He should have felt reassured at the sight of the three Constitution class vessels in the main viewer, but he didn’t. He felt nothing so much as a vast unease, coupled with a sense of helplessness. Jim Kirk did not do helplessness well.
He had sent a message in code to the Seleya about Stonn. Kirk did not entirely trust Saredin not to follow through to Faltonian space, and the news about Stonn would at least impress upon him what was the very real risk to the Seleya crew and quite how helpless Saredin would be to save them, or indeed himself. Kirk suspected that Saredin would enjoy helplessness even less than he did himself. He had started to write a report to Saredin about Spock, and then stopped. There was almost nothing he could say which was not both devastating and highly personal – all the trust without words which he could summon did not prevent him feeling that a description from him, a human, of what had befallen Spock would somehow be a trespass and an intrusion in the Vulcan world. Saredin would know from his report about Stonn that Spock was still alive. For the moment, that would have to be sufficient and, for the moment, at least, it was true.
He had spoken to the COs of the Republic, Farragut and Lincoln and arranged a conference for 1600 hours, although just then he only had one item on the agenda and none of the phraseology he could devise disguised the fact that in substance the item was Grasping at Straws. A medical solution seemed out of reach. And a military solution was futile. Even if they could destroy the Mila flotilla – eminently achievable given the comparative firepower involved – it would achieve nothing and silent blue death would continue to creep towards Vulcan across the galaxy. The solution must be here, in the space between him and Milani, between McCoy and Soltar, in the words he had yet to find and the battle for healing which must be won in the labs and not through phaser fire.
And the intercom sounded.
“Yes?” he said, impatiently, as McCoy’s tones filtered through.
“You said you wanted me to let you know when Spock was coming round.”
Nothing at first except darkness. Perhaps more nothing than you had ever been aware of in your life. That was an illogical thought and an illogical concept. Nothing was an absolute term. Nonetheless, it was the case. No thought, no sensation, no awareness. More than nothing. Blackness. Emptiness. Absolute emptiness.
That was also illogical. Empty was another absolute term. It either existed or it did not. There could not be varying degrees of emptiness, since if less than absolute emptiness prevailed, no true emptiness had occurred. Nonetheless, it was the case. This was absolute emptiness.
Perhaps this was what humans called amnesia – not a syndrome ever experienced by Vulcans, of course. Your katra made it biologically impossible for you or any other Vulcan to experience a loss of self in that way, even only temporarily.
Your mind wandered, as though following a insubstantial thread, not even a solid, connected line - a trail of particles, of crumbs... Bread crumbs. Someone had thought about bread crumbs, trails of thought that were like bread crumbs, but it was not you - that was not your thought. That was not your image. Who are you? You stumbled across another image, a name – Kirok. Another world, another loss, another man. Not your loss – Jim’s. Jim’s face under your hands in front of a temple - “Our minds are one” but finding not Jim but an emptiness. Another emptiness.
Is this your emptiness? Is it Jim’s?
He is an extremely dynamic individual.
No. You remember: you remember yourself and you remember Jim; this loss is not that loss.
You are Spock and you are awake.
McCoy said, very gently:
“Spock? How are you feeling?”
He was in a room which he recognised as one of the isolation chambers connected to sickbay. He could hear the low sound of the operation of medical equipment, but oddly muffled. There was no one in the room but McCoy, who stood to the left of his bed, an oddly kind look on his face, arms crossed. Spock was aware of an entirely foreign sensation, as though he were indeed someone different from himself – another reflection he recognised as illogical (three in less than five point two minutes) – and his awareness closed down on a single sensation: a bruising to his temple. Stonn. And it all came back to him.
He attempted to sit and gave up, immediately, even before McCoy’s abortive movement of prevention, and said:
“Doctor, please inform the captain that I require an early opportunity to discuss with him –“
“Tell me yourself,” said a voice which was not McCoy’s and which Spock would have recognised out of a thousand others, blindfolded. He was not blindfolded and he had known Kirk was not in the room; had known that McCoy was the only other person present. At the same time he turned to his right and simultaneously understood three things.
First, that Kirk was sitting on the edge of an empty neighbouring biobed, an indescribable expression on his face.
