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I have said, you are gods... But you shall die like mortals and fall like one of the princes. (Psalm 82:6-7) *****

A metallic tang lingered in the air, biting at the back of their throats with each harried inhalation: a byproduct of disruptor fire. Kirk motioned to Spock with the weapon stolen from one of their guards, wiping his bloody nose with the other hand. Slipping his head around the following corner to the right, Spock gestured with two fingers and a pumped fist: two more Orion guards in a dead end; no point going that way.

Behind them, back the way they came, the sound of hobnailed boots on metal deck-plating echoed. They had to move, or risk being recaptured – and neither of the Enterprise officers found the prospect of being sold into slavery an appealing one. Kirk nodded his head to move forward, and Spock fell in beside him as they did their best to hurry without running into unwanted resistance.

There was a guard up ahead.

"Damn!" Kirk hissed as the guard, surprised by their appearance, took a moment to register before raising his weapon.

"In here!" Spock loosened a panel – as luck would have it, a hatch to an access tube with a ladder leading down. Excellent. Kirk swiftly dispatched the hapless guard and climbed in behind Spock.

They scaled the ladder and found themselves at a junction with access tubes fanning in three directions. It appeared they had climbed down as far as the vertical tube would go, indicating they were close to the lowest deck of the ship.

"What now?" Kirk rested his hands on his hips, chest heaving. The air was already thin, and thinner here, in what were clearly the bowels of the slaver ship.

"If my memory of Orion ship design is accurate, we should not be far from a bay of escape pods," Spock replied. "This way."

Kirk nodded and took point, crawling along the right-most passage. It seemed to go on forever – or perhaps it was simply the threat of pursuit and the precariousness of the situation which made it seem like hours before the tube emerged through another portal into a corridor. And almost directly opposite the portal were three escape hatches.

"Report, Mr. Spock," Kirk demanded after an inspection of the hatches.

"There are two escape pods; the hatch to the far pod is jammed, possibly sealed; the third hatch is missing its pod completely."

"That leaves just this one…"

"And unfortunately, the status of the pod indicates the oxygen supply is already at 65% capacity," Spock observed.

"Guess these Orions have no intention of anyone escaping the ship in the event of disaster." Kirk examined the status panel beside the hatch. "Well, Mr. Spock. There's no time to go looking for another route of escape. It seems to me there are two alternatives: surrender ourselves and resign ourselves to a life of slavery; or pile into this pod and try our luck."

"Captain, you are aware this is a one-man pod."

"And your point is?"

The sounds of scuffling echoed around them. Their course decided, Kirk hit the release valve on the hatch with the butt of the disruptor and gestured for Spock to climb in first. The Vulcan stretched himself out supine in the space barely bigger than a photon torpedo casing, and waited for Kirk to seal the hatch and release the docking clamps. The Captain finally slid into place beside Spock. They looked up at the roof of the pod, at the control panel.

"Can you operate this, Spock?"

There was a pause as the Vulcan's fingers danced over the pad, resulting in the pod being successfully shunted down a tube. It was going to be a rough ride. "I believe so," he replied belatedly.

Another push of a button, and their pod was shot into the free-fall of space.

"Do you think they'll fire on us?"

"While this is not Federation territory, neither is it safe for Orion traders. It would be in their interests to leave us to our fate." Spock continued to plug away at the pad.

"Hmmm," the Captain mused. "I suppose if they knew all their escape pods are compromised…"

"Indeed."

A moment's silence.

"So, Spock. Any idea of where we are?"

"The sensors on this pod are limited in range. I am able to say that we are light years from Federation space."

"How long were we in the custody of the Orions?"

"Approximately twelve hours, twenty four minutes."

Kirk raised an eyebrow. "Approximately?"

"… and fifty seconds. If precision is required."

"Fifty seconds."

Now the Vulcan looked at the Captain, who was clearly teasing him, giving him that expression.

Kirk laughed at his friend's mixed mild disgust and fond exasperation.

"Alright," he collected himself. "That procedure the Meriksians are carrying out on the ship means it will be at least another six days before Scotty gets back to his 'wee bairns', and another six days after that until shore leave is over. So another twelve, maybe thirteen days before we're missed."

