Spock sat silently in his darkened cabin, his eyes fixed on the flickering fire-pot in front of him. Usually he was able to find some measure of peace in the stony image, but today it only seemed to echo his own questions back at him. Where could he go, if not to his own heritage, for help in making the decision he must now make?
He thought back on the conversation the day before in the officers' lounge with Kirk and McCoy. That day no one was really prepared for - the end of the Enterprise's five year mission - was now at hand, and everyone, from the Captain to the lowest ensign, was beginning to think about what the future would hold. Years before, the ending of a tour of duty would have had little meaning for Spock, but that was before...before Kirk.
McCoy was grumbling about the latest technological "inconvenience" to irritate him, and began musing about the possibilities of pursuing a life of research, with both feet safely on the ground of some small planet. Kirk looked at him, just the slightest hint of worry on his face.
"Bones! You wouldn't go off and do that to me, would you? After all, who else would I trust to patch me back together every time I get myself into trouble?"
McCoy simply snorted. "What makes you think you'll need my services? When we get back to Starfleet Headquarters, they're liable to enshrine you on a pedestal somewhere; you're a hero, Jim, and they're not going to want to risk losing a valuable role model like you. James T. Kirk, the youngest starship Captain in Starfleet history, an intergalactic example of the heights to which man can aspire!" McCoy finished his speech with a grandiose wave of his arms in Kirk's direction. Kirk looked at him with distaste.
"Getting a little cynical in your old age, aren't you, Doctor? I hope they're not going to make that much of a fuss, anyway. The Enterprise, all of us, have run into some unusual situations in the past five years, it's true, but I would hardly call them r or myself r unique."
McCoy searched Kirk's face intently. Finally he replied, "Don't under-estimate yourself, Jim...or Starfleet. You are a very valuable commodity to them right now. What would you do if they offered you a promotion...say, to flag rank? Admiral Kirk; sounds pretty impressive."
"You know 'impressive' doesn't mean a damned thing to me, Bones. Not that the idea isn't a little tempting, but I'd rather have my own ship, under my own two feet, than a dozen ships under my control - on paper."
"Just try to make 'them' understand that," McCoy muttered pessimistically.
"I am sure that Starfleet will utilize the Captain in that position where he will best serve them. To do otherwise would be illogical. And certainly his record shows that he is an extremely capable Captain." Spock had entered the conversation for the first time. As the two men looked up, Kirk smiled warmly at the Vulcan's expression of loyalty.
"Never expect a bureaucracy to be logical, Spock; it seldom is," McCoy said darkly. "And speaking of logical - what about you, what are your plans once we get back to Headquarters? You've been on this ship now...what, about seventeen years?"
"Sixteen point eight, to be precise, Doctor. I assume that Starfleet will attempt once again to persuade me to accept a command of my own, but, as I have told them in the past, I have no interest in such things. I am, like the Captain, content in my present position. I have not even thought of changing it." Spock looked over at Kirk as he said these last words, his eyes conveying a deeper meaning behind his statement. Kirk lowered his eyes in acknowledgment, then turned to McCoy.
"Well, Doctor; the two of us are going to stay, so you might as well come along for the ride, too."
"Hmphh! Some ride!" Then McCoy suddenly sobered. "Jim, think about what I've said. You two may be ready to go off to the edge of the galaxy together, but just remember that Starfleet may have other plans for you."
Kirk grinned and placed a hand on McCoy's shoulder. "Don't worry so much, Bones. I can take care of myself. In the meantime, we've still got one more stop to make before we get back to Headquarters. I'm really looking forward to this; the Eltanian people sound very...'fascinating', in the words of my Science Officer. And, at least for the last mission, Starfleet gave us a pleasant one!"
The three men had then turned their attention to the subject of Eltanin, the newest planet to join the Federation r the Enterprise's visit had been planned to officially welcome this new alliance r and the question of their futures was set aside for the moment.
Before that conversation, Spock had not really thought about what would happen after the five year mission. He had just assumed that all would go on as it had, and he would stay with Jim. But McCoy's dire predictions about the possibility of Starfleet's wanting to keep Kirk planetside alarmed him, even if Jim had tossed them off as unimportant. It could very well happen r and then…. Spock had been surprised, shocked, at the strength of the emotions that thought had brought to the surface; a deep sense of loss, sadness, anxiety for the man who had become his only real friend. It was these emotions that had caused his present dilemma.
When Christopher Pike had left the Enterprise, Spock had felt no real sadness r a sense that the ship was losing a very able commander, perhaps, but there was no feeling of personal loss. Pike had been an efficient commander, though somewhat impulsive, in the manner of all Humans, and Spock had been content under his service. Content, and safe. Pike had never made any undue demands on him in the name of friendship, had left him to his Vulcan ways, and never expected anything more than professional loyalty. Which Spock had given him in full measure, even to the point of risking his entire career. But, despite that incident, his relationship with Pike had never been as strong as his feelings for Kirk were now. Over the years, Kirk had changed from being a respected Captain, to a sometime r companion and chess partner, to a close and treasured special friend, someone who accepted his differences and had become... a brother. Yes, Jim Kirk had become his brother, and more than that r t'hy'la. And that was something Spock had not planned on.
He had entered Starfleet almost twenty years ago, with the condemnation, not the blessing, of his father, because he had believed it the only place where he could find peace. Here his differences had blended with all the differences of those around him, and he had been secure in his Vulcanness, able to exist without the constant judgment of others, but demanding of himself the same standards of logic and non r emotion that his world expected r and more. He was Vulcan, and he adhered almost desperately to the Tradition that had guided his father, and his father's father, and so on, back to the time of Surak. Or, he had r until Kirk had entered his life.
