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Captain’s Log Stardate 3383.5:

Enterprise is arriving at the Altair system a full

twenty-two hours late for the inauguration proper,

but just in time for President Wyddick’s formal victory banquet.

Mr. Spock and I will attend in a show of additional Federation

support, and in hopes of smoothing over any difficulties our

unavoidable delay may have caused.




Straightening his dress uniform, Spock wavered in front of the hatch. On one hand, he was expected; last week, last month, even last year he would not have deemed it necessary to buzz. But things had changed, and it now seemed prudent to restrict some liberties of interpersonal contact. There was no logic to such a decision; it would change nothing between them, but there was very little logic in this situation to begin with.



In the end, he pressed the buzzer.



“Come.”



Jim sat on the bunk, giving his boots a final shine. He was in between uniforms, wearing only his trousers. The gold shirt was off, the dress jacket still draped over a chair, waiting for the earned ribbons to be attached. The muscles of his chest and upper body rippled with every movement of hand over boot.



Jim glanced at the chronometer. “You’re early. We there already?”



“Negative, Captain. ETA seventeen point four two minutes. I am here in hopes of making use of your computer; I have some command level changes to make.” Totally illogical—he could have done so from the Bridge. Reducing the informalities had been easy. Staying away from the man had not.



With a wave of a wrist, Jim granted assent. “Yours still not fixed yet? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were stalling on purpose; you don’t need an excuse to come visit, you know.” He gave a quick wink as he set down the boot, stood and turned to the small mirror.



Taking the seat behind the computer, Spock reflected that sometimes it seemed that he was not the only one aboard who could read minds. He applied his disciplines to suppressing any outward reaction discernible to a human—to this human. Instead he called up the safe, old banter.



“I will endeavor to remember that in the future.” Jim chuckled through his nose, and Spock allowed himself to relax his guard just a bit.



One by one, Jim secured the many ribbons to the front, each in its assigned position. When the only spot left was that for his Medal of Honor, he crouched down beside the desk to retrieve it from the safe.



The little space was tight enough, and as Jim reached beside the desk, his bare arm brushed against Spock’s trousers. At the touch, Spock pulled his leg away—politely, not too hastily, he hoped. Before this week he had scarcely noticed these casual contacts that had sprung up between them; now it seemed that he was evading them continually.



The medal attached, Jim donned the tunic and checked himself in the mirror. “Now where did I put the presentation plaque?”



“Other side, second shelf,” said Spock, without looking up.



Jim turned the revolving unit; there it was in shiny oxylite and brass: “To the First Republic Administration of Altair VI and the Unified Altair Concordance, From the United Federation of Planets….” Jim wondered how in the hell Spock had remembered that. His mother used to do things like that and his father always swore that she was psychic. Jim had always figured otherwise; she was just looking out for her man. She knew what he needed.



Jim tucked it under his arm. “Thanks. Now, if I can just make it through the presentation.” He could ad lib any speech with the best of them, but the Altairian names were a mouthful.



Jim sank into the chair on the outer side of the desk and keyed up his speech on a padd one last time. As he adjusted his legs under the desk, Spock turned slightly in his chair, keeping their knees from bumping—a considerate move, genteel even, so why did it have the feel of a rebuff?



Spock had been distancing himself a lot since the stop on Vulcan. At first Jim had passed it off as recuperation, but now he was starting to feel the emptiness of places his friend ordinarily would have occupied. It had been over two years since he had known the lonely hours of command burdens borne alone and had, through some unvoiced accord, come to believe that he never would again.



Or perhaps, phrased more precisely, he had come to believe that if Spock had any say in the matter, he never would.



McCoy had pronounced Spock fit for duty—actually his words were “as fit as that walking calculator will ever be to work with red-blooded human beings.” That McCoy had resumed their sparring was more reassuring than the report itself, and Kirk had resolved not to worry. When Spock was ready to talk, he would; until then only the man himself knew best what he needed.



When Jim’s comm beeped, it was Spock who answered it. It was Uhura on the other end.



“Oh, Mr. Spock. I was trying to reach the captain.”



“The captain is listening; go ahead, Lieutenant.” Spock swiveled the screen towards Jim.



“Captain, Mr. Sulu reports that we are in high orbit around Altair VI. I’ve hailed government reception, but there’s an energy baffle still up around the planet. Our hail is in queue for the security relay station—anticipate eight minutes to reception. And there’s only one space gate; I don’t know how long you’ll have to wait for that.”



Jim glanced at Spock and saw the same yellow alert go off in his face as well. An energy baffle kept waveform energy from passing through the planetary ionosphere. Not only were energy weapons blocked, but also communicators. Ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship communiqués had to be relayed through a control station. Transporter signals were blocked and spacecraft had to pass through regulated gates. Worlds at war often used the baffle, but it was expensive to maintain and a major inconvenience. They were invariably taken down when the wars were over.



This did not bode well for the supposedly now-stable system.



“Code 710?” Kirk asked.



“Negative, just the standard welcome message on auto-repeat. And there are dozens of Federation vessels in orbit, including the Republic.”



“Understood, Lieutenant. Tell hangar deck control to ready the Henry Hudson for pre-launch sequence in—” He glanced to Spock.



“Six point four—”



“Six minutes,” Kirk finished.



“Aye aye.” Uhura paused. “One moment, sir. I have a hail from the Republic. Captain McElhannon wishes to speak with you.”



Tanner McElhannon was one of the men who had shaped the officer Kirk had become. Fair, brilliant and fearless, he had taught Lieutenant Kirk more during his six months on the Republic than the academy had in five years. Now pushing sixty, McElhannon hung on to starship command with all the tenacity of a Llardarian huntdog. With his extraordinary service record, it wasn’t much of a fight.



“Pipe it down here, Lieutenant.”



McElhannon’s broad face came onscreen. “Mac!”



“Jim!” McElhannon’s voice was like sunshine in an ion storm. “What’s a nice captain like you doing in a place like this?”



“Slumming, apparently. Don’t you ever wash that rust-bucket of yours?”



“Easy now,” Tanner laughed. “I know what happened to Lieutenant Johanssen’s prize Rjizzillian longhair.”



“It was sick anyway. We did it a favor,” said Jim.



“Sure, sure. You tell it to Johanssen. Little late for the party, aren’t you?”



Jim made a face. “I couldn’t decide what to wear.”



“Still the pretty boy, born to drive ‘em wild, huh? My own yeoman was useless for weeks after your transfer—moping.” Mac punctuated the remark with a long-suffering roll of his eyes.



“But seriously, I’m glad you’re here. The Yorktown was called to a skirmish on the Klingon border; it’s just you and me, kid, and I’m mighty glad for the company.” His voice was still bright, but his gaze was now tight and intent.



“Yes—” said Jim. “About that, what’s going on? An energy baffle? That wasn’t in the reports. I thought the Tellarite war was over.”



McElhannon hesitated. “Nothing really. Just a little civil disturbance—the usual hard feelings when one party wins and another loses.” But again, Jim read something more in those eyes.



“Mac?”



“Captain.”



The sharp edge to Spock’s tone caught his attention. He looked up in time to see Spock mute the connection.



“Captain, with the communication relay stations and wartime precautions in place, it is ninety-six point two percent likely that ship-to-ship communications are being monitored by the Altairian government.”



Jim nodded. “I see.”



Spock re-opened the channel. McElhannon made no reference to the interruption.



Jim reset his face. “I see. Those things happen sometimes. I’ll see you down there and we’ll catch up?”



“Absolutely. I’m saving you a seat. Someone has to show you which fork to use.”



“At least it’s not chopsticks—like on Camus XII.”



The Republic had been called to Alpha Camus XII to assist with truce talks with Beta Camus IV. On the second day, the Betas had launched their entire arsenal, destroying over eighty percent of the surface of the planet. Twenty-four Federation members, seventy-six Beta Camisians and two billion Alpha Camisians died. Jim had never gotten the images of the death and destruction out of his mind.



He had absolutely no idea what utensils Camisians used for meals.



“No, nothing like that,” said McElhannon, “but I’d better give you an—etiquette briefing.”



Jim gave a curt nod. “Understood. See you down there. Kirk out.”



Jim spun sideways in his chair. “Well, Spock, what do you make of that?”



Spock folded his arms in front of his chest. “There is more to this situation than is contained in the mission brief.”



“Clearly. And none of it good.



“Kirk to Bridge.”



“Bridge. Uhura.”



“Have an escort team—the next two officers on the duty roster and two security men—all in dress uniforms meet us on the hangar deck.”



“Aye sir.” The channel closed.



Kirk rubbed his chin in the direction of the darkened screen. “I wish I knew more about what we were going in to. Hypotheses?”



“I have insufficient data to present useful alternatives—”



“—but someone else does.” Jim completed Spock’s sentence. He stood and grabbed the plaque. “Come on; let’s go find out what’s going on down there.”



Spock rose along with him, and Jim hurried him though the cabin door, resting his fingertips lightly on the small of his first officer’s back.





* * * *






The escort detail was ready and waiting, of course. “No weapons allowed in the reconstruction zone,” Jim said as he saw Bennett reach for the shuttlecraft weapons’ hold. “Leave the phasers there.”



There was the briefest hesitation. “Yes, sir.”



Uhura’s voice came over the cockpit comm. “Hail received. You’re cleared for the transit gate. Coordinates being transferred to the Henry Hudson computer now.”



“Thank you, Lieutenant.



“Mr. Spock, whenever you’re ready.”



Spock commed the hangar deck control. “Pre-launch checks complete. Open flight doors.” The launch pad turned 180 degrees, and the Henry Hudson launched toward Altair VI.







In the parking bay Jim spotted the Sophocles, a shuttle from Republic, but Mac was nowhere in sight. An escort party led them to the main building; soon Mac was pumping his hand.



“Good to see you, Jim. Filled out a little, I see.”



Jim sucked in his stomach. “I believe you’ve met my first officer, Mr. Spock.”



Mac nodded greetings. “With Chris Pike, yes.”



Jim began, “Mac, what—”



Mac tightened the handshake much harder, the signal clear as a red alert, then let the hand drop. “Come on; let me introduce you to President Wyddick.”



They passed through a weapons scanner at the front door, then two door guards, each sporting two pair of decorative phasers, scanned and searched them as well. The Altair Sixer body was singularly suitable for a soldier, Jim thought. Heavy scales—almost armor—gave ample protection and six tentacles could each aim independently. Jim briefly considered making some joke about six-shooters, but let it go instead.



Someone had spared no trouble for this dinner. At either corner of one side wall, a spiral of stairs led up to a balcony that ran the length of the wall. Flowers draped over from every inch of the railing. Behind the rail, a holographic band played a curious blend of tones.



The head table was up on an elevated stage at the far side of the room and was set for twenty or so. There were seats designed for the reptiloid bodies of the Sixers, as well as typical chairs for humanoids. In front of the center seat was a small podium. Behind the table, the stage extended back to a curtain. Waitstaff moved behind the table, setting more implements and flowers.



President Wyddick was tall and thin, his scales individually painted in an elaborate mosaic of bright colors. “Delighted to meet you, Captain Kirk,” he said, extending one tentacle as a humanoid might for a handshake.



