blindside.gif (2948 bytes)

Caroline R. Kummer

2284

PROLOGUE

The Federation ambassador stood facing Colony First Minister Reg Arant. Neither had been looking forward to the meeting.

"Ambassador Carlysle, it seems we have reached an impasse. I regret our relationship with your Federation must end in this manner, but you know we have very little choice."

The ambassador stared at the first minister. "Minister Arant, the Edam system has been a member of the United Federation of Planets for fifteen years. Surely you must realize I wouldn't compromise that alliance if I didn't believe the situation was grave. You are putting your trust in an Empire that will ultimately turn against you! Already your system is being used in ways you cannot imagine, and soon—"

The first minister raised his hand, interrupting. "I feel your anger, Ambassador Carlysle. I have waited for some substantiation of your allegations. Since you appear intent upon creating dissension on our world, I must ask you to leave Colony and the Edam system. All Federation representatives will be asked to leave, and your trade routes will be closed. Edam will now cultivate a relationship with its newly introduced neighbors."

The ambassador, thus dismissed, turned and left the first minister's chambers as he motioned to his secretary to bring in his next guests.

"Now," said Arant, as the new arrivals seated themselves in front of his desk, "tell me about this Romulan Empire of yours..."

-1-

Captain's Log, Stardate 8445.7

With little more than a week since we left Earth, I am already beginning to detect an air of celebration throughout the ship. Following the situation on Sarva, we have been assigned a deep space exploratory mission. The crew has been reprovisioned, thoroughly checked out, and everyone seems to be thrilled with the situation. My new helmsman and navigator are showing themselves to be quite proficient at their posts, and Security Chief Chekov has become somewhat legendary in the rec deck for his simulator battles, which lately have taken a reckless and ruthless turn, much to the amusement of the junior officers.

 

Captain James T. Kirk closed his log, stretched, stood up, and walked sock-footed across his quarters to the intercom. He still had more than a half-hour before reporting to the bridge, but there didn’t seem to be much point in trying to catch a nap now. Funny, the deeper they got into space, the harder he found it just to sit back and do nothing. Doctor McCoy had offered one explanation: "You spend so much time being Captain Kirk, you’ve forgotten how to be Jim Kirk. You have over four hundred-ninety men and women on this ship who look at you and ask ‘What’s next?’ but it’s a question you can’t answer when you ask it yourself. Besides, as far as I can tell, you’re missing the presence of Ambassador Christopher."

Kirk hadn’t argued, but he hadn’t been totally satisfied with the doctor’s assessment. After all, he was not one of those gloomy leaders he’d read about, one upon whose shoulders "command weighed heavily." Quite the opposite; he thrilled to command, to be the one to whom the questions were posed. If it meant he spent all of his time being Captain Kirk, well, that was just part of the job.

But McCoy had made a final point: "Now your first officer, on the other hand, has just the opposite problem. Since he released Sybok’s katra on Vulcan, he spends all of his time being Spock, and I’ll be damned if there’s anything in this universe that can dissuade him from that role. Maybe it’s something he needs to do, after sharing his noggin with first me and then Sybok."

Kirk had laughed, secretly grateful his Vulcan first officer had not been privy to that particular conversation. As much as he loved and respected his two friends, he sometimes felt Spock and McCoy spent far too much time slinging barbs, and McCoy’s could be razor-edged. The captain wasn’t sure he would have wanted the doctor bringing up Sybok right now with his friend.

Now, standing in front of his communications viewscreen, he debated whether or not to call the bridge.

"Bridge to Captain Kirk."

Startled, Kirk sat down and answered the page. "Kirk here."

Spock’s image appeared on the screen. "Captain, I apologize for interrupting your rest period, but we are receiving a coded transmission from Starfleet Command. I can have it decoded and sent down..."

"No, Captain Spock. I was just on my way up. Decode and standby. Kirk out." So much for the nap.

*****

The turbolift doors slid open, and Captain Kirk stepped onto the bridge. "I certainly hope Starfleet isn’t sending us another one of their diplomatic missions. Maybe just a hearty ‘bon voyage’ on our new mission," he said, walking towards the command chair.

Spock gave the captain a quizzical look as he handed over the small stack of data sheets. "Doubtful," he pointed out. "And illogical."

"Well then, maybe a first contact mission, a scientific survey of a nebula, even escorting a pair of robot freighters to Sherman’s Planet...anything but a diplomatic mission. I’m not so sure that I can stomach another one so soon after Sarva."

"Starfleet Command seldom issues assignments on what we may desire."

Kirk interrupted his first officer. "I know, Spock, I know." The captain sighed and sat down in his chair as Spock rose and moved smoothly to the side.

"Message ready, sir," Uhura announced.

"On screen, Commander."

The chief communications officer flashed Spock a grin, and the Vulcan raised one slanted eyebrow, all of which went unnoticed behind their captain’s back.

Admiral Moses Cartwright’s image appeared on the huge forward viewscreen. "Enterprise, you are hereby ordered to proceed directly to the Edam system. When you reach the outer boundary of the system, hold position. You will be met by the Federation ambassador to Edam. Diplomatic ties have been severed, and all Federation representatives have been ordered out."

There was a pause then Cartwright continued. "Jim, we don’t know what’s happened out there, but that system is vital to Neutral Zone protection. It’s provided a key buffer area for our border patrols, and now all of sudden the Federation has been booted out, and a whole sector is left unprotected. Ambassador Carlysle is as much in the dark as we are. There have been no reported Romulan violations of the Neutral Zone, but interplanetary activity has increased within the system in the past six months. Get the ambassador’s group safely aboard the Enterprise, find out what you can, and report back to Starbase Twelve. The Edami have ordered them out within three standard days, so you people will have to move it. We’ll be waiting to hear from you. Cartwright, Starfleet Command, out."

Kirk glanced around at the silent bridge, his eyes finally coming to rest on his first officer. "Well, Captain Spock. Comments?"

Dead-pan, Spock replied, "Bon voyage is indeed appropriate."

-2-

The Enterprise had been maintaining warp seven for fifty-two straight hours, and down in the engine room Captain Montgomery Scott was feeling the strain every bit as much as his precious "bairns." Orders or no, he thought glumly, ‘tis too fine a ship to be punished this way. Racing across the galaxy to ferry a bunch of diplomats home... He listened to the high-pitched whine of her engines and shook his head sadly. "Three more hours, m’lovlies. Aye, then you’ll have a breather." And a leisurely journey back to Starbase Twelve...

On the bridge, Kirk could not quite get rid of a nagging uneasiness. Warping through space for two and half days was bad enough, but Moses Cartwright had left his orders so vague. Pick up the ambassador and his family on the Edam system boundary, debrief, and report. Report what? Cartwright wasn’t telling him something. It was an old admiral’s trick, and Kirk thought it typical for Cartwright to be indulging in that type of tactic. He turned towards the communications station, where Spock and Uhura were huddled. He knew they were trying to raise someone... anyone, in the Edam system. Even at this range, the outermost planet should be receiving their transmissions.

"Anything on subspace?" Spock was asking. Like the captain, he found the lack of information about their mission disquieting.

"Transmitting on all frequencies, sir, and monitoring response channels. Nothing so far," Uhura said.

Spock straightened and turned towards Kirk. "Captain, I suggest we approach the Edam system more cautiously than we had anticipated."

"We weren’t planning on trumpets and fanfares, Captain Spock," Kirk said, "but what are you thinking?"

Spock folded his hands behind his back, a posture Kirk knew meant the Vulcan was preparing to offer a lengthy discourse, but Spock surprised him. "I would prefer to wait for the briefing to elaborate, but in compiling the recent historical data on the system, I have found some...inconsistencies."

Kirk heard the slight hesitation. "Very well, Captain Spock. Have your report ready for the briefing. We’ll be anxious to hear about your ‘inconsistencies.’"

Spock went back to his library computer. He hoped to find more concrete data on the Edam system, but the reports he was accessing were not detailed. For a system that had been a Federation member for fifteen years, there was surprisingly little substantive information available. Spock’s Human half found this curious, and his Vulcan half found it illogical. For all the worlds that comprised the Federation, he did not expect, or rely upon, empirical knowledge. He did, however, expect his data resources to be complete and up-to-date. This did not seem to be the case with the Edam system. Had the Vulcan’s back not been turned, the slight frown now creasing Spock’s brow, hidden in the shadow of his hooded viewer, would have undoubtedly added to the captain’s unease.

A half-hour later in the briefing room, Captain Kirk motioned to Spock to begin. The first officer called up a system map on the triviewer.

"The Edam system revolves around a two point five magnitude main-sequence star, which you now see on your screen. There are five planets. Two are class M; Edami and Colony." The visual display changed to show each planet as Spock continued. "Edami is the home planet in the system. As its inhabitants developed interplanetary travel, their exploration took them here, to the planet they call Colony. It was with Colony that Federation first contact was made. The main reasons the Edami agreed to join the Federation were their desire for technological assistance and eventual travel beyond their frontier. They are an extraordinarily peaceful people, intelligent and curious despite their virtual isolation."

He changed the visual once again, this time calling up an image all too familiar to the assembled staff. "As you will note, this system sits directly on the far edge of the Neutral Zone, with the Romulan Empire less than seven light-years away. Even so, General Order Three, which guarantees system sovereignty to its members, is maintained. As Federation members, the Edami were entitled to the full services and protection of Starfleet, yet they chose to decline."

Doctor McCoy couldn’t stand the impassive recitation any longer. "You mean to tell me we just left them hanging out there, right next door to the Romulans, without so much as a slingshot to fire at them?"

Spock folded his arms and regarded the doctor coolly. "We granted them the right to live their lives as they saw fit, in the manner in which they had always conducted themselves. General Order Three has been in effect for eighteen years, ever since first contact. After they joined the Federation, the Edami would not permit Starfleet to operate within its system."

McCoy was not placated. "Well that seems pretty isolationist, so much so that they seem to be unaware that when they joined the Federation, they became someone’s enemy—the Romulans, to be precise."

"Doctor, we are not sure if it is Romulan intervention which has precipitated this situation."

McCoy snorted. "Care to give me odds?" he snapped.

Kirk halted the argument. "Gentlemen, we’re not even sure what the situation is. Let’s table the speculation and continue assessing the information we do have. Mister Geller, your report please."

Ship’s anthropologist Jeffrey Geller presented a short summary of the Edami people, but with his usual flair for the dramatic, he paused before revealing his coup d’grace. "Physically," he said, "you have noticed the Edami are humanoid in almost every way, scale nine. However, there is one significant difference: The Edami are full telepaths." Geller sat back, enjoying his little bombshell.

The captain looked at him skeptically. "Telepaths?"

Geller smiled. "Captain, not only can they read minds and emotions, they can project their thoughts and feelings. Don’t you see? It’s why they adopted their philosophy of peace and non-violence, and why they don’t want to have Starfleet within their border. Really, it’s very similar to the Vulcan belief that ‘the spear in the other’s heart is the spear in my own’...only for the Edami it is literally the truth. With the mental powers they possess, war takes on a whole new meaning. Imagine knowing every move your enemy is about to make, having him feel every injury you sustain, and you his. Survival requires a complete rejection of violence."

Kirk looked around the briefing room table at the rest of his officers, watching for some reaction. His Vulcan science officer in particular seemed lost in thought. Kirk recalled his first officer’s mention of inconsistencies. McCoy, too, had his eye on the Vulcan. Spock would have a better understanding of the telepathic process, but McCoy detected something else.

"All right, Spock," the doctor said, "you probably knew about this telepathy and whatever else the Edami have up their psychic sleeves. But the Vulcans embrace a philosophy of peace and yet seem to tolerate Starfleet."

"There are some on Vulcan who barely tolerate Starfleet, Doctor." Spock steepled his hands in front of him. "Mister Geller has drawn a comparison which is superficial at best. The Vulcan philosophy of peace grew out of a violent, bloody history which nearly destroyed our world. The peace that has endured since the time of Surak has been based on a dedication to logic, and logical solutions to problems. As members of the Federation, Vulcan accepts the necessity of an entity such as Starfleet in a universe filled with unknowns."

He drew a breath and continued, "The Edami, on the other hand, have led a very isolated existence. They were fortunate that their first contact with other worlds was the peaceful arrival of a Federation scoutship. Even so, their outworld contact has been limited to merchant trading on Colony and within the system. They have yet to venture out beyond their frontier. This might explain—" Spock was interrupted by the whistle of the intercom.

"Bridge to Captain Kirk."

The captain hit the comlink switch. "Kirk here."

"Captain," came Uhura’s voice, "I am receiving a transmission from the Edam frontier. I’ve tried responding, but the message just keeps repeating."

Kirk was already on his feet. "Keep trying, Commander. We’re on the way." He started for the door. "We seem to have raised more questions than we answered," he said to his officers. "It’s time to start getting those answers." Kirk left the briefing room, his staff close behind.

***

Uhura continued transmitting a response to the Edami message. Each time the message repeated, she tried a different frequency. Kirk and Spock stepped onto the bridge just as the transmission began again.

"Attention Starfleet vessel. You are requested to hold position. You are approaching Edam system boundary. You are requested to hold position."

Uhura looked up at the captain. "Still no response to us, sir," she said.

Kirk studied the viewscreen. Even the little frontier planet, Colony, was nowhere in sight. "Navigator, what is our position?" he asked.

"Approximately one light year from the Edam system, expecting arrival at system boundary in less than an hour," Lieutenant Gnutson responded, glancing at his grids. The older Centaurian male was the Enterprise’s navigator since leaving on this five-year mission. Commander Chekov had been promoted to Security Chief and Third Officer of the Enterprise. Gnutson was a short, thin, balding man, but very dedicated to his work.

"Mister Hennessy," said Kirk, crossing to the command seat, "reduce speed and bring us to a full stop."

"Aye sir," said Chief Helmsman Hennessy, beginning the process. The young red-haired man had replaced Hikaru Sulu at the helm since the latter’s promotion as the captain of the science ship Cooper.

Spock stepped away from his scanners and moved to the captain’s side. "Full stop, sir?"

"A hunch, Captain Spock. The Edami transmission is requesting that we hold position. Perhaps we won’t get any more information until we comply. For now, we’ll play it their way."

The first officer nodded as Hennessy brought the ship out of warp drive for the first time in almost three days, then reset the viewscreen for normal space.

"Long-range scan, Captain Spock," Kirk ordered.

Spock returned to his hooded viewer. "Nothing sir," he said, not looking up. "We are still too far out to read the frontier."

"Source of transmission, Uhura?" Kirk asked hopefully.

"The transmission has ceased, Captain," she answered. "I can’t locate—wait, I’m receiving something else, sir. It’s a new message."

"Let’s hear it, Commander." Uhura opened the channel.

"Attention Starfleet vessel. You are requested to maintain present distance from Edam system. Coordinates for the Federation ambassador located on planet Colony will follow. You may send one unarmed vessel to retrieve your people and carry them to your ship. Repeat, one unarmed vessel, one pilot. You will then leave our territory."

Kirk waited for more, but all that followed was a stream of coordinates pinpointing the ambassador’s location on Colony. "Open a hailing frequency," he instructed Uhura.

"All frequencies open," she said.

"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. We have transporters aboard our ship that can beam the ambassador aboard, if you would allow us to move into range." He waited, and the transmission started again.

"Attention Starfleet vessel. You are requested to maintain present distance—"

"All right, Commander, keep monitoring in case they change their tune. Anything at all, Captain Spock?" the captain asked hopefully, turning to his first officer.

"I suspect a message drone, Captain," he said, looking up from his scanner. "Apparently equipped with sensors, triggered by our movements."

"Can you fix a location?"

"Negative. Most mysterious. Perhaps it is either beyond our sensor range, or too small to register."

"Or perhaps it’s cloaked?"

"Given the situation, a distinct possibility."

The captain stood and began to pace. He was not a man who liked being told what to do, especially by some unseen message drone. He finally paused up by the science station, his eyes still fixed on the forward screen. "Mister Gnutson, plot a course to Colony and lay it into the shuttlecraft Discovery’s computer. Also, give me the elapsed time, full shuttle speed, to Colony. Captain Spock—"

"Captain, request permission to take the Discovery to Colony and pick up the ambassador," the first officer said.

Kirk thought he detected a hint of urgency in Spock’s voice, then dismissed it as his own misgivings. "Spock, once you’re inside their system, you’re on your own. Our hands are tied. We can’t enter, and you can’t go in there armed." He searched the Vulcan’s face, but Spock’s expression was unreadable, as usual.

"Course laid in, Captain," Gnutson announced. "Estimate the Discovery’s arrival at Colony in three hours, maximum speed. Frontier boundary in two hours, then one more to Colony."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Commander," he said, turning to Uhura, "call up the ambassador’s bio. Spock, take a look at—"

"Captain," Spock interrupted, "I will have no trouble identifying the ambassador. She and I have met before."

"She?" Kirk hoped his jaw dropping wasn’t as noticeable as it felt. Not that female ambassadors were rare in the Federation; there were many. But Kirk thought they had been talking about Gareth Carlysle, one of Earth’s most senior and distinguished diplomats.

"Kathryn Carlysle and I have met before," Spock continued. "I have followed her career with some...interest."

Kirk got the impression he was about to say more and then decided against it. "Okay, Spock. I’m also going to have Doctor McCoy put together a field kit, in case anyone in the party has a medical problem that can’t wait. Get together anything else you need, and meet us on the hangar deck in ten minutes."

***

The Discovery’s hatch was already open when McCoy and Kirk entered the hangar. Climbing inside, they saw Spock seated at the controls, going through his pre-flight check.

"I still can’t believe you’re buying this set-up," McCoy said under his breath.

Kirk cut him off."That’s enough, Bones. We don’t have a choice. Our orders are to get the ambassador and her family aboard the Enterprise, and this is the way we’re being allowed to do it."

McCoy remained unconvinced. "And you, Spock," he said, directing his attention to the first officer. "You’re just going to fly into the hornet’s nest, scoop ‘em up and cruise home?"

"Doctor, I do not underestimate the potential problems that might be encountered. However, we are taking all precautions, including your medical ‘bag of tricks’."

"But you’re not a doctor," McCoy persisted. "What if someone is hurt or sick?"

"We have no reason to believe anyone has been harmed. And the instructions specified only one officer would be allowed within the system."

"One unarmed officer!" McCoy reminded him.

"Granted," Spock acknowledged calmly. "However, I know Ambassador Carlysle, and I am a command pilot. In six point two hours, we should all arrive back aboard the Enterprise."

Kirk had the final word. "Spock, good luck. Stay in contact, updating us as soon as you find the ambassador."

"Of course, Captain," Spock replied evenly, turning back to his console.

"C’mon, Bones. Let him get out of here." Kirk ushered the doctor back through the hatch, turning to watch the cover slide closed. They went back out through the airlock and headed for the turbolift.

Hnnessy reported the Discovery ready for launch. "Open hangar doors," Kirk ordered.

"Doors open, sir," Hennessy confirmed.

Kirk hit a switch on the arm of his chair. "You’re cleared for takeoff, Captain Spock. See you in six hours."

The Vulcan’s voice came through the speakers. "Discovery acknowledges. Spock out."

"Shuttle away," Hennessy announced. The Discovery appeared off the Enterprise port side, then in a burst of thrusters went racing towards the still-invisible Edam system. Doctor McCoy watched until it was no more than speck among the stars. He blinked, and the Discovery was gone, invisible as well.

-3-

The far side of the planet Colony rotated into its night-cycle, plunging already raw temperatures below freezing. The generally unforgiving climate in this hemisphere had caused the planet’s earliest explorers, some fifty years ago, to abandon their first camps and seek a more hospitable location for what would eventually become the thriving Colony settlement.

The Edami had discovered a wealth of minerals and ore upon reaching their farthest planet, and once they had established a suitable base, volunteer colonists from the home world signed up and shipped out, anxious to become a part of the "great experiment." Colony was the planet of the Edami future; it would be their stepping stone to the galaxy, a promise that eighteen years ago seemed on the verge of being fulfilled when first contact with the outworld was made.

Kathryn Carlysle, the Federation’s first, only, and now former ambassador to Edam, paced the length of the small room, pausing every once in a while to listen for noise outside. A space heater in one corner barely took the chill out of the air, while beyond the cabin walls the wind whipped through the abandoned camp. She looked over to where her son lay sleeping. Thirteen year-old Devon had stretched his lanky frame out on a cot, covering himself with one of the thin quilts they had found. Carlysle tried to dismiss the thought that they had been left here to die. She tried to convince herself that the Federation had indeed been alerted to pick them up.

Shivering, she pulled her own quilt more tightly around her, and pictured her husband the night she and Devon had left the settlement.

She had been sitting in their garden, enjoying the last little bit of twilight. Chas had appeared and sat down next to her.

"Kathryn, the cruiser will be here soon. You must go with them."

Kathryn nodded. She knew he was right. Still... "Chas, you have to come with us. It isn’t safe here...not anymore."

He shook his head. "This is my world. I must stay here, and try to convince them that what we have said is true. I need proof and time. You and Devon must leave. Go back to your Federation. Tell them what we suspect. I shall do what I can here, but not until I know you are safe."

Kathryn wrapped her arms around him, feeling his love, his strength...

"I’m staying, too," a voice behind them announced. Devon stood in the lengthening shadows.

His father’s voice took on a harder edge. "That will not be possible. Federation personnel have been ordered off-world."

"I am Edami!" the boy protested. "I’m not an off-worlder, I was born here. I’ve never even been off world!"

"You’ve never been to Edami, either," Chas pointed out. "In this matter, there is no room for argument. When the cruiser arrives, you and your mother will both be going on it."

Devon looked ready to offer an argument despite his father’s warning, but then he felt the concern and caring behind the harsh words. Fighting back tears, he joined his parents in one final embrace, then left to pack his satchel.

Now, as Carlysle watched her son sleep, she renewed her vow to Chas. She would keep Devon safe, get him away from Edam, back to the Federation and her home world.

"Mother?" Devon rolled over, squinting up at her in the dim light. "Mother, are you all right?"

"Yes, Devon," she answered, coming to sit beside him on the cot. "I’m sorry if I woke you."

"I wasn’t really asleep," he said, sitting up on the bed. "We had to leave, you know."

"I know, darling. I just wish there had been some other way."

Devon frowned. "We still may not be safe, Mother. The ones who brought us here—the ones you don’t trust—they wanted to kill us right away. They didn’t think it was safe to let us leave."

His expression, so much like his father’s, made Kathryn swallow hard before responding. She tried to reassure her son. "They also knew they would have to contend with the full force of Starfleet if any harm came to us. No, we’re being allowed to leave, and the Federation will simply close its book on Edam."

Devon remained unconvinced. "But don’t you see...?"

Kathryn stopped him. "Sh-h-h. Listen..." She stood and crossed to the cabin door. Outside, the wind was howling, but she could just make out the sound of...

"A ship!" cried Devon.

