Leonard McCoy stood by the transporter, wondering in spite of his worry how many times he'd stood in this spot waiting for Jim Kirk's corpse to materialize before him, or Spock's for that matter. But this time Spock was at his side, looking as worried as a half-Vulcan who's trying to deny his Human half could look. McCoy, unfettered by the stoic traditions of a repressed alien race, scowled, turning to address Spock and Kyle without taking his full attention from the vacant transporter pad.
"Damn it, Spock. What are you waitin' for?"
"The captain's orders were precise, Doctor."
"So were the orders of that smart-ass diplomat we just dropped off on Makus Three, but Jim found a way to get around 'em. If he hadn't, you and I sure as Hell wouldn't be standin' here arguin' about it."
"I, too, am concerned for the captain's safety. However, the Prime Directive--"
"You never should've let him beam down," McCoy interrupted. "Especially not alone like that."
"Mister Spock tried to stop him," Kyle began, and then bit his lip when he caught the first officer's glare.
"How?" McCoy prodded, directing his query not to the recalcitrant Kyle, but to the Vulcan, who seemed to be taking new interest in the familiar transporter controls.
When Spock did not respond, McCoy cleared his throat and bounced on his toes, a sure sign that he was not about to let the matter drop. "Well?"
Spock released a breath in something dangerously close to a sigh, responding in his best patience-stretched-to-the-limit singsong that he reserved especially for conversations with McCoy.
"Doctor, I advised the captain not to beam down to Makus Four at all. In my opinion, a small landing party--myself, an anthropologist and two security guards--could have done the job with minimal risk. Since we were not to establish contact, merely to study the inhabitants--"
"Study, my ass," McCoy muttered. "We're supposed to find out if those wild rumors about this planet are true...vampires and flesh eaters. Some damned horrible stories have been goin' around this quadrant for years now. Accordin' to subspace chatter--"
"As I was saying, since our orders were to study the inhabitants, Captain Kirk felt that a one-man landing party would be wisest. He insisted that there would be less likelihood of cultural contamination if he went alone."
"And you should've put your foot down, Spock!" McCoy ranted, impatient with the Vulcan's calm facade. "I don't know what Jim was tryin' to prove, but it was your duty to stop him from takin' that kind of chance."
"I volunteered for the assignment, Doctor. There was little more to do."
McCoy caught Kyle's quick, astonished glance at Spock, realization suddenly dawning. "You challenged his decision to go, didn't you?"
Spock averted his gaze.
"Well, I'll be damned!" McCoy seemed genuinely pleased. "Good for you, Spock. I'll bet Jim was as mad as a wet hen about it, too. If he survives this escapade--"
"He's clear now, sir," Kyle interrupted eagerly. "No other life-forms within range now!"
"Energize." Spock's level order did not match the worry in his expression. His tensely set jaw tightened as Kirk's form appeared, supine on the transporter platform.
McCoy was at Kirk's side before the rematerialization was complete.
"He's alive, but just barely." The medical scanner whirred over the unconscious form. "Blood loss. He'll need transfusions."
Spock made no comment, gathering Kirk into his arms to carry
him to Sickbay. McCoy followed close behind.
"It's okay, Jim," McCoy's voice was gentle and welcome. Kirk's eyes fluttered open, and he looked about at the familiar surroundings. Relief washed over him.
"Bones!" His voice was a harsh rasp, and Chapel appeared beside him with a glass of water. Taking the glass and downing the cool liquid in several thirsty gulps, he returned it to her with a grateful smile.
"Bones." He sounded more like himself now, weak, but at least it was his voice and not a croak. "I was attacked. Those wild stories the free traders and the pirates have been telling are closer to the truth than Starfleet is going to believe. I was..." He paused, casting a glance toward Chapel.
"I think we can manage now, Christine," McCoy said softly.
Chapel left the room, and Kirk struggled to sit up. McCoy lifted him up, supporting him with one arm.
"I feel so weak!"
"Somethin's drained a hell of a lot of blood from you, Jim. Chapel and I have been transfusin' you since you beamed up yesterday, but you're still a little behind."
"I've been out a whole day?"
"Twenty-eight point four three six hours," Spock supplied from the doorway. The Vulcan did not come into the room, but merely stood on the threshold, hands clasped behind his back. "I trust that you are recovering, Captain."
The first officer's slight stress of the formal title might have been overlooked by another, but Kirk picked it up, remembering the argument that Kyle had witnessed the day before in the transporter room. He felt a flush rise as he recalled losing his temper with the Vulcan.
