Amanda’s widower had aged in the short time since her death. Sarek’s hair was still immaculately trimmed and groomed in the style of his people, but it had grayed along the temples and the hairline. His noble face bore new lines around the mouth and eyes, etched by sorrow and loss.
But there was a new warmth in his face when he looked at Spock that the younger Vulcan knew wasn’t there before. Spock might, in his more human moments, fancy that since his mother’s death, he had become precious in his father’s eyes.
“As always,” said Sarek, “your destiny is something only you can decide.” He looked at Spock with something akin to sorrowful affection, which he quickly hid beneath that cool, practiced Vulcan veneer. “But you are my son,” he continued. “And you are therefore Vulcan.”
“Father…?” Spock said questioningly. He didn’t know why he’d been summoned to the Vulcan embassy on the eve of the Enterprise’s departure, only that his father had requested his presence and that it was urgent.
Sarek held out a hand and Spock fell silent. The long sleeve of his Ambassador’s robe flicked as he gestured towards a Vulcan female, who stepped out from the shadows of the room like a ghost being summoned. She was a small-framed woman. Her facial features were severe, and she seemed to be the same age as Sarek.
“This is T’Saan,” Sarek introduced. “She has a position for you at the New Vulcan Science Academy that you might find… interesting.”
Spock’s eyes flickered from his father to T’Saan, noted that Sarek seemed hesitant while T’Saan was determined. “I am honored,” he said slowly. “But I have already made a commitment to Starfleet. Besides, as the councilmembers of the former Science Academy once stated, I am half-human and therefore at a disadvantage to a full Vulcan. Perhaps someone else more qualified…”
“But you are half-Vulcan, and therefore owe at least half a duty to your people, if not all,” said T’Saan. Her eyes were as gray as steel, and just as hard. Her accent had the lyrical undertones of an aristocrat, but also the strength of steel behind it. Something in her gaze seemed to cut Spock down until he felt as small as a child.
“Vulcan is dying,” she said bluntly. “Our people, our culture, our very existence is facing extinction. As one of our people, is it not logical to serve for a better future?”
She silenced him by holding up a thin, sharp-tipped finger. She took a step closer to him and he had to fight not to recoil. Against all Vulcan propriety, she gripped his chin in her spindly hand and held him still so she could study his face.
Something inside of him shuddered under her intense scrutiny. No one, not even his mother, had ever studied him this way, taking in the contours of his face as if she would leech out his human features.
“You are uniquely suited for this project, Spock,” she said. “The V’Shar does not make its decisions lightly; you are the best candidate to join the New Vulcan Science Academy. If we are successful, it could mean the salvation of our people. Will you turn your back on Vulcan, just so you can satisfy your own emotional needs to join Starfleet? For what? Excitement? Rebellion?”
“My loyalty to Starfleet has nothing to do with rebellion,” Spock protested. “I have a commitment. I cannot simply leave my captain and my ship…” T’Saan’s eyes were like burning coals, inexorable and unwavering like the heat of Vulcan’s sun.
Spock looked to his father for guidance.
“Spock,” intoned Sarek. “At least listen to what she has to say.”
Idly, Kirk reached up and polished the gold insignia on his shirt with his thumb, wiping away an imaginary smut. It gleamed under the bridge lights and reflected back the shiny sleekness of the Enterprise. He replaced his hand on the armrest of his command chair and tapped his fingers.
He waited. Then waited a minute more.
“Maneuvering thrusters and impulse engines at your command, sir,” Sulu reported from the helm. There was a hint of impatience in the lieutenant’s voice, as well as curiosity as to why the ship was still in the docking station when she’d been ready to depart for half an hour now.
“Thank you, Mr. Sulu,” Kirk replied. His gaze swept around the circular room of the bridge, silently appraising every console, every uniformed crewmember.
His crew. His bridge. Hisship.
He paused at the empty science station and frowned.
His missing science officer. His missing Spock.
Kirk tried to tamp down the deep disappointment welling up in his chest. He slid a finger between his neck and the collar of his shirt, pulling irritably at the snug fabric.
Uhura swiveled on her seat and said coolly, “Dock control reports ready for departure.”
