Spock is aware that there are those who would call him anti-social, and there was a time in his life when this was a source of great anxiety.
Vulcan Disciplines value self-sufficiency and autonomy and, even without the constant ridicule of his peers, he would have been aware that he was different through his failure to fully embrace the idealized isolation that his culture requires. He has never wanted to be different. It was logical, therefore, to seek a better fit for his unconventional social desires, and Terra seemed to be the most sensible choice. And if his father could not accept Spock’s decision to abandon his nineteen-year struggle to achieve a Vulcan standard that remained forever out of his grasp – well. The rupture was a long time coming. It was almost a relief to openly declare hostilities at last.
The experiment was a failure almost from the first. In hindsight, it was a mistake to assume that just because he had always craved a deeper level of interpersonal contact he was in any way equipped to obtain it. His first week at Starfleet Academy was a disorienting haze of second-hand emotion discarded by a sea of Human faces, and in the middle of his wildly fluctuating controls he was left wondering how in the world you were supposed to decide who you even wanted to approach in the first place, let alone what strategy you might employ to establish a friendship. When the choice was made for him, then, he accepted it without question, in the certain knowledge that Humans, at least, knew what they were doing.
He was the only non-Human cadet in his cohort. In retrospect, he should have been more concerned about this.
Amy was a young Terran woman, older than their freshman peers by several years, but bright and vivacious and fiercely intelligent. Her blond hair reminded him of Amanda, and it was a feature that he had long ago learned to associate with comfort and shelter by virtue of the fact that it was shared by none of his Vulcan tormentors. Amy had never been off-world before and, he now suspects, the very difference he had spent a lifetime trying to subsume was what drew her to him and prompted her to strike up a conversation as their astrogation lab emptied into the chill November afternoon. At her suggestion, they shared a table in a nearby cafeteria and she seemed content to shoulder the burden of the conversation as they drank spiced Vulcan tea. She did not snicker behind her hand at the formal Standard syntax in his stilted replies, and her voice was full of breathless fascination as she asked him kind questions about home and space and the stars. When she wondered if he was free for dinner that evening, he took it as a sign that he was making progress in his efforts to better align himself with the customs of his mother’s people, and he accepted her offer of a home-cooked meal in her small apartment in the Andoriantown sector, close to the Bay.
If Amanda had thought to be more specific about the mechanics of Human mating rituals, perhaps the kiss would not have come as such a surprise, but his parents had expected him to follow the Vulcan way and the subject had never come up. For all that Human emotionalism remained an impenetrable code, like the rituals of an exotic tribe, Spock had enough experience of reading his mother to understand that his reaction to the unexpected press of Amy’s lips against his was not what was required. In his haste to escape the sudden flux of turbulent emotion – anxiety, pleasure, desire, and a host of others he could not identify – he had backed into the coffee table and upset the recently-opened bottle of wine, which decanted like spilled blood all over the pale carpet.
Amy was kind: embarrassed but stoic, if perhaps a little distant. They mopped up the mess together, side by side and careful not to touch, and, though she asked him to stay once they had finished, absolutely no power in the Federation could have prevented his retreat. The cruelty of Vulcan children, as it turned out, was easier to bear than the blurred emotional boundaries of Human interaction, and his hands trembled so violently that evening, as he returned to his tiny edge-of-campus single, that he could barely light the candles for mediation.
This hyperbolic response - bordering on what he suspected his mother might label panic – was illogical, of course, and evidence of a severe deficiency in his controls, but the fact remained: he was no more able to be what Humans required than he could meet the Vulcan ideal. Friendship: the word rolled in his mouth like a rock, rattling against his teeth and threatening to choke him.
So he compartmentalized the experience, dissected and filed it away as significant data, and concentrated on that which had always come easy to him. He could not read Humans and they could not read him, but science and mathematics flowed through him like oxygenated blood. They were the raw materials of his sense of himself and his place in the world, and, what was more, they expected nothing in return. Within a numerical world, he existed as a relay in a feedback loop and his function was predictable, binary and as demanding as he chose. Outside of it he was Other, and if he thought he had steeled himself to that sense of isolation, to the horrors of uniqueness, it turned out that he must learn a new set of techniques on a world where he was, perversely, not Human enough.
Distress is never logical where circumstances cannot be changed. But he could not help but feel his Otherness, like a bubble that surrounded and separated him. He saw Amy from time to time, where their class schedules intersected, or during exams, or briefly in the corridors, and at first she would smile and say hello, and sometimes she would stop and make conversation. Later, there were only smiles, then small nods of acknowledgement, and finally there was nothing at all. The years passed in quiet solitude, punctuated by the occasional encroachment of curious classmates, but the memory of spilled wine on a white carpet held him back when they approached. He was aware of their scrutiny and their interest but their intent was never clear: Human hands were always too eager to touch, Human emotions were always too determined to share. It was safer to cultivate isolation and, in the end, a reputation for a certain level of detachment became his best defense against unwelcome intrusions.
He graduated at the head of his class and entered the Starfleet sciences division, where he was quickly assigned to work on a series of computer simulations the Academy wanted to introduce for the command track students. The bubble remained. In the evenings, he walked alone through the streets of San Francisco, the Federation city, a melting pot of faces from around the galaxy. During the summer, the streets were alive with greenery, tumbling haphazardly from gardens balanced on precipitous slopes and perfuming the air with all the fragrances of a water-rich world; in the winter, he wrapped up tightly against the fog that rolled in viscous, soupy waves off the Pacific and sought the comfort of the few Vulcan restaurants that nestled in the backstreets around Federation HQ. Over pok tar and plomeek soup, he sought to ground himself, to settle once and for all the question of who he was, but the dark eyes of the Vulcan proprietors precluded any attempt at solidarity and reminded him again that the very fact that he sought a connection at all was evidence that he did not belong.
