The familiar view of the transporter console dissolved, and, as the tingle of dematerialization swept McCoy to the surface of Eta Scorpii VI, a new image took its place. As the milky-white sun of this system sank beneath the horizon, deep shadows cast their palls upon the lawn of the Federation embassy. A fine drizzle was falling, and McCoy shivered as its chill crept beneath the insulating warmth of his field parka.
The embassy, once a magnificent structure, was now a crumbling edifice bearing marks and slashes from disruptor fire. The main building remained, still more or less intact, but the administrative wing was gone, utterly demolished. Only the remnants of a chimney stood like a sentinel in the fading light. A thin curl of smoke rose from the smoldering pile. McCoy narrowed his nostrils against the pungent odor of charred wood, coupled with the slightly sweet, almost nauseating scent of melted plastic.
The lawn sported great mounds of earth where sonic grenades had landed. To McCoy, it looked like the work of a gigantic, frenzied gopher. The embassy door, all glass with brass trim, had been shattered, and he could see into the vast entrance hall. The chandelier which had swung gracefully over the tiled floor perhaps as recently as this morning, lay smashed and tangled, every prism-like appendage broken.
There was no sign of life within the building. No lights shone through the shattered windows and no movement caught his eye. It was as still and silent as the eye of a hurricane, or more appropriately, McCoy thought sardonically, ground zero of a nuclear blast site.
In the distance, he could see the orange glow cast by the blazing capital. The revolutionaries were burning, looting, and killing, erasing the accomplishments of generations in one angry sweep, emulating the Kh'myr Klingons who had inspired this civil war. McCoy heard the twanging sound of disruptor fire ricocheting off brick and stone, and jumped as a bomb exploded about seventy meters from where he stood.
"Doctor," Spock's voice pulled him from his daze, reminding McCoy that he was not here alone. "I am detecting weak life-form readings from the embassy."
"Then Sarek could still be alive?" McCoy asked, keeping his voice low. The two security guards with phasers who accompanied them had been apprised of the situation, but knowing Spock, he'd neglected to mention the identity of the Federation mediator who sent the distress call that had diverted them here.
"The possibility is..." Spock's voice trailed off as he noted a form lying face down in the entrance hall. It was unmistakably a man, or what remained of one. He paled just slightly and readjusted the emergency pack on his right shoulder. "I suggest we investigate."
Spock strode purposefully toward the ruins, his phaser ready for defense. As McCoy picked his way through the debris which littered the broad walkway, he noted the suppressed worry stiffening the Vulcan's posture.
Jim Kirk sat in his command chair, wondering what the landing party had encountered. Knowing that the Klingons were no doubt in the vicinity and possibly monitoring their communications, he had cautioned Spock not to contact him until he was ready to beam back up to the ship.
The Enterprise was on red alert, and although Kirk had ordered the klaxons cut over an hour ago, the scarlet glow of the alert status still bathed the bridge crew's expressions with a red cast, emphasizing the serious nature of their mission. The radio silence was a precautionary measure, and Kirk thought it quite acceptable on the occasions he had ordered it in the past. Now he realized why. In those instances he had been with the landing party on the surface, not aboard the Enterprise worrying.
What information he had right now was hardly reassuring. They were in a close synchronous orbit over the capital, and the ship's scanners revealed atmospheric residue of heavy artillery use, but no radiation, at least not yet. Even the Klingons aren't that stupid, Kirk thought bitterly. What worried him most was the reading Spock had taken of the embassy. It was apparently still standing, at least most of it, but the force field had either been turned off, or somehow penetrated.
Kirk beat an anxious tattoo on the armrest of the center seat, and then realizing how loud it sounded, abruptly stopped. Pulling his gaze from the main viewer, he became aware of Uhura standing at his side. How long she had been waiting for him to notice her there, he couldn't guess.
"Sorry, Lieutenant," he muttered, taking the clipboard she held out to him. Scanning it briefly, he scrawled his initials on it, and handed it back to her.
"It's harder than it looks," she responded with a knowing smile.
He stared at her for a moment, and finally took her meaning. How many times had Uhura sat on this bridge, waiting and worrying? How often had he himself contributed to her concern for his safety by not checking in when he should have? He saw his own fears reflected in those dark, lovely eyes and expelled a sigh. "It's Hell," he admitted with a slight grin.
"You know Mister Spock," she said softly. "He's thorough."
"Thorough at collecting data," Kirk replied morosely, "and equally thorough at getting in the way of various flying projectiles."
"They haven't been down there very long," Uhura reassured.
"Less than ten minutes," Kirk replied distractedly. He glanced toward the empty science station, almost as if he expected Spock to correct his estimation of time with a more accurate figure.
McCoy had seen his share of battle-mangled bodies in his day, but the carnage revealed within the embassy ranked up there with Cestus III and the battle of Donatu V. His head swam with an impotent rage on behalf of the innocent civilians who had died here. The preventable loss of even one life angered McCoy; the fact that thousands had died over something so unimportant seemed inconceivable.
"God damned Klingons!" he muttered. "They're behind this all right, and for what?"