It was only now, when he contemplated the possibility of losing Kirk, that he realized how much of his control he had given up to this Human. Until the time of his intended marriage to T'Pring, his ties to Vulcan had been strong, centered as they were on that joining. But once that bond had been broken, and his commitment gone, he had felt lost, without a stabilizing center. Now he knew, in looking back, that he had transferred that need to...Jim. All the times their minds had joined, in melds for whatever purpose, it had brought them closer, until now they were dangerously close to a permanent bond. A bond which someday Spock would have to call upon to save his life r at his next pon farr. Kirk might call him friend, but what would he think if he were one day forced to become his...lover?
Spock slumped over his desk, his head resting wearily on his folded hands. Perhaps his father had been right; he had betrayed his Vulcan heritage, looking to this Human for something that should only come from his own world. It could not be allowed; it was wrong to even think of Jim in such a way. He felt sure that Jim would be offended by his need. Before he betrayed their friendship, or could not stop himself from doing so, he must...leave Jim.
A searing pain, unlike any he had ever suffered from any physical wound, burnt a path through his chest. So this is Love, he thought, as he raised his head to gaze once more at the fire-pot.
"Thank you, Im-Bretile; on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, your invitation and hospitality are gratefully accepted. Our first landing party should arrive at the arranged meeting place in about half an hour. Kirk smiled in his best diplomatic manner at the tall, willowy alien on the screen in front of him.
The spokesperson for the Eltanian people looked at him blankly, then turned to consult the man next to him.
"I believe, Captain, that the equivalent term in the Eltanian language would be 'two lo-irs’ Spock offered quietly as he stood, arms folded, at the right of the command chair.
"Ahhh...yes. Thank you, Mr. Spock." Kirk addressed the screen again. "Im-Bretile, excuse me; that is, two lo-irs." The Eltanian nodded quickly in understanding and smiled back.
"That will be suitable for us, Captain Kirk. All is ready r we will await you." His soft, almost lyrical voice seemed to hang in the air even after his image disappeared from the screen.
"A very beautiful people, aren't they, Spock?" Kirk mused. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Kirk looked at him for a moment, then continued. "Thanks again for helping me out. The Eltanians have learned English as a gesture of friendship, but I still can't keep track of all their... cultural references."
"Understandable, Captain. The Eltanians are a very complex and fascinating people. They possess incredibly developed mental and telepathic powers, yet they choose to live simply, almost primitively. The only technological advances they will accept are those which enable them to communicate with the Federation, such as the viewscreen."
"Illogical, isn't it?" A wide, affectionate grin flashed across Kirk's face as he looked up at Spock. "But, out here, on the edge of the galaxy, light years away from the nearest beings, who needs 'technological advances'? The Eltanians only want to 1ive, and enjoy life to the fullest. Not a bad idea, is it?" Kirk stared at the stars on the screen; it had been a long five years and he was tired, no matter how much he thrived on command. He sat, lost in thought for a minute, then rose suddenly, clapping his hands together and glancing around. "Come on, let's go find McCoy and prepare to beam down." He started for the turbolift, then stopped, turning around as he realized that Spock was not behind him. "You are going to come to the Games, aren't you?" he asked.
Spock stood hesitantly by the command chair. "While they might provide an interesting sociological study, Captain, I would prefer r with your permission, of course r to explore the ruins and artifacts we have detected at the edges of the city. Knowledge of the Eltanians' past civilization and how their people evolved would be of great interest to the Federation." He paused, his eyes moving to the viewscreen for a moment, and then back to Kirk. "After the customary greetings and amenities are concluded," he added.
Kirk frowned slightly, a puzzled look on his face. What was the matter with Spock? These past few days he had seemed almost...cold, aloof. After five years together, their friendship had progressed to the point where Kirk could almost always tell what was on the Vulcan's mind, through simple looks or gestures that usually went unnoticed by others. Now he felt as if Spock was building a wall, keeping him out. "Well, Spock," he said, trying to hide his disappointment, "if that's what you want. Maybe after you’ve…."
"Thank you, Captain. I will...join you later, perhaps, when I have completed my observations."
Kirk looked intently at his First Officer, searching for some sort of clue to his strange behavior. Finally he shrugged. "Well, let's get going. McCoy will be waiting for us." He turned and strode to the lift doors, this time with Spock following him. "I'm anxious to see these Games; what were they called again?"
"The Aipo Nellom, Captain, a unique combination of physical and mental abilities. I'm sure you will find them…." The turbolift closed behind them, whisking them off in the direction of Sickbay.
It was evident immediately that the Eltanians did indeed lead a very idyllic life; no sooner had they materialized on the planet than Kirk began to feel an almost tangible sense of peace and calm, a state of contentment no doubt stemming from this people's belief in mental harmony as the highest ideal. Even their appearance was proof that they stressed the cerebral over the physical; they were a tall, finely-boned people, fair-skinned almost to the point of seeming translucent, with wide eyes and an easy grace of movement that spoke of control and inner peace. The Eltanians were not prone to impetuosity r every idea, every movement must be meditated upon, considered carefully from every angle before action was taken r and this was why it had taken them several years to decide to join the Federation. And, as a result of their slow, studied ways, their lives flowed smoothly, with never a wasted motion.
