Rowena G. Warner
It was unlike any other planet they had ever explored. The factual, crisp orders from Starfleet had left them completely unprepared. Unmanned probes had returned the following inadequate data:
GWY IV R:
Atmosphere: 76 percent nitrogen; 20 percent oxygen; 4 percent neuron, peredon, alisitate.
Temperature: -171 degrees Centigrade at poles; -4 degrees Centigrade in an area extending 341 kilometers north and south of equatorial plane. Entire planet encrusted in a layer of ice.
Planet rotates on perpendicular axis--no seasons.
No detection of life forms.
Starfleet's orders were simple: Standard four-day mission--report if suitable for terraforming for Human inhabitation.
No problem. The Enterprise crew had carried out similar missions in the past with relative ease. Everything had appeared uncomplicated until they beamed down to the surface.
"My God," McCoy whispered in awe.
"Doctor, at this moment, I am equally impressed," Spock's voice was equally awed.
"It's..." Kirk searched his mind, but could come up with only totally inadequate adjectives. "It's...beautiful."
They stared in amazement at the dark, haunting wonderland spread before them. The landing party had beamed down on the night side of the planet and the two moons--one full at its zenith, the other, first quarter in the eastern sky--gave a soft, mysterious glow to the sparkling landscape. Diamonds formed from the purest crystals of ice extended to the horizon. Ice-encrusted bushes rustled and glistened in a gentle wind. The trees were the most breathtaking of all. Some looked quite similar to those on Earth; fragile, delicate branches tickling the nigrescent sky. Others were completely alien, the limbs returning to their planetary womb and emerging as new trees alongside. They were all sizes and shapes, but each had one thing in common with its ghostly neighbor--all were encrusted with a thick coating of transparent ice. The moonlight shone through the rustling, swaying branches, transforming them into magnificent frozen spider webs. Light played along the tips of the tallest trees, giving the illusion of thousands of tiny stars which had come to rest for awhile in their lofty heights. The trees seemed almost alive, their wooden appendages dancing and weaving to a song unheard by even Vulcan ears.
There was a soft, tinkling sound as branches were introduced to each other by the gentle wind. Tiny teardrops of ice would loosen their cling and fall twinkling to the ground.
Everywhere was ice--shimmering, glistening, glowing in silvery radiance. Even the most insignificant stone had been transformed into a glittering pedestal fit for a god.
Studded boots crunched on the icy surface as Kirk and McCoy walked around in circles, drinking in a sight never before witnessed by Human or Vulcan eyes.
No one wanted to break the silence, perhaps Spock least of all. He stood quietly, hardly breathing, deeply affected by the glacial panorama before him, and experiencing a feeling he did not try to analyze or even consider illogical. It was simply there and he accepted it.
"Well..." Kirk began then stopped, not even sure what to say. He looked at Spock, hoping for help from that quarter, but was somewhat shocked to see a look he could only describe is serene and even beautiful on the normally somber Vulcan features.
McCoy looked his way, too, but didn't appear surprised. "He seems to fit right in, doesn't he?" the doctor whispered.
Kirk nodded, then reluctantly broke the silence. "Well, gentlemen, unfortunately we have a job to do, and, as much as we'd like to, I'm afraid we can't stand around here staring all night."
He glanced at Spock and experienced an almost irresistible urge to apologize for breaking in on his thoughts. The first officer turned and met his gaze, the slight curl of the lips incongruous with the soft, solemn voice. "That will not be much longer, Captain; the planet's sun should be rising in approximately four point six minutes."
They stood in silence and watched a pink glow appear on the horizon. The first rays of its sun played across the glacial field, seeming to slip and slide in all directions. A ray of light hit the tree before them and Kirk gasped in wonder at the prism effect as the light passed through the icy branches. A dozen spectrums of color began dancing across the frozen ground.
McCoy laughed in delight as he held out an arm and caught an elusive handful of vibrant colors. It was infectious laughter, and soon Kirk, Sulu and Lieutenant Velena were trying to catch the tiny, ephemeral rainbows. Spock watched, and a smile teased his lips as he looked down and saw a diminutive spectrum weaving its way across his jacket.
