Perhaps every significant encounter he had with Spock would take place in extreme temperatures.
He had left the shuttle at the foot of Mount Seleya to walk up the lowest slope to the tall stone gates which Amanda had told him admitted non-disciples to the outer chamber of the seminary. His very specific and personal discomfort at what he was doing and where he was going was distinctly exacerbated by what he hoped would be any human’s reaction to the physical aspects of the climb.
Amanda had told him there was no need to ascend to the higher peaks and that, in any event, he would not be admitted beyond the first portal – he could not now remember exactly what she had said, but she had given him the distinct impression that he could drop in, gauge Spock’s preferences as between permanent brainwashing and death by intergalactic biological terrorism, and get himself (with or without Spock) back to the Enterprise in time for the scheduled departure from orbit. He wondered, now, whether she had been teasing or whether he had misunderstood. Whether Amanda had become so accustomed to Vulcan standards or whether (this was, of course, his real fear) he had changed so much, lost his edge during the months on Earth that he found himself unaccountably unable to run up a precipitous slope which he estimated as at least 400 metres, in a temperature of over 40 degrees, in anything like the timescale he had envisaged. To say nothing of a vague, unformed desire to appear in front of Spock and the seminary officials clothed in some sort of dignity, instead of wreathed in sweat.
Needless to say, there was nowhere any further up the slope he could possibly have left the shuttle, and it had been made very clear to him that convention did not permit transporter use within Gol.
He supposed you could add it to the list and that it didn’t really matter very much beside the other things that convention did not permit. Jokes, affection, irrationality. Guava juice and brandy. The joy of winning at chess when you had deliberately, taking unforgivable advantage of a bone-deep knowledge of your opponent, led him up the garden path. The joy of losing in the same circumstances. Human beings. Families and friends. Fun. Pretending not to understand Standard idiom, for absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Standard idiom. The memory of times when these things had mattered; when you had been happy (whether or not you might be prepared to admit it); when you had found something in someone else which you had up until then not been aware that you were missing. The ties that bind. Frankly, once you’d eliminated all of those, you wouldn’t really miss the odd transporter effect, really.
Other than today, of course, when it would have come in rather useful.
Half way up, he paused, telling himself he was admiring the view rather than remembering how to breathe. He let his eyes travel over the huge and majestic (if bleak) craggy landscape which Spock presumably saw every day, and wondered all over again about the unlikelihood of their friendship, given the differences between their homes and the worlds which had created them. He wondered if Spock had thought about this, when he had come to find Kirk in Iowa, in the snow. And, against all the odds, they had managed to rediscover each other then. Suddenly cheered, he turned and attacked the last part of the slope.
In part to distract himself from the sheer effort of the last hundred metres, he thought hard about Spock’s likely reaction, about what on earth he was going to say. The Vulcan had never replied to his last message. Kirk had checked as soon as they had returned from Mila space but there had been nothing, and he couldn’t, in all honesty, blame Spock. He had said “ I am writing to ask you not to go to Gol” but then he had read the Mila reports and asked Saredin to keep Spock safe, at all costs, even if that had meant Gol, after all. He had said to Spock “The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol” but neither of them had ever managed to come up with anything else of any permanence. Perhaps the only comfort in that reflection was that, if he could actually persuade Spock to leave Gol, the logical consequence would be a return to the Enterprise – perhaps permanently, if the word held any meaning for any of them at this juncture. He could hardly remember now why it had felt so wrong to allow Spock to accept an effective demotion in order to serve again as his First – the irony of accepting his own temporary demotion to serve as captain appeared to be a rather insurmountable obstacle to using that argument ever again.
Spock, back on the ship as his First Officer. Despite everything, Kirk broke into a trademark grin at the thought.
And then he thought about what that would mean – about the personal and galactic apocalypse into which he was proposing to take the Vulcan.
The effort eased, suddenly, and he looked up to find that the ground had levelled. He had reached the gates.
He gave his name and requested that Spock, son of Sarek, be told that of his arrival. He bit back the instinct to say Captain Spock or Commander Spock – he knew enough to be able to refer to his friend in what would be acceptable parlance on his home planet, but it still stuck in his throat that Spock’s world paid so little regard to his off-world achievements – or, for that matter, to those of any Starfleet officer.
