“No!” James Kirk awoke with a shout, then felt Spock’s strong arms close around him.
“Jim? What is wrong?” Spock asked worriedly. “You called out in your sleep and you are trembling.”
Kirk swallowed, taking a deep breath. “I had a dream.”
“Obviously,” Spock replied with a hint of amusement. “Do you wish to tell me?”
Kirk settled back, his head on Spock’s shoulder. The warmth and strength of the Vulcan’s arms felt good surrounding him, comforting. “I—I dreamed that you were dead, Spock. Or at least I thought you were.” He shivered and the Vulcan, drew him up tighter. “There was blood on your face, and I couldn’t see you breathing. I couldn’t reach you . . . something was holding me back . . .”
Spock stroked Jim’s hair back from his face tenderly. He could feel the tense body beside him beginning to relax. “It was only a dream, Jim. I am here.”
Kirk was still trying to shake the horror of it. “It was so real . . . It was hot and I could smell something—I don’t know what it was, but it was sharp and bitter . . .” He took a other deep breath and felt somewhat better, the dream beginning to fade. By tomorrow he would forget it. Hopefully . . .
Reaching his hand up, he traced the outline of Spock’s eyebrow. “Don’t Vulcans ever dream, Spock?” He felt the eyebrow raise under his finger.
“Of course,” Spock replied. “In fact, there is a saying on Vulcan: The man who dreams lives life a thousand times.”
“That’s a pleasant thought,” Kirk responded, “but it depends on the dream—and the life. I surely wouldn’t like to relive this last nightmare.” He moved around in the bed until his face was even with Spock’s. Propping his chin on his hand, he was silent for a few moments.
“I know so little of Vulcan,” he said thoughtfully. “I wonder . . . “ Suddenly, Kirk sat up and reached over to turn on the light. “Spock,” he said firmly, “I want to know more. I want to know all of it.”
The Vulcan looked at him curiously. “I do not understand, Jim.”
“I want to know about Vulcan. The customs, the culture, everything,” Kirk said impatiently. “I want to know the things only Vulcans know.”
“Why, Jim?” Spock asked, puzzled.
Biting his lip in frustration, Kirk tried to explain this deep necessity he felt. “The way we are now—I don’t really know you, Spock. Oh, I know you personally, your background and I know all the things everyone knows about Vulcans, but I need to learn what it means to be Vulcan.”
“It is not necessary,” Spock assured him quickly. “You have enough knowledge of my Vulcan heritage to be quite compatible with me . . . and I with you.”
“They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” Kirk returned cheerfully. “So I’d better learn a lot to be on the safe side. That is, if you’d be willing to teach me.”
Spock considered the proposition in silence for a moment. “It would take a great deal of work and much patience,” he said doubtfully. “There are many things you would find difficult to understand.”
Kirk grinned. “So you don’t think I’m smart enough?”
Shocked, Spock said quickly, “That is not what—”
“Relax, I understand what you’re saying. It’s not like learning Chinese or Inuit culture. This is an alien ethos. But not impossible for a human to absorb. Others have managed it. I want to try.”
Noting Spock’s reluctant, he continued eagerly. “Don’t you see, Spock? The way we are now isn’t enough. We have to meet each other half way if this bonding is going to work. I’ve seen you trying to become more human because of me—because of what we feel for each other. And that’s fine on one level. But it won’t work forever. You are Vulcan, too. You can’t try to smother that; it is the most important part of you. You’ve lived your entire life as a Vulcan and denied your human half—and now you’re suddenly trying to switch it around and become more human for my sake. I won’t have it, I don’t want for the long term! I love you as a Vulcan, Spock. The least I can do is understand, as well as possible, what that means. How can we ever be completely one until I know all of it?”
Again, Spock was silent. At last, he spoke. “It would involve returning to Vulcan. At least for a short time.”
“That’s no problem,” Kirk answered happily. “We have a two week leave coming up in about a month; we’ll just take it on Vulcan.”
“It would also require your learning the language.”
Kirk stopped as if dashed with cold water. “Now that may be something of a problem. Without the universal translator, I’d still be an ensign.” Within a moment, he brightened once again. “So what? It’s been done before; your mother did it, didn’t she? I guess I can try.”
“Very well, Jim,” Spock finally agreed. “I am honored. We shall start tomorrow. But, I want you to know that none of this is necessary. I am pleased, however, that you wish to do this,” he added. He smiled, that rare, subdued smile which had come to mean so much to Kirk.
The human laughed. “Maybe I’ll finally be able to pronounce your first name.” Leaning over, he kissed Spock, pulling him down onto the bed once more.
