Pamela J. Corsa
He heard his breath leave his mouth, his chest falling with its departure. Slowly, air entered his lungs again. As it did, he lowered his hand. He let his fingers spread out under the fine sand. Each grain, heated by the powerful sun, seemed to burn; a sensation as if pins were rapidly piercing his skin.
Another breath. He curled his hand into a fist. The sand captured within actually cooled as it was shielded from the sun. A noise. A baget bird. As a young lieutenant in Starfleet, he had once visited this isolated planet and had watched in wonder as this species gracefully glided high above, riding the currents of warm air on an endless flight. To land on the sand would mean death. Without the constant movement of the air across its thin, cooling membranes, it would rapidly overheat. He didn't have to look to see it now; just close his eyes. Yes, there it is. Its bright, red head tilting from side to side in search of food. Iridescent wings reflected the sun's rays. The rays. Even with his eyes closed, the light was present.
He raised his fist and gradually opened his hand. The few trapped grains of sand fell silently to join the countless trillions. He didn't open his eyes to watch them fall. He felt the motion as it sifted through his fingers.
Another noise. Sand parting beneath a foot. A Human foot. He opened his eyes just enough to take in a blurred figure coming over a small ridge. Blurred or not, recognition came instantly. His captain was a stubborn man. A deep breath now.
Spock blinked several times to clear the image of his friend. "It is too hot for you here. You should not have come."
Kirk's smile was slight. "I haven't taken leave of my senses, Spock. I beamed down just over the ridge." He cast a glance back toward the ridge from which he had come. "I didn't want to startle you."
Spock shook his head; it would have been impossible for this Human...any Human, for that matter, to startle him. "How is the doctor?"
"About the same." Kirk's face fell as he thought about his other friend lying so close to death. There were two deaths waiting, one physical, one spiritual. "Don't you think you should come up now?"
Spock closed his eyes and listened to another breath enter and leave his body. He heard Kirk shift uncomfortably in the excessive heat, then sit down beside him. The action was heavy and clumsy. The heat? No, something more permanent. He opened his eyes and noticed how red Kirk's face was. It was time. "Yes," he nodded.
They both rose and brushed off the sand which stuck greedily to the moisture of their skin. Kirk retrieved his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise. Two to beam up."
As their images faded, a teto beetle eagerly rushed out to capture the few drops of perspiration which had fallen. Life for another day.
Sickbay was quiet except for the soft murmur of the life-support system. As Spock came closer to the still form on the diagnostic bed, he again heard breathing. However, this was not the natural breathing of a living creature, but the mechanical breath of a machine. Ironic, Spock thought, he hates machines.
Spock sat on an adjacent bed and stared at his friend's ashen face. It could have been yesterday that a smiling man with vivid blue eyes greeted him in Sickbay. A man who tried many ways these past four years to bring out the Human side he had felt so necessary to hide. Nowhere to hide now.
"When I close my eyes I see two of you." Spock spoke quietly to the silent form. A noise distracted him.
Doctor M'Benga walked in, carrying a tray of diagnostic equipment. "Mister Spock, I didn't realize you were in here. What I have to do can wait. I'll come back later."
"No need, Doctor. I was just leaving." He rose and passed the physician without another comment. He didn't have to inquire about McCoy's condition. He could read the monitors almost as well as the doctor could.
Time...it worked in strange ways. For you in some cases, against in others. He should speak to Jim. Tomorrow. He would do it tomorrow. There would be time then.
Kirk paced in his room, stopping only long enough to run his hand through his hair. How many times had he done this? Waited while the life of one of his friends lay balanced in...in what? There never was a good answer. How could something so simple go so wrong? It wasn't anyone's fault, but he feared Spock would blame himself. No one could have known the combination of an experimental drug Bones was taking for Rigellian pox and the unique Vulcan delicacy Spock had served the doctor that night would cause such a deadly reaction.
He hadn't been there at the time. Why wasn't I there? Kirk closed his eyes. It was a special dinner between the two of them. He wasn't sure what it was all about. When the call came in...so fast. He had been summoned, but before he could go from his own cabin to Spock's, Bones was in cardiac arrest. Spock was preforming a primitive, but effective, resuscitation procedure. Doctor M'Benga arrived seconds later. There just wasn't much anyone could do. It was just a waiting game. Either McCoy would make it, or he wouldn't.
"I'm getting nowhere fast in here," Kirk muttered as he turned and left his cabin, heading for Sickbay.
Sickbay was not a particularly favorite place on the Enterprise for its captain. Often a trip there meant suffering for someone. This time it seemed almost everyone was affected. Doctor M'Benga was in McCoy's office when the captain walked in. Kirk smiled falsely, and the assistant chief medical officer nodded in response. Somehow through the years, McCoy's office had remained a separate haven from whatever was going on in the adjoining rooms. He'd speak with M'Benga later.
Sickbay only had one other occupant. A young engineer had broken his ankle falling from one of the ladders. Kirk felt himself smile slightly as he recalled Scott's comment, "They don't make them like they used to." It had left Kirk wondering if the engineer was referring to the bolts which had caused the ladder to swing away from a bulkhead, or if he was referring to the engineer, a young man fresh out of the engineering school at the Academy.
