Spock raised his head from its cramped position over the viewer and mentally sighed. He did not often make such an admission to himself, but he was bored. The Enterprise had been on a routine exploratory mission for almost three months now, and not so much as one unidentified blip had crossed the small screen in front of him. They were approaching the last planet on their roster, and then they would be assigned somewhere for shore leave. Spock sighed again inside. Inside. Shore leave. Probably on some exotic, erotic planet with no culture except that which was designed to provide the ever-bored senses of the Humans that surrounded him with constant stimulation. In a word, or several, lewd, crude and embarrassing.
The Enterprise's science officer bent over his viewer again, trying to stimulate the curiosity that came so naturally most of the time. One part of him took in, sorted and organized the data that came to him, while another part of his agile mind pondered his sudden restlessness. He must be getting used to living dangerously. His years with Chris Pike, and now his escapades with Jim Kirk--for some of the situations that the two of them had been in recently could be called nothing else--had spoiled him for routine missions such as this one. He found himself almost wishing that a Klingon ship would appear on the mainviewer.
He stopped that train of ideas almost instantly. His thoughts were a disgrace to any self-respecting Vulcan. As his Human associates often said, he would "get over it." But not too many Vulcans had lived the life he had lived, he admitted to himself reluctantly. Still, he should not let his attention wander so while on duty. This would keep until he could meditate over it.
"Readings, Mister Spock? " His captain's voice brought him back to reality quickly enough.
"The planet is approximately three-fourths the size of Earth, and has the same gravity, which indicates a larger, denser core. We are as yet too far away to ascertain its composition. Eighty-nine point seven percent of the planet is covered with water, both salt and fresh. What small land masses there are do not seem to be the recent result of any kind of volcanic action. Indeed, the base substance of the world itself seems remarkably stable at first scan, showing no signs of seismic shift for several centuries.
"The land masses are probably what is left of mountain ranges that formed when land first emerged, and have been covered gradually as the polar ice caps melted. After the melting of the ice caps, both the orbit of the planet and the position of its sun stabilized, therefore, the ice caps never refroze, and the majority of land masses have remained underwater.
"Atmosphere is similar to Earth's, though significantly higher in oxygen, probably due to the great amounts of diatom photosynthesis taking place in the vast oceans. Further analysis must wait until we have established orbit and sent out a landing party."
The bridge crew, who had been as attentive to Spock as a class to a professor, all turned back to their respective jobs. Sulu and Chekov exchanged glances that were easy to read: "If this is an approximation, I can't wait for the details!"
Captain Kirk lounged easily in his chair. He was as bored in his way as Spock was. "Very good, Spock. Once we establish orbit, I want you to take McCoy, that new xeno-botanist, Rivers, I believe it is, Michaels and Shreda. I think three days will be sufficient, don't you?" Spock nodded. "Plan to set up a camp and work from there. I'll have the life sciences teams working full time up here processing everything you send back as fast as possible."
"You're not going yourself, Captain?" Spock was more disappointed than he cared to admit.
"No, Spock," Kirk sighed. "I've had enough of frontier worlds. I'll save myself for Wrigley's Pleasure Planet, or wherever else Starfleet assigns us shore leave."
"Very well, Captain. I'll go and prepare the landing party. Three days, sir."
The planet was fascinating. No other word would do, and even that one could not begin to describe it. Spock stood on the shore of the one great ocean that engulfed the planet, leaving only bits and pieces of exposed land for the humanoids to use.
The animal life readings they had picked up from the ship did not come from this small bit of land that they had materialized on. Their island was abundant with plants of all descriptions, but there was not one animal, not even one insect. Rivers had ascertained that pollination was done solely by air currents.
Now Spock aimed his tricorder out at the water and watched as it fairly hummed with life readings. The islands of this planet might be barren of fauna, but the water certainly was not. There was no way that even Spock could begin to sort out all the readings that assaulted his small instrument. He read tiny microbe-like forms, huge whale types, and everything in between. At last, his recorder gorged with facts, he lowered his arm and stared out at the water.
He had never liked the water. While being raised on Vulcan, he had never seen much of it at once, never had his body exposed to it except for occasional water baths when the sonics were out. He had always been taught to revere the liquid as the substance of life, something elusive, that would evaporate and leave one parched and dying. The mountains, plains, and deserts of Vulcan nurtured and toughened him; water made him wary.
Since he had beamed down to this planet, he had been on edge in one part of his mind. The water, or something in it, bothered him. No, it didn't, he contradicted himself firmly, clamping down on what he assumed was a rampant fit of imagination. Vulcans were not "bothered" by natural phenomena. He had been to Earth several times, and had not reacted this way. There he had stood on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean with Jim Kirk and watched the tides go in and out, noting the influence of the moon.
This planet had no moon, no tides. The water stretched out in front of him like a soft, navy blue/dark green/black velvet table cloth, lapping gently at the sandstone-colored beach. The color of the beach was the only thing about this place that was familiar to him. The sea, black one moment, green the next, reminded him of clotting blood.
When they had beamed down to their little island, it had been just before planet dawn. The star had appeared soon, bringing with it a breath-taking prism that lined the sky above them, then faded as the day got older. The Humans had gasped in delight; Spock longed for the instant, insistent red-orange of the Vulcan sunrise.
He stepped a bit closer to the water line, and checked his 'corder readings again. Salt water, similar content to Earth's oceans, with a few trace elements of unknown composition. As he checked his findings, McCoy came out of the plant undergrowth and approached him.
"Spock, this place is incredible!" he began enthusiastically. "So far we've encountered nothing even remotely harmful. The plants have no thorns or nettles, they excrete no sap that might stick to or burn Human skin, why look, even this beach here is soft." The doctor bent down and picked up a handful of the red loam. "Feels like...like old-fashioned corn starch." He filtered the sand through his hands.
"So you've found another paradise, Doctor?" Spock asked, with just a trace of irony in his voice.
"Spock, what's got into you? We've hardly been here half a day yet, and you're acting like you've got ants in your pants to get back to the ship. Have you found something wrong?"
"No, Doctor, I haven't found anything wrong, and I do not have any insects in my clothing, as there are no insects on this planet."
McCoy snorted. "You know good and well what I mean, Spock. What's wrong? The climate should be nice for you, for a change. Usually, it's a constant ninety degrees. That's a little cool, I know, but Shreda predicts it should hit one hundred fifteen at least once before we leave. The weather's been good so far; there aren't any animals; even some of the native fruit has proven to be edible. What is it?"
Spock shook his head. "I do not know, Doctor. Perhaps it is just the water."
"The water?" McCoy looked out at the now-rippling sea. "I don't see anything."
"I am not used to so much water." Spock said it softly, wishing as he did that he had not, knowing the doctor would come back with one of his scathing sorties.
Surprisingly, McCoy didn't reply, but looked at Spock from under cocked eyebrows. "Well, maybe you'll get used to it before we leave." He pointed down the beach to where a small figure was coming out of the inner forest. "There's Rivers. Let's see what more she's found out about all these plants."
Spock and the doctor trotted to meet the botanist. The young lieutenant was holding her tricorder as though it were made of dilithium. "Doctor, Mister Spock, this place is better than an environmentally controlled greenhouse! Do you know how many different species of plant life are existing on this tiny little bit of sand? Hundreds! Thousands! I've been sending up near constant reports since we beamed down, and I won't even scratch the surface in three days. There are hardwoods, softwoods, fungi, lichen, mosses, evergreens. Evergreens in this climate! Yet there they are. Plus all the species that have all the above characteristics combined, and those that display none of them."
Just then, Shreda, the young geometeorologist, joined the group. His enthusiasm equaled Rivers'. "Mister Spock, there are no indications of any natural rock formations anywhere on this planet, except this little island and the others like it scattered over the surface. There are no real rocks on this one, no ore-bearing stones of any kind. In fact, the sand is the only substance that even approximates a 'rock,' and it certainly isn't. See where the water runs over it frequently?" He bent down and tapped on the hardened dirt, then picked up a hand-sized piece of the 'stone' and rapped it sharply with his knuckles. It crumpled back into its original powder-like state. "There's your rock," he shrugged.