For a few heady moments, they were engrossed in each another. Loved and loving in return. Tasting this miracle of flesh and blood sensations. Spock had learned how to give without restraint, body and soul, to this man he loved and trusted. It had not been so very long ago that they had broken through those barriers of reserve which had held them apart, but it had been so right, so inevitable, that now each breath, every movement was totally open and free.
They reached the climax of passion, but instead of declining and tapering off, it remained in the glow of peace and fulfillment about them. Lying contentedly in one other’s arms, each knew the incredible joy of completing the other.
After a while, Spock murmured softly, “Jim, you do have to go on duty in a few hours . . . “
There was no response, and Spock knew his beloved had drifted off into a peaceful sleep untroubled by dreams.
Spock remained awake however, torn in his feelings. Part of him was overjoyed at Kirk’s desire to know his home . . . but part of him was uneasy at the thought of returning to Vulcan.
“Vulcan?!” McCoy exploded. “It seems like a rotten place to spend a shore leave. No nightclubs. No friendly women. No whiskey. Jim, I ought to give you a mental examination. This is crazy!”
Kirk laughed. “Relax, Bones. Vulcan is a beautiful planet.”
“Sure it is. For gila monsters and horny toads. But who goes on shore leave to stare at the landscape?” the doctor asked with sarcasm. “But don’t mind me. I’m just a simple country doctor. On my shore leave, I like to sit back in the shade and sip bourbon. They don’t have any bourbon down there either, by the way—and not a hell of a lot of shade!”
“Okay, okay,” Kirk said, smiling. “You’ve made your point, but I’m going anyway. Scotty will take care of the ship. You just take care of the crew. And try to stay out of trouble.”
“Who, me?” McCoy asked innocently.
Kirk grinned broadly. “Just have my ship back here—and in one piece—two weeks from now—”
At that moment, Spock and Scotty entered the transporter room.
“Ya neednae wurry aboot that, Captain,” the engineer said congenially. “I’ll have ‘er back to ya as good as new. Better. I’m planning some refits of the—”
“I know you will, Scotty,” Kirk cut in before Scott could give a seminar on engine design, then turned to the Vulcan. “Come on, Spock,” he invited, indicating the transporter with a mock bow.
“Try to have a good time in spite of it all, won’t you, Jim?” McCoy called as they stepped onto the platform. “You, too, Spock!” he added light-heartedly.
“Thank you, Doctor,” the Vulcan replied levelly. “I shall endeavor to make my time advantageous.”
“Oh, brother,” McCoy said in exasperation as they disappeared. “That’s what I call real enthusiasm.”
In the tradition of Vulcan courtesy, Kirk and Spock went to Spock’s parents’ house first, though the human thought Spock seemed somewhat disinclined to the visit.
To Kirk’s surprise, Sarek greeted them coldly. He had been under the impression that Spock and Sarek had worked out their differences about Starfleet years ago.
Then, as he caught Sarek’s eyes on him, Kirk felt uncomfortable chill. Was it possible that Spock’s parents knew? Kirk was well aware of the rumors floating around about himself and Spock, but he had never considered the remote possibility of them reaching Vulcan. Was this the reason Spock had been so reluctant to come here?
“You look well, Ambassador Sarek,” Kirk murmured, forcing himself to meet the hardened eyes. He admired and respected this man a great deal, but at this moment, all he was concerned with was to keep him from embarrassing or hurting Spock.
“Thank you, Captain Kirk, I am quite well. You remember my wife, Amanda?”
“Of course,” Kirk responded, graciously taking the woman’s hand, “It has been much too long since the last time we met.”
Amanda had changed very little from what he recalled of her. She was as still an extremely handsome woman, quiet and reserved, but with a glint of gentle human that he often saw in Spock. She behave as a perfect Vulcan wife, yet the friendliness of her smile could not be repressed.
She responded to his greeting with a calm voice. “I am pleased to see you again, Captain.”
Sarek turned to his son, speaking coldly. “I have heard much good of your work, Spock, but I cannot say that I approve of your actions in stealing the cloaking device from the Romulans. As I understand it, that was a deceitful affair.”
Spock inclined his head. “I am honored at your approval, Father—and distressed by your disapproval, However, my action in that matter was necessary for the safety of the Federation. The goal of the mission was achieved . . . if by unfortunate means.”
“So the end has now become more important than the means by which it is arrived at, regardless of how sordid?”
Spock faced his father impassively. “Occasionally. If the result is of sufficient importance.”
Sarek did not appear pleased with his son’s answer. “I see Starfleet has not changed as much as I had once hoped.”
Hastily, Amanda broke into the tense atmosphere, offering refreshments and making brittle small talk with Kirk. The captain saw what she was doing and did his best to help her take Spock and Sarek’s attention from one another.