The Enterprise had docked in the spaceport of Meriksos Magna for the final negotiations to bring the Meriksian system (nine inhabited planets in all) into the United Federation of Planets. The final event of the negotiations was an enormous gala dinner, to be followed by two weeks' shore leave; Meriksos Magna was a peaceful and tranquil place, the central jewel and locus of interplanetary government for the system. It offered a great number of recreational pastimes and activities – mountain hideaways, lakeside resorts, beach huts in the tropics, bars, women (and men, and others of indeterminate gender), museums, galleries, music halls, and so forth, something to suit everyone's taste. The perfect leave for a crew weary from six months of being on patrol along the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Captain and First Officer had been picked off by Orion slavers, kidnapped surreptitiously at the conclusion of the dinner as they walked back to their accommodation through the great central park.

"It is unlikely, after such length of time has elapsed, that the Enterprise will be able to trace the ion trail of the Orion ship." Spock did the mental calculations, pondering the half-life of negatively charged ions.

Kirk's lips flattened grimly. Out here, well beyond the edges of (known and explored) Federation space, the chance of anyone finding them was slim indeed. They had no way of knowing exactly how far they'd come; Orion ships were not well-constructed, but they were capable of warp 9.6 when pushed.

"Right. Are they any M-class planets nearby where we could at least set down? I don't much like the idea of suffocating and or freezing to death out here."

Spock pushed a few buttons on the pad. "There is an M-class planet 0.7 light years from our current location. Beyond the fact that it is habitable, these sensors show no other details."

"Set a course, Mr. Spock. How long will it take us to get there?"

"The pod has a micro-drive capable of quarter impulse speed. Thirty hours."

"And how long will the air last?"

Another calculation. "Twenty eight, twenty nine point five if we conserve oxygen."

"Doable. Just," Kirk concluded.

Spock set a course and then turned down the life support as far as he dared in order to extend its capabilities. He was painfully conscious of the fact that he had just given the Captain an estimation; there was no way of knowing the efficiency of this Orion, poorly maintained, pod.

They lay on their sides, facing each other, carefully not touching.

It was extremely uncomfortable, and very cold. As an hour, two hours passed in a silence in which neither man breathed heavily, Kirk's chagrin grew. The Captain, of all people on the ship, was desperate for shore leave. He'd been looking forward to finding… companionship of the intimate variety while his Silver Lady of the Stars was microbially scrubbed. The Meriksians had technology which performed the equivalent of stripping the barnacles off old Earth sailing vessels, cleaning away space dust and grit that clung to the ship, both inside and out. They had offered it to the Federation's flagship as a gesture of goodwill. The fact that his desire for intimate company had been thwarted now left him feeling sexually frustrated. Sometimes on leave, the best way of relaxing was to have a (literally) fucking good time. And Kirk, continent as he had been for all those months in the Neutral Zone, yearned for release.

Of course, most of the time he was able to channel his sexual energy into command. One had to be well-disciplined to command a starship. Most of the time the enforced virtual celibacy for the sake of the Silver Lady of the Stars, his mistress, the one who commanded him, even as he sat in her command chair at the middle of her command centre, was endurable.

But now he was trapped in an escape pod on an all but hopeless journey with his First Officer, with little to no prospect of relieving the sexual urges no starship's tritanium and steel could quell. Spock was an attractive man. Being, Kirk corrected himself, for Spock was only half human. They shared an intimacy, a treasured friendship. He was not… sexually attracted to the Vulcan – at least, he didn't think so. Of course, his body was saying otherwise; cramped in a tight space with a warm body, which belonged to an intimate friend, his own body saw only Opportunity. It would be so easy to… But no. No, no. It would be unfair, a desecration of their friendship even to ask to use Spock so. The Captain instilled again, wearily, the discipline of containment, channeling that raw, sexual energy into the very real need to survive in this cramped and airless space.