Jim took the limb. The scales were thin and fine on the end, giving a slick metallic feel. The shake was brisk, with just the amount of pressure expected of a human male. Someone had briefed the President well.



According to the report, the Sixers were only low level telepaths. It was the mute Fivers who communicated exclusively telepathically; even the Universal Translator couldn’t transliterate their thoughts. Still, Jim concentrated on blocking his mind—just in case.



Wyddick continued, “My Chief Advisor Bradwllch, War Minister Toeffyll, Foreign Affairs Minster Aaoocoo, and Minister of Agriculture Gwddymoetur.” One by one he introduced the beings at his shoulder with a flip of a tentacle.



“My first officer, Mr. Spock,” Jim said, tossing a nod behind his shoulder.



“Ah, a Vulcan. Our Starfleet liaison told us all of our guests would be human.”



“I am of bi-racial heritage. Starfleet records list me as both; perhaps that is the source of the confusion.”



“Or perhaps it’s because of the multiple changes in the plan we filed. I trust it’s not a problem?” said Kirk.



“No, no, not at all. Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock.” He twisted two tentacles together and parted them at the tips to form a stylized V.



Spock returned the courtesy. “And you and your people as well.”



Jim continued the introductions. “Lieutenants Leslie and Kelowitz; crewmen Mattox and Bennett.”



“Delighted, gentleman,” said Wyddick.



“Mr. President, I need to ask you about the continued defense precautions. I thought the war was over,” Kirk said.



The President tucked his tentacles behind his back. “It is. Unfortunately there has been some—unpleasantness with a small faction from Altair V.”



Kirk frowned and scanned the room, puzzled.



“According to our reports, the citizenry of Altair V fought with you in the Tellarite conflict,” said Spock. “And I see many Fivers—as you call them—here now.” Indeed, one of the presidential aides, many of the guests and most of the service persons were the brown-furred humanoid denizens of Altair V.



“That’s just it,” said Wyddick. “It’s only a tiny subset. Nothing to concern the Federation.”



“What is the source of the discord?” Spock asked.



“The civilization on Altair V is different than we are, less sophisticated, but generally congenial and appreciative of our role in aiding their civilization. They did fight along with us, with distinction, I might add, and are as thankful for the union between us as we are.



“My own Minister of Foreign Affairs is a Fiver.” Wyddick waved a tentacle to Aaoocoo, the single humanoid standing behind him. “We hope to incorporate more Fivers into higher level positions as they continue to gain education and abilities.



“The group that’s attacking us is just a tiny, primitive tribe—a cult really—that’s taken a stand against my government for no good reason. They’re barbarians; they eat only flesh—often raw flesh. There are even rumors of cannibalism. They fight for no reason except to kill.”



“Surely you have the might to suppress such a small group,” said Kirk.



The President fidgeted with four of the tentacles behind his back. “Certainly. We could annihilate them any time we want, but we’re not barbarians, Captain. We defend ourselves, but keep hoping that they will have a change of heart and join us in peace with the rest of their species.”



“Admirable, but unusual thinking for a weary and war-torn planet,” said Spock.



“We try to rise above the norm, Mr. Spock,” said the President.



“But you must excuse me, gentleman. I see the Denebian delegation is here. Perhaps Captain McElhannon can provide a tour. He arrived several days ago—in time for the inauguration proper.” Wyddick emphasized the last phrase ever so slightly.



“Delighted,” said Mac. “Come on, Jim, walk with me.”



“You four,” Jim spoke to the security team, “stay here. Spock.” Jim gathered up the Vulcan with a twist of his head, and they strolled back out into the street.



“So, what is it, Mac?” Jim asked when they had maneuvered a discreet distance away.



“I don’t know, Jim, and I wish I did. On the surface of things, it’s utopia. President Wyddick is intelligent and efficient. The society runs like clockwork. The Fivers live happily alongside the Sixers; there’s food and work for everyone—no wants, no poverty, and yet,” he pointed to the sky where the ripple effect of the energy baffle could be seen, “war measures are still in effect. Something doesn’t fit.”



“Wyddick explained that. Just one group of malcontents. It can happen—even in utopia.”



Mac shook his head. “I don’t buy it. For one thing, these ‘primitive savages’ are launching coordinated attacks, using advanced military intelligence and countermeasures. I witnessed a missile assault on inauguration day that nearly took out the planetary shields. Not only does that belie what Wyddick said about them, but I also doubt they could be suppressed as easily as he says. And as for random violence, we captured an assault ship with three Fivers aboard. My Betazoid counselor interviewed them only briefly, but all three made the same claims. That the government of United Altair is holding the Fivers in slavery.”



“Slavery?” Jim looked up sharply. “You investigated?”



Mac nodded. “Of course. The captives were claimed by the government before we could get details, but still we found nothing.”



“The Fivers are less sophisticated than the Sixers and have correspondingly less responsibility, but I saw nothing to add up to slavery,” Jim said.



“Spock, did you pick up anything from the Fivers in the Hall?”



“Negative. Although my mental contact was limited to the most superficial level, the group mood was one of contentment. They would also be aware that I could communicate with them, and not one called for help.”



Jim spread his hands. “Mac—”



“I know, Jim, I know, and I’m not saying that I believe their story, just that the official version doesn’t hold water.”



“And Kyle?”



Kyle Tranble was the captain of the Yorktown that had left orbit earlier. He was a by-the-book man, solid and serious, and an avid realist.



Mac shrugged. “He said I was being paranoid. Maybe, but it’s served me well so far, and I know when something isn’t right.



“We’re warping out right after this dinner. The Klingons are making noises about annexing Jarrius III and we’ve been ordered to intercede. I tried to talk Komack into giving us more time, but he wasn’t in a terribly receptive mood.”



Jim winced. “I might’ve had something to do with that.”



Mac chuckled. “So I heard. Anyway, I wouldn’t want you to ruffle the old bird more than necessary, but keep your eyes and ears open, would you, Jim?”



“Always.”







Guests were being seated when they arrived back at the banquet hall. Mattox and Bennett had stationed themselves at the back, below the balcony, with a good view of the room. Leslie and Kelowitz had taken positions at a guest table closest to the stage. The President led the way up the few steps to the head table. Behind them waitstaff in uniform lined up in position. They were all Fivers.



The first course was a cold plate, a bed of purple sauce with slices of something brown and fleshy. Meat. Spock slid his plate to the side without comment.



The president took note at once. “Mr. Spock, you maintain a Vulcan diet?”



“I do.”



He turned to a waitress and passed her Spock’s untouched plate. “Eeoojjnn, inform the kitchen that Mr. Spock is to be served the Fiver menu, and take this away.”



“Mr. President—” the Agriculture Minister down the row, began.



Wyddick waved him off. “Please, Gwddymoetur, we must respect our guests.”



“The Fivers are not served the same food?” Kirk scanned the room. Indeed, all the Fiver guests except for Aaoocoo had a shallow bowl of grayish paste. One of the same was being substituted where Spock’s plate had been. They were informed it was called yyilliss.



“Aside from the differences in metabolisms, most have a distinct preference for the produce of home—something I’m sure a traveler such as yourself can understand. Even Aaoocoo prefers the simpler Fiver fare but adapts himself tonight in the diplomatic interests of politics. We go to a great deal of difficulty and expense to husband Fiver produce here for immigrants; the difference is their gain, not loss.”



“Convenient that they’re mute and unable to verify this,” Kirk said.



“Mute, but hardly unable.” Wyddick turned to Spock. “You possess the telepathic abilities of your Vulcan genetics?”



“Largely.”



“Then, by all means, feel free to interview anyone you like. Ooaayyll here,” a young waitress stepped forward, “for one, would be happy to address any of your concerns.”



“I’d prefer—interviewees not specifically chosen by you,” said Kirk.



The President’s face ran through a series of changes, then settled into a rote smile. “Captain, our planet is your home for the duration of your stay. You and your people are free to roam where you will and talk with whomsoever you care to. I’m sure you will find our citizens, all of them—Fivers and Sixers alike—more than willing to answer any of your questions.”



It wasn’t any special telepathy, just the multilevel unspoken communication that had grown and been refined between Kirk and Spock through the years. Correctly interpreting the order, which his captain had not needed to speak to give, Spock pushed away from his bowl of half eaten yyilliss and stood.



“But,” the President continued, “I would suggest that you be back in time for the soup course. Terrine of mahhrass—a delicacy treasured throughout the sector.” He picked up a three-pronged fork, stabbed a slice of meat, and popped it into his mouth with gusto. “It’s not to be missed.”





* * * *






For a primarily touch-telepath like Spock, a detailed interrogation would mean physical contact. Like the vast majority of telepathic sentients, the Fivers broadcast a basic mood and attitude or could mentally send a general “call,” but specific detail required a meld. Spock began his search for willing interviewees.



Starting in the building, and moving out into the street, he approached several Fivers. From the kitchen staff, to the janitorial staff, to a sundry merchant in the street, to a farmworker on her way home, all were agreeable and reported happiness with their lives and lot.



Near the end of the last meld, his communicator chirped.



“Spock here.”



“Spock, how’re the interviews coming?”



“Nine out of nine working subjects report satisfaction and contentment with no evidence of duress of any kind.”



Kirk paused. “In that case, report back to the hall; Mac’s leaving. Things have heated up and the Republic’s been ordered to warp out now.”



Spock was already heading back. “On my way.”







Reentering the building, Spock approached one last Fiver, an older man with matted fur, looking more than a little tired, clearing dirty dishes. The Fiver led them into the dish processing room for the deeper meld. Yes, he was tired and ready to go home after a long day, but he was proud of the success of the banquet and the work he had done. He lived and worked here by choice, and was happy to do so.



Thanking the man, Spock broke the meld. In front of him was a one-way viewing panel the staff could use to spot needs in the hall.



On the balcony, partly obscured by the holographic band, a shadowy figure took aim with a rifle, dead at the stage.





* * * *






Out of nowhere, Jim saw more than heard Spock’s warning in his head, but he didn’t have time to wonder how. He threw himself over the President, knocking him flat, and pressed their bodies under the table as the first shots rang out. In his seat, the Chief Advisor howled and vanished into nothing.



The room erupted in chaos. Dishes and utensils crashed to the floor as the head table members took cover. Bradwllch cowered under the table. The waiters and most of the head table were running backstage. One of the Sixers—the War Minister?—was hit before he could reach the back. Two of his tentacles burned off with the first shot. Four still twitched. With the second shot, he was vaporized.



Leslie and Kelowitz had dashed for the captain and slid underneath the table as well. Leslie snatched the great carving knife from the clutter and held it up and ready.



One of the Altairian guards was racing up the stairs to the stage, all four phasers firing into the room. He was shot down and fell dead, sprawled towards the table. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. What was still recognizable of the left side of his body was charred black; the adjacent scales had welded together in a dull mass. The other two phasers had skittered out of his grip.



“Secure the President,” Jim said to his men as he dove for the first phaser, rolled to the second one and slid right back under the table. Bradwllch still sat tight, tentacles wrapped around himself and shaking. Jim went to toss a phaser to Leslie, but he was already gone.