After a while, Amanda grew quiet, seemingly worried and uncertain. “Spock,” she began hesitantly, “I did not know if I should tell you this, but I . . . I intended to write you.”
“What is it, mother?”
Amanda met her son’s eyes. “It concerns T’Pring.”
Kirk saw Spock’s stress at the memories that name evoked.
Amanda continued, avoiding Sarek’s increasingly disapproving gaze. “She is dead, Spock . . . I thought you should know.”
Spock s face remained expressionless, but Kirk felt the jolt it caused him through the sensitivity of their link. It had been a long time, but T’Pring had been an important part of his past. Of their past, actually.
“I am sorry for such news,” Spock said finally. “What was the cause of her death?”
Amanda’s gaze went to Sarek for a second. The ambassador’s face was unreadable. Kirk caught the feeling that there was more to this than was being revealed, and that Amanda was hesitant to tell all of it.
“Stonn killed her,” she said finally.
Kirk looked up in astonishment, seeing Spock’s eyes widen as well. Murder was essentially unheard of on Vulcan, where violence was the most distasteful action of all.
“Stonn was T’Pring’s husband, wasn’t he?” Kirk asked, then stopped in embarrassment; it might still be a sensitive subject. “I mean, he was the one . . .”
Sarek spoke suddenly, his voice hard as he stood, “Wife, attend me.”
Amanda went to him at once, touching his hand and looking at him questioningly.
“This is not something to speak of to outworlders,” Sarek stated flatly. For a being who prided himself on controlling emotions, anger didn’t seem to be a problem. He was clearly furious.
Kirk felt uncomfortable—mightily so. Whatever this trouble was with Stonn, Sarek apparently felt it was none of Kirk’s business. He couldn’t know how close it cut to the bone. The Captain stood. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll leave you alone for a while—” Spock caught his arm as he turned to leave.
“No, Captain, please stay,” Amanda said at the same moment. She looked at her husband, almost in irritation. “You know Jim Kirk is no more an outworlder now than I am. It is not logical, Sarek, for you to be unwilling to accept that truth.”
Something flickered across Sarek’s face. Distaste? Disappointment? “I have no wish to discuss Captain Kirk’s relationship with our son.” He faced Kirk, completely ignoring Spock. “My apologies, Captain. I assure you I mean no offense to you.” He turned on his heel and left abruptly.
Kirk felt absolutely frozen. Why hadn’t he realized Sarek might know about Spock and himself? Why hadn’t he considered the effect this rejection would have on Spock? Kirk damned himself to a thousand different hells. He was suddenly afraid to look at Spock.
“There is no reason to look so guilty, Captain,” Amanda said, breaking into Kirk’s trance. “We were bound to find out eventually.”
He stared at her in surprise. “You know?”
“Yes,” she confessed simply. “Of course, I have heard rumors, and I know Sarek has also, but I was not certain until I saw Spock. I saw the contentment in his eyes; then I was sure.”
“I am not ashamed of the feelings Spock and I have for one another,” Kirk said quickly.
“Nor am I,” Spock added.
Looking at Spock, Kirk saw what Amanda had already noticed—that Spock was accepting his father’s reaction and was taking it in stride, despite the very apparent rejection. It was apparent Spock had anticipated his father’s attitude.
Spock addressed his mother, “Please excuse me, Mother. I will return shortly.” He turned and went out into the Amanda’s garden. It was clear he needed a moment alone. Kirk was wondering whether he should follow Spock anyway, decided against it.
“I should hope you are not ashamed of it, Captain,” Amanda said curtly. Then she smiled—the warm smile Kirk recognized immediately as one she had bequeathed to Spock. “I am indeed sorry for my husband’s behavior, but he finds this difficult to accept.”
“And you accept it?” Kirk asked hopefully.
“It is not what I may have wished for my only son,” she admitted slowly, “but I can face facts.” Again, she smiled, ruefully. “Isn’t it odd, Captain, how Vulcans can sometimes be supremely illogical and never realize it? Sarek is stubborn and that, from my long observations, is the strongest trait in Vulcans. Believe me, Captain, I know from experience.”
“You really do understand what is between your son and me?” Kirk was almost afraid to ask, but he had to know. “It is not frivolous.”
“I am human, Captain,” Amanda replied. “I know love does not always come in expected ways. The important thing is that we find it. What else matters? I have known Spock since birth and yet I have never seen him as happy as I see him in this moment. His happiness and well-being are all that is important to me. I know how hard it has been for him—how alien he has felt . . . how alone. Can I be anything but grateful to you for giving him the love he has always needed?”
Kirk spoke in admiration for her wisdom and compassion. “You are an extraordinary woman, Amanda.”
“No,” she replied quietly, “I am Spock’s mother.”