She’d defiantly left out the sir at the end of that statement. Kirk knew that in her eyes, he was still the incorrigible cadet with the devilish smile and an irresponsibly big ego, hardly the captain of a starship with 400 lives under his command. He didn’t reprimand her, but gave her a small nod and a smile.
He tapped his finger against the arm of his chair. He waited. Then waited a minute more.
Chekov shifted in his seat, then reached over to adjust something at the helm controls. Sulu examined the toe of his boot, shined to perfection.
Dr. McCoy walked up behind him and touched his shoulder. “Jim,” he said gently. “I don’t think he’s coming.”
The disappointed sag of the doctor’s mouth told Kirk that he wasn’t the only one who had hoped Spock would return to fill his former position after Nero’s defeat. Kirk had more than hoped. He had expected Spock to be there, had somehow known, with unidentifiable certainty, that Spock would be there.
Hadn’t they set aside their differences? Hadn’t they proved, again and again, that they made an unbeatable team? That they complemented each other like two parts of a whole? In the mind meld, hadn’t he seen with his own eyes how good they might become, how inseparable…?
“Jim,” Bones said again. “There are tons of qualified people on this ship. Why does it have to be him?”
Because his place is at my side, as if he’s always been there and always will.
It was the whisper of a hint of a memory, a sentence spoken by a woman he’d had yet to meet and perhaps would never meet, something he had overheard rather than heard when the elder Spock had mind melded with him on Delta Vega.
The turbolift hissed open and Kirk’s head snapped up, his mouth already open to greet a late but welcome Vulcan. But it was only the chief of security, come back after making his rounds. He lowered his head again.
“Spock’s not coming,” said Uhura. She spoke softly, but her voice cut through the silence of the bridge like a knife. Kirk turned to look at her and saw that her face was lowered, her eyes drooping sadly downwards. Her hands were clenched in her lap.
He broke up with her, Kirk realized. Had broken it off so there’d be nothing tying him to the Enterprise. It felt like a shock of cold water. Spock really wasn’t coming.
Suddenly, anger bloomed within him. He felt his face growing hot. He couldn’t believe that Spock had just written them off like that, written off the Enterprise, their mission, their future. Not to mention Uhura. For what? Pride? Logic?
Before the shocked stares of his crew, he flung himself out of his seat and stalked to the turbolift.
“Stand by, Mr. Sulu,” he said, before the doors closed behind him.
Spock held the blue science shirt in his hands, rubbing the material between two fingers, allowing himself one hedonistic moment to feel the smooth sheen of the fabric against his skin. It was the last remaining piece of clothing in his apartment at the Academy. Everything else had been packed away. The closets and shelves had been stripped bare of his belongings as if he’d never been there, as if there was never any trace or memory of Lieutenant Commander Spock of the Starship Enterprise, Instructor Spock of Starfleet Academy.
The bare room echoed accusingly with the bang of the door, where Kirk had exited only a few minutes ago. The human had stormed into his apartment the same way he stormed into everything else – the Kobayashi Maru test, the Enterprise, Spock’s life – as if he’d had a right to everything, the passing grade, the captain’s seat, and Spock himself.
Shortly after the meeting with Sarek and T’Saan, Spock had turned in his resignation from Starfleet. It only took him an hour to fill out the necessary forms, take the proper exit interviews, and turn in his badge, his transponder, and his communicator.
When Spock had failed to show up at his post aboard the Enterprise, Kirk had strode into Spock’s half-packed room as if he’d owned the place, demanding an explanation. Spock’s ears still burned from their heated conversation.
“You’re resigning from Starfleet?”
“I thought we had an understanding, Spock. I thought we were good together. Why didn’t you fill the position for science officer?”
“My duties lie elsewhere…”
“You belong on the Enterprise, Spock. We both know that. So why are you running away?”
Spock laid out the blue science shirt on his bare mattress. He smoothed it with a hand that was well-practiced in folding Starfleet uniforms into precise dimensions. Nostalgia was illogical, but he was alone in the room with his back to the door. No one would catch him in a shameful moment of emotion. No one would see his lips part slowly, his eyes flutter closed, his finger tracing the gold edge of the Starfleet insignia on the breast of the shirt.