Little did Kirk know, Spock had his own issues with this tight situation. To all intents and purposes most likely he would look to Kirk as though he had entered a deep trance – and to some extent, that was the truth; Spock had deliberately slowed his autonomic systems to minimize his need to consume air – and to afford the Captain greater use of the same. His human friend would need all the oxygen he could get; Spock at least had the benefit of Vulcan physiology, which required less of everything to survive. Nevertheless, Spock was aware with startling clarity of the peril they were in. Certainly, of their physical peril, the threat to their lives if they could not make landfall. But in some ways more pertinently, the danger of being so close to one with whom he already shared a deep link. Their proximity could only serve to deepen that link, regardless of whether they desired such intimacy or not.

He had, of course, informed Jim of the link. The Captain welcomed it, smiled warmly at Spock at the news – which was not what Spock had been expecting. He'd expected Kirk's anger, anger at being pinned down, chained to Spock in some way, his free spirit curtailed. In spite of the man's acceptance of the link, Spock assumed the link featured more prominently in his own consciousness than in Jim's. Jim could have no conception of the significance of mental links for Vulcans. There was the consciousness all Vulcans shared of all other Vulcans. There were the mental links of parents with their children; links between siblings; links between friends; and also the kan-telan or later, the telik, or marriage bond. All of these links situated an individual Vulcan mentally and psychologically, and without them a Vulcan suffered. Beyond all of those links, there was another… and it differed in quality and significance, was shrouded in the mystery and mystique of suppressed ancient drives. Spock barely dared to whisper such… sacrilege… to himself, even in the silence of his own meditation. And yet, that the was sort of connection he believed he shared with Kirk. If it were so, then no other bond he could make with another would ever compare to this pearl of great price. To Kirk, Spock's pearl of great price. The truth was, Spock… desired… that pearl greatly.

Yet desire was anathema to logical Vulcans. The obligation of one who considered himself suvel nahan po-Surak was to channel desire, along with the deep urges of the Vulcan psyche, into the pursuit of logic. The deep primal energy throbbing in Spock's depths had been honed and channeled where possible, suppressed where impossible. For the most part he sublimated his energies in the disciplines of meditation. Even his work as a scientist and the attention he gave to his duties as officer in Starfleet could be seen as meditative exercises used to channel his life-energies. But Spock also remembered the red sands of his homeworld, the fire in his blood at The Time, pulsing, beating with the ancient rhythms… and it was still there, to his shame, the triumph of logic incomplete. The pon farr was long over. And yet there was no escape from the reality that Spock was of Vulcan, and the natural cycles, the energy which pulsed in its core, were his own.

The temperature in the pod was dropping. Spock became acutely aware of the Captain's suffering; with his higher body temperature, and his inability to regulate his autonomic functions, Kirk would be feeling this more than Spock himself. Without thinking about it, he reached out and drew the Captain close.

Kirk resisted a little, and then gave, gladly pressing himself to his friend's body.

"Are you sure," he began through chattering teeth, "that you don't mind this?"

How could Spock object to such a precious opportunity?

"Negative. It is logical to share body heat."

They clung together like twins in a womb, waiting to be born into whatever unknown lay ahead.

*****



"It was just as well," Kirk panted, his hands on his knees as Spock reached the lip of the ground on which the Captain stood, "we landed in an area with snow to cushion the fall."

He reached down a hand to help pull the Vulcan up until he stood next to him. Spock was barely winded by the climb up the hole the burning escape pod had punched through the snow.

They stood, looking around them, assessing their position. They were on the side of a mountain. Above them, its peaks soared into a thin blue sky. About a thousand metres below them the snow line petered out into the first green of early spring. Far off in the distance they glimpsed a river delta, the dark green of vegetation lining a watercourse. It was freezing, their breath ghosting before them.

Kirk turned to look at the Vulcan, noticing that his nose and the points of his ears were green with the cold. Vulcans… desert dwellers… right. He had to get Spock to a warmer climate, and quickly.

He pointed out across the vista to the north. "I think we should head that way, towards the sun and the warmth. The pod wasn't able to tell us whether the planet is inhabited?"

Spock shook his head, his teeth clenched to keep them from chattering.

"Then we'll have to take our chances."