Barely a year after graduation, the Enterprise returned to Earth for her biannual staff rotation, and Spock received his first deep-space posting. He found, to his surprise, that he adapted very easily to life onboard a starship. Living in microcosm ought to have horrified him, it ought to have made it impossible to maintain the boundaries that sustained him, but it turned out that the opposite was true: no-one pursued his company, no-one required him to explain his absence from social events, and no-one knocked on his door once it was closed for the evening. It was a continuation of his situation on Earth, but for the first time he sensed that his isolation was the product not of antipathy - or, at least, not specifically of antipathy - but of accommodation. If Science Officer Spock preferred to spend the evening playing his lyre alone in his quarters, then this was accepted with a shrug - and possibly an eye-roll, but a subtle one. It was not the weirdest thing anyone had ever done on board a starship, and he was, after all, a Vulcan.
It was this sense that he was tolerated rather than judged that finally allowed him to reassess his Otherness and achieve a kind of equilibrium. On Vulcan he was too Human, on Earth too Vulcan, but somewhere in the middle of that was the essence of himself: a man who was both, and neither. He could not be as Human as other Humans wanted and he had no intention of trying, but his little flirtations with emotion could largely pass unnoticed in a veritable ocean of the stuff, and his mother’s genetic legacy could be content in a way it could never be on his homeworld. His Vulcan side was dominant, as it had always been, and this was how they read him. Here, as nowhere else, his identity was not in question, and, if he was Other, it was because the crew of the Enterprise believed he belonged on the world that had, in fact, rejected him. On the Enterprise, he was not a half-caste or a mongrel or any of the whispered pejoratives that banished him. He was Vulcan.
And if he must necessarily be labeled anti-social, then, he supposed, it was not logical to allow this to be a source of anxiety. This was not a failing in him; it was because he was Vulcan. This much was understood by his peers, and, eventually, by Spock himself. In this manner, eleven years passed under the guidance of a man who was supremely qualified to lead and who had a talent for surrounding himself with capable people. Spock found himself elevated to a position of trust and was content. Pike’s quiet strength appealed to him: it was comprehensible and contained and it required nothing of his Science Officer that Spock could not freely give. Friendship was neither necessary nor desirable; respect was enough.
Respect would always be preferable, in the final analysis.
He lowers himself onto his bunk, fully-dressed, and crosses his hands over his chest. Meditation, he suspects, will not be helpful - what this needs is a really good think. Captain Kirk is the only person he has ever known who has breached the invisible wall that holds him apart from the world around him and Spock is still not entirely certain how that happened, only that Kirk apparently failed to notice there was a wall there in the first place. It is... interesting.
When the distance slid into place between them, it seemed as though the natural order of things was simply reasserting itself. There was no cause to grieve, he reminded himself, for something that never truly was. It seemed simplest to continue as though the anomaly had not occurred, to reassume the face that he showed the new Captain on his arrival. The one that Kirk, essentially, ignored in favor of what he expected to see. Spock is not entirely certain how Kirk worked out that this other Spock existed below the mantle of Vulcanness he wears like a bulletproof vest, but he does know that when the gulf opened up between them he suddenly felt more exposed than he has ever felt before. The danger contained within this other self has never seemed more manifest than over these past weeks. But tonight...
I wonder if you realize, Mr. Spock, how deeply I’ve valued your friendship since I came aboard?
Spock has been called many things by a variety of mouths attached to brains gifted in invective, but friend is a new one. In the face of a complete systemic thought-failure it seemed simplest to say nothing, so he this is what he did. He’s not entirely sure that was correct.
A spot of color rose on each of Kirk’s cheeks. I hope I haven’t made you uncomfortable.
A no was probably expected but would not have been entirely accurate. Somewhat desperately, Spock had opted for, Your sentiments are unexpected, Captain.
The flush deepened. Damn it, I knew this was a bad idea... The Captain thinks best on his feet, Spock knows, and it was no surprise that he stood suddenly. Pacing would follow in a moment or two. Look, Spock, I just wanted you to know that... Well, I haven’t been myself lately, I realize that. I wanted you to know that, however it may have seemed, your support and friendship have been invaluable to me. You’ve been a better friend to me than I have to you, and I hope to rectify that if you’ll allow me.
Spock’s eyebrow remained unquirked only with the greatest of control. He said, That is not necessary, Captain.
Pursed lips followed Kirk’s eyes towards his desk. With something that might very well be close to dismay, Spock realized that his default responses were not only inadequate but actively counter-productive. In the pause while Kirk gathered his thoughts, some part of Spock supplied, quickly, You will always have my support, Captain. A small hesitation. Unconditionally.
It seems to have been enough. Smiles were tugged from the Captain’s tightly-clenched mouth and the inevitable drinks were procured and a pleasing forty-seven minutes of varied conversation followed during which Kirk’s warmth flowed easily throughout the room and Spock attempted to reflect a little back, if only because he wasn’t entirely sure what else to do.
He has a friend. He is not sure what to do with this information.
He is saved from further contemplation by an urgent summons to the bridge.
