He remembered the first time he had seen the Seleya, the rendezvous in Gamma Sector, the joint dilithium project. He had been so wary of the entire initiative then, so conflicted about Spock and so hostile to Saredin. Ironic that now it felt odd to be proceeding without the Enterprise’s familiar shadow, without the partnership which meant checking in with Saredin twice a day and hearing those deep, level tones.
But it felt energising, almost liberating. This, after all, was what he was used to. The clean isolation of command, his own wits against what lay ahead – and the absolute support of Spock and the bridge crew. This was home. This was as good as it got – would have to be, would have to work, for everyone’s sake.
Spock had been entirely accurate about the range of Starfleet face-to-face communication; just as they reached Faltonia the last visual conversation with Wesley and Ciani died, still-born, with an afterbirth of static. Kirk should have found this reassuring, in terms of the calibre of his bridge crew as he travelled towards what might constitute the greatest threat to the Federation in recent memory, but in fact he found it depressing. He was realising more and more that the gifts that Spock had always brought to Starfleet and to the Enterprise – gifts which he had always known were Vulcan in nature (such as Spock’s eidetic memory) but enhanced by Spock’s particular genius – had only been endearing (as well as being invaluable) because they were accompanied by Spock’s humanity. In the absence of any access to or evidence of the personality beyond the calculations, the three-decimal-point dialogue that so irritated McCoy was distancing to Kirk. Worse, he found himself questioning Spock’s sincerity, wondering what lay behind the calculation which was by such an obvious margin more precise than any practical application required. Once, he would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that its purpose was to tease. Without that possibility, it crossed his mind that the objective was to achieve distance, to hide behind the shield of data, as in fact he suspected it might once have been in the long ago days before Stage One, Category One. And now (though Kirk, feeling the disloyalty, shied away from this thought) it might even have the purpose of erecting the barrier of Vulcan arrogance between the First Office of the Enterprise and the crew who had once been his friends.
There were times when the memory of the Copernicus hung like an albatross round Kirk’s neck, times when trust without words seemed an impossible ask, a mirage, a large mouthful that stuck in his throat. But he was committed; he wasn’t letting go now.
The confusion about Spock - the constant flitting between different theories as to his true state of mind and intentions, the questioning of the meaning behind every encounter – was not reflected in the status of the mission. Once arrived in Faltonian space, the extent of what they faced became all too clear. Six Mila ships were ranged half a day’s travel beyond the system. One was a science ship, three were scout class vessels and two were heavyweight battlecruisers.
Starfleet had done their best to provide effective and speedy backup and Kirk knew that the Republic, Farragut and Lincoln were only about a day’s journey behind, not far from where the Seleya waited for news. The sensible thing to do would be to wait. But Kirk wasn’t paid to be sensible. Sensible had never got him anywhere.
He ordered Sulu to set a course for the Mila flotilla at warp four, and sent back a report to the Seleya, another to the task force and a third to Starfleet HQ. That left only an hour before they would be within hailing distance of Milani, whom Kirk suspected was waiting for him, on the far side of Faltonian space.
Spock had taken the con in order to let Kirk file the reports from his office in privacy, and he left his quarters now to take in Sickbay, en route back to the bridge. He found the facility on high alert. Medical teams had assembled an impressive array of equipment, a steady stream of reports found their way from the labs to McCoy and his assistants, the entire area had an appearance of professional energy, determination and readiness. He said as much to McCoy, who shook his head, in wry admission.
“Don’t let it fool you, Captain. If the worst happens, we’re sunk.”
Kirk regarded him.
“That bad? No chance of fighting it?”
“Fighting it?” McCoy spread his hands. “Look around you, Jim. We get hit by Mila’s box of tricks, my team’ll give it everything they have. I don’t give up – you know that. But we’re scrambling in the dark here. We’re still guessing as to what it is, what it does – whether it even exists – and we’re light years away from figuring out the treatment, even assuming there is any.”
Kirk’s gut tightened.
“The labs –“ he started.
“- the labs have done a good job and they’re still working round what the clock,” McCoy said, bluntly. “We’ve done as much as could be done without a shred of real data. I just need you to know that I don’t think it’s going to be enough.” He sighed, a harsh sound, and looked back at Kirk, his expression lightening infinitesimally. “Look - we’re as prepared as we know how to be: we’ve got a good bank of Vulcan blood, which is probably the single most important thing, and I’m no longer the only person on the ship who knows the difference between Vulcan and human endocrinology and where Spock’s heart is.”