"Quiet! Yes, I think it is! Gather our bags, while I see what—"

"No!" He was out of bed and standing in front of her. "What if you went out there and never came back?"

"Devon, don’t be ridiculous. It’s got to be the ship coming to pick us up. Who else would be crazy enough to be all the way out here?"

"Fine, then I’ll go with you." He stood tall and defiant in front of her, determined to have his way this time.

Kathryn was ready to argue, but pulled herself up short. She gave him a sad smile. "You’re right. We’ll go together. Let’s get our things."

They left the cabin together, and headed out into the icy night towards the sound of the ship. Neither one looked back.

***

Spock set the shuttle down at the coordinates provided by the message drone. Visual references had been useless as he flew into the planet’s night rotation, but his sensors had shown him two life-forms at a distance of one hundred twenty point four meters from the clearing where he’d landed. He activated the shuttlecraft’s exterior floodlights, took a powerful hand lantern from the supply locker, and opened the hatch.

The blast of cold air took him by surprise, until he recalled the planet’s climate specifications. He pulled his field suit closer at the collar, hoping his charges were ready to depart. He placed his beam along the perimeter of the clearing, and caught only the wall of forest, tree branches and limbs bending and swaying in gusts of fierce wind.

Suddenly, two shadowy figures emerged into the spill of the shuttle’s lights: one tall, one a bit shorter. As they moved closer, the smaller figure stepped forward, and Spock felt a tentative, yet distinct, mind probe. He quickly clamped his mental shields into place, preventing the touch from going any further.

The small figure spoke. "Who are you? Identify yourself!" The voice was young, but strong.

"I am Captain Spock, First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I am looking for Federation Ambassador Kathryn Carlysle and—"

"How can you prove this?" the young voice challenged. Behind him, Devon felt his mother lay a hand on his shoulder.

"Devon, it’s all right." Carlysle stepped forward fully into the lighted clearing, stopping a few feet in front of Spock. "It’s been a long time," she said quietly.

Spock merely nodded, knowing she was speaking of more than her past three days wait for rescue.

***

Inside the shuttlecraft, Spock showed the ambassador the small rear cabin, reclining one of the seats as a bed for her son. He then readied for liftoff, under the watchful eyes of Devon Carlysle. The boy was sitting in the navigation seat, fascinated by the intricate control console. His mother came forward and stopped behind his chair.

"Devon, I think you ought to try a nap."

"Mother, please! This is the first Starfleet ship I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to!" He looked up at his mother, pleading.

"Perhaps Captain Spock would prefer to be left alone."

Spock looked up from his controls, and for the first time met her eyes directly. "The boy may stay," he said, "but it is time for all of us to strap in."

She nodded and took the seat behind Devon.

"Liftoff may be rough due to the strength of the surface winds," Spock explained, adjusting his own belt. "I estimate three point two minutes for atmosphere escape." He flipped a series of switches, and the shuttle engines roared to life.

Devon concentrated on the gauges, then turned to look at his mother. We’re off! he thought. Kathryn smiled.

*****

Kirk checked his chronometer again. Spock should have found the ambassador by now, and be headed back to the Enterprise. The flight to Colony had been, in the first officer’s words, uneventful, and at last report he’d had the planet in sight, preparing to enter orbit. That had been thirty-five minutes ago. Kirk wished he’d specified half-hour, rather than hourly checks. There was no reason to think anything was wrong, but it would give him something to do other than watch the minutes tick by. He turned to the communications officer. "Commander Uhura, anything new from that message drone?"

"Negative, Captain. No new transmissions."

"Are you still monitoring all other frequencies?"

"Affirmative. Nothing there either."

McCoy suddenly appeared beside him. Kirk hadn’t even heard him come on the bridge. "Jim, why don’t you give Hennessy the conn and catch a nap?" the doctor suggested. "Spock won’t be back for another three hours at least."

The captain didn’t want to admit how tempting that sounded, especially not to McCoy, and he’d probably just lie awake in his cabin anyway. Still, he thought, maybe he should get off the bridge for a while. Without looking at McCoy, he said, "Mister Hennessy, you have the conn. Commander Uhura, page me the moment Captain Spock checks in. I’ll be in my quarters." With that, he rose and strode off the bridge. Astonished, McCoy followed.

In the turbolift, Kirk finally looked at McCoy, the hint of a smile playing around his mouth.

McCoy was furious. "You did that on purpose!" the doctor spluttered. "I was all set to give you my—" He stopped, and began smiling himself. "Well, at least it got you out of that chair for a while."

The turbolift opened on E Deck, and the two walked silently to Kirk’s cabin. Inside, Kirk sank into a chair while McCoy perched on the edge of the bed.

"Somehow I knew you wouldn’t sleep," the doctor said.

"Bones, I just can’t get rid of this feeling that something’s not right. Even Spock is suspicious, but he’s not going to admit that something seems wrong."

"Say, I meant to ask you," McCoy said. "What did Spock mean when he said he knew Ambassador Carlysle? I thought she’d been in the Edam system for years."

"She has. You know her father is Gareth Carlysle. In fact, I thought he was the one we were picking up. I didn’t know his daughter was also in the diplomatic service. She was the first ambassador appointed to Edam fifteen years ago...been there ever since. Spock didn’t elaborate, but they probably met at some conference Gareth and Sarek were part of."

McCoy looked thoughtful. "Yeah, that makes sense. He seemed awfully anxious to pilot the rescue shuttle."

Kirk smiled. "I had Uhura pull her bio. You could take a look at—"

"Oh, no!" said the doctor in mock horror. "I know what bio-pics look like. I’ll just wait for the real thing."

The intercom signaled, and Kirk leaned forward as Uhura’s image appeared on the screen. "Sir, Captain Spock is calling in."

"Send it down, Commander. Thank you."

Spock’s voice came through the speaker. "Discovery to Enterprise."

"Enterprise, Kirk here. Go ahead, Captain Spock."

"Captain, we are leaving Colony planet orbit, establishing course back to the Enterprise."

"Is everyone all right?"

"All aboard and well, sir."

"Good, Spock. Check in again as you leave the system’s border."

"Acknowledged, Captain. Spock out."

Kirk switched the channel off and turned to McCoy. "All right, Bones. Get out of here, and let me see if I can actually take that nap."

"Just the fact that you’ll try fills my prescription," McCoy grumbled as he left.

*****

The Discovery left Colony orbit and headed towards the frontier. Spock set his course, then looked over at his passengers. He noticed how much the boy resembled his mother. Devon had his mother’s same red-brown hair and dark blue eyes, and the expression those eyes held could have been Kathryn’s thirty-five years ago; the look of one setting out on adventures unknown. Spock thought he also recognized something else, something familiar, questioning, or searching...

"We should reach the Enterprise in approximately two point eight hours," he began, "at which time—"

"You mean this isn’t the Enterprise?" Devon interrupted.

"Negative. This is the shuttlecraft Discovery."

"But you do have weapons, don’t you?" the boy persisted.

"Negative. This shuttlecraft is not an armed vessel. Its primary function is transportation and research," Spock explained.

"But we’ve got to be able to fight!" Devon cried. "We can’t just let them destroy us!" By this time, Spock could see the boy was quite agitated.

Carlysle tried to calm her son down. "Devon, take it easy," she said, putting her arms around him.

"Mother, make him understand! Once they appear, they mean to destroy us!" The boy struggled out of her embrace.

She looked over at Spock, who raised an eyebrow, questioning.

"Please, Captain," Devon pleaded, "You’ve got to believe me. I heard them! They’re going to follow us. We won’t see them until the very last minute, when they’ll appear and destroy your ship!"

Spock could hardly believe the boy would have overheard such a conversation, but something in Devon’s intensity made him wonder. He motioned to the ambassador. "Perhaps you should take your son to the aft cabin and make him comfortable," he told her.

"No!" Devon cried. "Mother, tell him! Tell him I know!"

"Shhh, Devon, please, come back and lie down. I’ll talk to him." She guided her exhausted son to the rear of the shuttle. A few minutes later, she returned and sat in the chair next to Spock. She watched the Vulcan for a long moment.

"It really is good to see you again, Spock," she said finally.

"I regret it had to be under these circumstances," he replied, keeping his eyes on his controls.

"I’ve often thought about you, where you were, what you might be doing..."

"I have been impressed with your diplomatic career. It is unfortunate your assignment here ends in this manner."

Carlysle’s eyes flashed with anger. "Unfortunate? Spock, you don’t know the half of it!" She got to her feet and began pacing. "It could mean the end of this world!"

Spock was surprised by her sudden fury. He realized Humans were given to exaggeration. Still the ambassador and her son both seemed to know something he didn’t. He found that disconcerting. What were they hiding? "Kathryn, what was your son talking about? How could he have heard the plan he described?"

She sat back down. "He didn’t actually hear what he told you, but you must believe what he says."

"Because he is half Edami?" Spock asked,

The woman studied him. "Yes."

Spock nodded. "I felt him trying to reach my mind on Colony."

Of course, Carlysle thought. "He has not been exposed to many off-worlders," she said, then added, "except, of course, his mother."

"And the boy’s father?"

"Chas. I think...he must be dead. He could have come with us, as my husband, when the Federation was ordered out, but he chose to remain behind. Someone has to convince the Edami of the threat they’re facing."

"Threat?"

"Romulans," she said simply. She looked for a reaction, but Spock’s face revealed nothing. She’d forgotten how skilled he was at that.

"The Romulans are on Colony now?" he asked levelly.

"For the past six months. In fact, it was a Romulan crew that took us to the camp where you picked us up."

"Your reports have mentioned none of this," Spock pointed out.

Damn him, thought Carlysle. Why won’t he show some reaction? Aloud, she said, "I was alone out here, Spock. Sometimes you can’t play it by the book. As an ambassador, that fact becomes clear very quickly in situations as adverse as this one."

Spock was thoughtful for a moment. "And the conversation your son claims to have heard?"

She bristled. "Devon often uses heard when he’s read another’s thoughts. He must have touched the minds of the crew that brought us to the camp. I don’t understand what he meant about a ship appearing, but even back on Colony, he was convinced we were to be killed."

"Perhaps I should speak with him," Spock said. "If I could get him to remember exactly what he sensed, I will have a better understanding of how to proceed." He set the shuttle controls on auto-pilot. "Stay here. This will take a few minutes." He disappeared into the aft cabin.

Devon was stretched out on the reclining seat, his face turned towards the wall. Spock sat down on the seat next to him, and cleared his throat.

"Mister Carlysle..."

Devon turned to him. "Do you believe me now?" the boy asked.

"I need additional information," Spock said. "There is a way I can touch your thoughts, much like you are able to read the thoughts of others. Will you permit this?"

Devon considered him. "I will," he said finally.

Spock put his hands together for a second, then leaned forward and placed them on the sides of Devon’s face. The boy was surprised by the warmth of the fingers lightly touching his skin, then became aware of Spock’s gentle mind probe. Devon tried to concentrate on the event, but he found Spock was very much in control.

Just relax, Spock was telling him in his mind. I shall find what I seek, you need only open your thoughts to me. Time lost all meaning, until minutes—or perhaps only seconds—later, Spock drew his hands away.

"I have found what I need," he said, slowly getting to his feet. "Stay here and rest now." The Vulcan headed to the front of the shuttle.

Devon watched him leave, then settled back in his chair. The mind-meld had left him tired, but also curious about the alien who had shared his thoughts. He tried to sort out his impressions, as one thought kept coming back to him. The experience had been "fascinating."

*

Spock returned to the pilot seat and addressed the ambassador. "Devon permitted the mind-meld. He is a most remarkable child."

She chuckled softly. "Don’t let him hear you call him that. He certainly doesn’t consider himself a child anymore."

"I shall try to remember. However, I was able to obtain a more precise picture of what lies ahead. It seems there is indeed a ship pursuing us. It is unmanned, and I suspect it is the same vessel that originated the messages received by the Enterprise. The ship is cloaked."

"Cloaked?"

"Romulan technology," Spock explained. "It renders the ship invisible to our scanners."

"But why go to all this trouble? Why weren’t we just killed on Colony?"

Spock hesitated, then said finally, "I suspect you are not the only target."

Carlysle was horrified. "Your starship?"

"I believe so." Spock knew the shuttlecraft was only the bait, leading the phantom ship directly to the Enterprise.

"Oh gods, Spock, what have I caused?

"Nothing yet, Kathryn. Your son has given us an advantage. The odds, as my captain would say, are in our favor. I must contact the Enterprise and tell them what we have learned."

*****

Reg Arant paced the small office that was his sanctuary. Away from the formal chambers and reception rooms of the vast government buildings, the first minister found this space his favorite. His windows looked out over the Colony settlement. Its eclectic architecture reflected the influence of the little world’s contact with the United Federation of Planets.

He hadn’t wanted to end that alliance. Privately, the decision had anguished him, and he still felt saddened by the turn of events that had led to it. In particular, he missed the gentle Human ambassador, Kathryn Carlysle. Their official relationship had little in common with the friendship that had developed over the years. He’d stood with Kathryn during her marriage to Chas, and was talera, what she had called "godfather," to her son, Devon.

Arant did not imagine such a friendship developing with the Romulan representative D’Naris. In fact, he’d discovered the Romulans in general were not inclined to associate with their Edami counterparts outside of purely business dealings. They weren’t exactly unfriendly, Arant thought, but they certainly weren’t as open and communicative as the Federation members had been. To the Edami, they were a closed book, telepathically, which, of course, was their right.

Standing at his window, he noticed the running lights of a cargo-carrier approaching the landing field on the far side the settlement. The huge transport vessel was undoubtedly returning to Colony for routine maintenance, a job recently assigned to the Romulan technicians. Their mechanical skills had greatly increased the fleet’s efficiency rating, and D’Naris had promised even more advances as the Romulan-Edami alliance was forged. Perhaps it was for the best, Arant thought as he turned away from the window. In the past six months, the Romulans had shown more interest in the Edami than the United Federation of Planets had in fifteen years. He didn’t doubt that interest would soon prove beneficial to both their worlds.

*****

The Romulan task force chief D’Naris and two technicians, Ptrik and Malem, also watched the carrier land. They were seated in the lounge of the receiving complex, a long, window-walled building that flanked one side of the landing field. An Edami waiter appeared at their table, ready to take their order. D’Naris waved him away. "Nothing. Thank you. Jolan tru," he said brusquely.

As the waiter left, D’Naris leaned close to his two companions. "It will not be long now. A week more, at most, and we’ll be able to leave this rock. It comes none too soon. My patience with these Edami is wearing thin. I might actually be forced to speak sharply to one of them."

Ptrik looked out towards the landing field as the carrier taxied to its hangar. "Another of their flying boxcars, Malem. Are you ready to go back to work?"

Malem stretched dramatically, yawned widely, and pushed himself away from the table. "I suppose I can make a show of it for another week. But I swear by the Praetor himself..."

D’Naris silenced him with a glare. "We will all do what is necessary, as long as it is necessary, to accomplish our mission here. And that," he added menacingly, "I swear by the Praetor himself."

As he fixed the technicians with his unrelenting stare, the carrier disappeared into a hangar. None of them noticed the lone figure who darted from the shadows and into the hangar just as the doors closed.

-4-

"Bridge to Captain Kirk."

Kirk was awake immediately. He checked the time. Too early to be hearing from Spock. He answered the page. "Kirk here."

"Sir," came Uhura’s voice, "Captain Spock is calling in."

"I’m on my way."

Minutes later, Kirk fairly ran onto the bridge. "Open the channel," he ordered. "Enterprise to Discovery. Come in, Spock."

"Captain," said Spock, "I believe we have a problem."

Kirk felt himself tense reflexively. "Report."

"I believe that the Discovery is being followed by an unmanned vessel of unknown registry, possibly utilizing Romulan technology."

Kirk looked over at the science station, where Lieutenant Gnutson was manning the scanners. "Mister Gnutson, confirm."

"Sensors indicate the Discovery on course, alone. No other vessels in the area."

"Spock, we don’t pick up another ship," Kirk said. "What do you see?"

"Captain, according to my information, this phantom, if you will, is cloaked, fully armed, and programmed to follow the Discovery beyond the frontier and to the Enterprise, where it will self-destruct in an explosion of sufficient magnitude to destroy any matter within a considerable range."

The Enterprise bridge crew was stunned into momentary silence.

Spock continued, "I have entered a course change for the Discovery which I am sending to you now."

Kirk motioned to the navigator, who put the grids on the screen.

"As you can see," Spock added, "I shall cross the frontier well beyond transporter range. I shall then bear mark two-four, taking the shuttlecraft across vector eight. That will put us in transporter range long enough for the Enterprise to lock on and beam us aboard."

Scotty looked at Kirk, scowling. "Sair, he’ll be in range barely three minutes!"

"Two point eight minutes precisely, Mister Scott," came Spock’s voice. "We cannot risk drawing the phantom any closer for any greater length of time, or it may be able to pick up and fix position on the Enterprise."

As Captain Scott entered the turbolift, Kirk saw the logic in what Spock was saying. "Two point eight minutes should be sufficient, Captain Spock," the captain said, "and we’ll be beaming all of you aboard."

"Agreed, Captain. I shall program the shuttlecraft to proceed on a random course away from the Enterprise immediately after our beamout. I have set the sensors to record the event of the attack on the shuttle and transmit that data to the Enterprise."

Kirk understood. "So the shuttle is the bait."

"Transporter room to Cap’n Kirk!" came Scott’s excited voice.

"Kirk here."

"Cap’n, some sort of signal is interfering with the transporter. I’m gonna have to beam them aboard one at a time!"

"Spock?" asked Kirk over the comm channel.

"I surmise the proximity of the cloaked attack drone and its cloaking field are the source of Captain Scott’s ire."

Kirk couldn’t argue with his first officer’s logic. He sighed. "Okay, we’ll get your passengers aboard first then you. Understood?"

"Perfectly, sir. I shall instruct the ambassador and her son to stand by in the shuttlecraft rear cabin. Spock out."

The Vulcan headed to the rear of the shuttle. "You will need to stand together in the rear cabin," he instructed. "As soon as we enter transporter range, the Enterprise will begin beaming you aboard."

Devon looked at the tall commander who had touched his mind. "Aren’t you coming with us?" he asked.

"I will remain until last."

"But they’ll kill you! You said you learned the plan when you read my mind. And I remember! They’ll blow you up!"

Spock regarded the boy patiently. "Devon, I do not intend to be ‘blown up.’ Our mission was to retrieve your mother and you, and once you are safely aboard the Enterprise, then I too shall beam aboard the Enterprise."

Devon stepped forward, as he had when Spock first saw him in the clearing on Colony, except this time his posture was not defiant at all. "Thank you for saving us, sir," the boy said seriously.

"You are welcome, Mister Carlysle," Spock replied, equally seriously, but Kathryn detected the hint of a smile in his dark eyes.

"Scott to Discovery. Ready to beam one aboard."

Spock clicked on the comlink. "The ambassador’s son is in the rear of the shuttle. He is ready to beam aboard."

"Aye, sir, energizin’ now."

After Devon had successfully be beamed away, Spock turned to Carlysle. "I should be no more than a few minutes after. If something goes wrong, please take time to familiarize Captain Kirk with the situation on Colony. I regret we did not have more time to discuss it ourselves."

"But we will, Spock," she said.

Spock didn’t answer.

"Scott to Discovery. The lad’s aboard, safe and sound. Ready for the ambassador herself."

"Acknowleged." To Carlysle, he said, "Please move to the rear cabin."

*****

Kirk prowled the transporter room nervously. McCoy hovered close by, and Scotty was at the controls. The intercom signaled from the bridge. "Hennessy here, Captain. One minute until the shuttlecraft is out of range."

"Noted, Mister Hennessy. Kirk out."

Carlysle materialized on the transporter platform, and Kirk stepped forward. "Madam Ambassador, I’m Captain James T. Kirk. This is my ship’s doctor, Leonard McCoy, and our captain of engineering, Montgomery Scott."

Carlysle stepped down to stand beside her son. "Thank you, gentlemen, for all you’ve done for us," she said.

Kirk was surprised to hear the strange lilt in her voice, similar to Scotty’s burr, but not quite as pronounced. The boy held out his hand. "I am Devon Carlysle, and I also thank you."

Kirk smiled. "Welcome aboard, Mister Carlysle." He shook the boy’s hand, then turned back to the woman. "Madam Ambassador," he began.

"Please, Captain, call me Kathryn."

"Kathryn it is, then. Doctor McCoy would like to give you and your son a quick once-over down in Sickbay, and in the meantime we’ll make sure your quarters are ready."

McCoy took over. "Just follow me, folks," he said, leading the pair out of the transporter room.

"Captain," said Scott urgently from the transporter console. "I canna get a lock on Captain Spock."

"Blasted molecule-scrambling—"

"Stow it, Bones," snapped Kirk, moving to the transporter console’s comlink. "Enterprise to Discovery. Spock, we have a problem here."

"I surmised that, Captain. I believe the attack drone has moved in closer to my position. I shall attempt to evade it further. Have Captain Scott standing by."

Kirk turned to Scotty. "I’m heading to the bridge."

*****

Kirk began barking orders as soon as he hit the bridge. "Uhura, raise Captain Spock. Hennessy, have a break-away course set in. Mister Gnutson, complete a three-sixty scan of the transporter perimeter. I want to know the instant the Discovery is back in range. Mister Hennessy, stand by to take us out of here at Warp Factor Seven." A chorus of "ayes" sounded around him as he took the center seat and punched the arm control. "Spock, report."

"The phantom ship appeared two point one minutes ago, Captain. Sensors indicate no life-forms aboard. I am sending a technology scan now, but early indications are—"

He was interrupted by Gnutson at the science station. "Captain," the lieutenant said excitedly, "Captain Spock’s scan shows the phantom with a tractor lock directly on the shuttlecraft!"

"Spock, get that ship back into transporter range now! You’re under tractor lock!"

"Acknowledged, Captain. I shall continue to transmit sensor data. I have detected a most unusual..."

"Belay that!" Kirk ordered. "Just get the hell into range so we can beam you out of there!"

Spock’s voice came back, calm, steady. "Captain, I shall cross transporter perimeter in one minute. This will likely trigger detonation. The resulting blast could do significant damage to the Enterprise, even at that range. Therefore I suggest—"

"We already have an escape course laid in, Spock. Scotty is standing by in the transporter room."

"Forty-five seconds to perimeter," Hennessy announced.

On board the Discovery, Spock watched his sensors relaying the buildup of the phantom’s self-destruct sequence. Through his viewscreen, he noted the vessel’s shape and design, knowing there would be nothing left to analyze once the explosion took place.

He could feel his shuttlecraft straining against the tractor beam. The phantom was drawing the Discovery closer, and there was no way to outrun it. He was closing in on transporter range at maximum speed, but the phantom was faster.

Thirty seconds... It would be just barely enough time, Spock thought. He noticed the incredible power readings he was now registering. The entire phantom was becoming a gigantic matter-antimatter juggernaut, poised for detonation. He checked his data transmission, satisfied the Discovery would continue to scan and relay until she was engulfed in the phantom’s destruction.