The sun climbed higher and the rainbows faded, then were gone.
Kirk gazed at the distant ice-covered mountains, then exchanged a long look with Spock. "We'll set up camp here. Sulu, Velena--I want geological readings and mineral samples. Bones, I want to know if these trees, or whatever you want to call them, are alive, and if so, how. Spock, I want readings taken and analyses made. I want to know if this is just a temporary..." Kirk paused, once again at a loss for the proper word. "...phenomenon, or if it is permanent. If so, how long and what caused it. All right, everybody, let's get to it."
Years of practice were revealed as the camp was set up in short order and the landing party split up to perform their various assignments. Kirk went his own way to do some exploring in an attempt to find some answers for himself. The first thing he did was loosen a large chunk of ice and have Scotty beam it up for analysis to determine if it was truly frozen water. The answer wasn't long in coming--pure H2O. He explored a while longer, then caught sight of Spock in the distance. Keen ears caught his hail and the Vulcan waited until he reached his side.
"Any answers, Spock?"
"Very few, I'm afraid, Captain. I have, however, ascertained one important piece of data. This is not a temporary condition."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, quite sure. I have not been able to determine what brought about this state of existence; perhaps an extension of the planetary orbit and a shift in its axis. It could be due to a number of circumstances, either occurring singularly or collectively. However, I can tell you this--the planet has existed in this ice-encrusted state for approximately thirty-nine thousand, six hundred standard years."
"Almost forty thousand years!"
McCoy had joined them and caught the end of Spock's announcement. He whistled softly. "Sounds incredible, but it coincides with some of my findings. This 'Ice Age' must have begun gradually and built up over at least seven or eight centuries. The trees are alive, Jim, and they have adapted to this climate. Some of their roots extend so far underground my tricorder won't even register it. The ice crystals serve as substitutes for leaves, actually catching the sunlight and enhancing it, then feeding it to the branches. As far as I can tell, photosynthesis takes place in the trunk itself. The most amazing example of adaptability I've ever seen."
Spock once again took up the explanation. "The temperature on the planet has remained fairly constant for several thousand years. The climate at the poles is extremely cold by comparison; however, here at the equatorial plane, there is only a slight differentiation between day and night time temperatures. It maintains an overall average of approximately nine degrees below zero Centigrade."
"How do you explain that?"
"Unfortunately, I do not, Captain."
"Is there any sign that the climate is changing, getting warmer?"
"None whatsoever, Captain. It has been in this state for almost forty thousand years and shows all signs of continuing for another forty thousand. That is, unless..." he hesitated, then continued softly, "...interrupted by artificial means."
Kirk and McCoy exchanged glances at the sound of regret in Spock's voice. Without saying it aloud, he had voiced the feeling they had begun to experience since beam-down--to change the climate and terrain of this planet would be to kill it.
Kirk grasped at straws. "Spock, is this planet suitable for terraforming?"
The Vulcan refused to meet his eyes. "According to Starfleet criteria...yes."
McCoy let his breath out slowly. It was the only answer Spock could give, yet the doctor couldn't help but hope they would fabricate a little white lie.
Kirk shook his head slowly. "I was afraid of that." He moved to a tree and ran his hand along a glistening branch. "You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to give the crew shore leave on this planet. At least they would get the chance to enjoy its beauty before it's...changed."
Spock was suddenly the prim and proper first officer. "Captain, I hardly believe Starfleet would approve of your granting shore leave privileges during a planetary mission."
McCoy snorted, but the Vulcan continued, his face a mask of complete innocence. "However, I find myself in need of assistance in order to carry out the details of this mission. Thirty to forty people in perhaps six hour rotations would be sufficient, I should say."
The ice crystals studding the ground could not compete with the sparkle in Kirk's eyes. "That is, of course, the logical approach."
An eyebrow arched. "Of course, Captain."