"Dilithium, Doctor," Spock replied, not taking his eyes off the monitor screen of his tricorder. "The most valuable, most sought after substance in our galaxy. By arming and encouraging local revolutionaries, the Klingons seem to have succeeded in bringing about the downfall of the current political structure, thus breaking off Eta Scorpii's negotiations toward Federation citizenship. Without Federation protection and support, the planet will be open to Klingon encroachment. Unlike the Federation, the Klingons will not deal fairly for the wealth of dilithium this planet holds. Instead, they will take it by force, ravaging not only the land, but also the residents, leaving--"
"Damn it, Spock!" McCoy interrupted gruffly. "That was a rhetorical question, not an invitation to lecture!"
Spock merely lifted one eyebrow. His lack of further response worried McCoy. The situation was grave indeed when Spock refused an opportunity to bicker with him.
"Come on. That tricorder of yours picked up life readin's in here somewhere; let's keep lookin'."
McCoy lost count of the number of lifeless bodies they found. Most had been killed by Klingon disruptors. Death by disruptor was not a preferred experience in the best of circumstances, but these had evidently been set at the minimum force for total disruption of cell structure. In other words, they killed, but death was neither a quick nor a painless process.
Following Spock's tricorder reading, they soon found themselves on the third floor of the embassy.
"Mister Spock!" One of the security guards waved them to a supine form which lay on the splintered remains of the door to an office.
It was Sarek. McCoy followed Spock to the ambassador's side, already opening his field kit as he moved. Running his scanner over his patient, McCoy grimaced in empathy.
"Disruptor blast. Caught him full in the chest. They must have fired at him just as he came through the door, and the force of the blast threw him back through it."
The doctor's scanner whirred and hummed. McCoy refrained from reciting the medical prognosis, uncomfortably aware that Spock could read the auditory signal of the scanner without waiting for the tricorder's interpretation.
"I'd guess that he's been like this for hours," McCoy whispered apologetically. He met Spock's gaze and read the concern behind the Vulcan facade.
"Will he live?"
"Jesus, Spock, I don't know." McCoy tore away the tattered remains of Sarek's blood-soaked robe, swearing under his breath as his own eyes confirmed what the tricorder had already told him. "He needs surgery, massive transfusions..."
Spock flipped open his communicator to hail the ship.
"Captain. I'm getting a reading on a small Epsilon-class trade ship," Chekov announced. "Federation registry confirmed, but it's headed straight for us!"
"What the devil?" Kirk moved to stand behind the weapons console. "This sector of space has been off limits to all trade ships since confirmation of the revolution on Eta Scorpii. If they're running a Federation registry, they must have communications. Why would they come into a restricted area?"
Sulu exchanged a puzzled glance with Thalon, the Andorian navigator, and shrugged. The situation at Eta Scorpii was apparent; the subspace frequencies had broadcast nothing else for the last two days. Surely no captain would knowingly divert into an area of space that had been declared dangerous without good reason.
"Uhura," Kirk said. "Try to establish contact; warn them off!"
"Trying sir, but I'm not getting any response."
"Computer wverification coming up now, sir," Chekov said. "They check out, Federation registry AS-2018-28868441475-8, Kaz' Wveraza.
"Kaz' Veraza," Thalon corrected with a half smile. "'The Victory.' She must be an Andorian ship, sir."
Chekov nodded his head. "It's a trade ship, Captain. She filed a flight plan two vweeks ago with the nearest starbase, and is running on schedule." He flicked a switch and began scanning the tiny ship. "No external damage. All systems seem to be functional. Confirming eight life-forms aboard. They are dropping to sublight now, trajectory consistent for parking orbit around Eta--"
"Captain, I'm getting a signal," Uhura interrupted.
The lisping voice was undoubtedly Andorian, and it confirmed Ensign Thalon's identification. "This is Theless, captain of Kaz' Veraza, requesting clearance for parking orbit; do you read, Eta Scorpii Control?"
"They must not know!" Sulu whispered incredulously, putting the ship on the main viewscreen. He had heard that some trade ships cut off subspace communication during warp travel to conserve energy, but had never taken the rumor very seriously. The only time he'd seen a ship to do this before was a class-J cargo ship which carried three women and which was piloted by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Not only was it illegal to travel in warp without subspace, it could also be downright suicidal.
"Uhura, open frequency," Kirk ordered.
"Frequency open, sir."
"Captain Theless, this is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. You are in violation of Federation restrictions by traveling within this sector. Eta Scorpii is in a state of revolution, and access to it is strictly forbidden by order of the Federation council. Do you read?"
"Revolution?" came the whispery voice of the Andorian. It seemed genuinely surprised by the revelation.
"Yes, you must evacuate the area at maximum speed," Kirk ordered in his most authoritative tone. He was longing to lecture the fool about turning off subspace communication while in warp, but he would file it in his report. Theless' master's license would probably be revoked or suspended as a result. Besides, this was no time for lectures.
"Our sincere apologies, Captain. We did not realize. Of course we will do as you say."
"See that you do," Kirk could not help but add a bit snappishly. He was well aware that Theless' polite response was a facade. Andorians were well known for ripping out the hearts of their enemies while being very polite about it.
The Andorian ship began retracing their trajectory in reverse. "Of all the stupid, dangerous, idiotic..." Kirk began, venting his worry about the landing party into anger with the Andorians.
"Captain, I'm getting a reading. At first I thought it might be a sensor echo of Kaz' Wveraza, but it's too big." Chekov interrupted. "Vwhatever it is, it's following the Andorian wvessel.
"Scan for an ion trail," Kirk ordered.
"Negative," Chekov replied. "I get one on the Andorian ship, but nothing else."