Spock returned and came forward, putting his hands gently around his mother’s face. Looking deeply into her eyes, he felt his love for her come out as it never could before. This, too, was Jim’s precious gift. “I love you, Mother.”
Tears came to Amanda’s eyes, unbidden. She closed them for a moment, and when they opened again, determination was clearly written there. “And you must love your father, too, Spock. In spite of—”
“I—I do, mother,” Spock broke in softly, “but there can never be words like this spoken between us. He is Vulcan; I am Vulcan. I understand his ways, and I accept the fact he cannot condone my chosen way of life. He never has, this is nothing new,· But I still honor him as my father.” His voice drifted off for a moment, “I only wish we could understand each other better.”
Amanda released the breath she had been holding. “Do not give up hope,” she murmured, holding Spock’s hand tightly. “He will come to understand, Spock. It will take time, but I believe he can accept it—” A twinkle replaced the tears in her eyes. “After all, he is married to a human—and we do tend to rub off on them a little, don’t we, Captain?”
“Yes, Kirk smiled, still somewhat mesmerized by the display of affection between Spock and his mother. “And the name is ‘Jim.’“
“You spoke of Stonn,” Spock said sometime later. “You said that he had killed T’Pring. I do not understand.”
“Yes,” Amanda replied sadly. “He has turned Shi’keva, I am sorry, Jim, but I am not sure of how else to say it, except in Vulcan.”
“So that is it.” Spock nodded slowly, then fell silent for a long time. Finally, he became aware of Kirk’s questioning gaze.
“Jim, this is difficult to explain. It is something which is never spoken of if avoidable. Perhaps you might best understand if I called it insanity, but it is more than that—much more. All Vulcans are deeply ashamed when it happens to one of our race; that is why it is never spoken of to outworlders.”
Spock did something Kirk had very rarely seen do; he bit his lip in frustration.
“Jim, you know of our history—of the savage streak in our nature. We have controlled it over the centuries to the extent that it is now sometimes more difficult to show emotion than to repress it.·It has become our way, our strength—and perhaps our weakness. But you also know first hand that this control is sometimes broken, as in the time of . . . pon farr. There is another thing which can happen; it is called shi’keva. It is quite rare, only happening perhaps once in a generation. It is when the control snaps completely, reverting to the ancient savagery of our past. There is no insanity on Vulcan save this. In some ways, it is worse than the insanity known on your Earth or other planets. There are ways to assist such beings elsewhere—medications, therapies. For shi’keva there is nothing.”
“I see,” Kirk said slowly. “So Stonn became shi’keva and murdered T’Pring. What happens to him now?”
Amanda spoke sadly. “It is customary for the person to be euthanized out of hand, sadly like a mad dog on earth. I know you are thinking that this does not equate with the Vulcan principles of non-violence, but they consider it the only logical and compassionate alternative. There is no cure, no rehabilitation possible. And the danger to others is great.”
She paused momentarily. “But Stonn has disappeared. The authorities have been unable to find him.”
“They have no idea where he is?” Spock asked in surprise.
“No. He could have gone out into the desert, or even slipped away on a ship and left the planet before T’Pring’s body was discovered. He has been missing for several weeks now. I feel for him, Spock. He was not a bad man, just a weak one.”
“I had always thought him somewhat unstable,” Spock mused, “yet I had never considered he would turn shi’keva.”
With T’Pring for a wife, who could really blame him? Kirk thought dolefully. He was finding it difficult to feel much sympathy for the woman, remembering her beautiful, cold face. Although in the end she unwittingly gave Spock to her, it could have turned out very differently. That was hard to forgive.
* * *
After having travelled for miles, Kirk was tired. He had kept up gamely with Spock, but it was now beginning to tell on him—the thin air, the heat. The traditional Vulcan clothing helped quite a bit; it did not cling to his sweaty body, letting the air circulate better. But the sandals chafed his legs and pebbles were continually getting caught between his toes. But, damnit, he was the one who had asked to get into this—there was no way he could back out now. He didn’t want to. It seemed more necessary than ever.
He had learned some Vulcan on board the Enterprise, but he still became confused. Just how many past tenses were there, for god’s sakes? It seemed that, for every era of Vulcan history, there were different modes of speech; and for every object pertaining to that era, there were different inflections. As for sexual uses, as in French or Spanish, every object had its masculine or feminine connotations. But, unlike those Terran languages, Vulcan also had a dominant and subservient role—and they changed with the era involved! Blast it! This was going to be a lot harder than he had originally imagined.
Kirk also learned why male bonding was not exactly celebrated on Vulcan. It was considered part of the ancient past, connected to the warrior elect and something forever linked with excess passion and violence. While it had never been condemned by Surak’s teachings, it had been discouraged. Knowing this, Kirk realized that Sarek’s attitude was not remarkable.