Their buildings, surroundings, even clothing, were decidedly rustic, primi¬tive by most standards; but this was by design, not lack of knowledge. Many years ago, these people had had a very fast-paced, technologically-geared society, and the results of their world's advancement, which had been equal to the Federation's present level, were high stress situations, a fierce competition among the people, and other unhealthy pressures. So they had decided to change themselves, in a reform not unlike that of the ancient Vulcans in scope, and had made the mental and emotional health of their people and the living of a full and rich life their most important goal.
These things Kirk learned from Im-Bretile as the alien led them on a tour of the town, a quiet gathering of huts that wound around itself in easy circles. A haven from the. madness of the universe, Kirk thought with appreciation. Looking back, he noted McCoy, involved in an animated discussion with the Eltanian healers; they were the real reason for the Federation's interest in this planet. The mind techniques that these people had developed, through their singular devotion to the study of each mental process, would be an invaluable aid in the treatment of stress, deep space "fatigue", and even such gastro¬intestinal ills as were considered synonymous with positions of high responsi¬bility. It was too bad that the Federation had to be so concerned with the benefits of this alliance, and couldn't just admire these people for what they were, not for what they could give. A little time on this planet would do almost anyone some good.
Kirk was suddenly reminded of Spock; the Vulcan had made himself scarce as soon as was diplomatically possible, heading for that area outside the town where the ruins of Eltanin's past were situated. When Spock had first made his request, Kirk had thought it was strange, but then decided to chalk it up to his First Officer's always healthy curiosity; maybe he really did prefer studying the ruins to watching the games. He realized that the Vulcan might also find this world's constant emotional mutualism an uncomfortable intrusion on his privacy, and he could understand that, but Kirk felt hurt that Spock had not even confided in him the reason for his hasty departure. Not as his Captain, but as his friend. Kirk remembered the conversation he and Spock had had with McCoy a few days ago, when the Vulcan had let him know that he intended to stay on the Enterprise with him; could it be that Spock was having second thoughts? He brushed the thought aside impatiently. That was ridiculous. He knew Spock better than that, and he was sure that he wasn't going to leave. But why was he being so cold? Kirk walked along, trying to make some sense of the whole thing, when suddenly he realized that Im-Bretile was looking at him questioningly.
"There is somewhere else you would rather be, Captain Kirk?" the alien asked quietly. "I sense your thoughts are not with us, in this place."
Kirk made a wry face, a little embarrassed that he had been caught off guard, and also that the Eltanian seemed so aware of the nature of his thoughts. Must remember to watch that; these people can read feelings like we read a book! "I'm sorry, Im-Bretile, it's just that we Humans are not always able to keep our minds as clear and uncluttered as your people are. I guess I need to learn how to relax more."
"I agree, Captain. The mind, and therefore the whole body, will function with greater ease when it is calm and untroubled. It is unwise to distress oneself with worries and imaginings." The Eltanian then turned and gestured towards the games area, a large open clearing whose northern side was bounded by a small craggy mountain. "Come, the Aipo Nellom will begin soon, and I would like to explain to you a little of their history."
Kirk looked at Im-Bretile warily, but soon relaxed under the alien's warm, strangely understanding smile. He began to smile himself, and he and his guide made their way toward the clearing where already a crowd had begun to gather.
Spock sat on the tumble-down remains of an ancient Eltanian home, tricorder in hand and his head arched back; he seemed to be straining to catch some faint sound in the distance. Then he turned, looking back towards the town some two kilometers behind him, and sighed. The look on Jim's face when he had left the village had been almost more than he could bear; the pain, confusion and dis¬appointment in those eyes had left him hollow, aching. But he had no choice; he was a Vulcan, and discipline must be maintained. Spock winced as he recalled his brief encounter with the Eltanians at the village. From the moment they had beamed down, he had felt bombarded by the waves of communal emotion that these people believed to be healthy and necessary. Spock was almost shocked by this belief; such an utter lack of privacy was abhorrent to him, to his way of life. His resolution to avoid contact with Jim as much as possible was strengthened by the need to escape the suffocating bond these people exuded to all around them. Even now, as he sat here among the ruins, he could still feel a faint echo of that bond reaching out, seeming to call to him. Spock shook his head abruptly, then closed his eyes as he concentrated on strengthening his mental barriers.
After a moment, Spock opened his eyes and began to review the decision he had come to the day before. He had to leave the Enterprise, had to remove himself from the situation he had allowed himself to fall into. How it had happened was no longer important r all that mattered now was that it could not continue. And there was only one place where he could purge himself of his humiliating weakness and become fully Vulcan: the plateau of Gol, on his home planet.
When still a child, he had listened with awe to the tales his teachers told of the High Masters on Gol, they who devoted their whole beings to the study of pure logic. The extreme discipline, the harshness of their ascetic life, and the trials r both mental and physical r that led to the attainment of Kolinahr, a level of consciousness that transcended even the basic concepts of hunger, weariness and pain, had fascinated Spock. It was even implied, though never actually said, that the Masters were spared the madness of the pon farr because of the self-control acquired through the Kolinahr. But he knew that, as one with Human blood, he dared not hope that he would be allowed to study in this most revered of places. Now he knew that it was the only place where he could shed his Humanness, that part of him which had always been responsible for the inner torment he suffered, and become the Vulcan he had always wanted to be. He would humble himself before the Masters, and request permission to be an acolyte in Gol. Then he would surely find the final answer to his cursed duality.