"Could it be--"
"Captain!" Thalon shouted, pointing at the viewscreen which Sulu had focused on the sensor echo. A K't'inga-class Klingon warship appeared on the screen. Disruptor fire erupted from it, reaching out with lightning speed to strike the trade ship. The high powered energy bolts hit the unprotected hull, cracking the Kaz' Veraza asunder like a walnut, the matter-antimatter explosion of the destroyed engines seeming almost anticlimactic. In a moment it was over. The fine particles of debris spiraled out of sight with the force of the explosion, leaving only blackness where the little ship had been.
"All hands, battlestations!" Kirk said as the Klingon ship pivoted and started an attack run on the Enterprise. "Sulu, break us out of orbit."
"Weapons Control, stand by to fire on my order," Kirk continued.
"Phasers ready, photon torpedoes armed."
The Klingon ship swooped over them, Sulu's evasive maneuver putting Enterprise out of range for computer lock of phasers. The warship fired, making only glancing contact with the Enterprise shields. The careening energy bolt narrowly missed the planet below.
Chekov whistled, "That vwas close!"
"Too close," Kirk added from the deck where hed lost his footing. "Sulu, get me some room to maneuver. Lead them out of this system."
The Klingon ship swung around, preparing to make another attack run as Sulu looked over his shoulder. "But the landing party--"
"If one of those Klingon disruptor bolts hits Eta Scorpii's capital, there isn't going to be any landing party, Mister."
"Aye, sir." Nimble fingers danced across the helm controls, and the Enterprise warped away from the Eta Scorpii.
Spock closed the grid on his communicator with a snap, meeting McCoy's questioning gaze. The first officer shook his head. "There is nothing wrong with the communicator, Doctor. The ship must have moved out of range."
"They wouldn't do that, unless..." McCoy paused, making the same conclusion Spock had. "Klingons."
"That would be the most logical explanation. If the Enterprise is engaged in battle, it might be some time before she is able to return."
"Sarek needs immediate medical attention. If we don't get him to Sickbay soon, he'll die."
"I am aware of that, Doctor," Spock responded. "However, until the ship returns, we have few options available to us."
Sarek stirred in his son's grasp, and moaned, his eyes opening. "Amanda?"
The gasp was weak, but the emotion behind it was unmistakable.
"Father," Spock's jaw tightened and he paused for a moment before continuing. "You have been seriously injured. You are on Eta Scorpii. Mother is safe on Vulcan."
Sarek seemed not to recognize his son. He clutched weakly at Spock's shoulder, his expression twisting in agony. "Wife...the pain, the pain is..."
"Sarek, it's Leonard McCoy from the Enterprise. You've been wounded. Try to lie still. We're goin' to get you up to the ship as quickly as we can."
Sarek turned his head to stare blankly toward McCoy. "Shameful...no Vulcan can...I must..."
"Cannot... control pain," Sarek gasped. "Amanda?"
"Let's get him to the couch, Spock."
They were in a long narrow office, decorated in an old fashioned style. A large mahogany desk occupied one end of the room, while two couches flanked a fireplace at the other end. The wall behind the desk was dominated by a series of tall, narrow windows, offering a panoramic view of the destruction below.
McCoy stood back as the first officer carried his father to one of the couches and settled him onto the firm cushions.
McCoy saw the mixture of concern and alarm in Spock's dark eyes as he raised a brow over his father's confusion. Spock had seen Sarek in pain, but only when that pain was diluted by Vulcan stoicism. Sarek had been gravely ill during Enterprise's journey to Babel seven years ago, but he'd never become delirious or disoriented.
"He's too badly injured, too weak to engage a healin' trance, and he can't control his pain," McCoy explained.
"Father, you must control," Spock said, his tone firm. When Sarek did not respond, Spock took his father's hand and enclosed it in his own as if to lend Sarek some of his own strength.
McCoy's eyes widened as he watched Spock and Sarek. The scene reminded him suddenly of one that had taken place several months ago on Earth. He blinked back guilty tears, remembering all too well the moment when David McCoy's mortality had hit him. It was a hard lesson to learn, a shock when the roles were reversed and the parent became the child. Perhaps it would be even more difficult for Spock. McCoy was willing to guess this was the first time Sarek had ever been anything less than perfect in his son's presence.
"He can't control, Spock," McCoy's voice was a combination of an admonishment and an apology. "He doesn't have the strength. God only knows how long he's been like this. It's a genuine miracle that he's alive at all."
"He is a Vulcan," Spock's terse response spoke eloquently of the emotional turmoil which lay behind the Vulcan mask.
"Let me give him something to help him rest."
Spock stared into sightless eyes.
"Spock," McCoy's hand fell on the first officer's shoulder. "He might be able to hear you, maybe sense your presence on some level, but he's in too much pain for us to expect him to process what we say. Let me give him something; let me do what I can."
"Of course, Doctor." Spock stood abruptly, moving aside.
McCoy muttered to himself as he worked to stabilize the ambassador's condition. He punctuated his discourse with half audible curses directed at Klingons, revolutionaries, and the nurse who had stocked his field kit.
While McCoy worked, Spock moved to the window and looked out at the capital. As night fell, the burning buildings illuminated the scene, and billows of black smoke blotted out the first stars of the evening.
When McCoy appeared beside him, meeting his gaze in their reflection, Spock realized that he'd been lost in memories of his past.