Kirk strode into the intensive care unit. His faint smile faded rapidly, and a deep frown formed. McCoy looked so frail; hardly recognizable...hardly the man Kirk had known these past four years.
"Oh, Bones." He sat down on the side of McCoy's bed. "What are we going to do?" Kirk reached out and placed his hand on McCoy's shoulder. The physician's body felt thin and dry. He could not detect any response from his friend.
"Come on, Bones, we need you. Fight this." He wanted to shout it, but his voice came out barely a whisper. He rose and resumed his pacing in this new location. After a few minutes, he turned to leave.
"Damn." He swung toward the door, his departure swifter than his arrival. Doctor M'Benga got a glimpse only of his back as Kirk exited Sickbay.
A new day on board a starship is marked more by shift changes than anything else.
There is no discernable motion aboard a starship in non-combat situations. Without the navigation computer, there is no way to really know how fast a ship is going, how far it had come, or how much further it was going. An experienced navigator can give you the direction or star systems being passed through by the use of the computer. He can even give you a visual presentation using the fore and aft angles on the main viewing screen, but that is about all.
Captain James T. Kirk woke slowly, stretching carefully so as not to strain his tired muscles and cause a cramp. Lately, those tension cramps were happening with more frequency. His eyes were open, but took a while to clear. He glanced at his chronometer. Only three hours of sleep. He yawned. Maybe.
The door chime startled him, but he responded instantly. It had become automatic throughout all the years. "Come."
His Vulcan science officer entered the cabin.
"Spock," Kirk greeted with a casual nod, "give me a moment to dress."
"If I have disturbed your rest, I can come back at another time."
"No, Spock. Have you checked McCoy this morning?"
"There has been no change."
The small bit of hope, which had briefly surfaced in asking the question, died away. "Well, Doctor M'Benga did say we couldn't expect any change for another day." He finished his morning grooming, and emerged from his sleeping area.
"Do you feel any better after your time spent on Sealalta Three? It's remarkable how similar it is to Vulcan."
''Feel better', Captain?"
Kirk grimaced at his inappropriate choice of words. He knows damn well what I meant. He chuckled inwardly, but raised an eyebrow outwardly.
Spock nodded in acquiescence. "Yes, Jim, the time spent in meditation was most helpful."
"Care to talk about it?" Kirk watched as his friend paced about the room. It was unusual to see him do so, and Kirk realized just how upset Spock was.
With hands clasped behind his back, Spock began. "The dinner we were sharing was, in fact, a small celebration; an anniversary of sorts. It marked the four years McCoy and I have served--"
Suddenly the captain and first officer were hurled against the wall with sufficient force to knock the wind out of Kirk. Then the klaxon sounded. It seemed louder to Kirk's ears as he struggled to regain his breath. He saw Spock stand and go to the intercom. He couldn't hear what was said, but the red alert klaxon stopped. His cabin was still filled with the red flashing light urging him to action.
Kirk got up slowly, grabbing the edge of his desk for support. "Spock, what is it?"
"Unknown. As far as Mister Arex can ascertain, the Enterprise is being held within an energy barrier. All systems appear to be functioning. We have, however, lost all warp and impulse capacity. Thrusters seem ineffectual as well. Are you injured?"
The captain didn't answer as he strode from the cabin, Spock following closely behind. Injured or not, nothing could keep James T. Kirk from his bridge in a crisis situation. Nothing.
Kirk noticed how well the bridge crew had responded to the emergency in his absence. Everyone was at his station, and information was rapidly coming into the science station. Spock took his position and started compiling data, searching for the answer he knew Kirk would need.
"Position report, Navigator?" he ordered as Spock walked to the library computer.
"On the fringe of the Mu Leporis system, Captain, two hundred and twenty light-years from Sol. Sixteen planets; numbers six, eight and nine are class-M," responded Lieutenant Arex, the tripedal alien who served as the main navigator now that Chekov had transferred to the astrosciences division and no longer served on the bridge.
"Captain, there is an unidentified vessel at the edge of our sensor range," Lieutenant Sulu exclaimed.
"I have it, Captain." After a brief pause, he continued. "The computer can find no match for that vessel's particular configuration. However, at its extreme range, our sensor readings on its power output may not be accurate."
"Accurate or not, I'd like to know what you're reading."
"Very well. My findings indicate this vessel does not have enough power to propel itself, let alone inhibit the Enterprise at such a great distance."
"Perhaps the ship's presence is just a coincidence. It may have nothing to do with our present situation."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow in disagreement. "It is quite possible," he conceded, "but circumstances suggest otherwise."
"It may be trapped as we are," argued Kirk. "Lieutenant Uhura, try and contact that ship."
"Aye, sir." Her fingers danced across the keys of her communication station. "No response, Captain. I'll keep trying."
"Spock, are you reading anything else which might give us a lead?" asked the captain.
"Not at this time. I shall continue to scan this sector."
Kirk nodded and returned his attention to the forward screen. How many times had he stared at the dark unknown, awaiting an answer to one mystery or another? The answer to his own question melded together within the years he reflected upon. He leaned forward in the center seat, but suddenly was aware of Spock's eyes on him. He could feel the Vulcan's concern.