In the midst of these thoughts, Spock's lean frame suddenly sagged wearily. The discipline of life in Gol would be nothing compared to the task which was now before him. He must tell Jim r his t'hy'la r that he was going to leave him. After the loyalty he had professed just a few days ago, Kirk would surely look on this leaving as a betrayal. But he could not, dared not, explain to Kirk the real reason for his change of mind; each day, to stand at his side was more and more painful, each word, each look that passed between them a threat to his control and a reinforcement to his desperate need. If Kirk were to suspect, to press him for an explanation, Spock did not know if he could resist, and once Kirk knew the truth, what would happen then? Once told of his need to bond with him, Kirk might agree, wanting to save his life, but that would be no choice at all. He could not do that to Jim; this must be a matter of free will and choice, and he did not believe that Kirk would choose to be his bond-mate if Spock's own life and death were not involved. Yes, the only answer to his need lay on the plateau of Gol. He knew Kirk would not understand, but it had to be so.
Spock sat rigidly, staring straight ahead for a few moments, then finally stooped to pick up the tricorder that had fallen, forgotten, at his feet.
Kirk looked around the clearing from his vantage point on the platform at one end of the field and marveled, not for the first time, at the beauty of the Aipo Nellom. From the moment he had sat down, the psychic emanations of those people preparing for the Games had grown to envelop participants and spectators alike in an atmosphere of blissful tranquility unlike anything Kirk had ever experienced. He hoped McCoy would be able to explain it all to him later; the doctor had been deep in conversation with the Eltanian healers since their arrival, and Kirk had seldom seen him so animated r or happy r in his work. Perhaps that was due to the planet's affect on him as well.
At first, the idea of a set of physical tests carried out by these small, fragile people had seemed odd to Kirk. But Im-Bretile had explained to him that neither competition nor physical prowess was the point of the Games r rather the stress was on growth and achievement of a personal nature. The Games began, in their simplest form, with the small children; they were taught exercises to develop physical coordination, and simple mind techniques such as telekinesis a skill which was considered childishly easy to the Eltanians. As a child grew into adulthood, the Games became more and more complicated, with a stronger emphasis on psychic development. On Eltanin, physical strength was not important, and the body was considered merely a repository for one's true strength r the mind. All the people participated, both learning and teaching according to the level of development they had achieved, and it was this communal effort that created the bond of spiritual well-being that seemed to exude from the planet itself, the bond that Kirk and McCoy had felt so strongly since they had first arrived.
Im-Bretile had said that, along with learning all the basic mental and psychic disciplines his people considered necessary to their way of life, each individual began to grow into a specific talent as he aged. And again, through careful nurturing, each one's special strength was guided into maturity, and then practiced for the benefit of all. One of the gauges for understanding and measuring these talents was the game they were now about to see, Im-Bretile informed Kirk; the Onnim, or "Entrance."
This was the one game that could be participated in by all, no matter what their level of achievement, for it was graded to accommodate those levels. What was required in this game was, first of all, a proper attitude, the sincere desire to better oneself and take another step toward adulthood; secondly, mastery of an obstacle course that symbolized the struggle for growth r the small mountain that stood at one end of the clearing where the Games were held. The mountain, though not high, was just craggy enough to require a slight physical exertion to scale it, but again, the Eltanian stressed, the real test was not one of the body. Around the mountain was an energy field, a field generated by an "image" on the other side of the mountain, called the Mellyra. This image, Im-Bretile explained, was the collected mental energy of all of his people who had ever achieved the highest level of the Onnim, stored there to assist all others and act as an inspiration to them in their quest. Each of the six steps, or resting places, on the mountain were measured "to correspond to the different stages in a person's life r childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age, and, finally, the last stage of an Eltanian's life. When these people reached the age of sixty, measured in Earth years, they were ready to take that last step, and when they did so, they left their physical bodies behind and became part of the Mellyra. And so, as each person developed, he moved up the mountain, step by step, until he reached that perfect attainment and entered into life on the other side.
Kirk gazed in wonder at the small mountain and at the people before it who were preparing for their climb. Small children, young men and women and the elders of the town all stood together, eyes closed in the preparation of meditation. The rewards of such a gentle, well-ordered, peace-loving way of life were evident on the faces of the Eltanians all around him, and suddenly Kirk felt a strong desire to belong, to truly feel at home in this warm, soothing world.
He turned to face the alien at his side, only to find that Im-Bretile was already staring at him quizzically.
"I sense what you are about to ask me, Captain Kirk, and I must admit to being...puzzled. How can you participate in the Onnim? You have never been trained in the abilities which are required."
Kirk started; the idea had barely formed in his mind, and yet the Eltanian was fully aware of it. Yet, it was true; he was not sure why, but he wanted to climb that mountain, at least to the first step. He felt sure that he could do that much. He was trying to think of a way to explain this urge to Im-Bretile when McCoy ambled over to join them.
"What's up, Jim-boy? I hope you're enjoying yourself as much as I am."
"Your Captain has expressed a desire to join in our Games, Doctor McCoy," the Eltanian said. McCoy looked at Kirk sharply, and suddenly became serious.
"Jim, you can't! These people train all their lives to prepare for these Games; what makes you think you can just jump into it cold?"
"Bones, please; I'm not going to 'jump into' anything, I'd just like to try one of the simpler levels. It can't be that hard...and after all, didn't Spock tell you once that I was a very dynamic individual?" Kirk smiled at the worried expression on the doctor's face. "Don't worry, Bones, I think I can handle it." He turned to the alien at his side. "Im-Bretile, I realize that I have not had any formal training, and I certainly do not intend to make light of the skills your people possess. But I feel...I would like to express the Federation's welcome in a more personal way, by joining in on this special and beautiful ceremony. I cannot explain why, but I feel a need to do this. I hope I have not offended you by my request, but…." He stopped, at a loss for words. He did not know what else to say, but he hoped that the Eltanian would understand what was in his mind.