They reached the mountains by noon on the second day. What little equipment they had brought was mostly carried by Spock. Kirk had forgotten just what this trek was called in Vulcan. His head seemed to swim with flotsam and jetsam of Vulcan culture and proverbs. It seemed that wherever they had been, another Vulcan had seen it, done it . . . and made a damned proverb about it.
Every rock seemed to have deep import, and Kirk began to realize what this world really meant to the Vulcans. It was somehow more focal than Earth had ever been to humans. They cherished it, loved it—almost worshipped it with an intensity which startled Kirk. Each stone and grain of sand were vital and crucial to the whole. All had a place in the totality of all. The philosophy of nome. He began to get a glimmering of the real meaning of IDIC.
Just before dusk of the second day, they reached the place Spock sought. Kirk dropped down on the sand, grateful for the pills McCoy had given him; they were some form of tri-ox and vitamin compound, with a little amphetamine thrown in.
Kirk was weary but happy. He was alone with Spock and doing something that was significant to both of them. It was a deeply satisfying feeling. He looked around at last, catching his breath at the painful beauty.
They were high in the mountains; the air was cooler and the Vulcan world lay spread at their feet. The desert stretched out far below them, blue and grey with copper and zinc; sparkling with mica in the fading light. The stars were appearing in the red/violet sky, shining with an intensity never seen on Earth.
Kirk felt his heart open at the stark, harsh beauty of it. This was Vulcan. This hardness. This silence. This world of color and darkness. Heat and sand and lovely, lovely fierceness. No man could live here, grow up here, and not feel the poetry in the sky and the restless peaceful/unpeaceful pulse of Vulcan.
“Spock . . . “ he began, then found he was unable to express his emotions of this place in mere words. “Where are we?” he asked lamely.
“I came here often as a boy,” Spock explained. “It was a place where I could think.”
“And dream?” Kirk added.
Spock nodded, almost sheepishly. “That was not encouraged, however. We were expected to concentrate on facts. Creativity was encouraged, illusions were not.” His eyes grew cloudy as he looked out over the horizon. “Something in me needed to dream. I never . . . quite fit in with the others; they all knew where they were going, their futures set—and I did not. I knew what my Father planned for me, of course, yet I wanted more. Here I could think and be alone. And hold my secrets.”
“You’re not alone now.” Kirk stood, touching Spock’s shoulder. “I used to do the same thing when I was a boy in Iowa. There was this one hill where I would go. You could see the whole sky. My dad was always gone somewhere in space and mom was always lonely. But I knew I wanted to go out there, too. I had to.” Kirk smiled, shaking his head. “It was a big dream for a kid whose dad was hardly more than a merchant marine spacer . . . but I wanted to be the captain of a starship.” He took Spock in his arms, drawing him close. “We both made it, Spock.”
“Yes.” Spock’s voice was hoarse. “I never thought I could be happy—certainly not as happy as this. I always felt so . . . alien . . . inferior in many ways. The last time I was here was only a few weeks before I joined Starfleet. It was not an easy decision.” He pulled away slightly, looking at Kirk’s face tenderly. “You must be tired and thirsty. Come.”
He led the way between large rocks to a small, clear pool. There was a spring in the rock, bubbling as it ran down into the crevice. A riot of orange-colored plants grew about the moisture.
Kirk buried his head into the water, drinking deeply. It had a slightly coppery flavor and was tepid, but he wasn’t feeling picky. It was water and it was wet.
When he came up for air, he saw Spock looking down at him with barely concealed amusement.
“Believe me, Mister Spock, this spring is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen on Vulcan. That’s the main fault I have with this planet—there isn’t enough water!”
“It is sufficient to our needs,” Spock replied, still amused. “We simply do not have the over-abundance of it that your Terra has enjoyed. All those oceans, it is no wonder humans once wasted water so dreadfully.”
“I’ll have to take you to Iowa sometime,” Kirk retorted, “and let you see all those oceans.”
“I thought Iowa was inland?” Spock asked curiously.
Kirk chuckled aloud. “You are quite correct. It is. Never mind, Spock. It’s almost dark,” he continued, changing the subject. “Hadn’t we better find a .place to sleep? You may be able to see when it gets dark here, but I can’t. Pure starlight does nothing for my eyesight.”
“I apologize for Vulcan’s lack of moon,” Spock replied with lifted eyebrow.
“Okay, what’s next?” Kirk asked as they sat on a makeshift pallet about a dozen meters from the edge of the cliff.
“The seven laws of Surak, beginning with the most important: All Sentient Life Is Sacred. Or, in Vulcan—”
“Please, Spock,” Kirk interrupted tiredly, “no more Vulcan for tonight. I couldn’t even remember my own name in Vulcan.”