The bridge doors opened, and Commander Montgomery Scott proceeded to the engineering station of the bridge. Kirk allowed him a few minutes to check his readings before asking.
"Aye, Captain, it's a puzzle. All systems within the ship are functioning normally, and the warp drive and impulse engines appear to be operating well within parameters. They're just not generating thrust. Even the maneuvering thrusters can't budge us an inch. Nothing I've tried has any effect. It's as if this portion of space wanted nothing to do with motion or thrust, which is simply impossible according to the laws of physics."
Kirk rotated in his chair toward the science station. "Mister Spock, have you found anything new?"
"I have noted the unidentified vessel has not changed its position at all." He looked over at Scott. "Readings I have taken on the ship's propulsion system lead me to concur with Mister Scott, but I have no evidence this space itself is responsible. This is not," he stressed, "an interspatial sink such as the one near Tholia."
Kirk allowed himself a grin at his friend. "You will let me know as soon as you discover an answer to our dilemma?"
"Of course, Captain. Failure to do so would be blatantly incompetent."
"Mister Arex, Mister Sulu, anything?"
"No, sir, we're dead in space," Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu responded.
"Captain, may I suggest we launch a probe to see if there can be outside motion?" Lieutenant Arex, the Edoan navigator, inquired.
"Not a probe, Arex. It could be mistaken as a weapon, assuming that there's an intelligence at work here. Mister Spock, what about launching an unmanned shuttle to see if motion can be achieved that way?"
"Quite possible, and very logical. I will personally prepare a shuttle and control it myself from the science station."
"Let me know when you're ready." Kirk stepped forward to stand before the helm and navigation console. He looked like he was readying himself for a long wait.
Spock stopped in Sickbay on his way to meet the crews which were already undertaking shuttle pre-launch operations. Doctor M'Benga was in McCoy's office, reviewing medical disks. They exchanged nods as the Vulcan continued to where McCoy was being monitored.
As Spock entered the room, his acute senses could hear the life-support equipment, pick up odors Humans were probably not even aware of, and determine the temperature and humidity of the environment. He walked across to McCoy's bed and, once again, he sat on the opposite bed, looking at a man he barely recognized. The tone and texture of the chief medical officer's skin reminded Spock of an old artifact he'd seen while visiting Earth. It had been a clay bust of a famous Terran musician. McCoy's mouth was drawn tight in a straight line.
Is he in pain? Spock leaned closer. I can't help you now. You have to fight this part of the battle by yourself. He gently touched McCoy's forehead. Know that I am here.
He sat a moment longer, then rose to continue to the shuttlebay area. The craft he selected was similar to the one used when he had crashed on Taurus II. He had been working with Lieutenant Commander Mandelberg, modifying the invisibility screen the physicist had invented some two years earlier. It was hoped that the device would help prevent detection of the shuttlecraft on the chance an intelligence was responsible for their predicament. Mandelberg's device, designed as a screen for one being, was hastily reconfigured and tied in with the shuttle's deflectors. It's enormous energy requirements would not allow it to work for long, but it would work long enough to run a series of tests on the region of space.
That completed, Spock adjusted the launch control for the maximum amount of initial thrust possible. If the craft, too, was affected by whatever was holding the Enterprise, he wanted the small ship to gain as much distance as possible by sheer momentum. The shuttle team and he were just finishing as the intercom called for attention.
"Mister Spock, how are things coming along?" Kirk hadn't waited for a response after sounding the bosun's whistle.
Spock nodded in recognition of his captain's impatient tone. Some things would never change. "The shuttle launch team has almost completed a few modifications I believe will aid us in gathering additional information. The shuttle should be ready in three point four-eight minutes. I will come up to the bridge at that time."
"Standing by. Kirk out."
Spock almost...almost sighed. Vulcans do not sigh, he reminded himself. Seeing he was now alone in the shuttlebay as the launch team headed for the observation station, he sighed anyway.
The launching of the shuttle was anything but spectacular. The initial thrust of the launch carried it three point seven kilometers from the Enterprise before it stopped, its engines completely functional, but failing to generate thrust. Spock immediately deactivated the shielding device and engaged sensors channeling the information through the computer linked to his terminal on the bridge.
"Captain, the readings I'm receiving from the shuttle are markedly different from those on board the Enterprise. Most significant is the surface area of Mu Leporis Nine, a class-M planet off our starboard port."
Kirk rose from the captain's chair. "Are you sure, Spock?"
Spock met Kirk's eyes. A response was not necessary.
"Do you have any explanations?" queried the captain, his frustration apparent.
"I equipped the shuttle with Mandelberg's shielding device, yet the shuttle was immobilized. However, it appears to have been undetected as the shuttle's long-range sensors are detecting several large structures dispersed evenly over the planet's surface which are showing a tremendous energy level." Spock turned from his viewer. "Our sensors still do not detect these structures which appear to be artificial in origin, not natural. I must conclude that the ship's sensors are being subjected to interference, and that our predicament is the work of an unknown intelligence, located on that planet."
"And you believe these structures on that planet are responsible for our immobilization?"
"The odds favor such speculation by nine hundred forty-three point eight to one."