Secondly, that the reason for Spock’s assumption that no other personnel had been present in the room had been his lack of any awareness of anyone else. And even Gol had not removed his awareness of Kirk’s thoughts; he might have ignored them, he might have declined to trespass on them, but the subliminal awareness persisted.
And thirdly, those two arms of the syllogism being satisfied – Kirk was present; Spock had not known Kirk was present - a whole part of Spock, his perception, his sense of awareness must be gone.
The Masters, he thought vaguely, would have been proud of the syllogism.
And then he thought, in a detached and entirely uncharacteristically random manner “How can I know myself now?”
He reached for something – anything – and found the First Officer. It was not much, but it would have to do. There are always possibilities.
“Sir,” he said, formally. “I wish to report.”
Kirk said, a kindness in his voice which Spock found utterly unbearable (when had Kirk started being kind to him?) -
“Take your time, Spock. Answer McCoy. How are you feeling?”
Spock looked back at McCoy and found it marginally easier than talking to Kirk; it bore, at least, some passing resemblance to previous conversations with McCoy, before Airlock Four. Refusing to consider in too great a detail the implications of this, he looked directly at the CMO and said in the tone both of a direct question and a direct answer:
“I am not functioning effectively with regard to extrasensory perception. My assumption is that the Mila virus has impacted adversely on the link from the endocrine system to the cortex.”
“The only way to keep you alive was to administer hydroxymethimazole,” said McCoy, who had sufficient experience – of medicine in general and of the First Office of the Enterprise in particular - to recognise a patient who did not want a bedside manner and did not want news broken gently.
There was a brief silence during which Spock did not allow himself to feel anything at all and then, almost as a result of seeking for the small, the specific and the manageable, seemed to feel all over again the contusion on his forehead.
“Should I assume that Sub-Commissioner Stonn has suffered the same symptoms?”
“Spock,” McCoy said, in the same gentle tone, “Stonn is dead.”
The presence of Kirk and McCoy, their gentleness, was impossible, wholly intolerable. He reached instinctively for Vulcan mind control, for the wall he had always erected – and found only vertigo, like a person who leans on a railing at the top of a flight of stairs and finds the railing unaccountably gone. He reached back behind him, away from the drop, back to the command rank. It was all he had, it would have to serve, it would have to serve.
“You will be concentrating on your analysis of the results of post-mortem investigations,” he said. “You must also observe my own symptoms and take whatever samples might be effective in developing from my condition an understanding of the virus.”
“We will be,” McCoy said, with a steady, appraising regard – the respect of one professional for another, the protectiveness that was the hallmark of McCoy’s care for all his patients and something else, which Spock refused to see. “But that can wait ten minutes. I’ll leave you alone with the captain here while I go check on the team who are working on Stonn.”
Spock watched as the doctor swung round and walked towards the door, knowing that the only thing he wanted less than ten minutes alone with Kirk was ten point one minutes alone with Kirk. And that he was entirely and altogether powerless in the matter.
He turned, with no small effort, to the right hand side of the biobed, and said without expression to the person waiting there:
“Sir, I submit myself to disciplinary proceedings in relation to my actions at Airlock Four.”
He saw immediately that nothing in his current medical condition meant that Airlock Four was a closed incident; he had not expected it to be. Kirk said, curtly:
“Later for that.” And then, with a softer tone:
“Spock. It’s me - Jim. Talk to me.”
For a brief 12.2 seconds, the two regarded each other. And for that time, Spock let himself silently acknowledge what was being offered, and by whom, before he turned away. Had he been able to talk, Kirk would have been the only person who could have helped him and the last person whom he would have allowed to. He wondered why this was not clear to his CO. It had been very many years since he had held a conversation with Kirk without a subliminal telepathic awareness of the human; had no idea how to now – like a child who can ride a bicycle without support but has nevertheless never done so without stabilisers. And he had never held a conversation with Kirk when Kirk was feeling sorry for him. Angry, amused, affectionate, admiring, concerned, regretful, challenging. Yes, all of those; sometimes, several at once. But never sorry, and never kind. All of which meant that the way back – from the Seleya, from Gol, from Mila and Stonn, to that unique balance which had always been what had defined his friendship with Kirk – the way back had suddenly become even steeper than before. There would be no balance, ever again.