"I've given him somethin' to slow the internal bleedin', and somethin' for pain," McCoy sighed. "But it's a poor excuse for what he needs. We've got to get him to the Enterprise."
"That is not possible, not at this time."
"I'm gonna be honest with you, Spock. I don't even know if gettin' him up to the ship will save him. It's a credit to his Vulcan physiology that he's breathin' now."
"I'm sorry, Spock."
"Apologies are useless."
McCoy bristled, but before he could speak, Spock turned to face him.
"You have done everything in your power, Doctor, and I know of no other individual whom I would trust with such a precious burden."
McCoy's sputter died and a crooked smile played across his craggy face. "Why, Spock, I believe you just paid me a compliment."
The Vulcan met his gaze steadily. "Yes, Doctor, I believe I did."
"Lieutenant Martinez," Spock addressed one of the guards. "You shall stand watch on this floor. Find a room that overlooks the entrance to the embassy. Ensign Peterson, you keep watch toward the capital. At the first sign of anyone approaching, you are to report immediately to me."
"Aye," they intoned together, seeming grateful for the assignments. As the two red-shirted guards left the room, McCoy returned to Sarek's side.
"Spock, I'm goin' to need some light. It's gettin' dark in here."
"All electrical power is out."
"Well, look for some candles or a battery-powered light." McCoy glanced at the fireplace, his expression brightening. "Maybe we could start a fire. With all the smoke from the burnin', surely a little more wouldn't attract any attention. God knows it's cold enough in here. A fire would give us light and warmth; we'd be killin' two birds with one stone."
"We have a day's supply of food in our emergency pack, Doctor," Spock said disapprovingly. "There is no need to hunt fowl for sustenance."
McCoy rolled his eyes, but made no comment.
Spock returned a quarter of an hour later with an armload of firewood. He had also retrieved several candles and went to the window to lower the shades so the light would not reveal their presence.
Taking the box of matches he found on the mantle, Spock lit the candles, and put them where they would give McCoy the best illumination. He then began stacking the wood, using a scrap of paper to start the fire, as his father had taught him so many years ago.
"Good!" McCoy said approvingly, once the fire was burning steadily. "You know, it pains me to admit it, but you're handy to have around at times."
Spock nodded, moving to take a seat beside his father. "I could say the same, Doctor. Sarek appears to be resting more comfortably."
McCoy, intent upon a medical tricorder reading, did not look up. "That analgesic I gave him would knock a horse on it's rump." The doctor grinned. "Perfect for Vulcans. I'll give you a sample the next time you end up in Sickbay."
"Then I will take every precaution to maintain excellent health," Spock replied reflexively.
Spock raised one hand to his father's temple, as if to brush away a bit of soot, but the long fingers settled into a familiar pattern for a brief second, and then fell away.
"Okay?" McCoy asked, not lifting his gaze from the tricorder readout.
"He is unconscious, but I do not believe his condition has deteriorated," Spock replied. He had considered feigning ignorance at McCoy's knowing question, but he knew that McCoy would not believe it any more than his tongue-in-cheek pretense of taking Human colloquialisms literally.
"We'll split the consultation fee," McCoy said lightly.
"Bring us around, Mister Sulu," Kirk ordered once they had cleared the solar system. "Is our shadow still with us?"
"The Klingon ship is following," Sulu replied. "But they aren't trying to overtake us."
"Wonder why?" Kirk mused, rising from his seat as the Klingon ship appeared on screen. He stared at the mainviewer for a moment and then shook his head. "I don't like this. It feels like a--"
"Captain!" Thalon's shout accompanied the appearance of two more Klingon ships.
"Shit! Get us out of here!"
Before Sulu could respond, the trio of enemy ships closed in, flying in wolf-pack configuration.
"God damn it to Hell!" McCoy's eyes were wide with anger and shock as he stared at his tricorder. "Cardiac arrest!" he cried already fumbling in his medical kit for the hypospray. "Damn! Give me a hand!"
Spock moved to his father's side and began administering chest compressions, automatically adjusting the position of his hands to accommodate Vulcan anatomy. McCoy gave his patient an injection, then paused for a moment, scanner in hand, waiting hopefully for a response. Tossing the scanner aside with a frustrated grunt, he reset the spray and gave another injection, then another. Spock continued the rapid verbal count with the chest compressions; his calm, emotionless voice underscored McCoy's muttered curses and pleas.
"Come on, Sarek!" McCoy urged, "Help me!" He administered several more injections, finally retrieving the scanner. The shrill, trilling sound rang in Spock's ears.
Spock paused, fully expecting McCoy to tell him it was over. When he turned to look at the physician, he saw what could only be described as indignant rage.
"Damn it! Don't stop!" McCoy snapped, reloading his hypo. "He needs more triox...then another dose of cordrazine."
Spock resumed his compressions, losing himself in the mindless chant. He found himself staring down at his father's face. The severe profile evoked not memories of an eighteen year silence, but those of a father who had cared for his son in the only way he had known how to care, a Vulcan way.
His father's voice filled his mind. He remembered sitting in his lap as a child, practicing at the computer keyboard in his father's study, taking hikes in the L-Langon foothills, listening to the soft strains of a Vulcan lyrette which sufficed as a paternal replacement for Amanda's bedtime stories.