They started their way downhill and northwards, trudging through the snow, falling into drifts which collapsed beneath their feet. The sun was closing on the horizon to the west as they cleared the snow line. They were surrounded by tundra-like bushes, low to the ground, tough enough to survive long periods of the year in extreme cold.

This presented a problem: there was no obvious place to take refuge from the wind which was stirring, blowing off the ice and snow further up the mountain. They plodded on, searching for a dell, a cave, a copse of trees, anything that could act as a windbreak. As they went, they each gathered a bundle of sticks and twigs; no food, no water (apart from handfuls of snow) – but at least they would be able to build a fire, assuming they found sufficient shelter.

Still heading downhill, they came across an outcrop of large rocks.

"This looks like it's the best we're going to be able to do for now. I'll start a fire. Will you go and see if you can find anything to eat, and any water sources?" Kirk asked. They'd been able to consume snow to replenish their water, but it had now been hours since they'd left the snow itself behind. "There must be a spring somewhere."

Kirk set to, making a ring of stones, laying the sticks, twigs and other wood they'd gathered in such a way that they would burn most efficiently. It wasn't the first time he'd been grateful for grandfather Tiberius' scouting instruction: within a few minutes of rubbing sticks together and with the sacrifice of some hair, he had a spark, then a flame, and then a very welcome fire. He sat for a moment savouring the warmth. At least if they could keep the fire going, the close circle of stones behind them should reflect the heat, and retain it for a few hours.

As he crouched beside the new fire, his vision shifted, and in the gathering dark he thought he heard and felt… something… Not voices. An awareness, an otherness… He gasped, a surge of energy passing up through his feet and out through the top of his head, raising the hackles on the back of his neck, and making him shudder.

"Captain?" Spock enquired, worry in his voice. He came over and knelt beside the fire, opposite Kirk.

Kirk broke out of… whatever it was, and turned his attention to the Vulcan, who was now warming his hands. Spock's hands: dexterous, multi-talented, strong, and delicate all at once; sensitive Vulcan hands, full of capillaries and with more than double the nerve endings of human hands, key to their telepathic communication… And utterly captivating, alarmingly sensuous.

He mentally shook himself before responding. "I'm fine, Spock. Any success?"

"There is a small stream one hundred and fifty metres that way," he pointed east. "I was unsuccessful in locating sustenance, although I did hear the sounds of small animals in the undergrowth. Whether they would prove edible I am unable to determine. If I had my tricorder…"

"But we don't. And even if the fauna is safe to eat, we've got nothing to catch it with."

"Nevertheless," Spock rejoined, "we cannot go indefinitely without food. Given that this area is clearly at the cusp of winter turning to spring, edible vegetable matter will be relatively scarce. When we come across the right materials, we should furnish ourselves with basic weapons."

"In any case, our immediate problem is keeping this fire going. My turn to get a drink."

Spock drew closer to the fire as Kirk departed, gazing into the flames. He meditated often using his asenoi, the flame a simple way of entering the meditative state. There was something mesmerizing about contemplating these flames as they licked and danced, quite aside from meditative discipline. Looking into the flames, Spock saw the points of action and reaction which produced the fire. He blinked and looked again: it was as though series and rows of tongues were weaving together, dancing, as through the crackle and roar pulsed with the beat of drums… He felt his heart throbbing in his side in time with the beat of the fire…

How long he sat there he did not know, only that his attention shifted when Kirk returned to the circle of stone, dragging a whole dead bush to be broken up. Hopefully the wood of that bush would be sufficient to warm them throughout the night ahead.

*****



Kirk stripped off his command gold shirt with relief, tying it around his waist. It was just as well: after nearly five days with little to eat, and with two and a half days of marching (albeit in an overall downhill direction), he needed something to hold his pants up.

They were now tramping across natural plains dotted with clumps of willowy trees. All around them spring was awakening, its fecundity a riotous celebration of new life. The rapidity of spring's progress they had witnessed in the past two and a half days of their journey was astonishing: the overnight sprouting of vivid flowers in grass, on bush, on tree; the amorous exploits of birds, the animals which were this planet's equivalent of deer, and even some ground-cats as they openly copulated, often and prolifically. The nights were still chilly, but the days were bright and warm, and would have been perfect for walking had they had adequate supplies.