The light freighter would have been perfectly innocuous had it simply acknowledged the Enterprise’s hail. Spock is forced to reflect that, for all that conventional wisdom imagines that citizens of his homeworld are unable to lie, even he would have been able to do a better job at avoiding suspicion. Instead of attempting even basic subterfuge, the vessel responded to Federation interest by warping off in the direction of the nearest asteroid field, necessitating a yellow alert and investing the Captain with an air of grim resignation that can only be bad news for whoever ends up on its receiving end. Spock wouldn’t like to guarantee that the future of the freighter’s Captain, once he is apprehended, will be free of an emotional discharge of some magnitude. It takes a considerable stimulus to incite the Captain out of his habitual quiet intensity, but when it happens there is something magnificent, almost compelling, about the result. It is as though a small incendiary device has been unleashed in an enclosed space: the explosion is entirely contained by the blast-proof walls, but all the air is sucked out of the room to feed the combustive process and the release of energy is immediate, substantial, and very, very focused. If an emotional display could be logical, this is how it would look.
The vessel is a small Class J cargo ship - ill-equipped for extended evasive maneuvers, even without the superior engine power of a Constitution Class starship to outrun. As they approach the asteroid belt, Spock’s scanners indicate that the freighter’s engines have begun to superheat.
“Try to warn him,” says Kirk urgently. “If he loses power now...”
But before he can finish the sentence, the freighter’s thrusters suddenly dim and Farrell announces, somewhat redundantly, “There go his engines, sir.” The craft is suddenly powerless, shieldless, and drifting in an asteroid field. “He’s had it - unless we put our deflector screen around him.”
“Captain,” says Scott quickly - because he clearly knows as well as Spock that this sort of choice is no choice at all to the Captain of the Enterprise, “if we try, we’ll overload our own engines. He’s too far away.”
There is a long, pregnant pause while Kirk weighs up the potential for damage to his ship and possible casualties amongst his crew against the certainty of the unknown freighter’s destruction. But Spock knows him too well to think there will be any other answer. “Cover him with our deflector screen, Mr. Farrell,” he says. “Scotty, Spock - stand by in the transporter room.”
“Aye, sir,” says Scotty. Spock joins him on the top tier and they make their way together to the turbolift.
Just as the doors close, they hear Farrell say, “We’re protecting him, sir. Won’t be able to hold it long...”
The doors hiss closed and Spock keeps his eyes fixed firmly forward, as though this might be the day that optimism trumps experience and the emotional maelstrom that is barely contained by the stocky Scottish body beside him might burn itself out for want of reciprocal investment. It does not, of course. With a small pang of resignation, Spock notes the aggrieved expression turned full-face towards him, viewed from his peripheral vision, and braces himself.
“Mr. Spock, we cannae project that kind of shield for more’n a couple of minutes,” he says in a tone of breathless horror.
“I am aware, Mr. Scott,” says Spock calmly. “As is the Captain.”
“But, Mr. Spock...”
“Mr. Scott,” he says firmly, “our orders are clear. Let us execute them quickly and efficiently and there will be no cause for concern.”
The lift slows and the doors open. Spock exits at a brisk stride that the Engineer matches with an air of tightly-wound energy that, thankfully, he chooses to discharge in motion rather than complaint. McCoy is waiting in the transporter room with the crumpled air of a man who has been sleeping until very recently. “What’s all this about the engines blowing up?” he says by way of greeting, and Spock readily relinquishes the Chief Engineer’s objections to a more amenable ear.
“Some daftie freighter wi’a death-wish wants to fly himself into an asteroid...” he starts off, in the tones of one grievously afflicted, and at that moment the ship’s lights abruptly dim and go out.
There follows a difficult 1.7 seconds during which Spock has ample time to gauge the rising note of panic that fills the transporter room like a whine and prepare for the onslaught of emotion that will surely follow. He is pleasantly surprised to note that when the power flickers insouciantly back on, the Chief Engineer abruptly mobilizes and begins urgently working at the transporter controls.
“Bridge to transporter room,” comes the Captain’s voice over the comm. “If you don’t start beaming that crew over soon...”
“They’re not answering our signal,” says Scott, all trace of panic elided now into a very focused determination. “There’s nothing to lock onto...” There is a sudden crackling fizz that certainly bodes nothing good, and the lights dim again.
“There goes another one,” mutters McCoy. “How many of those can we take, Scotty?”
“You dinnae want to know,” says Scott as the lights come back up.
Spock moves quickly to the transporter console as the rebooted power reveals a materialization pattern locked in the data banks. It is faint but unmistakable, and he works quickly with the Engineer to boost the signal enough to materialize its source.
“Scotty!” says the Captain. “We’re getting a distress signal.”
“Locked onto something, Captain,” says Scott, which is perhaps a little premature, but Spock boosts the gain as high as it will go and suddenly the beam energizes and a figure begins to coalesce on the platform. It is a humanoid male, flamboyantly dressed, and as the signal solidifies he trains an evaluative gaze on his welcoming party.
“Meaning no ingratitude, gentlemen,” he says in the strangest dialect of Standard that Spock has ever heard, and that includes Scott’s often incomprehensible brogue, “but just where is it I find meself?”
McCoy answers. “You’re aboard the USS Enterprise.”
The figure animates, smiling widely and stepping off the platform. “Ah, it’s really a darlin’, beautiful ship, isn’t it?” he says. “Oh - the name, gentlemen is Walsh. Captain Leo Walsh.”
“How many more in your crew?” asks Spock warily.
“Just... a few more,” says Walsh with a smile that fails to disguise the fact that he has not actually answered the question.
“Your vessel’s breaking up, man!” says Scott. “If we don’t get them over here right now...”