Kirk turned to face the viewscreen, searching for a planet he couldn't see. Spock heard him take in a deep breath. "Do you believe our long-range communications are being blocked as well?"
"The motion dampening field is comprised of inert tachyons which would inhibit long-range communications. Short-range communications, of course, would not be affected."
"Then it seems we need to make a call to whomever's responsible for this, and politely ask them to let us go."
"That would seem a reasonable approach, Captain," remarked Spock.
"Let's just hope there's somebody home to take our call," muttered Scott from the engineering station.
It caught Kirk's attention. "What do you mean, Scotty?"
"I mean, what if this field is being generated by automated equipment?"
Kirk pondered the suggestion. "Then I guess we're going to be here for quite some time..."
On a ship the size of the Enterprise, one could take considerable time getting to a specific destination. Although Kirk was anxious to fill in the blanks, he felt he needed the walk he was now taking to reach the conference room. Even though he occasionally got up to walk around, the current tension had caused his muscles to tighten. He rubbed his eyes and flexed his fingers. The floor beneath his feet felt harder these days. A coldness now crept up to greet him.
The conference room door parted to reveal his staff waiting for him; Spock, Scott, Uhura, Arex and Sulu. McCoy's chair was conspicuously empty. Doctor M'Benga did not come to take his place because there was no need for a physician at this meeting. Still, McCoy would have been there...lending that special support only years of friendship could give.
Kirk nodded to acknowledge those who were there. He sat at a chair which now felt too firm. "Mister Scott, would you begin?"
"Aye, sir. Well, ye know we're dead in space. I can find nothing wrong with either the warp drive or impulse engines. I've run every test I know, and a few I just thought of. There is no way to get through this field of inert tachyons." Scott stared at his report, knowing what he had told the captain was of very little help.
Kirk smiled in sympathy. Scotty always took it to heart when there was anything wrong with his beloved engines. He next turned to his helm officer.
"We have had no forward motion since we came out of warp. Our thrusters are ineffectual. I even sent an engineering team down to the shuttlebay to vent a bay full of helium gas out the bay doors, just to try to propel us a little. No good. The helium vented, but it, too, was stopped by the tachyon field."
"Mu Leporis is a giant star, spectral-class B9, two hundred twenty light-years from Sol. It is far from the lanes of interstellar traffic, so rescue from another vessel seems unlikely. The planet itself was only detected by probe."
"Why didn't the probe do a survey?" Kirk asked. "It is a class-M planet."
"The probe apparently malfunctioned and stopped transmitting data."
Kirk tapped his fingers. If Bones were here, he'd be chewing the carpet by now. "I guess it was also trapped by this tachyon field, or one just like it."
"Logical, Captain," remarked Spock.
"Spock, are you able to tell how large an area is affected?"
"If we are to believe the unidentified ship is also affected, I could estimate the size of this field."
"Please do," invited Kirk, patiently.
"Approximately three hundred cubic astronomical units in area."
There were soft whistles from around the table, and Spock steepled his hands.
"We have had no success in communicating with the alien vessel," the Bantu woman replied. "Lieutenants Martine-Teller and M'ress are continuing their efforts to do so."
"Very good." He glanced at his officers. "Anything else?"
At their negative nods, he dismissed them. The Vulcan science officer was still collecting his data disks when all the others save Kirk had left. "Spock, have you had a chance to see Bones?"
Spock's eyes met his captain's. "Not since before the launch of the shuttle." He raised a brow, silently asking the same of Kirk.
"I haven't either. I think I'll check on him now while you're finishing up," Kirk decided. "I'll let you know if there are any changes."
Sickbay is an entirely different form of battle ground. Here the enemy is often unseen, and time can be the biggest threat.
As Kirk walked further into the ward, M'Benga motioned him over. "There has been some fluctuation in his life-support reading," the doctor reported.
Kirk raised both brows. "That's good news?"
M'Benga frowned slightly. "We're not sure. It could be a sign of him fighting back to us, or the body's last attempt to save itself."
Kirk's brows drew together. "I see. Can I visit him now?"
Once again, he sat on the edge of McCoy's bed. He didn't hesitate to pick up the thin hand and warm it between his own. He could barely hear the life-support system, but the subtle sound was enough to remind him how tenuous his friend's fate was.
The heart monitor fluttered.
"Bones?" Kirk eyed his friend hopefully. "Bones, can you hear me?"
The monitor went back to its monotonous beat.
Kirk let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "We're all here for you. Please keep trying." He gently placed McCoy's hand back on the bed and rose to leave. "Please," he uttered one last time as he parted.
"Bones may be trying to come out of his coma," Kirk disclosed to Spock as the Vulcan relinquished the center seat to his captain and walked up to the science station.
"That is most welcome news. We are detecting a carrier wave, possibly in reponse to our communications attempts."
"From what source?" asked Kirk, leaning against the bridge railing.
"I am unable to ascertain whether the alien vessel or the planet itself is the source."
The next sound was deafening. Noise came through every speaker on the ship. Spock covered his ears with both hands in an attempt to diminish the sound. He could see Kirk doing the same. Both were leaning against the railing, their legs beginning to feel weak from the strain. Spock could see Kirk's mouth moving, asking what was happening, but he could not hear or respond. The Vulcan shut his eyes tightly and tried to concentrate on the sound. Sound. Only an impulse from the auditory nerve to the brain. It can be interrupted. Concentrate. Suddenly, he realized it was a voice. He staggered to the communications center, and keyed in a distress reponse to their current emergency. He glanced over at Kirk who was doubling over from the pain the extreme noise volume was causing.
