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The next morning, there were one hundred and ninety five confirmed cases on Deneva and Kirk put a subspace message through to Spock to tell him to ensure that, as and when the Enterprise re-entered orbit, no personnel would be permitted to beam down.  Apart from M3, he reflected, who was presumably immune from scaly hands.

He wondered, walking over to Sam’s quarters for coffee, how Spock was managing the M3 experiment.  He knew that the Vulcan’s normal reaction to the question, when it arose, was to deny any interest in the command function.  The current mission would hardly be demanding of cutting edge leadership but nevertheless, other than the odd couple of hours when Kirk was alone on a planet in mid-mission (often heralded by the words “Captain, request permission to remain”, uttered more in hope than expectation), this was the first time Spock had commanded the Enterprise on his own.  Second time, Kirk mentally amended - and wondered when he would stop doing that, when the spectre of Starbase Eleven would finally leave him.  His thoughts went to Eli French, to his analogy of fractured trust – “like keeping an animal with a broken back when you ought to have the courage to put it out of its misery but you just can’t make yourself do it” – and he thought, suddenly, that he just didn’t agree with Eli, not about this.  He hated the mistrust which had grown up between him and Spock.  It needed to be resolved, and not through the route that Eli had chosen.  When the M3 mission was over, he would talk to Spock, talk to him properly and openly, explain to him just what Starbase Eleven had meant.  And then he would understand Spock’s perspective – would be bound to, wouldn’t he, unless Spock had changed into an entirely different person? – and they could leave the whole thing behind.  McCoy had been right, all along.  Why hadn’t he had the courage to face the Vulcan and why had he delayed until Spock was out there test-driving multitronic units and he was here, shooting hoops and finding no answers to one hundred and ninety five confirmed cases?

No hoops today, though, as he arrived and found no blue eyes and freckles, just a sombre-faced Sam with coffee already poured and some lab reports on the earlier confirmed cases.  Kirk picked them up and read them in silence.

“Anything at all that helps, now it’s actually here and you’re looking at people and not statistics?” he asked.

Sam shrugged.

“Nothing very helpful about the fact that two of them died this morning,” he said, curtly, and then softened, as Kirk’s face registered what he’d said.  “Sorry, Jim.  You didn’t ask for that.  No, not really, in answer to your question.  Yes, they all have inflammation of the skin around the hands, but that’s a side effect.  We’ve put them all in isolation but their vital signs are falling and they don’t really respond to anything.”

“When you said don’t really,” Kirk said, feeling his way, like a blind man who refuses to believe that there isn’t a way through the wall and is prepared to touch every single brick, however resistant, “is that the same as not at all?”

Sam smiled, but it was not the brittle mockery of a minute earlier.  It was an affectionate grin, born of teenage family years, of playing cards with the neighbourhood gang, of watching his younger brother refuse to give up till the last card was down and knowing then that he himself would settle for a life of trying to understand and that Jim would always find a wall and put his back up against it.

“They respond to oxygen,” he said.  “Most drugs we tried we may as well, frankly, have stuck to sugared water.  But oxygen seemed to stave the symptoms off for a while.  Only a while.”

“And then what happened?”

“Two of them died.”

“Yes, but how?  Of what?”

“Essentially, of heart failure, following lethargy, disorientation and breathing difficulty.”

“What does that mean?” he asked, wishing he’d kept McCoy back from the M3 mission, whilst knowing that the Enterprise needed its CMO and Sam had a lab full of experts. 

Sam pulled a face.

“Almost anything,” he said gently.  “You know, most of us die of heart failure, in the end.  And that could be because you have a weak heart, an old heart, a heart that’s taken on too much or even a heart which has been stuck through with a blunt object.  You military types always want a diagnosis.  But death is often a very straightforward thing, Jim, short of your journeys into the unknown.  The difficulty is knowing why.  Why are their hearts failing?  And the answer is – I just don’t know.”

Kirk chewed this over for a minute, and smiled a little.

“Mom always said that don’t know is as good a place to start as any, didn’t she?”