Im-Bretile nodded knowingly. "No offense has been taken, Captain; indeed, I feel honored that you wish to blend with us in this way. My only concern is for your safety. No other being besides ourselves has ever participated in the Aipo Nellom, and I do not know what its effect on you would be. Yet I sense that you are influenced by this 'bond’, as you call it, that surrounds us. And I believe that you have experienced a state of mental union before, with someone very close to you, a state that is very similar to the communion that my people share at all times."
Kirk felt a rush of warmth to his face as he realized once again his complete vulnerability and openness in front of this man. Even his feelings for Spock, as confused as they were at this moment, were clear to this stranger. He felt as if Im-Bretile were measuring him, weighing all possibilities. He lifted his chin and returned the gaze. He wanted the alien's approval r he wanted to do this.
"What's this about his safety?" McCoy moved a step closer, distracting the Eltanian's attention from Kirk. "Could his lack of training cause him physical injury?"
"Only if he strains himself, Doctor, and reaches for something that he is not capable of attaining. But I feel that he is right; I believe that you could attain the first step, Captain. However, you must promise me that you will not attempt to go any further than that, if I give my permission for you to try."
"I give my word, Im-Bretile, that I will go no further than you consider safe. I am honored that I will be allowed to join your people in this beautiful and meaningful quest." He placed his hand on the alien's shoulder, and Im- Bretile returned the gesture, both their eyes lowered in mutual respect.
"Now just a minute, Jim." McCoy was still looking at Kirk uneasily. "Do you really think this is wise? You could hurt yourself; you're not used to this kind of exertion. And maybe being influenced by this bond is a bad thing; you may feel you can do things you can't."
"Bones, are you suggesting that perhaps my mental faculties are not up to a simple test?" Kirk asked with a grin. He clapped McCoy lightly on the back. "Really, Bones, if Im-Bretile thinks that I can handle the first step, I think that we can trust his judgment. After all, he knows more about it than we do! Don't worry so much; you're turning into a regular prophet of doom. I'll be back in a little while. Make sure you watch closely, so you can tell Spock how well I did later."
McCoy scowled as Kirk headed off for the other end of the field with Im-Bretile. Damn his stubbornness, he thought to himself. He should realize by now that once Kirk set his mind on something, there was no way to talk him out of it. He could only sit here and hope that Jim would keep his promise, and not reach for something that was beyond his grasp. He tried not to think of the number of times the Captain had done just that in the past.
About an hour later, Kirk stood at the foot of the small mountain and looked up the path in front of him towards the first step, about a kilometer away. Im-Bretile had sat in meditation with him, gently guiding his mind toward the strength he would need for the climb, and teaching him a simple technique for tapping into the psychic emanations of the people around him. Again and again he warned Kirk not to try for more, not to go beyond that first step, for they could not be sure that his untrained mind would be able to hold the accumulated strength he would find, even at that level. The Eltanian would remain at the foot of the hill while Kirk made his climb, ready to assist at the first sign of any trouble. Kirk smiled at him again, reassuringly, then turned to take the first step. As soon as he set foot on the mountain, he began to feel the emanations, even stronger than before, surrounding him, soothing him with a comforting warmth. At the same time, he heard voices supporting, gently urging him, offering their own strength to him as he made his way up the path. The trail was easy enough to travel, but the mental "climbing" was the part that gave Kirk the most difficulty; because he was not used to the power of the Mellyva, it felt as if he were wading against the current of a fast-moving stream.
Kirk made his way slowly up the side of the mountain, the sweat standing out on his forehead as he fought to concentrate on the emanations that guided him. This was really more difficult than he had expected it to be; if he hadn't melded with Spock so many times in the past years, he just might not have been able to do this at all. Spock...he wondered if Spock had returned yet from his explorations. Kirk shook his head quickly. He could not think of Spock now. He had to channel all his energy and thoughts into the climb. It would be danger¬ous to let his thoughts wander.
Finally Kirk saw the resting-place that was the first step just ahead of him; he closed his eyes a moment to gather the strength around him, then took the last few strides quickly, a proud determination on his face. He would do this! And then, he stood on the plateau r he had succeeded. He felt the warm approval emanating from Im-Bretile on the ground below, and the quiet jubilation from the Mellyra above him, rejoicing in his accomplishment. Kirk began to experience a sense of exhilaration and wonder, and also a feeling of contentment, belonging, more powerful than he had ever expected. This was why he had felt compelled to make this climb; to know this, to understand the awesome peace these people knew as a way of life. Lost in his feelings, Kirk turned to face the winding path which led further up the mountain. Perhaps...just a few more steps...surely he could manage that. He did not want to leave this place, not yet.
Even as he heard Im-Bretile's warning from the field below, Kirk felt a pain, like an explosion in his mind. He struggled for control, but the images were too strong, too complex for him to sort out and understand. He clutched his head desperately, as if to contain all those minds together in his own; then suddenly he went limp, and his unconscious body tumbled helplessly down the side of the mountain.
The Vulcan's head snapped back as waves of searing pain shot through him. It was Kirk, in agony, calling out to him r but Spock could also sense a chaotic jumble of other thoughts, mingled with his Captain's. This could only be the collective mind of the Eltanian people, but why was Kirk's mind so strongly in the midst of it? He tried to sort out the many images he was receiving, blocking out those of the Eltanians, but now Kirk's thoughts grew weaker, fainter with every minute that passed.