"Twenty seconds, Captain!" came Hennessy’s voice over the comlink.

"Captain, I believe the attack drone is about to engage its self-destruct," reported Spock.

"Commander Chekov, be ready to raise shields once Spock is aboard," the Vulcan heard Captain Kirk order.

"Aye, Kyptin."

"Ten seconds," reported Spock.

Kirk gripped the arms of his chair, his palms wet, and stared ahead at the viewscreen as though he could watch the Discovery cross to safety.

Chekov took over the countdown. "Five, four, three, two, one...mark!"

"Energize, Scotty!" Kirk’s order echoed in the shuttle.

Brilliant light flooded the interior of the shuttlecraft. Spock threw his arms up in front of his face as his console exploded, twisted metal tearing loose and pinning him against his chair. His last conscious thought was that he had miscalculated.

*

"Bridge to Transporter Room. Scotty, do you have him?" Kirk demanded.

"Locked onto him, sair, but I can’t seem to..."

"Captain! The phantom has detonated! And I’ve just lost contact with the Discovery!" Gnutson interjected.

"Scotty," Kirk almost pleaded, "bring him in!"

"Got ‘im, Captain!" the engineer reported. "Materializing now."

"Shields going up, Kyptin," reported the security chief.

Kirk wheeled to the helm. "Go, Hennessy!"

The helmsman slid the warp control forward as fast as he could, taking the Enterprise on the programmed escape course away from the phantom’s spiraling aftershocks. Even so, the Enterprise was buffeted and tossed like a cork on the ocean. The bridge lights dimmed as power was diverted to the shields. The pounding seemed endless.

"We’re clear, Captain," Hennessy said finally, "and safely beyond explosion affect." The Enterprise stabilized in its warp-powered flight.

Kirk looked around at his bridge crew, shaken, but at their posts. "Thank you all. That was close work." He hit his intercom. "Bridge to Transporter Room. Scotty, is Captain Spock..."

"Captain." Scotty’s voice sounded strained. "Medics have just taken ‘im to Sickbay. Sir, he was caught in the explosion."

Kirk didn’t wait to hear the rest of what the engineer was saying. He was already heading for the turbolift.

-5-

McCoy walked into his office, and wasn’t surprised to find the captain still there. Kirk had gotten to Sickbay just in time to see his first officer being taken into the operating room. McCoy’s grim expression as he followed the gurney had spoken volumes. The unconscious Vulcan was covered with soot, his field suit torn and soaked with green blood. Kirk had waited outside for a progress report, but as one hour became two and then three, he had finally collapsed into one of McCoy’s office chairs, determined to hear immediately Spock’s condition.

McCoy sat down wearily behind his desk and rubbed his temples. Finally he met Kirk’s eyes. "He’ll live, Jim."

Kirk searched the doctor’s face, looking for what was not being said. McCoy continued, "He was caught in the blast and had some second-degree plasma burns on his arms and hands; not too serious. When the front of the shuttlecraft exploded, he must have been crushed against the pilot seat, just before the transporter grabbed him. Almost every rib has been broken or cracked, and he suffered a great deal of thoracic trauma. We’ve relieved the pressure, and he’s breathing easier..." The doctor hesitated.

"C’mon, Bones," Kirk pressed. "What else?"

McCoy sighed. "It’s his eyes, Jim. I’m getting no optic nerve response. There was metal dust and debris that we removed magnetically, and we’re looking at the possibility of flash burns, but I’m getting distinct indications of intracranial pressure causing nerve trauma. Right now, Spock is totally blind. I’ll have to wait until he’s more fully recovered to run some tests."

Kirk barely heard him. Spock was blind...but he had suffered temporary blindness once before. Surely McCoy remembered. "Bones, his inner eyelid! Maybe..."

The doctor shook his head. "They didn’t react. After removing the splinters, I found the inner membranes still folded. They never had a chance. He sustained some surface scratching of both eyes. I bandaged them to prevent infection from setting in, but as I said, any further prognosis will have to wait." McCoy rested his head on his arms, and Kirk was suddenly aware of how tired he must be.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, until soft footsteps caused them both to turn towards the door.

Ambassador Carlysle stood there. "Commander Uhura told me you were here, Captain," she said. "She also told me what happened."

Kirk realized he had not spoken to the ambassador since she and her son were beamed aboard. "Ambassador, I’m sorry I haven’t greeted you properly," he began.

She stopped him. "Please, Captain, don’t apologize." She looked beyond the two men to the dimly lit recovery room where Spock lay. "How is he?" she asked finally.

"Still unconscious, but comfortable," McCoy answered. He gave her the same rundown on Spock’s condition he’d given the captain. She continued to stare into the recovery room, then abruptly focused her attention on the two men in front of her.

"You both look ready to drop," she said. "How long has it been since either of you has had a meal?"

Kirk and McCoy exchanged glances. McCoy spoke up. "Now look here, young lady, you save your mothering for that kid you’ve already got..."

"Who at this moment is in your officers lounge gorging himself I suggest you both join him before you pass out."

Kirk realized he was ravenous. McCoy knew he, too, should eat, or his fatigue would get the best of him. But the doctor was concerned. "I don’t want Spock waking up alone," he said. "I’ve already sent Doctor Dushayne to her cabin, before I had another patient on my hands. I’d better stay close by, in case he starts to regain consciousness."

Carlysle, however, had other ideas. "Doctor, I would be very glad to stay with him. I promise I’ll have you paged when he wakes up."

McCoy hesitated. "He’s liable to be disoriented, and knowing Spock, he’ll have ten million questions..."

"Please, Doctor McCoy. I owe him at least this much."

McCoy considered her for a moment, then relented. "My nurse, Marie Webb, is on duty. If you need anything, just ask." He pushed himself away from his desk. "C’mon, Jim, let’s go get dinner before she sends us to our quarters without dessert." Pausing briefly at the recovery room door, he checked the monitor over Spock’s head, then said to the ambassador, "He’s liable to be out for quite a while yet, but stay close just in case."

Carlysle nodded. "I will, Doctor. Thank you." She watched them leave then went to Spock. She pulled a stiff-backed chair close to his bedside, and sat down to begin her vigil.

*****

"How did they check out, Bones?" Kirk asked as he took a bite of his chicken salad sandwich.

McCoy chewed on his fried chicken thigh as he answered, "They’re fine, Jim, aside from the boy’s crazy-quilt make-up. Kind of reminds me of your first officer, internally, that is." Noting the captain’s quizzical look, he continued. "You did know the kid’s half-Edami? Well, don’t look so chagrined. He appears fully Human, but there’s at least one major difference."

"Explain."

McCoy took a deep sip of his sweet tea and leaned forward. "He’s a high-order telepath. He had answers to questions before I even asked ‘em."

Kirk sat back in his chair. "That wasn’t part of the ambassador’s bio. It only mentioned she had a son." He was beginning to wonder what else she had failed to report.

"Well, somewhere along the line she also partnered. She didn’t say anything about the boy’s father, and I didn’t ask. Seems like that’s more your area, if you’re curious." McCoy smiled innocently.

"It isn’t a matter of curiosity, Bones," Kirk said, shaking his head. "Kathryn Carlysle has been in the Edam system for fifteen years. That’s a long time for any ambassador to be in one place. We may have just met one reason why." He stood up, asking, "Do you think she’s up for a chat?"

"I think you’ve already made up your mind. Don’t let me hold you up," the doctor said, taking a bite of his mashed potatoes and gravy.

*****

The ambassador was sitting at Spock’s side when Kirk returned to Sickbay. "Come on over, Captain," she beckoned with a wave of her hand. "Please, join me." She nodded at a chair next to her.

Kirk stared at Spock’s still form, and checked the monitors. "No change," he mumbled to himself. He sighed and sat down, pulling the chair so that he could face her. He wanted to get right to the point. "Ambassador," he said, "I know you and your son have been through a lot recently, but we have some questions that we need answered."

Carlysle ran her hand through the tangles of her long hair, using her fingers like a comb. "Captain, I’m not even sure where to begin."

Kirk noticed the sadness in her voice and tried to soften his tone. "Let’s try the beginning," he said, smiling.

She found herself returning the smile. "You know, I’ve been in the Edam system since the beginning, since the Federation first established diplomatic relations there."

"Yes, I know. I’ve read your file." McCoy had been right. Her bio-pic hadn’t come close to doing her justice. Kirk noticed the deep red highlights in her hair that he hadn’t seen in the harsh light of the transporter room. Her blue eyes were very dark, almost navy, and seemed to carry the same sad reflection as her voice.

"Then you also know I remained there by choice, even though I was offered numerous other assignments. My father never understood. As a diplomat himself, he always felt the galaxy was far too exciting to spend too much time in one place."

She was interrupted the appearance of her son at the Sickbay doors. "Hello, Devon," she said.

Devon entered the ward and went to stand beside his mother. He stared at Kirk, his blue eyes seeming to gaze right into the captain’s soul. It was the kind of look Kirk was used to getting from Spock.

"You are quite worried about him, aren’t you, sir?" the boy asked.

Kirk frowned. He had been thinking about his first officer. "If you mean Captain Spock, Devon, yes, I am concerned. I never like the idea of my crew taking risks alone, and playing cat-and-mouse with the Romulans is very risky business, as I’m afraid Spock has proved."

Devon thought for a moment, then addressed his mother. "You and Captain Spock are friends, aren’t you, Mother? Like Captain Kirk and Captain Spock?"

"Yes, Devon," she said. "We met many years ago, when we were about your age."

Now Kirk was interested. He leaned forward. "Spock said he’d met you before, but he didn’t go into detail. I assumed it had something to do with both your fathers being diplomats."

"It was so long ago..." she said. "I suppose, Captain, if you want me to begin at the beginning, that might be as good a place as any to start." She glanced up at her son. "Devon, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’ll have to—"

"Please, Mother, let me stay. I’m part of this too."

Yes, most definitely a part, she thought, then said aloud, "Very well. In a strange sort of way, it’s because I met Spock that you are who you are."

Devon sat down and closed his eyes, as he often did when his mother told him stories about her world. In doing so, he not only heard the words, but saw them, much as his mother saw in her mind what she was describing. He had begun doing it as an exercise, testing his mental skills. Now he did it for himself, to better understand the tale his mother told.

"I was twelve when my father was appointed Terran ambassador to Vulcan," he heard her begin...

"Katie Lynn, come in please."

Katie heard her mother call and ran into the kitchen. Breathless, she stopped just short of barreling into her father.

"Wonderful news, my little Katie," he said. "We’ve got an appointment. We’re off to Vulcan!"

She felt the smile leave her face, and stared dumbfounded at her parents. "You mean Mum and I must go, too?" She couldn’t believe it! Leave all her friends, their beautiful cottage? Who would care for her pony? All these questions came tumbling forth, but the answers stayed the same. All three would leave for Vulcan next week. Katie cried herself to sleep that night.

One week later, she found herself in a stranger place than even her wildest dreams could have prepared her for. Vulcan was very hot and dry, and its people, although not so physically different compared to some of the alien ambassadors she had seen with her father, seemed cold and aloof... almost rude.

"Katie," her father began.

"Kathryn!" she cried. On the journey to Vulcan, she had decided that since her world had been yanked out from under her, literally, she would no longer be little Katie. From now on, it would be Kathryn who would live this new life.

Her father gave her a sad smile. "Kathryn, we are meeting the Vulcan ambassador, Sarek, and his family at their home tonight. His wife, the Lady Amanda, will be your tutor while we’re here, in addition to your classes at the regular Vulcan school."

"Why must I go to their school?" she demanded.

"Darling, we’ve been over this before. You are as much an ambassador here as I am. Your interaction is every bit as important as mine. Amanda will keep you up with your standard Terran courses, but you must also have a feel for what your young Vulcan peers are learning. And," he added with a sly grin, "it’s a great way to make new friends."

That night, she accompanied her parents to Ambassador Sarek’s home. Amanda met them at the door. "Gareth, Jean, come in," Amanda said. "And this must be your daughter. Hello, dear. I’m Amanda."

Kathryn could not take her eyes off Amanda. She was beautiful...and she was Human!

"This is Katie, Amanda," Gareth said. "She’s looking forward to her lessons with you."

They followed Amanda down the cool hallway and into the living room. "Please, have a seat," she said. "Sarek had to take a call in his office, but he should be joining us any minute. And Spock is here somewhere..."

Jean spoke to Kathryn. "Spock is Amanda and Sarek’s son. He’s about your age, I believe."

"Yes, he is," said Amanda. "I think they’re to be in some of the same classes at school. Ah, here he comes now... Spock, come and meet our guests."

A tall, solemn boy entered the room and walked over to stand beside his mother. Again, Kathryn couldn’t keep from staring He looked so...Vulcan, very little like his mother, except, maybe just a bit around the eyes.

"Spock," Amanda was saying, "this is Ambassador Gareth Carlysle, his wife Jean, and their daughter Katie—"

"Kathryn," she said quickly, then blushed with embarrassment as her father shot her a reproachful look.

Spock nodded politely at the three. "Welcome to Vulcan, Mister Ambassador, Madam," he said formally.

"Spock, perhaps you could show Kathryn the gardens before it gets too dark," his mother suggested.

Spock would have preferred to excuse himself, but he maintained his calm, steady gaze. "Kathryn, would you care to see the garden?" he asked.

She answered in the same formal manner. "Thank you very much. I would enjoy that." They left through the glass doors just as Sarek came into the room.

Outside, the Vulcan sun was low in the sky, and the air had lost some of its oppressive heat. Kathryn walked among the green, flourishing plant life and took a deep breath. "This is the first place I’ve seen that reminds me of home," she said wistfully.

"I was told you live in ShiKahr," Spock said.

"I mean home...Earth. Britain, to be exact. Do you know where Britain is?"

"Britain is an island off the coast of the Terran continent..."

Kathryn continued, not really listening to his textbook geography lesson. "It is absolutely the loveliest place you can imagine. All green, with hills and moors, and in the spring there are fields of wild flowers..." She stopped, feeling herself about to cry. She wiped her eyes and looked up to see Spock staring down at her.

After a moment, he asked, "Do you play chess?"

*

School was every bit as horrid as Kathryn had imagined. She was either ignored by the students, or taunted for her lack of skills. Spock was indeed in some of her classes, but he kept very much to himself, not even mixing in with the other Vulcan students. The small translator she wore allowed her follow the classes, but she soon discovered the level of work was far beyond what she had been studying on Earth. It was impossible to join in the free-form discussions that seemed to take up most of the class time, discussions that often continued well after a class ended. It was during one such after-the-bell roundtable that Kathryn suddenly found herself the center of attention. A particularly loud student, Stahl, confronted her in the courtyard following their philosophy class.

"Well, silent little Earth girl," he said, "how does our study of philosophy compare to what Terrans teachers have taught you?"

Kathryn looked at the boys gathering around her, and wanted to run away. Instead, she held her ground, chin up.

"Come on, now," Stahl persisted "Surely Earth has had its share of philosophers, even though Terrans are too blind to follow an even remotely ethical code of behavior."

Kathryn glared at him, bristling with anger. "We do not insist upon everyone following the same narrow-minded, limiting path as you Vulcans, if that’s what you mean," she snapped.

"And what do you know of the Vulcan way, Human? You sit in our classes like a statue, come and go on command... tell us, what have you learned of the Vulcan way?"

A voice behind her said, calmly, "Perhaps she is getting her first true lesson right now."

Stahl’s eyes flashed with anger, just for a moment, then his mask fell back in place. His voice, however, took on a harder edge. "I knew we could count on you to come to the defense of the Human, Spock. We should be asking you these question. Who better to explain to us the ways of the Humans?"

"I shall be honored to answer any questions you might have, Stahl. Perhaps we could set up a tutorial?" Spock’s face remained impassive, while Kathryn saw Stahl was working hard to control his anger. The rest of the boys waited for Stahl’s reply.

"I can see you have your time committed, Spock. We wouldn’t want to interrupt your exchange of ideas with the Earther. She might actually be teaching you something." With that, Stahl turned and walked away, the other boys close behind.

Kathryn turned to Spock. "Thank you," she said. "I’m sorry if they..."

"There is no need to apologize," Spock said evenly. "No offense was intended. They can be cruel..." He stopped, unwilling to say more.

Kathryn, however, felt the need to do something for this serious young man who had stood up for her. "Spock," she said, "maybe they were right about one thing. Maybe you and I can exchange ideas. You tell me about Vulcan. and I’ll tell you about Earth."

Spock pondered this. "Such an exchange might prove interesting," he admitted.

Through the rest of that year, Spock and Kathryn shared their respective worlds. Kathryn enjoyed her lessons with Amanda, but it was the time she spent with Spock that she found most rewarding. Spock found the Human girl ‘fascinating.’ While he didn’t completely understand her, what made her laugh or cry so easily, he too, looked forward to the time they spent together. He learned things about Humans that his mother could never teach him—she was his mother, after all!

As Gareth Carlysle’s year on Vulcan came to an end, Kathryn realized she would soon have to say goodbye. It was on the occasion of their last afternoon together that she learned her final lesson about Vulcans, and Spock. They were seated in the garden, heads bent over Spock’s chessboard, yet neither was particularly interested in the game.

"We’re leaving tomorrow, Spock. My father has been reassigned to Delta."

Spock nodded, not looking up from the board. "The Deltans are a fascinating people," he said. Kathryn noticed Spock often used the word fascinating with an almost reverent tone. "My father hosted a Deltan delegation two years ago," he continued. "They are quite unique."

Kathryn didn’t really care to talk about Deltans. Didn’t he see the point? She was leaving! "Spock, when we first came to Vulcan my father told me that I was as much an ambassador here as he was. I think I’ve decided I want to become an ambassador when I grow up."

Spock moved his king’s bishop to an open file. Kathryn countered with her knight, blocking his progress. "I should think you will make an excellent ambassador, Kathryn. You have certainly made Stahl and his friends understand Humans to an extent I would not have thought possible."

It was true. She had finally, although grudgingly, been accepted as a worthy peer by the Vulcan students. "What about you, Spock?" she asked

He continued to study the game, looking for his next move. "My understanding of Humans, while admittedly more substantial than Stahl’s, has also grown," he acknowledged.

"No, I mean when you grow up. What are your plans? What are you going to do?"

Spock finally met her eyes. "My father, of course, would like to me to join the diplomatic service as well." He hesitated, then continued "But I am going to join Starfleet."

"Starfleet?" Kathryn was shocked.

"Yes. I have discussed this with no one else. When the time is right, I shall inform my father of my decision. Starfleet is the one place I believe I can make a difference." He said this with such conviction that Kathryn knew he would make no other choice. She had seen how he was spurned by his classmates, and could imagine the same treatment, or worse, were he a student on Earth. In Starfleet, however, comprised of beings from hundreds of worlds, a half-Human, half-Vulcan would simply be one more being, one more who wanted to make a difference.

That evening, they said goodbye, formally and without emotion. And that night, for the first time in over a year, Kathryn cried herself to sleep; not because she was about to be alone again, but because he was.

Devon opened his eyes, surprised by the tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks. His mother had stopped talking and was sitting across from the captain, her eyes shining wetly also. Kirk was the first to speak.

"Kathryn, Captain Spock is one of my closest friends. I feel like you’ve given me some insight into that friendship. Thank you."

Carlysle took a deep breath, composing herself. "He was a friend to me when I needed one most, Captain. I shall always be grateful for that. We didn’t stay in touch after my family left Vulcan, but I did know he entered Starfleet. I joined the diplomatic service and started, or rather continued, my planet-hopping life."

"But your appointment to Edam..." Kirk began.

"Was almost fifteen years ago," she finished for him. "I know, it’s a very long time to have been there...I didn’t expect to be, but then, I didn’t expect to fall in love. When I met Chas, the idea of settling down and raising a family was the farthest thing from my mind. Love can alter the best laid plans, Captain. In my case, it gave me roots, a feeling of home that I hadn’t felt since I was a little girl." She paused, and looked at her son.

"I wanted to have children, but Chas was worried. Oh, biologically, there was no problem, but the Edami were just getting used to the idea that they weren’t alone in the universe. The birth of a half-Human, half-Edami child threatened centuries-old feelings of provincialism in a very tangible way. Even Chas feared the consequences, both for us and the child, so I told him about Spock. He came to realize that what was important was the whole individual one is, not just the halves that make up that whole. And so, Devon was born. A whole Devon." She smiled at her son.

Kirk tried to imagine what the reaction must have been. If the Edami were timid about the unknowns beyond their frontier, to suddenly have an unknown born among them would have been hard to accept.

"Kathryn," he asked, leaning forward, "what happened? Why has the Federation suddenly been kicked out, after so long?"

"Once the Edam system became Federation members, our little corner of the galaxy got very popular. Outworlders were welcomed to Colony, as long as their ships were engaged in no military exercises. As the years went by, however, it became obvious that we were nothing more than another feather in the Federation’s Neutral Zone cap. Being on the far side of Romulan space, we were too isolated to be viable members, especially with the restrictions imposed by General Order Three. The Edami scrambled to establish trade agreements, but for the most part we were ignored. For fourteen years I didn’t fight it. These are happy people, and so was I. I wasn’t going to be the one to tell them they were being used!"

She stopped to let her building anger settle down. "Six months ago, the first Romulans arrived on Colony. They approached the government in much the same manner as the Federation had years ago, with offers of technological assistance, trade exchanges..."

"But didn’t you tell the Edami that it was a direct violation of Federation policy?" Kirk wondered.

"I did. But even among the Edami there are those whose opinions can be swayed by the highest bidder. The Romulans painted a very appealing picture, and sentiment towards the Federation slowly began to turn."

Kirk shook his head, still finding it hard to believe. "For a race of people dedicated to peace to even consider dealing with the Romulans..."

She stopped him. "The Romulans came in peace, Captain. They pointed out how desperately the Federation had argued for Starfleet to be allowed within the Edam system...Starfleet, which the Romulans painted as the war-loving aggressor. They showed log tapes of starships blasting Romulan vessels out of the sky. It was a very persuasive argument."

Kirk did not find that hard to believe at all. He had seen some of those same propaganda tapes. One was even a bootleg from the Enterprise herself.

"But now..." He was interrupted by the intercom signal. He opened the channel. "Kirk here."

"Captain Kirk, Admiral Cartwright is requesting a report on our situation at your earliest convenience."

"Acknowledge his request, Commander. Tell him I’m working on it. Kirk out." He turned to face the ambassador. "Duty calls, Kathryn. We’ll continue this soon."

Carlysle nodded as Kirk strode out Sickbay into the corridor beyond. She suddenly realized Devon had moved to a bed adjacent to Spock’s, and she went to him. He was stretched out, sound asleep. She covered him with a blanket, then sat back in her chair, wondering how she would tell the captain the rest of her story.