The doctor and captain grinned in unison.
"I think maybe I could use some assistance, too," McCoy announced. "After all, you can't expect me to do everything."
The eyebrow climbed higher. "Ah, yes, Doctor. I can understand how such an expectation might exceed your limitations."
McCoy harrumphed good-naturedly, but Kirk cut in before he could deliver a retort. "Spock, do you really have a duty for those thirty or forty, er, 'assistants'?"
The first officer clasped his hands behind his back. "Yes, Captain. As a matter of fact, I do. I propose we begin a search for lifeforms."
"Lifeforms?" McCoy exclaimed. "But the probes indicated there were no lifeforms on this planet."
"Doctor, I would not care to have my very existence depend on the accuracy and sufficiency of data transmitted by an unmanned probe."
The doctor saw his opening. "Yes, I can see why. The poor little probe would probably blow a circuit trying to figure out just what you are supposed to be."
Kirk couldn't stifle a chuckle, but Spock did not deign to answer. Instead he turned a look of long-suffering patience on his captain. "If we are indeed able to find a lifeform indigenous to this planet then the question of terraforming will be eliminated. As you know, in accordance with terraforming law, such an act would be precluded by the existence of any form of life on a subject planet."
"Okay, Spock, just how big do these lifeforms have to be, and how many do we have to find?"
"The law is quite vague on that point, Doctor. I assume one species of fauna of any size would be sufficient."
Kirk grinned. "All right, gentlemen. Let's get some people down here, and go on a safari."
The search began immediately. The various crew members being beamed down were informed of their one important duty. Even though it was not stated in words, they soon realized their six-hour sojourn was half duty, half R & R.
Kirk delighted in watching the unsuspecting personnel get their first view of the icy wonderland. The effect was the same every time--each would simply stand and stare for a long while in silence. Even Spock seemed reluctant to break the spell in order to inform them of the "mission."
Teams were formed, and the search began with theories and bets flying through the air as to what kind of form life on this planet would take and who would find it first.
The planet's day was only nine and one-half standard hours, but the search continued into the night, the two moons providing plenty of light--and beauty. Kirk had the distinct impression he could not have called a halt to the search if he had wanted to. Everyone was enthralled with the night splendor of the planet, and he noticed some teams had broken up into couples of the opposite sex.
He wandered around for a while, then spotted a familiar, slender form leaning against a glittering rock. He moved closer and saw the Vulcan was facing the river bank, seemingly intent on memorizing every crack and seam of the frozen river. , Kirk moved alongside, and both gazed quietly at the shining orb reflected in the mirrored surface.
Spock finally broke the silence. "I believe I shall investigate the area along the far bank tomorrow."
Kirk's eyes measured the distance across the icy expanse. "How are you going to get across the river?"
Spock turned and although his features were innocent, Kirk was sure the gleam in his eye was not a reflection of his surroundings. "I shall skate across, of course."
"Skate!" Kirk echoed. This man never ceased to amaze him. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
"On Earth, a city called Boston. My mother had relatives there, and she wanted me to become acquainted with them."
His voice was quite calm, but there was something in his tone which caused Kirk to envision a small, lonely boy attempting to relieve his frustrations by speeding over the ice. Spock studied his face and knew no further explanation was needed.
"Spock, can you teach me how to skate?"
The Vulcan arched an eyebrow in surprise. "I assumed you could already."
"No," Kirk's voice came out in a wistful sigh. "I guess at the time there were other things that seemed more important than being a kid."
"Such as being a starship captain?"
Kirk returned the soft smile. "Yeah."
They fell silent again, each pondering the childhood of the other and realizing how much their alien boyhoods had in common.
"Spock, would you mind if I ask a personal question?"
"I believe you are entitled, Captain."
"Why are you so drawn to this planet? It's beautiful and all, but I feel there's something...else."
"Indeed, Captain, you are quite correct; the beauty is only a part of it."
Kirk turned to him, puzzled, and saw a look of wonder on the solemn features.