Down on the floor, relatively hidden from view by the table, Leslie was shuffling in a backwards crouch, the knife bared in his hand. Kelowitz was crawling, pushing the president ahead of him, sheltering him with his body.



Jim leaned out to the side of the table and clipped off a couple wild, covering shots. The Altairian sidearm was woefully inadequate for a full combat situation. A blast whizzed over his shoulder, burning through his jacket and scorching the skin beneath.



He ducked back under the table and squelched his body’s automatic response to the pain. With the adrenaline surging, it wasn’t difficult. The damage wasn’t too deep and he forced the wound from his mind. He searched for a safer vantage point. There was none. He tried his communicator. A computer informed him that there was a twelve-minute wait for a surface-to-ship relay. There was another round of fire, and suddenly he felt before he saw Spock under the table by his side.



“Where?” Jim asked.



“On the balcony. One sniper and two others with smaller weapons guarding the top of the stairs. All are Fivers.”



Jim passed him a phaser. “So they have the elevation, position, firepower and first strike advantage. How about numbers? Mattox and Bennett?”



“Vaporized attempting to mount the balcony.”



Two more lives he owed the universe. “That doesn’t leave us much does it?”



“Indeed not. I would estimate the odds of launching successful countermeasures from here to be less than nine thousand, three hundred eight-four to one.”



“That good, huh?”



Jim turned to Chief Advisor Bradwllch. “What’s back there? An exit?” He jerked his head towards the backstage.



“No. No doors or windows; it’s just a work and storage area. We’re trapped. They have us trapped.” He wrapped his tentacles more tightly around himself and shivered.



“What do they want?” asked Jim. “Maybe we can bargain with them.”



“They want us dead!” Bradwllch spat out the words. “There’s no bargaining with animals.”



“No one kills for no reason; they must have a higher motive.”



“The minister is correct on one count,” said Spock. “One of the assailants is broadcasting a demand that the President and all cabinet members be surrendered for execution.”



“Can you talk to them?”



“Negative. They are unreceptive to discourse at this time.”



“Think, Spock. We have to do something.” Jim rubbed the vicinity of the wound in an attempt to diffuse the searing sensation that again vied for his attention.



Eyes drawn to the burn, Spock reached a finger out and peeled more fabric away, assessing the damage.



“It’s nothing,” Jim protested. “Barely a scratch.”



“Yes,” Spock agreed studying the burn. “However, the weapon’s signature is fascinating.” He rubbed a scorched edge of fabric between his fingers. “These are not phaser markings. I believe they are from parathermious capacitors. That would also explain how they eluded the weaponry scans.”



“Whatever they are, they have them, and all we have are these.” Jim flipped the little phaser in his hand.



“Parathermious capacitors were investigated by Starfleet over one hundred years ago, but abandoned as militarily unfeasible.”



“Not now, Spock; I need strategy, not history.”



“That is my point. The weapons were deemed unfeasible as they will only function within thirty meters of a strong radiant heat source.”



Heat. Sun. Fire. “Ovens! The kitchen!”



“Ninety-eight point two percent probable. It is located beneath and just behind the balcony.”



Jim eyed the side service door across the room. “I think I can make it.” He adjusted the phaser, pushing it for every last bit of power.



Spock swallowed, the lump in his throat bobbing down, then up again. “It is more logical that I should go; I have been in the kitchen and am familiar with the layout.”



“I think I can find an oven,” said Jim. “Besides, you’re the better shot; I’ll need you to cover me.”



“As I recall, my marksmanship score was only zero point four seven points higher than yours.”



“Every little bit counts.” Jim clapped him on the shoulder with all the usual confidence. “Besides, you can do that—whatever it was that you did back there—to warn me, guide me. I’ll ask you more about that later; right now we have a job to do.” He crouched, making ready to start his run.



“Jim.”



The intensity in Spock’s voice made him turn. The look he saw was one he’d seen many times before—transporter splits, court-martials, pergium mines, New York City 1930. So far he had come back safely every time. He intended for this one to be no different.



Jim put all the reassurance he could muster into a smile, reached back and squeezed Spock’s thigh. “We’re going to make it; we always have. On three.”



Spock swallowed again, any other words he had planned seeming to go down with it. “Yes, sir. On three.”



“One—two—thr—”



Roll—left—dodge—drop! The movements came to his mind and flowed out through his body as smoothly as if they had been choreographed. Spock’s modulated mindvoice flavored the flow, the only clue that the thoughts were not originally his own. The sound of shots whizzed past his ear as he pushed open the door to the kitchen.



There was only one guard; Jim took him down with a kick to the hand that held the weapon and a punch to the jaw. He aimed the phaser at the row of ovens and took them out one by one. The room outside went silent.



When Jim mounted the stairs to the balcony, one Fiver was already down and the sniper was buckling under Spock’s neck pinch. Jim leapt up the last of the steps and launched himself in a flying kick at the last attacker.



The Fiver dropped like a sack of wet hay.



Spock called the all-clear and collected the weapons in a pile. Jim stood bent over, hands on his thighs, to catch his breath. As Spock picked up the parathermious rifle, he glanced over at Jim where he stood jacket torn, half on and half off, shoulder charred black, still breathing hard but grinning from ear to ear.



Another job well done.





* * * *






“Unified Altair, both Five and Six, thank you for your service,” said Wyddick as they stood amid the rubble of the room. An Altairian security detail had finally arrived and was marching the three barely conscious assailants down the stairs in restraints.



Spock came from the kitchen, carrying the fourth man over his back.



“We’ll take him from here,” a Fiver guard thought to Spock.



“No.” Spock said the word out loud.



“Problem, Spock?” Jim looked over and caught his eye.



“These men have killed two Starfleet officers in the line of duty. The Federation has first rights to prosecution.”



A cry broke out as the surviving government members protested in unison. The President spoke the loudest. “They’ve also killed four of my people here, including two invaluable members of my government, and who knows how many other citizens before this. Millions? I think our interests outweigh yours.”



“Spock, under the circumstances—” Jim began.



Spock’s voice was firm. “The Federation Code of Unified Justice is quite specific. You must take these men into Federation custody.”



The Code said no such thing. In fact, a starship captain had almost limitless discretion in these matters. Jim searched Spock’s face, but found no clue. It didn’t matter; he’d trusted him with far less to go on before.



“All right; we’ll take them in.”



“Captain Kirk! I protest this in the strongest possible language. I will be speaking to your Admiral Komack,” said the President.



“Protest all you want,” Kirk clipped, “but you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m acting for the Federation in accord with Federation policy, and if you want our support, you’ll turn them over.”



“Now I see how the Federation works.” Wyddick’s lower tentacles swished behind his back.



“And what did you see when the Federation saved your lives?” Jim’s tone was soft and low, but the danger reined in behind it was unmistakable.



Wyddick chirped something in Altairian; the Translators didn’t pick it up, but the guards stepped away from the prisoners.



“You may reclaim your restraints,” said Spock.



Wyddick’s tentacles thrashed in brisk synchronization. “These are barbarians. How foolish are you people?”



Kirk pulled his first officer aside. “Spock, there’s a lot we don’t know. And they did kill Mattox and Bennett.” He locked eyes and silently asked the question, are you sure?



“I am aware of that, Captain; I saw them vaporized.”



Whatever else they didn’t know, Spock would not risk his captain’s life. Jim squared his shoulders and turned back to the group. “Mr. President, please allow your men to reclaim their property. We’ll handle this from here.”



The President chirped something else that went untranslated but sounded distinctly impolite. The restraints popped free. None of the prisoners moved a muscle. Leslie and Kelowitz each took one by the back of the neck. Jim stationed himself by the third. Together they marched out the front door and across to the parking hangar.



“What’s this about?” Jim asked when they were out of earshot.



“I am uncertain as of yet,” said Spock, “but I believe it is essential that we make clear to these men our beneficent motivation. Some of Captain McElhannon’s information has been confirmed. This one,” he nodded to the Fiver he had been carrying who now walked unsteadily with the rest, “even wounded and confused, had an intelligent, reasoned interaction with me. There is no trace of the senseless violence we were given to expect.



“He was most insistent that he is fighting for the freedom of his people. He asserts that the Fivers we have seen are being held in servitude by nonconsensual mental influence.”



“The Fivers you interviewed? You called them happy and complacent. That hardly sounds involuntary.”



“I detected no outside influence or coercion, and yet the very emotions you mention are inconsistent with the situation. A species intelligent and motivated enough to mount such an offensive should not so easily accept such inequity.”



“Same species, different individuals. Different people are different, Mr. Spock,” said Leslie.



“Agreed. As I stated, I am uncertain as to the significance. I require more time to interview the captives, and I believe it would be unwise to do that on the planet’s surface. Some of the Fivers have extensive telepathic range and if any, such as the Foreign Minister, are in league—”



“Yes, yes. I see,” said Jim. In silence they reboarded the Henry Hudson. The prisoners offered no resistance. Still, Spock took the precaution of ordering the lap safety restraints triggered around the Fivers, locking them into place for the short trip back to Enterprise.







On the Enterprise, there was a minor disagreement. Kirk wanted the Fivers in the Brig and interrogated; Spock wanted them in guest quarters and allowed to rest and recover.



In the end they compromised: secured in the Brig, given food and eight hours of rest. The crew had other business to attend during that interval anyway. There were two men who would never return who deserved a few hours of remembrance.



And someone had to break the news to the next of kin. That someone would be the captain. Of all the duties a captain had to bear, this one was the hardest.



Funerals he could take. Every person aboard had signed on ready to die for what he believed; he owed them no further explanation or apology. But the families— The families had not signed up for that.

Meeting them outside the airlock, McCoy saw the injured shoulder and leapt at it. “That’s a deep tissue burn, Jim; I need to work on it in Sickbay.”



“Later, Bones; it’ll still be burnt in two hours. I’ll meet you then. Go see to the prisoners.”



McCoy had already scanned them as they left the hangar deck. Exhaustion, malnutrition, and a couple of bruises, but not much worse. Mattox and Bennett would be just as dead in two hours; the services could wait just as easily as the shoulder—but McCoy had better sense than to mention that. He gave up with grace and watched Spock hustle Jim back towards their cabins.







It took little knowledge of James Kirk and even less logic to deduce that the inevitable question would be asked very soon. It was exactly four point six seconds after leaving the hangar deck that Jim started in.



“Spock, how did you get into my head like that? Is it the planet? Something on the planet that augments telepathy?”



“No.” Ask a Vulcan a closed question—



Jim tried again. “So, you want to tell me?”



A most illogical question; had he wanted to tell, he would have by now. For zero point two one seconds Spock considered applying the same stall tactic, but deduced it would be pointless; he had run out of time, for patience was seldom ranked among the many and varied virtues of James Kirk.



Spock cleared his throat. “It is related to the recent events on Vulcan.”



“And?”



Jim’s face stayed open wide with the same easy trust that had led to this very situation in the first place. It was no easy task to maintain barricades against such unconditional acceptance—even under the best of circumstances. So why hadn’t he seen this coming?