Since they had already determined the size of the little lump of land they were on, seven miles long, and five miles wide, Spock instructed his team to circumnavigate it by way of the shore line. They split up, and each part of the group began their trek in opposite directions. Where they met, they would camp. Readings had shown that there was a wide stretch of beach completely surrounding the island, so they would have no problem circling it.
Spock, McCoy and Shreda made up one team. Shreda made constant readings of the weather, the atmosphere, the air currents. "Sir," the Andorian said, turning to Spock. "That prism effect we saw when we beamed down indicated a great amount of inert elements in the atmosphere. None show harmful to humanoids in such small quantities. In fact, this planet even has an advantage. You cannot get sunburned here. Nearly all harmful ultraviolet rays are absorbed before they reach the surface."
Spock nodded thoughtfully, continuing his hike. Vulcans didn't sunburn anyway, so he had no reason to make a note of that comment. About two hours after they'd begun, McCoy noticed a small tributary flowing from the interior of the island and merging with the sea. Spock took a reading of the water close to where it left the forest. "Fresh water, Doctor. And the tricorder states that this part of the sea is made up of fresh water as well. Most unusual, as there is no underwater barrier that might separate the two types from each other."
"How can that be, Spock? Wouldn't they just blend in with one another once they came into contact?"
"Indeed, Doctor. By all rights and known laws of chemistry, they should. This planet is presenting several interesting anomalies."
Just then, Shreda, who had wandered a bit into the forest to take more readings, gave a shout. The two officers went running in his direction. The young geometeorologist was aiming his tricorder at a small bump in the surface of the ever-present red dust that passed for sand. He swung around excitedly as Spock and McCoy appeared. "Doctor, Mister Spock, I read metal under this mound! The only metal we've encountered so far. And it's definitely an alloy. Man-made."
Spock straddled the small mound and began to brush away the accumulation of powder. It blew aside easily, and soon the first officer had uncovered what appeared to be the remains of a small scout ship. Everything was gone but part of the cockpit and one archaic tall fin, but the conical shape of the nose was unmistakable. "It seems as if we are not the first to visit this planet, after all," he mused.
"Can you determine how old that craft is, or where it came from?" McCoy wondered if by some long chance there might be a survivor somewhere hidden in the small forest.
"Age is approximately two hundred years. The composition of the alloy is similar to that used in the construction of some of the first scout ships that Earth sent on missions into uncharted space."
"Are you saying that this ship came from Earth, Spock?"
"I'm not saying that at all, Doctor, merely stating a correlative fact. It is not impossible that this ship came from Earth, but the odds do not favor it. This planet is seven hundred twenty light-years from Earth."
"Sir, should we beam this find up with us when we go?"
"Affirmative, Ensign. It would be most interesting to see if the archaeology department can determine its true origin. Record coordinates, and we'll come back for it before we leave. Now I believe we should continue on our hike if we wish to meet the other party before dark."
Spock turned to follow another stream out of the forest and onto the beach. That little trickle joined the larger one and made a delta with the ocean. He, McCoy and Shreda shuffled through the powdery sand that was ankle deep in places until they were back on the water-hardened beach. It was exhausting to walk anywhere but right at the water's edge for any length of time because of the sand. Spock tried not to notice the huge expanse of emptiness to his right, but he could not shake the feeling that something in the quiet, liquid darkness was watching him. Or waiting for him.
After several more hours of uneventful walking and fact recording, the two halves of the landing party met. Rivers and Michaels had encountered nothing unusual on their trip, except what was native to the planet. The xenobotanist was ready to colonize on the spot, so taken was she with all the array of flora.
Spock mentioned the life readings he had received from the sea to the zoologist, Michaels. The lieutenant concurred with Spock that there was no animal life on the land masses of the planet, and she, too, had received a wide variety of readings from beneath the surface of the water. "Sir, since the water contains no harmful alien elements, request permission to beam back to the ship tomorrow and bring down aquashuttle for a bit of exploring. I'd also like to use the life belts if we find any interesting spots where the shuttle won't go."
Spock was oddly reluctant to send any of the crew under his command out into that ominous ocean, but... "Permission granted, Lieutenant."
They set up their camp uneventfully. Their biggest problem was the shifting red dust. It made tent-pitching virtually impossible, so they settled for stretching the tent fabric between several trees to make sheltering flies. The weather was warm; they only needed something to shed any rain that might fall. The dust made moving around in the forest very difficult, until Mister Spock called the ship and had Scott improvise a pair of "sand shoes" for each member of the landing party. After that, the going was easier.
Once the sun set, Spock had the party set up two small flare-lights instead of making a fire. Although there was no danger of being attacked by animal life, Spock was cautious enough to prepare for any eventuality. He took the first watch.
This was the first moonless planet he'd been on in a long time. The total darkness surrounding the little pool of light made by the flares reminded him of home in a way he had almost forgotten. He gazed up at the tiny bits of light that were stars, trying again to get rid of the feeling of being drawn by something on this planet, the feeling that had plagued him since they had materialized. He acknowledged that, illogical as it seemed, it was going to be a very long three days.
He moved a bit more away from the light given off by the flares. As his eyes became adjusted to the darkness, he spotted another one of the frequent, fresh water tributaries that led from somewhere in the interior of the island and flowed out into the ocean. Making a mental note to follow one of them to its source the next day, he walked over to it.
This one was larger than the others, perhaps three or four meters across and at least two meters deep. The water moved in a steady current, but as there were no rocks or any obstructions to stop it, there were none of the noises so often associated with a flowing body of water. Swinging his ever-present tricorder around, Spock checked the stream for life. A few fish types, on the order of salmon or trout, nothing more. He was disappointed. This was, however, as good a place to sit watch as any, so he made a small indentation in the sand and sat near the edge of the stream. His earlier uneasiness of the water had left him, and he watched the constantly changing patterns of the surface, fascinated.
The splash took him by surprise. He whirled around to face a creature that he had thought existed only in Earth's legends: a mermaid.
The creature was half in, half out of the water, her elbows resting on the bank, her tail fin flicking lazily in the water's current. She and Spock stared at each other for fully a minute before she spoke. "You have not Heard me until now?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said 'You have not Heard me until now?' I heard you much earlier. Before you were even here."
"Have you tried to contact me before now?" Spock could not take his eyes off the metallic-looking scales and the wetly shining skin.
"Yes. When you were..." She seemed to search for the word. "...Walking. Yes. When you were walking on the...ground...in the light. I called to the one who Heard." At least, I thought you Heard. Did you?"
"I think I did. But I wasn't certain until now."
"Yes. What is your name?"
"Spock. What is yours?"
"I am Ryllen. May your Hearing improve."
Spock pondered this remark. Obviously she had called him telepathically, and he had only received a residual signal. My hearing could, indeed, use some improvement by her standards, he thought wryly. "Are there others like yourself?" he asked, hoping that she would stay throughout his watch.
She shook her head slowly (and a bit sadly, he thought). "I am the only one."
"But there are other intelligent species on this planet?"
"Yes, many of us. But I am the only one like this."
"How old are you?"
This brought a shy, intriguing smile. "I am very old. But I was not always like this. I was not always here. But I was Called, and when I answered the Call, I was changed into what you see now."
Spock was baffled. "Do you mean that you are the last of your kind?"
She shook her head emphatically, and thought for a moment. "I do not know how to tell you. It has been so long, and I have been this way since I got here. But I am the only one like this." There was a pause, and Ryllen assumed a look of intense concentration.
As Spock looked on, she seemed to change, to lose her scales, become more Human, with real hair and light-tanned skin.
"What you just saw, that is how I was when I came here. I..." Again she searched for the word. "I...crashed."
The bits of the scout ship they had found that afternoon flashed into Spock's mind. Could this be that ship's pilot? "How were you changed?"