“Bones, no one knows better than I do that you’ve done all you can and will do more than anyone else could. Don’t beat yourself up over it, whatever happens. You’ll find a way – I know you will.”
“Hmm,” McCoy said, his eyes resting on Kirk’s. “You need any lessons on Vulcan biology, Jim?”
“I’m sorry?” Kirk said, startled.
“Wondering if you’ve figured out any more than the rest of us where Spock’s heart is.”
He smiled slightly, and turned to go.
“Could be your last chance, Jim.”
Kirk turned back.
“What are you trying to say, Bones?”
“Only what you know perfectly well. Whatever happens here, Spock’s in the firing line. You know that, I know that and he knows that. What I’ve been trying to tell you is that we may not be able to help him much. That means you, Captain, might want to consider anything you have to say to your First Officer sooner rather than later. I know he’s not exactly in a communicative frame of mind, but frankly at this stage of the game I’m more concerned about you than him. Don’t leave it too late, because it’ll matter to you afterwards.”
Kirk said, more sharply than he had intended:
“I have more to worry about at the moment, Doctor, than exchanging pleasantries with Spock. And so far as that goes – I’ve done all I possibly could to get through to him and it’s his choice. We’re all adults and we have to deal with where we are.”
“Wouldn’t want to insult my CO or disagree,” came the inevitable Georgian drawl, “but in my experience, that particular phrase is only ever used when people are behaving like kids. No” – holding up a hand – “wait a minute, Jim. I didn’t mean to have a go at you. Just to make you aware of the facts.”
“What facts, Bones?” he asked impatiently, still half turned to go.
“Has it occurred to you, Captain,” McCoy asked, very quietly, “that the only real advance we are going to be able to make is when we get the first casualty? And that the first casualty is likely to be your First Officer? More than that – that Spock knows this?”
Kirk’s eyes met the CMO’s in appalled conjecture, and then he had left Sickbay and was on his way to the turbolift.
As Kirk entered the bridge, the owner of an alien endocrinology rose from the command seat and silently receded to the science console. McCoy’s words lingered in Kirk’s mind as his First Officer passed him, and the captain hesitated for the merest half breath. But there was no time, no place to say anything and there was less than no chance that Spock would be prepared to hear it.
Uhura turned, and nothing in her voice suggested anything out of the ordinary as she said, smoothly:
“Sir, the Mila fleet is now within hailing distance.”
He settled himself in the command seat, said:
“Put me on shipwide first, please, Lieutenant,” and, as she silently complied, went on “All hands, this is the captain speaking. As you know, we have now arrived at the far side of Faltonia and we now face the Mila fleet, as we expected. We will not court confrontation and we must draw on every moment of experience, every hard won wisdom to resolve what lies ahead at minimal cost of life. But we must remember, all of us, the far greater cost to the communities and worlds we leave behind and which we are charged to protect, particularly Vulcan. We have been proud to serve alongside the Seleya; we, more than any Starfleet vessel have had cause to learn over the years the value that Vulcan brings to the Federation. Whatever we do now, it must be to protect that heritage and that gift. I know you are with me on this. Thank you. Kirk out.”
He didn’t look at Spock, either as he spoke or afterwards, but he breathed a little easier, all the same. OK, Bones, he thought silently. I’ve said it, the only way I could. Happy?
And the time for personal considerations was past as he said, briskly,
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Please open a channel to the Mila fleet, and send Commander Milani my compliments. And, Uhura – just me on the screen, please. The rest of you: please stay out of sight.”