As suddenly as it had started, the noise stopped. Kirk slid to the floor to a seated position. Spock shook his head several times, his ears ringing from the aftereffects. Slowly, he made his way over to Kirk and knelt in front of him.
"Are you all right, Captain?" Spock could barely recognize his own voice.
Kirk nodded, but didn't answer. He wiped the sweat which had formed on his brow. "What was that?" The captain's voice was louder than normal, and Spock realized the captain's ears were severely affected as well.
"From the planet?"
"Unknown. However, I would estimate the odds in that favor--"
"Please don't." Kirk grabbed Spock's offered arm and stood up carefully. The starship commander appeared oddly unbalanced.
"Do you require medical assistance, sir?"
"What I require are some answers." He leaned heavily against the wall as he activated the intercom. "Kirk to all decks, report."
Lieutenant M'ress, the Caitian communications officer, turned in response to the number of calls she was receiving. "Captain, there have been no serious injuries or damage reported."
"Sensors on board the shuttle read the source of the disturbance as originating from the planet. Status quo on all other areas," reported Arex.
"All decks, maintain red alert. Kirk out." He turned back to his science officer. "Spock?"
How many times had he heard his name called that way? How many more times would there be? He lifted his eyes from the modified communication board to meet Kirk's. Worry was etched around the eyes which met his. Was his friend wondering how many times he could pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, and wondering if that rabbit would ever bite?
"It was definitely a voice, Jim. The decibel level reached just under what would have ruptured our ear drums."
"What was it saying?"
"They were asking, 'How?'"
Kirk frowned and rubbed his temples. "How? How what? How did we get here? How did we manage to communicate with them?"
Spock sighed. The answers would take too long to find for his friend. How many times?
"What is it, Spock?"
If smiling had been a part of his nature, the Vulcan would have done so now. "It will merely take some time to get the answers you require."
Kirk did smile in response. "I understand, Spock. Is thirty minutes time enough?"
"Then I'll be in my quarters."
Kirk's ears were buzzing too much for him to hear his own feet hit the floor. As the turbolift rose to the bridge, he wondered how the intense noise might have affected McCoy. He almost stopped the lift, but the noise in his own ears reminded him of another responsibility.
As he stepped onto the bridge, he once again noticed the proficiency of his crew. They acted as if nothing unusual had happened. Uhura was taking Lieutenant M'ress' place.
"Lieutenant Uhura, what were your impressions of what happened?"
"I believe our ability to communicate with them may have been a total surprise. They responded without knowledge of the consequences of that response. The fact they stopped so abruptly after receiving Mister Spock's distress signal, leads me to believe they meant no harm."
Kirk nodded in agreement, but was not thoroughly convinced. "I want you to work up a hailing message for me to approve before we relay it to the planet."
Kirk was barely seated in his chair when Uhura handed him an electroinic clipboard with her suggested message.
It was detailed in a fashion Kirk had come to recognize and appreciate through the many years spent with Spock. There was no excess wording. It described who they were, where they came from, and their current situation.
"Been taking lessons on how to be Vulcan from Mister Spock, Uhura?"
The communications officer grinned. "He does have a certain influence over ship operations, sir."
Kirk chuckled. "Lieutenant, relay that message."
"Aye, Captain. Relaying now."
A moment later, the speakers came to life. Kirk shuddered involuntarily, half expecting the high-volume noise to return. The incoming message seemed to last an inordinate amount of time. It was immediately apparent the universal translator was either not working or unable to decipher their language. Just as the message ended, Spock stood and leaned away from the science station. Kirk turned in his chair expectantly.
"Captain, I suspect I have an answer to your previous question."
Kirk rose and stood facing his science officer. "Go on, Mister Spock," he prompted.
"When they questioned 'How' it referred to how could we even exist. Apparently they believed themselves to be all of the universe."
"How can that be, Mister Spock? What about the energy being released to hold our ship and the alien ship? Why would they create such a trap unless its purpose was military?"
"Unknown at this time. They are, however, inviting us for a visit."
"A visit? Well, that's a surprise. Ulterior motives?"
"Possibly. However, they could reach up and destroy this ship as easily as we could destroy a garbage scow."
"How do we get down there? Is the transporter beam functional?"
"It is possible the transporter is not affected by the tachyon field, but, of course, several tests will have to be conducted."
"Get right on that, Spock. I'll be in Sickbay."
With an apparently friendly invitation, and some time offered, Kirk felt he could visit McCoy.
As he passed through the sickbay doors, he was greeted by total silence. Quiet. It was too quiet. Oh, no!
He rushed to the bed on which McCoy rested. Doctor M'Benga was standing on the near side, bending over McCoy, his head bowed.
M'Benga raised his head, his eyes soft. Kirk felt pain well up in the pit of his stomach. "There has been little change since I last spoke with you. He's returned to the way he was before the slight surge we talked about earlier."