The first copse of good trees they'd come across the two had fashioned primitive bows and arrows, and a stone whose serrated, sharp edge formed a primitive knife. At least now they were able to shoot game. Last night they'd even found some tubers and herbs which made a passable meal for Spock, who preferred not to eat the meat.

Neither man mentioned the odd experiences – a whisper, a sense of presence or awareness, a surge of energy rising from the earth. How could one put a name to the nameless force that seemed alive in this atmosphere? Or perhaps, naming the nameless force was merely an act of superstition – and as this was the logical conclusion, it was hardly worth discussing.

As he kept trudging on, the sun's heat strong on his now bared arms, Kirk reflected on the unsettling episode from last night. They had eaten, and were sitting on opposite sides of the fire. Spock's head was cast back, his eyes closed as he rested leaning against the stone which was still warm from the day's sun. Kirk watching him, marveling as the firelight cast Spock's features into relief, shadows weaving across the line of brow and lip and cheek. And then suddenly, as though sensing Kirk's observing gaze, Spock had raised his head, and looked directly at the Captain, his eyes black and burning with some flame flickering in their depths which left the human momentarily breathless before it was gone.

What was it? What had he seen? His heart pumped in his breast now, just thinking about the way Spock had looked at him, his guard down. Most importantly, what did it mean? Kirk felt energy stirring in his groin, in the roots of his being – and then dismissed the disconcerting incident as a product of their current predicament. Being surrounded by the mating antics of many species and the invigorating scent of spring, Kirk reasoned, was enough cause for his own body to join in the festivities. Once again, he took several deep breaths, willing his desire and instinct into active service.

Off to his right, a bird called to its mate, its cry haunting, beautiful. The response came from behind him, just as sweet and bitter. They'd heard this cry yesterday too, had traced it to a bird with one eye with a streak of green feathers down its chest and along the edges of its wings. It had been intermittent this morning, but ever followed them as they made their way towards the line of the river. Now he thought about it, that was… unusual.

"Spock."

Spock, who'd taken point, slowed. "Captain?"

"I think we're being followed."

Spock listened intently, his keen Vulcan ears hearing only the sigh of wind through grass and branch and over stone. They were currently in a place where the grass was almost waist-high.

"Let's sit down here for a while, and see what happens," Kirk whispered. If it came to it, if nothing happened, they could crawl through the grass for a while until they reached the next windbreak.

They sat, shrouded by grasses sweet with the heat of the sun, for a good half hour (Spock judged) before deciding silently to head off, crawling towards the closest stand of trees.

As he crawled through the grasses, Spock processed possible scenarios and calculated possible responses to them. The bird calls could be simply that: the sounds of those particular, somewhat unusual species. They could also be serving as the communication between sentient beings who were now tracking him and the Captain – and if that were the case, the odds became longer against their long-term survival. So far they'd seen nothing indicating technological advancement, no aircraft overhead, no tall buildings on a far horizon, no smog or smoke indicating settlement. For all they knew, the planet (at least in this area of it) was uninhabited. Although by the same token, the incident of indigenous species they'd seen already suggested that higher (sentient) life was at least a possibility.

But these considerations were only part of what absorbed Spock's attention as they crept on down through a dell, up the other side, and crossed a small spring. He was profoundly aware, with the earth of this spring-world on his hands and knees, of the smell of damp soil, of the richness and promise of life which seemed to call to his bones and thrum in his blood. The sensation was disorienting, primal, and not easily quantified.

Somewhat distracted, he came suddenly to where the grass shortened in the shade of the trees.

"Karh!"

He looked up. Kirk, a short distance behind him, sensibly stayed hidden in the grass. Spock found himself surrounded by a dozen Vulcanoid males with arrows tensed on their bowstrings and ready to shoot. It sounded like a command to stop. Slowly he raised his hands and straightened.

The leader, who didn't have a weapon aimed at him, said something sharp of which Spock was only able to make out the word dah-kuh (two).