Every time he closed his eyes, Jim was there, tethered to him by a gossamer fine golden strand. Jim spun and bobbed and twirled, nearer, farther, then nearer again, but the string never snapped nor strained. The first few times he passed it off as residual madness; by now there was no denying or ignoring what they had become. The only issue now was control.



“And?” Jim repeated.



“When my link with T’Pring was severed, it reformed almost at once—with you.”



“Link?” Jim barked the word. “You mean, link as in—linked? Linked, as in—bonded?”



Spock nodded.



“You mean—we’re married?”



Someone in the passageway coughed. Yeoman Tamula turned to look in their direction.



“Certainly not,” said Spock, summoning all the feigned indignation he could gather.



He waited until they had entered the turbolift. “The link was formed with neither your knowledge nor consent. No Federation world would recognize a union so formed as a marriage. There is no exact translation in Standard, as it is a concept unique to telepaths, but the usual transliteration, as you suggest, is ‘bonded.’”



“Bonded—in the same way you were to T’Pring?”



“Yes.” It was close enough to the truth; Jim did not need to know that his link with T’Pring had never been one-tenth as intense as this.



“To T’Pring, who you introduced as your wife?”



“Yes.” It was clear enough where this was going, but easier to try and stop a solar flare than James T. Kirk on a roll.



“But you say we’re not married?”



“Not without your prior informed consent.”



Jim rolled his eyes as the lift came to a halt. “That seems a pretty small detail, considering I’m now in your ex-wife’s place.”



“I doubt that the slave women in the harems of Orion would agree with you, Captain.”



Touché. They had arrived back at his cabin. As the door closed behind them, Jim peeled off his uniform. “So—why me?”



Had he heard any dismay or recoil, Spock would have tried an evasion. He had considered several in preparation for this ultimately inevitable moment. “Unknown.” Or, “Possibly because you were the first person I touched after the bond was severed.” They were not lies—not exactly. He could have spoken either one with a clear conscience as nature was never a fixed equation, and both fell within the distant reaches of possibility.



But he heard nothing except earnest curiosity and a certain ringing resonance that is so frequent when empty spaces are first breached. A sensation with which Spock was not unfamiliar himself. And so he spoke of the theory to which he assigned a ninety-seven point eight seven percent probability.



“Because you are the person to whom I am closest.”



Jim nodded—nothing more, no surprise, just nodded. “So, now what?”



“That would be up to you.”



Jim looked up, surprise now spread across his face. “Me? I don’t know anything about it. Aside from the fact that the link just saved our skins. Pretty handy, if you ask me.”



Jim massaged his injured shoulder and surveyed the rest of his body, seemed to be checking for other injuries. Apparently satisfied, he sat down in a chair. Naked.



Spock averted his eyes. It was not as easy as it should have been, but far easier than continuing to watch.



“Give me a risk-benefit run down,” Jim said.



“Risks to you: your privacy. While it is my intention to maintain barriers against it, hypothetically I could enter your mind at any time.”



Jim snorted. “I’ve got no secrets left from you anyway; I’ll take my chances. Go on.”



“A possibility of—distraction, if one of us were to be seriously injured or stressed.”



“Um. And?”



Spock shuffled and, for the second time, averted his eyes. “And there is the obvious obligation.”



Jim widened his eyes in inquiry.



“It is, of course, primarily a mating bond. In seven years—” Spock’s voice trailed off.



Jim waved that off. “Seven years is a long time in space. Let’s say we worry about that one in six point nine years. What else?”



Spock shook his head. “Risks to you, none other that I can anticipate.”



“And if we break it?” Jim balked and rephrased as if in afterthought. “Can we break it?”



“Yes, on Vulcan with a healer. It might take several weeks.”



“Too long,” Jim said shortly. “The Klingons are getting restless; we can’t both be out.” He paused. “Unless—”



A frown settled down on his brow and his voice dropped again. “Spock, you said it was up to me, but what about you?” Jim hesitated. “Do you want it broken?”



The logical answer would have been a single word, but that was more than a half-Vulcan could begin to fathom. Instead Spock chose another not-lie that skated around the truth.



“It is untenable for a sexually mature Vulcan male to remain unbonded for any length of time. Should the link between us be severed, I would be compelled to accept rebonding with a stranger of my family’s choosing. I find this arrangement preferable and I have no reason to wish it broken.”



“Okay, so I guess that’s settled; we stay married.” Jim clapped his hand to his thighs and rose, his tone having lightened considerably in conclusion.



“Oh, and Spock, now that we’re married and it’s legal for you to visit any time, do you think you can get your computer fixed? I’d really like to have mine back.”



Spock reproved himself for the number of undisciplined emotions cluttering his reason. He recognized the foremost one as relief; the rest he would harness later. For now the familiar repartee would do.



He raised both eyebrows. “I believe the computer repair can be arranged directly, but Captain, we are not married.”



Jim spoke absently as he made his way to the shower. “Yes, yes, I heard you. It’s just as well. I don’t know how I would’ve broken that kind of news to my mother.” He stopped just long enough to emphasize the parting shot that he threw back over his shoulder. “She always wanted me to marry a doctor.”



Spock’s eyebrows rose into his bangs. He heard Jim’s rich chuckle continuing long after the shower door had closed.







The memorial services were held together. Since the ancient days of sail, shipmates lived, died and were honored together. It didn’t diminish the significance of individual lives, it elevated it instead.



There were memories and tears, duties and vows shared out amongst the survivors. Soon the captain would put in a requisition for replacements. But not today. Today they would all feel the loss.



McCoy corralled Jim in the corridor and hauled him off to a Sickbay bed mumbling something about what burns and icebergs had in common.



“No drugs,” Jim said, waving away McCoy’s hypo. “There’s something rotten in the state of Altair; I need to be alert.”



“The tissue damage is deeper than it looks,” McCoy said. “I’m going to have to debride pretty wide, and it’s gonna hurt like hell. I’ll give you a short acting hypo; it’ll wear off within thirty minutes.”



“Alright. Thirty minutes, no longer.”



McCoy pressed the hypo in. The biobed beeping waned slower and slower and Jim began falling down and down and down.





he was flat on his back, spock above him, his face contorted and intent. the heat burned his body; his vision was a wavy haze of fiery red. spock’s weight pressed into his chest, his belly, his groin; spock’s fingers pressed into his flesh. his breath came hard and in his gut, the pressure built to the nigh unbearable.



he forced himself over; the sands shifted as they rolled and now he was on top, riding and guiding with his weight. he put his knee between the wiry thighs and squeezed in tight and held. he leaned his body forward, thrusting and pounding impotently as trousers rubbed trousers, no satisfaction in sight. his shirt collar closed in, a useless irritant, choking him at his neck.



now spock moved and was on top again, tossing him casually, flaunting his easily greater strength. the position was awkward—painful, in fact. something dug into the soft hollow of his back. his body cramped; he arched his spine. he spread his hips and wrapped one leg around spock’s waist. he choked in exhalation as the bony points of spock’s pelvis ground mercilessly into his. heat flared though his neck, his face, and down. he bucked and jerked but spock would not be stopped.



something tore? the rear of his pants? he couldn’t see, he couldn’t breathe; all he knew was spock above him and against him and the heat and the hardness and the weight. his body stiffened in a final spasm, and then went limp in those strong arms. he felt himself gently, tenderly lowered back to earth.



the peace, the warmth, the light.






Jim bolted upright on the exam table. “Spock!”



McCoy looked over from his desk. “That must’ve been a helluva dream. Maybe I should try some of that stuff.”



Jim took inventory. His shoulder throbbed underneath the spray-on dressing, but at least he could use it a little more. He pushed himself up to a sit. Something sticky cloyed his pants to his thigh. He looked down and saw the stain; he pulled the sheet over his lap, but not before McCoy saw the damage.



“Yeah, I definitely need me some of that,” McCoy joked.



Jim wasn’t laughing.



“You all right?” McCoy passed the scanner over him with a frown. “That stuff doesn’t usually do things like that.”



“I’m fine,” said Jim, finding that he could stand up. “But I want an explanation, too.” Holding his shirt in front of his waist, he was already out the door.







All was well on board when Spock turned the Bridge watch over to Sulu. He needed history and political information on Altair before his interviews, but more than that, he needed some time alone to restore order to his thoughts, so he headed for Jim’s cabin and Jim’s computer.



He had six point one eight hours—more than enough time. He dropped himself into a light meditation intent upon quarantining and mastering the multitude of emotions that had nipped and chipped away at his logic today.





he pressed the man beneath his body, finally captured, his own need throbbing between them with every beat of his heart. he had never felt such heat, such fever. he reached for him, but jim rolled away—over and up on top. jim straddled him, held him between his legs, but it was not close enough. the clothing narrowly separated their skin as the barriers of foreign physiology narrowly separated their desires. spock grabbed him hard and pulled him down to the sand and held him right where his body had sorest need.



he slid his grip up the body, the neck, not caring if he hurt. the imperatives of biology must be satisfied. jim squirmed against his pelvis, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, cock to cock. the rough fabric chafed between them, but it was nothing compared to the chafing in his mind. he needed this too much.



he must have this man, here, now, in every way. he pulled him closer and closer and closer still until—






Spock jolted to alertness, panting for every ragged breath. His body ached again taut and relentless with the fever he had thought was gone. With rising alarm, he fought to force it down. No! This could not be happening again! Not now, too soon.



To his surprise, the fever dissipated at once, like sands cast upon the wind. His organs relaxed, and he was again alone in his barren and oh so pragmatic mind. The mixture of relief and regret that followed shocked him to his Vulcan soul, possibly even more than the eroticism itself. This was not the pre-programmed insanity of the pon farr, but something worse and far more insidious.



The pon farr was of Vulcan, regimented and predetermined even in its madness. The pon farr would leave him be for the better part of seven years, but this all too human madness was a vast and gaping unknown.



He put those feelings at bay as well. Jim was on his way. He could see it, feel it in the link.



He straightened himself and settled his mind. When the door opened, he was unsurprised, nonetheless he found himself completely unprepared.



“What the hell was that?” Jim tossed the shirt aside. His upper body glowed with perspiration. Spock couldn’t help but notice that his lower body was damp as well with a different moisture—the same one that had threatened to compromise his composure only a few moments before.



“I believe one of those ‘disturbing incidents’ I surmised we might encounter.”



“Stress or serious injury, you said. I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”



“Nor I. Perhaps a result of the drugs you were given, or my own unfamiliarity with controlling the link. I would expect it to get better in the future.”



“Better.” Jim repeated the laden word, and it rolled around in the air between them.



Jim searched his face. “Okay, so it’ll get better. But I want to know one thing: was it me—or was it you? I can’t tell.”



Spock shook his head and fiddled with one of the computer switches. “I think the only fair answer is that it was ‘us.’”



“Us.” Jim tossed the verdict around, then he smiled as he had a million times before, the amicable glow of trust utterly undiminished. Spock reevaluated his assessment of the risks. Certainly there were a few things in life that could and would alarm the captain of the Enterprise, but sexuality had never been one of them.