“You don’t like that I made captain, do you? You don’t like that I took command away from you. I’m just a smart-mouthed, upstart cadet that you still hold a grudge against because I beat your precious test, is that it?”
“Mr. Kirk, past circumstances are irrelevant to my departure.”
Spock gripped the gold insignia and held down the surrounding fabric with his other hand. He pulled it free of its magnetic clip. It twinkled like a little star in his hand as he held it up to the light.
“I’ve held the Enterprise for you this long. I won’t hold her any longer. I thought… I thought it was our destiny to be together. You and me, Spock. The finest command team in the fleet.”
“That is illogical. To assume something is destined to happen, even though there is no evidence to support-”
“I know, I know! I just…”
“Just what, Captain?”
The back of the badge popped off when Spock gave it a squeeze. There was a sliver of space inside where a tiny data chip had been hidden. Spock pulled it out and held it between the tips of two fingers.
The tiny black wafer contained a single sound file, an audio recording from Starfleet Academy archives. Plugged into a PADD or computer, it would play the recorded debate between him and Jim Kirk during the cadet’s hearing for cheating on the Kobayashi Maru.
It was logical to be impressed at the intelligent, if somewhat unconventional, rhetoric the young man had displayed that day. There was nothing wrong with acknowledging greatness in others. In fact, it was generous and morally commendable. But it was hardly logical to wear Kirk’s voice on his body. It was a purely emotional act that had driven him to search out, copy, encrypt, and encode their debate into the little jewel of a chip and then hide it so close to his heart..
Spock held the chip up to the light of the setting sun. There was a trill of laughter outside, and the voice echoed across the campus grounds and up to Spock’s window, a quavering memory of happiness.
What was it about Jim Kirk that fascinated him so much?
He suddenly felt sentimental, and wanted to plug the chip into his personal PADD so he could hear it again, their voices echoing in the auditorium, trading words like chess pieces.
“Listen, Spock, I know things haven’t exactly gone smoothly between us. I’m sorry for my part in that. I… I wish you happiness, Commander. Wherever you choose to go.”
“I hope… I hope you’ll remember me as a friend.”
“Not Captain. Jim. Please.”
“… Yes, Jim.”
There was a muted crunch as Spock crushed the data chip between his fingers. Sentimentality was not a Vulcan trait, and was he not Vulcan? T’Saan herself, leader of the V’Shar, had chosen him for this science mission because he was a perfect Vulcan specimen, had she not?
“Goodbye,” he whispered, and turned to go. His mission awaited him.
The tiny, one-man science vessel Palesh shuddered against another salvo of torpedoes.
As he bruised his hands on the helm controls of his floundering ship, fighting to stay on his feet as the floor rocked beneath him like an earthquake, Spock sorely wished that he had kept that tiny data chip. There was no other comfort to be had in the face of his imminent death or capture, certainly not in the neutral-toned voice of the computer warning him of imminent proximity danger. He longed for the easy confidence of Jim’s voice echoing in the Academy auditorium, even as it was directed in argument.
Filling the main viewscreen of the Palesh was the bone-chilling image of an Orion slaving ship. It easily outmatched the Vulcan ship in size, speed, and armaments by at least five times.
The Palesh was doomed in a fight. Spock knew it, and so did they.
“Surrender your ship and cargo, or be destroyed,” came the harsh voice of the Orion captain over the ship’s speakers.
Surrender would be the only logical option, but the Palesh could not be captured. At least not in one piece.
Even as he fought to stabilize the ship with one hand, Spock used the other to type in the sequence that would wipe the hard drives of the ship’s computers. His carefully gathered research must not fall into enemy hands.
It had been Spock’s own fault really, his human eagerness and bravado that drove him to trespass into the Borderlands for the sake of his mission. He had foolishly thought that such a small, non-descript ship as the Palesh wouldn’t even register as blip on the Orions’ sensors.
“You cannot escape,” droned the Orion. “Surrender now, or be destroyed.”
A familiar jerk told Spock that the science vessel had been caught in a tractor beam. He staggered but his shoes caught on the rough material of the floor, designed for traction.