The day before, after the last communication with the Seleya, Kirk had said to Spock I missed you, and Spock had ignored him. Today, he was prone on a biobed with everything gone that was truly essential to Spock’s self, and Kirk said Talk to me. What Kirk did not seem to understand was that, impossible as a reply would have been to I missed you, a response to Talk to me was infinitely less likely – another paradox which seemed, at that moment, to Spock, to be as basic as calculus.
Kirk said, carefully:
“Please let me help, Spock. Please can’t we try to deal with this together?”
“It would be impossible for you to understand, Captain.”
He saw Kirk’s face tighten and knew he was making the human angry, which had been his intention. Angry was less dangerous than kind, easier than pity. But he knew better than to underestimate Kirk, who got up, paced to the door and then turned, abruptly.
“Look, Spock. I know you’re hurting and you’re not going to let me in. Your choice. And I’m sorry that you feel that I can’t understand. But don’t you think this might be a chance for you, though, to understand more about yourself?”
Very remotely indeed, as if to impose the maximum distance between him and Kirk and whatever Kirk was going to say, he said:
“What do you propose that I should learn about myself from this experience, sir?”
“Isn’t this a chance to figure out who you are? Look, maybe I can’t understand, maybe it’s beyond me. But I can tell you what I do know, and that is that here you are, hurt and incapacitated, but you’re still you, Spock. You’re still Spock. Couldn’t this be a chance to hold on to a sense of self that isn’t about being human or Vulcan but is about the part that simply belongs to you?”
He felt a tide of anger in him so immense that he would have believed it impossible to feel in any event, let alone directed at Kirk, at his clumsiness – impossible, that is, were it not followed, seconds later, by an even greater intensity of grief at the realisation that he was feeling that anger at all, that no controls lay between him and the maelstrom; that this – this was how it would be. And Kirk thought it was a chance to learn who he was.
And so, in an effort to make Kirk leave, to gain for himself the only thing he could possibly have – self gone, body weakened, independence a far-off goal but solitude still within reach - he said the thing he thought would make the other go.
“You humans,” he said, eyes resting directly and opaquely on Kirk’s, “have no conception.” He saw it go straight through Kirk, saw him recognise the quote, saw him understand the reference to six years ago, the other conversation in which Kirk had tried to make Spock let him enter his Vulcan world. And the consequences - Kirk dead in the sand; T’Pring; Stonn. Stonn, who was himself now dead, because of Spock.
Kirk stood, like someone who knows they are being dismissed. And then he took a breath, let it out very slowly, and nodded at his First.
“All right, Spock. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll expect you to cooperate with the medical team. And we’ll leave Airlock Four – for now. When you’re feeling better, I’ll expect a full report.”
Spock said “Thank you, Captain”, knowing that Kirk would hear in the superfluous words the acknowledgement that he would not make and did not feel, and Kirk left and Spock was on his own.
How could he begin to know himself when himself appeared irretrievably lost? And if Socrates had been right and the route to all knowledge was dependent on prior self-knowledge, how could he begin to learn about anything else?
Spock lay on the biobed and considered a comparative graph of all the things in his life which had meant the most to him. It seemed to him that once you included the quest for knowledge, all other possible aspects of living were dwarfed into insignificance. Worse, they were rendered less meaningful. His career. His parents, his fellow officers, Kirk. All relationships and dynamics informed by companionship on that journey of exploration – the journey on which he refused to be a passenger, had only ever been a navigator.
Spock knew, in his heart, that self-awareness had come late to him, who had always thought to seek knowledge elsewhere and not understood that, like charity, it started at home. The last few years had given him, one after the other, insights into the being he truly was which had transformed his understanding of the universe around him. This had started with leaving the Enterprise and his early command of the Seleya. He had sat by a fireplace in Iowa two and a half years ago and said to Kirk “I had achieved a level of reconciliation within myself as a result of the Seleya mission” and Kirk had known, had said “I have been so very glad for you.” And he had welcomed that understanding, been proud of it in a way he knew no full-blooded Vulcan would, but had done so wholeheartedly, none the less. But that same pride meant that he could not, now, begin to accept Kirk’s pity. And he had also admitted to Kirk, in Iowa: “Everything I know of psychology suggests that to achieve effective communication it is first necessary to ensure understanding from within.” No gift of prophecy could have given rise to so effective an anticipation of his current quandary. And this quest for understanding had taken him to Gol, to the pull of kolinahr which had shone as so alluring a goal – only to be postponed at the siren call of Kirk and the danger to Vulcan – now, perhaps, forever out of reach.