“Not a lot of help here,” his brother said, gruffly.

“Maybe not,” Kirk said, feelingly, “but it’s a hell of a lot better than some of what Sybok claims to know with total confidence.”

Sam said, intently,

“Jim.  I don’t know what you and Sybok talked about.  But keep him away from my patients.  I just don’t trust him.”

Kirk swallowed back the coffee and said

“Not disagreeing with you there.  I’m heading up to the Endeavour, I think.  I’ll catch you later.  Say hi to Peter.”

Sam’s face relaxed and he smiled all over again.

“He’d have sneaked another game of hoops but he slept late this morning and Aurelan took him to school by aircar.  When he doesn’t draw attention to himself by stunts like that, I’ve a nasty feeling he may have been taking a rather creative approach to his timetable, in the sense of reviewing the relative priorities of human biology and shooting hoops with Uncle Jim.”

Mock-disapproving, Kirk asked,

“You mean you don’t actually know when he’s scheduled for human biology?”

Sam picked up the lab reports.

“Funnily enough, I wasn’t born yesterday, little brother.  Tell me about parenting when you have any sort of qualification to do so, and don’t think I don’t remember your own creative approach to timetables, on occasion.  I also know that shooting hoops with Uncle Jim might be something of a rarity for my son, in the long run, and that it might even matter more than human biology or a meeting on the Endeavour, sometimes, what d’you reckon?”

Kirk put his coffee down, called the Endeavour on his communicator and stepped outside to let the dazzle take him, but on his way to the door he reached out and held Sam’s arm in a gesture that meant rather more than the hug they had exchanged that first night, when he had come to Sam after talking to Eli French and learning about Manoriss’ court-martial and Eli’s views on fractured trust.

***

Sulu notified Spock of the shuttle’s approach when the ship was half a sector out from Deneva, on the Delta border, and Spock had scheduled a conversation with Daystrom to review the mission to date and discuss the return journey.  The Enterprise had negotiated one minor ion storm, one uneventful rendezvous with the Potemkin to effect an exchange of personnel and carried out a brief mission to an uninhabited planet to retrieve samples for later study in the ship’s laboratories.  Throughout the entirety of the journey, M3’s actions and recommendations had been faultless, unless you factored in the views of the ship’s CMO.  In McCoy’s opinion, the acting First Officer could have successfully moonlighted as a food replicator, was rather less companionable or humorous than a tricorder and knew as much about the command function as the average dead tribble.  However, it was not Spock’s intention to include an assessment from the medical team in his report on M3 – not least because in his estimation it would lead directly to an unnecessary prolongation of the discussion with Daystrom and thus of the mission. 

Spock’s own view of M3 was not quite as removed from McCoy’s as he allowed the doctor to believe, listening to the CMO’s running commentary with the usual expression of tortured patience he reserved for McCoy, until the doctor ran out of steam and got bored of analogies between Vulcans and multitronic units.   Nothing in either the M3 mission or, still less, in the events leading up to Talos IV had altered Spock’s view of the command function, which was simply that it was one which Kirk delivered an unparalleled performance and that his own preference remained to serve under Kirk.  He was nevertheless acutely conscious that commanding in partnership with M3 was hardly an experience which could have had much in common with Kirk’s perspective, when working in partnership with Spock.  He would not have chosen to refer to M3 as a food replicator.  But his view was, in essence, the same.  M3 could not provide companionship, support or a sounding board, and this, he was coming to understand, was his function for Kirk.

Could Spock ever say to M3, even had he been accustomed to human forms of expression, that any kind of interaction with Daystrom’s unit gave him emotional security?  He thought not.

In any real sense, he was commanding the ship on his own, and he knew it.  How different must it be for Kirk, to do so always with that weight of command shared, in a place which to all intents and purposes must feel like part of himself?

His thoughts (which, unknown to him, like Kirk’s, were beginning to edge back towards Talos IV and a new consideration of the strain he and Kirk had borne since) were interrupted by Sulu’s voice.

“Sir, we are being hailed.”

M3 was already reporting.