He ignored the warning siren as his fingers flew over the computer panels, deleting the wealth of information stored there: technology and research, ship deployment and locations, and worst yet, the location and vulnerabilities of New Vulcan. He moved mechanically, his mind only on the protection and preservation of his people. That singular concentration was reflected in his serene expression and the determined set of his jaw.
He wouldn’t allow himself to fear for his own life yet.
The metal hull of the Palesh groaned as it was pulled into the Orion ship’s docking bay.
Spock wasn’t afraid. Because soon, he would never be afraid again.
Orange sparks flew up from multiple short-circuits. He coughed and waved away a plume of smoke from a damaged computer console. Nodding slightly to himself in grim satisfaction, he reached under the ledge of the main console and felt for the series of buttons that would trigger the ship’s self-destruct mechanism.
The simple command would overload the Palesh’s engines and cause quite a sizable explosion. He would destroy himself along with the science vessel to ensure the safety of his people’s knowledge and perhaps, with a little luck, cripple the Orion ship as well.
It was the wisest choice. Better to be destroyed than be captured and tortured for information. It was the logical choice.
Yet, Spock hesitated. His finger paused against the square bump that would end his life, only applying half the pressure it would take to depress the button.
Yes, he regretted not being able to complete his mission. The sting of failure was a typical Vulcan reaction. Yes, he regretted the untimely end to his young life. He had not even lived long enough to experience his first Pon Farr. He regretted the grief that his father would experience. He regretted the loss of an intelligent and productive mind to the Vulcan people and the Federation.
But it was none of those regrets that stayed his hand. At that moment, all he could think about was a certain human. The confident glint in Jim Kirk’s eyes, that defiant chin, the sure slant of his smile that conveyed arrogance, self-assurance, hope, warmth, friendship, and love all at once. The easy way he sprawled in the captain’s chair as if he was born to it.
Spock wondered how his life would have changed if he had taken the science officer’s position aboard the Enterprise. How his relationship with the Captain would have developed, whether they would ever have become friends.
It was the crash of the bridge doors being forced open that brought him to his senses. He had left it too late. In that moment of hesitation, he had allowed the Orions to board his ship.
Before he could react, or even turn around to face his enemies, a stun beam hit him square in the back and he was buffeted forward. His stomach hit the console with the force of a punch and he slumped to his knees before falling over, unconscious.
Galath-Har, privateer and loyal member of the Orion Syndicate, stepped through the jagged remains of the bulkhead. He was flanked by two guards and his trusted lieutenant, Martas. They were all similar in appearance, green-skinned, muscular, and bald, but Galath-Har was a head taller than his subordinates and twice as wide. His skin was stretched taut over boulder-like muscles and gleamed like green velvet under the flickering lights.
He seemed too bulky for the confines of the small room as he strode through the length of the bridge, gazing disinterestedly at the array of fizzling computers and viewscreens.
“The cargo?” he grunted at Martas.
The lieutenant looked up from his handheld scanner and uttered a disappointed rumble. “Nothing but plant samples. Whole crates of them, some fresh, some pickled, some liquefied.”
Galath-Har shrugged one massive shoulder. He had no interest in plants. The Vulcan’s collection could have been for biological warfare or a giant salad for all he cared. He was no scientist.
“Start cataloguing the parts of the ship that we can sell,” he ordered. “Not much of a haul, but we can salvage the fuel.” He stepped around the fallen Vulcan, tilting his bald head curiously as he examined the slack face and the long, graceful limbs. He grinned, showing a set of stained teeth.
“This one may be of some value.”
He snapped his fingers and the two guards moved to take the Vulcan’s arms, lifting the specimen up to a standing position.
Still unconscious, Spock’s head lolled to his chest. Galath-Har and gripped the dark hair in a ham-sized fist and pulled back so he could see the captive’s face.
He had the sharp, regal (snooty, in Galath-Har’s opinion) bone structure that was common to his species, which gave his face its handsome angles. However, there was a contrasting softness there as well, a slight rounding of his jaw so that his chin was gentle, almost beautiful, rather than severe. His lips were parted and oddly sensual, tender to the touch. His lashes were dark and feathery against the pale cheek.