“Well, we couldn’t be sure you was a friendly vessel, now, could we?” says Walsh. “Ah, but the three of them’ll be in position right about by now.”
With an expansive smile, he moves to stand behind the transporter console as Spock boosts the gain as high as it will go. Another disturbing fizzling announces exactly what the ship’s power supplies think about that particular maneuver, but the lights, fortunately, remain stable. “Scotty,” comes Kirk’s disembodied voice, “how many of them did you get aboard?”
“Only one, sir,” says Scott, “but we’ve locked onto three more.”
The signal is unstable and the transporter pad whines as it struggles to reassemble the materialization pattern. “What’s wrong?” says McCoy, in the tone of a man who’s seen first hand what can happen when a beam destabilizes halfway through rematerialization.
“I don’t know, sir,” says Scott. “With those three lithium crystals gone...”
“It may take longer on battery power,” says Spock, as McCoy interrupts with a terse, “I never did trust this thing in the first place...”
“Bridge to transporter room,” says Kirk. “Their vessel has been hit by an asteroid. It’s gone. Did you get the crew off?” There is a note of tension in his voice and Spock understands: they are three crystals down and running on battery power. The ship is, essentially, crippled, and if the crew of the freighter has perished then the Enterprise has been placed under unacceptable risk for nothing.
“Not yet, sir, but we’ve hooked onto something,” says Scott, and Spock throws the gain in an effort to activate the final materialization protocol. With something that another man might categorize as relief, he watches three forms begin to solidify on the platform.
It is immediately apparent that to call them ‘crew’ is stretching the definition of the term.
The situation segues seamlessly from the bizarre to the ridiculous as Spock leads the parade through the corridors from the transporter room to the turbolift, and Mr. Walsh’s crew trail a comet-tail of slack-jawed, bug-eyed rubbernecking in their wake that mirrors the vacant look of hypnotized enchantment worn by Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott when they left the two of them behind. Spock will not deny that there is something distinctly troubling about the women, and he has marked a degree of imprecision in his thought processes since they came aboard that he cannot account for logically. This troubles him. Walsh’s wolf-like demeanor as he observed the CMO and the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise ogling his associates like teenage boys at a peep-show has added an additional layer to his concern, and he will welcome the opportunity to discuss the affair with the Captain.
There are matters that Spock prefers to leave to the discretion of the crewmembers involved, but certain events during Kirk’s tenure have rendered speculation inevitable, and he is reasonably that the relationship between the Captain and his former helmsman extended beyond friendship. It is something that Spock noted first with equanimity and later with growing concern. He is not able to remember the fleeting looks that passed, unseen, from Kirk to Lieutenant Mitchell without a flare of discomfort at the tightly-leashed distress manifested within them, nor can he entirely suppress an empathetic tug of sadness when he remembers the gray blanket of grief that surrounded Kirk in the days after Mitchell’s death. Suffice it to say, he is quietly confident that the Captain will not be subject to the same vacuous gawking as the majority of his crew when presented with Mr. Walsh and his friends.
He stands with his back deliberately offered to the other occupants of the lift as the doors close and it speeds off towards its destination. Nevertheless, as is inevitable, Mr. Walsh is unable to resist striking up conversation.
“You’re part Vulcanian, aren’t ya?” he says. Spock makes a noise of consent that he hopes, without expectation, will be sufficiently dismissive as to forestall any further attempts at communication. Vulcanian is an archaic term and Spock suspects that it is designed to lend an air of the colorful, old-fashioned rogue to Mr. Walsh’s persona, which is beginning to look a little too constructed to be entirely believable. The part component is worrying, and implies a little more fore-knowledge of the Enterprise’s First Officer than, perhaps, Walsh might wish to project. “Ah well then, a pretty face doesn’t affect you at all, does it? That is, not unless you want it to.” Spock sighs and rocks back on his heels. It is unclear as to whether Walsh is seeking to provoke, interrogate, or is simply uninformed - and even this ignorance may well be an affectation. “You can save it, girls,” Walsh continues, relentlessly. “This type can turn himself off from any emotion.”
Provocative, then. Besides, Walsh must know that it is not emotion that the women engender, but something entirely more suspect. He has noted a frivolity in his demeanor in these past moments, something that he hesitates to label giddy, but which his controls are suppressing only inadequately. On several occasions, he has very nearly smiled. Spock makes a note to discuss the matter with Dr. McCoy at the first opportunity.
Assuming that the Doctor is coherent when the first opportunity presents itself. This may, Spock reflects, be overly optimistic.
The Captain is bent over his desk, signing off on some paperwork when Spock enters his quarters. “The Commander of the transport to see you, Captain,” he announces with a measure of sardonic amusement that he can only attribute to relief.
“Good,” says Kirk distractedly. “Now, if you don’t mind telling...”
He breaks off as Walsh’s associates enter his quarters with that same proprietary confidence that has swept them through the corridors on their short journey across the ship. Discomfort flares quickly on the Captain’s face and is quickly suppressed in favor of a steely distaste. Spock is gratified to note that he displays none of the slack-muscled confusion of the Doctor or the Chief Engineer, but rather the more proper astonishment at Walsh’s unconventional choice of companion.
The Captain’s great gift is his ability to lead by example. It seems to be extremely difficult to sustain illogical activity in the face of an imperturbable commander, and it has proved - somewhat illogically - to be a more effective deterrent to chaos than simply explaining why a certain behavior is not rational. Spock suppresses a small trickle of satisfaction as he acknowledges that sanity prevails somewhere aboard, and Kirk is unaffected by the presence of Walsh and his female associates. He expected nothing less, of course.