Spock thought of his father's meditation robe. Once when Sarek had gone away for a diplomatic enclave, he had found his mother sitting on the floor of the study, hugging it and weeping. Spock had been little more than a baby then, and had crawled into her lap and put his arms around her neck. He remembered the scent of the robe, the spicy fragrance of Sarek's herbal soap, the cool feel of the silky fabric against his cheek.
It was not until he was much older that he understood the circumstances of that day. His father's diplomatic shuttle had been reported destroyed. For eight hours, Amanda Grayson had thought herself a widow. When word had come that Sarek was safe, she had picked her infant son up and waltzed around the living room, laughing and crying in relieved delight. But the strongest memory Spock had of that day was of his father's robe, and the comforting presence it projected.
Spock's throat felt uncomfortably tight, and in spite of the fire he was chilled to the bone. Eta Scorpii was a cold, wet planet, a far cry from the hot, dry sands of Vulcan. Spock knew it was sentiment, but something in him cried out that his father should not die in this alien place.
McCoy gripped the bunched muscles of Spock's shoulder, shaking him. "Spock, you can stop." The doctor was smiling. "His heart's beatin' on its own."
Disruptor fire from the enemy ships bombarded the Enterprise's shields, each blast bringing a grim update from Engineering. The Klingons were taking their time, toying with the Federation ship in the way a trio of overfed house cats would tease a mouse.
Hikaru Sulu stared at the three K't'inga-class warships, the image evoking a sensation of déjà vu. He suppressed a shiver as he remembered taking the Kobayashi Maru scenario as a cadet. No one but Captain Kirk had ever beat that simulation. However, this was reality, not a program one could rewrite at a whim.
Kirk rose from the center seat, moving to stand behind Sulu as yet another volley rocked the ship. One hand gripped the helmsman's shoulder, and Sulu tilted his head to catch his captain's gaze.
"That evasive maneuver you were talking about in the rec room last week," Kirk began.
Sulu's eyes widened. "Cap...Captain...I had a half a bottle of rice wine that night."
"But you said it would work."
"I said the theory behind it was sound, and I was close to being drunk when I said it. If we drop out of warp a split second too soon, we'll collide with the Klingon ships, a split second too late and they'll be out of range of our photon torpedoes.
"That is vwhy vwe called it 'Hikaru's Hope'," Chekov added.
"Captain, it's never been done."
"Then the Klingons won't be expecting it, will they?"
Sulu tore his eyes from Kirk's determined expression, contemplated the trio of ships on the main viewer for a moment and then sighed. "It'll take a minute to enter the program."
The fire had burned down. Faint orange light from the embers cast flickering shadows over the sleeping forms of Sarek and McCoy. Sarek remained unconscious, and the doctor had drifted into a reluctant doze in the comfortable warmth of the couch across from his patient. The Human snored softly.
Spock stood at the window, lifting the blind back to look out over the smoldering destruction of the capital. He'd been trying to raise the Enterprise at half hour intervals, but so far his attempts had met only with the static whine of an open frequency. Thankfully, the revolutionaries hadn't retraced their steps, and the area about the embassy remained quiet.
Spock would not admit to worry, but he was understandably concerned about the ship and the welfare of her crew. He also wondered about his father. Without the benefit of a healing trance, his condition would only deteriorate. His delirium had disquieted Spock. To his knowledge, Sarek had never experienced a moment of weakness or confusion in his life. The ambassador had always prided himself on his ability to control.
Insanity was the secret fear of every Vulcan. A race which worshiped logic could do no less than dread the possibility of a demented mind. Spock knew his father would rather die than become a vegetable, a burden to his family, a shell of the husband and father he had been. If Sarek's mind could not be recovered, then his body must be allowed to die as well.
He lowered the blind back against the glass, and paced over to the fireplace. Taking the poker he stirred the ashes, and squatted to rekindle the fire. Behind him Sarek moaned, shifting restlessly in his sleep.
Spock was at his side immediately, reminded suddenly of the night he'd spent easing the pain of a childhood pet and of the difficult decision that had been forced on a child of seven, a decision to allow I-Chaya a dignified death. For some reason, Spock felt himself near tears. He controlled the urge immediately, but the emotion which had evoked it remained. Again he brushed his fingers against his father's temple.
Pain, searing waves of agony, coursed through him. His mental shields were breached by a torrent of incoherent thoughts, tangling, intertwining and overwhelming. A million images assaulted him at once; tiny fragments of memories tumbled fitfully around him like snowflakes in a blizzard.
Just within the barrier of his father's mind, Spock felt lost, as if he could wander aimlessly forever in the insanity and pain. Spock had never penetrated even a small part of his father's personal barriers in a mind touch, and now he was overwhelmed by the power of a magnificent mind gone amok. The images were distorted, random, wild. Spock could liken it only to the pieces of an ancient jigsaw puzzle, bits of the whole scattered and upturned in hopeless disarray.
Spock felt the madness draw him down, spiraling into a white hot blaze of pain. He'd felt the pain of other beings before, Simon Van Gelder, the Horta, even Jim Kirk. Their pain was nothing to the hopeless agony which enveloped him now. Vulcans did not admit to pain, for to them it was a thing of the body, and the body was ruled by the mind. Sarek's mind was gone, and his pain ruled. It was that simple.