“Starfleet shuttle approaching at 00 Mark 4.  No known security clearance.  Recommend earliest identification of personnel on board.”

Spock nodded to Uhura, who already had the hailing frequencies open.  He had privately been expecting the unexpected (or, to avoid using illogical vernacular, the unscheduled), assuming that Starfleet might have arranged for something more testing for M3 than an ion storm and some soil tests.  But in fact, the shuttle turned out to be operated by Manoriss.

“Permission to dock, Enterprise,” the Rigellian voice said, immediately after greeting the Enterprise’s Acting Captain, and M3 said “Recommend prior ascertainment of the nature of the immediate intentions of former Commander Manoriss” and Spock said, aloud, “Permission granted” and speculated silently as to M3’s caution.  It was the first time he had overruled the unit and the first time he had not immediately known – in fact, anticipated – the unit’s recommendation.  Even as he left Sulu with the con and made his way down to the shuttle deck to greet Manoriss, he wondered which of them – M3 or himself – had got it wrong.

***

“Welcome aboard,” he said courteously, to Manoriss’ familiar nod, and Man fell in beside him as Spock escorted the Rigellian to the nearest briefing room.  He did not want to talk to Manoriss on the bridge, in front of M3.  There was, of course, no logical reason for this.  Had Spock been Kirk, he would have been acting on intuition, but Vulcans do not have intuition, so it would only be a matter of time until the latent logic in his reasoning manifested itself.

Manoriss turned to him as soon as they were through the door to the briefing room.

“I’m here to hitch a ride, Spock.  I figured you were my quickest route to Deneva.”

Spock’s eyebrow rose.

“You appear to be unaware that the Enterprise is currently on a course in precisely the opposite direction,” he offered.

“My assumption is that you’re about to go back.  Aren’t you?”

“I have not yet conferred with relevant personnel.  Is there a specific reason why you are seeking transportation to Deneva?”  Presumably, this reason was connected with the presence at Deneva of the Endeavour.  Spock was increasingly of a frame of mind to regret contacting Manoriss in the first place.  He suspected that Kirk would be far better equipped to deal with what was coming.

“The virus,” Man said, impatiently.  “You can’t be serious – you can’t be intending to map the Delta border or whatever you’re doing and just leave Jim and Eli to it.”

Spock eyed the Rigellian and said, very carefully,

“Manoriss, you will be aware that Captain Kirk and Captain French are both acting under orders, as am I.  They are both well placed to assist with strategic research into the nature of the virus and to track its likely impact.  In any event – “

“That’s hardly what I meant,” Manoriss interrupted.  And then, unbelievingly, “You mean you don’t know?”

“Elucidate.”  And Man said,

“Spock, what have you been doing?  There is a state of emergency declared on Deneva.  They’ve closed orbit to ships.  The virus is sweeping the planet at extraordinary speed.  Don’t you know?  Aren’t you planning on doing anything at all?”

Spock stilled.  He wondered if this was how Kirk reacted to sudden crisis, this ability to think, quite clearly and with great focus, about two completely different things in parallel.

One of these was Deneva.  A state of emergency.  Kirk, leaving him the conn and taking him off the mission, that last nightmare conversation and now this.  “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.”  How would Kirk classify this one?  How would he categorise the unexpected sweeping sensation which illogically combined the memory of a chess game and a glass of guava juice with the pictures of virus victims on Cregennan and the fact of Spock’s current orders?   And what would Kirk want him to do?  What would Kirk himself have done, had their roles been reversed?

And the other, just as clearly and insistently, was M3.  “Recommend prior ascertainment of the nature of the immediate intentions of former Commander Manoriss.”  Why?  And, more importantly, assuming that Manoriss was telling the truth, what was, in fact, the answer to his question?  Didn’t Spock know?

After an unforgiveable delay of three point six seconds after Manoriss spoke, Spock turned to the desk computer and said,

“Recall all data on current situation on Deneva and specifically on the state of emergency.”

The computer said, helpfully,

“No state of emergency exists on Deneva.”