"I was enabled to live...out there." She gestured gracefully towards the ocean. "Would you like to see where I live?" Her voice held temptation, invitation, joy and danger.
Spock found himself engaged in a struggle with his scientist's curiosity and his officer's sense of duty. "I cannot. I must watch of the others of my group."
Ryllen nodded slowly. "I understand. I will come later, and take you to where I live. We look for those who Hear. This is a world of those who Hear. You will become one of us."
She sank noiselessly into the water up to her chin, and, with a flip of her tail, was gone in a series of ripples that blended in with the rest of the current. Spock stared after her and suddenly became aware of a hand on his shoulder. He turned and stared into the concerned face of Lieutenant Rivers.
"Mister Spock? I'm here to relieve you." She peered closer at him. "Sir, are you all right? Did you see something?"
"Yes, Lieutenant. To both questions. Stay alert." He made his way back to the shelters, leaving a baffled lieutenant to watch out the night.
The morning dawned with the expected, but no less dazzling, prism effect. The Enterprise crewmembers were up and at work before the colors had hardly faded. Spock had not told anyone about his visitation the night before, still wondering somewhere in his mind if he had just dreamed the entire thing.
He checked in with the ship and the aquashuttle, Tranquility, was readied for Michaels and Rivers when they beamed up. While McCoy and Shreda went inland to explore, Spock set up for the shuttle's landing. Because the Enterprise had been orbiting just above them, the Tranquility and its two crewmembers were back in just over an hour. Spock joined the other two on board to check equipment before launching out to sea. They stepped out again, and while Michaels checked the outer hull for the last time, Spock scanned the ocean. Not a ripple. Again, the strange longing feeling of the night before washed over him. Part of him did not want to get out into the sea in the small craft, yet another part longed for the water to cover him. He knew he could not escape either part of himself, but he felt that if he did go out on the calm, mirror-like surface of that water, he might never come back. Briefly, he wished James Kirk was there to give him the silent support of his presence, then banished the thought the way a half-grown child waves away a baby-sitter.
Finally, they were ready. Using his communicator, Spock located McCoy and brought him up to date on their progress, and gave them a tentative schedule. They were all preparing to enter the shuttle and batten down when, just off shore, a series of ripples broke the surface, and Ryllen stepped out of the water and walked up the beach toward them.
For Spock, who had distinctly seen her with a large tail in place of feet the night before, the sight of her unmistakable and totally female body was enough to cause the usually unflappable officer to do a double take. For the two junior officers, who had not seen a living animal since beaming down, and did not expect to see one, to be greeted with this apparition from the sea was more than enough to render them speechless.
Ryllen had lost none of the fluid grace she had shown briefly the night before, Spock noted. She swayed toward them as if she were still being moved by water currents. When she was within hand-shaking distance, she stopped. "Only those who Hear may enter the home of the Lleylora," she said firmly.
Michaels and Rivers looked to Spock for help. He stepped a bit closer. "We wish only to visit. We desire to find out about your people. You invited me last night. Do you not welcome us now?"
"We welcome those who Hear. Those are welcome freely, always. Those who do not Hear cannot understand our ways. You, Spock, may come with me. These," she indicated Michaels and Rivers, "may not." Ryllen folded her arms gracefully and waited.
Spock made a small bow. "Will you wait until I call the rest of my colleagues?" She inclined her head in assent. Motioning to the other two, Spock moved a way down the beach where he hoped he would be out of Ryllen's surface hearing range, though he suspected if she really wanted to find out what he was going to say, she would. He flipped out his communicator and signaled McCoy.
"McCoy here. Have you run into problems?"
"That remains to be seen, Doctor. One of the planet's inhabitants has forbidden anyone but me to enter the water. How far away are you and Lieutenant Shreda?"
"Not more than ten minutes. We were on our way back anyway--one of the what?"
"One of the planet's inhabitants, Doctor. I will endeavor to explain once you get here. Please make haste. Spock out."
As he waited for the doctor and the geologist, Spock decided to find out how Ryllen managed to grow legs overnight. He approached her once more. "You are different this morning."
She managed a small half-smile. He noted the hair in place of scales on her head, the missing membrane over the eyes, and the shapely, well-muscled, and quite workable legs. He ruled out surgery instantly. "We Heard you wanted to enter our world, and that there are those among your group who do not Hear. I was enabled to come out and speak with you as one of your own."
"Is this done often?"
"I have never been out of my home since I was Called. I remember how to use these," she indicated her legs. "But it is much more tiring than it used to be."
"You say you were...enabled to come out. In what way? Who changed you?"
"I changed myself. I...remembered what I must do to live here, and I enabled myself to go back to my old form."
Spock wanted to ask more questions, but just then McCoy came struggling out of the trees, accompanied by Shreda. Even with the sand shoes, their pace was slow, and when McCoy saw Ryllen, he gave up the fight altogether, and stared openly.
Spock and Ryllen walked over to him. "Where did you come from, Ma'am?" McCoy was frankly admiring her.
"Ryllen is one of the intelligent species of this planet. The reason we have not encountered them before is that all animal life resides below the surface of the water."
"Spock, you know as well as I do that this is no water creature. Excuse me, Ma'am, My name is McCoy."
She gave him a small bow and smile.
"Doctor, when I met Ryllen last night, I assure you she was indeed that. However, it is not easy to leave the water when you have a five foot tail fin in place of legs."
"What..." McCoy, for once, was lacking a comeback.
"Let me explain," Spock said patiently, wanting to get this whole wild story straight for both of them. "All of yesterday, while we were making our circle of the island, I was aware of something from the ocean drawing me, pulling at me, as if a beacon were out there trying to get my attention. At first I believed it to be the strangeness of being around so much water, as I mentioned to you. Then, last night while I was sitting watch by the tributary next to our camp, Ryllen paid me a visit, in her water form. It seems that this planet is inhabited by telepaths, and they are very sensitive to others of their kind. They were trying to contact me all day yesterday, I could only hear the briefest part of their message." Spock paused to take a breath.
McCoy shook his head. "You mean there are more of you out there?" He indicated the sea, looking at Ryllen.
"Not like me, but there are others who Hear," said Ryllen.
"Those who Hear--telepaths. On their frequency I do not 'hear' very well," said Spock.
McCoy looked skeptical. "Obviously they've never tried to say anything behind your back. But kidding aside, what's the problem? Isn't the shuttle working, or is there a taboo against visitors?"
Again Ryllen stood firm. "Only Spock may enter for he is the only one among you who can Hear."
Against her immobility, McCoy was nonplused. He nodded politely to Ryllen, and he and Spock joined the three junior officers. "Well, Spock, what now? It's obvious that whatever underwater exploration of this planet, if any, that's going to get done is up to you. Do you think this world has enough to offer the Federation to warrant the risk, or should we just mark it 'off-limits'?"
"I must leave this decision up to the captain. But, Doctor, I have an even more fascinating fact. I have reason to believe, from our conversation last night, that Ryllen was the pilot of that scout ship we found the remains of."
Michaels gasped. "But that would make her over two hundred years old! What did she say, Mister Spock?"
"She told me was the only creature like herself. At the time, her appearance was that of a legendary Earth creature: the mermaid. Then she told me that she hadn't always been the way she was...that she had crashed. She seems at times to have difficulty in remembering certain words, as if she had forgotten them and had to search her mind to find them. I believe it is indeed possible that she is the pilot of that ship. And if she were telepathic and was 'Called' from out of space, then perhaps this planet poses a potential danger."
"Well, it's possible that she crashed first, then was...'Called'," put in Shreda.
"Quite true. With the captain's permission, I hope to find out." He activated his wrist communicator and hailed Captain Kirk.
"Kirk here. What's up? Don't tell me you've found some excitement after all down there!"
Spock quickly brought the captain up to date on events. Kirk was not pleased. "I don't like it, Spock. You going off alone with this...whatever she is. I'm coming down."
"Captain, there is no need. Your presence here will not change her mind about who does and does not go with her."
