Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
James Kirk jolted to wakefulness in the cold dark of his quarters. His eyes peered anxiously, seeking the familiar shapes of furniture about him. He reached out and turned up the lights and sighed with relief. The dream was gone, at least temporarily.
This time it had been harder to pull himself back to reality. The now-familiar reverie had claimed him and, like one hypnotized, the spell was difficult for him to break. Each time the dream returned he became more and more convinced of the awful truth that it seemed to foretell.
Kirk rubbed a hand through his already tousled hair and threw back the cover. He got to his feet and went to sit at his desk. The firm coolness of the chair beneath him drew him back from the haunting nightmare.
He had never believed in dreams, he told himself matter-of-factly. They were simply ghosts that floated into one's conscious mind during sleep. The events in a dream never really came true, at least, not exactly as the dream portrayed them.
He was not even sure he had believed in interpreting the symbols in a dream. An old story stirred in his memory. The dream of an ancient Pharaoh in which seven fat cows were consumed by seven gaunt ones had prophesied seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in biblical Egypt. An interesting fable, he thought, but of course his dream was nothing like it.
It had been somewhat frightening, though. He shivered as he remembered the Enterprise blasted by bursts of energy from some enemy force, he and Spock, side by side, seeking to contact the attacker to stop the destructive blows of the alien weapon. Then, with a terrific grinding sound of metal, the great ship was wrenched apart, the nacelles separated from the saucer, each section drifting through space until another energy beam slashed into the bridge, neatly cutting the saucer in half like a knife through butter, and he found himself floating, endlessly alone, through his once-beloved stars.
It was not symbolic, but all too possible, Kirk realized. He could lose his ship to superior weaponry some day. If the dream ever did approach reality, though, he hoped the ending would come true, and that he would die with the Enterprise, rather than face the rest of his life knowing he had lost her. Resolutely, Kirk put the dream from his mind. He reached for the tape on the planet they were investigating.
Yesterday's survey team had found evidence of a highly advanced civilization which had disap-peared entirely. The tape displayed the vast ruins of a city no one had occupied for thousands of years. Records indicated that the society had vanished at the height of its development, leaving colossal structures and a great technology behind. The survey tape ended with the notation that one building housed a still active energy source.
In the briefing room, it had been decided that investigation of the structure would yield the only pos-sible clue as to the disappearance of the society, and this morning Kirk would beam down with a landing party. Now he sat, watching the strange, dust-covered buildings in fascination. What kind of people had lived on the planet, he wondered, and what had ended their existence?
The scientific party and the Captain found themselves in a large open area of the city. As far as they could see, decaying buildings towered around them or lay in broken rubble. Spock had already acti-vated his tricorder.
"No evidence of natural disaster or disease," he reported. "The decay seems to have occurred over the passage of time and not as a result of war or other phenomena."
"Let's check out that energy source," Kirk directed. He and Spock started toward the building, while the four historians continued to investigate the other ruins.
The building that held the energy source stood silent and golden in the planet's morning sunshine. Kirk stared at it, thinking that it showed the scars of time to a much lesser degree than the other structures.
"Is this building as old as the others, Spock?" he asked.
Spock was already scanning it. "Captain, it is at least one thousand years older than the rest of the buildings in this city. Perhaps this inscription will tell its purpose."
"Can you translate it?" Kirk asked. He regarded the unusual symbols with more than simple curiosity. There was a compelling nature about this place, something that drew him to it, almost a craving to know what kind of people had created it.
In a few moments, Spock had deciphered some of the symbols. "It is a verse, Captain," and he read:
"Into the endless whirlwind come,
For here all understanding swirls,
All the past and every silver future
Forever held, until, unlocked
It shall be whispered in your ear."
"'All the past and every silver future'," Kirk repeated softly. "Some sort of time machine, perhaps?"
"Possible, Captain. The energy within the structure is of a nature not unlike that which we found on the Guardian's planet.”
"Then it should reveal what happened to the society that built it."
Together, Kirk and Spock entered through the huge door of the golden building. They found them-selves inside a great hall. A distant, pulsing hum spoke of the enormous energy harnessed within the structure, but Spock found his tricorder jammed, making readings impossible.
Along the distant walls, rows of machinery stood, gleaming and clean as though they had just been dusted. Indeed, the interior of the ancient building appeared to have been built only days ago, instead of centuries.
The two officers stepped cautiously into the center of the room. Relying on their own senses instead of the equipment made study impossible. Suddenly, the humming increased, and the bright lights dimmed. Kirk peered into the dark, seeking--what? Did he expect to find someone turning down the lights and activating machinery?