"Before beaming down to this planet, I had never been able to fully comprehend the term 'beauty.' But now.,." an eyebrow climbed. "Well, it has been somewhat of a revelation to me."
Kirk grinned, feeling as if he were sharing his most valuable toy with a friend. "Is that the only reason?" he asked softly.
"No, Jim, that is not the only reason." The Vulcan features grew even softer and Kirk felt a feeling of affection sweep over him. "This planet brings to mind a story my mother used to tell when I was a child. My father did not always approve of her stories, but I remember him still listening intently when she related it for the forty-seventh time."
"What was the story about?"
"A young Vulcan named Salik whose parents were killed in a shuttlecraft accident on a planet much like this one. He was left alone and would have frozen to death if not for an ice creature who found him and took care of him. She described the creature as being similar to a sehlat, but made of the purest ice with wings of shimmering crystals which glistened in the sun's rays. The 'shimeron,' as she called the creature, led the boy on many adventures..." Spock's eyes took on a faraway look as he continued to weave a tale of fantasy and beauty, while his companion sat mesmerized by the haunting story. Anyone spying them there would not have seen the captain and first officer of the Enterprise, but two friends sharing a moment in time.
"...but after he had reached manhood, one day he was rescued and returned to civilization. He had a difficult time because Salik had never known anyone other than his ice friends, and the people of his planet began to say he was distant and cold, his heart frozen like the ice planet, and they judged him harshly because he was not like them. But gradually they came to understand and to learn his heart was not of ice, but one of calmness and serenity. They yearned to be like him so he taught them the lessons he had learned from the shimeron. They abandoned their old ways and all soon learned to live in dignity and in peace."
The story ended, and two pairs of eyes met in understanding, each glad and unashamed that he had shared a hidden part of himself.
"What was the name of the planet, Spock?"
"Va'arik--'The planet of crystal beauty'."
Kirk nodded and smiled, "Well, my friend, shall we return to camp?"
They moved through the shimmering trees, silently sharing their new-found peace, so difficult to gain and all too easy to lose.
The day broke with another rainbow of colors much to the delight of the new landing party. McCoy watched in wonder, trying to decide which he liked best: the glittering, almost blinding day; the colorful, vibrant morning; or the haunting, fairy-like night. He decided on the night. He had seen Kirk and Spock return to camp in the early hours before dawn and knew something special had happened. He noticed the way they walked side by side and the looks of deep understanding which were exchanged.
McCoy felt a sudden ache in his chest as he realized just how close he had allowed these two men to come. "Jim's all right, I guess," he muttered to himself, "but who'd ever thought I would feel this kind of affection for that pointy-eared Vulcan? Bah!"
Spock was reiterating his plans for exploring the other riverbank, when he was startled by McCoy, who grabbed his arm and led him a slight distance from Kirk. The captain watched curiously as the doctor whispered low, and he saw an eyebrow shoot up in surprise. Spock then nodded, and McCoy moved away as he beamed up to the ship.
"What was that all about, Bones?"
"You'll see, Jim. When Spock gets back, you'll see."
It wasn't long before Kirk did see--three pairs of skates hanging from Spock's shoulder. He handed one pair to McCoy, one to Kirk, and then headed toward the river.
"You want to learn how to skate, too?"
"Nope," McCoy tried to keep his face expressionless, but was unsuccessful. "I already know how."
"What! Where'd you learn? I was under the impression there's not much ice in Georgia."
"There's not, but I found plenty on my uncle's farm in Minnesota. I spent a couple of winters there."
"Am I the only one around who doesn't know how to skate?" Kirk sighed.
Spock had a difficult time hiding his amusement when McCoy winked at him and commented, "Not all of us wanted to be a starship captain, Jim."
Kirk grinned as he fitted the skates and stepped gingerly onto the ice. "Well, I'm about to catch up on some of the things I missed."
He moved one foot warily and felt the other one move--in the opposite direction. A strong arm caught him before he made contact with the frozen river.
"Point your toes thus, Jim."