"Nevertheless, I want to talk to her. Besides, I can use a little excitement, Kirk out."
Kirk materialized close to the group. After introductions had been made, he asked, "What guarantee do we have that you're not trying to lure Mister Spock away from us? If he goes with you, will he be able to take a communicator?" He indicated the device on his wrist for her benefit.
"He may take it, but it will not work. Nothing of that nature works in our home. We do not need them."
Kirk eyed Ryllen closely. It was a risk, he knew. But he also knew Spock's curiosity and its need to be satisfied. He sighed. "You'll be with him the whole time?"
"I am to be his guide through our world."
"How long will you stay?"
"That is up to Spock." Her innocent and softly spoken statement made Spock feel a slight shiver, though he refused to recognize it as such. Since Ryllen had walked out of the water this morning, the desire to go beneath the velvet green surface of the water had been growing stronger, and the possibility of exploring a totally telepathic society firsthand was an added attraction. The feelings of the day before, that the water was a threat, were gone as if they had never existed. How could he have felt that the wet plain stretched out in front of him so openly could in any way be dangerous? The captain would allow him to go; he could see the decision being made in his friend's face. What had given him the chill were Ryllen's words: That is up to Spock.
How long would he stay? He did not know, but he could not say that to his commanding officer and friends, so.... "I will remain as long as is necessary to establish contact with the dominant species and to gather information for a full report."
Kirk nodded briefly. "Very well, Spock. I leave this up to you. Bones, can you adjust your medical tricorder so that it can follow him? And will it track him underwater?" The last question was to Ryllen.
"What works on the surface will continue to work normally as long as it remains on the surface. You will be able to see where Spock is on our world."
McCoy nodded and went about the task as Kirk motioned Spock aside. "Spock, be careful. I don't like this, but I know how much it means to you to communicate with other telepaths. Just don't stay too long."
Spock felt as if he were suddenly riding an emotional roller coaster, and he didn't know why. His first misgivings about the water were back, and he wanted to stay here, with Jim Kirk, and let someone else go. He started to reach out and grasp his friend's shoulder, but changed the gesture mid-reach, and picked up a life-support belt to put on, instead.
Ryllen stopped him before he could begin. "That is not necessary."
"You know I cannot breathe in your world without it."
"You will be enabled."
Kirk stepped in. "He can't go in without a life-belt! It's impossible!"
Ryllen shook her head. "You do not understand. He Hears. For those who Hear, all is possible. He will be enabled to breathe in my world, just as I do. Do not fear. Come, Spock."
The two of them walked a short way down the red beach, while the others looked on. Ryllen motioned for him to walk out into the water, but as he started to do so, she stopped him again. "These cannot go." She was pointing to his clothes.
Reluctantly, his rampant desire to find out what was beneath the surface of the water overcoming his usually fierce modesty, Spock stripped. Finally, Ryllen deemed him ready to enter her world. They stepped into the waiting liquid.
The water was warm. That was the first sensation Spock felt. Here at waist depth, it felt like a warm bath, relaxing and invigorating at the same time. Walking on the bottom was becoming more difficult, and he felt a strong urge to push off, submerge and keep going.
Again, Ryllen stopped him. we must wait. He noticed she was not speaking vocally anymore. Never had such a telepathic voice rung so clearly in his mind. Now he could indeed Hear her.
we wait for the.... A series of liquid syllables flowed through his brain, translating themselves into the words "air algae."
what are air algae?
they will enable you to breathe without changing they come to your skin and breathe for you later, if you wish, you can change
He looked down at his hands in the water. He felt a tingling over all the parts of his body that were below the surface of the water, and as he watched, he began to glow with a soft blue-green light. He touched one hand with the other. The light dimmed for a moment, but his sense of touch was not diminished. He became aware that his lungs were not breathing as deeply as they usually did, and yet, he did not suffer for lack of air.
come out a bit further they must cover you completely
Spock stepped out to chin level, and the tingling sensation followed after the warmth of the water. He had stopped breathing completely.
now you must submerge
All the water phobia that he had felt before was back. He couldn't! He was Vulcan! Vulcan didn't have this much water; he wasn't ready. He hadn't even learned how to swim until he joined the Academy. He had to go back! He half-turned.
Ryllen's calming thoughts stopped him. you need not fear, spock we hear you we will help you but first you must come to us we cannot come to you
you did He was fighting for time now.
i am different the others can never leave the water even though some of them come to the surface to breathe air i am the only one who can walk on the land come, spock, we are waiting the air algae will not fail you if you notice, you will see you have not taken a breath for almost seven minutes and your head has been out of the water that whole time come, spock
Taking a deep breath, not because he needed to, but because it would be his last for a while, he went under the surface.
On the shore, the landing party watched Spock disrobe, walk slowly into the water, stop, then submerge. Kirk frowned. "I don't like it, Bones. Did you see just now when he almost turned around? I don't know if I trust that girl, or whatever she is."
"Looks like we'll have to trust her for now, Jim. At least I've got him on my screen. His life readings are strong, no problem there. I wonder just how in Hell they could do that. It would be something to be able to breathe underwater, wouldn't it?"
"Believe me, Bones, I've done it, and it's not all it's cracked up to be. I would have thought Spock would remember that hellish time we had on Argo."
McCoy nodded thoughtfully. "You know, Jim, he did mention something about the water making him uneasy yesterday. I wonder if that had anything to do with Ryllen."
"I don't know, Bones. He didn't say anything to me, but I don't like any of this. In case you hadn't noticed, he's been...restless lately, almost bored. True, this has been quite a routine mission, but things like that have never gotten to Spock before."
"Just goes to show you that even a Vulcan can get used to a life of excitement. Let's face it, Jim. The Enterprise doesn't have the reputation of the place to be if you want peace and quiet."
"That's for damn sure, Bones." Kirk managed a chuckle. "Okay, I'll shut up and just wait for Spock to come out of there. But I won't be completely easy until he's safe and dry back on the ship." He walked to the shore line, and let the water just lap over the toes of his boots. He knew how tempting a telepathic society could be to his inquisitive friend.
Spock, don't give in to it, whatever it is they offer, just don't give in, he implored silently to the motionless seas.
and what are those Spock felt as though he had just emerged from his mother's womb again, born fully awake, ready to learn all that this new world could teach him. Once he and Ryllen had submerged, she had almost immediately changed back into her mermaid form. Spock had wished fervently for a tricorder so that he could have recorded her metamorphosis, and then, as she had taken him deeper into her work, he had forgotten all things Starfleet.
He heard in his mind the songs of Ryllen's adopted people, the rhythms of the sea, and the peace they offered him because he was one who Heard. Here was acceptance; here was freedom. He and Ryllen spoke as he had not spoken with anyone in his life, not even James Kirk. His mind was open to hers, and hers to his. Gone was the Vulcan reticence to meld without barriers. They linked fully, freely. She saw the oldest memories he had, the deepest hurts and highest pleasures, and she mourned and rejoiced with him, lazily somersaulting in the water above him while he communed.
Spock had a bit of trouble with his water maneuvering at first. It wasn't quite like zero gravity, but after a few dubious attempts at dives, he managed to swim deeper and deeper into the water that Ryllen was so at home in.
If he had opened to her, then she was his to possess as well. He saw her arrival on this planet, dimmed by time, for indeed, she had been the pilot of that tiny craft they had found, but still frighteningly clear to him...the malfunctioning of her minute, bullet-like craft, the crash-landing, the struggle for survival on land, and the Call. She, too, had been wary, even terrified of leaving the firm, familiar earth for the lightness of the water, but she had not been able to go off planet, and the Call had grown stronger.