The consuming curiosity he felt was relieved by the euphoric balm of the humming. Kirk was floating in a warm, familiar world. He looked up into a summer sky filled with clouds of sunshine. Feeling carefree and small, he skipped barefoot through cool grass and climbed a gnarled tree. Then, he was laughing as he looked up and watched the clouds above him. He kept climbing and tried to reach the clouds.
He could not touch the soft, white forms that floated in the sky. They were so far away and he was so small, so alone. Suddenly, the scene was no longer warm and familiar. Determinedly, he shook his head, trying to remember the great building they had entered, his mission, his duty, the reality of the present.
Kirk felt a tingling in his legs and discovered he had fallen to the metallic floor of the room. He was lying with his arms outstretched and for a moment his conscious mind was fuzzy. Then he realized what must have happened. He'd been reliving a part of his childhood. He stood up and looked around for Spock.
The Vulcan had moved to a corner of the room, and when Kirk called he did not respond. The Cap-tain hurried over to the huddled form.
"Spock," he repeated, touching his first officer's shoulder. He shook his slightly and after a moment, the brown eyes raised. There was a look of pain in them that was quickly replaced with relief when he saw the Captain. "Are you all right, Spock?" Kirk questioned anxiously.
"I believe I have suffered no damage, Captain." Spock stood, acquiring again his usual stoic expres-sion. "The energy within this structure is extremely volatile. Apparently, when we crossed the threshold, we 'unlocked' the past as described in the verse I translated. I found myself reliving a time long past, when I was a child on Vulcan."
"I saw myself as a little boy, climbing my favorite tree on my Grandfather's farm," Kirk said. "At first, the sensation was quite pleasant, but then I felt a strange loneliness come over me." He paused. "I don't remember ever feeling that way as a child."
Spock did not answer immediately. "Perhaps you did know some loneliness, Captain, but forgot it over the passage of time. The memory I encountered was an exact replay of one of my first school days."
Spock did not elaborate and Kirk knew better than to question him further. A Vulcan child did not laughingly climb trees, and one that was half Human had encountered childhood loneliness. Instead, Kirk asked his science officer how the effect had worked on them.
"These computers must reach into the mind of anyone entering the building. They select a memory and through the hypnotic humming we heard, create a trance. Then, the scene is replayed, just as we lived it."
"Why do you suppose a building like this was created? Surely not for scientific research."
"The rather mysterious message of the verse on the plaque outside would indicate otherwise, Cap-tain," Spock concurred. "Perhaps the inhabitants came here to be entertained by their own past."
"Do you think we'll have more such visions?"
"Yes. And we must guard against losing ourselves to the replay of memory, if it should occur."
"That shouldn't be too difficult," Kirk said. "I was able to pull myself back to the present, just by re-membering our mission to investigate here."
"Yes, but childhood memories tend to be short fragments of scenes in Humans. I was not returned to the present until you touched me."
"Then I suggest we stay close together, in case either of us experiences any difficulty, Spock."
The two started again toward the row of machines, but before they had walked far, the humming in-creased again and each found himself floating into his past.
Jim stood under a starry sky, feeling happy. The dance had been wonderful, and Julie seemed to re-ally like him. He had kissed her goodnight and was walking home. Then the vague, lonely feeling intruded again. It was stronger this time, and there was something more. Dimly, he knew why he was lonely. He felt as though he had lost something, someone. No, that wasn't quite it. There was some-one he had not yet found.
He forced himself back to the present, to remember the strange alien building they were walking through. Then a new sound came to his ears over the soft humming of the machinery.
It was Spock, seated again on the floor, and speaking quietly to someone he thought he saw.
"No, father. You do not understand. I am different here and alone. I must leave..."
"Spock, come back!" the Captain said in a commanding tone as he touched him.
Momentarily, the Vulcan's eyes lost their vacant look. "Captain," he breathed, "my control over the phenomenon is not... what it should be. The past... overwhelms. The... emptiness..."
His voice softened to a whisper and Kirk feared he was retreating into another memory. He jerked Spock to his feet, his fingers holding his arms fiercely. "Mister Spock, we must investigate! You have orders to follow! Mister Spock!"
The Vulcan swayed, almost falling from the Captain's grip. Kirk pulled him close, still calling to him. "Spock, come back. I need you with me," he begged.
Finally, Spock drew in a long breath. He still sagged against his Captain's chest, but he knew where he was. Then he stood back, and looked into Kirk's hazel eyes.
"Thank you, Captain. I could not... pull away from the memory."