He was still unsure of whether Spock would agree to see him, but this part of it seemed straightforward enough. No one had told him it wasn’t visiting time or that his presence was forbidden, or even unwelcome. He was offered a drink of water and given a seat by a window overlooking the landscape through which he had just climbed. From where he sat, he could just make out the Copernicus, waiting for him at the foot of the hill – a piece of the familiar and the man-made in this very different, ancient world. He wondered, for the first time, whether his approach had been witnessed – by the scholars, by the students; by Spock. He felt as though the whole history of his friendship with Spock had telescoped to this one time of waiting. And then he suddenly wondered if the schedule of the institute would be too inflexible to permit unexpected visitors, whether he would have to wait for hours, and what on earth he would do in that event, because his easily made excuse to Saredin would then be true – there’s just no time to go to Gol. Whatever the rights and wrongs of taking Spock out of Gol, nothing in the parameters of the mission would permit any serious delay to check whether the ship’s former First Officer was going to be joining them. Perhaps that would have its advantages – he suddenly realised that in all the physical effort of the climb and in the process of letting his mind wander back over the past couple of years, he had given absolutely no thought to what he would say to the Vulcan.
There was the sound of a very soft footfall behind him; he looked up and Spock stood before him.
He was Spock but he looked utterly alien. Ironically, given the events since the Halcyon incident and the ground that he and Spock had covered and re-covered in terms of Kirk’s own respect for the Vulcan people, it had been many years since Kirk had looked at Spock and thought of him as being anything other than simply his friend and fellow officer. Now, the person in front of him was Vulcan. There was no part him which spoke of Spock’s humanity; nothing very identifiable which spoke even of Spock. His hair was long, his face thin and sun-darkened. He wore a long white robe, which reminded Kirk of long-reviled Earth cults, of uniform, of assimilation, and his heart sank, even as the objective part of his brain said to him “What about Starfleet uniforms?”
He dismissed the thought, stood up and said quietly, but knowing the years-old memories in his voice would be audible to a Vulcan ear,
Spock inclined his head, said nothing. Kirk searched the Vulcan face, but found nothing. Worse than Stage One, Category One. This was not a Spock he had ever known. His heart fell further. What on earth was he doing here? Even if a miracle happened and Spock agreed to come, how could this acolyte function on the bridge of the Enterprise? He felt a passing irritation with Saredin, with Amanda, both of whom had asked him to extricate Spock for the mission and both of whom were in a better position than he to know what sort of person would be waiting for him at Gol. Their personal considerations aside, his overriding duty was to the mission and for the first time he questioned whether Spock’s involvement would be an advantage or not.
He resolutely ignored all personal considerations of his own. He was here now, he was committed. He would see the conversation through.
“Spock – it’s immensely good to see you; more so than I can say. I wish the circumstances were different – certainly for me and for all of us and including having to disturb you here. I hope you will understand and forgive the intrusion once I have explained. I have a question to ask you. Could we speak somewhere private?”
“We will be undisturbed here, Admiral.”
The voice was not Spock’s. It was without inflection, without tone. Ever since Stage Two, during which period he had rapidly forgotten that Stage One had ever existed, Kirk had always been surprised by those who professed to find Spock difficult to read. Once you had invested any time whatsoever in listening to him (and Kirk had spent absolutely none during Stage One and rather a lot in Stage Two), it was actually a lot easier to read Spock than anyone else. Kirk might have been hard put to explain exactly why this was. It might be that if you habitually wear your heart on your sleeve, your voice and expression included a whole range of messages and emotions which were actually only of passing relevance to the matter at hand. Spock, on the other hand, tended to reveal exactly what he thought in a more focused and direct way, and finding out what he was feeling was rather like following a trail of breadcrumbs to the gingerbread house. Spock always left breadcrumbs; exactly what they looked like or how many of them there were simply depended on how he felt or how quickly he wanted you to get to the house. It was as simple as that.
There were no breadcrumbs here, in this hallway at the door to Gol.
He swallowed, noticing in passing that Spock had got his title wrong. This must be a first. And he couldn’t even begin to bring himself to tease him about it.
He snapped back to reality, quickly. If Spock was unaware that he had taken a temporary demotion, there were likely to be a lot of other things of which he was unaware. Kirk’s mind boggled, briefly, at the existence of a school of discipline that blocked out all external news from personal milestones to impending galactic disaster – and at the fact that Spock, of all people, with his brilliant, discerning, enquiring mind had voluntarily joined this community – and then he cut the thought off, dead, and went back to being James Kirk.