“Jim, if you want to stop this—”
“No, no,” Kirk reassured him quickly. “I just need a little rest from it. This is almost like the Academy—too much to remember too fast—” He sighed and moved to lay his head against Spock’s neck. “Just look at those stars. There’s Sol, Spock.”
“No, Jim,” Spock corrected gently, “that’s Seti Saurus. Sol is just a little farther to the left.”
“Oh well,” Kirk said wryly. “Just testing. At least I was close. How long have we been here anyway? I’ve lost track.”
“Tomorrow will be the eleventh day. You have done very well, Jim. You have learned a great deal. But there is much left to know. Perhaps you should sleep now if you are tired,” Spock ventured. “We can begin again tomorrow.”
Kirk grinned devilishly in the darkness. “I have something better in mind,” he said softly, running his hand down Spock’s bare side, feeling the Vulcan stir at the familiar touch.·
“You did seem tired.” Spock could not help but respond to the sensuous feel of Kirk’s tongue tracing the outline of one ear. “Perhaps it would be best if—”
Kirk cut him off with a laugh. “Shut up, Spock. I’m not that tired,” he said teasingly, then trapped the Vulcan’s mouth beneath his own. Willingly, without further protest, Spock cooperated.
Neither were aware of the figure watching from the precipice above them.
Kirk woke to the bright Vulcan sun in his eyes and the rigid frame of Spock sitting up beside him. Instinct brought him alert instantly. It was then he saw the other Vulcan standing only a few feet away. He recognized him at once; it was Stonn.
Sitting up slowly, aware of the quick look of caution from Spock, Kirk stared at the intruder. Stonn had a weapon in his hand which Kirk was unfamiliar with, but it was undeniably a weapon. It had a long slender shaft and a small double-side blade, curved, jagged and deadly-locking . . . and it was directly at Spock’s throat.
The silence lengthened as Spock and Stonn stared at one another. Kirk studied the other Vulcan intently. He was not as strongly built at Spock, that was evident, but his eyes were glowing green and fevered. There was something about him which ran a jolt of fear through Kirk, even though the captain had faced many men and alien beings far superior to Stonn. The insanity was easy to read in the torn tunic, the scratched face, the tormented eyes. And there was an almost palpable aura of power about Stonn which Kirk could not understand. He knew that Vulcans were twice, three times his own strength, but he had even tackled Spock on occasion. True, he had often come out on the short end, but he had not been afraid to try. Now, he had no desire whatsoever to fight this Vulcan; the madness burning off him in waves.
He sensed the tenseness in Spock and looked at him in surprise, realizing that he was afraid also. Spock afraid?
“So this is how I find the famous Spock?” Stonn spoke, his irrational eyes refuting the placidness of his voice. “In the arms of an Earther. This is quite amusing.”
Kirk started to speak, but Spock stopped him quickly. “Jim, he is mad. Whatever you say will be twisted within his mind.”
“Let the human speak!” Stonn shouted. “I would hear what he has to say. Maybe it will give me reason not to drink your blood.”
“There is no reason to kill Stonn,” Kirk said quietly. “We mean you no harm.”
“No harm? Spock took my wife, T’Pring, and you say there was no harm?!”
“I don’t understand,” Kirk confessed. “T’Pring was your wife.”
“My wife? No! She wanted Spock. Always it was Spock.”
Kirk met his bondmate’s eyes, puzzled.
“Stonn, you are wrong,” Spock said carefully. “T’Pring chose the kalifee because she wished to divorce me for you.”
“No!” Stonn shouted savagely. “She only wished you to fight for her. She chose me as her champion because she knew you could defeat me. Then, when she saw this Earthling accompany you to Koon ut kalifee, she chose him instead, knowing there was no danger in your fighting one such as him. It was not until she saw that you had broken free of the blood fever after thinking his dead, that she realized the graveness of her error. She had never truly believed you would refuse her—how often does one break the blood fever?—until she saw in your eyes that this outworlder meant more to you than she did.” He stopped, his breathing ragged, eyes flaring.
Could he be right? Kirk wondered. Could that really have been the way it was?
“How do you know these things?” Spock asked slowly.
“T’Pring told me everything after we were mated. Being my property after Kalifee, she had no other choice,” Stonn spat out viciously. “She did not want me; I disgusted her. She thought I was nothing.”
“It is not logical,” Spock said, shaking his head in confusion. He was not even certain that he believed Stonn’s interpretation.
“She was not logical.” Stonn’s face was still tormented. “She was not . . . not what I thought her.”
“Even if this is true, what do you want of us now?” Spock asked, coming out of his reverie.
“I want your death, Spock? I can defeat you now. T’Pring will see at last that I am the better choice.”