His intended light mind touch to assess his father's condition had pulled him unexpectedly into a whirling vortex that pulled him down as a black hole pulled a starship into its fathomless depths. Unprepared, Spock had no time to leave a trail back to himself, and having no means to navigate in this chaos, he could never hope to find his way out. He was trapped, but there might be a way he could end the suffering, a way to give his father the dignified death he had once given a beloved pet. Spock would die also, irrevocably linked with his father as he was, but that seemed unimportant compared to the peace he would give. If he could channel all his energy into the part of him which still controlled his physical body...
"...Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" McCoy's voice sounded like it was coming over a faulty communicator. "As if I didn't have enough to worry about! Spock...dear God, Spock, can you hear me?"
Spock blinked, opening his eyes. Doctor McCoy was bending over him, tricorder in hand, looking as pale as Spock could ever remember seeing him. Supine on the carpeted floor beside the couch where Sarek lay, Spock looked up at McCoy, experiencing a twinge of exasperation over the physician's unwelcome interference.
"Spock?" McCoy's concern faded into anger as he met his friend's lucid gaze. "Would you mind explainin' to me just what in hell you thought you were doin'?"
Spock sat up, turning to look at Sarek. "I was attempting to ease my father's suffering."
"Well, you almost eased both you and your father into an early grave, you pointy-eared quack. I'm the doctor around here, and I'd thank you to remember that. If I hadn't pulled you off him a moment ago, you'd both be dead right now."
"I am well aware of that, Doctor. That was my intention."
McCoy stared in disbelief. For a split second he heard another voice, a voice that called to him in his nightmares. "Son, release me!"
Clamping down on the memories that voice evoked, McCoy gestured toward Sarek, his voice incredulous. "That's your father lyin' there, Spock!"
Spock sighed, his Vulcan equanimity strengthening in the face of McCoy's emotionalism. "Doctor, my decision was not made lightly, or emotionally, I assure you."
"Are you goin' to try to tell me that it's logical to commit...patricide?"
Sarek moaned, tossing his head from side to side. "Attend...pain...I have lost...cannot...cannot..."
Spock moved to his father's side. "Father, it is I, Spock."
"I have...failed..." Dark eyes stared sightlessly. "Wife..."
"He can't hear you, Spock," McCoy said gently.
Spock nodded, staring at Sarek's tortured expression.
McCoy watched as the first officer rested his right hand against his father's throat, scissoring his left arm over it to grip Sarek's forehead. In horrified realization of what Spock intended, McCoy grabbed the Vulcan's phaser.
"The starboard shield canna stand another blast," Scott's voice was static fuzzed. "I've diverted evera scrap of--"
"Scotty," Kirk interrupted, as he met Sulu's gaze. "Sulu's going to need maximum warp at his command. Can you give it to him?"
"Fer all the good it'll do. He canna outrun the Klingons, and with three--"
"Can you give it to him?
Kirk snapped off the rest of the engineer's response, nodding to Sulu and Thalon. "Into the breach..."
Holding his breath and quelling a powerful desire to cross his fingers, Sulu played his fingers across the board.
Kirk gripped the center seat as the ship's artificial gravity lagged in a millisecond too late. He could feel the strain on the ship's hull as she took the abrupt surge from full stop to full throttle reverse in high warp. They had barely pierced into warp when Sulu cut back to sublight, pivoting one hundred-eighty degrees. The only sound on the bridge was the droning of the automatic pylon stress alarm and damage control reports which filtered in from various levels.
Kirk's eyes widened at the sight that appeared before him on the viewscreen. The Klingon ship which had chased them here was retreating just outside what remained of the Enterprise's shields. Had Sulu cut it a split second sooner, they would have come out of warp in the path of the Klingon ship and been destroyed.
Chekov fired all twelve photon torpedoes, and Thalon hit the pre-programed evasive maneuver which warped them to safety.
"Vwe did it!" Chekov cried.
Kirk released his grip on the center seat and expelled a relieved sigh as Chekov scanned for wreckage. "Two ships destroyed, one with damage to the warp engines." The lieutenant flinched back from the hooded viewer. "Make that three, Captain."
"No prisoners," Kirk said heavily. "I wish the damage on Eta Scorpii could be so easily fixed. Mister Thalon, plot a course back to the planet."
"Captain, could I have a brief word with ye?" Even static could not hide the threat in Scott's tone.
Kirk rose from the center seat, grinning. "Well done, Mister Sulu. Take the conn while I make our apologies to Mister Scott. If I'm not back by the time we reach orbit, you'll know he's fed me to his intermix chamber."
For the second time in as many minutes, Spock found himself sprawled on the floor. He blinked, looking up at McCoy in a mixture of indignation and astonishment.
"I've been wanting to kick your ass for years now," McCoy snapped, brandishing his phaser. "You make a move to try a stunt like that again, and you'll be sleeping off a heavy stun till Vulcan freezes over, understand?"
"May I remind you that striking a fellow officer is a court martial--"
"May I remind you that I'm the one with the phaser, and you're the one who just tried to murder his own father?"
Spock pulled himself into a slightly more dignified position. "Murder is perhaps too strong a word for--"
"Don't you dare try to tell me you weren't about to administer tal-shaya, Spock."
"That was precisely what I was doing. As a healer you should understand that--"
"Life is the most precious gift we're given; that's what I understand, you cold-blooded son-of-a..." McCoy's voice tremored and then failed halfway through the oft-uttered barb, his blue eyes filling with tears. "Spock, that's your father!"