“Okay, ‘us.’ I’ll say one thing, Mr. Spock,” Jim said as he pulled off his shorts and trousers and tossed them into the ‘cycler, freeing himself from the very physical evidence of “us.” “You are full of surprises.” He paused on the way into the head to run a hand over one of Spock’s shoulders. No harm, no foul it seemed.



Whether it was residual emotion from the vision, or something else just starting to break free, Jim’s innocent touch still tingled in the skin beneath his shirt—and someplace deeper as well—threatening to crumble all of his resolve. There was a time he would have yearned for this—for anything more that he could have of Jim. That was before he had seen that a little having would only accentuate the yearning more.



There was a Terran saying, “Drink deep or taste not.” It seemed to have been written just for James Kirk.



“I will complete my research elsewhere.” Spock rose to leave.



Jim called from beyond the doorway. “No, stay.” It had the bark of a command, but listening with the ear of their many years together, Spock heard only the plea beneath it. “You won’t bother me tonight. In fact, I wouldn’t mind the company. It’s been a lousy day.”



Jim emerged from the head washed and steaming, in fresh white briefs and a weary gray posture. “Did you know that Bennett had two girls? Four and seven. The older one answered the comm. I heard her ask her mother what’s wrong. How do you tell a kid something like that?”



“I don’t know.”



Jim shook his head. “I wasn’t expecting an answer. Sometimes there isn’t a right one. Believe me, I remember the call my mother got. Sometimes there just isn’t a right one.” He dropped himself down on the bunk and threw his good arm over his eyes.



Spock watched until the respirations deepened and slowed. He supposed a human would have gone to him; he knew a Vulcan would have left him to his privacy. But Spock, who was neither, must find his own way through the vagaries of emotion. He turned back to the computer screen.



Sometimes finding one’s way took a while.



Spock completed his study of Altair, then researched Makian hydroponics, then Quivarian genetic mutations, then metabaric quantum theory of black holes. He stayed until the captain roused at 0557, but didn’t dare allow his mind to slip to meditation again.





* * * *






Captain’s Log Stardate 3384.1:

Mr. Spock has made some startling discoveries during his interviews—

discoveries that must in good conscience be investigated immediately.

I have contacted Sector 9 with an update and requested permission

to deploy an independent scout team, as we can no longer trust information

provided by the Altairian government.




“Absolutely not,” said Komack. “You’ve offended and upset an allied government enough; you will not make things worse with these accusations.”



“No one is accusing, sir. We simply need more information—information obtained neutrally. If there is any truth to what Mr. Spock saw—”



“And I need more information, too, before I authorize a covert operation right under the noses of a friendly government. The Klingon Empire has its eye on Altair as well. If we even appear to be wavering on support, they’ll move in like vultures on a carcass.”



“So you’ve already told me.”



Komack grunted. “Who else can verify this mental vision of his?”



“No one—but telepathic evidence is considered valid,” said Jim.



“From a reliable source. Spock just got off your sick roster. He was there for over a week, I see. Who knows what his illusions are from?”



Jim took a breath. “Admiral, there are no other telepaths on board and the nearest Starfleet vessel not on critical deployment is three days away. The government knows that we have the Fivers and will learn their secret. We have to act now!”



“You’re assuming there’s a secret to learn; we don’t know that. Get me a reliable witness, and I’ll consider it. Komack out.”



Jim looked up from his desk, where McCoy and Spock both stood waiting. “You sure have a way with people,” McCoy said. “That’s some bee he’s got in his bonnet over you.”



Jim ignored the comment. “Bones, is there some way to alter my brain? Make me able to receive the Fiver’s thoughts? Maybe that drug you gave me yesterday?”



McCoy snorted. “Psychotropics? Now there’s a brilliant idea. Take a mind altering drug, call Komack back and tell him to believe you now.”



“Mm.” As Jim pressed memory of the sensual vision back and down, a thought occurred.



“Spock, with this link— Can I somehow communicate with the prisoners—through you?”



“A three way meld?” McCoy asked. “Komack’ll still question Spock’s influence.”



“I’ll just tell him I witnessed it and give my report. We know that some Fivers can reach non-telepaths. I’ll leave out one little detail.”



“That’s pretty close to deception, Jim,” said McCoy.



“They’re enslaving a world, Doctor.” The words came out like bullets.



“Spock, is it possible?”



“It should be, although you may find the process—disturbing.”



Jim stood. “One thing’s for sure. I know I find slavery deeply disturbing. Come on. Let’s go.”







As soon as Spock opened the link, he knew he was in trouble. Drug or no drug, the naked openness of Jim’s mind whirled around him and he fell away, lost his orientation. He had been a fool to believe he could master the unfiltered force of James Kirk—or the equal passion that Kirk could unmask within him.



The Fiver—the name had no pronunciation—relayed sharp concern; this had not happened with their other melds. He reached out at once to support Spock’s faltering body with his arms, stabilized the link to the best of his abilities and waited.



In the maelstrom, Spock fought to restore the order of his mind. He leaned into the storm and with the other’s strength struggled to replace borders and barriers where they should properly have been all along. Eventually he could see and hear.



‘Now, who was it who was supposed to be disturbed?’ Jim’s mindvoice laughed the question without form or sound.



The warmth of Jim’s affections threatened to cripple him again; Spock tried for lightness and narrowed the link between them down to a more restrained level. He presented Jim a patently false denial of recollection of any such statement; the humor of the flagrantly futile oh-so-Vulcan evasion rippled through them all.



Jim’s mind laughed again, and Spock’s dizziness lessened a little. The disorientation was nearly as disturbing as the sheer force of his desire to stay in this moment forever. But for now his will was still stronger than his desire, and Spock regained himself and prompted the Fiver to retell his tale.







He told a tale passed down through collective memory of a once peaceful little planet—all citizens telepathically connected and interdependent, all working for the greater good. He told how one day the neighbors came from the disc in the sky. The neighbors were singles—they could barely see or hear the commonvoice—but they knew other things instead.



They knew how to grow plants without soil, to produce food in the off-time. They knew how to build things and do things and they shared this knowledge freely. There was food all year round now; there was no more hunger or strife. And the people began to work for the neighbors to show their gratitude. To work for them and to fight for them and to do all their daily duties for them, as if they had no higher purpose at all.



But there were a few who were too proud for the neighbors, who would not eat their plants of air or take their goods of manufacture. They separated themselves and watched in abhorrence as their people drifted from A People to many people and they questioned the food the neighbors brought. For one is what one is made of, and if one is made of foreign stuffs….



So they ate only what they could find or grow, but the best space and light were taken by the plant production mills, and so they scraped and starved and finally took to flesh out of desperation. Eventually the alien substance diffused through the planet until all the plants of the world had been tainted with the will of the neighbors. Those who ate of any plant lost their free spirits and their free wills and turned to serve the whims of those from the disc.



So the Determined abandoned all plants and ate only of the flesh. Their bodies sickened; this was not their nature. Many even died. But they stayed their own hearts and their own minds, and never did they turn to serve the disc.



And through the years the wisdom had been passed down through the Determined: to be true to Five, eat not of the plants or shrubs. And the Fivers that ate plants fought a war that was not theirs with a willingness that had been fed to them, and the rebels fought to bring their people back from the will of the disc to the freedom and to the unity and to the land that they had loved.






Spock broke the meld and slammed closed the link before the rampant emotion in Jim’s mind could spread further.



Jim’s face was tight, but his voice quavered. He grasped the Fiver by the shoulders and held his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said.



I know, the man’s eyes answered.



“Is it possible, Spock? Biochemical brainwashing through alteration of the vegetation?”



“Affirmative. Colonial telepaths are highly susceptible to many psychoactive substances. Add in a substance with addictive properties, and one would have just such a society: calm, content, and willing to do anything as long as they are provided the substance—the drug—in abundance.



“I have taken the liberty of analyzing my stomach contents. I was able to isolate a compound related to mescatropic acid. Based on known biochemistry, it is predictable that it could have mind-altering properties for humanoid brains. It could even have been a factor in—our joint experience last night.”



Jim turned. “I’m calling Komack. Spock, have Sulu, M’Benga and four security men meet me on the hangar deck in five minutes. Load the shuttle with whatever we need to scan for your mescatropic acid derivative.”



“Request permission to—”



“Denied. This could get ugly. Brief M’Benga and Sulu. I need someone I can trust as much as myself to stay on the ship.” Jim jerked his head towards the Fivers. “To take care of them.” He strode from the Brig without looking back.







The President readily agreed to a meeting, perhaps too readily in retrospect. They had just opened the shuttlecraft hatch to disembark when the Klingon party attacked.



Fourteen Klingons armed with phasers leapt out, heavy assault munitions strapped to their backs and sashes. They swarmed the landing party, pressing phaser barrels against their heads. From behind the pack a last Klingon swaggered out, the smallest of the lot, his face twisted in a cruel display of victory. His body was lean and muscular, a phaser hung at one hip and a blade at another, but the most disturbing feature was his arm.



His left arm had been replaced at the shoulder with a cybernetic implant. He wore neither clothing nor armor over it; the entire device was metal, shining with the characteristic violet-gray luster of duranium. It was jointed in four places, to move with serpentine freedom, leaving an eerie, unnatural impression. It terminated in three separate implements: viced pincers, a straight blade, and a vicious looking hook.



“So, this is the legendary Captain Kirk; I expected you to be taller.”



“Sorry to disappoint.”



“I’m Tchaar.” The Klingon paced a sharp circle around Kirk. “You aren’t supposed to be here at all, you know. We arranged for diversions for the Republic and the Yorktown, but heard that you had been—” Tchaar bared his teeth in a cruel perversion of a smile. “Detained. Tant mieux.



“How thoughtless. We must have forgotten to send you a memo,” said Kirk, his voice as carefully modulated as antimatter.



Tchaar snorted and ran the cold surface of his hook down the side of Kirk’s face. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it; it’s all quite true now.” His fetid breath curled under Kirk’s nose when he laughed. “Why look, you are now officially—detained.



“Things would have been simpler without you here, but since you are, I intend to make the best of it. I intend to capture your starship.”



“You and whose army?” Kirk asked softly.



“I should think that would be obvious.”



“You were behind the Rebel attack?”



Tchaar gave a grunt. “Behind it? Quite the opposite. We’re here to squash the rebels into Peena paste. Last night’s attack was as much a surprise to us as it was to you. We could have stopped it, of course, but I wanted to see the great Captain Kirk in action. I found myself, once again—disappointed.”



“I’m so sorry.” The words slid over Kirk’s lips.



“And I am so sorry about your men. Two you lost, wasn’t it? You humans take such things rather personally I hear. I suppose we could have stopped it, but—” Tchaar threw a casual gesture in the air with his hand. “C’est la vie.”



Kirk swallowed his anger. Later for that. Now there was work to be done.



“You’re allied with the government? Why? What’s in it for you? Altair has nothing of any military value.”



Tchaar threw back his head and laughed. “‘Nothing of any military value?’ You Terrans are so oblivious. They have only the greatest military asset of all; an endlessly renewable supply of pliable soldiers. The only thing a Fiver under the influence of mescamorphine will refuse to do is fight against his own planet or people.