Today, his ambition to be the first half-human to achieve kolinahr had a bitter irony, a harsh taste.
He was no longer even Spock of Vulcan. He was simply Spock.
In his heart, although he would have admitted it to no one, that epithet had always been the source of a mixture of pride and pain, he who was of Vulcan and yet not of Vulcan. As a child, the idea of belonging wholly to one world had been an unattainable ideal, and as an adult he had seen this crystallised nowhere so clearly as in T’Pring’s choice of a full Vulcan as her spouse, which he knew had led to an illogical resentment on his part of the person who had died trying to save his life. Spock considered the cause of Stonn’s death and the fact that his own survival was due only to his human heritage and closed his eyes in pain.
And Kirk thought all this would help him to understand who he was.
At the echo in his mind of those words “Isn’t this a chance to figure out who you are?” Spock felt a growing physical symptom – a tide of sensation inside, a slight increase in respiratory rate and a tension along facial muscles – which led him almost to move to call McCoy, not through any concern for himself but because the precise analysis of his condition was all that stood between the Mila and the death of billions. But he halted the instinct in the understanding of the true nature of his reaction.
This was human anger. Blazing, destructive, resentful human anger.
Spock had experienced anger far more times in his life than he would ever have permitted McCoy to understand. In the past, however, he had always accessed Vulcan mental disciplines to control and regulate the instinct, moderating it into a place where he could subdue the strength and even extract from it what he needed. This was different. This tidal fire was what humans dealt with daily. He even knew that it was a key part of Kirk, of how the captain worked, of the strength he could bring to conflict and challenge.
Just then, Spock could as easily have conceived of taming an ion storm to assist in a professional endeavour. Could it be that if Kirk could use anger and Spock could not control it that Spock was lacking even the emotional control of a human, let alone a Vulcan?
“You’re still you, Spock. You’re still Spock.”
No, he was not. Kirk wanted to believe that, because Kirk was as conflicted as he was. But he had nothing to offer Kirk at this point and he would not revisit their friendship without the clarity and control which had always made that relationship possible for him, especially after the damage he knew he had done after Gol.
Gol. There was still Gol. Slowly, he closed his eyes and reached for the disciplines, for the doorway to meditation, as a child reaches for a comfort blanket.
After a while, he stopped. He still lay there, eyes closed, but with his answer. The path to Gol was closed to him. Even the smallest mental step had required a strength he knew was far beyond him.
Anger, on the other hand, far from depleting his reserves, had actually empowered him.
Spock was still sufficiently Spock to understand the reason for this and appreciate the logic, but he was sufficiently human to reject it, and he lay in the isolation chamber, doubly isolated, and stubbornly kept the force of reason at bay.
Back in the briefing room. The viewer on the desk showed simultaneous visual connection to the bridge of each of the three other vessels. All the COs looked grim and none of the officers around the Enterprise table looked as though their birthdays were coming any time soon. Stonn’s death – his immediate succumbing to the virus – had made the crisis real for the crew in a way that nothing else could have. And Kirk was under no illusion about their concern for Spock. Spock’s enlistment in the ship post Gol, for all his changed demeanour, had had an immediate effect on ship morale. You could do that, Kirk reflected, if you were a galaxy-renowned genius who was single-handedly responsible for ending interstellar war, as well as being a personal inspiration to a crew who would follow you anywhere, whether or not you were prepared to admit to it. But the downside was that when you were lying in a biobed in an isolation chamber, manifestly incapable of making any significant contribution to the mission in the immediate future and quite possibly permanently outside the reach of any personal relationship on board, you tended to lower the spirits of those who had reason to love you. It was a matter of supreme indifference, Kirk knew, to the crew members in question and to that love and admiration whether Spock was human or Vulcan or neither; it was a shame that Spock would never properly understand this.
