Captain's Log, Stardate 2263.267
The Enterprise has been sent to Beta Sigma VI to make contact with the native species. Despite being warp-capable, the Betans rarely leave the confines of their planet, and previous attempts at contact have been unsuccessful. It is the hope of Starfleet that Commander Spock's telepathy may succeed where other methods have failed.
"Are you sure you're up for this?" Kirk asks, as they stand on the transporter platform. "I know the meld can be hard on you."
"Your concern is noted," Spock says, his eyes warm. "But this is necessary. Beta Sigma VI contains an impressive breadth and diversity of both flora and fauna, almost unseen on any other planet. A research base on such a world could be of great value to the Federation."
Kirk can't help but think about New Vulcan, and he wonders if Spock is doing the same. Spock's right, if there's any chance that some of this 'diversity in both flora and fauna' can be of use to the Federation, then they have to try.
"Energise," he orders, and the transporter takes them.
They materialise at the entrance to a cave. Previous visits to the planet established that the Betans are unsuited to the sun, living deep underground and emerging rarely, only at night.
The sun is certainly brighter – and hotter – than it is on Earth, but not enough to make Kirk want to hide in a cave. But one of the first things he learned in Starfleet is that judging other species by human standards gets you nowhere. If they want the Betans' help, they'll have to meet them on their terms.
"Okay," he says, straightening his back and flicking on his flashlight. "Let's go."
He takes point as they make their way into the caves, Spock following a step behind and the two security guards, Gibson and Lopez, bringing up the rear.
After about fifteen minutes of walking, they emerge into a large cavern, perhaps fifty metres across. Kirk clicks off his flashlight, glancing around him in awe. The ceiling of the cavern is glowing, a soft blue that makes him feel as if he's underwater.
It takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust, but slowly he begins to notice movement around the edges of the cavern. It looks like they've located the Betans.
He's read the descriptions from previous encounters, of course, but it's still somehow unexpected to see them in the flesh. The Betans resemble nothing so much as very large millipedes, with white carapaces and long waving antennae.
Several of them scurry up to the landing party and rear up, their dozens of front legs waving in the air. They seem curious, but not afraid.
"Looks like you're up, Spock," Kirk says, and claps him on the shoulder.
Spock nods and steps forwards. The foremost Betan waves its antennae as he approaches, but otherwise stays still and allows him to touch it. Kirk finds himself holding his breath as Spock makes contact; he's seen Spock meld like this many times, but it still makes him a little nervous.
Spock's hands shift on the Betan's carapace, searching for a connection. Kirk becomes aware of a soft chittering around him and glances around to see that all the Betans around them have gone still, focused on Spock's communion with one of their number. He can't explain it, but the sight sends a chill up his spine.
A cry of pain rends the air and Kirk whips round in time to see Spock collapse to the ground. He rushes over, raising a hand as the security guards go for their phasers. "Hold your fire!" Part of him wants the Betans to pay for whatever they've done to Spock, but he knows if they attack now they'll never get another chance at diplomacy. Spock himself wouldn't want that.
"Spock. Spock!" He shakes Spock's shoulder, then fumbles for his wrist. Spock's pulse is steady under his fingers, and a little of Kirk's terror ebbs. He's deeply unconscious, though, and Kirk grabs for his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise." Nothing. He fiddles with the settings and tries again. "Enterprise, come in. Dammit."
He flips the communicator closed and gestures to the security guards. "We must be too far underground. Come on, we have to get him out of here."
He pulls Spock up, wrapping one arm around his neck. Lopez takes Spock's other side, and they make their way out of the cavern. The Betans watch them leave.
"Keep trying to contact the Enterprise," Kirk orders Gibson, struggling a little with Spock's weight. They move as fast as they can, but it's still entire minutes before Gibson's desperate hails draw a response.
"Four to beam up, medical emergency." Gibson's voice is a little shaky, but Kirk can't really blame him.
He grips Spock a little tighter as the transporter takes them. It's okay, he tells him silently. Whatever they did to you, we'll fix it.
I'll fix it.
A short while later finds him in sickbay, watching McCoy run scans on Spock. "I don't know how much I can tell you, Jim," he says in frustration. "Pain levels are higher than I'd like, and there's some unusual brain activity, but hell if I know what's causing it. You know I don't understand all that Vulcan mumbo-jumbo."