“The Sixers have grown cowardly and lazy after so many years. They cannot fight their own battles, and so they called on us to quash the rebel movement.”



“For a price,” said Kirk.



“All we ask is a little information on how the drugged vegetation is grown and dosed.” Tchaar smiled. “How can that compare to our valiant warriors going into battle?”



“And when you have the information and don’t need the government anymore?”



Tchaar shrugged. “Plus ça change. Circumstances change all the time; that’s the way of the universe. And this is an adequate planet. It will make a charming addition to the Empire. Your starship will help see to that.”



The cybernetic joints hissed as he gestured towards the Henry Hudson. “But enough talking. Let’s go. My trophy Enterprise awaits, and I am so eager to have you give us the tour.”



“I’m afraid it will have to be just you. The shuttle has a maximum capacity of eight. If life support senses more than that, the hatches won’t close,” said Kirk.



“Sixteen with the emergency excursion override,” Tchaar gloated. “Don’t look so shocked, Captain. Nothing, especially military secrets, is forever.”



“That still puts you six over,” said Kirk.



“Not me—you.” Tchaar sneered out the words. “Prang!”



“Yes, Captain.” One of the Klingons thumped his chest in response.



“Is today a good day to die?”



“Yes, Captain!”



“Good, then activate your Dead Man’s Revenge, and secure the prisoners.”



Prang pulled a small device off of his bandolier. There was a buzzing noise; it seemed to come from within his chest. In the middle of his breastplate, an orange glow began. The Klingons began to herd the party over to the next shuttle.



“Captain?” Sulu looked toward him, a question in his eyes. Kirk shook his head in a tight jerk. The Klingon with the weapon against his head pressed in tighter.



“A wise decision. Have you seen the Revenge before, Kirk? I imagine not. It is a polypotnic explosive with a remote trigger. The explosive will stay with your comrades; the trigger is in Prang’s chest. Once activated, it cannot be deactivated except by detonation.



“It’s triggered by any energy jolt to the chest. A phaser, a fall, even too vigorous a slap between friends.” Tchaar slapped Kirk’s back in demonstration. He staggered forward into a phaser barrel and steadied himself back again.



“Any of those will set off the device, killing your crewmen—rather unpleasantly, I should think.



“Prang is under orders that if I am killed, he is to phaser himself and trigger the device. His mates will avenge him later, but not until you have seen the charred bodies that were your crew.”



Kirk watched helplessly as the last of his men climbed into the Altairian shuttle. The device was tossed in behind them and the hatch welded shut with a low force phaser burst.



“Any questions, Kirk?”



Prang walked back to them and removed his breastplate. The glow was even brighter now. Kirk glanced back and forth between it and the hatch, hopelessly sealed behind his men.



“I didn’t think so.”



When they boarded the Henry Hudson, Kirk made straight for the weapons’ hold. “The ignition key is kept in here.”



“Captain, Captain,” Tchaar restrained him with a twist of his metal appendage. “Have some dignity. A leader should be above such menial tasks.



“Briicht, the captain seems to have left his key in his shuttle; will you retrieve it for him?”



Briicht extracted the eight phasers in the hold, and passed them out among the warriors.



“No key in there? How peculiar. Well, do your best with the ignition then, Kirk; I’m sure you’ll think of something.” He waved Kirk into the pilot’s seat. “And no tricks when you call your ship. I promise, it will be Prang I kill, not you.”



Jim began the pre-launch sequence and had immediate clearance: one good point of traveling with the corrupt. The grim humor came to his mind unbidden. Running through his rapidly diminishing options, he triggered his lap force restraint. “Gentlemen, I suggest you put on your seat-belts or secure yourselves to the deck. Take-off could be bumpy.”



Gales of uproarious laughter filled the cabin. “We are not delicate like you pasty Terrans. We need no weakling’s protection. And Prang’s trigger is very, very sensitive, so I suggest that you take care.”



Jim grimaced and launched the craft up and out as smoothly as a Denebian slime devil slides through butter.



It was a desperate plan, but these were desperate times. He concentrated with all his might on channeling his thoughts. He had no idea what or how; he just instinctively screamed for Spock with his mind. When the cool answer came, it was all he could do not to sigh in relief. Instead he concentrated on the plan, felt the answering concern—fear for him, truth be told—and the following steadfast commitment and faith in his abilities.



They were almost there. “Henry Hudson to Enterprise.”



Tchaar jabbed him with his fist. “No tricks, Kirk,” he whispered. He poised the blade of his prosthesis with the tip against Prang’s chest.



Enterprise. Leslie here.”



Jim’s voice was as even as ever. He could have been ordering lunch. “Enterprise, this is the Henry Hudson. Request permission to dock.”



“Permission granted. Transporter chief Spock will bring you in.”



Before the central viewer, the great flight doors to the hangar deck slid open.



Kirk turned his head. “Gentlemen, I seriously suggest that you put on your seat belts. Tractor landings are unpredictable.”



“And I seriously suggest that you take care that it isn’t. For the sake of your men on the planet.”



Kirk shrugged. “Have it your way.”



The shuttlecraft drifted in for a perfect 10-point landing. Tchaar grouped his men into formation. “Kirk, you in front—so that your crew can see the benefits of cooperation.”


Kirk gave a rueful grin. “It looks like my belt’s stuck.” He gestured to his lap. “Won’t open.”



Tchaar rolled out a joyless laugh. “Quelle surprise! You don’t say. Not the same belts you wanted us in, I’m sure. Prang, stay with him. Make sure he stays—stuck.”



“Believe me; I’m not going anywhere,” said Jim.

“Then excuse us if we must conquer your ship without you.” Tchaar hit the hatch release and with rapidly waning cries, the Klingons were sucked out in a violent burst.







The first rule of explosive decompression is never hold your breath. It had been a long time since Academy training and years since his last vacuum exposure, but like riding a bicycle, some lessons aren’t forgotten.





Jim tossed his head back and opened his airway, trying to pull in the last few precious molecules of air. The vacuum sucked at him, but the force restraint held, biting painfully into his hips. He was so dizzy he could vomit, if the desperate need for air weren’t clamoring at his body, claiming first dibs over his diaphragm. The headache was stupendous. Something sticky ran down from his ear. He put his hand up to it and pulled it away red.

His skin began to itch as the first tiny bubbles of dissolved gas began to gather in the end capillaries of his skin. Soon they would coalesce into bigger and more lethal ones, keeping blood from reaching vital tissue. A human in good health could survive eighty to one hundred seconds of vacuum—with proper technique, immediate recompression, and a good deal of luck. If he had ever been told the equivalent statistics for a Klingon, he couldn’t remember them now.



A few random shots were fired, taking out a light fixture, damaging one interior hatch and destroying the bulk of a shuttlecraft pod. Most of the Klingons were sucked immediately out the open flight doors and into space. A few Klingons bumped about the hangar deck. Tchaar was the last to go; Jim saw the metal arm flail and the vice-grip catch the hatchway casement. His head spun and his vision faded to gray and then to black. It was a good try, he thought to Spock as the last of his consciousness bled away.





* * * *






He awoke on the hangar deck, Spock and McCoy leaning over him. His right arm stung from the burn of McCoy’s hypos; the rest of his body felt even worse. “The Klingons?” he choked. He tried to sit, but his head spun violently. He lay back down before McCoy could say the word.



“All extruded into space,” said Spock. The words echoed in his ears, indistinct and muffled.



“Tchaar? The captain?”



“It seems he got his fingers caught in the door, but finally gone as well.”



Jim sighed and relaxed himself into McCoy’s care. “I told them to put on their seat belts.”



“Both tympanic membranes perforated, one round window blown. I’ll have to repair those surgically.” McCoy closed his medikit. “It coulda been a lot worse. What kind of damnfool stunt was that anyway?”



“Necessary. I’ll tell you later.” Jim tried again to sit, but the vertigo was horrendous. Spock held him on one side, McCoy on the other, and he leaned on them both as he struggled to his feet.



He put his hands on his knees and kept his head lowered against wave after wave of nausea. “Spock, get a security party. Two. Put sixteen in the Columbus and fourteen with us in the Kon-Tiki. We’re going to get our people back.”



McCoy blustered “We? You aren’t going anywhere except Sickbay, mister! You can’t even stand up.”

“A shuttle is flown from a seated position. Bones, I got those men into this, and I’m going to get them out.”



Jim straightened a little more, resting most of his weight against Spock’s body. Spock slipped an arm around his back and under his shoulders, supporting him easily, almost entirely.



“Spock, you’re not going to be a part of this, are you? A Vulcan should have more sense than a damnfool captain with a nearly lethal thrill-seeking complex.”



“I have received orders from my commanding officer,” said Spock. He firmed his hold as Jim’s knees weakened and threatened to buckle.



McCoy knew when he was licked. He could handle one on a good day, but both united were unstoppable.



“Let’s go,” said Jim, and they limped off together.









The extraction went smoothly. With the additional evidence, Komack called every ship he could muster to the area. He publicly praised Kirk’s performance, but said not a word of apology. The Enterprise guarded the space gate, holding the Klingon troops planetside until Federation reinforcements arrived.



Ears patched, Altair V under Federation reconstruction, Altair VI under Federation site control, the Enterprise warped back out into space. At long last, the ship stood down from alert.



Back in the captain’s quarters, Spock set up the chessboard.



“This link is pretty useful,” Jim said, pouring himself a small brandy. “You need to show me how to control it; it could be a huge tactical asset.”



“Captain, you fail to understand that this is an intimacy on par with human marital sexual relations; it is not to be used casually.”



“You’ve melded with people before. With me. With others.”



“And I will again if ordered or if essential to our survival or objectives. I have sworn an oath to give myself and my abilities to Starfleet, and that supersedes most other ethical posits. But I ask you, would you use sexual relations as a strategic instrument?”



Jim took a sip and cocked his eyes to the ceiling, trying for innocence. “I may possibly have done so upon occasion—once or twice.”



“Would you order others to do so? Or would you do so with one whom you love?”



Pushing the chess board aside, Jim leaned over the desk. Spock’s eyes were very full, very bright, and locked unrelentingly on his.



“No. No, I wouldn’t.”



Checkmate.



The concern in Jim’s eyes was unmistakable, and far more than a Vulcan knew how to take. “This is all real to you, isn’t it? I’ve been treating it as a joke, but as far as you’re concerned, you really are—joined to me. As any Vulcan would be to a life mate.”



A lack of rebuttal must suggest agreement, but Spock could think of no less incriminating response. He remained silent.



Finally Jim straightened and licked his lips. His eyes darted within their sockets, as if thinking serial thoughts in rapid succession. “Spock, can you—? If you—met someone else, could you—join with her?”



Spock kept his tone neutral. It wasn’t easy. “Not while you live.” Possibly not even after.



“Then we have to break the link.”



Spock’s heart fell. He had expected this sooner rather than later, but could never have prepared for it even given two hundred years. “If you wish.”



“Not if I wish!” Jim leaned across the desk and grabbed him by the shoulders. Through the link, the essence of the vibrant katra that was Jim’s glowed bright before his mind’s eye.