He followed Spock's directions, and with McCoy on the other side, he made it to the center of the river. Further instructions followed, and he listened intently, his eyes following every move. In a very short time, he insisted upon trying it on his own. Spock was not at all surprised to see him slowly and carefully glide across the ice without incident--or accident. He skated back to their side and laughed nervously. "I guess both of you probably think I'm crazy, acting like a kid."
Spock's gaze was soft. "One is never too old to be a child."
"Right," McCoy agreed. "So if you don't mind I'm going to revert to twelve years old again." He shot across the river, forming figure-eights and causing a look of amazement to pass between the two onlookers.
He returned to their side with a flourish and a spray of ice.
"That was fantastic, Bones!"
"I agree, Doctor. Displays of your multifarious talents often prove to be quite fascinating."
McCoy beamed. "Your turn, Spock."
"I'm afraid I do not have your style, Doctor. I am what I believe you might term a 'speed skater.'"
He started off slowly and began skating a large, elliptical path around Kirk and McCoy. They watched in total fascination as the lean figure picked up speed. He was bent forward at the waist, his hands clasped behind his back, and black-clad legs pumped with rhythmic precision. Kirk was reminded of a black arrow speeding to its target.
But the slender Vulcan was suddenly lost in memories--memories of the other times he had skated like this, times when he had felt he simply must escape from the taunts before the hurt became too great to control. He would escape to the icy waters, and when he was moving at full speed, he would release the hurt, and let the wind whip it away. The wind whistling past his ear now was exhilarating just as it had been on the other occasions, but with a sense of deep satisfaction he knew there was no longer any hurt to be blown away.
The Vulcan slowed and came to a stop before his wide-eyed friends. "Gentlemen, shall we proceed?"
He arched an eyebrow at McCoy's look of astonishment. "Spock... you...I..." He made a monumental attempt to recover. "Blast it! If you think you're going to force a compliment out of me, then you're badly mistaken. "
Kirk went into a fit of laughter and promptly fell. He was helped to his feet, but the laughter had left him breathless. "You two...have got to be...the strangest characters I've ever known."
Both a Vulcan and a Human eyebrow climbed in unison. "Now that is a compliment I can return."
Kirk grinned. "I agree, Bones. I guess we are pretty strange to be out here acting like little kids. I've got to admit one thing, though---I haven't had this much fun in a long time."
"Well, it's about time you loosened up and enjoyed yourself. You, too, Spock."
"Doctor, to find 'enjoyment' in a situation is..."
"The logical thing to do," McCoy interrupted. "You've been confined to that ship and under pressure too long. Spock, even Vulcans have a breaking point." McCoy studied the angular face and could see the conflict there. "Look, I'm not asking you to laugh or run around doing cartwheels; just relax, and admit to yourself that you are enjoying this."
Spock searched his face and could tell he was in earnest. "Is that your advice as a physician, Doctor?"
"Yes," McCoy sucked in his breath, "and as a friend."
The Vulcan had no verbal answer to give, but McCoy could suddenly read his face quite clearly. He dropped his gaze, momentarily embarrassed by what he saw.
"Well, you blasted Vulcan, you've gotten us over here, so what do we do now?"
Kirk shook his head in wonder. To possess such a cold and icy climate, this planet had certainly warmed a lot of hearts.
They decided to split up so more ground could be covered. Spock followed a path perpendicular to the river while Kirk and McCoy set out at forty-five degree angles.
McCoy was the first to return to the river bank eight hours later. He was cold, tired, and totally discouraged. He built a fire and was warming by it when footsteps sounded close by.
He looked up into Kirk's face. "Any luck?"
"No," Kirk let out a sigh. "And I assume you didn't have any either, or you wouldn't be asking."
McCoy shook his head silently. "Here. Have a cup of coffee."
"Any sign of Spock?"
"Nope. You'd better sit down and warm yourself. Knowing that pointy-eared computer, it'll probably be a long wait. You know how obstinate he is."
"We're running out of time."