Rand appeared with a black coffee – his fourth of the day – and Kirk gratefully took a large mouthful. McCoy told him he drank too much black coffee and should limit himself to three a day, but Kirk couldn’t remember when this particular day had started and he was relatively sure it had no obvious end in sight.
“McCoy, report,” Kirk said.
“Not all bad,” McCoy said, cautiously. “We at least know what we’re dealing with here, I’m no longer being asked to make up some hypothetical damn virus and then figure out how to cure it. We know the symptoms and we know the underlying pattern and we have a sample of the contagious material, a live victim and a deceased victim. I can’t say we’re there, but I’m reasonably confident we’ll get there – no matter how perverted his thinking is, Soltar’s still working within the boundaries of molecular biology and it’s just about cracking the code now, ought to be. At least, as far as a vaccination is concerned.”
Kirk paused in the middle of opening his mouth to speak to Scott; something about the last sentence caught his attention, or perhaps something in the doctor’s tone of voice. He knew when he was being given a message.
“Meaning, Bones? What else are we looking at besides a vaccination?”
The CMO lifted an eyebrow at him.
“A cure, Jim. That is likely to be a whole different ball game. We get the vaccination – chances are we can learn to stop people getting the virus. But if you’re a betting man, I wouldn’t take your money on me finding a way to reverse the symptoms. What I know about Vulcan mind controls – other than being driven up the wall by them – in biological terms, would take up rather less of your time than a single sip of that caffeine overdose you’re getting through. ”
Kirk looked at him.
“So we need to focus on prevention rather than cure.”
Which is fine, thought Kirk, unless you happen to be the one person who already has it.
“Scotty,” he began, and then the intercom sounded.
“Captain,” it was Chekhov, from the bridge, “sir, the Mila fleet is releasing another substance. It is coming towards us.”
“Put it on screen down here, please, Chekhov.”
The blackness of space was now punctuated by another ribbon of cloud emanating from the Mila ship. Chekhov was right – it appeared to be a different substance, only because it was faintly red, where the last one, which still hovered around the Enterprise like a ghostly ring, was blue. Kirk found himself thinking how beautiful the effect was, red and blue against the black of space and the sparkle of distance stars, and then he shook himself.
“Gentlemen,” he said, to the ships in the viewer, “close all your vents immediately.”
“Still have a clear shot to the lead vessel, Jim” this from Ray Marsh, on the Republic. “We could just finish this. We outgun them considerably and you have discretion from HQ on this.”
“I know, Ray,” he said, drawing his hands along his jaw in a characteristic gesture, “but I’m not sure where it will get us. You just heard McCoy – we’re making the only advances we’ve managed in weeks because we’re up close and personal – because we’re near enough to talk and to study what they’ve got. I’m not prepared to take the chance that destroying the flotilla will wipe out all the stocks they have of this stuff, let alone the knowledge of how to manufacture more – and in any case, we still have to find the vaccination. There are likely to be literally billions out there who are already carriers, and it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Vulcan.”
“Your CMO seems confident of producing a vaccination based on what he’s already got,” this from Jahani on the Lincoln.
What was it about starship captains and hitting that button? But it was unfair, he knew it was. He might even have been tempted himself, but he had Spock in sickbay, and they didn’t.
“Not enough, Ali,” he said. “For a start, we don’t know what this red stuff is. We’re going to have to get another sample and work on it. Let’s do that and reconvene.”
“And in the meantime?” asked Marsh. “Just want us to sit here and watch? That stuff is coming our way.”
Kirk looked back, sharply, to the viewer.
“No point in you getting mired in it. Take yourselves out of reach, but stay in communication range.”
“Jim, you’ve been working with the Mila for longer than we have,” the Farragut viewer said.“If you think it’s important for the Enterprise to stay close, I’m content not to fire but I recommend we move the other three ships out of the area of immediate contamination.”
Kirk gave the viewer an odd look. He’d known the taciturn captain of the Farragut a long time, and it was unlike Nick Desjardins to repeat a command Kirk had already made. He opened his mouth, but only got as far as “We’re all agreed, then”, when he understood, at the same time that Uhura said, quickly:
“Captain, the channel is breaking up and I can’t get them back. The cloud from the Mila is blocking communications.”