“Not if I wish. Spock, you didn’t tell me—I didn’t know. You can’t make a life altering decision because I didn’t want to disrupt the ship’s schedule. You have to be free to be with whomever you want.”



Spock looked up into the hazel eyes. While it was not true that Vulcans cannot lie, it was quite true that one half-Vulcan could not find it within himself to lie to such open honesty. “I consider myself free; I desire no other.



“When you asked how the bond formed, I did not give you a complete explanation. My katra—my soul, if you will—already had developed a predilection for yours. When T’Pring released me, my soul sought yours instinctively—and secured it.”



“You chose me,” said Kirk, the wonder in his voice spreading throughout the breadth of his face. “You were in love with me, and you chose me.”



Spock struggled for a reply. Four separate ones rose to his throat at once; none made it through. Jim slid his right hand down Spock’s shoulder, his arm, and squeezed his hand with respectable strength for a human.



“You chose me,” Jim repeated. Spock had to settle for silent acknowledgment with his eyes.



Jim dropped his hands and pushed out of the chair. He paced the floor, his brow knitted in consternation. It would have been an easy matter to read his thoughts; the energy was spilling over freely. It took an alarming amount of control to suppress the urge to do so. The need to know was almost overpowering. Everything Spock valued hung on whatever would come next.



Jim stopped in front of the desk. “Spock, will you marry me?”



Whatever he had expected, it was not that. Spock shook his head. “Jim, while this may not be something you can comprehend, it is not to be dealt with in a cavalier manner—”



“I’m perfectly serious!” Jim sat back down, spread his hands open wide and twisted his face.



“I admit, this isn’t exactly how I presumed my life would go, but Spock, if there were one person in this universe I could have as a friend, a brother, a confidant, a colleague, a partner—they would all be you. Every one. Everything that’s important to me in this universe, you’re a part of. I’ve had a taste of what more we could have, joined, and I want that. I want that. I want to stay in that togetherness. And if the only thing that’s keeping us from it is the fact that I didn’t ask for it in advance—well now I’m asking. We’re already bonded, so I can’t ask you that. So I am asking you the one thing I can—for everything and anything that it entails.”



Jim dropped to one knee on the floor and took his hand. “Spock, will you marry me?”



Several more words rushed into Spock’s throat at once, but this time they all carried exactly the same meaning. “Yes.”



He extended two fingers. Jim reached back, and Spock let the link swing open between them.



Jim felt himself falling, falling into some endless ocean. Then Spock was there, around him, through him, in him. He reached out—no, he reached within himself—and embraced the essence that was there and the two were one, then two again.



Jim struggled for breath, back in the confines of his own mind. His head rested on Spock’s lap where it fell. Spock’s fingers played lightly through his hair.



“Wow.” Jim breathed the word into his thighs.



Spock brushed the meldpoints oh so lightly. Just a whisper of the feeling returned. “My sentiments exactly.”



Jim visibly pulled himself together; it didn’t take long. “So, who shaves the barber?”



“Pardon?” Melds could be disorienting for non-telepaths, but this non sequitur suggested even more concerning pathology.



“The captain performs shipboard marriages; the first officer may do so in his absence. But if the captain is to marry the first officer—”



“Ah. The records officer may ratify any such status change, or there are three crewpersons aboard ordained to perform Federation marriages.”



“Not Korvalis. Greek ceremonies take all day.” Kirk keyed the intercom. “Records officer to the captain’s quarters.” No moss would ever grow on Jim Kirk.



“The records officer is off duty at this time,” said Spock.



“Captain’s prerogative,” said Jim. He wedged himself further in behind the little desk, where there was scarcely room for one, let alone two. He leaned backwards against the desk, sliding his legs up alongside Spock’s.



“Besides,” Jim’s eyes danced. He ran his palm around the back of Spock’s neck, caressed his hair, ran fingertips around the edge of an ear. “I don’t suppose Vulcans fool around before marriage.”



“If you mean genital sexual congress, you are correct. By the Vulcan definition, marriage is complete only when copulation abrogates the Pon Farr.



“But I fail to see what that has to do with your haste.”



Jim tried for charming—the pose that worked for him so often. “It’s been a long week. I was—hoping to get on with the honeymoon.”



“Sexual intercourse?”



“Well—that is one of the perks of marriage.” Memories of the not-quite dream returned and Jim felt himself swell. “I mean, I did say, ‘everything and anything.’“ With the pad of his thumb, Jim swept the contours of Spock’s jaw. He ran the back of his fingers down his neck, the front of the blue tunic, down further and circled the nipple. His own body was quite ready already and he surveyed Spock’s responses, looked for the little cues. He was very used to seducing people; he was not at all used to wanting one particular person this much.



Spock crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Captain, did I not explain the Vulcan mating cycle? Intimacies among Vulcans are primarily mental via the bond, as you have just sampled. Sexual arousal and coupling occur exclusively during Pon Farr.”



“You mean—only every seven years?”



“Possibly longer. My hybrid nature makes things unpredictable, and my first cycle was markedly delayed.”



“Oh, that’s not going to work!” Jim dropped his hand.



“Are you altering your decision?”



“No. No of course not. I just can’t believe that after that—vision, dream, fantasy that we shared, I just can’t believe those feelings aren’t within you somewhere. I can’t believe that a man who’s even half human could go years without,” Jim groped, “sexual desire.”



Spock clasped his hands, looked aside briefly, then back up into those eyes. “It is possible that you are correct. It is true that in pre-reform times, Vulcans mated at will.



“When I think of you, I feel something I cannot name. A desire for more. To be nearer. To be a part of more of you, to be everything that you need—but nothing similar to the physical imperatives of the Pon Farr. It is possible that that capacity is within me—along with the other baser passions we have come to master—suppressed long before puberty, before it could be acknowledged.



“If that is the case, I have no interest in freeing it; the violent abandon of the Pon Farr is not something I wish to explore. Of course you are free to copulate with other persons.”



“I don’t want other persons.” The knee-jerk response flew out of his mouth unplanned, but it was the vehemence behind it that shocked him utterly. He heard an anger in his own voice that he had no right to feel. Anger, or was it only the protective harshness that so often covers one’s fears?



But it was true. God help him, it was true.



He grasped Spock by the shoulders and leaned in to pull them face to face. “Spock, I don’t want anyone else. I want—I want to make love with my husband. Can you understand that?”



Spock reached up and touched his face, shying just clear of the meld points. The link between them opened just a little and Jim felt such great affection roll around his mind and through it that he could barely grasp the extent. He gasped and his body tensed. His fingers gripped the thin shoulders too tightly, but he couldn’t let go. Then the sense was gone, and he was again by himself.



“Yes,” said Spock, “I can.”



The palpable emotion in the air became more than he was ready to feel. Hybrid Vulcans were not the only ones unsure of how to cope with such an overwhelming surge of newly-released emotion. It has been said that love conquers all; Jim couldn’t claim to believe that per se, but he was utterly certain that between him and Spock, they would find a way. They always did. For something that they both wanted this much, they would find a way.



Then the moment passed. It had been quite enough and Jim let it go. He straightened, dropped his hands and cleared his head. “Maybe McCoy can help; he’s made quite a project out of studying you.”



“Involving the doctor in our matrimonial affairs would not be my first choice.”



Jim shrugged. “Okay. Your father married a human; he must have some insight. We could call him.”



Spock toggled the computer comm. “Doctor McCoy: report to the captain’s quarters.”



Jim chuckled. He knew that Spock would see it his way.





* * * *






Lieutenant Immamura had been awakened out of a sound sleep by the call. Nonetheless, he dressed, grabbed his datacorder and reported as ordered. “I’m sorry for the delay, Captain.”



Jim ushered him in. “We know you were off-shift. I need you to ratify a marriage.”



Immamura paused for a moment. Any ship’s captain could do just that. But he followed orders. “Yes, sir.” He sat down at the computer and pulled up the forms. “Who’s getting married?”



The door whooshed open and McCoy came in, medikit in his hand. He made a quick survey of the captain, the room. “Everyone all right? Spock didn’t tell me a damn thing when he called.” He stowed the kit. “It’s called communication, Spock. You should try it sometime,” he grumbled. “I swear, you remind me more and more of my ex-wife every day.”



Immamura’s jaw dropped. This had to be a bad dream; maybe he would wake up soon.



“So, what’s up?” asked McCoy.



“We need you as a witness to a marriage.”



“Oh, nice. Who’s getting married?”



Jim cocked his head and gestured at Spock. “Looks like we’re all here.”



McCoy coughed. “You don’t mean you two?”



Jim’s face conceded and McCoy broke out in a huge grin. “Why, Spock, you old devil! I didn’t know you had it in you. Why didn’t you tell me? I’d’ve brought flowers. Maybe even a blue garter.”



Spock raised one eyebrow. “While it would not surprise me in the least to hear that you had such an item in your possession, I would elect to leave it with you. Surely you would feel lopsided wearing only one.”



Immamura tried his best not to snicker.



Spock walked to the front of the desk, leaving McCoy fuming at the reversal. “Lieutenant Immamura, if you would proceed with all due haste.”



Jim took his place beside him.



“Which contract?” Immamura asked. He plugged in the names and prided himself on having maintained his cool. He was an officer and a professional. Anything else could wait.



“Life,” said Kirk.



“Life?” Immamura couldn’t quite keep the surprise out of his voice.



“Problem, Lieutenant?” Kirk widened his eyes.



“No, sir.” He punched up a new screen. “It’s just that I don’t get to use that one much. Ready.” He cleared his throat and started at the top. “Dearly beloved—”



McCoy snickered.



“Lieutenant, just the particulars.” Kirk’s voice was soft, but his eyes meant business as usual.



“Yes, sir.” He scrolled down the screen.



“Do you, James T. Kirk, take this man to be your lawfully wedded spouse from this time forward for as long as you both do live?”



“I do.”



“And do you, Spock—” There was no way. Immamura turned the screen around to Spock and pointed at the string of letters that followed his given name.



“Just Spock will do,” said Kirk. “Go on.”



He turned the screen back toward himself. “Do you, Spock, take this man to be your lawfully wedded spouse for as long as you both do live?”



“I do.”



“I now pronounce you legally wed. You may now—” Immamura glanced up. One look at their faces was enough to make him reconsider.



He started over. “You may now sign and press your thumb prints here and here. And Doctor McCoy, if you would witness here.” He indicated the designated areas.



“Thank you, Lieutenant. That will be all.” Kirk finished his signature with his usual flourish.



Immamura turned before he reached the door. He waited for Kirk’s acknowledgment.



“Yes, Lieutenant?”



“Sir—sometimes people marry for political or career reasons.”



“So I’ve heard. Your point?”



He cleared his throat. “Well, policy is for me to report all crew marriages to ‘The Engine’s Hum,’ but in this case I wondered….” His voice trailed off.



“The Engine’s Hum” was the social column of the weekly Enterprise news release.



“Mr. Immamura, is it your policy to ask each and every crewman if they would like you to violate ship’s policy for them?”



He straightened. “No, sir.”