Meeting Spock's gaze, Kirk read the message in the sable eyes, and the "I told you so" he read there stung him as deeply as a spoken taunt. Kirk had recently accused Spock of being a very stubborn man, and rightly so. However, as his Grandpa Sam used to say, "It takes one to know one."
McCoy saw the glint in Kirk's hazel eyes and the stubborn stance of the first officer as the Vulcan stared his captain down. Fighting a smile, McCoy leaned against the diagnostic bed next to Kirk's and waited for someone to give.
Kirk broke the silence, but not the tension. "It was like they said, Bones. Those...things feed on one another. I saw one attacked, and watched while several of them actually drank its blood. It's no wonder this place got the reputation the traders have given it. I've never seen anything like it. I was ready to beam you up when one of them caught me off guard. I remember struggling, and those red eyes staring at me..." Kirk shivered.
"Bram Stoker would've loved it, huh?" McCoy joked, hoping to relax the atmosphere with a little humor.
"Right," Kirk grinned. "Should've carried a wooden stake instead of my phaser. It might have come in--"
"Ancient myths and superstitions have no bearing on this matter, gentlemen," Spock said sharply. "Romanticization does not alter the fact that the captain nearly died."
"But I didn't, Spock."
"Doctor, I shall be on the bridge if you require me for anything." Spock's tone was as close to insubordination as a Vulcan could get.
McCoy watched Spock retreat and let out a low whistle. "Boy, you two must've really gone at it. I've never seen him that mad, leastways not at you."
"He was adamant," Kirk sighed. "So was I."
"It's that green blood," McCoy grinned. "Couldn't admit he was worried about you. Hell, that'd be admitting to an emotion, so he hid behind his duty. He's the first officer; his duty is to protect the captain from harm. I bet he quoted regulations at you."
McCoy nodded. "And I bet you pulled rank on him."
Kirk's expression hardened. "I did."
McCoy shook his head. "Spock is your friend, Jim. He tried to stop you for the same reasons I'd have tried to stop you. Only Spock can't cope with that kind of feelin'. I'm bettin' he'll try to use this argument as an excuse to keep his distance. Don't let him."
"I don't like my officers questioning my judgment."
McCoy grinned as he pushed himself off the bed and moved
toward the door. "That isn't what this is all about, Jim, and you know it. What're
you two afraid of, anyway?"
McCoy's unanswered question reverberated in Jim Kirk's thoughts two days later as he finished out the four-hour watch that he had negotiated with McCoy, his first since his beam down to Makus Four. Spock was persisting in behavior that McCoy would categorize as "double Vulcan." The anger he had seen in the first officer's expression in Sickbay had faded into a stilted, aloof stance which resisted any attempt made to soften it.
At first Kirk had been amused by it. When it continued throughout the watch and he observed Spock going out of his way to avoid conversation with him, he began to get angry. He was not about to admit even to himself that Spock's behavior was hurtful. Like Spock, he found it easier to seek shelter in the chain of command. It was a tense, quiet watch.
Kirk left the bridge with a vaguely unsatisfied feeling, and considered going back to challenge Spock to a chess game. He opened his mouth to order the lift back to the bridge and then snapped it closed again, overwhelmed by the anger he'd been suppressing. McCoy was right. The problem was Spock's, not his. If his half-Vulcan first officer was too stiff-necked to admit that his concern was more than professional, then he was certainly not about to force a confession out of him.
Instead of going to his cabin, he detoured to the rec room favored by his bridge crew. Although the door was locked in an open position, he at first thought the room was empty. As he moved closer, Uhura's melodic voice drifted out into the corridor. She was not singing, but her words had the magnetic effect of a tractor beam, drawing him into the dimly lit room where he paused just beyond the threshold.
Better than a dozen of his officers were sitting in a loose circle around the communications officer. Her features were highlighted by a shaft of light from the corridor, her dark eyes bright and wide as she continued her tale in a low-pitched voice.
"...and she found herself alone in that dank cavern. Crying out to her shipmates only brought the ghostly, distorted echoes of her own voice back to her, ringing in her ears like savage laughter. Every story, every tale she'd ever heard about the living dead played across her mind. Whispered, half-remembered scenes were pulled from the recesses of her brain. Nightmares she'd never examined in the light of day became vivid, somehow terribly possible in this place."
"You're giving me goose bumps, Nyota." Nurse Chapel's soft exclamation was followed by a gasp as Sulu ran his index finger down her back. The helmsman chuckled at Chapel's response to his teasing, and Chapel swatted at him in mock annoyance.
Uhura rolled her eyes, and shook her head. "Do you want to hear the rest of this or not?"