Spock pulled out his communicator, almost frantic with worry, ignoring the part of himself that disapproved of the emotional display he had sworn he would never indulge in again. Jim was in danger, and he should be there with him. He signalled on Kirk's frequency, but there was no answer. He tried McCoy, but met with the same result. They must be back on the ship; he set his controls for the transporter room, and was rewarded by the sound of Mr. Scott's voice.
"Mr. Spock? I was just about to call for you myself. You'd better get up to the ship here; the Captain's been injured, and Dr. McCoy wants you in Sickbay right away."
"Beam me up immediately, Mr. Scott." Spock closed his eyes, tightening the reins of his control before he reached the ship, and then felt the pull of the transporter's beam on his body. As soon as he had rematerialized on board, he left the room quickly, with barely a nod in Scott's direction.
In the turbolift on the way to Sickbay, Spock began to berate himself for the intensity of the emotions he was feeling. He had made his decision, and it was final. He could not allow Kirk to affect him this deeply anymore, nor could he always be there to save him. He would not be. Ignoring the pain in his chest, he reinforced the barriers in his mind and concentrated on restoring some measure of calm to his features.
He entered Sickbay to find the main room empty, but the sound of McCoy's voice led him to the nearest examination room.
"Damn fool idiot!" McCoy was staring nervously at the monitor above Kirk's head. "I told him not to do it, but would he listen to me? No, he had to go and do it. I knew something like this was going to happen."
"How was the Captain injured, Dr. McCoy?" The doctor whirled around at the sound of Spock's voice.
"There you are! If you had been with us in the first place, you might have been able to talk him out of this."
"Talk him out of what, Doctor?"
McCoy stared at Spock for a moment, taken aback by the flat monotone of his voice. He looked back at Kirk's still form, noting that there was still no change on the monitor. "Our foolhardy Captain suddenly got it into his head that he wanted to welcome Eltanin in his own special way r by joining in one of their games. And, of course, he picked one of the most difficult ones, the one that the Eltanians spend their whole lives preparing for."
"The Captain attempted the Onnim? Was he not told that it was beyond his capabilities?"
"Of course he was, Spock, but when did that ever stop him? He thought he could do it r reminded me that you said he was a 'very dynamic individual.' So he tried it, and he went too far, and now I don't know how to bring him back. His physical injuries aren't too bad: a couple of broken ribs, a broken arm, bruises, though it's a miracle he wasn't killed just by the fall. But his mind…."
"What do you mean, Doctor? Bring him back...from where?"
McCoy turned around to meet Spock's eyes directly. "As far as I can tell, from what Im-Bretile has told me, part of Jim's mind is trapped in that con¬sciousness on the other side of the mountain r the Mellyra."
Spock's eyes widened as he realized the implication of McCoy's words. "And he does not have the knowledge or training to free that part of himself, and become whole."
Both men's eyes turned to Kirk, who lay pale and lifeless on the diagnostic bed. The indicators above him were continuing to sink, and McCoy's shoulders sagged helplessly as he watched them. He glanced over at the Vulcan beside him; what was wrong with Spock anyway? Any other time, he would have been hovering over Jim, the worry plain on his usually calm face, keeping a sleepless vigil until McCoy would have to chase him out. Whether Spock liked it or not, McCoy was well aware of the feelings he had for Jim, and approved of it heartily. After five years of needling and cajoling Spock over his unhealthy denial of his emotions, McCoy was thankful that the Vulcan allowed himself at least one outlet. But now...Spock stood more than an arm's length away from the bed, hands folded carefully behind him and an expression of detached concern on his face, as if this person were of no special importance to him. McCoy looked closer; there seemed to be an air of grim determination there r of resistance to something. Surely Spock realized that there was only one way to help Jim, and that he was the only one who could give that help. Why didn't he do something?
"Spock?" The doctor cleared his throat, feeling strangely uncomfortable.
The Vulcan turned to face him, an eyebrow raised in question. "Yes, Doctor?"
"Spock...there's nothing more I can do for Jim; I don't know how to reach him. You'll have to help him...meld with him...bring his mind back."
A dark expression crossed Spock's face, and McCoy almost thought he saw him flinch. He turned to face the wall, his back to McCoy and the bed. "It is the Eltanians' game, and their techniques. Do they have no solutions to offer?"
"The Eltanians? Spock, I don't believe what I'm hearing! You've melded with Jim dozens of times in the past, without even thinking twice about it, because you knew it would save his life. And for less reason than that, too. And now you're acting like you were asked to touch somebody with the plague. What's the matter with you; this is Jim's life!"
"Doctor, I will thank you not to attempt to predict what I will or will not do according to my past actions. I am merely asking you if the meld is absolutely necessary."
"Of course it's necessary, Spock; you know damn well it is. What the hell r "
"Then leave us."
"Leave? Now, just a minute, Spock, I don't know what you think r "
"Leave us, Doctor." The Vulcan's voice was deadly quiet. McCoy's eyes sparkled with anger, and he had to fight down the desire to go over and do physical damage to the Vulcan, but he knew it was pointless to try and argue with that tone. Besides, Jim couldn't afford the delay. He turned sharply on his heel and left the room.
Spock remained staring at the wall for several moments. Finally he turned to regard the Human on the bed before him, and the taut mask of composure he had managed to hold in place crumbled. He moved closer, tentatively reaching out a hand, then pulling it back quickly, as if the touch would singe him.
Oh, Jim! How can it bring so much pain, just to …touch you? If only…I…we…could…. But, no. It cannot be. The decision has been made r for both of us. And I must tell you… I only wish I could make you understand.