Kirk let his breath out. "What about when the intense noise occurred? Did he respond at all to that?"
M'Benga lowered his eyes. "I'm afraid not."
Kirk followed his gaze to his friend's face. God, was it just a few days ago he was kidding me about Spock's new chess technique? Incredible to think how much has happened in so short a time. How many lives affected, destinies changed? A race of beings has learned they are not alone in this universe. Their entire structure of beliefs forever changed.
M'Benga quietly left Kirk standing by the bedside.
"Bones," he implored. He wanted to say more, wanted to tell him something, but the words didn't form. His throat tightened. He closed his eyes tightly, and when he opened them he realized he had McCoy's bed cover clenched in both hands. He forced himself to loosen his grip and then let go, leaving without another word.
Spock would have liked to see McCoy as well, but the urgent nature of their situation demanded his full attention. The Vulcan was glad Jim Kirk had felt he could take a few minutes to visit their friend. There might not be time later. Time...the time it took to swallow a few pieces of food. The time to travel into this section of space. The time to answer a message from that space. Perhaps the time of a last breath.
The communicator on the transporter console brought him back from his reverie. "Mister Spock, are you ready to test the transporter?"
"Yes, Captain. I believe I have sufficiently explained the procedure to the planet's officials."
"Very good. Proceed."
Who could know how any race would react in this situation? Could sending the wrong test object start relations poorly, or end them before they started? He had chosen a small replica of the Enterprise, and watched as it faded out of sight. Then he waited for the planet's signal indicating the object had reached their planet and was ready to be returned.
When it finally came, he carefully reversed the controls and was rewarded with the model's return. At that moment, the captain entered the transporter room.
"How did it go?"
"Everything appears to be in order. I will run a complete analysis on the model. I would, also, like to send additional tests which include plant and animal life to make sure living objects return undamaged as well."
"Sounds fine. Have you heard anything from--" His sentence was interrupted by a call from the planet.
Spock moved and received it. Surprise? No, he didn't feel surprise. Curious. He would not have thought it.
"Spock, is there a problem?"
Spock raised his eyes to meet Kirk's. "They are inquiring how we are able to move about, and where are our mouths?"
For a second his captain stared at him blankly. Then slowly turned his head to gaze at the Enterprisemodel.
"I will send detailed illustrations and descriptions of humanoids in the next test."
"Please do, Mister Spock. I'll be on the bridge."
Spock was sure he heard Kirk chuckle just before the doors closed.
The rest of the testing went smoothly. Spock had requested they offer some kind of replica of themselves and place it where he could beam it up to the Enterprise, hoping to gain some knowledge about the beings on the planet they referred to as Cytaciaiil.
It was almost an hour later before Spock could report to Kirk that all was ready. Then it seemed only a matter of minutes before he, Kirk, Arex and two security personnel were on the transporter. Chief Engineer Scott joined them to operate the transporter console.
"Spock, have you gotten the universal translator to work?"
"Not completely, but I will have communications monitored by the ship, translated and rerouted to my communicator, which has been especially adapted for this particular purpose."
Kirk frowned. "How much of a delay is that likely to cause?"
Spock pressed his lips together in thought, then admitted, "that is the one draw-back. There will be an approximate delay of one point five-nine seconds.
Kirk shook his head, then nodded. "I think that will be acceptable. Mister Scott, I believe we are ready."
"Aye, sir, energizing now."
Kirk gazed around the room where they had materialized. Room? No, auditorium would have been a better description. "Spock, how high up is this ceiling?"
Spock was completing a sweep of the room with his tricorder, and took a moment to check his readings. "The ceiling is one decameter in height."
Kirk turned to face Spock. "Are you sure?"
"I thoroughly checked this tricorder out before--"
"No, no, I didn't mean that. It's a very high ceiling is all I meant." Kirk continued to look around the hall, and noticed several large structures at the far end of the room. Kirk pointed to them. "Do you have any idea what those are?"
Once again, Spock checked his tricorder. Slowly, one brow raised. He met Kirk's questioning eyes. "They are chairs and a table."
"Captain, how large are these people?" piped a soprano voice from the Edoan navigator.
"I would say very large, Arex. Spock?"
"Judging from the size of the room and furniture, I would estimate their height could range from six to eight meters."
"A race of giants!" Arex exclaimed.
"Only to us. You will note the gravity of this world is considerably less than that of Earth. Such diminished gravity would allow for beings of greater height."
Arex frowned. "Then how does the planet maintain an oxygen environment? Most of the atmosphere would have already been lost to space without gravity restraining it."
"Unknown, Lieutenant," answered the Vulcan science officer.
"Spock, are any of the Cytaciaiil nearby?"
Nodding, Spock said, "you could say they are in the next room. However, they are apparently shielding a good portion of my readings. I can tell you they are there, but not much else about them." Spock looked at Kirk. "Captain, selective shielding of this sort is most sophisticated."
"For what purpose?" Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Possibility of hostility?"
"Very unlikely. Instead, I would venture to say they are studying us."
Kirk turned slowly around. "Hello!" he shouted.
The sound he heard was nothing like that on board the Enterprise. It sounded as smooth and flowing as water might be against one's skin. Almost immediately, Spock's communicator came to life.