There was a pause while the bridge crew, as a man, focused more on listening than breathing, and then the screen filled with the image of the being who had dominated his thoughts over the past month and who had never quite left them for the past year and a half. Stonn’s value to the mission was in trying to understand Soltar and his scientific reasoning; this had fed through to the desperate efforts of McCoy’s team and the research that had been the focus of Spock’s and McCoy’s recent work together. But Kirk was a military commander first and foremost; he left technical analysis to his team. What he wanted to understand was his opposite number, Milani, the huge eyes and thin features which now filled the space which Lori Ciani had been the last being to occupy. In the split second before Milani spoke, it occurred to Kirk, in one of those slightly mindless moments when his brain slipped off the leash and went for a walk on its own, that one of the slightly disconcerting things about the Mila was their colouring. None of the politics of diversity of the past three centuries had changed the fact that the picture of innocence in Iowa was still a small child with flaxen hair and a gappy toothed smile. The Mila hair was exactly the same colour as some of the images which came, unbidden into Kirk’s thoughts. But the Mila didn’t smile. And he didn’t think they were innocent, either.
“Captain Kirk. We meet again.”
Kirk pulled himself together.
“Commander Milani. I trust you are in good health. You certainly appear to be surrounded by a good number of friends.”
Milani looked around him, as though counting his crew and fleet, or perhaps almost as though he had been unaware of their presence. He turned back to the screen.
“And you, Captain? I trust I see you also surrounded by old friends?”
Kirk smiled into the taut features.
“You see me surrounded by my crew, Commander. And you’ll be aware that another four ships are a short distance behind me. It’s good to have company out here, a long way from home.”
“Not quite what I meant, Captain,” came the response. “I was wondering whether you had enjoyed a complete reunion, on being reassigned to the Enterprise. Is Commander Spock with you?”
“I appreciate your interest,” Kirk said, courteously. “It’s unusual to be asked for details of individual officers. Might I enquire as to your reason?”
“Come, Captain,” Milani said, impatiently – and Kirk wondered whether, in another species, the comment would have been accompanied by a smirk instead of the brusque tone and, if so, which of the two he would have found more sinister, “not only am I aware of Commander Spock’s presence but you are aware of my reasons for asking. Are your achievements recognised by the hour, that you are so willing to waste time on what is obvious not only to you and me but to most of the sector, let alone our two crews?”
“By the same token,” he countered, “I could ask why you raised the issue in the first place.”
Milani sat back slightly in his seat, as though arriving at the core of the conversation, which Kirk didn’t like at all. Just then, he would have liked to have talked about almost anything other than Spock. A brief list of all his least favourite topics lined up, of their own accord, in his head – his future, after this mission, assuming he survived; his relationship with Lori Ciani – and every other woman he had failed; his mother. He would even, at this point, have discussed his fourth grade exam results with Milani rather than anything about his First Officer, but he knew he was not going to be given the choice. It was par for the course, but strange, nevertheless. Ever since his parting with Spock – that Christmas handclasp in his quarters three years ago, the Vulcan had been the favourite subject of conversation of almost everyone he had encountered.
“Captain, let us be open with each other, you and I. It will be much quicker and easier for everyone.”
“Well, it would at least make a change from our last meeting,” Kirk agreed, “and variety is the spice of life. Would you like to start? I believe I may be slightly ahead of you in this regard.”
For a moment, Milani looked rather as Saredin did, when presented with Kirk’s less formal language, and then went on:
“You are outnumbered, at least for the duration. You are aware that we are accompanied by a science vessel under the command of Soltar of Vulcan and you are also aware of the nature of the scientific innovations for which he is responsible.” Thank God McCoy wasn’t on the bridge. Scientific innovations would have won instant Georgian vociferous commentary. “I believe you are also aware of what lies behind our journey.”
“Why don’t we avoid making assumptions?” Kirk said, quietly. “Yes, I know much of what you say. Tell me more about why, Commander. I have been to your world, I have seen your people and the way you live. You say I am aware of what lies behind your journey. The truth is that I cannot begin to understand what leads a sophisticated benign civilisation on a mission of ethnic slaughter half way across the galaxy.”
Milani’s expression did not change, because it never changed, but in Kirk’s fancy his eyes seemed slightly larger, more deepset, as he said:
“Captain Kirk, your last words speak far more than you realise. To you and all your people Mila are simply a very long way away. It has been very easy for you to sit in Starfleet, on Earth, in the heart of Federation space, in the safety of your vessels and play at politics with the Romulans. For years you have pontificated about Neutral Zone, made speeches and played at arms races. And who has paid the penalty? Not you. Not Earth. Not Vulcan. Our people, Captain – our friends, our women, our children – in every Romulan raid, every incursion into Federation space, every gesture into which you provoked the Empire. And then, because it suited you – because for the first time you and your Federation were threatened – suddenly the Romulans are your friends. And none of this matters any more – not my family, not my comrades, not their pain, not their deaths, because they are half way across the galaxy. There will be no peace, Captain, until this is recognised and until the price has been paid.”