He could not delay any longer; Jim's life was slipping away with every moment that his mind remained divided and trapped on the planet below. Spock finally put a hand out and touched Kirk's arm gently. T’hy’la. This will be the last time our minds will join. And then I will be gone from you. He reached out, one last time, to trace a finger down Kirk's cheek, Forgive me.
Spock drew in a deep breath, clasping his hands in front of him as he prepared to enter into the meld. He would need to concentrate, focus his mind intensely in order to reach out and bring Jim's mind back, and at the same time keep the touching of their minds from becoming permanent. What he was about to do would confuse Kirk, hurt him deeply, but it was necessary. He placed his fingers on Kirk's face at the proper points, projecting his image, reaching further and further, until….
Spock? Kirk's thoughts were weak, strained, as he attempted to reach out to Spock from the Mellyra. Spock. ..is it you?
Yes, Captain, I am here.
I knew you'd come. I've been trying to call to you, but I guess...my mind is just not that strong.
You underestimate yourself, Captain. I did hear you call, just when the injury occurred, but the power of the. collective Eltanian mind is far beyond your grasp. May I ask why....
I know, Spock, I know. I should never have tried to go beyond the first step. McCoy will never let me forget this one. But, Spock, it was so beautiful, so rare, I’ve never experienced anything like it except…. Kirk's thoughts were still for a moment, then he seemed confused as he reached, trying to touch something that was not quite there. Spock…is there something wrong? I feel strange, as if there’s something missing; something's different from the other times we've melded.
Captain, we must return to the Enterprise; your being cannot withstand the shock of this separation much longer. Please relax, let your mind remain calm, and I will guide you.
Kirk let his mind float into a receptive calm, and soon he felt Spock's thoughts around him, supporting him; it almost felt like Spock's mind was actually carrying him. But there was something different. Even in the midst of this, the deepest of any of their mind-touches, with Spock's thoughts all around him, there was a wall that kept them from really touching. Where was the closeness, the deep caring they had always shared before? What was wrong? Spock was being so formal; he never called him "Captain" when they communicated mind to mind.
Captain, it is essential that you remain calm; if your emotions continue to interfere, I will not have the strength to bring us back.
Kirk directed his mind to relax, but still he could not shake the feeling of puzzlement and fear. Gradually he felt the Eltanians' mind being left behind, growing fainter and fainter; then, at last, he had the sense of being complete in his own body. Though he was still technically unconscious, the pain from his broken bones made him wince.
The Vulcan seemed to hesitate for a moment. I am glad that you are whole once again, Captain. I will inform Dr. McCoy that all is well, and he can attend to your injuries.
Kirk felt Spock's mind began to withdraw. Spock, wait! What's the matter? I know there's something wrong r I can feel it. Please tell me what it is!
There is nothing…wrong. After you have recovered, we will talk.
No. I want to talk now, Spock. Even in his weakened state, Kirk was determined not to let go. Spock was silent for a minute, then he released a sigh of resignation. Kirk waited anxiously.
I am leaving.
Kirk was still, his thoughts confused, and then he realized what Spock was saying. Leaving? Spock, you can't mean…leaving the Enterprise…leaving me? No! I don't believe you, you wouldn't.... Why, Spock why? Tell me what's wrong! Kirk felt frantic, desperate to understand this impossible, terrible thing. Maybe he was delirious; yes, that was it, he had to be, the Spock he knew would never say something like this.
Captain, you are exhausted, you need to rest. You must sleep...sleep....
Even as Kirk tried to fight the suggestion, he felt himself being weighed down by bone-deep weariness. In a matter of seconds, he was sound asleep.
Spock removed his hand from Kirk's face and stepped back from the bed. The meld had been even more difficult to control than he had imagined; his hands were shaking slightly from the strain. He laced his fingers together tightly, forcing down the emotions that threatened to take him over. He had not wished for it to happen this way, but it had been unavoidable. Kaiidth! What must be, must be. He could not change it.
He stared down at his hands for several moments, eyes closed in grim determination. Then he straightened, and, shaking his head as if trying to wake himself from a dream, he left the room without a backward glance.
The waning light of the fire-pot played across the Vulcan's face, each flicker emphasizing the chiseled features, now frozen into a lifeless pose. Only the eyes seemed to hold any feeling, and that, the inevitability of pain. The rest of the room was pitch-black, a safe hiding place from the world. So Spock had sat for the last thirty-six hours, ignoring the ship and the people around him, refusing to answer the door, waiting for that moment when they would reach Headquarters and he could escape to the calm haven of his home planet, and the plateau of Gol.
He knew that McCoy had been at his door several times, first demanding, then pleading to be told what was going on. But Spock would not respond; there was no reason for him to explain himself to McCoy. Indeed, he knew he did not have the patience to ignore the emotional tirade the doctor would surely inflict on him. He had handed McCoy his resignation shortly after he had left Kirk's side, instructing him to deliver it to the Captain when he was recovered, and he would do no more than that, not even tell the doctor that Jim already knew what he was doing. A coward's way out, it was true, but he simply could not bear the thought of facing McCoy, and fielding his outraged questions. He foolishly hoped that Kirk would not press the matter further, but still his body tensed, waiting for that familiar, dreaded buzzer to sound.
At last it did, and Spock knew this time that it was Kirk r he could feel his presence. Proof again that it was long past time for him to leave. He tried to ignore the sound for a few minutes, then sighed, realizing that Kirk would not rest until he had gained entry to the room. He stood up and moved slowly to his desk, keying the lock control to let Kirk in.