"What was it, Spock?" Kirk inquired gently. "Maybe it would help if you talked about it."
"I was trying to explain to my father why I had chosen Starfleet over the Vulcan Science Academy. He did not understand..."
"You felt... alone on Vulcan."
Spock nodded. "Yes, as though something was missing from my life. I knew it was illogical, but I was immature."
"No, Spock, I understand. That's what I felt, too," Kirk began, then he stopped. Surely it was only coincidence that they had both felt the strange loneliness. "What should we do?"
"We must get out of this room, Captain. Each memory grows stronger, forcing more emotion from me. Already my control is failing. You are used to dealing with emotions, and have less difficulty remembering the times of pain, but soon the pressure will build in you, also, and I fear that we will both be overwhelmed by our own past lives."
Kirk reached around and pulled out his communicator, but when he flipped up the grid, the device was silent. "Must be jammed, like the tricorder," he mused. They would have to walk out of the building on their own. "How can I help you, Spock?"
"I have been considering," the Vulcan began, once more his precise logic coming to the fore. "When you touched me, I was able to return to the present."
Kirk understood at once. If they touched each other as they walked, their hold on reality would be strengthened. He reached out and put his arm around Spock's waist. The Vulcan laid his arm across his Captain's shoulders. Thus linked, the two men set out together again.
They walked. Slowly at first, they walked in the direction they had come, back toward the huge door. Apparently, their trips into the past had confused their sense of direction. They could not find the exit. As far as they could see, there was only the room and the endless row of gleaming machinery.
They spoke very little, each intent on setting one foot before the other, each concentrating only on the present and his hold on his companion. At length, Kirk wondered how long they had been walk-ing, and he asked Spock.
The Vulcan did not answer. Even as Kirk glanced at the vacant brown eyes, the memory claimed him as well, and they floated together into the past.
But this time the ache of loneliness did not come. They were together, their physical and mental selves touching, and the memory was one they shared. Instead of emptiness, they knew joy, and great peace.
The bridge of the Enterprise hummed with pleasant efficiency. Kirk was comfortable in the soft leather of his chair, bathed in the confidence of command. Spock, bending over his scanners, knew the calm that only work could give him. He stood and walked to stand beside his Captain. Together, the Human and Vulcan stared out at the panorama of stars.
All time-sense stopped in the endless whirlwind. How long they walked, neither knew nor cared. The missions, chess games, meals they shared, swirled continuously before their eyes. All the past, the comfortable, companionable, pleasant days unfolded like a golden flower. The insistent whisper of days gone by drew them onward through the ancient building.
"Don't you think you should consult me about that?" Kirk said, suppressing a grin.
"JIM!" The smile burst across Spock's face as he reached out and held his Captain. The feel of Kirk's muscles under his hands assured him Jim wasn't dead, that he hadn't killed him after all....
..."You have just declared Jim dead," McCoy's voice burst into Spock's mind. No, the doctor must not know. Do not express the hurt, the loneliness. Deny.
The ship faded away, and Kirk, alone in interphase, knew nothing but the endless stars. He was alone.
"Jim." And rescued hazel eyes looked with relieved brown ones. Spook had not left him...
....Life support was gone. Shields failing. The amoeba creature sucked all energy from the tiny shuttle. Spock knew he would die alone. Then, the tractor beam! Jim had not left him!
A golden building stood shining in the morning sun. "All the past and every silver future," Kirk re-peated.
They were walking, entwined together, one in purpose, thought and memory. A last reverie stirred. A woman's voice, soft and full of knowing, "You, by his side, as if you've always been there and always...."
The words were drowned in a new, louder noise. The golden euphoria fell away and in a silver burst of fire and ice, the humming increased to a shrill sound like a scream.
James Kirk was dreaming. And his ship, torn to pieces by an alien beam, dropped away beneath him. He fell through the stars, down, down, and alone.
A cry was wrenched from him, but was strangled in his throat as a sight more terrible than the de-struction of the ship met his eyes. It was Spock, sinking away from him, alone and distant in the empty grief of space.
He flung out his hands, reaching, seeking the solid warmth he knew had to be there. "SPOCK!" He shouted the name again and again. The room, the building, the mission to investigate. Reality! “SPOCK!"
He opened his eyes, almost fearing he would find himself alone. But Spock was there, a few feet away, lying face down on the floor. Kirk, too weak to stand, crawled to him.
"Spock, are you all right?"
The first officer did not move. Jim reached out, laid a hand on his thin shoulder. The touch seemed to electrify Spock. He curled into a tight mass, covering his face in his arm.