She had been swimming, and the air algae had come. The Call echoed in her mind, and then her head was under the water, and she was not out of breath, and she was not drowning. Once under, she had found the true inhabitants of this planet, the Lleylora.
where are they? will I meet them? Spock was eager to meet these beings whose thoughts even now he could feel flowing through and around him like the very water he was in. How wonderful to be so quickly accepted, to be among friends.
they will tell us when to come to them
how do they run this planet
this planet runs itself the lleylora only see that all runs smoothly
why are there no animals on the surface
none ever wished to go
have you cities here where do you go to school do you vote who hunts for food what do you use for money is there any technology The urgent questions poured out of Spock in a torrent. He had to know, had to tell others about this place. Why? He could not remember anything but that he had to find out all he could and make a report for someone, who he didn't remember either. He let the disturbing thoughts leave his mind as the wonder grew.
He felt laughter whispering through his brain at all of his questions. Ryllen swam circles around him, smoothing her body close to his. all in time, spock, all in time
He swam, then lay suspended on his back in the water and looked up through the shimmering liquid to the sky above. He was surprised at how much light there was, remembering vaguely how dark the water had appeared to him before. Why? The thought ran idly through his mind, not really demanding an answer, but from force of habit.
the water absorbs most of the light that hits it that's why it always looks dark from the outside
Spock somersaulted in the water. Ryllen had again picked up his thoughts. he smiled at her, feeling faintly surprised at how natural it felt, and reached out a hand to absently caress her scaly back. She shivered delightfully at his touch.
when can i meet your people...the lleylora
such impatience are you not pleased with me Her eyes held an unmistakable invitation.
i find you fascinating, beautiful, bewitching, bewildering, and every other complimentary adjective you can find in my mind, but i wish to thank your people for making this visit possible
only a visit, spock
Spock drew back into himself for a moment, trying again to collect his scattered thoughts. His usually flawless thought patterns were deserting him, as though he had cut off all of his Vulcan training as soon as the water of this planet had closed over his head. He must remember why he was here, who he had to return to. What was the name? The name was the key to everything. He fought to remember, shrinking away from Ryllen as she approached to see what was wrong. He had it now...Jim! With the name of his friend, all his Starfleet memories came rushing back to him. He would remember. As long as he kept that name foremost in his mind, he could complete his visit with ease.
i cannot stay with you, ryllen His directness cut through her flirtatious thoughts.
you are not really interested in me at all
Spock was amazed at how a thought could pout. not true, little wiggler, but i cannot let you become my life
who holds you there? the one with the loud voice and the frown he does not hear
he hears me, and that is enough
i hear you better
Spock gave a powerful push with his tail and left Ryllen behind Suddenly, he pulled up awkwardly. His tail! He frantically examined his body. In place of his familiar, long legs was a tail fin that matched Ryllen's except for being two feel longer. He ran his fingers over his body...scales along his back, and ears that had grown even more elfin.
ryllen His thought wailed through the sea, disturbing all those there who could Hear. She was beside him, as though she had never left, and the comforting thoughts of the unseen others soothed him as well. you said i needn't change
His thoughts cut her; she shrank away from him. no one can force the change on you, spock you changed because it was what you wanted, even though you couldn't see it it isn't permanent, unless you want it to be notice, the air algae are still with you, which means you have not allowed gills to develop
Using his old relaxation routine, Spock methodically checked his bodily functions. Ryllen was right; he still had his lungs, though they had not drawn breath for several hours. So long, so short a time, he marveled.
When he was satisfied that he could change back (Fascinating!! he thought as he concentrated and made his legs appear once more) when he wanted to, he tentatively explored all the new possibilities of movement this new body offered. Flick the tail here, and glide smoothly into this little underwater grotto. Come out, thrash once, twice with a bit of strength, and he sped many meters in no time. Pull up and come to a complete stop. Gone was the clumsiness inherent to beings not born to water.
race spock The new voice burbled through his brain.
He turned to find himself face to face with a very Terran-like porpoise. Or rather, that was what the creature resembled more than anything else. The main difference, he noticed, was in the head. This animal had a definite head-neck separation, and was equipped with bicameral vision similar to his own. The unspoken and unthought question shot through his mind ????
yes, i am lleylora i welcome you to our home
i am honored that you have heard me
The Lleylora nodded in approval, looking at Ryllen. he hears indeed he will be a welcome addition
he only comes to visit, slaryel so he says Ryllen's thoughts again teased their way through Spock's mind.
Jim, he thought fiercely. Remember Jim. He continued to study Slaryel with his practiced scientist's mind to keep it fully occupied. The Lleylora had, in addition to the expected lateral fins, a set of short "arms" that ended in hands with manipulative digits and opposable thumbs under the fins. He could see how they tucked under the fins to eliminate drag while swimming. Is there no end to the wonders of this place?
The thought snagged the other two. you have seen only the tiniest portion of our world, spock purred Slaryel in his mind.
will you not stay and learn it all asked Ryllen.
Spock, ever the diplomat, compromised. i will stay for a while, but i must ultimately return to my own people
the ones above thought Ryllen sneeringly. they are not your people most of them do not even like you
A brief pang of loneliness washed over Spock like the water he was in. most of them do not matter he thought to her firmly. the ones who do, care He felt a strange twist in his body as he thought of Jim, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, the ones who cared. He looked down to see that the alien tail was gone, and once more he moved himself through the water with his legs.
you see, spock Ryllen's and Slaryel's thoughts merged and meshed, forming a net that caught him, even as he tried to escape. even the thoughts of them take away the abilities you had come, follow us we will not force you to stay only see what we have in our world bring back the tail at your wish you cannot hope to keep up with us if you do not and we want you to see this place as we do to be one with this home as we are please spock
He was touched at the naked longing in their thoughts. He tried to erect a mind-screen as he had been taught in his childhood so he could contemplate in private behind it, but he was no longer able to; his mind had become too open. His thoughts moved so fast even he could hardly keep up.
i want to see this place i must remember jim i have to go with her, just for a little while jim needs me i want her i must find out i will remember who i am. He found that his tail was back, and with no further hesitation, he was flinging himself through the bright dark water, following Ryllen and Slaryel tot he depths of their homeland
"Jim, he's moving further away. Getting quite faint now, and going fast. Faster than any humanoid should be able to move underwater...by himself, that is."
"You think he's getting help?" Kirk's face reflected the worry the doctor felt, but hoped he was covering up. They had been waiting on the beach for three hours.
"It's the only explanation I can think of, unless...." McCoy cursed himself for the thought as he trailed into silence.
"Unless what?" Kirk snapped.
McCoy sighed. "Unless he's grown a flipper himself. He said that the girl had one last night, and when she walked out of the water this morning, she sure didn't, and told us she'd changed that little detail herself. Maybe she fixed it up so Spock could swim just as fast as she can."
Jim looked grim. "Let's just hold off that thought, shall we, Bones? Michaels, check the aquashuttle and make sure she's ready. We're going out and follow Spock's readings. I won't lose that."
"But, sir, the woman...Ryllen, she said nothing would work."
"I want to test that theory, for myself. We won't make any contact with the natives; we only want to keep this thin little line between us and Spock. God knows, I wish it were a real rope tied around his waist. Now, move!"
The light from above was gone. That was the first thing Spock noticed when he and his companions finally slowed their headlong swim away from the shore. The second thing he noticed was that he still saw as clearly as he had before the light had disappeared. how
look around the air algae on your own body give enough light for you to swim by, but we have many such light-plants here Ryllen's voice was stronger than ever in his mind. Would he ever get used to the silence once he left here? He refused to let that thought grow.