Kirk said, quickly,
“Milani – I know this. I know your people have suffered. And I know your people have been wronged. Ask for a price – you are entitled to do so and asking is where dialogue starts. But don’t decide in advance what the price is. Don’t turn the Mila into the Romulans. Make this an opportunity for real peace, for an end to the cycle of violence. I know you have that vision.”
The deep eyes met his, across the space between the ships. And Milani said, slowly,
“I am a reasonable being, Captain. I will not abandon my weapons, but I will talk before I pull the trigger. My people are not all as reasonable as I am, though, and like you, I answer to others – others who have cause to feel very keenly the betrayal for which the Vulcans are responsible. I must have at least a token before any talks begin.”
“A token of what?” Kirk asked, but he knew before the words left his mouth.
“A token of your sincerity. Beam over Commander Spock to my custody, and we will talk.”
He was aware of a sudden movement behind him to his right and lifted his hand off screen in savage command as he said to the screen, his words more gentle than his action,
“I appreciate the flexibility, Commander, but there will have to be another way. My First Officer is not a fitting object of your vengeance. I suggest you look elsewhere.”
He was right – there was a range of Mila expression, and the briefing he had been given all those months ago was inaccurate. It was so slight as to be almost invisible, but it was there in the change in the size of the eyes. Milani’s features remained immobile, but his eyes narrowed, and he said in glacial tones,
“In every venture, Captain, however many are involved and whatever tribute is paid to teamwork, there is always that one individual without whom an objective would not have been achieved. Your First Officer is responsible almost single-handedly for bringing about the reconciliation between the Empire and Vulcan and Starfleet. In this, he acted without the slightest regard for the well-being of my people, who were not even consulted throughout the process. There will be no peace while Spock enjoys his life and liberty. You will discover our intentions soon enough. Milani out.”
Into the silence which followed, Spock said,
“Captain, request permission to –“
“Denied,” Kirk said, flatly. He was so angry he could not even look at Spock. From Spock’s tone of voice, it was impossible to tell that the feeling was mutual, but Kirk suspected it was, all the same, as his First Officer said:
“With respect, sir, it is illogical and unconscionable to permit the threat to billions of beings, including my own planet, when that threat could be averted by the sacrifice of a single individual – moreover, one who has willingly made himself available for that purpose.”
“Denied,” he said again, in the command tone, still not meeting Spock’s eyes. “Kindly remember, Commander, that this is my ship and that I have just given you two direct orders. I am not prepared to discuss this subject. We do not sacrifice life, no matter what the statistics – we left that behind many centuries ago.”
“Captain,” Stonn interjected. He had forgotten Stonn was on the bridge. “The Mila ship appears to be releasing a gaseous substance directed at this vessel.”
Kirk’s attention shot back to the screen, now empty of Milani. A cloudy, faintly blue fog was emanating from one of the ships in front of the Enterprise; the science vessel, he guessed. He said, sharply:
“Ensure all vents are closed, shipwide, immediately,” and saw Uhura’s fingers dancing on the keyboard, Spock speaking quickly into the intercom. He himself hit the comm button on the arm of his chair and said softly,
“Bridge to Sickbay.”
McCoy’s tones filtered through.
“Sickbay here, McCoy speaking. Anything for me, Captain?”
“The Milani seem to be sending something our way. Think you’d better come up here, Bones, I’d value your thoughts.”
“On my way, McCoy out.”
Kirk swung to his right.
Spock was scanning. He said, slowly:
“There is an unknown element in the gaseous substance which appears to be deflecting scanners, Captain.” There was a pause as he continued rapidly to read data being fed into his station, and then he straightened and turned to Kirk just as McCoy came through the turbolift doors onto the bridge.
“Remote analysis is impractical to any degree of precision, Captain,” he said formally. “I recommend that a sample is obtained to process under laboratory conditions.”