“Then—you believe I am the sort of captain who would wish to be treated differently from his men?”



“No, sir!”



Kirk nodded. “I didn’t think so. Carry on, Lieutenant.”



Still he stood at the hatch.



“Yes, Lieutenant, something else?”



Immamura held out his hand. “Yes, sir. Congratulations, sir. To you both.”



Jim’s eyes twinkled as he accepted the handshake. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”



“Commander Spock.” Immamura made the Vulcan sign of greeting, and Spock acknowledged it in kind.



And then Immamura made a beeline for the news office.





Back in the captain’s quarters, McCoy poured three drinks and passed them around. “Well, Jim, when I signed on board you promised me strange and wonderful things, but I wasn’t expecting anything this strange.”



“Or wonderful?” asked Spock.



McCoy stopped and looked him full in the face. There was a certain peace he had never seen before. It suited the Vulcan well.



“Or wonderful, Mr. Spock. Or wonderful.” He raised his glass. “To marriage,” he said, meaning it for the first time in many years.



“To marriage,” they repeated, and all three drank at once.



McCoy set his glass down. “Well, I’d better be going and leave you two love-birds alone.”



Jim stopped him. “Bones—there is something else.”



McCoy waited.



“What do you know about frigidity?”



McCoy snorted and rolled his eyes. “A helluva a lot more than you do, I bet. Did you ever meet my ex-wife? Why do you ask?”



Jim looked innocent. Spock looked like he would be just as happy to sink into the deck.



“Oh boy. I need another drink.” McCoy crossed back into the room, but instead of the decanter, he took a chair instead.



“Well, tell Uncle Lenny all about it. How far have you two gotten? First base? Second?”



“Still in the locker room lacing up cleats,” said Jim.



Oh boy. The things they don’t teach you in medical school. McCoy considered his options. “My usual suggestion would be the old sensate focus techniques, but I don’t think you’d like that, Jim.



“I am familiar with the term,” Spock said. “He will not like it.”



“Gentleman, I’ve heard tell that on other ships, the captain sometimes gets to make the decisions. What an interesting idea that would be. Do you think we could try it?”



McCoy turned to him. “It’s an old technique, but effective. It fell out of favor when the developers also made some more radical propositions. The idea is to learn to enjoy touching and being touched without having sex.”



“Bones, we’re already not having sex; we’ve got that part down.”



“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” said Spock.



“Not just not to have sex,” said McCoy, “but to have strict limits set by an outside party. No pressure, because you are not ‘allowed’ to do any more than those limits. Your partner can’t tell you what to do; you just do what feels good. As the comfort increases and desire for more stimulation, the limits are increased slowly—always a little less than the more reserved partner is really ready for.”



“And who sets those limits?” said Jim.



McCoy smiled a slow, broad gleam. He aimed it directly at Spock. “Why, me, of course.”



Spock rolled his eyes.



“Are you sure you don’t want to call your father?”



McCoy stood up. “First step—all clothes on except boots; no cheating and reaching underneath. No touching nipples, genitals or backsides. Have fun.



“Oh, and Spock,” McCoy stood with an evil twinkle in his eye. “Be sure to stop by in the morning and let me know how it goes. Or if I’m not there, you can tell Christine and she’ll pass it on. Cheers.”



He winked and walked out of the room, chuckling to himself the whole time. Yeah, sometimes practicing medicine had its rewards.



“So, now what?” Jim said.



“I would presume that is your area of expertise.”



“Arguable in this case,” said Jim, “but a little trial and error sounds good to me.” He tried to open his mind. “Come here.”



Spock came.



At first the touching was tentative, a little awkward and unsure. Moving his hands and letting his mind open to the link between them, Jim found his rhythm soon. Running his hands over the blue velour, he explored muscles, lines and ridges and then repeated compulsively, as if determined to memorize every one. At first it was out of curiosity, then within a few minutes, out of lust.



Somewhere in the back, his brain must have known that the fevered skin, the racing pulse, the little quivers in the belly were the norm for a Vulcan, but his body wasn’t thinking so clearly right then. It sensed what would be signs of excitement in a human, and answered back in kind. Somewhere in the midst of this they had fallen atop the bed. He pulled their bodies closer—groin to hip, face to face. With a sweep of his hand down Spock’s back, he pressed their lips together for a kiss.



Spock’s mouth opened to him and the scrape of dry tongue against his took his breath away. His ardor grew and straightened uncomfortably between their bodies, and he writhed and pressed bodies and mouths, straining towards his needs.



Now Spock’s hands were moving all over him. The touch on him was frankly mesmerizing. Electricity seemed to follow the fingers wherever they chose to go. They dusted his back, massaged his muscles, and finally found those oh so sensitive places on his throat.



Jim gasped and broke away. Breathless, he fell to his back. Spock laid his weight against Jim’s side, but continued to move his hands. He caressed the chest, circling and teasing just out of reach of the nipples. He ran his other hand up and down the length of Jim’s thigh, lingering in the sensitive crease of his leg.



Jim squeezed his cheeks together and rocked his hips back and forth, anything to get a little friction. With one arm he pulled Spock more firmly against his body; the other hand he reached under the back of the blue velour.



“Jim,” Spock’s voice was thick, raspy in a way he’d never heard before.



“It’s still clothes,” said Jim, his hand stroking beneath the tunic but over the black T. His voice sounded none too normal either. “It counts,” he moaned. “Kiss me, please! Kiss me!”



Technically, asking was against the rules, but Spock complied anyway.



Jim rode wave after wave of sensual pleasure, taking care to stay just far enough out from that final surge. He’d done it many times before, could have done it now, until he heard Spock’s breathing change.



Vulcan or no, there was no mistaking that rough cadence of arousal. He’d heard it once before in the arena, and he heard it again now. His balls spasmed and his dick throbbed so hard it was agony. Not from desire but from raw physical need, Jim stuck his hand down his own pants and held himself where it hurt.



He daren’t move; he’d come with the slightest tug. The strangest feeling passed through his body, like being sucked up in a windtunnel and dropped down too fast to even know what happened. His dick softened half-way in his palm, but it was so sensitive now. He pulled his hand out, just a small smear of ooze on one finger, and rested in Spock’s arms.



“All right?” Spock asked, staring into his face intently.



“All right,” he answered. “Don’t stop; this feels so good.”



Jim rolled over and on top, wrapping his arms for a full body kiss. Some of the urgency gone, he could concentrate now. He watched Spock’s face, heard the pant of his breath, smelled the exotic musk that spoke of another world that he had only just begun to explore. He ran his fingers through Spock’s hair, felt the slightest sheen of sweat; he heard little sounds from the back of his throat—not Vulcan, not Terran: universal.



He rocked their bodies together in the middle, and then he felt the change. He’d felt it often enough himself, hell, he was working on feeling it again. But he’d never felt it pressed into his thigh like this. Not from the one person he was closer to than any other. The thought of the joys to be known together—shared and doubled—was almost enough to make him come then and there.



He slid down the bed and set greedy fingers to the fly.



“No.” Spock grabbed his hand and held.



Jim groaned in frustration and laid his head down on Spock’s belly. The heady smell was stronger now. It was everywhere in his mouth and nose. It was so strong he could taste it just a little. He wanted more. He would do almost anything to get more. He tried again for the fly, but Spock tightened his grip. “Doctor McCoy was most insistent on this matter.”



Jim flopped back on his back. His own hard on was back with a vengeance. He rubbed himself a little through his pants. “Of all the times for you to decide Bones is right, it has to be right now?”



“It has been working so far.”



“Yes, indeed it has.” Jim threw himself back on top and opened an unrestrained kiss. The wave started at their mouths and moved down to his throat, his chest, his gut, and further. They rocked against each other madly. Jim bit a lip and tasted blood.



It didn’t stop their fervor; they both pressed on eager for more. Spock choked a name and Jim could take it no longer. He slid down the bunk and put his mouth to Spock’s bulge. He’d planned on just lips, but he used his teeth too—up and down once, two times, three. Spock arched his back and came with a silent shriek of the mind. The next thing Jim knew, he had come, too.



Sometime later, the universe reformed. “I think we’ll make it just fine,” Jim said as he pulled himself back up.



“I am pleased to hear you say that, as I have changed my mind in one significant respect.” Spock stroked his face and brushed his mind. “I do not wish you to share this with anyone else.”



“I think that can be arranged,” said Jim. He kissed him chastely on the lips.



They held for a long minute, muscles cooling, heartbeats slowing, fingers intertwined. “I should take a shower,” Jim said. Still he didn’t move.



The comm flashed the silent signal of a waiting non-urgent message. Spock untangled their limbs and swung his legs over the side of the bunk. The message was from Sulu’s personal station. Spock raised an eyebrow. The characters were all Cyrillic.



“Spock? Problem?” Jim rolled to his elbow and peered through the mesh.



“I think not, although tomorrow’s Bridge shift is likely to be an interesting experience. Someone at Lieutenant Sulu’s cabin comm has sent us a message in Russian. I believe the pronunciation is ‘Vseh Blag. Shelau schastiya v semeinoi shizni.’ In English, ‘All blessings and wishes for happiness in married life.’”



Jim relaxed back down on the bunk. Yes, tomorrow should indeed be interesting, but when was life on the Enterprise ever dull?



Spock came back to the sleeping area just long enough to pull on his boots.



“Hey, where’re you going?” The leftover space where they had lain now cooled rapidly, and the same narrow bunk suddenly felt huge and empty.



“Back to my quarters. These arrangements are not conducive to both of us being able to attain quality sleep.”



Sometimes Spock’s perfect logic could be a perfect pain in the ass. He’d slept alone almost every night for the past eight years. Why should the idea bother him so much now? “It’s our wedding night; I was planning—hoping—to spend it with you.”



Jim felt something stir within his mind. He reached into his mind and found the link. Spock reached back, and the floodgates opened; he was no longer alone. Spock was with him, over him, wrapped around him just as sure and keenly as he had been on the bunk.



And never parted. He felt surrounded. He felt held. He felt loved.



“Alright, alright, you’ve convinced me; you can go,” Jim said with a smile. “Tomorrow I’ll have the carpenter redo the bunks to a better size and take out the bulkhead.”



“The bulkhead?”



“Between our quarters. We’ll join them together.”



“That would significantly reduce your privacy.”



“That’s the idea, or did you think that half-Vulcans were the only people in the universe who get lonely?” Jim was well aware that they weren’t.



Jim didn’t try to guess whether what he was experiencing was through their bond, or merely the wisdom of the years of friendship. It no longer made any difference, but a single look at Spock’s face told him he was fully understood.



Jim pulled himself under the coverlet, feeling Spock’s mind move against him with all the warmth and firm reality that his body had only moments before. And the bunk really was too small for two grown men. He rolled over on his side. “Good. Dismissed.” The habits of years die hard; still, he hadn’t meant it to sound like such an order.



“Oh, and Spock, one more thing.”



Spock turned. Jim focused his thoughts. Spock gave a tiny smile and inclined his head in a nod. Spock stepped back to touch their fingers one last time.



“And I you, Jim.” And I you.
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