Her crewmates chorused a positive response, and the lovely communications officer smiled before she continued her narrative.
"The ensign was more frightened than she'd ever been in her life. How could her friends strand her in this place, with only the moldering remains of those long-dead for companions? The twisted maze of paths leading into the burial chamber were impossible to navigate alone. She remembered too well the stories of those foolish enough to try; lost, never to be found, buried beneath a ton of rock. After what seemed like an eternity, the torch sputtered and died out, leaving her in complete darkness. A moment later she heard a sound. It was faint at first, barely perceptible, but as she strained to listen, it grew louder. It was not the tread of a living being, my friends. It was the shambling, dragging gait of something so long-dead that it had forgotten the natural stride of life. A low, mournful sigh echoed from the maze, and the ensign realized that the creature was heading for the chamber."
"Oh, God," Janice Rand shivered, scooting closer to Riley, who put a protective arm around her. "What did she do?"
"What could she do?" Uhura responded. "There was no escape. She had to stand there in the darkness, her heart pounding as the creature came closer. One step at a time, laboriously dragging itself toward her, the forgotten corpse of some long-dead being proceeded. Closer, closer..."
Kirk felt his stomach muscles contract, his gaze locked on Uhura's intense expression.
"Light burst into the room. Instead of a rotting corpse, the ensign's crewmates emerged from the maze. Her terrified scream died only half uttered."
"Hazing," Sulu murmured sagely. "Bet you gave 'em hell for it, too."
"I never said I was the ensign." Uhura grinned.
"You didn't have to, lass," Scott spoke up. "We could read it in yer eyes."
"Good story," Riley said admiringly.
"Half the story is in the tellin'," Scott added. "Ye couldna have told it half so well if ye hadna been there yerself."
"How about you, Scotty?" Chapel urged. "Has anything like that ever happened to you?'
"Nay," the engineer shook his head. "Not to me."
"To someone else then?" Riley prompted.
Scott looked thoughtfully at the shadowed expressions of his crewmates and leaned forward. "Not to me, but there's a tale that's been handed down in me mother's family, a tale that will stand with any that's been told here tonight. It's nae a tale for the weak-hearted."
"We'll be the judge of that," Riley challenged with a ready grin.
Scott let silence set his stage, and when it stretched into tension, he began, his soft burr rising and falling like the wind across a Scottish moor. "'Twas William Montgomery MacLean, great-grandfather to me own great-grandmother who told this tale, and he swore on his mother's Bible that evera word he spoke was the solemn truth. He held to his story till the day he breathed his last, and there were few enough who doubted it. For he lived in strange times, vurra strange times indeed."
Kirk told himself it probably wasn't a good idea to stick around and listen to this story. He reminded himself that McCoy had told him to get plenty of rest, but the engineer's voice compelled him to linger.
"William survived the Third World War. 'Twas in the darkest hour of man, in the days after they'd dropped the last bomb, that William set out on a journey by foot from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. It was not a trip to be made lightly, for much of the land had been ravaged, and it had been told about that there were things, things that walked only at night, looking to prey upon those who chose to travel across the decimated land. As awful as it was to lose a loved one to the radiation sickness that took so many in those days, their families said a prayer of thanks because there were those who hadna died and yet no longer lived. Radiation is an unpredictable thing, and what it did to Human flesh..."
Kirk recalled the heat which had emanated from the body of his attacker. The glowing red eyes. The twisted features, humanoid, but different...sinister. On Makus Four, the creatures walked at night. They slipped quietly through the mist, stalking their prey.
"William passed his first night camped near the charred foundation of a country cottage. Behind him, the ruins of the city were silhouetted against a spectacular sunset. Those who lived through those days said the sunsets were a lovely thing to behold. But once the sun was down, night closed in.
"A day's walk from the city where he'd been born, William found himself alone in a strange place, an alien landscape. His world had changed. He'd lost everyone he knew; survivors were scattered, frightened, sick and dyin'. He'd heard that some of his kin had survived in Aberdeen. Until now, William had taken little stock of the tales told, tales of flesh eaters, mutants who stalked the unprotected, and the thirst for blood that drove these poor soulless creatures to kill. But now, on the silent, mist-shrouded moor, he wondered if there were not worse things than dyin', and as he pondered that thought, he heard a sound behind him. He whirled, squintin' into the mist. But there was nothin' there."
Kirk remembered the sensation of being watched only too well. He also remembered the terrible isolation and sense of danger he'd felt on Makus Four. Intuition? Spock would raise a brow at that, but it was like he'd known something was going to happen.