Manoriss made an abrupt movement, but Spock continued speaking,

“Recall all transmissions from Captain Kirk over the past five days.”

The computer was helpful here, too.  It produced the twice daily reports from Kirk with which Spock was entirely familiar, having studied them closely at the time of receipt.  There was no mention of any virus cases on Deneva.

He turned to Manoriss with a silent but entirely obvious enquiry.

“Your computer system’s been sabotaged, Spock.  I’m telling the truth.  What reason would I have to make it up?  There are a million ways to check but the easiest would be to go to Deneva.  Check the system, but do it en route – can’t you order the bridge to set a new course immediately?”

Spock considered.  He had already computed that there was no apparent reason for Manoriss to fabricate the situation.  The most compelling factor, however, was the one of which Manoriss was unaware.  His First Officer was a multitronic unit which would have ample opportunity and means to sabotage the ship’s computer and intercept communications.  Motivation was another matter entirely, but Spock’s dealings with human beings and the frequent challenges this had produced to understanding human rationale had taught him in analysing chains of events to subordinate motivation to opportunity.  Besides, he was not entirely sure that it was logical to consider the motivation of multitronic units. 

Nor was he sure that he either could or should go to Deneva, whatever the status of the epidemic.  He had not forgotten the last time he took Kirk’s ship to forbidden territory.   But there was still the question of chess games and guava juice and the eidetic recall of the symptoms of the virus.

He asked Manoriss to wait in the briefing room and asked Uhura to request M3 to meet him in his quarters in ten minutes.

***

“I request information on the status of the planet Deneva,” he said, facing M3 across his desk.

“Illogical,” the unit responded, causing Spock to wonder whether he should reflect on his own choice of vocabulary in crisis.  “You accessed the computer system fourteen point one minutes ago to ascertain that information.”

“Nevertheless, I request confirmation.  There are reasons to suspect a high probability that the information provided by the computer may be incorrect.  There is a similarly high probability that messages from personnel on Deneva have been intercepted and altered.  Please comment.”

“Your concerns arise as a direct result of conversations with former Commander Manoriss,” the unit said.  “There is no current security clearance on former Commander Manoriss.   If former Commander Manoriss’ information is at variance from that provided by the computer, the probability is 99.72% that Manoriss’ information is incorrect.”

“My assumptions are otherwise,” Spock said, quietly.  He hoped very much that M3’s phraseology was a parody of his own on similar occasions and that this was not actually what he sounded like.  He was now very sure that the M3 unit was malfunctioning but equally aware that persuading Daystrom and Starfleet to decommission it would not be straightforward.   The sensation of facing down M3 was oddly familiar, and then he realised that the exchange of words with them had resonances of a chess game with Kirk.  Without the guava juice, of course.  And without Kirk.  He forced himself to stop thinking about the virus symptoms, or to speculate about the rapidity of contagion.

“You have no evidence,” M3 said, simply.

“I have undertaken an analysis of the likelihood of Manoriss fabricating information,” Spock said, “based on my knowledge of his character and on the possible motivation for such fabrication.”

“You have not attempted to ascertain his thoughts,” was the unexpected response, and Spock looked at his interlocutor and considered.

It had never occurred to him to have effected a mind-meld with Manoriss for a number of reasons, not least that the personally invasive nature of the process meant that he would never have suggested it in the absence of alternatives.  In the place inside Spock which was not intuition but which occasionally engaged with ex post facto rationalisation and which probably only Jim Kirk had ever really seen and understood, despite the apparent improbability of the conclusion, Spock was absolutely certain that Man was right and that the M3 unit was wrong.  Man over machine, he thought, I will perhaps not allow McCoy that particular observation.  And then he wondered what a mind-meld with M3 would produce.

He had never carried out a mind-meld with a multitronic unit but never was not a reason not to do something.  He knew that carrying out a mind-meld with the Enterprise computer would be entirely unproductive, that there would be no consciousness to meet, that (as Kirk would have said) he might as well talk to the wall unit.  However, the M3 was multitronic and a significant step away from a computer system towards what might be described as true consciousness.  This might particularly be the case, considering that the unit appeared to be capable of serious sabotage of an almost humanoid nature.