-6-

The warmth of the recovery room and soft beep of the life support monitors had almost succeeded in lulling Kathryn into a light sleep when movement beside her jolted her back to wakefulness. Spock stirred slightly in his bed, letting out a sharp gasp as he jarred his shattered ribs. He could feel the pressure of the restraining force field reaching from chest to waist, and avoided further movement of that nature. Slowly, he became aware of someone beside him. He tried to speak, but his voice came out as barely a whisper. His throat felt extremely dry, almost scorched, or burned. "Cap-tain?" he croaked. He turned his head, and tried to open his eyes.

"Spock?" said a voice; not the captain...a woman, soft and soothing. "Spock, it’s Kathryn."

Spock lay very still. The white gauze wrapping his eyes made his face look ghostly pale. Carlysle couldn’t tell if he’d heard her, or if he was even really awake. "Spock," she said, leaning closer to him, "you’re back on the Enterprise. You’re in Sickbay. Do you remember what happened?"

"The shuttle..." he whispered.

"You were caught in the explosion. You’re safe now."

"How long..." He paused, and drew a dry, shallow breath. "How long since..."

"They beamed you aboard about several hours ago."

"I am...very...thirsty. My throat...burns."

"You inhaled super-heated air from the blast. Here..." She put a water glass up to his lips. "Try to sip this slowly." She hesitated, then cradled his head on her arm to help him drink. He took two small swallows and fell back, exhausted.

Spock remained motionless for another few minutes, then carefully raised one hand to his face and felt the bandages covering his eyes. This time when he spoke, his voice sounded slightly stronger. "My eyes..." he began.

It was the one question Carlysle felt least prepared to answer, but somehow she summoned the courage. "Doctor McCoy had to remove some metal splinters from them. They’re bandaged to prevent infection."

"Did he... describe...the extent...of the damage?" he asked as Nurse Webb came to the bedside.

Carlylse did not answer, unsure how much to tell him. Right away, Marie Webb spoke up, "Captain Spock, this is Nurse Webb. I’ve summoned Doctor McCoy, but I’m sure you realize that he has to run some more definitive tests, once you’re more fully recovered."

Spock said nothing, letting his hand fall back to his side. The ambassador remained silent also, deciding Doctor McCoy should really be the one to answer any more questions. When she thought Spock had fallen back to sleep, she got up to greet the doctor. Just as she reached the door to the corridor, however, she heard Spock’s voice.

"Kathryn?"

"I’m still here, Spock," she said, returning to his side. "Would you like some more water?"

"No," he answered. "Would you...remain...with me...until..." He stopped, drawing another long breath as his dry voice cracked.

She sat back down and rested her hand lightly on his arm.

*****

As soon as they had heard the summons from Nurse Webb, Kirk and McCoy left the officer’s lounge together. They paused at the turbolift, and McCoy eyed the captain. "Jim, go to your cabin. Get some sleep. There isn’t anything you can do for Spock. Hell, there isn’t anything I can do for him, yet. We just have to wait."

"Sorry, Bones. I want to see him."

The outer ward was quiet. Like the rest of the ship, Sickbay was deep into the night shift cycle, and most personnel were off-duty. Kirk and McCoy went to the intensive-care doorway and peered in. Carlysle was still seated beside Spock’s bed. She had taken her shoes off and curled her long legs up under her on the chair. Her head was bent forward. McCoy thought she was probably dozing. Kirk went over to her and said, softly, "Kathryn?"

She looked up, brushing her hair back out of her face. McCoy could see she had been crying, although her eyes were dry now. She managed a weak smile, and whispered, "Well, you don’t look quite so in danger of imminent collapse, gentlemen." She unfurled her legs and stretched, then took advantage of Kirk’s offer of a hand to get to her feet. They both looked down at the sleeping Vulcan. "He woke up once, just for a moment. I’m not certain he’s even aware of it, or will remember it...but he asked about...about his eyes."

McCoy heard her voice catch. He quickly looked at the readings on the monitor over Spock’s head, then took Carlysle by the hand and gently steered her out of the room. Kirk stayed by Spock’s side, gazing at the bio-bed monitor.

In the brighter light of the outer ward, McCoy could see her red-rimmed eyes were filled with fresh tears.

"Kathryn," the doctor began, "don’t blame yourself. Jim told me about you and Spock, and when you were kids. I know he’s a friend of yours, so you must know him well enough to realize that he would consider your guilt over what’s happened illogical. It’s not your fault."

She brushed at her eyes, wiping the tears. "I know that. I did what I had to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier."

"I know," McCoy said softly. "But just being with him seems to have helped. His vital signs are stronger, and he seems to be in less pain." It was true. McCoy had been surprised at the improved readings on the monitor displayed in the outer ward. He hadn’t expected any change.

"What about his eyes, Doctor McCoy?" she asked suddenly. "Will Spock be able to see again?"

"I don’t know," he answered, staring back towards the room where the Vulcan lay. "I wish to God I had a better answer, but I just don’t know."

Kathryn nodded, hearing the frustration in the doctor’s voice. It wasn’t easy for him, either, she realized. She left, and McCoy looked in on Spock one more time. Captain Kirk was sitting there at his side, watching over his friend in concern. Then, leaving orders with the night nurse to call him if the Vulcan awakened again, he went to the examination bed next to Spock, curled up with a blanket, and dozed off, leaving Spock under Jim Kirk’s watchful eyes.

-7-

Personal Log, Stardate 8446.1

We remain outside the Edam system frontier, awaiting new orders from Starfleet Command now that they have been informed of the Romulans presence on Colony for the past six months. This, along with Captain Spock’s suspicions that the phantom ship which destroyed the Discovery was using Romulan technology, brings us dangerously close to a confrontation out here. If Spock is correct, the destruction of the Discovery is an unprovoked act of aggression, which I feel certain Starfleet Command will not take lightly. I do not take it lightly, as I watch my first officer lying unconscious in Sickbay. I intend to find out who is responsible.

"Admiral, we can’t just sit out here for the next week and do nothing!" Kirk felt his anger building towards the desk-bound paper-pusher on the screen in front of him. He tried to calm himself. Moses Cartwright was one of the most frustrating individuals in the Admiralty.

Cartwright shook his head. "Listen, Jim. The Excalibur and Yorktown have both been put on alert. They’re headed to your sector right now, but the soonest either one will arrive is six-point-five standard days. With the Romulans already entrenched on Colony, we can’t take any chances. We don’t yet know what kind of firepower we’re talking about, and I want at least three starships out there before we find out. The Enterprise is ordered to remain in the sector and rendezvous with the Excalibur and Yorktown.

"In the meantime, use the information you’ve already collected and see what you can come up with. And tell Ambassador Carlysle she’s got the Federation council to answer to for her actions. By not reporting the arrival of the Romulans into that system immediately, she may very well have precipitated a galactic confrontation. That’s what happens when you don’t play by the book."

Kirk heard the unspoken admonition. Cartwright was warning him he’d better stick to the book on this one. "Understood, Admiral. Is there anything else?"

"That’s all, Captain. You have your orders. Cartwright out."

The screen went dark.

*****

For the next forty-eight hours, the Enterprise maintained the proscribed distance from the Edam frontier as dictated. During that time, Gnutson assumed Spock’s science station, sorting through the data relayed by the Discovery about the phantom ship. The data transmissions had come to an abrupt halt at the moment of the Discovery’s envelopment in the plasma explosion. Gnutson would present a summary of the data on the attack drone at a briefing Captain Kirk called for all department heads on the fourth day.

He raised his head from the hooded viewer and rubbed his neck tiredly. Uhura gave him a sympathetic look. "I was wondering when you were coming up for air," she said.

"The next time someone calls me a pain in the neck, I’ll have a frame of reference," Gnutson replied dryly. "I don’t know how Captain Spock does this all day."

At the mention of the first officer’s name, the smile vanished from Uhura’s face. "I wonder how he’s doing," she mused aloud. "Doctor Dushayne told me Doctor McCoy was going to remove the bandages today."

Gnutson didn’t reply. He felt suddenly ashamed. Here he was complaining about a stiff neck, when Captain Spock faced the possibility of never seeing again. He turned back to his viewscreen with a renewed vengeance, unaware that at the security station, Commander Chekov was reviewing his work.

Smirking at the Russian security chief, Uhura resisted the temptation to call Sickbay. She had visited Spock only once since he’d been beamed back aboard. McCoy had warned her that the Vulcan was waking up only intermittently, and then only for brief periods, but the doctor had permitted her to go in and sit quietly beside Spock’s bed.

She didn’t know if he was asleep or awake until he spoke her name. Startled, she answered, "Yes, Captain Spock. Did I wake you?"

"Negative, Commander. I heard you come in." Spock raised himself to a half-sitting position, slowly, bracing his healing ribs. He had heard the sound of someone in the room, and the scent of lightly fragrant perfumed oil had told him it was Uhura. He felt for a pillow, slid it carefully behind his shoulders, and relaxed back on the additional support.

"Can I get anything for you, Captain Spock?" Uhura asked.

"Nothing, Commander. Thank you."

Uhura found it disconcerting that Spock did not turn towards her as he spoke. The Vulcan had such a penetrating gaze...she pushed the thought from her mind that she might never experience it again.

"Are we still in the vicinity of the Edam system?" he asked

"Yes," she replied "The captain has contacted Starfleet Command. We’ve been ordered to stay here, and wait for the Excalibur and Yorktown. He’s called a briefing for tomorrow, for all department heads and Ambassador Carlysle."

Spock remained quiet, sinking deeper into his pillows, and Uhura thought perhaps he was drifting back to sleep.

"What about the attack drone data?" he asked suddenly.

"Mister Gnutson is compiling that now," she said. "Commander Chekov has been keeping an eye on the lieutenant, making sure that the level of his work is up to your standards."

Spock nodded, and she could see his brow creasing above the bandages on his eyes. "I should have transmitted data precisely at the moment the drone appeared Mister Gnutson will find in plotting his energy utilization curve that the readings—"

McCoy stormed into the room, grumbling at Spock for talking shop when he was supposed to be recuperating. Uhura took that as her cue to leave.

Now she offered a silent prayer for the first officer’s recovery, and resumed her analysis of the message drone recordings.

*****

McCoy prepared to take the bandages from Spock’s eyes. He tried to ready the Vulcan for the worst. "I’m not expecting any improvement yet, Captain Spock, but it’s time to see how those cuts are healing."

Spock was seated on one of Sickbay’s examination tables. McCoy had finished his examination of the first officer’s other injuries, and now looked to his eyes. "Doctor," said Spock, "kaiidth. What is, is. Please proceed."

Across the room, Kirk steeled himself, trying not to get his own hopes up. He knew McCoy had been running tests over the past few days, and that Spock was suffering a complete interruption of optic nerve impulses, possibly as a result of the intracranial pressure he had suffered from contact with the shock wave from the plasma explosion.

McCoy began unwinding the white gauze. The lights in Sickbay were dimmed. In the event Spock’s vision had returned, the shock of Sickbay’s normal brightness would be painful.

The last layer of gauze fell away, and McCoy stepped back. Spock blinked once, twice, then closed his eyes and kept them closed. Kirk watched, holding his breath. Spock slowly opened his eyes. He did not blink again, but instead, shook his head.

"Nothing, Doctor."

Kirk wanted to scream, to smash something...anything. Instead, he walked over to his friend. "Spock," he began, then stopped. He had no idea what to say. No, not again...

Spock heard the pain in the captain’s voice. "Jim," he said, "we do not yet know if it is permanent." He did not give Kirk the odds on that possibility, odds which he knew were decidedly not in his favor.

McCoy had turned the lights back up and was shining a high-intensity, narrow beam into each of Spock’s eyes. The pupils did not react at all.

"All right, Spock, back to bed," he announced. He started to help the Vulcan off the table, but the chief science officer was already pushing himself to his feet, holding the table top with one hand, his other arm wrapped around his aching ribs.

"I would prefer to return to my quarters, Doctor," he said, slowly standing up straight.

Kirk and McCoy exchanged glances. They both knew what it took out of Spock to be treated as an invalid, helpless. At least he knew his way around his cabin. Kirk nodded at McCoy.

"All right, Spock," the doctor said, running his hand-scanner over the area of the Vulcan’s ribs. "Just none of your Vulcan calisthenics or yoga yet. I want those ribs to have at least a fighting chance."

"Understood, Doctor," Spock said, then added, "thank you."

"C’mon, Spock," said Kirk. "I’ll take you."

*****

The captain left his first officer in his cabin. Spock knew Kirk was preparing for the briefing later that day. The Vulcan regretted not being able to help. Ignoring the constant throbbing of his ribs, he carefully made his way around his rooms, fixing a mental picture of each obstacle he encountered and its location in the space.

Doorway to workstation... six steps directly forward. Workstation to room divider... three steps, two more to his bunk.

Each room measured five meters by six meters. He cautiously negotiated the perimeter, feeling the height of the furniture, the corners and edges, getting a sense of the open spaces. Finally, secure in his ability to navigate at least this small area, he sat down at his workstation.

"Computer," he spoke.

"Working," came the prompt reply.

"Access all current intelligence on Romulan ship design." He waited, picturing the attack drone in his mind.

"Complete."

Spock ordered, "Give me...visual...description of vessels."

"Viewscreen currently presenting two and three dimensional images of recorded vessel types, with cross section cut views of primary and secondary hull—"

"Stop." He had anticipated it would be useless, but he’d had to try. The information he sought was there, but it was inaccessible to him. He needed to see the ship designs to search for similarities. The Enterprise computers were not programmed for use by someone in his condition. For the first time since he’d awakened to the darkness of the recovery room, Spock feared the possibility that he might never see again.

A tentative buzz at his door drew him out of this dark reverie. "Come," he said automatically.

Kathryn Carlysle stepped cautiously into the room. Over in one corner, she saw the dim glow of a computer screen; otherwise the room was completely dark.

"Spock?" she said, "Where are you?"

Spock realized he had not turned on any lights in his cabin. He got up and moved carefully to the wall panel, turned the lights up, then crossed in the direction of his guest.

"Doctor McCoy told me you had returned to your quarters," she began, watching him make his way towards her. "I thought perhaps you’d like some company."

Spock stopped beside a small table, felt for a chair, and sat stiffly.

"You do that quite well," Carlysle remarked, taking a seat across from him.

"I am... adjusting," Spock acknowledged.

They sat uncomfortably, silently. For a moment, Carlysle remembered enough about her friend to know what he would not want to talk about. In the few days she had spent near his bedside in Sickbay, he had been too weak to engage in much conversation, and in fact, had spent most of his time sleeping during her visits. He had known she was there, however. The few times he did awaken, he had spoken her name and asked her simple questions about where they were and what was happening before falling back into an exhausted sleep.

Today, with the bandages gone, Spock looked less vulnerable than he had lying in Sickbay. She was struck, however, by the uncertain expression in his damaged eyes.

"Has Doctor McCoy told you anything? Is there any improvement?" she asked him softly.

"There is no change. Apparently the doctor can detect no permanent damage to the optic nerves; they have simply ceased to function. As this is not a phenomenon I believe he has encountered previously, he is unable to offer a prognosis although he suspects the intracranial pressure I experienced to be a possible cause." Spock paused, and again Carlysle was at a loss as to how to fill the awkward silence. Suddenly, she noticed something in the corner of his tidy room.

"Your harp!" she exclaimed. "Is it the same one you had when we were kids?"

"It is."

"May I get it?" she asked. Spock nodded, and she retrieved the strange, delicate instrument. She came back to the table, cradling it, trying to remember how to position the curved, polished wood in her left arm. With her right hand, she lightly plucked the strings.

"You tried so hard to teach me how to play. I feel like I should be able to recall at least one song..." Her voice trailed off as her memories returned, and soon her random fingerings settled into the simple, lovely strains of an ancient British lullaby.

Spock, in his world of darkness, found his own memories stirring. He had, as a boy, tried to teach Kathryn some of the traditional Vulcan harp songs, but was surprised to learn the Human ear found Vulcan tonal qualities inaccessible. In other words, as young Kathryn had bluntly informed him, they sounded like alley cats yowling late at night. She had struggled through some basic scales and patterns, then had picked out, on her own, the song she was now playing. Spock listened with the same appreciation he’d felt the first time she’d played it for him on Vulcan. While he’d never heard the sound of a Terran alley cat, he knew it was not a complimentary description of the Vulcan songs he liked. Yet, the lullaby was also beautiful, and he had been secretly pleased that she had worked so hard to teach herself to play it, then play it for him.

Carlysle finished, letting the last note linger and fade before she got up and set the harp back in the corner. "Were we ever that young, Spock?"

The Vulcan knew she did not expect an answer to that question, but he wondered about the sadness in her voice, and drew himself back to the here and now in order to respond.

"We were just beginning to find ourselves, Kathryn. It seems we have both taken the directions we had hoped."

She nodded. "Starfleet is your world, isn’t it?" she mused, looking around his spartan chambers. Very little indicated his homeworld. A few artifacts gracing the angular walls were all that set this room apart from any other officer’s quarters. "Your shipmates, your captain...you have found your place among them."

Spock closed his eyes and put his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers in a manner Kathryn recognized from their youth. Apparently it was a habit he retained when in deep thought. "I have been content with my career choice, and my assignments. The opportunities offered by Starfleet have satisfied my requirements," he said.

Carlysle almost laughed. "Spock, you’ll never admit it, but this is exactly where you belong...out here, travelling the galaxy with your friends. That’s the biggest difference, you know...that you’ve actually allowed yourself to make friends.

Spock raised one eyebrow, considering what she was saying. "I had an early education in Human interaction. It proved to be a valuable experience." His words were measured, but his tone was gentle.

Spock’s door buzzer sounded, interrupting the moment. "Come."

Devon entered the room, saying, "Mother, Captain Kirk just called your cabin. He wanted to talk to you about the briefing this afternoon."

The ambassador rose reluctantly. "I still don’t know what I’m going to say," she told Spock. "I’m afraid he won’t understand what happened."

Spock had again steepled his hands, and now looked up in her direction. "I have found, with Captain Kirk, that his capacity for understanding what on the surface appears illogical, is what sets him apart. Trust him, Kathryn. Tell him the truth," Spock stood up, pushing himself out of his chair with some effort.

Carlysle sighed. "That’s just it, Spock. I’m not certain where the truth lies anymore. The Edami are my world, my life, every bit as much as Starfleet is yours and your captain’s. But our rules don’t always agree. When the Romulans came to Colony, my first reaction was not one of fear and suspicion. I had lived among the Edami for so long, I’d forgotten what it meant to hate. Official Federation policy regarding the Romulans rang hollow, even to me. Chas got involved when they started tampering with the carrier fleet, and suddenly the Federation is out, the Romulans are in, Starfleet is involved, and you..." She couldn’t help herself now, and her words trailed off as she tried to choke back her tears.

Spock moved very close to her. He brought one hand up, and slowly reached long fingers out towards her face. When he could feel the warmth of her breath on his palm, he gently touched her cheek, brushing the tears away. "Kathryn, go to Captain Kirk. He is waiting."

She composed herself, and turned to leave, then stopped, realizing Devon was still there. "Devon?" she said.

"Mother, may I stay here for a little while, if Captain Spock doesn’t mind?" Before she could protest, Spock answered.

"He may stay, Kathryn. You were right. I do appreciate the company."

She smiled quickly at the two of them, then left to meet the captain.

Spock felt his way along the table’s edge until he came to the computer terminal. He pulled his chair closer and lowered himself in front of the console. Devon watched him with curiosity, and started to cross the room to peer over his shoulder when his eyes fell on Spock’s elaborate three-tiered chess game.

"What a beautiful chess set! the boy exclaimed. "I play with mother quite often. She said you taught her how to play!"

Spock remembered that first night in the garden behind his parent’s house, and the quiet little visitor he had taught her first chess moves. "That is correct," he said.

"Would you like to play now?" Devon asked.

Spock winced inwardly. One of his secret delights had always been watching a chess game unfold, seeing the pieces assume their various offensive and defensive positions, watching his opponents, especially his Human opponents, in particular the captain...

"Devon, I cannot see," he stated simply.

"But that’s all right," the boy said. "I can show you the board." He hesitated. "Mother said I should always ask before sharing thoughts, especially with you. You can block me, but if you would like me to show you the game, I could."

Spock was curious. "Very well," he said. "Show me the game." He let his shields down, little by little, until suddenly his mind was filled with the image of his chess set. Every piece, every square, it was as though the images came from his own eyes. "Devon, look around my room. Show me what you see," he instructed.

Devon cast his eyes around the cabin. Vivid pictures filled Spock’s mind; his workstation, the collection of ancient Vulcan weapons on his wall, the small, flickering attunement flame...all clearly "visible".

"Are you able to read an image from my mind?" Spock asked.

Devon considered this. "I think so," he said. "Would you like to try?"

"Yes."

"Well, just picture something in your mind. I’ll try to get it."

Spock thought of the phantom drone.

"A cargo-carrier?" the boy asked. Why would the captain be thinking of that?

"Do you have a clear image of it?" Spock asked.

"Oh quite, but why..."

Spock made a decision. "Mister Carlysle, I need your assistance. Will you return here at thirteen hundred hours?"

"Of course, sir. But my assistance?" Then the boy suddenly knew. "We’re going to the briefing?!" he asked, delighted.

Spock snapped his shields back in place. This was going to be tricky. He had to remember just how skilled a telepath Devon was. "Yes," he said, "but you must tell no one. Please return here at thirteen hundred hours."

"Yes, sir!" Devon promised. He left, excited about being included in the briefing.

Spock folded his hands in front of him on the table. Perhaps he was not as disabled as he had thought.

-8-

At fourteen hundred hours, Kirk joined his assembled department heads in the briefing room. "For those of you who haven’t met her yet, this is Ambassador Kathryn Carlysle," he told the group.

The ambassador nodded at the officers seated around the table.

"I thought we’d begin with the ambassador’s report on the Edam crisis." Kirk paused, then continued, "It might interest you to know that Starfleet has officially upgraded it from a situation to a crisis. Madam Ambassador?" He yielded the floor.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, but just then the briefing room door opened. Devon walked in, followed by Spock. Devon looked around the table, his eyes coming to rest on an empty seat next to McCoy. Spock walked unerringly to that chair, pulled it out and sat down. Devon took a seat next to his mother.

"Spock, what in blazes do you think you’re doing?" McCoy demanded.

"I am attending the department heads’ briefing, Doctor," Spock answered, "per the captain’s orders."

"Now just a minute, Spock," Kirk said. "That order did not extend to medically excused personnel."

"Captain, Doctor McCoy released me from Sickbay this morning, and I believe you will find no acting-Chief Science Officer has been designated during my incapacitation."

McCoy was furious. "Why you conniving...you got me to release you just so you could—"

Spock cut him off. "Negative, Doctor. I had no intention of attending this briefing. I was quite certain I could be of no help in these proceedings. Mister Carlysle persuaded me otherwise."