“Sounds like good thinking,” Kirk said, nodding to him. McCoy said:
“And how in the blazes are we going to do that? Jim – that stuff must be more uncontrollable than a Kansas hurricane. Spock may be right, but we can’t risk taking any on the ship. It’ll have a mind of its own.”
“I recommend opening a single air vent to an airtight chamber under secure conditions,” Spock said coolly.
Kirk thought for a minute.
“Airlock Four,” he said. “Chekhov, post a security detail down there, make sure it’s properly sealed before the vent is open and make sure the security team know that no one is to be permitted inside the chamber at any time.”
“Permission to accompany them, Captain,” said Spock. Kirk turned and asked, warily,
“Reason, Commander? You graduated from security details rather a long time ago. And I’d value your thoughts as things develop up here.”
“The situation on the bridge appears to be stable at this point, Captain. The management of the airlock chamber, however, is of paramount importance to the success of this mission and to the preservation of life and I submit that it merits the presence of command personnel.”
Kirk met his eyes; pools of oblique darkness; no clues there at all. But his point was difficult to argue.
Trust without words, he reminded himself. He could think of no three words of which he was more tired. He would almost have preferred “the aircar’s totalled” which he had once had to proffer to his father at the age of fourteen.
“Very well, Mr Spock,” he said, briefly, and Spock stood up and left the bridge.
McCoy wandered over to stand behind him.
“Hope you know what you’re doing, Jim,” he said, softly. Kirk said nothing. The moments dragged, a little, and then Stonn’s voice came through the intercom.
“Captain, this is Stonn. “
He glanced around; he had not realised Stonn had also left the bridge. The full Vulcan was not formally under his command but he would have expected him nonetheless to notify Kirk of his departure, especially given the extent of the exchanges they had built up over the preceding weeks. Stonn had clearly followed Spock deliberately, and Kirk was both grateful for this and, at the same time, uneasy, as if Stonn had guessed something that had evaded Kirk. Of course, Stonn didn’t have three words hanging round his neck the whole time.
“Kirk here. Go ahead, Sub-Commissioner.”
“Captain, the air chamber has been fully sealed and Commander Spock is proposing to order the vent open.”
“Very well, ask him to go ahead,” and then, at that moment, the sense of unease crystallised, and he said, sharply
“Belay that order. Stonn! Spock!”
But no one answered.
“Scotty – I want Deck Four sealed off and all non-essential personnel evacuated, immediately. Sulu, take the con,” he snapped, and was moving to the turbolift, McCoy at his heels, before the words had left his mouth.
The scene outside Airlock Four was unremarkable, except for the absence of the security detail.
Kirk could not remember in all the years he had known Spock being quite so incandescently angry with him. And terrified. That, too. He and McCoy exchanged looks. Both were breathing hard. And Kirk started towards the door to the chamber.
“Wait, Jim,” McCoy said breathlessly, grabbing at his arm. “We’ll both be infected. And so will anyone else left in this section of the ship.”
“Yes,” he snapped, “but it’s all conjecture, Bones. The worst we think is that it’s a substance fatal to Vulcans but not to humans. So that makes us carriers. I can live with that, at least for now. They’ll both die.” He brushed past the CMO and hit the door release.
The space beyond the door was filled with the same translucent gas which Kirk had seen outside the ship, but the blue colouring was more evident here, more substantive. With one part of his mind, he noticed that here and there, the gas seemed to include a suspension of more concentrated blue patches, which looked almost as though they had crystals at the centre. Most of his attention, however, was focused on not one but two prone bodies – Stonn flat on his back, Spock half against the floor, half against the wall. He registered that both were breathing, somewhat raggedly, both appeared unconscious, and that Stonn appeared to have vomited and was bleeding, rather more profusely than Spock.
He heard McCoy slam a fist into the intercom.
“Vulcan trauma team, isolating equipment, Airlock Four, emergency,” he snapped, and Kirk thought dully We should have called Sickbay from the bridge. I knew then that he’d done this. He knelt beside Spock, ignored both medical protocol and Gol protocol and reached for the Vulcan’s shoulder. He knew Spock was very far away when there was no response, no objection.
“Spock! Spock, can you hear me?”
“No chance, Jim,” McCoy said, coming up on Spock’s other side, hypo in hand. “They’re out cold – let me see – yes, just like Stonn, some sort of deep trauma to the cortex.”