"I am quite cognizant of the familial ties," came the dry, emotionless response. "Vulcans respect our ancestral heritage. However, we do not emotionalize upon it as Humans are prone to do. My father shall die. Whether you permit me to take his life quickly, or force him to linger because of some misguided sentiment, he shall surely die."
"You don't know that!"
"But I do."
"The taking of life, any life, for any reason is wrong," McCoy cried, trembling. "As long as he lives there's a chance, a possibility that we can save him."
"Sarek is already dead."
"Who died and left you God?" McCoy shouted, his face flushing with anger.
"Doctor--" Spock started to rise to his feet.
"Don't try it!" McCoy ordered, aiming the phaser at Spock's chest. Spock froze.
McCoy glanced at Sarek momentarily and then his gaze settled back on Spock. "I'm not going to stand by and watch you make the same mistake..." The doctor's harsh whisper trailed off in a half choked sob. "Dear God...forgive me."
Spock stared at McCoy. "Doctor, what--"
The shrill sound of McCoy's communicator interrupted the question Spock was about to pose. The Enterprise had returned.
Christine Chapel busied herself with a post-operative examination of Ambassador Sarek. It had been twelve hours since McCoy, Spock, and the critically wounded ambassador beamed up to the ship. For the first six hours, Chapel had assisted McCoy in surgery as he painstakingly repaired the damage wrought by the Klingon disruptor. Since then she'd been pleading with McCoy to delegate Sarek's care to her long enough to take a shower and catch a quick nap. McCoy had flatly refused, glowering at Spock, who was hovering just inside the doorway to intensive care. Chapel was puzzled both by McCoy's obvious anger with Spock, and the tension she sensed in the Vulcan as the two men maintained an uncomfortable silence.
"The K-factors are stabilizing," she announced, handing McCoy the scanner.
"When was his last injection of analged?" McCoy asked, studying the readout.
"He's had only the dose you ordered after surgery. That should have worn off hours ago."
McCoy set the scanner down, looking briefly up at the monitor before he took Sarek's hand. "Sarek, this is Leonard McCoy, squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
Chapel stared at the limp fingers, holding her breath as she waited for a response. When it became apparent that Sarek wasn't going to react, she glanced over at Spock. His expression was just as it had been for the last twelve hours, grim and resigned. Almost, Chapel thought, like he's already grieving.
McCoy's exclamation drew Chapel's gaze back to Sarek. Not only was he gripping McCoy's hand, but his eyes were open. Dry lips moved, but no sound came out.
"Chris, get him a sip of water," McCoy ordered. "Sarek, you're on the Enterprise. You're going to be fine."
Chapel put a cup to Sarek's lips.
"Not too much at first," McCoy warned. "You're getting plenty of fluids and blood through the bio-line."
Sarek swallowed, his gaze falling on his son, who had moved to the foot of his bed. The dark eyes were clear, focused. The appraising stare was that which could be attributed only to Sarek of Vulcan. As Chapel watched, Sarek's expression softened slightly in recognition.
Spock froze in disbelief. Finally, one arched brow crept toward the dark fringe of hair, and Spock turned to McCoy as if for an explanation.
McCoy, busy with Sarek's monitor didn't catch Spock's reaction. Chapel, however, saw the play of emotions across Spock's face before the curtain of reserve fell back into place.
"Father?" the emotionless query belied the relief Chapel had seen in Spock's eyes.
"Spock," Sarek rasped. His eyelids fluttered and then he drifted into a natural, regenerative sleep.
"I...I do not understand."
"What don't you understand, Mister Spock?"
Spock ignored Chapel and stared at McCoy instead. "Doctor--"
McCoy turned, glaring at Spock, blue eyes glittering with rage. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Slamming one balled fist onto an instrument table, McCoy sent several pieces of equipment skittering across the floor. In the long pause that followed, his clenched fist relaxed by degrees, but the tension seemed merely to drain into his body. Ignoring Spock, McCoy turned to address Chapel. "I'll be in my office."
Without another glance at Spock, McCoy stormed from Sickbay.
Downing a shot of Kentucky bourbon, McCoy grimaced as the liquid fire settled into the pit of his stomach. He stroked the fingers of his right hand across the label on the bottle, his vision blurring.
"A gentleman never drinks alone, son," David McCoy's voice was as soft as the expression on his craggy face. He took the bottle from Leonard's unresisting fingers and poured himself a shot, downing it expertly. Casting an assessing glance at his only son, he poured a second shot and sank into the chair. "She's filed for divorce?"
Leonard nodded, afraid to talk, afraid he would burst into tears if he opened his mouth. A gentleman never drinks alone, he thought. Hell, where'd you get the idea I was a gentleman, Dad? An irrational urge to laugh overwhelmed him, but instead of laughing, he lowered his head onto his folded arms.
"I'm sorry, son."
David's hand came down on Leonard's shoulder, a firm, loving clasp which had sustained him through many troubled times. Tonight, however, it was small solace.
"I really screwed it up this time, Dad," Leonard finally whispered in a tortured voice. "I've lost everything, my wife, my daughter..."
"Son," David's voice demanded that Leonard raise his head to look at him. Lifting bloodshot eyes to meet his father's gentle gaze, he choked back the sob which rose in his throat.
"You have yourself. You have your dignity," David paused a moment, as if to let that sink in before continuing. "And no matter what happens, you'll always have me."