"We greet you in the name of the citizens of Cytaciaiil. I am Interpreter Mociil."
"I am Captain Kirk from the Federation starship Enterprise. I extend greetings on behalf of the United Federation of Planets. Our current problem concerns the power sources located on your planet's surface. The energy they are emitting is affecting the space around your planet. It is preventing us from continuing our peaceful journey."
"The power you speak of controls our planet's atmosphere. As your subordinate noted, there is insufficient gravity to maintain an atmosphere for our world. We now confine it artificially. The power cannot be interrupted without losing much of our atmosphere to space."
"I see." It bothered Kirk, not being able to see with whom he spoke. "Is it possible for us to speak face to face with you?"
After a brief pause, Mociil spoke. "We do not wish it. This is as close as you will come. You will know what you will know."
Kirk frowned. "Spock, any notion of what that means?"
"Perhaps that we will only know what we are permitted to hear and see in this room."
"Any ideas on the power problem?"
"Not directly. I will need additional information."
"Mociil, we request information about your power and planet for our computers to analyze."
"It will be freely given as we wish you no harm. The subordinate called Spock will know how to receive it."
At Kirk's glance, Spock shook his head in puzzlement.
"You will leave now," instructed Mociil. "We have much to discuss among ourselves, as do you."
The captain grasped his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise..."
"Captain, what were they like?" asked the chief engineer.
"I'm not really sure, Scotty. We never got to see them."
"They chose to keep their appearance hidden, Commander," Spock answered.
"Aye, sir, hidden. But why?" demanded the Scotsman as the guards departed from the transporter room.
"Perhaps fear, Scotty. This is all very new to them."
"It's a bit new to us, too, having our thrust drained like liquid from a bottle," Scott said. "Will they help us?"
"Right now, I don't think they know how to help us. Hopefully, Mister Spock will be able to come up with something." He turned to face Spock. "Am I correct believing you didn't appear to understand when they indicated you would know where to find the information?"
"Yes, Captain. I trust Commander Scott will be most helpful in aiding me along those lines."
"Of course, sir. Anything at all."
"Necessary information is supposed to be made available to me. I suggest we check the library computer."
The pair headed toward the library section as Kirk and Arex returned to the bridge.
After hours of unsuccessful searching through the Enterprise's computers, the two decided to take a break. Spock was heading toward his cabin when a strong image of McCoy entered his mind. He immediately changed his course toward Sickbay.
Just before entering through the door, he realized the tricorder he'd taken down to Cytaciaiil still hung over his shoulder. He would return it after his visit.
The only other occupant in Sickbay had been discharged earlier. Strange. The entire area seemed void of people. He proceeded to McCoy's bed. M'Benga was sitting on a chair beside the bed, clasping McCoy's hand. The assistant chief medical officer's head was tilted forward at an odd angle. He must be asleep. The Vulcan was about to leave when the intercom buzzed, and Doctor M'Benga jumped noticeably.
"I'm sorry, Commander."
"No need to explain, Doctor. I noticed two days ago you had been pulling double and even triple shifts."
"Sorry, sir. Leonard...Doctor McCoy is, well, very important to me...to all of us." The intercom buzzed for attention. "Excuse me. There's a call waiting."
Spock nodded. As the young doctor left the room, the Vulcan sat in the recently vacated chair. He placed the tricorder on the side of the bed.
"Is it time?" he asked.
The rhythm of the life-support system was his only answer. Reaching out his right hand he gently placed it on McCoy's forehead. Closing his eyes in concentration, he tilted his head just a bit to one side. "My mind to your mind...my thoughts..."
Images, no clear focus. People, places all merging together. Himself, but younger.
A cry of help which stretched out through a lifetime of memories.
A pendulum swinging steadily from side to side. Hanging from a line was McCoy. Each pass of the pendulum caused McCoy to drop lower into a pit.
Spock extended his right hand until it held the pendulum still. When he removed his hand, it no longer moved. He looked for a way to reverse the action, but couldn't find any. This is all I can do.
Carefully, Spock withdrew from the mind-meld with McCoy, and was curious to see the image of his tricorder pass before him.
As he sat back in the chair, he gathered the tricorder and carefully scrutinized it. It was then he noticed a difference in recording time. A quick check showed the information he'd been seeking had been at his side the whole time.
"What is, Mister Spock?" asked the doctor who had re-entered the ward.
"The answer to a mystery, Doctor M'Benga." Spock rose to leave.
Quietly looking down at the sleeping form, he nodded his head, and left to find Scott.
"Captain, I have a possible solution to our problem. If the people of Cytaciaiil will cooperate, there is a ninety percent probability it will succeed," came Spock's voice over the intercom in the captain's cabin.
"That's good news. Shall I meet you on the bridge?"
"The conference room will be better," suggested the Vulcan.
"Very well. In ten minutes. Kirk out."
Kirk rubbed his eyes and started to dress. He'd taken advantage of the time that Spock and Scott had requested to catch up on some sleep. He was mildly surprised how well he did sleep. Didn't even need one of Bones' pills... His stomach tightened at the thought of his friend. Before dressing, he called Sickbay, only to learn there had been no change.
His trip to the conference room was as fast as he could make it. Too many things were out of his control. He wanted to take charge and end this now.