The viewer showed the Enterprise now almost entirely surrounded by the two layers of translucent red and blue. Beyond them, it was still possible to see, in rainbow hue, the Mila flotilla and the three Starfleet vessels, now turning, as ordered, to retreat to a discreet distance.
No immediate back up, his First Officer incapacitated, the VSA Sub-Commissioner dead and the Seleya unreachable. HQ, the task force and the rest of the galaxy out of communication range and a deadly plague reaching out to Vulcan. The Enterprise isolated. No real gains for the mission so far, then, he reflected, but on the plus side it did look aesthetically pleasing.
“Scotty,” he said, wearily, “please arrange to have a sample collected of the red substance. This time, shut down the deck and have it collected by someone in protective clothing.”
Scotty disappeared and Kirk nodded to his remaining officers.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said. “We’ll reassemble when we know what we’re dealing with.”
He reflected, as he took another swallow of coffee and stood to leave the room, on the absence of the Seleya. Much as he liked and trusted Marsh and the other two, there was no question that, all things being equal, he would have preferred to have had Saredin with him. Which meant that things had changed beyond recognition in the past three years – for him and Saredin, but also for his understanding of certain things. As highly as he had always rated his friendship with Spock during the five year mission, he knew perfectly well he had spent far too much of it trying to tease Spock out of Vulcan mode. The door might have been open now to a far greater understanding, a richer engagement with Spock’s Vulcan side, as well as his humanity.
Which was ironic, really, as not only was Spock manifestly uninterested in any sort of friendship with Kirk, but he no longer had a Vulcan side. Kirk wondered, with a degree of self awareness which he thought was relatively new to him (which might have been Spock’s gift to him – Spock’s and Saredin’s) whether it was the Vulcan in Spock which had been such a powerful draw for him in their friendship, was now so valuable a part of Saredin for him, and what that meant to any future for Spock and him.
But there was no very obvious future.
And suddenly he realised what he was thinking, why his thoughts had been drawn to Saredin.
He had sent a report to the Seleya that Stonn was dead, but he had included no mention of Spock. The report had been encoded, but a mind like Soltar’s could have broken it and any mind, let alone Milani’s obsessive intelligence, would have realised that a report of Stonn’s death with no mention of Spock would have meant that Spock was still alive – and that the Enterprise would be working towards a vaccination. And this had been followed, within hours, by the release of a second substance, aimed towards the Enterprise. Or, depending on your perspective, towards Spock.
He left the rest of the coffee to get cold and went to sickbay where McCoy’s team were already investigating the properties of the red substance. He had not long to wait before his suspicions were confirmed. The substance was, indeed, impervious to communication signals and the Enterprise was therefore entirely isolated. It also contained viral matter developed from a strain related to the contagion which had killed Stonn and left Spock in the isolation chamber. This one was fatal to humans.
“Is that all? Or is there any more bad news?” he asked, and thought, as Scott opened his mouth, that he must explain to the literal-minded Scot what a rhetorical question was. But it turned out that there was, indeed, one more piece of outstanding information.
“The stuff is hanging together in an anti-gravitational field, sir, with reflective shielding.” Scotty’s professional admiration broke through his personal concern and he shook his head in what Kirk could only consider misplaced approval. “It’s a fine job they’ve done, sir, no doubt about it. Very canny – very, very canny.”
“It’s good to hear that they’re canny, Mr Scott,” he said drily, reaching, in the absence of artificial stimulants (where was Rand with his fifth coffee?) for any kind of humour to get him through the conversation. “Would it be asking too much for you to go further than canny and explain to me the effects of the field?”
“It’ll reverse phaser fire, sir,” Scotty said promptly, for all the world as though he were reciting the achievements of a promising young talent which would be bound to impress his captain.
“Meaning?” pressed Kirk, with an unpleasant feeling that he knew the answer, but needing to have it confirmed.
“Meaning if we shoot at it, the torpedoes will just bounce back and hit the ship, sir. It’s very clever, I’d never have thought of using anti-grav that way.”
“I am quite sure,” he said, “that you give yourself too little credit, Mr Scott,” saw the engineer beam as if being given a compliment. He could not help wondering, as he called Rand for his coffee, if other people ran ships like this.