Kirk stalked into the room, looked around in the darkness, then groped for the light switch with his good arm. He turned around to stare at Spock, his eyes hard and glittering with a barely-contained rage. The Vulcan seated himself at his desk, fingers steepled in front of him, with not even a glance to acknowledge his Captain.
"All right, Mister," Kirk said in a deadly-quiet voice, "just what the hell is going on here?"
"Did the doctor not give you my tape?" Spock still refused to look up.
"Yes, he did."
"Then you know; I am resigning, and will leave the Enterprise as soon as we return to Headquarters. There is nothing more to say."
"Nothing more…." Kirk moved slowly over to the desk until he was facing
Spock. "I can't believe I'm hearing this, after so many years, after all that we've shared, Spock. Please...I want to understand. Tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can...help."
Spock continued to study his hands. "Why do you assume there is something wrong? I have not expressed any dissatisfaction with my duties or the r "
"Don't give me that shit!" Kirk's temper flared, and he slammed a fist on the desktop. "You know what I mean; there is definitely something wrong, between us. And I want to know what it is." Spock remained silent. The expression on Kirk's face hardened. "I won't accept your resignation."
Spock sighed heavily. "Then I will go directly to Admiral Nogura when we reach Headquarters." He paused for a moment. "Captain...please do not attempt to stop me. I should not like to go over your authority."
"Then give me an explanation, Spock."
"Captain…." The Vulcan finally raised his head, meeting Kirk's intense stare for a second, then averting his eyes to the wall beside him. "I am returning to Vulcan," he said simply.
"To Vulcan? Is it…." He paused awkwardly.
"No, Captain, it is not...physical need that calls me to return. I have been away from my home for many years, and now it is time to go back and renew the ties I have neglected for so long."
Kirk leaned forward on the desk, his expression softening. "And what will you find on Vulcan that you do not have here?"
"Peace. Time for meditation and study. There is still much that Tradition can teach me, still many ways that I have...fallen short of it."
Kirk's eyes narrowed as he searched the Vulcan's features closely, still trying desperately to understand. Finally he shook his head. "Spock, in these last five years, I've come to depend on you so much r and not just as my First Officer. You're...more than just a friend, Spock…." He paused, casting about in his mind for just the right words. Suddenly he remembered a poem, his favorite from a book of pre-Reform Vulcan works that Spock had given him once, on his birthday. He murmured a few lines from memory, Thee hast known me,/ touched my mind and truest self r / thee who is joined to me more deeply than she who bore me,/ more binding than she who waits to serve my need. He looked up into Spock's face again, hoping to find some reaction, some answer there, but still there was none. Spock's face was frozen, his whole manner stiff and unreachable. Kirk felt a crushing weight in his chest r a keen, desperate sorrow.
"I still won't accept your resignation," he said finally. "And I don't think Nogura will, either. You're too valuable an officer to just...let go."
"Then I will ask for an extended leave of absence."
Kirk stood up and began to pace across the room. "You know, Spock, when I came in here, I was ready to try to bounce you off the wall, broken arm or no, in the hopes that it would bring you around. But now...I feel that there's nothing I could say or do that would make you change your mind. I feel so... helpless."
"There is no need for you to feel responsible for my actions, Captain," Spock said quietly. "I regret that you cannot understand, but I would...ask that you accept my decision."
"Accept it?" Kirk stopped pacing and looked at the Vulcan sharply. "No, Spock; you won't let me understand, you're doing your damnedest to keep me away, and I'll never accept that." He moved back towards the desk, one arm outstretched in a gentle, coaxing motion. Spock turned his face back to the wall.
Kirk stopped as suddenly as if he had walked into a wall, and after a moment his arm fell limply to his side. There was nothing more he could do; Spock had shut him out completely, the bond which had meant so much was gone, and he was alone. Kirk shivered involuntarily.
There was no point in standing here any longer. Kirk began to walk slowly across the room, his eyes staring dully ahead, his mind not yet able to grasp what had happened. He hesitated at the door; finally he spoke, his voice a mere whisper.
"All right, Spock, if this is what you want r leave. I won't stop you. But you can't stop me from hoping that, maybe someday, you'll be back...someday, you'll realize that being Human is not a curse." He raised his eyes to look at the Vulcan one last time, and his voice was almost pleading. "Spock, why fight so hard to be a part of only one world? Why not fight instead to be the best of both?" [See Author’s Note]
Spock remained facing the wall, his eyes squeezed shut as he fought for control, and he did not answer. Kirk sighed heavily, and then was gone.
Oh, Jim…I wish I could have made you understand. This is the best…for both of us. I can belong to only one world...the world of my father; I must follow Tradition. If only you have not shown me…another way.
Spock did not move for several minutes. Finally he rose and crossed to the door, keyed in the lock once again and dimmed the lights.
Two and a half years later, Spook stood in front of the shuttlecraft’s viewscreen, mysterious, dignified, somber as the Vulcan robe and symbols that he wore and watched the Enterprise get closer...closer.
SYVAK – No. 3
(A fragment of a preReform Vulcan poem, attributed to Syvak; title unknown.)
Thoughts entwined past all discernment —
It matters not.
Thee hast known me,
Touched my mind and truest self —
Thee who is joined to me
More deeply than she who bore me,
More binding than she who waits to serve my need.
Thee it is who stands with me
On the plains of battle;
At my side,
Even in the face of death.
Thy mind claims me,
As mine does thee;
Our precious union will survive
Long after Pon Farr's madness
Fades to cold, gray memory
1 - STAR TREK:THE MOTION PICTURE, Gene Roddenberry, © 1979 by PPC and G. Roddenberry