"Rai," Spock replied, shaking his head, guessing that if these were Vulcanoid, then perhaps their language may bear similarities to his own. He and Kirk both had subdermal universal translator chips, but it would take the UT some time to be able to translate this language.

"Da!" the being insisted, closing on Spock and gesturing to two warriors, who bent low, searching in the grass until they'd located Kirk.

The leader drew close to Spock, fingered the velvet of his (now filthy) science tunic, turned his face one way and the other, examined Spock's pointed ears while feeling his own. He stepped back, turning with eyes wide with wild conclusions to speak hastily to his second in command.

The two warriors deposited a non-plussed Kirk next to Spock, who struggled to his feet. Another two stripped them both of their hastily made weapons.

"Pud'ltor," the whispers around the captives grew into an almost worshipful frenzy before the leader gestured for silence.

Spock took in the warriors' dress: animal skins for their upper torsos, and each man had a skinned trophy head of some prey as a genital pouch (for want of a better description). The outfit was cinched around the waist with a furry rope of some kind, possibly plant-based, possibly strips of skin wrapped in a skein – it was difficult to tell. Each man had a ragged-edged homespun and woven cloak attached to the shoulders of his skin-tunic. They all carried spears with metal tips and long knives. All had tattoos in different places on their bodies in swirling designs which reminded Spock of Vulcan calligraphy.

The leader spoke to Spock, too quickly for him to be able to decipher any of what he said.

"We do not understand you," Kirk began. "We come in peace."

The leader made a sharp gesture, and one of the guards struck Kirk across the face. More words, this time addressed to Kirk, with a glance and reproving tone directed at Spock.

Spock inched closer to Kirk, quelling an urge to leap to his Captain's defense.

"You will not harm the Captain or myself," he said, summoning every ounce of indignant command tone. "Ish-veh nam-tor telsu t'nashveh. Ri-estuhl pudvel-tor t'nash-veh!" (He is my bonded; touch not my chosen!)

The leader gave Spock a strange look, and then issued another command to the warriors standing by. Two grasped Spock, and two grasped Kirk by their arms, and they started off at a swift pace. The Starfleet officers struggled to keep up. Surrounded by warriors before, beside, behind, there was no opportunity for escape.

The march seemed to take forever, the pace unrelenting. Spock kept his eyes on the Captain, who was ahead of him, noting with worry the exhaustion and stumbling, and the rough-handed treatment by their captors of the human. Already weakened by days of little food, the human's reserves were low. Spock watched, helpless to protect the man, their impatient captors unsympathetic – or not cognizant of Kirk's struggle; for he was putting up a determined fight with his own depletion.

Abruptly, Kirk fell, bringing the party to a halt. The guards angrily urged him to get up and keep going, manhandling him until he was on his feet again. But they hadn't long started off when the Captain fell again. Spock took advantage of the fracas to escape his own guards and duck to Kirk's side.

"He is human; are you unable to see that he cannot continue as we have been? It is not logical to – " Spock's head snapped in a burst of stars to one side, and he tasted blood. He was roughly pulled away, and Kirk was hauled up to be dragged now between two strapping youths, barely conscious.

Finally, as night was falling, they came to a rough encampment, tents made (it seemed) of bark pitched between trees, with a large central fire. Kirk and Spock were deposited in one of the tents. Even Spock, who had the benefit of Vulcan physiology and greater endurance, fell gratefully to the pile of grasses and skins which served as a rough pallet.

They were left for a time with a guard at the front of the tent observing them, while the sounds of camp being made echoed around them. Spock gently unwound the Captain's shirt from his waist, and dabbed away the sweat and grime, noting the obvious sunburn. It was likely the man was suffering from heat-stroke.

"He requires water. Masu," Spock said to the guard, miming the action of drinking. The guard stared back impassively.

Even if they'd been able to overcome the guard, escape would be foolish; Spock wasn't able to carry the Captain indefinitely, and these bronze-age (it seemed) warriors were skilled trackers working in their own territory. The chances of escape were slim. There was nothing for it but to wait.