Kirk was trying to sort out what Spock was saying. When he had seen his first officer enter the briefing room, walk directly to the empty chair and sit down, his heart had leapt. Spock’s vision must have returned! He soon realized, however, that that was not the case. Spock was focusing on no one in particular as he spoke. His eyes still held that same blank, unwavering stare. He was still blind.

"Devon," said the ambassador, "are you seeing for Captain Spock?"

"Yes, Mother," Devon admitted. "With his permission," the boy added quickly.

Spock ‘saw’ Kathryn gazing into her son’s eyes, into his eyes, with a mixture of concern and pride.

"I apologize for interrupting, Captain," the first officer said. "I had hoped to arrive before you started."

"And miss your chance for that dramatic entrance?" McCoy snorted. "Not likely!"

"All right, gentlemen," Kirk said. "Bones, if he’s fit for duty..."

"Absolutely not! I just need time to fill out the reports!"

"Which at the moment reflect only that I have been released from Sickbay," Spock pointed out.

"Which shall be amended to reflect over a dozen broken ribs, a punctured lung, bruised kidneys, one hundred percent vision loss..."

"Captain, I—" Spock began.

"Jim, you can’t—"

"Enough!" Kirk slammed his hand on the table. "Bones, Spock stays. We need his help. Spock, as soon as this briefing is over, you will report back to your quarters before McCoy slaps you in Sickbay under restraints." He turned to Carlysle. "If my senior officers can refrain from any further surprises, you may continue."

The ambassador recapped the same information she had given the captain, up to the point where her life on Colony had begun unravel.

"My Edami husband, Chas, was in charge of the carrier fleet," she said. "There are over two hundred ships, all automated, that carry supplies back and forth between Colony and Edami. As merchant trading with other Federation worlds grew, their goods were handled also. Chas designed the ships to perform in-flight transfers of cargo. It was a remarkable system, streamlining the exchange process to the point where the actual landing of ships was seldom required. Ship-to-ship loading could be accomplished en route, with no travel time lost. With the Edam system so vast, any time-saving efforts were implemented.

"About three months ago, Chas noticed that there had been some unauthorized changes made to certain automated programs. Nothing extraordinary, but unauthorized just the same. By this time, the Romulans were offering their services as carrier mechanics, and had, in fact, increased the fuel and energy-use efficiency of the fleet tremendously. Still, the tampering with the automated programs concerned Chas, and he began to monitor the ships more closely.

"Two weeks ago, the first carrier disappeared. Remember now, we’re talking about two hundred-plus ships...most of them deployed in and around the system at any given time, all automated. Until Chas had reason to track their activities, no one would have noticed if one carrier suddenly turned up missing, at least not for a long time. But Chas noticed.

"He reported the missing carrier to the first minister, and told him his suspicions about the computer tampering. He was met with rejection, and accused of being unduly influenced by me. It was hinted that the carrier fleet would be put under someone else’s control if his persecution of the Romulans continued. When a second carrier was lost, Chas had had enough. He began to recall the entire fleet. Trade throughout the system was disrupted as ships suddenly abandoned their pre-programmed flights and started back to Colony.

"The Romulans were furious. They demanded an explanation, arguing that their trade agreements with Edam were being compromised by Federation paranoia. The first minister agreed, and ordered Chas to return the carriers to their original programming, then called me in for what was to be our final conference."

The ambassador halted her recitation and looked around the room. "It was determined the Edami could no longer tolerate the dissension caused by what they considered to be unsubstantiated accusations. We were asked to leave, and suddenly a tiny little system in the backwater of the Federation has become a galactic pawn. They only wanted to learn what was going on in the rest of the universe...I’m afraid the lesson is about to begin." She sat down, drained, waiting for questions.

Kirk cleared his throat. "Ambassador, I know you feel as though Edam has been ignored up until now, but there are hundreds of worlds in the Federation, most of which I’ll never even get to see. Only a very few sit next door to the Neutral Zone, though, and Edam happens to be one of them."

"The Neutral Zone, Captain," she said, "is an arbitrary space between two places the Edami didn’t even know existed until fifteen years ago. And what if that line had been drawn a few light years away? Then the Edami would have been in the Romulan Empire, right? Your space, my space...they don’t understand that by joining the Federation, they took sides in a war that has yet to be fought."

The briefing room was silent, until Kirk said, "Preventing that war is why we’re here, Ambassador Carlysle. Mister Gnutson, your report, please, on the phantom attack drone."

Chekov leaned forward as Gnutson called up his data on the viewscreen. "We have determined through power-use readings that the ship was designed for offense-only deployment. Even without implementing the self-destruct order, it would not have returned to its point of origin. When it appeared in pursuit of the shuttlecraft Discovery, there were indications that the destruct sequence had already begun. All reserve power had been diverted to this order."

"And the ship was definitely a robot?" asked Kirk.

"Definitely," Gnutson assured him, "and programmed for this mission. Also, because Captain Spock set the data relay for automatic transmission, we were able to plot explosion magnitude and destruction spiral up to the moment the Discovery was destroyed." He glanced quickly at the first officer. All eyes in the briefing room were fixed on the viewscreen displays except for Spock who stared straight ahead.

"Fascinating. Destructive shock waves would have engulfed the Enterprise in less than three seconds if we had not initiated an escape course."

Three seconds. Kirk sometimes could not comprehend how so little time could make so much of a difference. Yet, looking at the data in front of him he also saw how the explosion caught the Discovery at precisely the moment Scotty had activated the transporter. A fraction of a second one way, and Spock would not have been blinded; a fraction of a second the other way, and he would be dead. Kirk looked across the table at his very much alive first officer, who was now addressing Gnutson.

"Commander Chekov," said Spock, "can you correlate any of the drone data with known Romulan vessel types?"

"Negative, sir. Our information does not correspond vwith intelligence reports on current vwessels in use."

Spock steepled his fingers. "Mister Carlysle," he said.

"Yes, sir."

"Please call up the ship design you entered into the computer earlier today."

Devon keyed the coded sequence Spock had given him to access the file. A simple drawing appeared on the screen.

"A cargo-carrier?" asked the ambassdor, confused.

"Our phantom," said Spock.

Kirk leaned forward, studying the drawing. "Spock, are you sure?"

"Quite, Captain. Devon drew the phantom drone, using the images he saw in my mind. He immediately recognized it as one of his father’s cargo-carriers."

"Spock," Kirk pressed, "we have to be certain. Mister Gnutson, have you checked our visual records?"

"Affirmative, Captain. The drone was only partially visible as it was directly behind the Discovery as it decloaked. Only thirteen percent of the vessel was visible and only for the briefest of seconds." He pulled up the image, and overlayed it above the image of the cargo carrier, adjusting both so that the images were aligned.

"Kyptin, they match!" Commander Chekov decided.

"Only partially, though," Kirk observed. "There’s so little of the ship visible that this would be discounted in a court of intergalactic law."

"Captain, since I am certain Devon has accurately drawn the attacker I saw. If this ship is also a cargo-carrier, we must assume the Romulans were not simply performing maintenance on the Edami fleet, but unauthorized modifications as well, just as Chas suspected."

"Like cloaking devices," said Chekov.

"And tractor beam modifications, no doubt a perversion of the in-flight cargo-transfer function. The tractor lock we picked up was not a beam, but a field, and by using the field as a medium for the explosion, the magnitude of destruction was directed and increased," Spock added.

"With enough explosive power to blow us out of the sky!" McCoy reminded them.

"But why, Spock?" Kirk asked.

The Vulcan frowned, considering the same question he had been asking himself since learning of the carriers’ role. "Perhaps a forced confrontation, Captain. Remember, we were not supposed to be able to report back with this information. Thanks to the telepathic abilities of Devon Carlysle, we were able to avoid what was surely meant to have been our destruction."

"Barely," snorted McCoy.

"But we did survive, Doctor. Had the plan succeeded, Starfleet would know only that the Enterprise had been destroyed during contact with the Edam system. Normal procedure then would have been to call for fully armed reconnaissance, and possibly retaliation."

Kirk saw the scenario clearly. "Starships would have converged from every sector of the galaxy, ready for battle..."

Spock nodded. "With the Romulans serving as protectors, if you will, of the Edam system, defending them from apparent Federation aggression."

"It’s happening anyway, Spock," Kirk said. "The Excalibur and Yorktown are on their way. They’ll be here in three days."

Spock stared blankly ahead. Finally, he spoke. "I suggest we return to Colony, Captain, before the other ships arrive."

Kirk had already thought of, and dismissed, that idea. The last thing he wanted to do was pull up with three battle-ready starships proclaiming peaceful intentions, but he had been warned to play it by the book. "We can’t, Spock. Admiral Cartwright has ordered us to wait for them."

"What precisely were the admiral’s orders, Captain?"

"Remain in the sector, and rendezvous with the Excalibur and Yorktown," Kirk quoted.

Spock nodded. "I submit, then, that since the Edam system is indeed in this sector, and a successful journey to Colony should take no longer than two point nine standard days, we can, in fact, follow orders."

Kirk looked at the rest of his officers. Spock had just given him the alternative he wanted. Technically, they would not be violating direct orders, and it might be their only chance to diffuse a potentially disastrous situation. He did not, however, want to compromise the integrity of the rest of his crew. He made a decision.

"Admiral Cartwright seems to have left himself open to interpretation. I’ll try not to be quite so vague. I believe we must contact the Edami without a show of Starfleet force. Do I hear any objections?"

"And what do you think taking the Enterprise in there is going to look like?" McCoy said.

"At least we’re only one ship, Bones. We’ll go in with the least aggressive front possible, and hope for the best."

McCoy was shaking his head. "I think that’s exactly the trap the Romulans are hoping to spring."

"I disagree, Doctor," Spock said. "The Romulans are not expecting anything—yet. Their plans did not include the Enterprise being able to return to Edam at all."

McCoy glared at the Vulcan. "I thought you were the one who said the Edami had the right to live their own lives. So...they’ve decided to live with the Romulans. Suddenly that gives us permission to interfere?"

"It’s gone beyond that," Kirk said, before Spock had a chance to continue the debate. "We can’t let the Romulans overrun this system, or we’ll lose the trust of a hundred worlds, not just the Edami. If the Edami carrier fleet is being turned into a Romulan military force, the safety of every Federation world is at stake." He looked around the table. "Do I hear any more comments?" With the silence that followed as his answer, he said, "Very well. Commander Uhura, send Starfleet Command all reports filed today, coded transmission. I know most of you have been working through three straight shifts, but time is still our enemy. We’ll head back to Colony, space-normal speed. That gives us about seven hours until we reach the frontier. Everyone is off-duty until then. Dismissed."

As the briefing room cleared out, Kirk noticed that the ambassador, her son and Spock remained seated. McCoy also lingered.

Ambassador Carlysle looked up at the captain. "The Edami can’t survive a war. It would destroy them, physically and emotionally," she said.

"We’re going to do everything in our power to avoid war, Kathryn. I’m just sorry there isn’t a way to get you and your son safely off the Enterprise before we go back."

Spock had folded his arms on the table top, and turned in the direction of Kirk’s voice. "Captain, Devon Carlysle could be invaluable on Colony," he said.

"No!" the ambassador shouted, jumping to her feet. "I took my son away from there to protect him. You can’t take him down there..."

"Take it easy, Kathryn," Kirk said. "Captain Spock is out of line. Devon will not go down to Colony." Devon was watching Kirk, therefore Spock "saw" the frown the captain was directing towards him.

The ambassador grabbed her son’s hand and ushered him out of the room. As the boy left, Spock found himself abruptly back in the dark. He stood, then suddenly leaned forward, steadying himself on the table top as a wave of vertigo hit him. He swayed, and felt a strong grasp on his arm.

"Spock!" McCoy cried, struggling to keep the Vulcan on his feet. "Jim, help me!"

The captain grabbed Spock’s other arm. The Vulcan slowly raised his head, feeling his balance return. "The telepathic contact I shared with the boy was quite...remarkable," he said, straightening up, "but it was somewhat draining." He tolerated the supporting hands until he felt secure enough to move carefully from their grasp.

"Draining is right, Jim," McCoy said, running his medical scanner. "He’s about to drop. C’mon, Spock." He placed the Vulcan’s hand on his elbow. "I knew I shouldn’t have released you so soon."

"Doctor, I assure you the weakness was momentary. I would rather return to my quarters."

McCoy shot Kirk a look, daring him to okay it this time. Still, the captain sided with Spock. "Take him to his cabin, Bones. Spock, don’t push yourself. I want you resting, and that’s an order not open to interpretation."

McCoy remained unconvinced. "Sure, and when he collapses, then I’ll be able to impose my orders, which should have been to keep him under until we’re finished out here!" The doctor was still fuming as the door closed behind them.

Kirk watched his two friends leave, then sat heavily back in his chair. Seven hours to the frontier. They would have to go in with shields down, and hope to establish orbit around Colony without incident. He had trouble believing the Romulans would actually be risking intergalactic war, or that Starfleet would have fallen for such a trick. Yet, he knew both had come very close to happening, and now it was up to him to convince the Edami.

*

McCoy walked Spock to his cabin, where the Vulcan left his side and strode to the wall panel to turn up the lights.

"While you’re at it, you could turn the heat down about ten degrees," the doctor observed. "It must be close to ninety in here."

"Eighty-two point five Fahrenheit, Doctor," Spock replied, but he felt for the thermostat control and lowered the setting, then crossed the room and sat at his workstation.

"Did Devon teach you how to do that, too?" McCoy asked, watching him traverse the space.

"I memorized the relative location of items in my quarters. I believe that is one of the first things one is taught to do when being retrained to live with a visual impairment."

McCoy was silent for a moment. He had always looked into Spock’s eyes for the emotion behind the mask, but now the Vulcan’s eyes were a mask as well. He sat down across from him. "Spock," he began, "I wish there was something I could do..."

"There is no need to say more, Doctor, but I...appreciate...your concern."

McCoy knew it was as close as Spock would come to expressing his own concerns. Still, the doctor was worried. For Spock to even be considering special training indicated the Vulcan’s state of mind. "I’d like to see you maneuver your way over to your bed and stretch out for a while, Captain Spock. Captain’s orders, remember?"

Spock wanted to access some additional information, based on what he had learned from the ambassador’s report, but he knew the doctor wouldn’t leave until satisfied he was resting. Although he’d never admit it, he was exhausted. "Very well," he acquiesced, and rose slowly, hoping to avoid the dizziness that had threatened him in the briefing room.

McCoy watched him enter his sleeping chamber and sit, then lie back, obviously in pain, draping one arm across his healing rib cage. "I could give you something to take the edge off those ribs," he offered.

"Negative, Doctor. I can manage the pain." Spock closed his eyes, adding, "You may readjust the thermostat on your way out, however."

Shaking his head, McCoy dialed up eighty-two degrees, and left.

-9-

Kirk tried to take advantage of the seven hour journey back to the frontier. He’d gone to his cabin, showered and laid down determined to rest, but not really expecting to sleep. However, he dozed off almost immediately, and fell into a fitful, ghost-filled nightmare.

He had taken the Enterprise to the planet Deneva in response to a priority-one emergency call. For Kirk, the mission was doubly urgent; his brother Sam and his family were stationed on Deneva...

Kirk and a landing party beamed down to the planet, only to find the inhabitants were already victims of strange, deadly alien life form. The creatures used pain to drive their unfortunate hosts insane, eventually killing their victims. Kirk located Sam, and dropped to his knees beside his stricken brother...

Sam looked up at his younger brother, his eyes glazed with pain. "Jimmy, Jimmy...where were you? We needed you, Jim," he gasped. "What took you so long? You’re too late, Jimmy, too late..."

Kirk held his brother, trying to give him some of his own strength, even as the dying man took his last ragged breath...

Kirk fought to wake up. "It’s just a dream!" he told himself angrily. The mission to Deneva had been years earlier. When the Enterprise arrived, Kirk had found Sam already dead, Sam’s wife Aurelan near death, and their son Peter infected, but still alive.

Sam’s nightmare words had never been spoken. Kirk knew they were the product of his own repressed guilt. He’d had the dream before, but not for a very long time. He also knew what brought it on now.

Spock had been blinded during the mission to Deneva. That time, however, the first officer’s eyesight had returned in a matter of hours. Vulcans have an inner eyelid which protects the eye from the intensity of the Vulcan sun. It had protected Spock’s eyes from the intense light he had been subjected to as part of an experiment to destroy the creatures on Deneva.

In the days since the shuttlecraft explosion, it had become obvious that no such miracle would restore Spock’s sight this time. Kirk lay in his darkened cabin, trying to imagine the blind world his first officer now occupied. How dark was dark?

Dark as a night sky... He’d heard the phrase, but it never made sense to him. To a boy named Jim Kirk, lying in an Iowa cornfield, gazing up at a star-encrusted canopy on countless summer nights, the sky was alive, brilliant...even the firmament shone grey-blue, not black at all...

Dark as outer space... But George Kirk had told his sons that outer space shined with the promise of a thousand worlds. When Sam and Jim were old enough, they followed their father out to that shining promise...

Dark as a black hole... That incredibly dense singularity, holding in its crushing gravity all that ventured too close. Even light could not escape its power. It would be dark there...completely, unquestionably without light, but there would be no casual observer to confirm this, for the same forces which rendered the singularity without light would rip the curious apart...

Kirk sat up and hit the light switch with more vehemence than he’d intended. He dressed quickly in a fresh uniform, still trying to shake the anguish of unreal events, preparing himself for the nightmarish reality they now faced. Checking his chronometer, he was surprised to find he’d slept for four hours. The frontier was now less than two hours away. He pulled on his boots and headed out of the cabin. He needed to talk to Spock.

*

Spock was stretched out on his bed. Unlike the captain, he had not slept, but had achieved a light, meditative state. Vulcans normally retreated into a healing trance when hurt or sick, but this was one area that had eluded him since he was injured. Reading through McCoy’s report, he noted that the physician thought it was a result of the intracranial pressure that Spock was still experiencing. McCoy was certain that within a few more days, Spock would again be able to control that particular psycho-physiological function.

The light meditation, however, gave him some measure of relief. He welcomed the escape from sensory awareness. Slowly, the sounds in his cabin and in the outer corridor ceased to exist. He touched nothing, smelled nothing, and of course, saw nothing. Yet, even as he reached deep within himself, shedding all physical stimuli, he felt his mind struggling to recapture that one sense he no longer possessed. His darkness was absolute, completely and unquestionably...

Spock slowly brought himself out of meditation. He got up and felt his way to the computer, activated it and returned to his bed. There was no point in sitting uncomfortably before a screen he could not see. He could hear the voice readout as well lying down. Despite the breakthrough he’d made in identifying the phantom attacker, Spock knew he could not count on having a telepath of Devon’s ability at his side at all times. He was blind, and he had to accept exactly what that meant. He realized there was only one option. Having made a logical decision, he ordered the computer to begin running the Edam reports.

*

Kirk paused at the Vulcan’s door. Spock’s near collapse in the briefing room concerned him. Maybe McCoy was right, and the Vulcan should be back in Sickbay. He would try to gauge his friend’s condition during this visit.

He pressed the buzzer and waited for Spock’s response. When there was no answer, he frowned, sounded it again, and this time heard Spock’s voice.

"Come."

As Kirk entered, he saw the first officer was not in the outer room. Spock really is resting! As he drew close to the sleeping chamber, however, he heard the recitative voice of the Enterprise computer.

"Colony population as of last census report includes..."

"Stop," Spock commanded as he heard the captain approaching.

Kirk looked through the doorway, expecting to see Spock seated at his auxiliary workstation. Instead, the Vulcan was lying flat on his back on his bed, eyes closed. If Kirk had not just heard his voice, he would have thought Spock was asleep.

"Captain Spock?"

"We are close to the frontier." It was not a question.

"Just over an hour away," Kirk acknowledged, pulling a chair closer to the bed and sitting down.

Spock continued to lay there, eyes closed. Kirk wanted to ask him how he was, how he felt, what he was thinking about, all the Human reassure-me-tell-me-it’s-going-to-be-okay kinds of things Spock refused to understand or acknowledge. Instead, Kirk sat in silence also.

"Jim," Spock began finally.

"Yes, Spock?"

"I...have a request."

Kirk leaned forward. Spock rarely beat around the bush like this. He waited.

Spock opened his eyes, and stared blankly at the ceiling. "I would like to submit my resignation. I have applied for a medical discharge."

Kirk was stunned. "Spock, you can’t be serious!"

"I am quite serious, Captain." He sat up and slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed until he was facing the captain’s general direction. "I need only obtain Doctor McCoy’s approval...and yours."

"I still don’t understand; a leave of absence, or medical leave...McCoy has already sent messages to the ophthalmological specialists. When we’re finished here, we’ll get you to the best facility, to the top surgeons..." Kirk was rushing his words, trying to convince Spock and himself. He couldn’t resign from Starfleet!

The Vulcan was shaking his head. "I am blind, Jim. I can no longer function as a Starfleet officer. I pointed out in the briefing room that you had not yet named an officer to replace me as First Officer and Chief Science Officer. You must do so. It is imperative that the smooth operation of the ship not be disrupted on my account."

Spock pushed himself up from the bed and walked stiffly to his workstation. He felt the space around the desk, found the computer terminal, and rested his hand on the viewscreen. "I am unable to properly utilize the equipment. Sensors, scanners, the computer...all information must be verbalized. It is a slow, and inefficient process, and while my capacity for memorization is greater than a Human’s, I cannot expect to maintain an acceptable margin of error relying solely on memory." He paused, and took a breath that sounded almost like a sigh. "It is not a logical compromise," he said.

Damn logic! Kirk thought angrily. He would sooner rely on Spock’s abilities, even in his present condition, rather than... But then he realized he wasn’t being fair to his other officers, or to Spock. "If you’re certain this is what you want?" he asked quietly.

"I am certain. In my present condition, I cannot remain in active service to the fleet."

Kirk rose and went to his first officer’s side. Somehow, he made himself say it. "I’ll take your request to McCoy. It will have my approval."

Spock heard the sadness in the captain’s voice, and turned towards it. "Jim," he said, "you and I discussed... fear... one time."

"I remember."

"At that time, you said fear is something that can drive one to action, or inaction, depending on one’s understanding of that which makes him afraid." The Vulcan hesitated, weighing his next words carefully. "I am afraid. At times, this darkness overwhelms me...but now, it is time for action."

***

"Well, that’s just about the most foolish notion I’ve ever heard!" McCoy stormed past Kirk and into his office, flinging himself into a chair. He immediately shot back up out of it. "We can stop him, Jim! I just won’t approve it, and without my recommendation as the chief medical officer—"

Kirk stopped him. "Bones, I told Spock I’d get you to respect his decision."

McCoy stared at him. "You can’t possibly agree with this!"

"I already have."

The doctor sat back down and this time stayed there, defeated. He shook his head, then looked up, meeting Kirk’s gaze. The captain saw the helpless look McCoy was trying to hide.