Rapidly, in the voice of the starship captain and a thousand briefings which he had given the Vulcan in other times, other realities, trusting that Spock was correct that they could not be overheard (whilst reflecting with an anger he knew was discreditable that it would do the Masters no harm at all to muse on their potential imminent demise), he gave the outline of developments since the moment, still only days ago, when he had seen the word Soltar on a backlit screen in San Francisco and started in train the course of action which had ended up with him facing his former First Officer in a stone clad hall on the lower slopes of Mount Seleya.
He left out only Amanda, and what she had asked him.
Saredin he included. With a truth but also a cowardice he knew was less than he owed Spock, he said:
“Saredin’s recollection is that he gave you a promise – that he said he would make you aware if there were an escalation in the Mila situation. That’s why I’m here.”
And then his narrative, which had up until that point been fluent, hesitated slightly, and he added the other truth.
“That’s not all, Spock. Of course, I would more than welcome your support on this one.”
He stopped; looked expectantly at Spock with absolutely no idea of what the Vulcan would say. There was no reaction at all in the dark face, the shadowed eyes. He might just as well have been reading a weather forecast. Weather forecasts on Vulcan must be a particular waste of time, he reflected. Not a thriving industry in a desert climate. Today it will be 45 degrees and cloudless. Tomorrow, too.
“I will return very shortly,” and was gone. Kirk blinked.
What did that mean?
Clearly, life at Gol had little time to spare for the niceties of Would you mind if... or I hope it’s OK if...let alone, of course, Sir, I request permission to...
Were it anyone but Spock, Kirk could have conceived a reaction that included a bolt from the room. That, presented with the enticing prospect of death by haemorrhage or of the loss of the power of thought – surrounded, moreover, by a bunch of irrational human beings bringing with them the tangle of past emotional allegiances, now forsworn and therefore distasteful – that the logical response would have been to sequester yourself in the nearest shrine, the most secure sanctuary. Or, at the very least, that “shortly” actually meant enough time to consider all other options very seriously indeed.
But this was Spock and Spock, in whatever frame of mind, always chose his words with precision, had never been known – at least, by Kirk – to say anything other than precisely what he meant. That meant he would, indeed, return shortly. And it suggested a whole range of the possibilities of return.
Return to this room, to give a decision to Kirk, certainly.
Return to active service? To the Enterprise?
The time he had to ponder the range of possibilities of this particular example of Standard vocabulary was very brief – could have been identified by his collocutor as eight point nine five minutes. Just as he was wondering if he should call the ship – and if it was one of those things, like brandy and laughing, which was against the convention at Gol – Spock was back. In his time at Gol, he appeared to have learned a whole new way of entering and leaving rooms, in which the use of his legs and feet seemed to be the least noticeable part of the process. He appeared and disappeared almost as though by transporter beam. No wonder convention argues against beaming in and out of Gol, Kirk thought, in an attempt at humour. It’s nothing to do with Luddism. It’s the Vulcan aversion to superfluity and duplication. They don’t actually need it.
The only difference from Spock’s previous appearance was the addition of a small canvass bag, which he carried over one shoulder. Kirk’s heart jumped, suddenly. There could only be one reason for a bag.
“I offer my services,” Spock said. His eyes met Kirk’s. They were black, deep and entirely without an iota of personal memory or connection. He might as well have met the eyes of one of the bulkheads on the ship, or perhaps one of the stone doors to the seminary.
The ease of the victory, the lack of any resistance, the speed of Spock’s assent – all these derailed Kirk completely. And suddenly, for the first time, he diverged from the purely professional – he spoke direct to the friend who was there in body if not in spirit, said, feeling profoundly ridiculous:
“Of course, you know I never wanted you to come here. I need to tell you that my coming here today has nothing to do with that – I couldn’t stop you coming and I cannot make you leave. It’s always been your choice; I suppose I’m asking for the assurance that you are leaving freely and not because I am pressuring you.”
He stopped. Spock regarded him without the slightest change of expression and without a word. Kirk hesitated, and then went on:
“And I need you to be fully aware that there is real danger here – for all of us, but particularly for Vulcans and most of all for you.”
He realised immediately that he could have said nothing more calculated to annoy Spock, to provoke him, and he slightly drew back his shoulders, expecting not the ironic tease he might once have earned but a cool reproof, a stern challenge.
But once again, there was nothing in the sculptured features. Perversely, this refusal to condemn shook Kirk more than anything else. What on earth was left, if you took away all personal reaction, all individual history? Aptitude and technical skill? He remembered his reflections on the appointment by Starfleet of McCoy and himself to the command team of this mission, the value attached to teamwork and rapport – wondered how you built rapport, after Gol.
The Vulcan simply stood, waiting.
Waiting for what?