"He settled down for the night, laughin' at himself for his foolishness. After a while, he drifted off to sleep in spite of his fear, for it had been a long walk and he was tired. When he woke, the moon was high overhead, round and pale, casting a full glow on his surroundin's. The evenin' mist still clung to the ground in wisps, but it didna obscure his sight.
"William shivered, not from cold, although the night had turned chilly. He sat up and stared at the thing which stood not three feet from him. It was a demon, a creature that had never been seen before on Earth, a radiation-ravaged being. He saw the twisted, pulsating flesh, and the bloody hole where its mouth had been. The scream that rose in his throat died as he saw the eyes. Red and glowing, holding him in place as sure as if he'd been tied to the spot..."
Kirk leaned heavily against the bulkhead, his heart pounding in his chest. Scott's story had evoked in him details of the attack which he'd forgotten. He slid his fingers against the side of his neck, feeling the wounds which had almost healed, wounds which had nearly cost him his life. Now he remembered. At first he'd been horrified, but once the...the whatever it was had started feeding on him...
Refusing to categorize the sensation, Kirk slipped unnoticed out of the rec room and hurried to his cabin.
By the time Kirk emerged from the sonic shower twenty minutes later, he had put Scott's story and the images it evoked out of his mind. He focused instead on the situation with Spock. Maybe this rift was a gift horse. Hadn't Komack just raked him over the coals for becoming too emotionally attached to his crew?
"That's something starship captains must guard against, Jim," the admiral had said. "It's important to avoid attachments that might cloud your command decisions. You played both ends against the middle on Taurus Two, and you were damn lucky it paid off. Ferris could have had your commission on a platter if that shipment of medical supplies had been late arriving in New Paris. You're right about one thing, Ferris can be a pompous ass, but he's a powerful pompous ass, and this time the numbers were on his side. You're a people person, that's one of your greatest assets, but when you start putting the lives of a half a dozen men over the lives of thousands, that's carrying it too far."
Kirk sighed. In spite of what starship captains were supposed to do, he'd become very attached to his crew, and considered many of them his friends. It may not have been Christopher Pike's way, but it was his, and until recently he had rationalized it as a situation he had completely under control. He'd always prided himself for not playing favorites with his friends, but in light of Komack's words, he wondered if that were true. Especially with McCoy and Spock.
Kirk's friendship with McCoy had grown and flourished because they'd agreed to keep personal and professional situations separate. Somehow, Kirk couldn't picture doing that with Spock. How could he go to Spock and set parameters on a relationship that the Vulcan might very well deny?
Maybe Spock had the right idea after all. Perhaps it was time to put this in the proper perspective. Spock was his first officer, the finest in the fleet. Was it wise to jeopardize that working relationship by allowing personal feelings to disrupt it? Apparently Spock had decided it wasn't, and Spock was damn near always right.
Kirk sank into his bunk with a tired sigh. His near-miss on Makus Four had sapped his energy. McCoy assured him it would pass in a few days, but the activity on the bridge this evening had worn him out. He'd argued hard with McCoy to let him put in a whole watch tomorrow, now he was regretting it. Sleeping in had never looked so good as it did right now.
Kirk woke in the dark, chilled to the bone. Even as he sat up he realized that the surface beneath him was not his bunk, but the rocky surface of the planet which he had so recently visited. Any other details were obscured by a thick, enveloping mist which clung to the ground. He rose, a trifle unsteady on his feet and squinted into the darkness, turning slowly to make out some landmark. He wore his uniform, but carried no phaser or communicator. A cold wind rustled the stark branches of a tree to his left, but such trees were common on Makus Four. It provided no real clue. The only other sound he could hear was the eerie whine of the night wind.
Shivering, Kirk stumbled forward a few steps, still disoriented from his deep sleep. How on earth could he be here?
A voice rose out of the mist. Tossed by the wind it was almost imperceptible at first, but when it repeated, Kirk started toward it.
"I'm here, Spock."
"Here, Spock," Kirk could not keep the relief from his tone. The Vulcan's use of his first name had always been a rare, personal display. That he could use it now in light of their recent argument warmed Kirk in a way he could not have imagined. "The mist...I can't see you."
"Remain where you are, Captain. I shall locate you."
Kirk stopped in his tracks, heaving a sigh. Spock would find him. Spock would have an explanation for what was going on. Spock had an explanation for everything.
Kirk whirled at the voice close behind him, about to clasp his friend by the shoulders. He froze in horror at the apparition before him.
"Spock?" The welcome cry ended in a strangled gasp. Kirk willed his feet to carry him away, but found his body paralyzed and unable to respond to the frantic signals from his brain.