"No. Not alone. Not forever alone!" The usual placidity had disappeared from the deep voice, leaving only a frightened wail.
Kirk leaned closer to Spock. "You're not alone, Spock. I'm here." He touched the dark hair gently, but still Spock shrank away. "It's Jim," Kirk tried again, but the Vulcan would not, or could not, re-spond.
Kirk felt a desperation unusual to his commanding nature. He eased back on his heels and considered the problem. The terrifying image of the future for himself and Spock had seemed all too real. Now he understood what his dream had actually symbolized. It was not only the ship's destruction that frightened him, but the thought that the bond with his Vulcan friend might be severed.
He had known loneliness in his younger days. Now Spock had become a part of him, his alter ego, the other half of himself. To lose Spock would be the most devastating loss of all. And someday, he knew with sickening assurance, it would happen.
He looked down at the shivering blue-uniformed shoulders. He could say the words, express the emotions of need, of love. But Spock, to whom the feelings were just as dear, could not voice them openly. And now that they had surfaced, the fear of loss had reduced him to a terrified child.
As long as he was conscious, the Vulcan would continue to be assaulted by the vision of the future the alien machines had conjured. Kirk tried his phaser, set on stun, but the jamming effect made it useless. Regretfully, he turned the weapon in his hand, raised it over Spock, and crashed the butt of it into the cowering Vulcan's head. It took three blows, and brought green blood, but at last Spock's form collapsed into senselessness. Kirk tenderly lifted his friend into his arms and looked around. He saw the giant door several meters away and hurried toward it.
"He'll be coming around soon, Jim." McCoy adjusted the bandage carefully, then switched off the diagnostic indicator above the bed.
"Are you sure I didn't cause a concussion?" Kirk asked.
"You hit him pretty hard, but he'll only have a headache," McCoy soothed. Although he'd only been told the cursory details of what had happened to the Captain and Spock, he realized it had
had a traumatic effect on both of them. "You did the right thing, Jim," the doctor added quietly.
Kirk looked up and managed a small grin. "Thanks, Bones. I think I'll sit with him for a while, any-way."
"Okay. Let me know if either of you need anything."
McCoy had been gone only a few minutes when Spock's eyes fluttered open.
"Right here, Spock." Kirk placed a comforting hand over the Vulcan's trembling one. Immediately, Spock clutched at it, as a drowning man grasps for a lifeline.
Kirk returned a reassuring pressure. At last, he whispered, "We're back home, you know."
Spock took in their surroundings. "Sickbay?"
"I had to clout you with the butt of my phaser and carry you out of the memory room."
Spock closed his eyes, then opened them. "It wasn't the memories that... disturbed me."
"I know. It was hard for me to realize that life won't always be this way," Kirk sighed and looked away. "l guess nothing lasts."
"Change must be accepted as logical," Spock said in a monotone, as if reciting a childhood rule.
"But logic doesn't make acceptance easy," Kirk answered.
Now Spock looked directly at his Captain. "No." The quiet filled the chamber and left no room for words.
"I still wonder what kind of beings created that place," Kirk mused finally.
"They are gone. We shall never know," Spock answered softly.
Just then, the wall intercom beeped, and Kirk went to answer it.
"Uhura here, sir," came the Lieutenant's efficient voice. "The survey reports are finally correlated."
"Okay, Uhura. Let me have the details," Kirk answered, his tone weary.
"The lost people called themselves Ozandans. We translated some literature, historical works and the plaques on various monuments, They all show the same philosophy. The Ozandans thought they had created the most perfect civilization in the galaxy, one that would last forever. It's ironic that all their scrolls proclaim the glory of buildings lying now in dust and ruins."
Kirk gently switched off the intercom and turned to Spock. "She's right, you know. It is ironic."
The Vulcan nodded. "They probably created the memory building to entertain themselves. They must have been devastated when they learned they would not endure." His dark eyes took on a faraway look, and Kirk knew he was struggling to repress the fear of losing the friendship they so carelessly had taken for granted.
Kirk walked back to the bed. "We didn't really learn anything we didn't know before, Spock."
The Vulcan gazed silently at his Captain, drinking in the calm assurance of the man he knew so well. Loyalty, duty, friendship, even love, these things made up their reality. He was truly back home, no longer floating through his lonely past or falling into a terrible, empty future.
Kirk reached out, pulled the blanket closer about him. "You're tired," he murmured. "Sleep, now."
Spock closed his eyes. "Yes, Captain."
FRIENDSHIP is like love at its best: not blind but sympathetically all-seeing; a support which does not wait for understanding; an act of faith which does not need, but always has, reason.