The Telepath's Burden
by Weird Little Stories
Kneeling under a rocky overhang on the planet Dagon, Spock pressed his fingers firmly to his captain's face as he initiated a meld. Kirk had been grazed by a spear tipped with an unfamiliar poison, and it was necessary to slow down his metabolism, to keep the poison from killing him until the Enterprise returned from her survey of a nearby planet, three hours from now. The captain's wound was minor enough that he would have been able to shrug it off and attend to it later, were it not for the poison.
As Spock began to withdraw from the meld, Kirk's metabolism speeded back up, and Spock realized that the metabolism-altering effects of the poison were too strong to be controlled merely by a suggestion left in Kirk's mind; Spock would have to stay in the meld and keep the captain's bodily processes slowed continuously.
One member of the security team – Lieutenant Alonso Ramirez – was already dead. The other security team member, Ensign Suzuka Tanaka, had also been wounded by poisoned spears, and Spock had intended to meld with her after he'd finished with the captain, but the situation had changed.
"Ensign Tanaka," Spock called, "Please come lie down next to the captain; it will be necessary to meld with the two of you simultaneously."
Ensign Tanaka dragged herself across the ground and settled down next to the captain with a pained grunt. She had been wounded by two different spears, so she was in considerable pain, but her wounds would not have been life-threatening without the poison. Spock had already stanched the bleeding and bandaged the wounds; now it was time for him to attend to the poison.
Keeping his left hand firmly planted on the captain's face, Spock raised his right hand to Tanaka's face. "Ensign," he said, "The poison is strong enough to require continuous monitoring, so I will need to meld with you and the captain simultaneously. I will keep your minds as separate as possible, but melding with two unrelated individuals simultaneously is an advanced skill, and one that I rarely have occasion to practice. It is possible that you will experience some bleed-through of the captain's mind, since his mind is quite dynamic and consequently difficult to control."
Suzuka Tanaka smiled weakly at Spock. "If you can keep me from dying from the poison, I don't care what else you do!"
Spock pressed his fingers to her face and joined her mind to his. He was dismayed, when he reached her mind, to find that the poison was much more advanced in her system than it was in the captain's. Evidently the double dose she'd received had allowed the poison to work more swiftly. He was not sure that he could save her.
Spock slowed Tanaka's metabolism as much as he dared, but the poison's damage was already so advanced that he doubted she would survive for the next three hours. Still, he would do his best for her; humans had surprised him before, and perhaps this one would do so again.
Spock kept all of this from Ensign Tanaka, not wanting fear to speed her metabolism or to sap her will to live. At the time he left Vulcan for Starfleet Academy, Spock would not have said that an intangible like "the will to live" could affect such tangible objects as flesh and blood, but eighteen years in Starfleet had convinced him that humans' psychological state did indeed have an impact on their physiology. He was gradually learning to deal with the intricacies of human psychology.
In order to keep all knowledge of her danger from Tanaka, Spock had to put up an especially strong barrier between that knowledge and her mind, which left him too few mental resources to keep the knowledge from Kirk. Kirk could feel Tanaka's heartbeat and could taste the individuality of her mind, even though Spock managed to prevent him from accessing her actual thoughts. He could feel Kirk's alarm at Tanaka's condition, which he mentally cautioned the captain against indulging in, lest it speed his metabolism.
"I understand," the captain thought to him, "But humans don't have the mental control that you have. Can you distract me?"
"How should I do this?" Spock thought back.
Kirk thought, "Tell me a story. Make up something really cool."
"Captain," Spock thought, "I am maintaining two simultaneous melds. I do not have the mental capacity to spare for unnecessary creativity."
Kirk's face nodded under Spock's hand. "I understand. Then tell me about Vulcan daily life or Vulcan philosophy or whatever you feel like. Hell, tell me what you ate for breakfast as a kid or what you did with I-Chaya."
Aloud, Spock said, "In order to distract you both from your wounds, the captain has asked that I tell 'stories' of Vulcan daily life. I regret if these stories concern trivialities, but the captain indicated that he was interested in such material."
Ensign Tanaka forced a wavering smile. "Compared to lying here feeling my wounds burn, hearing about Vulcan daily life sounds great."
"Very well." Spock cleared his throat and began speaking. He told several stories about the antics of his sehlat and described the animal's training. He broke off abruptly to monitor Ensign Tanaka's heart, and he and Kirk were both alarmed at how weak the beat had become.
Kirk's own heartbeat started to speed up as his concern for Ensign Tanaka increased, and Spock hastily resumed telling distracting stories with what little mental energy he could spare for the activity. Casting about for something he could discuss without thinking about it, Spock began to describe his daily routine as he was being educated in preparation for the kahs-wan. He talked about learning to find water in the desert, learning to identify every plant that was even the slightest bit edible, and learning how to steal the eggs of Vulcan birds without being injured by those birds.
Kirk said, "Even when crossing the desert, you won't eat meat? Isn't it illogical to rule out a possible source of food?"
At this point, Ensign Tanaka's body lost the fight against the poison, and she died. One moment, both Kirk and Spock could feel her heartbeat, see her mental signature, and feel her individuality. The next moment, all was stilled, and where once there had been a living, breathing woman, now there was only dead flesh.
Spock lifted his hand from her face and slumped slightly. "I regret that you had to witness her death while melded; it is ... a distasteful thing."
Kirk said, "It's a heartbreaking thing! There wasn't a death cry or even anything really horrible when she died, and yet, to feel her heartbeat stop from the inside, to feel her mind go still while I was connected to it..." Kirk shuddered. "I hope never to feel that again."
Spock nodded. "It is truly horrible, to feel the cessation of life, especially when that cessation is premature, as it is here." He looked at Kirk. "It is also the answer to your question."
Kirk blinked. "What question?"
"The question you asked right before Ensign Tanaka died. You asked why a Vulcan would forgo meat even when food was scarce, and that was your answer. For a telepath to cause a death except in self defense ..." Spock pressed his lips together and looked grim. "When one knows from the inside what it is for a heart to cease to beat, for a mind to still forever ... a telepath could not cause such a thing lightly; only the prospect of our own death or the death of another could overcome the revulsion we feel when a mind goes silent."
Kirk sighed. "I understand ... a lot better than I want to. For the first time ever, I think I'm glad I'm not a telepath."
Spock bowed his head. "The advantages are many, but so are the costs."
Kirk nodded, and the two men mourned their fallen crewmen until the Enterprise arrived to take them home.