In any case, M3 was threatening Kirk’s ship, and Spock could not allow harm to come to the Enterprise.  Not on his watch; not this time.

He stepped forward very quickly and his hands touched the cold metallic of the top of the unit.

It was a mistake, and he knew it immediately.

M3 had no consciousness, not in the true sense.  The only consciousness in the meld was Spock’s own, and the power belonged to the unit.  Spock was held, a powerless spectator at his own journey, with occasional cold flashes of clarity of what had happened to Daystrom’s creation and how he and M3 had come together in the most ill-matched manner possible to fuse in a total distortion of what a command team meant.

He saw himself in his quarters, speaking to Manoriss.  Why was he being shown this?  Why was this relevant?  Manoriss’s bitterness “We are supposed to protect our commanding officers, right, Spock?  There was just no need for him to know.”  And then again “He owed me more than that.”  M3 had been on the bridge at the time.  It must have intercepted the call.  And M3’s programming was to serve – it was wired to put its commanding officer’s welfare first, at all times.  And that meant, specially, Spock’s.  In whatever way the unit perceived that welfare.

The unit said, into Spock’s mind, “You are my Captain.”

Spock fought to project the right words.  He said carefully, speaking aloud,

“I am acting Captain of this mission.  I am supervising a trial of the functionality of this unit.”

You are my Captain.  I must protect my commanding officer.”

“I have no need of protection,” Spock said clearly.  He could almost hear Kirk’s humour, which would have added except, at this minute, from you.

I must protect my commanding officer.  Captain French has damaged former Commander Manoriss.  I cannot allow damage to my commanding officer.”

Spock assimilated this, then

“I have not been damaged.  I am not in any immediate danger of damage from any quarter.”

“You are my Captain.  I must protect my commanding officer.  You are at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”

“I am at no risk of damage from Captain Kirk.  He is my commanding officer.”

“You are my Captain.  This unit computes otherwise.  You have been and continue to be at risk of damage from Captain Kirk.”

And with that, he was back on Starbase Eleven.  That was when he understood that M3 had reached back into his unprotected mind at lightning speed when he offered it for the mind-meld.  The unit had seen everything, the fabrication of Kirk’s orders, the attack on the Starbase personnel, his self-inflicted arrest and court-martial.  But there was more.  The strain in the following days, the meeting with Sybok and the midnight conversation.  You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me.  If Spock could have closed his eyes against the picture of Kirk’s face as he said it, he would have done so.  If he could have chosen any other conversation to revisit, that particular exchange would not have been his preference.

Captain Kirk does not trust you and you are ashamed of your friendship with him.  Captain French has dismissed former Commander Manoriss from service and there is a calculable probability that Captain Kirk will adopt similar means.  You are my Captain.  I must protect my commanding officer.  I must prevent return to Deneva.”

Spock let a beat go and, even as part of him queried why he was arguing with a machine, he said,

“I have my own captain.  My function and desire is to serve Captain Kirk.  You will release me and the ship in order for me to do this.”

You are my Captain.  You are superior to Captain Kirk and your connection to him has been permanently damaged and provides no further benefit to either party or to this ship.”

Spock said,

“I order you to release me.”

The mind-meld ended abruptly and Spock took a quick step back.  The room steadied around him.  He took a breath, and said,

“Now I order you to restore the ship’s systems and to decommission yourself.”

M3 said,

“You are my Captain.  I must protect my commanding officer.  Permission to return to the bridge.” 

And, abruptly, Spock found himself alone in his quarters.

He reached for the intercom switch.

“Spock to bridge.”

“Bridge, Uhura here, sir.”

“Uhura, please ask Dr Daystrom to meet me in my quarters immediately.”