The wait lasted over three hours. McCoy was nodding over his coffee when he and Kirk bolted upright at the sound of crunching ice. They could barely make out a dim, slender figure making his way toward the fire.
"Gentlemen, I believe I have found the solution to our problem."
He moved into the circle of light and Kirk stared at two light blue furry bundles nestled in the crooks of his arms.
"What are those?"
He saw two heads protrude from the bundles and two long, thin snouts uncurl and reach his way. They explored his arm and, having satisfied their curiosity, curled away again under their chins. Two paws extended from each creature and tiny claws clutched at Spock's jacket. The single eye of each closed again, and they began emitting a soft, clacking sound.
McCoy drew closer and grinned. "Well, Spock, it appears they like you."
The Vulcan turned an innocent gaze upon him. "Why shouldn't they, Doctor?" He looked down and carefully disengaged the tiny claws and handed a furry bundle to each of the men.
McCoy took his rather gingerly, but Spock assured him. "They are completely harmless, Doctor. Apparently, there are no predators on this planet, so these creatures have never needed to learn to fear."
He reached down and disengaged a ball of fur from around his leg, another creature Kirk and McCoy hadn't noticed before.
"This, gentlemen, is the mother."
She was about the size of an Earth jackrabbit and quite ugly in comparison with her children. The long snout weaved to and fro for a few seconds, then curled around Spock's neck. The soft, light blue color was dimmed by large yellowish spots on her back and legs. Spock held her up slightly, and Kirk was fascinated by the appendages--two rather spindly legs in the front with small claws protruding from flat wide feet. There was a single back leg, large and muscular with a foot as wide as two men's. Three sharp claws extended from the front of the foot, two from the back.
"She uses these claws to bite into the ice and maintain balance on the slippery surface," Spock explained. "Her ambulatory motion is quite fascinating." He placed her on the ground, and she began to move in circles, searching for food. The long hind leg would move forward between the two front ones, then the front legs would move forward, leaving the back one behind. The back one would then move forward once again. These awkward actions reminded Kirk of a one-legged man walking with crutches.
"That is the most beautiful, ugly creature I have ever seen," Kirk laughed.
"Yes, Captain," Spock's tone was apologetic. "I'm afraid it is not a shimeron, but it does possess a unique grace and beauty."
McCoy missed the look exchanged between the two men. "Well, the babies are adorable," the doctor grinned as he scratched one behind what he decided was an ear. The soft, cackling sound continued, but suddenly a paw shot out, and tiny claws grasped Spock's arm.
"Doctor, it seems that I have not only found lifeforms, but ones possessing rudimentary intelligence as well."
McCoy snorted, but allowed the small creature to reach its desired goal.
Spock then reached down and retrieved the mother, who had wrapped her snout around his leg. "It's quite obvious these lifeforms do not achieve their full intellectual capabilities until they reach adulthood." He arched an eyebrow Spock-style, but Kirk interrupted, laughing.
"She probably thought you were edible. By the way, Spock, what do these creatures eat?"
"The bark of trees, Captain. They use their claws to scrape away the ice, then their snouts are used as chisels to break away the bark beneath."
"I'll be darned," McCoy marveled at the armful of fur. "Well, little momma, do you realize how important you are? You just saved this entire planet. You ought to be proud of yourself."
The silence of the planet was broken by cheers as the three men entered camp with their precious cargo.
Kirk took pleasure in the report he worded to Starfleet, short but sweet:
GWY IV R, unsuitable for terraforming--lifeforms discovered.
There were just the two of them left to be beamed up. Kirk gazed at the silvery landscape for one last time, every tree and stone being etched in his memory. He broke a long, thick icicle off a rocky overhang and turned to his silent companion.
"Spock, you know that according to Starfleet regulations, a starship captain has the authority to give a name to any planet which is designated by coordinates only. So as captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, I name this planet..." He smashed the icicle against a shimmering tree. "...Va'arik."
Two pairs of eyes met in an exchange of more than words and smiles softened two faces.
"Scotty, beam us up."
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