Leonard could not keep the gut wrenching sobs at bay a moment longer, but it didn't matter, because his father was crying too, and then they were hugging fiercely, defiantly against the pain they both were feeling.
"I love you, Son."
"I loved you, too, Dad," McCoy whispered, guilty tears streaming down his cheeks as he returned to the present. "I did what I did because I loved you."
The door signal sounded and McCoy dashed the tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand. "Come in."
Spock entered the room, hesitating just inside the doorway.
"What the hell do you want?" McCoy said, rising from his seat.
Spock glanced down at the bottle and glass, pressing his lips into a thin line. "I did not understand."
"Doctor Chapel explained to me that the chaos I sensed in my father's mind was a temporary manifestation of his injury. I had not considered the possibility that the delirium was reversible."
"You thought he was goin' to stay delirious?"
"When I touched his mind I encountered...agonizing pain...insanity."
McCoy's eyes widened. "Dear God, why didn't you tell me?"
"I attempted to do so, but you became emotional, distraught."
McCoy sank weakly into his chair, almost as if his anger had been sustaining him. "Spock, I'm sorry. It never occurred to me that you thought..."
"No apologies are required, Doctor. It is I who should apologize, and I also offer my thanks...on Sarek's behalf. You saved his life."
"It's my job," McCoy assured, breaking into a tired smile. "Precious burdens."
"Quite," Spock agreed dryly. He started to leave, and then paused. "There is one other thing. Just before the Enterprise rescued us, you made a reference to a mistake. I do not understand to what you were referring."
McCoy averted his gaze and sighed heavily. "Spock, we've served together for a long time now. There've been times when in the name of friendship I've pried into private matters which might've been better left alone, agreed?"
Spock studied McCoy carefully before nodding in response.
Now McCoy met his gaze, blue eyes pleading for understanding and acceptance without the painful explanation. "I'm sorry about that, too."
Spock nodded again.
When it became apparent Spock wasn't going to press him for details, McCoy relaxed visibly. Rising to collect another glass, he poured two shots and handed one to Spock.
"Ethanol?" Spock's voice was laced with teasing disapproval.
"Bourbon," McCoy clarified, raising his glass in a toast. "To fathers."
After a moment Spock raised his glass as well, soft brown eyes meeting blue ones. "To fathers," he echoed, draining the contents in one swallow. Silently he replaced the empty glass on the desk, turned and left the room.
Ten Years Later
"Then I'll see you on the other side," Sybok said, dark eyes alight with the fanatical gleam of a man who is about to realize a life's ambition. Spock stared at Sybok, who was standing in the doorway to the forward observation lounge, and wondered how someone who had once been so close to him could suddenly seem so alien.
"Wait!" Jim Kirk cried, moving to Sybok's side. "You know we'll never make it through the Great Barrier."
"But if we do," Sybok responded, "will that convince you that my vision was true?"
"Given to me by God. He waits for us on the other side."
Spock felt a familiar weight settle in the pit of his stomach as he surveyed the childish intensity of Sybok's expression. We knew there would be no reasoning with his brother how.
Kirk stared at Sybok, obviously coming to a similar conclusion. "You are mad!"
Sybok looked intently into Kirk's eyes, his expression blanking for a split second as he considered the possibility. "Am I? We'll see." With a brilliant smile, he turned and left the room.
Kirk moved toward the portal, frustration tensing his posture as he stared out at the swirling mass which barred their path. "He's really going to do it, isn't he?"
"I believe so," Spock responded, experiencing a very Human anger at his half-brother. He glanced at McCoy, recalling the vivid scene that Sybok had projected of the doctor's pain. Vulcan family ties ran deep, but deeper still were the bonds of friendship that tied Spock to Kirk and McCoy.
Sybok had made a grave error in displaying McCoy's pain first, since the three were linked and each shared the pain of the others. Once Kirk and Spock had felt McCoy's anguish, their own pain seemed irrelevant. Spock recalled McCoy grappling with the concept of the Vulcan telepathic connection after the destruction of the Intrepid. "Suffer the death of thy neighbor, eh? You wouldn't wish that on us, would you?" Spock almost smiled as he considered how far they had come since that day.
"You think we're gonna die?" McCoy asked in a soft voice. Kirk had moved closer to the portal as if in a trance.
"That is a definite possibility," Spock replied. "Sybok may be a genius, but he has been known to make mistakes."
"Fine time for one of Jim's hunches to be wrong, eh?" McCoy smiled. "Hell, I'm not afraid of dyin', at least I'll be in good company." He considered a moment, then sighed. "Damn good company, come to think of it."
Silently they stared out at the swirling colors of the Great Barrier. The unspoken bond of friendship and devotion that bound them deepened into a union which seemed as natural as breathing, a oneness of spirit which went beyond duty or friendship, or even mortality. McCoy had a fanciful impression of them showing up at the gates to heaven together, just as they were now, and considered himself lucky not to have to face losing either of them again.
"Doctor," Spock began quietly, and then paused, perhaps realizing how silly the formal title seemed under the circumstances. "Leonard, ten years ago I thanked you on behalf of Sarek...now I thank you again, for myself."
Kirk turned, a puzzled frown creasing his face. He looked first at Spock and then at McCoy, wondering if it would be for the last time; they were almost to the barrier. "Bones?"
McCoy smiled, bouncing on his toes as he cast what might be a final mortal glance at the two people he loved most in the universe. "Thanks, Spock...thanks...from both of us."
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