He gazed around him, unable to take it all in at once. As far as he could see, the ocean bottom was covered with a myriad of different plants, all glowing softly to produce enough light for him to have threaded a needle by. Looking closer, he saw that each type of plant had its own specific glow color. Some were soft blue-green of the algae that enveloped his body, others were brilliant gold, dusky red. He skimmed over them slowly, occasionally reaching down and touching one softly. Whenever he did this, the plant dimmed for a moment, then glowed even more brightly. Again a question rang through his mind. ????
every being here is attuned to every other the plants know of your presence, and at your touch, greet you
where do you live or do you wander your world constantly, and have no one home place
indeed, we wander the whole of our world, wherever and whenever we please, and we are welcomed by all who live in those different parts, but yes, all the lleylora have a special place that we come to for soul-rest and peace come
The three of them slid over the tops of the sea plants, barely clearing them. The floor of the ocean dipped and rose in valleys and hills, but they never slowed down. Spock rejoiced in his quickly developing ability to use his regrown tail. Never had movement been such a joy. They cleared one last, high hill covered completely with gold-growing plants. As they passed the crest, Spock gasped...or he would have, had he been able to draw breath. Beneath him lay an immense watery valley. Delicate spires and intricately woven towers rose to greet his eyes...every color he had ever seen and several he had not. As far as he could see, the beautiful buildings (temples--his mind supplied the more fitting word) covered the floor of the valley.
As deep as the water was here, he could still see an occasional light beam that penetrated the depths before it was absorbed by the mass of the water. All the questions that Spock had wanted to ask these people flew from his mind. For the first time in his life, he was both speechless and thoughtless. The utter tranquillity and beauty of the world before him pulled at his senses as surely as gravity. He felt he had come home at last.
we welcome you to our home, spock we wish you peace; we wish you joy in life
The words poured over him, in different voices, different accents. He turned and looked at Ryllen. She smiled slightly.
the voices you hear are those of the lleylora all of them knew you were coming, and they wanted to make you feel at home She waved a hand out over the valley. shall we go
Nodding numbly, he followed her, and Slaryel brought up the rear.
The voices continued to flow through his mind. More honest greetings, more welcome than he had ever had from any place he had been--even his home planet. He opened his mind to the voices and tried to picture the beings behind them. Visions of rooms within the vast city below him flashed swiftly behind his eyes. he saw many of the Lleylora, some like Slaryel, others smaller, more fish-like, but all were equally glad to seem him, and beseeched him to stay. He want to weep, but the water took the tears away.
no time for tears, spock, but i understand came Ryllen's comforting thought. i did the same thing when i first came here
is it real
quite The firmness of Slaryel's thought reassured him.
i must go closer permission
our home is yours you need not ask, merely go
The shadows of the few light beams made the world below him a fairyland, a place of the imagination. He half-expected it to vanish as he grew closer, but it did not. He passed up the first few openings he came to, letting his expectation and desire grow as he wove in and out of the ethereal buildings. Making a sharp left turn, he entered into a small alcove and stopped.
The ceiling was a masterpiece of filigree-work, allowing just the tiniest bit of light to filter in. He touched the walls, then went in for a closer look. alive!! Even as he watched, the small living creatures built on and added to the intricacies that tested his imagination. Then the Lleylora did not build their own cities. He felt a pang of regret thinking this beauty was only the by-product of a mindless sea animal.
He whirled. Ryllen had caught up with him.
but how, then these are like...coral on earth, there are formations similar to these i've seen them not as elaborate, true, but formed in much the same way i thought the lleylora built these themselves
Disappointment mirrored itself in Ryllen's face. llor 'an fleit rylleer llithan?
Ryllen giggled mentally. must the architect always wield the tool these small ones are turned; they hear, just as you do the lleylora design; the dian carry out gladly
i have never been in a world where each being was acutely aware of every other i ask pardon
none is necessary you did not know, and now you do we are not always acutely aware of all the others, but we can be if the need arises that is how we...She fought for the words again, trying to express her quick-moving thoughts in terms that he could grasp. He felt like a four-year-old. ...change the saline concentration of the water in the middle of an ocean some of us require more than others, and there are no underwater barriers to separate the two kinds of water, nor do we want them so the communication
you can communicate with the elements Truly Spock was baffled now.
not exactly, but we keep the concentration from drifting a mental forcefield is the best way to describe it it does not hinder movement of creatures that can adjust to either kind of water, but the water itself stays in one area
and what of food
the glow-plants you saw provide us with most of our nourishment they are aware of the purpose, and are harvested gladly when you pass a field of them again, listen, and you will see what i say is true
i believe you By now he was ready to believe anything this water witch might show him...even to fire that burned beneath the water.
no, spock, we have nothing like that, but there are so many things we do have that you have not seen must you leave can you not take time to see more
Time, thought Spock. Do I have time? I am supposed to be going back somewhere, but I can't think where, and who am I supposed to see when I get there? The name was slipping away from him, and he had sworn not to forget. Who was it? Who was waiting for him?
i am waiting for you, spock Ryllen's voice, soft, liquid, erotic, drowned out the name even as it came into his mind.
no, i must have time to think, to remember, before i go with you
come with me and you will have all the time you can use The voice pulled at him, at some deep-hidden need to belong somewhere without reservation, but still, he had to think. Ryllen pulled back and studied him, as Slaryel glided into the small room where they were, nearly filling it.
???? His inquiry was directed at Ryllen.
he is so strong, slaryel i don't want to hurt him
that speaks well for you but you have a great need, don't you small one
when i first heard him, i thought i must be dreaming but he is real, and i can make him come to me i know i can
if your heart is right, then you can but do not force him you know that is not our way
i cannot understand what that other one on the surface is to him, but he cannot yet let go am i wrong to try and make him one of us even with his talent, what if he never forgets the other
Slryel made a struggling motion with his lateral fins. we shall see, little ryllen, we shall see
Spock floated toward them, his face calm, the inner struggle dimmed. i have time show me more
Ryllen glanced triumphantly at Slaryel and led Spock out of the little alcove and further into the Lleylora home city
Kirk was frantic. They had lost Spock. The captain sat stiffly in the co-pilot's seat while Michaels worked the controls that allowed the small craft to skin over the dark surface of the water.
McCoy sat behind Kirk with his eyes glued to the small screen of his medical tricorder. He was worried about Spock, too, but even more worried about James Kirk and what he would do if they found that they could not bring Spock back to the Enterprise. Or what if he doesn't want to come back? The thought niggled its way into his brain. He dismissed it.
The inside of the shuttle was tensely silent. The three junior crewmembers had never seen their captain so still and grim. They were almost afraid to breathe, and Heaven help them if they made a mistake in any of their calculations. Finally McCoy noticed a faint, but blessedly familiar beeping on his 'corder.
"Lieutenant Michaels, I believe I've got him."
Kirk was at his side in less than a blink. "Heading, Bones?"
"Nearly parallel with us...ten degrees west."
"Lieutenant, hit that course," Kirk snapped, his eyes never leaving the fast-moving blip. "How can they go so fast, Bones? And where the hell are they going?"
"I can't answer that one, Jim, but I'm getting vast life readings. Wherever they're going, it's heavily populated."
They continued to follow Spock's trail on the new course. Finally, when they thought they would end up going around the entire planet, the blip began to slow down, and then stopped altogether, hovering in one small area. Soon, they were right above it.
"Bones, I know she said none of our equipment would function in her world, but I think I've got to take that chance. Besides, we've been quite close to the water for some time now, and everything worked without a hitch."
"Captain," McCoy said formally, "we haven't even tried to submerge yet. What if the shuttle simply disintegrates after we're one hundred meters down. What then?"
"Scotty will be aware of our situation, and will be monitoring us, of course. If things start to look bad, I'll order an emergency beam up. Or, better still, he can keep a complete envirotape on the inside of the shuttle, and if any water starts to come where it's not suppose to be, and we can't take care of it, he'll automatically get us out of here."
"And what about Spock, in that case?"
"We keep trying until we get him."
McCoy didn't argue further, knowing Kirk was indeed taking all precautions short of just giving up.
Kirk notified Scotty, who put the bridge on yellow alert for the duration. The Tranquility's crew were busy checking and rechecking all systems for the smallest malfunction. There were none. When all systems were go, Kirk ordered, "Submerge," and they entered the alien environment.
Like Spock, the first thing they noticed was the amount of light and the good visibility. The second thing they saw was the huge and surreal coral city that spread out below, before and behind them as far as they could see. Kirk, once he got his voice back, ordered Michaels to keep the shuttle hanging well above the tallest spire, so they would not risk any damage to such beauty. So far, the shuttle was functioning normally, but as soon as Kirk gave the order to change status: "Captain, floatation mechanisms report non-functional. Still descending, sir."
