated his already enormous blood pressure, the pounding inside his head growing far worse, but he could spare no effort to deal with either now. Drawing another deep breath, he forced more air into the captain's lungs, watching as his chest slowly rose, knowing that it was not enough, that his strength was failing him. Moving to the base of Kirk's sternum, he laced his fingers together and pushed down, the action bringing on such a devastating attack of vertigo it nearly knocked him off his knees. He pushed harder, tried to disregard that, too, but he scarcely knew where he was now, the effects of the concussion hitting him with full force. His fingers grew numb, his skin clammy and cold. Time was running out. Even for a Vulcan, even with the captain's life in the balance, there was a limit to what he could do.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could just make out the white-hot light of a laser cutting through the bulkhead. They will be here shortly,” he told himself, berated himself. You must not stop now. They will be here shortly.

Gathering what was left of his strength, he bent over the captain's body and tried to continue.

But it was impossible. Impossible, the room tilting and swirling with sickening speed, his vision telescoping until all he saw was a pinprick of white surrounded by blackness. His blood pressure was so high it felt as if his skull was about to explode, an odd sense of detachment and unreality sweeping over him, and he let out a mournful sob at the realization that it was truly over, that he had failed. That the captain was about to die and he'd been totally unable to prevent it.

Suddenly, something knocked him aside and he fell heavily to the floor, watched in a semi-conscious daze as Morvallis tilted Kirk's head back and begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“I can...” Still driven by a need to help, he rolled onto his side and attempted to rise. Morvallis roughly brushed him off. “Get away, goddammit. Don't distract me.”

The doctor was right, Spock sinking to the floor again. He was useless now, nearly deaf and blind and debilitated by pain. Gathering one of Kirk's hand within his own, he curled his body around it, Morvallis giving him a hard stare as the doctor straightened and pushed his hand against Kirk's stilled heart, forcing the blood through it, forcing his body to stay alive.

As Morvallis moved away, Spock's fingers shifted to his wrist, seeking out the artery, willing it to move.

Thirty eternal seconds later, it did. The throbbing was weak and erratic at first, then grew stronger as it resumed a steadier, more even rhythm. Focusing his eyes, he heard Morvallis give a satisfied grunt as Kirk's chest started to rise, the doctor shoving a knee into the wound as blood once again began to flow.

Never in his life would Spock have thought that the sight of Kirk's blood would be such a welcomed one. Laying his head against the floor, he held the captain's hand to his chest, nearly crushing it with the force of his relief. The world outside disappeared, all of existence settling around the hand pressed against him and the artery that moved within it.

Another sound intruded: metal being torn back, footsteps racing to his side. A face bent low over his own as gentle fingers pried the captain's hand away. He wouldn't let go, but continued to hold on.

The face leaned closer. He could recognize it now: McCoy. “It's all right, Spock,” the doctor said. “You need to let go.”

The hand slipped through his fingers as Kirk was lifted onto a gurney and rushed from the room. He reached out frantically, fearful at the lack of contact. McCoy grasped his hand firmly within his own. “He's alive, Spock. I'll take care of him.”

He looked into the doctor's eyes, saw the faint, reassuring smile as he rose, and the last thing Spock remembered before the blackness finally claimed him was the voice of Leonard McCoy, thanking Sidney Morvallis for saving the captain's life.

 

 

*****

 

 

Letting out a crude expletive, Sidney Morvallis threw the few possessions he'd brought aboard into a small carrying case. He could hear the great ship shudder as her impulse engines powered down and stopped, a giant tractor beam emanating from Starbase Nine latching onto the hull to pull her within its protective embrace. Back to space dock, he thought bitterly. Finally. He'd be glad to remove himself from this ship and her vengeful captain. I saved the bastard's life and this is how he thanks me?

The buzzer sounded. He slammed the intercom. “What?”

“It is Commander Spock, Doctor. I would like to speak with you.”

Morvallis' eyes narrowed. “We have nothing to say to one another, Vulcan.”

“I disagree, Doctor. Please, allow me to---“

Dear god. Morvallis cut him off, didn't want to listen to the man whine. Releasing the lock, he watched as the door slid open.

Spock remained outside, awaiting permission to enter. “Well,” Morvallis said impatiently, “come on in.”

He returned to his packing as Spock entered and came to stand behind him. “Your captain doesn't have much gratitude.” Spinning around, he picked up a printed summons lying on the nightstand and waved it in the Vulcan's face.

“Doctor, by your actions, you seriously damaged this vessel. It was only due to exceptional circumstances that no one was killed. The captain could hardly be expected to overlook that fact.”

Morvallis threw the mangled paper against the wall.

Spock took a deep breath. “Doctor, you saved the captain's life. I am in your debt for that. I have come to offer you my assistance in your dealings with Starfleet Command.”

Morvallis snorted. “You? Defend me? Don't make me laugh.”

“I do not joke. I could provide considerable help to you. I am not without influence.”

“Where have I heard that before.” Morvallis met Spock's gaze. “Why would you want to help me anyway, after I stole your discovery from you?”

“I told you why, because you saved the captain's life. Nothing is as important.”

Morvallis eyed him skeptically. “I don't believe you, Vulcan. You want to put me in your debt so that I'll relent and give you credit for the wave.”

Spock shook his head faintly. “You do not understand.”

“Why shouldn't I save his miserable life anyway? It didn't cost me anything.”

To this, Spock said nothing.

Morvallis began to pace, then turned to face him. “If I had it to do again, I'd let him die. You know that.”

Spock stiffened, clearly disturbed by his comment, the fact that he meant every word of it.

But again, he remained silent.

After a moment, when Morvallis said nothing further, he turned to leave. “If you require my assistance, please feel free to call on me.”

Morvallis moved forward, grabbed him by the arm. “What do you want from me?”

Spock regarded him sadly. “You do not understand,” he repeated. “I want nothing from you. I owe you.”

Morvallis did not release his arm. “I don't need you. I don't need anyone. I don't owe anyone anything.”

“That, Doctor, is your loss.”

Gently shaking him off, Spock left the room.

Morvallis watched as the door slid shut. He knew where the Vulcan was going, knew where he'd been since the accident. Sickbay. Damn him. He'd been in sickbay, sitting by that bed, endlessly sitting, silent as a statue. Morvallis had been picturing the scene in his mind for days, the image eating into his soul like acid. Let them have each other. Who needs it anyway?

The thought seemed to settle him somewhat as his mind turned to the accolades and honors certain to come his way. The Nobel and Zi Magni were a lock. Yes, he mused, pushing away that nagging sense of emptiness as he finished his packing and snapped the case closed with a flourish. Who the fuck needs it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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