"Jim, I can’t do any more for him, not out here. But I know there must be someone, somewhere..." He broke off, clenching his fists in frustration.

"Bones," Kirk said gently, "he knows that. But ‘out here’ is where we are, and he’s... afraid." The last word was almost inaudible, but McCoy heard it.

The doctor slammed his fists on the table, frustration turning to anger. "And he damned well should be! We all should be!" he shouted. "We’re all flying blindly back into God-knows-what, not just Spock! Only he’s smart enough to realize it!"

It was Kirk’s turn for anger. "Fine, Doctor! When this is over, you can hand in your resignation, too! Right now, though, I’m afraid you’ll have to go along for the ride." He turned sharply, and headed out of the office, then stopped in the doorway at the sound of McCoy’s voice.

"Jim...I’m sorry. You know I didn’t mean..." His voice trailed off.

Kirk didn’t turn around. "Sign off on his request, Bones. I’ll be on the bridge." They were fifteen minutes from the frontier.

McCoy watched him leave, then called up Spock’s file on his computer. He read the official request and appended his own signature next to Kirk’s. He angrily keyed the sequence that would ready it for transmission to Starfleet during the next feed. He thought how wrong it all felt, heartsick for Spock, for Jim Kirk...and for himself.

-10-

Captain’s Log, Stardate 5327.9

The Enterprise is about to cross the Edam system frontier, the first starship of Federation registry to do so in more than fifteen years. Our destination is the planet Colony, where we have reason to believe the Romulans are carrying on subversive activities, using the Edami as unwitting accomplices. Our arrival will not be welcomed, but we are approaching with our shields down, our weapons off-line, and our sensors and scanners in passive mode only, hoping to avoid a direct confrontation.

Also noted, record as of this date, the field resignation and request for medical discharge of Captain Spock. It is with the utmost regret, both personal and professional, that I accept this resignation. Security Chief Pavel Chekov has assumed the duties of Chief Science Officer for the duration of this mission. Captain of Engineering Montgomery Scott will assume the executive officer position.

Kirk fidgeted in his command chair. The Enterprise had crossed the frontier without incident, and was now heading through technically forbidden space towards Colony. They were traveling with shields down, and all but passive short range scanners off. Flying blind...

"Report, Mister Chekov," Kirk said, turning towards the science station.

"Nothing, Captain," the commander replied. "No vwessels in our immediate area."

Kirk took note of the Russian’s use of the term immediate. "Anything from Colony, Commander?" he asked Uhura.

"Negative, Captain. I am transmitting on all hailing frequencies. No response."

"Mister Hennessy, estimated arrival in Colony orbit?"

"Two hours, maintaining present speed, sir."

Kirk rose and walked around his chair, then stood behind it, leaning forward to place his hands on the back of seat. He stared at the visual display on the forward screen. "Mister Gnutson," he said finally, "plot a geo-synchronous orbit to place us in the same general area as the coordinates given Captain Spock on his arrival at Colony?"

Gnutson called up the shuttlecraft log and fed the coordinates to the navigational computer. "Aye, sir. Geo-synchronous orbit entry in two hours three minutes."

"Two hours," Kirk mused, still staring at the screen. "Two hours..." He pushed himself away from the chair. "Thank you, Mister Gnutson. Mister Hennessy, maintain present speed. Commander Uhura, cease transmissions. Apparently Captain Spock is correct. The welcome mat is not on their porch yet. We’ll play it their way. Continue to monitor all incoming frequencies."

***

Spock heard the shipwide announcement of their passage into the Edam system. Assuming the Enterprise continued at space-normal speed, he knew they would reach Colony in just under two hours. He had to talk to the ambassador before they arrived.

He opened his cabin door and stood back, listening for movement in the corridor. All duty personnel would be at their posts, but that didn’t rule out off-duty personnel walking around the various decks. Hearing no sound of crewmembers moving about, Spock stepped out cautiously, moved to the side, and waited to hear his door hiss closed.

This would be his first attempt to travel the ship alone, without an arm or Devon Carlysle to assist him. He pressed one hand against the corridor wall, and was surprised to feel a very slight, but very distinct, cool draft. Listening again, Spock realized the soft hum he was hearing was the sound of the ship’s air circulation system. Sure enough, as he drew his hand away from the wall and moved it slowly towards the center of the corridor, the temperature rose slightly. He started down the hall in the direction of the turbolift, confident now that at least he wouldn’t be walking into walls, and appreciating for the first time his innate Vulcan sensitivity to temperature gradients.

Another small encouragement greeted him at the turbolift. It arrived empty, and at his voice command took him to C deck uninterrupted. Following the corridor walls once again, he counted cabins until he reached the ambassador’s.

She answered the door signal. "Spock!" she said, surprised, looking around to see who had brought him. "Are you alone?"

"Yes, Kathryn. I would like to speak with you. May I come in?"

"Of course, please...here." She placed his hand on her arm and walked with him to her sitting area. She moved his hand to the back of one chair, then left to sit down across from him. Spock felt his way around the chair, and lowered himself carefully.

Watching him, Carlysle was sorry for her outburst in the briefing room. This was Spock, after all, her childhood friend and ally, and he was obviously hurting. She wished there was some way she could help him now, when he needed it. Summoning a cheerier tone than she felt, she said, "You probably played a mean game of pin the tail on the donkey when you were a kid, Spock. That’s one we never tried, as I recall."

"Pin the tail on the donkey?" he asked, puzzled.

"It’s a game children play blindfolded," she explained. "You try to pin a paper tail on a picture of a donkey or a pony, and the person who comes the closest wins. I was always lucky to get it on the picture at all."

The Vulcan seemed to be staring straight at her, or through her, and again, she felt her compassion welling up. "Forgive me, Spock. I didn’t mean for that to sound so flippant."

"Kathryn, I am not offended. I accept being blind as a condition that exists. I shall adjust accordingly."

"Kaiidth." She smiled, remembering. "What is, is, right?"

"Precisely," he agreed, nodding. "Now, I need to discuss a matter with you which I began at the captain’s briefing."

The ambassador stiffened, and her voice hardened. "All right, Commander," she said coolly. "I’m listening."

Spock shook his head. "First, I am no longer a member of Starfleet."

Carlysle was shocked. "But why? How?"

"I have submitted a field resignation of my commission, and applied for a medical discharge. What I am about to propose, I do so as a civilian passenger on this ship, just as you are."

Kathryn Carlysle was still trying to understand him. For the first time, she noticed he was not wearing his uniform, but instead was dressed in a tunic and slacks of civilian cut and color.

Spock continued, "We must establish contact with the Edami to persuade them of the Romulan duplicity."

"I believe that is what your captain has in mind, isn’t it?" she asked.

"Correct. However, you know the Edami better than anyone else aboard this ship. What odds would you give to a Starfleet request for a meeting?"

Kathryn thought about that for a moment. "Not very good," she conceded.

"And if the Romulans were then to say that it was Starfleet who was engaging in duplicitous behavior, based on our unauthorized travel across the frontier, a fully armed Federation starship in orbit around Colony..."

"So what are you saying?" she interrupted. "Should we just turn around and leave Edam to the Romulans?"

"Negative. Even if I was in a position to make such a recommendation, Captain Kirk could not be persuaded to take that course of action. Even now, against the odds I have just described to you, which he knows as well, he is proceeding in the only manner he perceives as correct, morally and ethically. I agree with him, even though I am no longer a member of his crew."

"Then why bring up all the ways it can or will go wrong?" she demanded.

"I agree with the captain’s decision to expose the Romulan threat," Spock said. "I do not agree with his method."

"Did you tell him that before or after you resigned?" Kathryn asked sarcastically.

Spock wished he could see her. He had never thought about how much he relied upon looking at a Human’s face as they spoke to judge their various moods and meanings. Vulcans always said exactly what they meant. Humans, he had learned, could be saying one thing while their expression, a smile or a frown, gave it a totally different slant. He needed to know if his old friend’s apparent anger was as deep as it sounded.

"Kathryn, the captain and I have disagreed before. It is... was...part of my duty as his executive officer to offer analysis, and at times alternatives, to the proposed actions of this ship and crew. To answer your question, I did not in this case inform the captain of my reservations. At the time, the only alternative I had to offer had no logical way of being executed."

Carlysle was curious. Maybe there is a way, a chance! She leaned forward. "Then there is an alternative?" she asked.

Spock hesitated. "There are always alternatives." He didn’t want to get her hopes up, yet he needed her cooperation. "I am now in a position to offer one, with perhaps a greater possibility of success," he said. "Once we are in orbit around Colony, the Edami can be contacted in person by a representative of the Federation, not a Starfleet landing party. Since it is Starfleet, not the Federation, which has traditionally been prohibited from contact with Edam, we can successfully avoid breaching at least that part of historical protocol, and hope to make our case in time to avoid the scenario I have described."

This time, she understood clearly what he was saying. I am no longer a member of Starfleet. "Spock, you intend to be the Federation representative, don’t you?" It might work...possibly, it would at least buy us and the Edami some precious time. "No wonder you didn’t let the captain know. He’d never have let you resign." She almost laughed with relief and admiration, remembering a much younger Spock with similar determination. Then she looked at the tall figure seated across from her and reality came crashing home. His dark, blank eyes seemed to reflect her own bleak mood. "You can’t do it, can you?" she asked softly.

He shook his head, knowing she had just realized his limitations. "I cannot do it alone, Kathryn. My resignation, for all its seeming advantages in this matter, is quite real. I can no longer function as a Starfleet officer. One way or another, once our mission here is completed, I shall not again be part of a starship crew. There are no provisions for a blind man on a starship." He said it as though that reality was just now hitting him. He stood, feeling his way slowly around the table, avoiding her gaze which he could not see, but knew was fixed upon him. "I cannot undertake this alone," he repeated, "but with Devon’s help, it could be done."

Carlysle knew he had been leading up to something like this since he’d brought the subject up in the briefing room. She was surprised her anger did not return. "Spock, you don’t know what you’re asking of me."

"No," he admitted, "I do not. But I believe Devon can manage this. I also believe that given the choice, he would agree, and I know I need his help. I am asking you to let the choice be his to make."

Every part of her wanted to scream no, and throw Spock out of her cabin, out of her life, out of her son’s life. Instead, she went to the inner door separating her cabin from her son’s, knocked softly and went in.

Spock heard the door close behind her. It had been difficult to ask for her son’s help, for anyone’s help. He wondered how long he should wait in her cabin. Perhaps she had already made up her mind, and was not even considering the possibility, in which case he had to talk to the captain, lay out his plan and prepare himself for the tirade he was certain to hear. They were less than an hour from Colony. The captain was on the bridge. Should he try to go there?

He suddenly felt the darkness closing in on him again. He had lost his bearings in the unfamiliar cabin. He took a step, stretching out one hand, feeling for a draft or a wall, and stumbled over one of the chairs he and the ambassador had used at the table. He slammed hard into the table’s edge as dizziness dragged him down, pain lancing through him as half-healed ribs split apart with the impact.

Carlysle, hearing the commotion, came rushing back into the room. Spock faintly heard her calling his name, but the roaring in his ears swept that away, too, and he lapsed into unconsciousness.

-11-

The Vulcan awoke to the sound of raised voices. The beep of a life support monitor told him he was in Sickbay, and he slowly sorted out the voices just outside the door.

"Why the hell do you think I wanted him here in the first place? Wandering all over the ship like he’s taking a stroll in the country...he could’ve fallen down an airshaft instead of tripping over a chair, y’know!"

McCoy. Unmistakable. Angry. Illogical.

"All right, Bones. We’ve got bigger problems. Did Kathryn tell you why he’d gone to her cabin?"

The captain. Had she told him?

"Nah...I was too busy trying to see if he had any ribs left to piece back together. He’s damned lucky he didn’t crack his head on the edge of that table, or he’d be nursing a concussion now too, on top of everything else."

"If he didn’t hit his head, how did he get knocked out?" Kirk asked.

Spock heard them entering the room. He kept his eyes closed, hoping to discover just how much Carlysle had told the captain before they realized he was awake.

"That’s a good question," he heard McCoy saying. "I’d guess he was out before he ever hit the floor. Kathryn said she wasn’t out of the room for more than a minute, and came running back when she heard him fall. Remember that dizzy spell he had in the briefing room? I think he must’ve had another, only this time you and I weren’t there to catch him."

"You may just have made a decision I’m struggling with a whole lot easier, Bones," the captain said.

So Kirk knew. This was definitely going to be difficult. Spock steeled himself for the pain he knew would explode in the next moment, then opened his eyes to the darkness and pushed himself up into a sitting position. His ribs felt like fire, despite the new bandages.

McCoy was immediately on him, putting a hand on his shoulder as if to push him back down. "You just lie there, Captain Spock," the doctor said.

"Doctor McCoy...and I believe I also heard the captain?" Spock said, hoping his voice didn’t sound as strained to them as it did to him.

"Right here, Spock," Kirk said. "How do you feel?"

"I admit to some... discomfort, Captain, due to my own clumsiness."

"Discomfort my backside!" McCoy growled. "You’ve turned your ribs to splinters. You’ll be lucky if anything knits back together. Now lie back down."

Spock ignored the order. "Doctor, I regret my actions destroyed your handiwork," he said, carefully swinging his legs off the side of the bed and standing up, not missing a beat. "However, I trust your efforts this time will be equally successful. I shall endeavor to avoid a similar accident."

McCoy was furious. "All right, I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I know the kind of pain you’ve got to be in. That slightly elevated intracranial pressure would have a Human howling in pain."

"You also know I can control the pain, Doctor," Spock reminded him. In fact, the Vulcan was making a monumental effort to keep his knees from buckling. He felt as though he was being sawed in half. The prospect of actually walking out of Sickbay was next, and he was not looking forward to making that look easy. "Captain, are we in orbit around Colony yet?" he asked, keeping his voice level.

"We’re about to enter orbit, Spock," Kirk said, "and I’ve got to get back to the bridge. As soon as we’ve established our primary course, I want to talk to you." Then, realizing he was no longer Spock’s commanding officer, he added, "That is, if you’re available."

Spock felt a fleeting sense of hurt at the remark, but did not acknowledge it. He heard another voice at the door, answering the captain.

"We’ll both meet you in my cabin," said Ambassador Carlysle.

McCoy threw up his hands. "That’s it. Out of here, all of you. If Jim can’t give you an order, Spock, then I certainly can’t make you stay in Sickbay!" He stormed into his office.

Kirk turned and left for the bridge, saying over his shoulder to Carlysle that he’d contact her when he was on his way to her cabin.

That left Spock and the ambassador alone. She gave the Vulcan her elbow, and together they left Sickbay. When they reached the turbolift, however, Spock ordered the officer’s deck.

"But Spock, I thought..." she began.

"I am returning to my own cabin, Kathryn," Spock said. "You have told the captain about our discussion?"

"I had to, Spock. This is his ship. He has a right to know."

"I do not disagree. I had hoped to speak with him after I knew whether or not Devon would be included."

"I know. I was going to tell you, before you fell, that Devon has my permission to make the choice."

"Then I shall want to speak with him also. I must talk to the captain first, however, alone. I shall call you when I need you."

The turbolift opened on E deck, and Spock stepped out. Carlysle started to follow, but he stopped her. "I am quite all right, Kathryn. I can find my cabin."

She watched him walk slowly down the corridor, staying close to the wall. She had felt him grip her arm tightly, almost spasmodically, with each step they took out of Sickbay, and she noticed the fine sheen of sweat on his brow. She wondered how he would ever accomplish his objective in his current condition.

*

Once inside his cabin, it was sheer strength of will that carried Spock to his bed. He sat down, knowing that to lie down very likely meant he would not get up again under his own power. He needed to let the captain know why he’d done what he had, before contact was made with Colony. The bridge crew was undoubtedly engaged in establishing the ship’s orbit, but Spock reached for his comm terminal all the same and placed a call to Uhura. She answered promptly.

"Bridge."

"Commander, this is Spock."

"Captain Spock!" she said, surprised and pleased. "The captain is—"

"No, Uhura," Spock interrupted her. "I would like you to relay a message to him, at your first opportunity, for his eyes only. I shall send it to your screen. Please call him over to read it as soon as orbit around Colony has been established, before any transmissions are sent to the planet’s surface."

Uhura was thoroughly confused. Why wasn’t Captain Spock just paging the captain with this message himself? She’d heard the medic call to the ambassador’s cabin, reporting Captain Spock’s fall and requesting a stretcher; the captain had left the bridge immediately for Sickbay. When he returned a few minutes ago, he’d said nothing. Captain Spock was calling from his own cabin, so she assumed his accident had not been as injurious as it first appeared.

"The message should be on your screen now, Commander," she heard him saying.

"Yes, sir. But I could just put you through to him..."

"I would prefer the captain receive this without an audience. You are the exception, however. I do not wish to presume upon you."

Uhura had already read what Spock had sent, and she understood why he was doing it this way. When she answered him, her voice was filled with that understanding. "I’ll get him over here as soon as we’ve established orbit, Captain Spock."

"Thank you. Spock out."

Uhura thought he sounded very tired, and reading the message again she realized she missed him on the bridge very much:

Jim, it is imperative that we discuss the next phase of contact with Colony as soon as the ship is in orbit around the planet. I ask you to come to my cabin before attempting contact with the Edami, in order to hear what I believe to be a viable alternative. I realize I cannot make this request officially. I ask as a friend.

Spock

Uhura wondered what was wrong between them, and got the captain over to read it five minutes later.

*

Spock cleared the message from his own screen with a voice command, and sat back to wait for Kirk. He knew Uhura would get the message to the captain, but whether or not Kirk would follow Spock’s request remained to be seen. If he did, that was only one small victory; the real battle would come in trying to convince Kirk that Spock had to be the one to go to Colony. Spock... and Devon Carlysle.

The Vulcan stood up slowly and began testing his mobility. Pushing the pain back to a manageable level was difficult. His control had been severely tested over the last few days, and now he found it hard to summon the mental disciplines necessary to combat the physical reality.

He walked through his quarters, standing straight despite the desire to fold and protect his midsection. A successful circuit of both rooms left him shaking and sweating, but he did not sit down. Instead, he stood in the middle of one room and carefully lifted both arms up over his head, feeling the strain of bruised muscles and cracked bones beneath McCoy’s wraps.

When he could tolerate the stress no longer, he brought his arms down, equally slowly, and let them hang limp at his sides. His exhaustion became too compelling to ignore, and he found his way to his workstation and sat, this time giving in to the urge to lean forward. Just for a minute, he thought, folding his arms on the table in front of him. He put his head down and began the mental litany of Vulcan control that would have to carry him through this. Spock knew the captain would be arriving shortly, and he had to be prepared. For that, there simply existed no alternatives; he willed himself to stay awake.

*****

Kirk pressed the buzzer outside Spock’s cabin again. Still, there was no response.

McCoy, next to him, frowned. "Are you sure he said to meet him here?" the doctor asked. "I thought he was going to Kathryn’s cabin."

"I checked with her before calling you here," the captain said, trying the buzzer one more time. "She said she left him in his cabin...that he wanted to talk to me alone."

"Then why did you bring me along?" McCoy asked.

"Somehow I think that decision I told you about is going to need your...input," he answered, pushing the release panel next to Spock’s door. The door slid open, and Kirk and McCoy walked in.

They saw the Vulcan seated at his workstation, head bowed over his folded arms. McCoy was already running his hand scanner as Kirk gently shook Spock’s shoulder.

"Captain Spock," the captain said quietly.

Spock lifted his head, his mind racing to orient itself to what was happening. He had fallen asleep; just one more indication of his deteriorating condition. "Captain," he said, forcing his mind to clear, "I apologize for not acknowledging your arrival. And to you, Doctor McCoy," he said, nodding towards the sound of the medical scanner.

"We’re the ones who should be apologizing, Captain Spock," the doctor retorted, frowning at the readings he was getting. "You should be sleeping for the next week. Right now, your system is so run down, I’m surprised we woke you at all."

"Gentlemen," Spock said wearily, "I do not believe any of us has time to discuss my physical condition. I have an idea, which the captain has already been made aware of, that may prevent what is about to happen to the Edam system and its people. That should be our primary concern."

"Our concern, Spock?" asked McCoy. "I thought I signed your discharge this morning."

Kirk sat down across from Spock. "Sit down, Bones," he said. "All right, Captain Spock, I want to hear this plan, from you, from the beginning."

Spock described the scenario he had given the ambassador, his reasons and justifications, including Devon Carlysle’s proposed role. Kirk and McCoy exchanged glances a couple of times, but they let him finish uninterrupted. When he stopped, McCoy turned angrily to the captain.

"Damn it, Jim, you got me to sign those discharge reports just so he could pull this stunt. I knew something about that stunk."

Kirk was about to reply, but Spock did it first. "Doctor, I deceived neither of you in the matter of my resignation. That decision had been made before I began to consider this option."

"Well, at this point, I’d be willing to sign you out of the fleet on an insanity discharge, you green-blooded son of a Vulcan! C’mon, Jim, you can’t really be considering this! Look at him! C’mon, Spock, stand up. He can barely sit up!"

"That’s enough, Bones." Kirk knew the doctor’s anger covered his real concern for the Vulcan, both as a physician and a friend, concerns the captain shared, as he looked at Spock’s drawn features...especially his eyes, with that steady, unseeing stare.

"Spock," Kirk said, "I appreciate the...logic...of your idea. But why couldn’t I go to Colony? They wouldn’t have to know I was a member of Starfleet."

Spock shook his head, and almost smiled. "They would know, Captain. You forget the Edami ability to read thoughts. The Romulans can successfully shield their true intentions, much as I was able to block Devon Carlysle’s first mind probe, but despite how you might present yourself to the Edami, they would know who you are; you always will be James T. Kirk, Captain of the Enterprise."

Kirk was not to be swayed. "So...you could give me a mind block, a shield; you’ve done it before. Remember the Melkotians..."

Again, Spock was shaking his head no. "I am a touch telepath, Captain. I would have to be in close proximity to you, on the planet’s surface. There is an additional problem." He pushed himself up out of his chair, not even trying to disguise the grimace that briefly twisted his features, and actually clutching his side as he slowly straightened. "Doctor McCoy is correct. My physical condition has deteriorated. I find it difficult to maintain even minimal control of the pain. I could not even begin to summon the mental disciplines necessary to shield another’s mind. I had indeed considered the possibility; I would have welcomed the assistance, but it is too great a risk to take."

Spock felt the top of his desk and found the communications switch. "Commander Uhura, please page Ambassador Carlysle and her son to my cabin."

"Yes, Captain Spock," came Uhura’s reply.

He turned back towards Kirk and McCoy. "We cannot approach the Edami from the position that Starfleet is their ally, Captain. It is not. A civilization so completely opposed to violence does not understand, or accept, the possibility of an entity such as Starfleet existing for reasons other than aggression. Our only chance, short of fighting a war with the Romulans directly in front of the Edami, is to prove conclusively the deceit which has been fostered upon them. A war would be devastating to this system, and play right into the hands of the Romulans."