The creature before him was not Spock, but rather a horrific, twisted evil twin of his mild-mannered science officer. Instead of the soft brown eyes, twin pupils glowed like embers, hypnotic, frightening, but strangely compelling. The teeth were different, too; sharp, fang-like protrusions glistening like pearls.
"I'm...I'm dreaming," Kirk stammered, unable to wrestle his gaze from those scarlet orbs. "Dear God, let this be a bad dream. Spock!"
"Yes, Captain," the silky voice had taken a dark turn as well. It rippled about them, raising the hair on the back of Kirk's neck. "You called?"
"Spock, I need to wake up. This is a nightmare. This has got to be a nightmare."
The creature smiled. "That is illogical, Jim."
Slender fingers clasped him by the shoulders and drew him close. "If this were a dream, you would have awakened by now."
Kirk's cry was muffled as Spock's teeth ripped into the vulnerable flesh of his neck. He relived the previous attack, experiencing the same invigorating euphoria as the Vulcan's fangs burrowed into him, holding him in an iron grip. Not only was escape impossible, but Kirk found to his surprise that a part of him didn't want to escape. Just as before, he leaned toward the alien body, savoring the pulsating flow of blood as it was expertly drained from his carotid artery.
Time ceased to exist. For Kirk there was only the tether which bound them; the overwhelming urge to submit to another's control, another's will, another's authority. He didn't struggle. He didn't make another attempt to cry out. He felt a sense of safety and serenity that he'd only experienced a few times in his life. When the fangs lifted from his neck, he felt a chill across the area which was still moist. Kirk moaned, reaching out for the retreating figure. "Spock, no!"
Abruptly he was in his bed. Soaked with perspiration and tangled in his sheets, he blinked in disorientation. "Nightmare," he muttered, the word coming out in a dry rasp. His mouth felt like cotton. He attempted to disentangle himself from his sheets, succeeding only in making matters worse.
His door signal sounded, startling him half out of the bunk. He thrashed against the cocoon of sheets again, tumbling onto the floor with a dull thud. His half-uttered curse followed by a millisecond.
The cabin door slid open and a figure was silhouetted against the light from the corridor. "Captain?"
Kirk froze in the act of trying to get up, a shiver running up his spine. The cabin door swished shut. "Spock?"
"I heard you cry out."
It was a nightmare, Kirk reminded himself, willing himself not to panic. Get a grip, you know perfectly good and well that Spock isn't a vampire. "Lights." The captain's tone trembled in spite of his resolve to control it.
"Jim?" The voice was not the harsh one of the creature. This voice was gentle with concern.
"A nightmare." Kirk forced himself to look up at Spock. The Vulcan's hair was slightly rumpled from sleep, but other than that he was the same Spock that Kirk saw every day on the bridge.
Spock pulled him to his feet, and Kirk met his gaze, watching as the Vulcan mask shifted into place.
"I thought that I heard you call my name, sir. I apologize for disturbing you."
Gone was the worry that Kirk had sensed in his first officer. It was replaced with the infuriating politeness which had characterized Spock's behavior since their argument.
Kirk sighed. "My nightmare...I was back on Makus Four. I dreamed up a vampire image...it was you...you attacked me."
"I see," Spock said dryly. "Again, I apologize for the intrusion." The Vulcan turned to leave.
Kirk reached out to clasp his shoulder. "No."
Spock stopped retreating, but made no move to turn around.
"No, you don't see," Kirk continued. "It wasn't the attack...it wasn't until you were leaving me that I cried out." The whispered words hung between them for a moment and Kirk cleared his throat. "It was a feeling...I can't explain...of...of abandonment...loneliness. That's why I called your name. I wanted you to come back."
Spock made no response.
"I'm sorry I pulled rank on you the other day, Spock."
"It was your right as Captain to--"
"I'm not saying that as your captain, damn it!" Kirk snapped, and then paused, proceeding in a softer tone. "I'm saying it as your friend. Can you accept that, Spock?"
There was a lengthy pause, and Kirk sighed again.
"Bones said you couldn't." The words were spoken vaguely, tiredly. They were laced with weary defeat.
Spock turned, the dark brown eyes every bit as riveting as the scarlet ones of Kirk's nightmare. Kirk met his gaze and for a moment neither spoke or moved. Finally Spock broke the silence.
"I...accept your apology in the spirit in which it was given...Jim."
Kirk smiled, but before he could make a verbal response, Spock left the room. Shaking his head, Kirk turned back to his bunk and sank with a sigh onto the rumpled sheets. It wasn't going to be easy building a friendship with Spock, but then, nothing worthwhile ever was.
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