The derangement continues overnight and into the next day, as the ship limps towards their new destination on Rigel XII in search of replacement lithium crystals. Mr. Scott sequesters himself away from the influence of Walsh and his disconcerting associates and proceeds to fret himself into a potential cardiac event. His face is gray and bloodless when he arrives the next morning, along with the rest of the senior staff, to sit on the hearing convened to investigate Walsh’s conduct. Although, Spock notes, his color quickly returns under their scrutiny.
That Leo Walsh should prove to be other than he claims - namely Harcourt Fenton Mudd, owner of one impressive criminal record and precisely no Ship’s Master’s Licenses - is unsurprising. Less expected is the computer’s failure to detect any abnormal readings from the women present, leaving Spock at a persistent loss to account for his own vague sense of euphoria and the rather more substantive crippling waves of bliss that continue to incapacitate his immediate colleagues. The Captain, he is gratified to note, remains materially unaffected. It will take more than a synthetically-enhanced beauty to distract James Kirk from his ship; the Captain’s great gift is his ability to discern and reject artifice where other men are helpless to resist.
At least Mr. Mudd has reverted to something approaching comprehensible Standard with the resumption of his legal identity.
The effect of Mudd’s women on the crew continues to grow and continues to defy explanation. Spock notifies the miners on Rigel XII of the Enterprise’s imminent arrival and proceeds to Engineering to consult with Mr. Scott over a couple of temporary patches he has devised that may achieve greater efficiency from the ship’s batteries until the lithium crystals can be replaced.
He finds the Chief Engineer bent over the terminal in his small office, flicking mournfully through the morning’s readouts. “Ah, Mr. Spock,” he says by way of a greeting, “It’s barely made a dent in the power drain. Engine performance is down to forty-seven percent. The poor bairns just cannae keep up at all.”
“Forty-seven per cent is above the minimum threshold required to reach Rigel XII,” says Spock, and is rewarded with a tortured expression of purest mortification.
“Aye, she’ll make it,” sighs Scott, “but Heaven only knows what state she’ll be in when she gets there.”
Spock lowers himself into the spare seat and steeples his hands, considering which approach is least likely to result in further anthropomorphization. It is a precarious business. Finally, he settles on, “Nevertheless, a determination of the extent of engine damage will be considerably easier to effect once we are able to observe efficiencies under full power, Mr. Scott. It is not logical to speculate in advance.”
“Logical?” comes the hyperbolic wave of grief. Spock lowers his head so that this steepled fingers brush his lips and waits for it to pass. “Ah, Mr. Spock, ye cannae deal in logic with the engines of a starship.” Spock says nothing, since he was under the impression that logic is, in fact, precisely the driving force behind the operation of the antimatter conversion engine. “Besides, there’s little enough logic running this ship just now, or hadn’t ye noticed?”
“I can assure you, Mr. Scott,” he says calmly, “that, whatever temporary disturbance may pertain amongst some of the senior officers aboard--” and he resists adding, yourself included, only with the application of enormous restraint “--the Captain and I are fully competent and exercising complete command capability.”
“I dinnae doubt it fer a moment,” says Scott quickly, “but Mr. Spock, you must surely have noticed the effect of that Eve wan on Captain Kirk? When she threw hersel’ at him in the hearing room...”
“Allow me to reassure you, Mr. Scott,” says Spock coldly, “that the Captain is no more affected by Ms. McHuron’s presence than am I. And you would do well to confine your speculation to the matter of our depleted power capability.”
For a moment, the Engineer is speechless and Spock resists checking over his shoulder to see if, however improbably, one of Mudd’s associates has materialized behind him. Then, abruptly, Scott closes his gaping mouth and says, “Aye, sir. Must hae been imaginin’ it.”
“I believe so, Commander,” says Spock, rising to his feet. “The Captain has a singular gift for ignoring distractions in the pursuit of his duty. If there’s nothing else?”
Scott shakes his head. “Just the crystals, sir. We’ll be needin’ them sooner rather than later.”
“I shall expect your regular report,” says Spock, and sweeps out.
The bridge is in an advanced state of entropy. When Farrell misses his order for the fourth time, the building geyser of frustration finally erupts and the Captain vents a portion of the dissatisfaction that Spock had detected upon exiting the turbolift. He resists the urge to leave the science console, given that there is nothing new to report, and contents himself with observing the Captain’s interaction with Dr. McCoy, who stands on the lower tier, apparently lost in thought.
“Did you examine them?” asks Kirk in a low tone. “Did you--” a small hesitation “--examine Eve?”
The switch to the less formal title is as startling as it is unexpected. Spock wonders when she ceased to be Ms. McHuron.
“She refused,” says McCoy.
“Well, come on!” says the Captain. “You’re the doctor.” It earns him a pointed look but no comment, and the Captain tactically retreats. “What is it?” he wonders. “Is it that we’re tired and they’re beautiful?” A beat. “They are incredibly beautiful.”
This is news. Spock combs through his memory in search of any hint of partiality displayed by the Captain since the women came aboard and comes up blank. He experiences a trickle of alarm and ruthlessly suppresses it.
“Are they, Jim?” asks McCoy, giving voice to Spock’s own scrambling thoughts. “Are they actually more lovely, pound for pound, measurement for measurement, than any other women you’ve known? Or is it that they just - well - act beautiful...? No, strike that, strike that...”