Eventually the sounds of the camp mellowed. Voices could be heard raised in song and laughter, though Spock couldn't understand the words. Footsteps came towards the tent and the entrance parted to reveal the leader carrying a bowl and a beaker.

He held the beaker out to Spock, who drank and then attempted to stir the Captain. Kirk moaned, but groggily accepted the drink. The leader watched, and then wordlessly handed the bowl to Spock. The contents of the bowl smelled edible, and he scooped some up with his fingers. It was not to his taste, and it was gamey. But it was food. He propped the Captain up now, taking more of the foodstuff on his fingers and holding them to Kirk's mouth. Weakly, the man ate what Spock offered until most of the food was gone.

The meal finished, Spock wiped his fingers on his pants, cradling the Captain who was somewhat delirious between his legs and propped up against him.

The warrior-leader squatted before them and asked a question of Spock.

Spock shook his head. "Our language is too dissimilar." He wrapped his arms protectively around his Captain.

The leader's lips pursed. "Telkar," he said, gesturing to himself.

"Telkar," Spock nodded. "I am Spock. This is Kirk."

"Spokh. K'rk."

"Spock. Kirk," the Vulcan repeated, encouraged.

The leader crept closer, raising one hand with the heel of his palm towards Spock. Unsure of what this meant, Spock flinched away.

"Ryu," the leader said, retreating, and then advancing again to raise his palm to the centre of Spock's forehead.

Spock felt pressure against his mental shields,

- and then was in mindscape.

Who are you?

I am Spock
, he said to the other's presence. The presence of the leader persisted in pushing against Spock's shields, surprised by the strength of the barrier.

I am practiced in disciplines of the mind. You will find it difficult to breach my shields.

Difficult, but not impossible. It would be best if I do not need to force you.

My people see this as invasion.


The presence didn't respond for a time, and then withdrew.

It matters not. I have seen that which is needful. You are Chosen.

What do you mean?

You are Chosen, and he will reveal all.


The presence faded from Spock's mind.

Telkar grabbed Kirk and tore him from Spock's arms. Spock cried out and launched himself towards the leader – in vain, for the guard now fell on him, pinning him to the ground.

"Telkar, do not do this. He is human; he is not like us. His mind – "

The guard pressed Spock's face into the dirt until he began to see stars. When the guard let go, Spock gasped, choking and blinking soil from his eyes. Telkar's palm was pressed to Jim's face, and the Captain was moaning and struggling feebly against the stronger Vulcanoid form.

Primal rage filled Spock and his vision blurred green. In a great surge he pushed up and threw himself at Telkar, pulling him up and threatening with a clenched fist to bust the man's jaw.

"So," said the warrior-leader, "he is your bonded. Does he understand the connection?"

"Do not touch him again!" Spock hissed.

"Tell me, Spock. If he is your mate, why have you not consummated that which binds you?"

Spock dropped the man's clothing and stepped back, calling on old disciplines to calm his beating heart and labored breath.

"I see: you fear the energy, deny the power. He does not. You are yet… r'plathorik. He has had many luk-sveptar," Telkar said with a purring sneer. "But you want him, even if he is s'cut."

Spock didn't reply. The man was goading him; he refused to rise to the bait. It was interesting that the Universal Translator was now partially working – or perhaps some transfer had happened in the brief joining of minds.

"It matters not. You are pudl'tor, Chosen. The pokro, may their spirits be blessed, have chosen well." Telkar turned to the guard. "See that this one," he gestured to Kirk who now moaned fitfully on the floor, "is given ample water and viktar to reduce the swelling. Treat this one well," he continued, nodding at Spock, "for he is Chosen."

Telkar abruptly turned and left the tent, the guard grinning and leering now at Spock. At least for the time being they appeared to be safe, even if what Telkar meant by "the Chosen" carried ominous meaning.

Spock turned his attention to Kirk, and with the assistance of water, tended his friend and Captain through the night.

He awoke abruptly, pulled to his feet by his hair, cold metal against his jugular vein. He caught a glimpse of a warrior holding a knife to Kirk's throat, alarm and fear coursing through him more for his Captain than for himself, before he felt a zing between his shoulder blades and sank into oblivion.

*****


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