For Kirk to say something sensible? Something logical?
For Kirk to go?
Even the early months of the Seleya mission, when he had got Spock so spectacularly wrong – even the Spock who had turned away from him in the transporter room of the Seleya two and a half years ago was light years from this expressionless stranger. And what did that mean, he thought suddenly, to Spock’s demand for trust without words? And could he, Kirk, deliver?
Kirk let his shoulders go, just a small fraction, as the weight settled on them of a stage so far beyond his friendship with Spock that he could not even see the map back to Stage One – felt the weight drag, just a little, and then resolutely picked it up and turned slightly.
“All right, Commander. I left the shuttle at the bottom of the hill. Let’s go.”
And it was only as he stepped down the slope, thanking God for the small mercy of not having to climb up with Spock and therefore not having the Vulcan witness his earlier breathless ascent, aware at the same time of the miracle of the so-familiar feel of Spock behind him, at his shoulder – it was only then that he remembered that this would be the first time he had been in the Copernicus with Spock since their conversation in the Enterprise hangar bay, after the return from Gamma Fortuna.
Nothing is permanent except change.
Leaving Gol had therefore been an inevitable part of being at Gol since his arrival.
Therefore, nothing about following Kirk to the Copernicus was unforeseeable, illogical or in any way worthy of particular note.
As an example of an informal syllogistic thesis, Spock found this thought pattern reasonably persuasive.
The problem was the application in practice.
Socrates: mankind does not understand what is noble or what is good; men do not know that they do not know. He, Spock, had not known before he went to Gol what he would learn, what he would lose, what he would be. Nor had he known, those eighteen months in Gol, what it would mean to come to the end of that seclusion, to interact with the outside world, to be called back to what it had once meant to serve under Jim Kirk.
Surak had written of logic as journey and destination and he, Spock, had seen no logic in going backwards – specifically, in going back to the Enterprise. And yet here he was, a bare half hour after Kirk’s arrival, descending from the gates of Gol behind his commanding officer.
The months at Gol had opened Spock’s mind to a depth of study and learning of the philosophies on a fundamentally different plane to any he had known before. The student in him had been dazzled by the panorama of scholasticism, the calibre of the minds whose wisdom had been made available to him. He had been provided with a panoply of writers and thinkers, had worked his way through encyclopaedic volumes entirely new to him, had learned to read texts formerly familiar to him in utterly different ways, sat at the feet of those who had received their learning from the Masters, sat at the feet of the Masters themselves, learned to think in colours hitherto undreamed of. For all it bore any relation to previous thinking, it might as well have been in an entirely new language.
He remembered rediscovering, on the Seleya, before he came to Gol, Plato’s theory of forms - the pure and highest form of reality as an abstract metaphysical ideal beside which substance is only shadow and copy. He knew, now, that the learning he had attempted outside Gol had only been a mere suggestion of what was possible, a travesty of the depths he had plumbed with the Masters.
It had been a revelation.
And then the other revelation, the revelation of self.
With the help of the Masters, he had journeyed very deep inside his own mind, to places he had never reached before, never known before - had found himself wondering whether his inability to do so previously had been due to a lack of application or to his human heritage.
He had learned to see all his past choices through the learning he gained at Gol. He had brought to Gol his fractured halves and the first understanding had been that his reconciliation of the two on the Seleya had been a fragile thing, as much a shadow of true harmony as had his previous learning been of true study. His mentor had shown him that what he had previously perceived as the ending of division had in fact been merely the first step on the way to true purity of thought, and that the next step would be a cleansing of not a part of him but of both human and Vulcan halves of the detritus of irrationality, passion and sentiment, reducing both to their essence and then finding that those two essences then fit perfectly together, like planed surfaces, creating a new whole, which was Spock’s true self.
He had been shown that every previous struggle, every error and every moment of pain had been borne of a distraction from this, an inability to think from an undivided core being. In his thoughts, and with the support of the Masters, he had named them: his rejection by his father and their subsequent long estrangement; his failure to feel at home either at the VSA or in Starfleet; weeping in the briefing room in orbit around Psi 2000; Leila, Omicron Ceti lll; Kirk, dead at his feet in the aftermath of the koon-ut-kalifee; his two very different defining journeys on shuttlecraft - the Galileo missionand the Copernicus with Kirk, coming back from Gamma Fortuna.