“T’Pring is dead,” Kirk put in with finality, then realized that Stonn was too far gone in his insanity to see anything save his own obsession.
The crazed Vulcan eyed Kirk speculatively. “Yes, I think I want something more now. This one is important to you, isn’t he?” he asked of Spock. “There must be something special about him if even you, the legendary Spock, should desire him.”
Spock stood, tensing as if frightened by the implication. Stonn drew back his weapon in readiness.
“I have no quarrel with you, Stonn. Go your way and I will not interfere in your madness. But you will not touch him.”
The last few sentences were spoken in Vulcan and Kirk could only catch a little of their meaning. He did not like it.
“Spock?” he began, but Spock’s hand raised to silence him.
“Do not say anything, Jim. It will not help. He is too deep in the madness. Just stay back.”
“You don’t want me to touch this human?” Stonn asked curiously. “That is very interesting. Do you plan to defend him?”
“If necessary,” Spock stated grimly.
“That will be difficult when you are dead!” Stonn threw his weapon skillfully, but Spock ducked and it only grazed his forehead, causing a rush of green blood over his right eye. Before he could recover, Stonn leaped on him, and they struggled powerfully. Kirk jumped forward to aid Spock, but Stonn saw him coming and knocked him aside effortlessly.
Picking himself off the ground, Kirk shook his head groggily. He looked toward the two blurred figures who were entangled in desperate combat, and shook his head once again, willing his eyesight to clear.
Stonn’s strength was incredible in the madness; he bent Spock over backwards across the edge of the cliff.
Crying out in alarm, Kirk staggered toward them, but it was already too late. He saw Spock’s balance fail and, grasping futilely for a handhold, fall over the edge of the rocky precipice.
For a single second in eternity, Kirk could neither move nor breathe. He ran to the cliff and forced himself to look over. Spock had caught on a ledge some thirty feet below. He was not moving. His head had apparently struck one of the rocks; the beloved face was covered with fresh blood.
“Spock?” Kirk screamed, then felt his arm grasped and pulled around. Stonn stood there, looking like every devil Kirk had ever dreamed of. Suddenly, he was overcome by a strange sensation of deja vu, as if all of this were somehow preordained. Everything moved in slow motion . . . . a nightmare . . .
His dream! That was it. He could smell the bittersweet scent of the plants growing by the spring; he felt the pressure on his wrist. It didn’t make sense, but it was coming true.
The slow motion effect continued laboriously as he saw Stonn’s fist come up and connect with excruciating pain on the side of his face. He fell hard, feeling the rocks and grit of coarse sand cut into his back. Before he could move, Stonn was upon him, striking again, knocking him into a barely-conscious state. He could see, he could feel, but his body refused to move. His head exploded with pain as Stonn struck him again and yet again.
His mind kept crying out for his beloved, but no sound came except his own groans of agony. Vainly, he tried to put his arms up to protect his face, but was too dazed to make an effective defense.
He had understood enough of Stonn’s conversation with Spock to realize that the worst was yet to come. Some part of his mind remained cool and aloof, rebelling against the whole nightmarish situation. It was ridiculous, ludicrous! They had come to Vulcan to savor the richness of the culture because he had wanted to ‘know all of it.’ It seemed that now he would indeed experience all of Vulcan, perhaps not as he may have imagined. This simply was not possible.
And Spock . . . God, Spock couldn’t really be dead! He would have felt it, wouldn’t he? Or was this pain he was feeling now so overwhelming that he could sense nothing else?
Please, God, no! Don’t let Spock die . . . . Don’t let me be the cause of his death for bring him here! Or, if he’s already, let me join him! Not this. Oh, dear God, not this!
Kirk felt himself sinking into merciful unconsciousness and welcomed the shroud willingly. Whatever was going to happen, he could draw some consolation from the fact that he needn’t be conscious to experience it . . .
Kirk came around slowly to the unbelievably beautiful sound of Spock’s voice.
“Jim! Please, Jim. Jim!”
Kirk tasted blood in his mouth and his tongue contacted a hole in his mouth where a tooth had been not long before. He hurt in more places than he thought possible. Moving was an effort he did not relish. Finally, he summoned the strength and courage to open his eyes. Spock was holding him carefully in his arms, his face twisted with anxiety.
“Spock,” he managed weakly, “are you okay?” He clutched the Vulcan’s arm convulsively as the remembrance flooded through him. “I—I thought you were dead?”
“Jim . . . “ The Vulcan’s voice broke on the treasured word, almost in a sob. He held Kirk against him tighter, and with a great effort, regained control of himself.
“Where is Stonn?” Kirk asked uncertainly.
“Dead,” Spock responded, “When I regained consciousness, I managed to climb back up the cliff. He was not aware of me, I was able to administer Tal-shaya.”