Kirk crosses his arms, trying to ignore the twisting of his stomach. "Can you get him conscious?"
"I can try."
He prepares a hypospray and injects it into Spock's shoulder. It takes a moment, but Spock stirs and opens his eyes, only to shut them immediately and cover his face. "Too bright."
"Computer, lights to fifty percent," McCoy orders. The lights dim and Spock lowers his hand, blinking at them.
"Are you okay?" Kirk asks, moving forwards until he's at Spock's bedside. "What happened?"
Spock's hands go to his temples. "The Betans are far more adept at telepathy than I had considered. They... overpowered me."
"Are you going to be all right?"
Spock nods slowly. "There is some pain, but no long-term damage. Their intent was not to cause harm. I believe they were merely... curious." He sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed, to the alarm of both Kirk and McCoy.
"What the hell are you doing?" Kirk asks, stepping in front to stop him.
"Captain, I request permission to return to the surface and complete our mission."
"Complete-" Kirk finds himself momentarily at a loss for words. "You can't mean you're going to meld with them again?"
"That is precisely what I mean." Spock's expression softens. "We have discussed this, Jim. Beta Sigma VI is an extremely valuable resource, and our use of it is dependent on reaching an agreement with the Betans."
He pushes himself to a standing position, wavering on his feet for a second before seeming to find his balance.
"You can barely stand," Kirk points out. "At least wait until you're feeling better."
"I cannot, Captain," Spock tells him. "Time is of the essence. The impressions I received from the meld, prior to being overwhelmed, indicated that the Betans are preparing for hibernation. If we do not establish communication now, it will be over three standard months before we can try again." He meets Kirk's gaze squarely, a pleading look in his eyes. "Please, Jim."
Kirk clenches a fist at his side. He hates this, but Spock's right. "Are you sure you can do this?"
"You can't be going along with this?" McCoy bursts out. "He needs to be in bed, not traipsing about through caves and scrambling his brains with Vulcan voodoo."
"He's right, Bones," Kirk says. "Time is of the essence." He frowns at Spock. "You're certain you won't be in danger?"
Spock nods. "I did not detect any malice or hatred. They merely seemed curious."
Kirk takes a deep breath. "Okay," he says, then, to McCoy, "Come on, Bones, we're going on a trip."
Judicious use of hyposprays is enough to get Spock upright and moving, but Kirk finds himself being used as a crutch as they make their way back down to the cavern. Spock's face is pale and pinched, and Kirk can't help but wonder if he's doing the right thing by bringing him back down here. More than once he considers turning back, giving up and going back to the ship, but he knows Spock would only refuse. This was his idea after all, and when Spock gets an idea in his head, there's no budging him.
The Betans are waiting for them when they reach the cavern, looking like they've barely moved. Kirk hovers anxiously as Spock once again makes contact, but this time there is no cry of pain, no collapse. He ends the meld normally after a few minutes, though he does waver a little on his feet.
"Well?" Kirk asks, reaching out to steady him.
Despite almost radiating pain and fatigue, Spock looks satisfied. "They have no objections to us studying their world, and have suggested an acceptable place to establish a research base. They were also very apologetic about our earlier encounter. Their telepathy is considerably weaker than mine, so they are used to... I believe 'shouting' would be the best approximation. They did not mean any harm."
"Great," Kirk says, slinging an arm around his waist. "Let's get back to the ship."
"I brought you some tea," Kirk says, setting the cup down on the night-stand. "Is there anything else you need? Or want?" He frowns, reaching out to tuck the blankets more firmly around Spock. "Is it warm enough for you?"
"You are fussing, Jim," Spock tells him with exasperated affection.
"Damn right I am," Kirk tells him. "You can consider it your punishment for scaring me like that." According to McCoy, the mind meld shouldn't have any lasting effects, but Spock's current migraine still seems like an unfair punishment for doing his duty.
He reaches out to cup Spock's face, thumb running across his cheekbone. "You're hurt," he says. "Let me take care of you."
Spock stares at him for a moment before relenting. "I would appreciate some company," he says, indicating the space next to him.
Kirk smiles. "Consider it done." He climbs onto the bed and lets Spock curl against him, his head resting on Kirk's chest.
"You did a good thing today," Kirk tells him, stroking his hair gently. "I'm proud of you."
"Hmm," Spock agrees, already mostly asleep. "Necessary."
Kirk presses a kiss to the top of his head and lets him rest.