Kirk whirled from the plex-alloy window. "Rate of descent?"
"Five meters per second, average for a mass of this size after it was dropped into a body of water this large."
"Any other malfunctions?" Kirk addressed the crew in general.
They were busy checking all their systems. Michaels spoke up again. "Surfacing mechanisms going fast, sir. We still have time to get to the surface."
McCoy turned to Kirk expectantly. "Well, Jim?"
"As you were, Doctor. We're staying here 'til we find Spock. I'm counting on Scotty to get us out of here." As if to verify his words, he punched the communicator button that went to the Enterprise.
"Scott here." The familiar voice flooded the tension-filled cabin with a wash of relief. At least they had some tie to home.
"Scotty, we have a few problems here. Nothing major at present, but keep a close eye on us, and be ready to energize on my order. Kirk out. Satisfied, Bones?"
"Not entirely, but I'll make do."
"Captain, if we continue to fall at this rate, we'll crash into the lower part of that sea city below us in less than five minutes."
"Forward thrust, Lieutenant?"
"Non-functional, sir. All power, except life support and sensors, is totally gone."
"Well, we can't move now," sighed Kirk exaperatedly. "So we'll just have to wait and see how they react when we crash into one of their buildings."
While they were waiting for the set-down, they donned life-belts just in case they had to leave the shuttle. Scotty was still in contact with them, and went through about forty-five seconds of heated conversation trying to get the captain to beam back up. It didn't work. Finally, they were strapped into their seats and awaiting the last seconds until the crash.
When it came, it was many times more violent than expected. Since their engines had not been working, they had expected a light, crunching of coral-like substance and then a stop to the motion. Instead, as Michaels counted down the last five seconds, and they finally hit, there was an unearthly screaming, wrenching sound, and the shuttle shook and twisted, throwing everyone around in their seats, cutting into them with the straps that did not break.
The horrible noise, the sound of a million alien screams, rose and rose, then slowly died out, fading in their ears, but not in their minds. The lights were gone; the only illumination left was from the sky so far above them, filtered through the water and the plex-alloy windows. They were canted at a precarious angle that made movement difficult, and, from somewhere in the semi-darkness, water dripped with an ominous sound.
Kirk was dazed, but managed to shake the dizziness away and call for a crew check. Everyone reported minor shake-ups, but no real injuries. The water continued to drip. "Water's coming from somewhere. Life-belts on, then let's find it. But move carefully! The viewing port is facing up, so we don't know exactly where we're perched. We could be on the edge of a bottomless pit for all we know."
With those encouraging words, the crew gingerly began to disentangle themselves from their chair harnesses. Once they were out, they flipped the switches on their life-belts, which immediately showed the welcome lime yellow glow of normal function. "Good. At least one thing's working. Now let's get to that water. Michaels, I'm afraid you'll have to serve as our mechanic as well as our pilot."
"No problem, sir. I hope." She gave him a small grin and headed to the rear of the craft where the noise seemed to originate. "I have it, sir. Hairline crack in the outer hull, and a shift in one section of the inner lining. If we could get back to the surface, it would be no problem to fix, but all I can do now is try and patch the inner crack. There's a fair amount of water back here as it is."
"Very good, Lieutenant. Do what you can."
McCoy motioned Kirk aside for a conference. "Jim, don't you think we'd better try some other way? With all the power gone, we can't operate either the airlock, or the outer doors; we're stuck in here! Call Scotty, and let him beam us up. We can come back."
Kirk half-turned and looked out the window into the murky half-light. "He's out there, Bones," he said quietly, the softness of his voice making the emotion much more real. "I can't leave until I get him back. They've offered him something he can't turn down. I just know they have, and that's why he hasn't come back. But we're closer now than we've been yet, so I have to find a way out of this tin can, and out into that city, or whatever it is. I know it's hard, but please try and understand."
McCoy nodded wearily. "All right, Jim. Try and find him. But keep in mind that you aren't the only one here, and that sooner or later, we'll have to beam back to the ship."
Kirk squeezed his arm gratefully, then, as Michaels crawled out of the shuttle rear, he turned to get her report. Her belt was off. "Lieutenant, I gave an order that life-belts were to remain on at all times. I know there was no need to turn it off just to take readings and do simple patchwork."
Michaels looked worried. "I know that, sir. I didn't turn it off. It died as soon as the water touched it. It's about ankle-deep back there, and as soon as I stepped in it good, the belt winked out like a candle in a strong wind. It's a good thing the shuttle is tilted up so that the water will stay back there and not wet the rest of the shuttle."
As if some perverse spirit had heard her words, the shuttle began to slowly right itself from the angled position in which it had landed. Kirk ordered all crew to the rear to try and hold the shuttle stable, but it didn't work. Within minutes, they were righted, and a good two inches of water covered the floor of the craft, effectively dousing all their belts.
McCoy turned and put a hand on Kirk's shoulder. "I know how much getting Spock back means to you, Jim, but as long as we stay here, there's nothing we can do. You've gpt to see the logic of going back to the ship and finding another plan of attack."
Kirk winced at the familiar word in McCoy's speech. His head bowed. "You're right, Bones. I just feel like I'm giving up on him."
"All of us know that's not true, Jim. Shall I call Scotty, or do you want to?"
"I'll do it. It's my duty."
Spock and Ryllen were playing in the depths of the Lleylora city. He had tried several times to remember where he had to go and who he had to see after he finished here, but Ryllen had showed him so many things of ever increasing wonder that, after a few half-hearted memory searches, he gave up and abandoned himself to the sensuous pleasure of moving through the water with this beautiful female creature.
They darted in and out of rooms and gardens and archways, chasing each other and laughing in their minds. Spock felt weightless, and it wasn't all due to being underwater. He belonged here, and the feeling of family, of home, was making him drunk, just as surely as Saurian brandy. Saurian brandy? What is that? The reference was strange in his mind, conjuring up long ago memories of familiar, yet forgotten faces, faces he should know.
Ryllen sensed his discomfort and its source. do not think about that time, spock you are here, and time has begun again for you
yes, but these people were important for me i should remember
there is nothing of that time you need remember why remember hurts and loneliness i an here for you why do you need anything else
He turned to her, and the thoughts of the others fled. How could he have let them take precedence over the glorious being in front of him. She floated, just out of arm's reach, slightly above him, haloed in one of the rare, golden, light beams that made its way to these depths. He reached for her playfully, and instead of flicking herself out of his reach yet another time, she allowed him to catch her. As his arms closed around her, their mental touch increased. He again marveled at the vastness of her mind, the total knowledge she had of her and, now, his world. His senses were heightened by their contact, too. He ran his hands over her scales, paradoxically feeling them with his own hands, and feeling in his mind how his touch excited her. Their embrace tightened.
i have waited so long The thought sighed through his mind.
i, too, but i did not know until now where can we go
Reluctantly, she loosened her grip. follow me i know a place where none will ever find us
They swam hand in hand, lazily, leisurely; each wanted to prolong the inevitable until the last possible moment. Spock savored each sensual tremor that coursed through his body, committing it to memory. After what seemed like a long swim, though it had only lasted several minutes, Ryllen pointed to a dark opening in part of the rocky framework of the city.
this is my place i discovered it early in my life here i come here when i wish to think, or to be alone...as alone as one can be on my world, that is now i hope i need never want to be alone again They swam through the opening together. The little cave was dark, lit only by dusky glow-plants that winked their greeting as they entered. Ryllen, in the lead, turned to face him once they were hidden from sight inside. She reached out her arms to him, and he went eagerly, willingly. Entwined about each other, they gently floated to the soft, plant-cushioned floor.
The alien, metallic scream rang loudly through Spock's mind. Reflexively, he pulled himself free from Ryllen's embrace, his mind shouting, DANGER!! He flicked his powerful tail and headed in the direction of that scream, with Ryllen trailing him, her thoughts bouncing off the single-minded purpose of his flight.