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," Kirk mused. "If only we could make it that simple."

"It’s never been that simple, Jim," said McCoy. "Not since the first ancient civilization who said it tried to convince the second about the third."

Spock sat back down in front of the two men. "Captain, you can forbid this. It may not work, but I am asking for the opportunity to try."

Kirk was finding Spock’s logic inescapable, as usual. Still, he hesitated. He looked towards McCoy. "Bones?"

McCoy, too, saw the logic in Spock’s plan. He also saw there was precious little strength left in the Vulcan. Despite his earlier pronouncement in Sickbay, it was a fact that any passenger aboard the ship came under ship’s authority, including orders of the chief medical officer. He could stop Spock from going to Colony."I think we have to let him try," he said finally.

Even Spock appeared surprised.

"Can he handle it, physically?" Kirk asked.

"Probably not. That’s why I’ll be going, too."

Now both Kirk and Spock were stunned.

"Doctor," said Spock, "I have just explained why the captain cannot go. Did you not understand?"

"I understood perfectly, Captain Spock. In fact, not long ago I gave the captain a similar assessment of himself, and explained how it would do him a world of good to try being something other than Captain Kirk once in a while. It didn’t do a bit of good, but didn’t expect it to."

"Then I fail to understand your determination to accompany me," Spock continued.

"Because, Captain Spock, I am a doctor."

"Who happens to be the chief medical officer aboard a Starfleet ship."

"I am a doctor, Spock," McCoy insisted. "That’s how I think of myself, describe myself, know myself. If push comes to shove, and the Edami touch my thoughts, that’s all they’ll find." McCoy folded his arms stubbornly.

Kirk could almost believe it. Of all his crew, McCoy was the least likely candidate for military self-identification. Still... "Bones," Kirk began.

McCoy waved him off. "Jim, it’s because the Federation came knocking at the door that these people find themselves in the fix they’re in. If Spock is right, a Starfleet landing party beamin’ in uninvited could be just the wedge the Romulans are lookin’ for. I think we have to try his way, and his way means I go, too."

Spock was leaning forward again, elbows on the table, resting his forehead on his clasped hands. He closed his eyes as he spoke. "Doctor, despite your convictions about who and what you are, we cannot risk the Edami interpreting your presence as dishonesty, should your complete history become known."

McCoy regarded the weary figure before him. Running his hand scanner again, he said, "Spock, you’re gonna need help. Devon can be your eyes, but how is he gonna keep you on your feet long enough to get to the first minister? Is he strong enough to catch you if you get light-headed again? C’mon, Spock, be...logical. I think together we can do this."

The doctor’s tone was as gentle as Kirk had ever heard it. Spock raised his head and opened his eyes, seeming to stare straight into the doctor’s own. A long moment passed, then Spock said, "Very well, Doctor McCoy. When Devon arrives, I will ask him to ‘read’ you, with your permission. If, as you say, he discerns no Starfleet identity, then with the captain’s permission..." He broke off realizing Kirk had yet to approve the plan at all.

"What do you say, Jim?" McCoy asked.

Kirk studied his two friends. "I say you have eight hours. The Enterprise will break orbit at that time to make our rendezvous with the Excalibur and the Yorktown, and you two will be on board. Understood?"

"Understood," they replied in unison.

-12-

An hour later, Spock lay on one of Sickbay’s examination tables, reviewing the steps he planned to take once they beamed down to Colony. McCoy would be going along; Devon Carlysle had confirmed the doctor’s assertion that the Edami would perceive no more than a physician should they choose to ‘read’ McCoy. Both Spock and the doctor had been outfitted in native clothing; heavy trousers, thick, front-closing shirts resembling old Terran-style workshirts, and ankle-high insulated boots. There was no need to disguise alien features; Edami and Human were almost indistinguishable, and they already knew Romulans were present on Colony. Spock would go unnoticed as well, given the similarity between Vulcans and Romulans.

McCoy came out of his office, shouldering into the extra sweater he had requested upon hearing the weather conditions of their destination. Spock had pointed out that they were beaming into a more hospitable zone than he had encountered during his landing on the planet, but the night temperature was enough to make McCoy ask for the additional warmth.

He approached the Vulcan, checking a hypo as he said, "Ordinarily, the last thing I’d give you is a local. All the pain those ribs are giving you just keeps you from injuring yourself further by doing too much." Satisfied with the dose, he opened Spock’s shirt and felt gently down the bandage wrapping the rib cage, wincing inwardly as his hand moved over the shattered bones.

Spock lay perfectly still, trying to block both the doctor’s touch and the pain from his mind. McCoy found the spot he was looking for, and released the anesthetic. Spock heard the hiss of the hypo and felt the cold drug creeping into his torso. He sat up, an involuntary groan escaping his lips, and started fastening his shirt.

"I should have my head examined," McCoy said, watching him.

Spock ignored the comment and got off the table, gingerly tucking his shirt into his pants. McCoy gave him his arm, and the two left Sickbay, heading for the transporter room.

Kirk, Carlysle and Devon were already there. Devon had described the area where the cargo-carriers were housed on the planet’s surface. A risky, but brief scan had shown a likely beam-down point in a group of nearby warehouses. Spock wanted to confirm the activity surrounding the ships, then they would attempt to contact the first minister.

The ambassador hugged her son tightly. Kirk shook McCoy’s hand. Devon turned to say goodbye to the captain, and his mother went to Spock. The Vulcan stood stiffly beside the transporter console, waiting to be led to the platform. Carlysle felt a lump rising in her throat as she watched him staring blankly ahead, amidst all the handshaking and hugging taking place in the room around him.

"Spock," she said, reaching for his hand and taking it into her own. "Good luck. I’m praying for all of you, for success in what you are trying to do."

Spock said nothing, but he allowed his hand to remain in hers for a moment. Then McCoy approached them, and she let the Vulcan’s hand go and turned to the doctor.

"Take care of them, Doctor McCoy," she said.

Kirk came up beside Spock, saying, "All set, Captain Spock?"

"Ready, Captain Kirk," Spock answered, grasping Kirk’s arm and walking with him carefully up onto the transporter platform.

"Eight hours, Spock," the captain said, positioning him on one of the platform pads.

"Eight hours." Spock waited while McCoy and Devon took their places on either side of him. He felt Kirk give his arm a quick squeeze before releasing it.

"Good luck, gentlemen. Energize, Mister Scott," the captain ordered. Three figures disappeared in the sparkle of the beam.

*

They materialized in an alley running between two huge warehouses. Spock felt a cool, damp breeze on his face. The air seemed heavy, and smelled of recent rain.

"Looks like we just missed a storm," McCoy observed. Although it was night, various overhead building lights cast a dim illumination on their surroundings, reflections dancing in the puddled street.

Devon looked around excitedly. "This is perfect!" he exclaimed. "I know exactly where we are. Come on!" He started away from them.

"Hold on there, young man," said McCoy, catching him. "I believe you have a job down here."

Devon was immediately ashamed. "Command...uh, Captain Spock, please, forgive me. I was just so excited about seeing..." The boy stopped, fumbling for words.

"You have my permission to ‘see’ for me, Mister Carlysle," Spock said evenly. He lowered his shields, and his mind was filled with the vision of Colony. He saw the alley was a short one, opening up beyond the warehouses to what appeared to be a vast landing field. In the distance, there were more warehouses, only much larger.

"Are those buildings beyond the landing field the hangars?" Spock asked.

"Yes," Devon replied.

"Is that where we’re going?"

"Yes."

They started down the alley towards the field. When they reached the edge of the buildings, Spock instructed Devon to look both ways. He wanted to avoid crossing such a vast, open area.

"That road...the one that goes to our left. What will we pass if we use that to circle around to the hangars?"

"Well," said Devon, "there are some private warehouses; most of them are empty. There’s the receiving complex, and that takes up the whole far side of the landing field. Then comes the hangars."

McCoy was looking at the possibilities, too. "Seems like the best route, Spock," he said.

Spock nodded. "Very well. Lead the way."

They turned out of the alley and started down the road. No one was in sight at that late hour, but the lights were on in the receiving complex Devon had described. As they approached, they could see people inside, mostly gathered in what appeared to be a lounge area on one side of the building’s long first floor.

Spock stopped abruptly as they passed the windows. "Doctor McCoy," he said, "in the area we are now passing. Do you see them?"

McCoy looked past him through the heavy glass. "Romulans," he said. When Devon turned to look also, Spock picked them out again.

"They’re wearing mechanic’s clothing," said Devon. "They must have come over from the hangars." Devon’s gaze shifted, and Spock lost sight of them again.

"They know the Enterprise is in orbit. They’re confident their superiors are planning to do something about it...and soon," the boy revealed. "It’s prevalent in their thoughts."

"We must move on," the Vulcan said. They continued past the complex and to the hangars. As they came to the first massive structure, Spock instructed Devon to take them to a side entrance of the huge building. He opened the door cautiously, listening for movement inside. Judging it to be clear of personnel, he waved the others in. The cargo-carrier housed there took up most of the enormous space. Spock confirmed that the phantom attack drone had been a vessel like this one, before Romulan modifications had turned it into the deadly weapon that destroyed the Discovery.

"I need to get inside this craft," Spock announced.

McCoy looked for an obvious entrance to the massive ship, but found none. "How does anyone get inside?" he asked.

"They’re not piloted ships, Doctor," Devon answered. "Father designed them for the automatic program that flies them. They’re just filled with cargo, supplies going from Colony to Edami and Edami to Colony, and transfers with off-world ships. When they land, everything is loaded by elevator, up under here."

They were indeed under the huge carrier. The bottom of the vessel was at least ten meters above their heads, and two large bay doors, closed, were evident.

"I believe we passed a ladder access on one of the port landing fins," Spock said.

"Sure!" said Devon. "Father let me climb it once. I begged him until he finally gave in...it was scary, but exciting at the same time. I’ll show you." He started around the side of the ship.

"Where does it lead?" Spock asked as they approached the fin.

Devon pointed to the top of the ladder, at least thirty meters up. "That hatch at the top opens into the computer room. You can also get there through the cargo bay, up through the engine room, if you ride the elevator. There are steps from the engine room to the computer room."

Spock saw the distance in his mind. He also saw they had no choice. "I shall go first," he said. "Please keep your eyes on the ladder and follow behind me, Mister Carlysle." He started the long climb.

McCoy, watching him, cursed quietly under his breath. "Damned fool," he muttered, knowing the pain block he had given the Vulcan couldn’t protect him from that kind of exertion. Hell, McCoy thought, I’m not sure I can make it. But he started up after Devon.

Spock reached the top after what seemed like an eternity. He pushed open the hatch, and stepped through the doorway into the computer room. He stood there, trying to slow his breathing as he waited for Devon and McCoy. Each breath he took sent a dull wave of pain coursing through his chest. He realized he was soaked with sweat.

As Devon entered through the hatch, Spock got his first ‘look’ at the computer room. It was horseshoe-shaped, with viewscreens spaced at even intervals above a ring of keyboards and consoles. Spock wiped his brow and started towards a command console. Behind him, he heard McCoy pulling himself through the hatch. The doctor made a beeline for Spock.

The Vulcan lowered himself carefully into one of the chairs. "Mister Carlysle, I need you to focus your attention on this board," he said. "I believe I can access the main computer from here."

Devon obeyed, and Spock studied the console.

McCoy studied Spock, and didn’t like what he saw. "Are you having trouble breathing, Captain Spock?" he asked, noticing the labored sounds.

"The climb left me winded, Doctor. I am recovering."

McCoy looked doubtful, but said no more.

Spock flipped a series of switches and keyed a start command. The computers winked on. "I should not have been able to do that," he said.

"What do you mean?" asked McCoy. "It worked!"

"The command codes I used were Romulan, Doctor. Mister Carlysle said his father programmed these computers."

"He did." Devon insisted.

"I do not doubt your word," Spock reassured the boy. "I am simply pointing out that the original programming has been altered. Our first proof, gentlemen." He stood, and instructed Devon to focus on various other displays in the room. "That one," he said as Devon came to one screen in particular. Spock sat down at the console in front of it, and began entering a series of commands. The screen display shifted, showing detailed charts and graphs in rapid succession.

After a few minutes, Spock cleared the screen. He remained seated, his sightless eyes fixed on the blank monitor. "I believe I have the information necessary to present our case," he said finally.

"What?" demanded McCoy. "What did you find?"

"If this vessel is representative, there has been tampering with the entire carrier fleet. The ships carry the same basic modifications as the phantom attack drone. The Edami, without knowing it, now possess one of the largest military fleets in the galaxy, with firepower comparable to any we have ever encountered."

"A gift from the Romulan Empire," McCoy said dryly.

"My father would never let that happen!" Devon cried. "He wouldn’t!"

"I know, son," said McCoy, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

"Quiet!" Spock whispered suddenly. "Listen."

They fell silent, straining to hear. Coming from deep inside the ship was the sound of a motor running.

"The cargo bay doors," Devon hissed urgently. "They’re opening!"

"Let’s get out of here!" McCoy cried, heading for the hatch.

"No, Doctor," commanded Spock, his authoritative tone stopping McCoy in his tracks. "Devon, what is the normal loading procedure?"

"Cargo goes into the bay on an elevator that comes down from the door we were standing under."

"Would there be any reason for someone to come into the computer room?"

"No, not unless there was a problem. All the systems can be run from Central Command, in the receiving complex."

Spock considered this. "We will wait here," he decided.

"Right under their noses?" McCoy couldn’t believe his ears.

"It is the safest alternative at the moment, while they load the bay." Spock shut down the computers, and the three of them sat down to wait for the loading to be completed.

-13-

Ambassador Carlysle stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise, and crossed to stand next to the command chair. She carried two cups of coffee, one of which she handed to the captain. "I hope you take it black," she said, sipping her own. "I always hesitate to second-guess someone’s choice of how much milk or sugar."

Kirk took the cup, his attention still focused on the forward viewscreen. He hated waiting, even when he knew he had no choice. He took an absent sip of his coffee, and turned to Carlysle. "We seem to be maintaining our low profile. You’d think they’d have spotted us on one of their tracking systems by now, even on the far side of the planet."

Carlysle stared at the world on the viewscreen. "The Edami have no need to fear aggression. It’s a concept they have never encountered within their own system. All are—were—welcomed to Colony. It was assumed all who came were doing so as friends and allies, with totally honorable intentions. Despite our being interdicted from this star system, there’s not likely to be any action on the part of the Edami people."

Kirk couldn’t believe how naive these people must be.

Uhura swiveled around at her station to address the ambassador. "Madam Ambassador, I’m still not certain I understand. Why have the Edami remained within their own system if they’re so anxious to make contact with the rest of the galaxy?"

"It was contact on their terms, Commander Uhura. Just as they assumed anyone within their system would abide by Edami custom and law, they knew that to venture into unknown systems would subject them to those worlds’ codes of behavior. To a telepathic society, that is a frightening concept. You can’t imagine the kind of psychic horror that can be inflicted on a telepath simply by one irrational, albeit fleeting, feeling of aggression."

"But can’t they block it out?’ asked Hennessy. The entire bridge crew was getting involved in the conversation. All of them felt the same frustration as their captain in having nothing more to do than sit in orbit and wait for the landing party to report in or beam back aboard.

"Captain Spock can block out other people’s emotions," added Gnutson, turning from the navigation station.

"Captain Spock is a Vulcan. He vwas taught how to do that," Chekov explained.

Carlysle continued, "The Edami have never had a reason, in fact would consider it rude, to shield themselves in that way. My son is just now learning to ask permission before he read’s another’s thoughts. Spock blocks out the emotions around him because that is what his culture taught him to do. Devon opens himself to them, as his culture taught him to do. I don’t know which is right or wrong."

Kirk found the talk about his first officer difficult to listen to. Former first officer, he corrected himself silently. The captain was haunted by visions of Spock asking him to accept his resignation, of Spock admitting he was afraid of his blindness. Vulcans may have taught Spock to master his emotions and block out the emotions of others, but Kirk knew his friend’s Human half had been in desperate control at that moment. Spock had been wounded on a level that went beyond losing his sight; it threatened to remove him from the career that was his world, and take from him the place he had made in that world. His Vulcan half was as deeply affected by those fears as his Human side, but only one allowed him to admit it, and then only to one man.

The captain checked his chronometer again. Six hours to go. If Spock and McCoy had not contacted the first minister by then, Kirk would have no choice. He would have to transmit a call to the Edami himself, identifying who they were and why they were there. He couldn’t wait any longer, or the Enterprise would miss its rendezvous with the Excalibur and Reliant, setting into motion a whole new chain of events.

"Give me your assessment of the first minister," Kirk said, turning to the ambassador. "What are Spock’s chances of pleading our case?"

Carlysle thought about it. "Minister Arant is a fair being, Captain," she answered. "But he will need proof. Spock knows that. If he is able to substantiate his claims about the Romulans, then Minister Arant will believe him. If he can’t..." Her voice trailed off as she thought about Chas.

"If there’s proof to be found, Spock will find it," Kirk said. The conviction in his voice was absolute.

"I believe that, too," Carlysle said. "I never would have permitted my son to accompany him down there if I wasn’t certain. Chas was searching for the same proof. When he didn’t leave with Devon and me, I prayed he would be able to convince the first minister before your shuttle came to pick us up at the camp. Now, it’s been so long, I think Chas must have failed, or worse..." She closed her eyes, but continued to talk. "He felt this was worth dying for, Captain. I can’t diminish that, so I let Devon go with Spock, to help finish what Chas began."

Kirk found himself staring again at the small blue planet on the viewscreen. The bridge was silent. All hands had gone back to the most difficult task of waiting.

*****

The grinding sounds of the elevator in the belly of the carrier continued. Spock had instructed Devon to cease his visual projection; it was a draining experience for the boy as well. Now blind once again, Spock tried to take advantage of their forced inactivity. The computer room was cold. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, attempting to push the chill and ache out of his mind.

Across the room, McCoy watched the Vulcan shift uncomfortably. He longed for his medical tricorder, still aboard the Enterprise. It was Starfleet issue, and he hadn’t risked bringing it along.

Devon, sitting next to McCoy, was also watching Spock. "He knows you have done the best you can, Doctor," the boy said softly.

McCoy was still startled when Devon pulled his thought-reading act. "Sometimes the best you can do isn’t good enough, Devon," he said quietly. "I find that the hardest thing in the universe to accept."

"Then why are you a doctor? Especially on a starship? You must see a lot of death, many times, when doing your best still means someone will die."

A perceptive question from one so young, McCoy thought, and it deserves an answer. "I met someone at a time in my life when I was still searching for exactly the right place to practice medicine," he began.

"I never had any doubt about being a doctor, but where to be a doctor was the question. I had spent years as a resident at a hospital on Earth, and when I became a doctor I devoted much of my time to my practice. Too much time. My wife left me, taking my daughter with her. Despondent, I received a visit from an old friend named Charlie who talked me into joining Starfleet. I was on a starship that had a catastrophic incident, and many of the officers were killed. Those of us who survived made our way to a backwater planet where I treated our wounded. Unfortunately, a number of the wounded died before we were rescued.

"The young lieutenant who led the rescue party from the Farragut was a very special young man. He was compassionate and yet filled with the leadership qualities that only a handful of men have ever possessed. He sparked something in me, and we became good friends. Some time after he became a captain of his starship, his chief medical officer decided to retire, and he called on me to join him. I haven’t looked back on it since."

"Captain Kirk! He was the one!" Devon’s voice remained soft, but excited.

"Yup. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I only knew it was where I wanted to be, too. So you ask about the times I find my best isn’t good enough...maybe there is more of that out here. I look at each one as a personal failure. But since I’ve been in space, I’ve encountered life-forms—healthy and hurt—that I couldn’t have imagined even existed; living rock, beings who breathe water the way you and I breathe air..." McCoy shook his head. "The sense of victory you get when you actually heal a living creature so different from yourself gives you a greater respect for all life than any ordinary practice of medicine ever could."

Devon nodded, feeling the honesty of the doctor’s words.

Spock’s voice came quietly from across the room. "The Federation is fortunate in having personnel such as Doctor McCoy choosing to pursue their life’s path in service to Starfleet."

McCoy stared at the Vulcan, who was now leaning heavily against the wall, eyes closed, one arm wrapped around his middle. Spock’s hand was clamped firmly to his side as a brace for his ribs. "The anesthetic has worn off, hasn’t it, Spock?" he observed, worried.

"Yes, Doctor," Spock admitted, then added, "I would not count that among your personal failures, however. I believe it has more to do with our climb up the ladder. You, and your drugs, did the very best they could do."

McCoy smiled a little, his eyes full of affection for the Vulcan who could not see him. "Thank you, Captain Spock," he said.

Devon smiled too, sensing the unspoken feelings between the two men, then got up and crossed the room to sit next to Spock.

"Sir?"

"Yes, Devon?"

"Mother told me the story about how you and she met, on Vulcan. She said you were about my age."

"Calculated in Terran terms, that is correct."

"She said that even then, you had decided to join Starfleet."

Spock remembered telling his friend of his decision. So long ago... "On Vulcan, one is encouraged to choose one’s life path at an early age."

"She told me you joined because you felt it was the one place you could make a difference," the boy continued.

Spock was surprised to hear his words coming back to him so many years later. "Again correct. Your mother has an excellent memory."

McCoy watched the boy, who was now mimicking the Vulcan’s posture, sitting with his back against the wall, eyes closed.

"You are half-Vulcan, yet you call yourself Vulcan. Was that also your choice?" Devon asked.

Uh-oh, kid, McCoy thought, you’re treading deep water there.

Spock, however, surprised the doctor. "I am half-Vulcan. When I chose to follow the Vulcan way, I was younger than you are now. There is a test of skills and survival, called the kahs-wan, which is required of every young Vulcan male. I underwent the kahs-wan in order to find out if I was truly a Vulcan."

"And you were?" the boy asked.

"It is not a question I should have had to ask," Spock replied finally. "When you are a child of two worlds, your options should be greater, not fewer. On Vulcan, tradition did not take this into consideration. I chose one path, the Vulcan way, at the expense of a heritage that was also rightfully mine."

McCoy had never heard Spock talk this way. He was obviously revealing things to Devon, another child of two worlds, that he found personally to be true.

"We had to live on Colony," Devon said, with some resentment in his voice. "Edami does not permit children like me."

"They are frightened, Devon, not of you, but of what you represent. You merge two worlds in a way they have never experienced, and they find it difficult to accept."

"Mother was raising me Terran as much as possible. She thought it would be easier for me."

"And what do you think?" Spock asked.

"I think my father’s heritage is strong in me. I feel Edami sometimes, and want to belong, really belong there. But I know I’m different. And so do they."

Spock was silent, wondering how to tell this young one that he would always feel that difference. No matter which world he chose, Edami or Human, part of him would always belong in another.

"You are who you are, Devon," the Vulcan said. "You will find your place, your life, and make it your own. That will be your choice."