The Doctor’s observations tally closely with Spock’s own, but his manner of expressing them is typically circuitous. Spock allows himself a small measure of satisfaction.
“What are they, Bones?” says the Captain warily.
“You mean are they alien illusions, that sort of thing?” asks McCoy with a hint of sarcasm.
The Captain ignores it. “I asked you first.”
McCoy considers. “No,” he says at last. “An alien smart enough to pull this would be smart enough to keep my medical scanner from going bleep.”
“I don’t follow you,” says Kirk, not unreasonably.
Another beat. “I don’t either,” admits the Doctor.
There is little time to ponder the implications of the hushed conversation on the bridge. Kirk is restless and irritable as they approach Rigel XII and execute the complicated maneuvers required to bring them into orbit under battery power alone. Spock watches the Captain carefully but is unable to find any indication of the enchantment he professed to McCoy, however buried under layers of anxiety and frustration. He is the model of his usual efficiency as he gives orders for a representative party of the mining encampment to be beamed aboard as soon as their orbit passes over the tiny settlement.
Spock responds to Kirk’s summons as they wait for the mining party to beam aboard and finds him contemplative in his quarters, passing a stump of ruined crystal between his hands.
“Ah, Mr. Spock,” says Kirk, smiling his greeting. “Come in, sit down. I have an idea that these miners have scented blood and I could do with an imperturbable sidekick during negotiations. How would you like to play bad cop?”
“Captain?” says Spock, but his response is an expansive grin and a wave of the hand.
“Old Earth turn of phrase,” says Kirk cheerfully. He holds out the mineral in his hand as Spock lowers himself into the spare seat. “Hard to believe it all boils down to this, isn’t it? It looks as though it ought to be on display in a museum, not buried in the bowels of a starship engines.”
Spock regards the blackened rock in his hands. “Even burned and cracked, they are beautiful,” he agrees. “Destroying them was a shame.”
“Not at all, Mr. Spock,” says Kirk easily. “The choice was burning this lithium crystal or the destruction of another man’s ship.” And it will always be thus, Spock reflects: for Kirk, the truest beauty is in the preservation of life. He cannot imagine that the illusory charms of Eve McHuron can have affected the Captain in the manner he claims.
The door buzzes, and a young Ensign announces the arrival of the mining party: the chief, Childress, and Gossett, his associate. They enter, grim and unsmiling, as the Captain rises to his feet.
“I’m James Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise,” he says by way of greeting. “This is my Science Officer, Mr. Spock.”
Childress offers a cursory nod. “Let’s get right to business,” he says brusquely. “You want lithium crystals and we’ve got them.”
If the Captain is disconcerted by the abrupt address he gives no sign. “Fine, I’m authorized to pay an equitable price,” he says.
“We’re not sure they’re for sale, Captain,” says Childress. “We might prefer a swap.”
There is a loaded pause. “What did you have in mind?” says Kirk, although Spock is reasonably certain that they have both arrived at the same conclusion already.
“Mudd’s women,” confirms Childress.
Oh dear. Spock allows himself a tiny, internal sigh of resignation and prepares for the inevitable.
Kirk’s smile gradually dissolves. Gossett chooses this moment to make things worse in a tone of well-intentioned camaraderie. “If we like them,” he interjects amicably. “We’d like to have a look at them first, of course.”
“Right,” agrees Childress, with considerably less courtesy. “Trot ‘em out, Captain. Oh, and Harry Mudd,” he adds. “Either way, I’ve agreed to have him released. Charges dropped.”
Spock lowers himself into his seat and braces himself as Kirk looses a humorless little laugh. “Is there anything else?” asks the Captain.
Childress’ face is implacable. “You’ve got no choice, Kirk,” he says. “You beam a landing party down and you won’t find one blessed crystal.”
Well, that does it. Spock steeples his hands as the room turns emotional.
“No deal.” Kirk’s face is turned towards the miners, but even without access to his expression, Spock knows that it will be all steel and ice. If there is one thing the Captain doesn’t like, it’s being forced into a corner. If there’s something he likes even less, it’s sentient beings being treated as though they were other than that. Mr. Childress ought to do his research a little more carefully: he has just ensured that the Captain will do everything in his power to make sure he doesn’t get what he wants. Spock is not an advocate of holding out for the principle of the thing, but he has to admit that Kirk makes a virtue out of illogic. It is quite fascinating to watch.
“You’re a long way out in space, gentlemen,” he says. And here it comes: the rhetorical gymnastics. The Captain’s great gift is his ability to prevail over opposition by convincing his opponent that he actually wants what James Kirk wants after all. “You’ll need medical help, cargo runs, starship protection. You want to consider those facts too?”
Unfortunately, Harry Mudd is possessed of an inveterate hustler’s impeccable sense of timing and chooses this moment to usher in his associates. Ms. Bonaventure makes immediately for Mr. Gossett and Spock is aware that the corners of his lips have quirked upwards again. It is becoming disturbing.
“It’s still no deal!” says the Captain pugnaciously, and Ms. McHuron’s face snaps around to look at him. At that moment, unfortunately, the cabin lights flicker and dim.
In an undertone, Spock says, “Conserving batteries, sir. Half power.”
Mudd pounces. “I’m told they have only three days of orbit left before they start spiraling in,” he says with all the exaggerated concern of a man who knows perfectly well that he has won. He tuts solicitously. “I do hate to see you suffering such a situation, Captain. But truth is truth - and the sad fact is, you will deal. Sooner or later you’ll have to.”
“We’re busy,” says Childress, “Mr. Kirk.”