“Did he . . .?”
“No,” Spock assured him quickly, “I stopped him before he could injure you further.” He looked Kirk over carefully, trying to inventory the injuries. “I do not believe you have any broken bones. Do you feel any internal pain?”
Kirk moved his body gingerly and winced “I think I might have a couple of cracked ribs, and I’m definitely missing a tooth, but I think I’m pretty much in one piece.” He sat up with some difficulty which he tried to hide. “How about you? That was a bad fall you took.”
Spock didn’t reply. Instead, he stood and moved to the cliff overlooking the harsh Vulcan desert, his shoulders slumped.
Kirk’s eyes drifted to the still form of Stonn lying a few meters away, then back to Spock’s dejected stance. He knew then what was wrong, and he also knew he had to help Spock absolve the guilt he felt at being the instrument of Stonn’s death. What was it Spock had said about Surak’s Laws? All Sentient Life Is Sacred? . . . and Spock had taken a life . . .
Forcing himself to stand, Kirk ignored the stabbing pain in his ribs as he moved to hover next to his companion. Tentatively, his hand clutched Spock’s shoulder.
“Look, Spock, you did what you had to do. Amanda told me that Stonn would have to die in any case. There was nothing anyone could do for him, his mind was in agony.”
“You do not understand, Jim,” Spock murmured, his voice barely a whisper.
“I do understand,” Kirk persisted. “I know what it does to you to have to kill. But you can’t torture yourself about this. It was self-defense and it was the only logical choice.”
Spock suddenly turned to face him. The bleak look in the dark eyes startled Kirk. “No, Jim, it had nothing to do with logic. When I saw what he was going to do to you, I—I wanted to kill him? What I did was done out of rage—not logic. For a moment, I was as mad as he.”
“Spock . . . “ Kirk touched the Vulcan’s face with the palm of his hand, He knew what he would say now would be vital to Spock’s acceptance of his own savage heritage—and his all-too-human reaction. “You did it to save me. I would have done the same. Would you have hated me for killing Stonn if the positions had been reversed?”
“No,” Spock said after a moment’s hesitation, “you would have had no choice. But I—”
“Then why hate yourself?” Kirk demanded.
Spock’s eyes fell. “To take a life in anger—”
“Stop it, Spock?” Kirk’s voice was harsh. “To agonize over a necessary decision is unVulcan. You’ve taught me that. It isn’t logical to feel guilt over an action that is necessary, even if it was done in anger at the time. The outcome would have been the same, regardless of who actually performed the act. It will not help Stonn—or you—for you to blame yourself.”
Kirk saw the closed look on Spock’s face and realized it would be useless to say more. This was a conflict Spock must work out within himself.
Going back to the pallet, Kirk dropped down wearily, careful of his aching side. He searched out one of McCoy’s pills and swallowed it thankfully. Somehow, he did not think he would ever be able to completely understand Vulcan philosophy. Violence was abhorred on Vulcan. In fact, any Vulcan would go to great lengths and personal danger to avoid it. But when it was necessary and logical, it was accepted in an unemotional, vaguely distasteful way. A human was more prone to violence and crimes of passion which a Vulcan would never consider, but a human could rarely take it in the impersonal vein with which a Vulcan was capable.
Kirk could clearly see the turmoil coursing through Spock. He was tom between his two cultures once again, torn between logic and guilt.
It was almost evening when Spock approached Kirk again. The human searched the angular features anxiously, then uttered an audible sigh of relief when he saw it was once again his logical first officer in command.
Whatever guilt Spock still felt was now under control—perhaps even absolved by the deep meditation. Only time would tell which. But as for now, he was quite able to greet his captain in the familiar wry manner.
“I believe we should start back to the city in the morning, Jim. The Enterprise will be expecting us shortly, and I should not like to be—AWOL is, I believe, the correct term.”
Kirk grinned, “That would be unthinkable.”
“Are you certain you will be ready to travel, Jim?” Spock asked with a touch of worry. “It is clear you need medical attention.”
“I think so, but Bones will be able to say I told you so. That’ll make him happy. My head feels like it was beaten with a fence post,”
“A fence post?” Spock asked curiously.
“Another Iowa reference, Mister Spock. Never mind, Are you sure that you are all right?”
“Indeed, I am quite functional, although I may borrow your reference to the fence post. It does seem singularly appropriate.”
Kirk started to laugh, then caught his ribs with a groan. “One thing is for certain—that proverb about knowledge being a dangerous thing surely rings true.”
Spock turned away, staring blankly out at the desert. “Yes, it does indeed.”
If Kirk had seen the despondent expression on the Vulcan’s face, he would have had reason to be more than apprehensive.