“Trauma? You’re not saying they’ve been physically attacked?”
“No, clearly not – though actually Spock has – you can see here – and here,” McCoy gestured to grazing on Spock’s forehead and some bruising to his arm. “But I suspect that would be ancillary, Captain.”
Kirk looked from one Vulcan to the other.
“Spock went in and Stonn tried to stop him,” he realised.
“That’s my guess. And no, no physical blow. But this contagion – whatever it is – it’s had the same sort of impact on the thinking process as a blow to the head. Fairly immediate, too. There’s the team now. Go away, Jim. We’ll do what we can. You can’t help and you’re needed elsewhere.”
The room was suddenly full of medics, the reassuring sounds of activity and of a sense of purpose. Kirk stood back, let McCoy’s people do their job and watched both the Vulcans lifted gently onto gurneys to be taken to the isolation unit.
He knew from his earlier conversation with McCoy that they could have been strapped into seats on a carousel for all that this was likely to help them. And he knew it from his brief contact with Spock. Never since he had met Spock, including all the days since Gol, had he been so profoundly unaware of the Vulcan’s thoughts, his presence. It had been as though Spock were not there at all.
He left the airlock chamber and went back to the bridge.
The briefing room looked oddly depleted, and Kirk realised that it not only had less people in it, it was the first time since he had left Earth that he had held any sort of conference without a Vulcan present.
“Report,” he said, briefly.
“The remainder of the task force will arrive at the rendezvous within ten point five hours, sir.”
“Good. I’ll update the Seleya myself after this meeting.” Saredin deserved to hear about Spock direct, he thought. He owed it to the captain of the Seleya to let him know in person the results of their ill-conceived joint enterprise to rescue Spock from Gol.
“Sulu? The Mila flotilla?”
“No significant activity, sir. They appear to be making observations. There is no sign of any additional vessels being intended to join the fleet in the near future, since reports indicate none within at least ten day’s travel from this point.”
“No need,” Kirk said, harshly. “It looks as though they can manage mass murder very neatly without any help.”
“Sir – if I may? The presence of the science vessel may suggest that much, if not all, of the expertise and the contagious material which has been produced could be held here, in the flotilla. If we attack – we could disable the science vessel and destroy what is on board.”
“It’s an important opportunity; we need to think through the strategy. It’s too easy, though. I can’t believe they would sit here and wait for the Enterprise (not to mention the task force) to blow them to pieces. For a start, we don’t know what that stuff would do if we blew it up. I need more data before we reach any decisions.”
The briefing room doors had opened while he was in mid-speech and McCoy came in. He looked tired and grim, and Kirk tensed.
“My recommendation is not to touch it with a bargepole,” he said, sitting down rather heavily in the nearest chair. “We’re working on analysis but it’s utterly foreign to me. It has some very active properties. If there’s any way of waiting, Jim, I wouldn’t put it top of my list for now.”
“Report, Doctor,” he said, mouth slightly dry.
McCoy met his eyes squarely.
“Stonn is dead,” he said.
Kirk closed his eyes and opened them again.
“Hanging on. I’d like you to come and see him, Captain. He can’t see or hear you, but his condition is interesting and you’re contaminated anyway, so we can let you in the isolation chamber.”
The isolation chamber was very quiet. Stonn’s body had already been removed and presumably McCoy’s team were working on it, learning whatever lessons could be learned from his death. Kirk thought, briefly, about what he himself had learned. That at least part of what had brought Stonn to the Enterprise had perhaps been the repayment of an old debt. That Stonn had brought intelligence and integrity to the ship. That in the final analysis, Stonn had understood perhaps better than he the question McCoy had asked him that morning (“Wondering if you’ve figured out any more than the rest of us where Spock’s heart is.”) That the choice T’Pring had made on a hot day in the Vulcan desert more than six years ago had eventually led to the loss of both men, at least as far as she was concerned.
Spock lay motionless, connected to a range of equipment on whose purpose Kirk did not care to speculate. His face looked empty. Kirk had only one question in his mind.
“Why is Spock alive and not Stonn?” he said to McCoy, eyes still on the biobed.
“Only one possibility, Jim. He’s only half Vulcan.”