Naturally, the Captain has not accepted defeat. Even if the ship’s future did not depend upon coming to an arrangement with the miners, Spock would have expected nothing else. However, the Enterprise’s orbit is becoming precarious and Mr. Scott is progressing towards some considerable period of recuperation in sickbay if his current levels of agitation persist, and they are almost out of options. It has already become necessary to close down life support in part of the crew quarters and cycle ship-wide light levels to fifty percent. This has bought them hours only. Spock knows that his expertise is needed on the bridge, if only to persuade the ship’s computers not to panic, but the Captain’s face had that set look about it that Spock has learned to interpret as an unspoken request, and he followed him without a second thought to the transporter room. Belatedly, he wonders if this is, in fact, how friendship manifests: concern over logic. It did not occur to him to allow Kirk to beam down alone.
Mudd and his associates have joined the miners in the main recreational area of the tiny settlement that encompasses the entire population of Rigel XII. From his position across the room, Spock hears the contempt in Childress’ dismissal and the radiant sting of Kirk’s frustration as he approaches.
Knowing that it will not be well-received, he says, “We don’t have the time to spare, Captain.”
“You got a better idea?” snaps Kirk.
Spock does not. He follows the Captain’s gaze to where it has wandered over the diptych of Childress and Ms. McHuron at the window, staring out into the sandstorm beyond, and understands that the Captain’s temper is at least partially as a result of his distaste for the nature of the trade to which he is being forced to agree. Spock cannot help reflecting on the fact that, one way or another, it will be extremely beneficial to the smooth running of the ship when Eve McHuron and her friends are no longer aboard.
As if on cue, a fight breaks out for possession of Ms. Kovacs’ company. With a certain sense of inevitability, Spock is less than 0.8 seconds behind his Captain in leaping in to prise the men apart, and Ms. McHuron takes advantage of the confusion to burst into tears and bolt from the room. It takes Spock 0.337 seconds to alter his direction mid-stride and head for the door; he is there almost before Kirk. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and if someone comparatively defenseless charges off into danger, the very laws of motion predict that James Kirk will follow. And Spock understands physics, at least as well as he understands his Captain.
The search for Eve McHuron has been in progress for 7.57 hours and the ship’s power drain has achieved a critical level. The infra-red probes have cut through the batteries like a hot knife through butter, and the ionized atmosphere has put further pressure on scanners that can barely read past the troposphere under the stormy conditions that plague the planet’s surface. The Captain is sorely in need of sleep, but Spock understands that he will not rest while the situation remains uncertain.
They have forty-seven minutes of power left. Mr. Scott appears to have aged several years in the past few hours, and the time to call off the search and beam down to the settlement to demand replacement crystals will soon be upon them.
However, Spock knows his Captain. There is one way to resolve the situation, and that is to find the missing woman. It would be the same for any crewmember, Spock reflects, and the Captain’s concern demonstrates no specific partiality.
“Check traverse three, grid zero four zero,” he says now. Fatigued and dirty from the dust that he has not yet stopped to wash from his face, the Captain rises from the command chair to stand by Spock’s side at the navigation console.
“About 11 miles, bearing one two one from the mining company,” confirms Mr. Farrell.
“That’s Ben Childress’ quarters,” adds Mr. Sulu.
“There’s a heat unit operating there, could be a cook stove,” says Spock.
“Have Mudd meet me in the transporter room,” says the Captain. His voice has taken on the air of determination it habitually carries when he is finally able to transmute hours of restless energy into action.
“Mudd?” says Spock.
“The name of this game,” says Kirk, briefly, and turns on his heel.
“Mr. Spock,” says Scott plaintively as he follows in the First Officer’s brisk stride along the corridor.
Spock reasons that there is no point expediting what will certainly be an emotional outburst and waits for the inevitable. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Scott appears to require some form of input before the process can begin to move towards its conclusion. “Mr. Spock,” he says again.
Spock resigns himself to his inescapable involvement in facilitating Scott’s expression of discontent. On the other hand, he doesn’t have to make it easy. “Mr. Scott,” he says, “I feel certain that you are cognizant of the pressures of time in adhering to our present deadline.”
“Aye, and I feel certain, Mr. Spock, that ye’re cognizant of the fact that there willnae be a Mr. Mudd’s quarters to search if we dinnae get a hold o’ them crystals in the next forty minutes,” counters the Chief Engineer.
“Indeed,” says Spock. “All the more reason to proceed with all possible haste, Mr. Scott. Would you not agree?”
“Ye cannae tell me, Mr. Spock,” says the Engineer, somewhat breathlessly, “that the Captain’s no’ acting like a man possessed when it comes to Eve McHuron.”
“The Captain,” says Spock acerbically, as they pull up outside Mudd’s quarters, “is acting with all proper concern due to any person aboard this ship, crewmember or guest.” Mudd is currently under escort on his way to the transporter room, and the Captain’s parting words to Spock were a rapid, hushed, I don’t care what it takes, Mr. Spock - find out what he’s hiding before we beam down. “I would advise you to remember that his orders are not open to question.”
The door swishes open on a scene of disarray
“Ye must be joking, man,” says Scott, surveying the litter of clothes and crumpled bedding and discarded cosmetics containers and a host of other products that Spock does not presently care to identify. “This is like an explosion in a breeks factory! We’ll be at it all day!”