As he skimmed over the city, he noticed something that made him pull up short. Great rings of Lleylora floated motionless, almost death-like, for nearly as far as he could see. Although they never moved, Spock could sense they were fairly humming with energy and power. Suddenly, the world that had welcomed him with such open gentleness and peace seemed foreboding and sinister. Ryllen had stopped chasing him, and was floating nearby, a look of resigned horror on her face.
Spock opened his mind and reached out to the group meld, for that was what he had recognized the rings as. Brilliant, larger than life images of the Enterprise and its individual crewmembers assaulted him. He saw the bridge, Scotty hurriedly trying all switches and relays to prevent something, he couldn't catch what. He saw Uhura desperately trying her communications frequencies, and being unable to receive a reply. Where is Jim? Jim should be in charge in a situation like this, not Scotty. Where is he? Jim! The name came back to him with blinding clarity. The name, the man, the friend, and everything that had happened leading up to his ridiculous entanglement with this planet, all of it came rushing back to him as if a dam had broken in his mind and flooded it with welcome sanity.
Where is Jim? He concentrated on going deeper into the meld, and he got the image of the crippled shuttlecraft, darkness, people gasping for breath. Was this because of him? Yes! They had taken the aquashuttle down to find him; Jim Kirk would not let him go as easily as he would have gone, and because they could not Hear in this deceptively welcoming world, they were doomed to die. All because of him. His anguish grew and multiplied, and finally, he had to let it out in some way.
No! Stop! Kroykah! The ancient, alien command rang through the planet-wide meld like a knife through butter. Spock, more mentally attuned than he had ever been before, briefly regretted any pain he might have caused, but the relief at knowing Jim Kirk and the rest of the landing party were no longer being subjected to the deadly influence of the Lleylora minds outweighed it at once. All minds that Heard were attuned to him. He felt it. You cannot do this. These people are my friends. How can you hurt them while you welcome me?
Slaryel's voice, familiar and insidious, came to him out of the meld. these others do not hear they cannot be made to understand the ways of our world they seek to take away one who hears we cannot allow that
What if I choose to go willingly?
Spock could almost hear the collective mental gasp from the Lleylora with his ears. How could anyone wish to leave this place?
you would go knowing what waits for you here
Spock looked around until he saw Ryllen, who hung in the water above the ring, her head bowed in grief. Suddenly, it was both easier and hard to leave this place than he thought. The world was too alien, but the emotions he had felt for Ryllen were too familiar and hard to give up.
Again, he felt that peculiar twist in his body and looked down to see his own familiar, lanky legs moving gently in the water, holding him in place. He reached out his hands toward her, and she slowly swam to him and took them.
i am sorry, spock
No need. For a while, we had everything that this place could give us. But you are not of this planet...you could go also, if you truly wished.
Hope flooded her face for the briefest instant, then fled, leaving her looking more despondent than before. you have someone waiting for you when you leave -- you said before that he hears you even if the others don't, and i believe you now -- but since i am one who hears, i cannot be away from these others, and i have no one there waiting for me, for even you are taken by the other i will stay, but i will not forget the other of my kind who came to visit me once
Without tears, without goodbyes, Ryllen swam out of sight.
Spock pushed his pain inside and faced the meld-ring again. Will you restore power to the vessel that is underwater?
even now it goes to the surface we will take it to the land and leave it there you must take it, and the ones who do not hear, away from our world
Our two peoples might work together in the future. There are those of us who Hear
i do not think so the call you heard and followed for a while cannot be changed when one who hears comes to our world, they are pulled to us we have no control over it it is as natural for us to call to one who hears as it is for you to walk on land should others of your kind come, they would disappear into our world even as you and ryllen did it is best if you stay away
Spock looked down at his still algae-covered hand and nodded. Perhaps you are right. I regret that our meeting turned out in this manner. I am truly awed by your world.
it can still be yours, spock
Before the Call pulled him again, Spock shook his head and swam unhesitantly toward the shore he had left so long ago.
"Jim, I just don't understand it. One minute we were gasping for air in a disabled aquashuttle, God knows how many feet underwater, and the next minute, everything is working normally and taking us to the surface and land, except we have no control over the movement. Just what the hell kind of planet is this anyway?"
"Well, damned if I know, Bones, but right now I'm just grateful to be alive. And I have a sneaking suspicion that this is Spock's doing somehow."
"Speaking of that Vulcan, who we didn't see hide nor hair of while we were down there, I've got him on my sensors again, and he seems to be coming this way."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Kirk was the first one out the shuttle door, stumbling a bit as his feet sank deeply into the red dust that had not changed one bit since they had left it. Even their earlier footprints were still there.
McCoy and the rest of the crew hit the beach, and they all lined up, expectantly watching the sea for the emergence of their presumably once again heroic first officer.
Rivers was the first to notice the ripples. As the others followed her pointing finger, they all saw the sleek, familiar head emerged. There was a pause, similar to the one he had taken before he submerged.
"What's wrong?" asked Michaels, beating Kirk to it.
McCoy, busy with his medical tricorder, grunted, "Metabolic change. Gettin' used to breathin' air again."
Sure enough, in a few more minutes, Spock began a slow wade to the shore. Finally, he was there with them, and Kirk and McCoy were pounding him on the back, completely oblivious to the fact that he was still without clothes.
Rivers, Michaels and Shreda discreetly observed other natural phenomena, though the two female crewmembers couldn't resist a couple of peeks.
At length, Spock said, "Doctor, I assure you I am fine, but I would feel much more comfortable if you would find me some garments." The long-suffering tone was back again, and McCoy started to snap back a reply, then realized that Spock was indeed stark naked, and hurriedly went to fetch his uniform and a towel from the shuttle.
The others followed the doctor, leaving Kirk and Spock alone for a moment. Kirk reached out and grasped Spock's shoulder, squeezing shyly, but firmly. Spock, still vulnerable from his recently released emotions, pressed his captain's forearms. There were no words, and as McCoy came puffing back, they released each other.
But it was enough.
As Spock dressed, and questions flew at him from right and left, from friend and pseudo-foe, he found his earlier feelings of boredom and restlessness were gone.
Objectively, as he answered the questions in a detached manner, he examined the way he did feel now. Cleansed would be the best word, he thought.
Despite the danger of his recent encounter, it had been refreshing to be in such close contact with other telepaths.
And there had been Ryllen. The pain of leaving her, not nearly hidden, yet under Vulcan control, hit him, and it showed in an outward wince.
McCoy was quick on the uptake. "Spock, you sure you're all right? Some inner injury you're not telling me about, and I don't get a reading on? Come clean now."
"No injury, Doctor. Merely residual water in my system, nothing more. However, if you wish, we can go back to the ship now, and I will go immediately to Sickbay and deliver myself to your hands."
McCoy stared openly at him. "Well, I'll be damned!" was all he could manage.
Kirk hooted at the both of them as they walked into the shuttle. "It's time we took Spock's advice and got off this planet and back to civilization. Spock, I believe your reports can wait until after you've cleared Sickbay and rested up a bit. I know you'll want a bit of time to yourself. You have the next week off."
"Captain, that's un--"
"No, Spock, I think you need more time than you realize. No arguments." He spoke softly so no one else could hear.
Spock nodded slightly, and said no more.
In the shuttle, everyone was at their posts, except for Spock, who McCoy insisted would ride as a passenger this trip. They notified a relieved Scotty of the E.T.A., and as the shuttle lifted off, Spock leaned back into the chair and thought of his excursions.
Just as the craft was about to leave the atmosphere and leap into space, a faint, familiar thought-pattern trickled across his brain.
goodbye, spock remember
Goodbye, Ryllen. I will.
The Tranquility left Ryllen's planet behind slightly, and through the front window, Spock could see the tiny Enterprise shining brightly as though it were a star in its own right.
He was truly going home...
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