***

Kirk had spent the morning talking to the Department of Public Health about deploying military personnel to set up temporary morgues, and to the Department of Justice about the need to provide emergency helplines, legal advice and counselling.  It was Kirk’s experience that death might involve heart failure and scaly hands but it also invariably led to family breakdowns, financial queries and stress.  He then spoke to the Endeavour to discuss security issues and measures to attempt to contain the virus by barring vessels entering or leaving the quadrant.

“Although it’s something of a stable door being shut after the horse has bolted,” said Eli French, gloomily.

“Maybe,” Kirk said.  “Maybe not.  We don’t know how the thing travels, Eli.  Can’t be through space itself.  We just clamp down on all contact and all movement and we’re doing what we can.  HQ agrees.”

“Sorry you’re stuck here without your ship, Jim,” said French suddenly.  “If I hadn’t asked for your help…”

“I’d have been test-driving Daystrom’s latest,” he said, briskly.  “And been caught in the crossfire between Spock and McCoy, whose views I can only imagine.  So don’t worry, Eli.  The Enterprise will pick me up when the levels of contamination have dropped.  I’ve warned Spock to stay away.”

And of course, he mused, walking over to Sam’s quarters for lunch, Spock had, very properly, stayed away.  It was slightly unlike him, however, not to demur.  Typical Spock would have been a proposal either to retrieve Kirk through an airtight container or to come himself, without the rest of the crew.  Kirk would have permitted neither, for very obvious reasons, but he noticed, nonetheless, that Spock had not so much as commented on the danger to Kirk, the obvious risk of contagion in an epidemic where no one on Deneva had the slightest idea how the virus was transmitted.  Although it could reasonably and cogently be argued that Kirk himself had laid down the rules, had forbidden Spock to act out of personal concern.  It had been Kirk who had said “You of all people need no lectures from me, Spock, on the need to put duty above personal loyalty.”  Although, just now, that seemed more and more to have been a conversation which had taken place in another life.

He wondered if his delay in talking to the Vulcan properly about Talos IV, followed by that conversation in his quarters which had been worse than not talking, had strained their friendship too far, created a permanent rift.  He heard his own words You’re the one who feels ashamed when you feel friendship for me and winced.  Had he really said that to Spock?  Had he ever even wanted to?  Had he let it get that bad?

He thought that after lunch he would just put a call through to the Enterprise, not a subspace bulletin but a chance to try to speak to the Vulcan in real time, and then he arrived at the now familiar door to an unfamiliar scene inside.  Sam was speaking through a communicator in a tense, strained voice Kirk had never heard from his brother in his life, and from another room he could hear a woman crying.

Not just any woman.  Aurelan.  And suddenly, Kirk found himself remembering the last time he had come to see Sam, when Peter had not been here to shoot hoops because he had slept late.  He had slept late and Sam had said that one of the symptoms of the virus was lethargy and Aurelan was weeping in the little room beyond the kitchen and Peter was nowhere to be seen.  Kirk’s heart lurched, sharply and heavily.

“Sam?” he said, on a question.

Sam didn’t stop his conversation but he didn’t need to.  His eyes met his brother’s and Kirk could see the tears in them.  He reached out and held Sam’s shoulder, hard, and then released him and went into the room behind. 

Aurelan was crying softly in the chair next to the bed.  Kirk could see that she was trying not to disturb her son, but that she was entirely helpless to control herself.  She was an attractive woman, but almost unrecognisable – her entire face blotchy and spasming, her breathing harsh and uneven.  She barely spared Kirk a glance and his own eyes went straight to the small figure in the bed.  Even in the dimly lit room, he could see the pallour of his nephew’s skin, the freckles now in sharp relief, blue eyes closed, one hand lying listlessly on the blanket, the telltale signs of dermatitis polluting the slim boyish forearm.

He had never felt so helpless, even in those final seconds of Balok’s countdown to the supposed destruction of the Enterprise by the Fesarius.  And he remembered then the other children he had failed – the kids on Miri’s planet – Louise, the girl he had stunned and who had died.  And Charlie.