That particular thought strikes a spasm of pure horror directly through Spock’s soul, but he is satisfied that no trace of it is visible on his face. “Unfortunately, Mr. Scott, we have approximately ninety seconds,” he says. “And fortunately,” he adds, as his eye comes to rest on a small, ornate container, abandoned beneath the desk, “we may not need even that.” He retrieves the box and sweeps his tricorder over its vacant inner shell.
“What is it, Mr. Spock?” says Scott, picking his way somewhat gingerly over several unidentifiable items of lace and silk.
“Fascinating,” says Spock. “The readings indicate that this was, until very recently, a repository for a small but substantial quantity of a chemical compound known colloquially as the Venus drug.”
“The Venus drug, Mr. Scott. A narcotic capable of manufacturing allure. Mr. Mudd and his associates have clearly employed it since they came aboard in order to keep this crew in their thrall.”
He suppresses an alarming surge of relief. This explains everything.
“Enterprise, this is Kirk.”
“Spock here, Captain,” he says.
“Stand by,” says the familiar voice, with possibly a hint of strain. This is nothing compared to the pervasive and comprehensive distress plastered across the face of the Chief Engineer, whose skin has been gradually shading into a distinctly worrying ashen gray as the minutes tick away. Spock carefully turns out of the blaze of his devastated glare and into the comfortable lights and dials of the science console. It is pure fantasy to imagine he feels Scott’s anguished scrutiny stripping layers of flesh from the back of his neck.
The moments count down. The lights, already at forty percent, drop another few luxes. Somebody coughs, not the logical clearing of congested bronchioles, but a muffled, nervous gesture. Spock is too distracted to determine its source.
Without warning, the communications console crackles, distorted by trace magnetism in the atmosphere. “Stand by, Mr. Spock,” says the Captain. “We’re coming aboard - with the lithium crystals.”
Behind him, Scott exhales loudly and with alarming force, and Spock finds himself waiting for the muffled thud that indicates his collapse. Indeed, there is a veritable blast wave of relief radiating across the bridge from the Chief Engineer and Spock braces himself for impact.
“How many coming, Captain?” It is a legitimate question, therefore it is likely he only imagines Mr. Scott’s outraged bluster, stifled just in time. The crystals have been secured, and their passenger manifest is the most pertinent fact regarding the ship’s continuing power issues. It is important to ascertain one way or another if they will be obliged to provide life support for an additional three persons for any length of time, and it is logical to do so now, when preparations can be most effectively made.
And of course the transporter room will have to be apprised of how many locks to establish. There is also this. It is simply logical to ask.
The extent of the Captain’s hesitation is surely quite unnecessary. He must know that preparations are required. It is not logical to delay his answer.
“Two of us, Mr. Spock,” says Kirk abruptly, and the connection is severed. Spock raises an eyebrow, and then realizes that the other is almost certainly Harry Mudd. Unless he has effected an escape - but this is unlikely. The Captain would certainly have mentioned it. Kirk and Mudd, then. He cannot suppress a small trickle of satisfaction at the prospect of returning to a state of orderliness on board. Mudd’s companions, after all, have been most disruptive to the crew.
“That must have been quite a talk you made down there,” says Dr. McCoy. “Ever try considering the patent medicine business?”
“Why should I work your side of the street?” counters Kirk easily.
The Captain appears to be in good spirits - his smile is in place and there is no lingering sense of unease about him. Spock is well aware of the Kirk’s propensity to revisit his dissatisfaction with missions that unsettle him in some way, and he had entertained a brief anxiety that the Captain would regard Ms. McHuron’s decision to remain on Rigel XII as some form of failure on his part. This would not be logical, of course – their hastily-concocted subterfuge worked exactly as planned, and by all accounts the mission has been a success. Ms. McHuron accepted the placebo pill that the Captain offered and was subsequently convinced of the redundancy of the drug itself, and the miners’ hasty marriages to Mudd’s two other associates have been swiftly annulled on the grounds of fraud. Replacement crystals were secured before any major damage was incurred, and the ship is functioning at full efficiency once again. And, perhaps most importantly, Ms. McHuron and her friends are no longer aboard to distract the crew at large. Normalcy has resumed. But Humans, of course, are rarely logical, and Spock has been concerned.
The smile is reassuring, and Spock is content that Kirk shares his satisfaction at the women’s departure. Tonight, they will meet in the gym for Suus Mahna and Spock suspects that he will hold back a little, since the Captain is so obviously fatigued. Kirk has never yet missed one of their sessions where duty has not intervened, and exhaustion will not stop him, but the First Officer has responsibilities to the Captain’s person. He decides that they will not discuss Eve McHuron, just in case.
“I am happy the affair is over,” he says now, crossing the bridge to hand over a PADD for signature. “A most annoying, emotional episode.” The Captain greets the words with a small half-smile that betrays very little, but it is a smile at least.
McCoy thumps his chest elaborately. “Smacked right in the old heart,” he says cheerfully. It was virtually a certainty that Spock’s interruption would provoke some form of retaliation from the Doctor, and he waits for the punchline. “Oh, I’m sorry,” says McCoy. “In your case it would be--” a thump in his side “--about here.”
“The fact that my internal arrangement differs from yours, Doctor,” says Spock evenly, “pleases me no end.”
He accepts the PADD back from the Captain, whose eyes are dancing. Spock is content. But just in case, he chances a glance back across the bridge as the engines engage and the Enterprise begins her balletic sweep out of orbit, and finds the Captain’s eyes locked on his for a moment. In them, he reads only reassurance, no regret. Spock nods once and bends his gaze into the scanners as they break free of Rigel’s gravitational field.
“Ahead full,” says Kirk.