He had still retained an expectation to leave Gol at some stage, to take forward what he had learned to benefit the two communities, the two worlds to which he belonged. He knew that Gol had given him the strength to do this without inner compromise. But not yet. At the very least, he would stay long enough to achieve kolinahr. It was an ambition which he was not prepared to relinquish, for what it would mean to him and also for what he thought it might mean to the understanding between Vulcan and Earth, that a Vulcan-Human hybrid could gain the highest level of learning from the Masters.
He was not prepared to acknowledge the fundamental self-contradiction that in order to achieve kolinahr, he would have to leave his humanity behind – any more than he was truly aware that at the point Kirk arrived at Gol, the tendrils of the teachings of the Masters, like hypnotic tentacles of an octopus, had crept so far around his own individuality that the unique and outward facing brilliance which had once been the only being in the sector who could reconcile the Romulans and Vulcans was perilously near the point of suffocation.
When he had seen the Copernicus land outside the seminary, without yet knowing who flew her, he had nevertheless been quite sure that her arrival signalled another manifestation of the application to his life of Heraclitus’ law of change. The slight delay in going to meet the unknown visitor had been occasioned by an immediate resort to meditation, an almost fierce embracing of the disciplines as if to reinforce himself against what was to come, a strengthening of every mental fibre to hold on to what he had learned – the quiet, the purity, the knowledge, the strength. And then he had been told that James Kirk was waiting for him.
Even then he had believed he could meet Kirk with equanimity. But his determination had turned to ashes in the face of Kirk’s direct, open gaze and words of friendship and then, later, in the face of his uncertainty over Spock’s acceptance; his obvious clumsiness over the danger to Spock. After eighteen months of sterile discourse, Spock found himself overwhelmed by what, in comparison, seemed the impulse towards a whole range of words – of affection, of reassurance, of challenge – even of humour.
And then, of course, the enormity of the catastrophe which threatened – and more, the shock that the compulsion to go was so immediate. His first assumption, on seeing Kirk, was that his reaction to whatever proposal the human brought would be measured, but there was no hesitation in the need to be part of the mission to Mila, no equivocation in his reluctance to let the Enterprise go without him. The conflict was not in his acceptance of a military and political role, it was in his reluctance to leave Gol and an uncharacteristic confusion as to how to reconcile the two.
It had been as much as he could do to say nothing at all.
He would hold on to what he had gained – he would hold on.
Kirk had said: The possibilities cannot only be the Enterprise or Gol.
At this point, Spock could only see the two polar points of his existence. He would return to the Enterprise with Kirk, he would do what he could to avert the destruction his own acts had helped to bring about, and then he would return to Gol and complete what he had started.
Kirk eyed Spock as he shut down the shuttle engines. Behind them, the hangar bay doors slid closed and the chamber decompressed. Kirk secured the shuttle and turned to enter the ship.
They had been silent on the short trip from the planet. Kirk had felt torn. One the one hand, he was keenly aware of a tide of thankfulness simply to have the Vulcan with him again, against all odds, for the first time in three years, on their way back to the Enterprise, a command team once more. There had been more than one occasion in the past three years when he would have bet serious money against this ever happening. On the other hand, this was not even the Spock he had said goodbye to in Iowa, and he bore not the slightest resemblance to the Spock of Stage Four, Category Four. Combined with Spock’s obvious and utter lack of interest in any form of small talk and Kirk’s own nagging worries about the wisdom of bringing Spock on board, this was sufficient to stifle any exchange of further pleasantries as the shuttle found its way from the harsh planes of Mount Seleya to the cold of space and the gleaming silver of the Enterprise’s hull.
It was only as they wordlessly left the shuttle and stepped through the walkway onto the deck leading to the turbolift that Kirk suddenly remembered Stonn. Unforgivable to let Spock encounter him on the ship without an explanation. But it was too late – exactly as he turned to Spock, his mouth open to speak, he saw Stonn approaching from the other part of the hangar deck. And his chagrin at the moment vanished besides a riveting interest in Spock’s own reaction. You would have to be looking for it, and you would have to have a pretty good understanding of the Vulcan’s body language. But Kirk was an expert on Spock’s body language and there was no question that in the moment of recognition, his First Officer had flinched. Perhaps infinitesimally, but he had definitely flinched.
Coming face to face with Stonn was hardly the way that Kirk had ever planned to bring Spock back to the Enterprise. But the knowledge that Spock was still capable of dismay came as a staggering relief to Kirk, both on a personal basis and in terms of what it meant in relation to Spock’s capacity to make a difference to their almost impossible mission. Spock himself, the other half of what Kirk wanted to be – what he needed to be, was still there, after all. He might be buried deep, but he was still there.