“Couldn’t do a thing for Stonn. He was worse than Spock to start with, the thing had produced far more advanced symptoms in him in the same space of time. I treated them both the same, but it didn’t help Stonn. In fact,” for a brief moment, McCoy’s face looked haunted, “it probably killed him.”
Kirk refocused on his CMO, put his hand to McCoy’s shoulder, and gently pushed him into a chair.
McCoy ran a hand through his hair.
“The VSA hypothesis was that Soltar would focus on the things that differentiate Vulcans.”
“Copper-based blood and telepathy.”
“Right. And so that’s what we’ve been working on. Not much to go on, but it was as good a place as any to start and Stonn was fairly sure of Soltar’s thinking, for what it’s worth, so we went with his suggestions. Which is ironic, really, considering what I’ve just done.”
“What have you done, Bones?” he asked, as gently as he could.
“You heard Spock, that day in the briefing room. There’s a link in Vulcans between the cortex, the adrenal system and the telepathic capability, and he reckoned it was a possibility as a channel of infection, because the immune system shuts down when the telepathic instinct is at risk.”
“That’s all I’ve had to go on, Jim. Like you said, blood and thought. I’ve given them both as much Vulcan blood as we had in the banks. It was compatible for both of them, but we just couldn’t give Stonn enough. It was as though the stuff left his body as soon as it came in, as though he’d lost the ability to retain it. With Spock, it wasn’t quite so bad. He’s still needed more than I’ve ever given anyone in my life, his pressure has gone through the floor and if you were making him a birthday party he wouldn’t be able to stand up and blow out the candles – but he’s stable, just about, in terms of blood count, though the copper element is vastly diluted.”
“And why the difference?”
“The obvious one, Jim, the only one. The one Spock would hate, if he were up to hearing me. He’s only half Vulcan. His human half is taking over.”
Kirk looked back at the motionless body, aware of a rush of relief. Would that be the answer? A mixed blood count, some strange mixture of iron and copper – who cared what elemental compound, if it meant that there was any chance that Spock would ever, one day, just look at him with shuttered eyes and refuse, once again, everything from a game of chess and a drink of guava juice to an acknowledgement of friendship? Just now, that felt like everything he could reasonably ask.
“You’re not to blame, Bones,” he said firmly. “Why did you say you might have killed Stonn? You did all you could, all anyone could.”
McCoy stood restlessly and walked to Spock’s side, checked a reading and then turned back to face his CO.
“That wasn’t what killed him, though,” he said, softly. “And it wasn’t what saved Spock. I’ve only told you half the story.”
“Explain.” It came out more sharply than he had intended. McCoy looked wrecked, but he sensed that they had been circling the issue and he needed to know.
McCoy let his breath out in a sigh and his shoulders slumped.
“Blood and thought, Jim. Blood and thought. They were both dying. They needed more blood transplants than a Jacobean tragedy – nothing would have saved them. And I remembered what Spock had said – the link between the telepathic capability, the immune system which controls infection and the adrenalin system. I had no idea what I was doing, if you really want to know, but it was that or nothing. I gave them each a shot of hydroxymethimazole. You won’t have heard of it, but it’s used in certain situations on humans to control thyroid activity; it suppresses the adrenal system, though it’s not intended for long term use, for obvious reasons, and absolutely not for non-humans. I figured, if what Spock said was right, it might ameliorate the symptoms by suppressing the telepathic impulse and isolating from the body the source of contagion. I was out of other ideas and I figured I had seconds left.”
“And what happened?” asked Kirk, with horrified fascination.
“It was instantaneous. I had them both on supplementary life support at that point. Spock started breathing on his own and Stonn’s entire system shut down.”
Kirk stared at McCoy and then turned and looked at Spock. He saw again the acute emptiness in the unconscious face, remembered his sense at Airlock Four that the Vulcan was somehow profoundly absent.
He said, very softly:
“You mean he’s functioning as a human now. That’s why he’s survived. His human half has taken over, physically and mentally.”
“Essentially, Captain. Minimal copper blood cells. And no telepathy. None at all.”
“Can it be reversed? If a cure were found, could his telepathy be restored?”
McCoy met his eyes levelly.
“You want to know the real answer, Jim? I haven’t the slightest idea.”