Galath-Har squeezed the soft cheeks inwards so that Spock’s mouth fell open. He pulled back Spock’s bottom lip with his pinky to check the teeth and gums, sniffing for the stink of tooth decay and satisfied to find none. He probed the Vulcan’s mouth and tongue and was delighted to find it warm and wet.
Wiping his hand on his uniform, he stepped back and made a slight slashing motion with his right hand. The guard on the right nodded and drew the blade at his belt.
Spock’s tunic, delicately stitched and embroidered in the Vulcan style, was slit from neck to hem. The waist and crotch of his trousers received the same treatment, as well as his undergarments. He was fully naked in seconds, dark cloth pooling around his feet like spilled water. The blade work was so expert that not a single nick showed on his pale skin.
Galath-Har gazed appreciatively at the smooth length of Spock’s body. He ran a hand down the hairless chest, pinching a nipple to test its pliancy. He patted the shapely hips and prodded the slim yet muscled arms. His hand was large enough to circle an entire thigh, and he grabbed one and lifted it apart from the other to expose the Vulcan’s genitalia.
“Age?” Galath-Har grunted at his lieutenant. He handled Spock’s most intimate parts with a casualness that was common to purveyors of the flesh such as himself. He was gentle enough, but not out of compassion. He didn’t want to bruise the flaccid penis or the delicate scrotal sack, for fear of lowering the Vulcan’s value.
“Young,” replied Martas. The scanner in his hand whirred clinically as he held it up to the Vulcan’s body.
Galath-Har checked Spock’s genitals for imperfections, rashes, or any sort of discharge. Of course, he could have just asked Martas to scan for infections or disease, but he was an old-fashioned slaver. He liked to handle the goods himself, feel the meat and skin between his fingers, as a cloth merchant would test a bolt of silk before he bought or sold.
The lieutenant looked intrigued at the sensor readings. “Interesting. Half-Vulcan, half-human.”
Galath-Har stood and let the leg fall back into place. He made a twirling motion with one finger. The guards turned Spock around and bent him over, displaying the smooth, shapely buttocks.
The Orion grasped a mound of flesh in each hand and squeezed gently. Supple. Soft, but with an underlying hardness of muscle.
“Well-used?” he asked the lieutenant.
The scanner whirred for a moment before Martas declared, “No sexual intercourse for as far back as this instrument can register. That would be five years, at least. Perhaps he’s even a virgin.”
Galath-Har hummed appreciatively as he parted the buttocks and ran a thumb down the crack. A slight nudge to Spock’s ankle had his legs parted wide, exposing the parts of his body that no one had touched before, outside of himself, his mother when he was a baby, and the occasional physician during routine checkups.
Spock’s entrance was an enticing rosette, tight and dusky. Galath-Har found himself repressing a shiver of delight. The hands-on approach was practical and rooted in tradition, but there were pleasurable perks as well.
He checked carefully for tears and abrasions, any dots of blood around the anus that would indicate sickness, and found none. He smiled. This Vulcan was as pristine as the first snowfall of the season. Practically perfect, a fine specimen of whoreflesh that would bring value to any brothel.
It was when he inserted the blunt tip of his finger into the tight pucker that the Vulcan stirred. A soft gasp escaped from Spock’s throat. Dark eyes blinked and opened to stare blearily at his captors, then widened in alarm as he registered the intruding touches on his body.
He hadn’t even begun to struggle when the younger, less experienced guard punched him in the side of the head, knocking him back into unconsciousness.
Galath-Har drew his sidearm and shot the guard in the leg. The smell of charred flesh permeated the bridge as the guard crumpled to the floor, screaming in pain.
“Damage the merchandise again,” the privateer said calmly, “and I will kill you and sell you as food.”
He glanced at Spock, who now hung limply in the second guard’s grasp. A greenish bruise was forming on his temple.
“We’ll take the Vulcan with us,” he announced. He rubbed his hands with the glee that was characteristic of a merchant who’d just landed a good trade and was expecting a fortune. “He’ll be valuable.”
“Endangered species always are,” agreed Martas, sharing a smile with his captain. “They’ll be lined up in circles around the whorehouse to get a taste of him.”
A warning look from Galath-Har silenced the lieutenant. “The tallith will decide where he goes,” he said. He gave Spock one last appreciative look. “The tallith will be pleased.”