Scott and Spock were waiting for him. Both looked quite serious which meant there were not going to be any easy solutions.
Kirk took a deep breath. "Gentlemen?"
"Cap'n, we've analyzed as much information as the beings on Cytaciaiil were willing to give us about their power. It was a wee bit sketchy, but Mister Spock and I believe they are using more power than they actually need to maintain their atmosphere."
"Commander Scott is basically correct. They can reduce their power output, but only for a short period of time."
"What kind of time frame are we talking about?"
"Eight point four-five mintues, and in that time the Enterprise will have to go at maximum power to escape this area. There will be little margin for error."
"Scotty, can the engines handle it?"
"We'll have to direct all possible power to them, and we'll lose the shuttle with the Mandelberg shielding device, but it can be done. It will certainly be a rough ride though."
Kirk smiled. "We've been through them before. Spock, you have the figures and a better understanding of what is needed. Will you contact Mociil?"
Spock nodded in confirmation.
"Then I suggest we proceed, gentlemen." And may the wind be at our backs, he added silently.
"How were your negotiations? Are they going to cooperate?" Kirk asked anxiously. Spock had returned from the planet, and had proceeded directly to the bridge to make his report to his captain.
"They were reluctant at first. We must consider the cultural shock they are going through."
"Surely a civilization that advanced must have had some idea other worlds existed, and the possibility of life on them."
"You're correct, and for centuries, they have sent out messages. No one ever responded. What they were not aware of, was that their own power source was blocking their very attempts to reach outside their solar system."
"I see. I guess they finally believed they were all alone."
"Yes, Captain. We really were quite a surprise to them."
"But they are going to help?"
"They will reduce their power to the necessary level for eight point four-five minutes and only eight point four-five minutes."
"Everything is ready. They will reduce power in fifteen minutes."
"All right. I want the ship at battle stations at that time. There's an alien ship out there, and we don't know if they're friends or foes. Mister Sulu, I want you to reverse our heading. We know where we entered the area. I want to make sure we are well out of here at the end of those eight and a half minutes."
"Captain, what about the unidentified ship?" asked Arex.
"We'll just have to hope they have enough power to pull out as well. Lieutenant Uhura, the moment power is reduced, send a message informing them of their chance, plus an invitation to contact us further. When we are out of this area, we'll set up warning buoys." He turned back to Spock. "What about continued communications with Cytaciaiil after this is over?"
"We have set up a schedule when they will reduce power for several minutes to attempt sending and receiving outside communications. They are interested in the Federation, and a mutual exchange of information."
Kirk smiled. "Very good."
"Captain, five minutes," warned Sulu, who was keeping an eye on the chronometer.
"Scotty, is everything ready at your end?"
"Aye, sir, that it is."
Lieutenant Uhura, at the appropriate time, put a one-minute countdown on ship-wide speakers, and let them know it will be a rough ride."
"Ladies and gentlemen, better secure yourselves. We don't know how punctual the people of Cytaciaiil are."
The appointed time came and passed. Seconds slipped by which might mean the difference between success and failure.
"Perhaps they have changed their minds, Spock."
"Unknown. There is always the possibility--" The surge of power which had been gathering in the Enterprise's engines found its chance to break through. The ship lurched backward, throwing everyone forward.
Spock had been by Kirk's chair and hung on to the back with one arm while assisting Kirk with the other. Thinking the attempt was aborted, Kirk had been about to stand. He was half out of the chair, grasping at the remaining arm when Spock grabbed him.
The sound they heard this time was caused by power against power. The Enterprise sounded as if it were being ripped apart seam by seam. Agonizing minutes passed as the struggle continued. Then, suddenly, there was silence.
"Captain, we have control and full motion capability," reported Sulu, delight filling his voice.
"Thank you, Mister Sulu. Scotty, how is she?"
Scott's grin immediately reassured Kirk. "She's a fine ship, sir."
"Captain, the alien vessel has begun to accelerate. She is heading away from Cytaciaiil in a direction opposite from ours. I do not think they are interested in answering our message," Spock informed Kirk.
A bright flash of light caused the bridge crew to blink as they stared at the main viewing screen. "What was that?" Arex exclaimed, startled.
Spock turned and studied his viewer. "It apparently came from the alien ship, but I see no logical reason for it. The vessel is continuing at the same speed and on the same course."
Scott and Kirk exchanged grins. "Mister Spock, you can't always find your answers in logic," Scott chided.
"And you have the answer, Commander Scott?"
"I trust I do. They were saying 'thank you.'" Scott nodded his head once, and turned back to his station.
Spock raised one brow. "Indeed?"
"Captain, message from Sickbay," announced Uhura.
A sinking feeling entered Kirk's stomach. He turned to face Spock as he answered the communications officer. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
A smile slowly appeared across her beautiful features. "Someone down there wants to know if you're done shaking the ship up," she reported delightedly.
A collective release of breath could be heard around the bridge.
"Tell him we're quite through for the time being." Kirk nodded at Spock. "And tell him to expect some visitors."
Kirk rose, "Coming, Mister Spock?" As the two exited the bridge, Kirk felt a definite spring in his step. It was going to be all right. Everything was going to be all right.
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