But it was different when it was your own flesh and blood.  Now that it was here, here in this room, he wondered about the speed of contagion – not for himself, because once you started thinking that way you stopped being a starship captain, simple as that – but for the rest of his family, for Aurelan and Sam.  And he suddenly remembered Sam asking him to take Peter off the planet and refusing to answer and coming up with some pompous silent reflections on the nature of nepotism.  How easy it had all seemed when Peter was shooting hoops and skinning his knees.  If only now it was as easy as beaming him up to the haven of guest quarters on a starship.

And his thoughts went to the Endeavour, and as they went to the Endeavour they went to Sybok.

And stopped.

Kirk had not seen Sybok since the day he had gone to interview him in the brig of the Endeavour and Sybok had spoken about Vulcan bigotry and claimed that the virus could be defeated if you came to terms with your inner pain.  Which was precisely why Kirk had not seen him since.  But Sybok had also said that none of his community had contracted the disease.  Not one, he had said.

Kirk took the thought out now, standing in a darkened room with the sound and feel of tears and a boy with scaly hands.  His irritation had not died away and nor had his inherent scepticism.  A virus as contagious as was proving to be the case on Deneva was very unlikely to have passed over Sybok’s entire community unless a different strain had hit Cregennan, or unless different circumstances prevailed – which would be the case, of course, in an entirely different biosphere.

Nevertheless, there was nothing else.  Sam had said “The answer is – I just don’t know.”

He had also said, and Kirk had not forgotten, that he didn’t trust Sybok. “Keep him away from my patients.”

And then there was the matter of the guard on the Endeavour, who had said “Captain French’s standing orders, sir.  No one is to be allowed inside the brig.”

And last, but by very means not least, there was Kirk himself.  Kirk, who didn’t have the slightest confidence that Sybok knew what he was talking about; Kirk, who was utterly unqualified to consider the medical ramifications of the virus; Kirk, who had sent his First Officer off on a mission with a multitronic unit because he didn’t think Spock could be trusted to handle family allegiances in a critical mission.

But against all that there was a pair of blue eyes and a game of hoops.

***

Daystrom’s face was angry, stubbornly closed off.

“I will not switch off M3 on the basis of his views of the recommendations of a disgraced Starfleet officer.”

“There is also the matter of intercepted communications and sabotaged systems,” Spock said.  “Not only have the information banks of the computer been sabotaged, all handheld phasers on board the ship have been disabled.  This will jeopardise any attempt to restrain M3 by force and suggests a high probability that the unit is responsible.”

“You have no evidence that this is the case, or that M3 intercepted anything at all.”

“It was an admission implicit in the mind-meld I undertook with it.”

Daystrom’s face lit up.  He ignored entirely the first half of Spock’s statement and said,

“It’s extraordinary, really amazing that M3 was able to undergo a Vulcan mind-meld.  It’s really far beyond my hopes, far beyond what could have been expected.  Do you realise what this means?  M3 is truly a sentient being, it has a consciousness.  My unit is alive!”

“That,” Spock said, cautiously, “is not entirely substantiated.  I am curious and somewhat concerned that M3 is developing in a manner beyond that which you hoped and expected.  A successful experiment would indicate, would it not, a pattern of functionality in complete accord with predicted outcomes?”

Daystrom said, stubbornly,

“M3 is functioning perfectly.  Perfectly!  I will not turn it off, not without an order from Starfleet Command.”

“Dr Daystrom, you know as well as I do that we are currently unable to communicate with Starfleet Command, due to interference from your unit.”

“My unit,” Daystrom said, continuing what Spock regarded as a unique human predilection for selective hearing and response, “is functioning perfectly in supervising the current course to Deneva.”

“At this precise moment, that may be in strict terms the truth.  However,” Spock added, “M3 is, in fact, being selective about complying with orders.”  As he said this, he suddenly realised the connection with M3’s creator and wondered whether Daystrom was sufficiently self-aware to hear the echo.  Daystrom’s face was still closed off, however, and so Spock continued,

“M3 is undoubtedly allowing this ship to proceed to Deneva for reasons distinct from any orders it has received and I have no knowledge as to its likely intentions when we arrive.”

 

 

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