Devon nodded solemnly, considering this. His choice...

"Spock!" McCoy hissed suddenly, "The lights have gone out!"

Spock pulled himself up straight, listening. The sounds below had changed. He got painfully to his feet and felt his way to the main computer console. He sat in front of it, feeling the board, remembering the layout he had pictured earlier. "Devon, resume visual projection," he ordered.

"There’s nothing to see!" McCoy cried. "It’s pitch black in here! We’re all in the dark!"

"Quiet!" Spock snapped, pushing himself back to his feet. "Listen!"

Footsteps...on the ladder. The hatch flew open, letting in a bright shaft of light. Two silhouettes appeared in the doorway.

"Lights!" one of the figures commanded, in Romulan.

The computer room lights blazed back on, and McCoy and Devon found themselves staring at two very large, very angry Romulans, both carrying large metal pipes.

"I told you I registered computer activity," the technician, Ptrik, said. "They were tampering, just like the other. They are spies!"

"Spies? For whom?"

"Look at them...two Humans and a Vulcan. Federation scum!"

Only Spock understood the Romulans’ conversation, but McCoy and Devon heard the anger in the voices, and saw the fury in the faces. They did not need to understand the words.

"How much do you think they know?" Malem asked.

"It does not matter. All Federation members were ordered out of this system days ago. Whatever they have found, they will not carry back to their worlds. We will take care of them, the way we took care of the last spy we found."

Spock’s mind suddenly filled with the image of man, a man in a room very much like the one they were now in. He was seated at the computer, intent on the viewscreen, and did not notice the hatch behind him as it opened. Suddenly, the man wheeled around, throwing his hands up in front of his face in an attempt to ward off a vicious barrage of blows from heavy metal pipes. The strokes came fast and furious, and the man was soon unconscious. The beating continued until he was barely recognizable as a being who had lived at all...

"Murderers!" Devon screamed. Spock lost the image, lost all images, as Devon’s rage and grief engulfed the boy’s mind and he charged the men who had killed his father.

"Devon, no...stop!" Spock cried, lunging blindly for the boy.

Ptrik, surprised by the sudden onslaught, swung his pipe wildly, missing Devon by inches. The Romulan stumbled, off balance, and Malem came rushing forward, also swinging. Devon ducked under this flailing pipe as well.

McCoy tried to grab the boy, missed, then saw that Devon had gotten safely beyond the two Romulans. "Devon—run!" the doctor shouted.

Seeing he had opened an escape route, Devon bolted for the hatch, and hoisted himself up and out. Spock felt one of the Romulans crash into him, and grabbed for an arm, a neck, anything to hold the Romulan, and allow Devon to escape. Ptrik whirled, pushing Spock back, then wielding his pipe like a club, rounded a powerful swing that caught the Vulcan fully in the stomach. McCoy saw the blow land. Spock paled and dropped bonelessly to the deck.

"No! Spock!" he cried, scrambling to reach his injured friend, just as the Malem lifted his pipe and brought it down hard on the back of McCoy’s head.

The Romulans turned to each other. "The boy! He’s gone!"

"So? He is only a child. Let him go."

"What about these two?"

They looked down at the unconscious men. "I think they can stay here. We will send the carrier out as planned, with a program alteration. It will have...an accident."

"Too many accidents will cause suspicion."

Ptrik laughed. "Suspicion? From these people! They do not know the meaning of the word. That is something else we can teach them, once they are under the rule of the Romulan Star Empire." The two climbed back through the hatch and pulled it closed.

-14-

Devon jumped from the carrier ladder when he was still three meters off the ground. He landed in a crouch, then took a moment to glance up. The Romulans weren’t following him. He pushed himself to his feet and raced through the dark hangar, forced open the side door and escaped into the shadows.

Outside, Colony was bathed in the pale blue light of the early morning sun. Devon ran through the maze of streets in the settlement surrounding the landing field with just one thought in his mind; he had to get to First Minister Arant. He was familiar with the government buildings, having visited his mother in her offices there frequently. This time, however, Devon did not stop to admire the architecture of the grand structures looming ahead. Heart pounding, he took the steps three at a time, fighting back the tears that filled his eyes. He tried not to think about what he had seen in the Romulans' minds, lest his rage undermine the mission it was now up to him to complete.

Although it was still early, Devon knew Minister Arant would likely be in his office. As expected, as he ran down the hallway to the first minister’s section of the building, he was approached by Arant’s secretary.

"Well, young man," the secretary called, "just where do you think you’re going? Some last minute homework you hope to finish before school?"

Devon stopped, and without turning around said, "I must see First Minister Arant."

The secretary had caught up with him, and circled around to face him directly. "So you must see the first minister..." The secretary stopped, shocked by the boy he now recognized. "Devon Carlysle! But your family left here two weeks ago!"

"I must see the first minister," Devon repeated. "It is a matter of life and death!"

The secretary eyed Devon warily, taking note of the boy’s soiled, torn clothes and virtually wild-eyed expression. He had no experience in dealing with children. Perhaps this was a matter for the first minister after all. A quick mental scan told him Devon was quite sincere. "Very well," he said. "Come along. I’ll announce your arrival."

Devon followed him into the complex of offices that constituted the first minister’s wing. The secretary indicated that Devon should wait in one of the reception rooms, then disappeared through a doorway that undoubtedly led to the first minister himself Devon sank into one of the large, cushioned chairs and tried to prepare what he was going to say.

Suddenly, the door burst open, and Devon flew back up out of the comfortable seat. Arant crossed the room and stood directly in front of him.

"Devon Carlysle," Minister Arant began, "you and your family were asked to leave Colony. Why are you still here?"

The boy stared directly at Arant, not backing down. "My mother and I did as you asked, sir, and left. I have returned to convince you that the threat my mother and father described to you is real. You are wrong if you believe the Romulans are friends of the Edami."

The first minister considered the boy carefully, then said, "It is that sort of talk that forced us to sever our relationship with your mother and her world. Why do you now return with the same arguments?"

"You wanted proof. I have it." That said, Devon projected the images he had seen in the Romulans’ minds. Once again he saw his father dying, bloodied and helpless, on the computer room floor. The first minister recoiled from the horror that filled his mind, but allowed the projection to continue until he saw the boy was about to collapse.

"Devon," Arant said softly, "Devon, that is enough."

The projection stopped and Devon staggered forward, only to be caught by Arant’s firm embrace.

"They didn’t know I could read them," the boy gasped, all pretense of strength sapped by the experience. "They thought I was Human."

Arant nodded, stroking the boy’s tangled hair. "Where were you when they found you?" he asked gently.

"In the computer room of a carrier, with Captain Spock and Doctor McCoy—"

"Who?"

"Two...two men from the Enterprise. They came back here, brought me here, to prove to you that you cannot trust what the Romulans are doing."

Arant did not try to hide his disappointment. "We are aware that a Federation starship is in orbit around Colony, but we are not going to respond to its communications or presence. We believe they will leave on their own accord once they realize that we will have no dealings with them."

Devon’s strength was returning, and along with it a desperate desire to grab the first minister and shake some sense into him. The boy held his temper, however, and explained what he could in measured tones. "Captain Spock, Doctor McCoy and I came down here to gather the evidence you kept asking for, the evidence my father was trying to get when he was killed. The Romulans discovered us in the cargo-carrier. I got away, but my friends..." He stopped, closing his eyes as he remembered the final seconds before he escaped from the carrier. He had seen Spock felled by the Romulan pipe, had heard McCoy’s anguished cry just before he dropped beside the Vulcan...

First Minister Arant saw the images as well. "Devon, let’s go into my office. It is time we contacted this Enterprise and her captain. I assume your mother is aboard the ship as well?"

Devon nodded, and followed Arant into his chambers.

*****

"Captain," said Uhura excitedly, "I’m receiving a transmission from Colony. From the first minister, sir."

Kirk could hardly believe it. Spock and McCoy had done it. He slapped his arm control. "Put him through, Commander," he instructed. "And call Ambassador Carlysle to the bridge. She should hear this too."

"Channel open, sir," Uhura said, smiling.

Kirk addressed the intercom. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise."

"Captain Kirk," came the first minister’s voice, "I am First Minister Reg Arant of Edam planet Colony. I have just been involved in a most interesting conversation. I must say I am not displeased that you are in orbit around our world after being told not to violate our territory."

I’ll bet! Kirk thought, imagining how Spock might have explained that. He played it carefully, however, saying, "I take that you have been briefed on our reasons for returning to your system?"

"Yes, Captain. It seems there is much to be discussed. I need some additional information. I can hardly rely upon the reading of one boy, convincing though his thoughts may be."

Carlysle had come onto the bridge, and crossed to stand beside Kirk as Arant spoke. She and the captain exchanged concerned looks.

"Minister Arant," Kirk said, "I assume you’re referring to Devon Carlysle. Where are the other two men who accompanied him to Colony?"

"Captain," Devon’s voice came over the channel, "the Romulans found us. I got away, but Captain Spock and Doctor McCoy didn’t."

Cold fear gripped Kirk. He tried to keep his voice level. "Devon, where did you see them last?"

Devon described the scene in the computer room. Kirk listened, hearing the ambassador take a sharp breath when Devon got to the part about reading his father’s death in the Romulans’ minds.

When the boy had finished, Kirk jumped in. "Did you check the carrier? Have the Romulans been found?"

Arant replied, "The carrier is gone, Captain Kirk. We have questioned the Romulans, but so far they have admitted nothing. We do not know where your friends are."

"Mister Chekov," Kirk said, turning towards the science station, "begin scan of Colony. Spock and McCoy are the only Vulcan and Human down there. Find them."

"Yes, Kyptin." The commander began calibrating his scanners.

"Captain," Arant said, "I would like to come aboard your ship and talk with you in person. I understand Ambassador Carlysle is there with you as well?"

"I’m here, Reg," said Kathryn. "Devon, are you all right?"

"I’m okay, Mother. Really."

Arant spoke again. "We shall continue to ask the Romulans about your friends, Captain. Make your search from your ship, and in the meantime, if you and I could meet?"

Kirk paced the bridge. He stopped beside Chekov, who had begun the scanner sweep for Spock and McCoy. "All right, Minister Arant. We’ll beam you and Devon aboard. Stand by while my transporter room gets your coordinates."

-15-

McCoy was beginning to wake up. His head felt like it was being crushed in a vice, and his limbs too heavy to move. He finally willed his eyes to open, and found himself staring at the ceiling of the carrier computer room. He started to sit up, and the room immediately began to swim before his eyes. There was the possibility of a concussion, he knew. Feeling the back of his head, his hand came away sticky with blood. He remained on the floor, waiting for the room to stop spinning. When it did, and he could focus, he saw Spock.

The Vulcan was lying face down a few feet away. Pushing his own pain aside, McCoy crawled to him.

"Spock," he said, putting his hand lightly on the Vulcan’s neck, feeling for a pulse. It was there, but weak, thready. Spock’s skin felt clammy, lacking its usual warmth, and his breathing was labored. McCoy wanted to turn him over, to relieve the pressure on his chest, but he was worried about internal injuries. The Romulan could not have aimed a more killing blow.

McCoy took Spock by the shoulders and began to roll him, as gently as possible, onto his back. The Vulcan drew a sharp breath as the movement brought him back to consciousness. McCoy eased him over, and Spock’s arms automatically started to wrap around his midsection as a spasm of pain tore through him.

"No," the Vulcan moaned, beginning to double up.

McCoy grabbed his arms, pushing him back down. "Spock, lie still...please...try not to move." He felt Spock resisting him, briefly. The resistance stopped as he woke up completely. The doctor slowly let go of his arms, and he stayed flat.

"Doctor McCoy?" he said weakly, taking a shallow, raspy breath.

"I’m here, Spock," McCoy reassured him.

Spock opened his eyes, and McCoy was alarmed to see the dark, blank stare now clouded, dull.

"We are...moving," the Vulcan said, feeling the vibration of the ship beneath him as he lay on the deck.

"I think we are, yes," McCoy agreed. "We’re still on the carrier. They seem to have left us here for dead."

Spock closed his eyes, remembering the schematic modifications he had seen in the carrier programs, and the self-destruct sequence that had been added. He had no doubt about their fate.

"Doctor McCoy, we must take control of this ship."

McCoy, still kneeling beside him, shook his head. "How are we going to do that, Spock? This ship is a robot. It’s programmed..." Then he stopped. We’re in the computer room! "Take control away from the computer? Can you do it?"

"I intend to try," the Vulcan said simply. He put his hands flat on the deck and started to push himself up. McCoy slipped his arm under Spock’s shoulders and helped him raise, first to sit, then to get shakily to his feet and ease into a chair near the central computer console.

Still supporting him, McCoy could feel Spock was shivering violently, drenched with cold sweat. "Here, try to put this on," the doctor said, pulling off his heavy sweater and draping it around Spock’s shoulders. Their efforts had left both men exhausted.

Eyes closed, his voice barely a whisper, Spock said, "I cannot do it, Doctor McCoy. You will have to use the console."

"Me? I don’t know the first thing about computers."

"Ridiculous, Doctor. You perform surgery with them all the time."

"But I don’t know a damned thing about flying a spaceship, Spock. Hell, I can barely pilot a shuttlecraft, as you well know since you barely signed off on the renewal of my flight certification last time."

"I—shall—talk you through—the—steps. You must—try," Spock said. He gripped the arms of the chair tightly as another wave of pain racked him, and he fought to control his trembling.

McCoy squeezed his own eyes shut. He wanted nothing more than to lie down himself, lie down and go to sleep... He snapped his head up, trying to clear his thoughts.

"Tell me what to do, Spock," he said, sitting down at the console next to the Vulcan.

Spock instructed the doctor in accessing the main computer. McCoy listened, following step-by-step each series of commands. He saw screens around him spring to life, each with a different visual.

"The screen to your left, Doctor," Spock said, once all systems were activated, "what do you see?"

"It looks like a vector chart... and there’s some kind of blip moving slowly across it."

"Navigation," Spock said, nodding. "We need to add reference points." He gave McCoy the necessary command to overlay a star chart, and the screen changed. McCoy described it to him. "This does not make sense," the Vulcan said.

"What? What does it mean?" McCoy asked.

"We are headed towards the frontier."

"Why? What’s our destination?"

Spock was silent for a moment. McCoy could hear him struggling to breathe, and even without his medical tricorder knew how badly injured the Vulcan was. "I do not believe a destination has been accounted for, Doctor," he said finally. "I believe the carrier will self-destruct once it is beyond the frontier."

"Then let’s stop it," McCoy cried. "We’ve got the computers working. Let’s turn around, go back to Colony..."

"We have the computers working," Spock interrupted, "but we do not yet have control."

"So tell me what to do next. What do I enter?"

Quietly, almost apologetically, Spock replied, "I do not know."

*****

Carlysle and Captain Scott met the first minister and Devon in the transporter room. Kirk had remained on the bridge where the scanner search for McCoy and Spock continued.

"Welcome aboard the Enterprise," the engineer said to Arant as the first minister stepped down from the platform. "I’m Captain of Engineering Montgomery Scott. Captain Kirk is waiting for you on the bridge."

Devon ran off the platform and to his mother. She opened her arms and gathered her son close, sharing an embrace of grief and strength. Finally, Devon backed away and looked at his mother. Carlysle saw the hurt in his eyes, but there was something else as well.

"Mother," Devon said, "Father was murdered. They beat him to death. He was right all along, about what was happening to the carriers, and he was searching the computer programs when they found him."

First Minister Arant came to stand beside them. "Kathryn, I offer my deepest sympathy to you and your son. We thought Chas had left Colony with you. I ‘saw’ what Devon read in the Romulan minds, what was done to him. Of that, I have no doubt."

Carlysle took a deep breath. She did not want to discuss Chas, or his death...not now, not with Arant. That would come later, alone, with Devon. "Minister Arant, Captain Kirk is on the bridge coordinating the search for his missing men. Captain Scott can take us there."

"Aye, if you’ll follow me," said Scotty, leading them out of the transporter room.

*****

Kirk watched the screen above the science station. Chekov was just beginning his last sweep of the planet’s surface. So far, there had been no sign of Spock and McCoy.

"Beginning final scan now, Kyptin," Chekov announced. The indigenous lifeforms on Colony had been locked out of the sensors. It was programmed to pinpoint two beings only; one Human, one Vulcan-Human hybrid. Nothing else would register.

So intent was he on the scanner sweep that Kirk didn’t even notice the bridge doors open. His eyes never left the screen until finally Chekov said, "Sweep completed. Captain."

"Damn!" Kirk couldn’t believe it. Spock and McCoy weren’t down there! "Mister Chekov, is there any possibility the scanners could have missed them?"

The commander weighed his answer carefully. If the captain had asked that same question of the officer who normally stood at the science station, he would have expected, and gotten, a definitive answer and probably a raised eyebrow thrown in for good measure. That officer was one of the subjects of this search, however, so Chekov had to step carefully. He cleared his throat and said in a precise manner, "Kyptin, there is no reason to suspect instrument failure; therefore, I believe vwe must assume Kyptin  Spock and Doctor McCoy are no longer on Colony."

Kirk almost smiled. It was a damned good science officer answer, with just enough Spock in the delivery. "Thank you, Mister Chekov," he said.

Kirk turned to the guests who had just entered the bridge. "Welcome back, Mister Carlysle," he said. "And welcome aboard, Minister Arant. I am Captain James Kirk."

The ambassador stepped forward. "Have you found them yet?" she asked anxiously.

"Not yet."

Kirk walked back to his command chair and sat down, considering his next move. "The sensor sweep doesn’t pick them up. They seem to have vanished from the planet."

"The carrier!" Devon said suddenly. "They must still be on the carrier!"

Arant looked shocked. "The carrier has taken off already."

Kirk was on his feet. "Where was it going?" he demanded.

"Captain, I have no way of knowing that. We have over two hundred carriers in service. All flights are pre-programmed, and some don’t return to Colony for months." Arant shot Carlysle a quick look. "When Chas...left, the Romulan mechanics offered their services in keeping the programs up-to-date."

"I’ll bet." Kirk snapped.

Arant flinched as he felt the captain’s anger. "Is there a way I can contact the receiving complex from here, Captain? They can access the program given the carrier, and order it to return to Colony."

"Commander Uhura," Kirk said, turning towards the communications station, "contact Colony. Minister Arant, can they give us the carrier’s communications frequency?"

"Of course. The computer room is equipped with a voice-only link to our central command. It is used specifically for maintenance and diagnostic flight checks."

"I have Colony, sir," Uhura said. "Channel open to Central Command."

Kirk gestured to the first minister. "You’re on," he said.

Arant stepped up to Uhura’s station and began addressing the chief computer operator on Colony. Kirk hoped the first minister understood the urgency of the situation. He glanced at Carlysle, who was standing off to one side of the bridge, Devon beside her. The captain pressed the inter-ship pager on the side of his chair. "Bridge to Sickbay," he said quietly.

"Sickbay. Doctor Dushayne here."

"This is the captain. I was wondering if Nurse Webb could come to the bridge. I have a young man here who could use a hot meal and then some sleep. I’d also like you to check him over, just to be on the safe side."

"Of course, Captain. She’s on her way. Dushayne out."

Kirk closed the channel and walked over to Carlysle and her son. "I have Nurse Webb coming to take you to Sickbay, Devon. You’ll also stop by the mess lounge for some dinner."

"Captain, I assure you I’m perfectly all right."

Kirk smiled. "Just a precaution, Mister Carlysle. No arguments."

Devon nodded.

Kathryn mouthed a silent "thank you" at Kirk, then said out loud, "I’ll stay here, Devon. I promise I’ll come tell you as soon as we find them."

The bridge doors opened and Nurse Marie Webb entered, joining the small group. "I understand you have an appointment with Doctor Chapel, then you and I have a dinner date," she said to Devon. He nodded, and followed her to the turbolift.

"You must come tell me, Mother," the boy said as he and Nurse Webb headed off the bridge.

"Promise," she called after him.

Kirk started towards the communications station where Arant was just finishing his transmission to Colony. The first minister turned, a distressed look on his face. "Captain, I’m afraid I have some bad news. The carrier cannot be recalled."

Kirk felt his stomach tighten. He tried to keep his voice calm. "Why not?"

"It seems the program has been locked in, and none of our passwords can access it. We cannot break into the system."

"Where is the current programming sending the carrier?" Kirk demanded.

Arant read the anger and fear the captain was experiencing. "It is traveling beyond the frontier," he replied. "The Romulan mechanics were unable to maintain their mental shields under more direct questioning. Your friends are indeed still on board the ship. It will leave our system, then self destruct."

Kirk wasted no time. "Mister Hennessy, prepare to leave orbit. Mister Gnutson, set navigation scanners for long-range sweep. I want to register that carrier as soon as we get into range." He wheeled back to the first minister. "I want to know how long ago that ship left Colony."

"According to our logs, just over an hour ago."

"All right. Spock’s original scan of the phantom indicated impulse power only. Mister Chekov, call up those specs and give me a maximum speed estimate. Mister Hennessy, as soon as we have the numbers, increase our speed to chase and overtake. We have very little time, gentlemen. Let’s move it."

Arant looked at the activity around him nervously. "Captain, I would like to return to Colony," he said.

Kirk kept his eyes on the viewscreen as the Enterprise swung out of orbit. "I’m afraid that’s not possible. We don’t have time. I’ve got to find that carrier and my men before..." Kirk did not finish the thought, but of course he didn’t have to. The Edami minister knew.

"Course to frontier plotted and laid in, sir," Gnutson reported.

Hennessy added, "Our chase speed should get us into transporter range of the carrier in twenty-four minutes."

"Assuming they are following a straight-line course out of the system," Gnutson pointed out grimly.

"Ahead full, Mister Hennessy," Kirk instructed. They have to be out there, he thought. They have to be!

Arant felt the determination evident in the captain’s voice and actions. The deep concern for McCoy and Spock was reflected in every member of the bridge crew as they carried out their assigned tasks.

He read fear in their minds, not for themselves, but for their friends. He moved down to stand beside Kirk. "Captain Kirk, I have instructed my staff to detain the Romulans. We did not know they had this ability to shield their thoughts from us, to deceive us in that manner."

"There’s a whole universe of things you don’t know, Minister Arant," Kirk said sharply.

Arant was silent for a moment, knowing the captain was right. Finally, he said, "When we joined your Federation, our greatest fear was exposing our world to your violence. We did not trust your Starfleet, and what it represented, so we kept it out, and did not ourselves venture beyond the frontier. We did not want to risk contaminating our planets with the passions and aggressions we felt existed in your Federation. Yet, we appear to have invited in the very beings who would have done us the most harm."

The minister shook his head, trying to understand the course that had led them so close to disaster. "We were selfish, Captain," he continued. "We sought your knowledge and technology, but we were unwilling to risk anything in return. Instead, it appears you and your people have taken all the risks, suffered all the losses, and for what? Will you even have us back in your Federation now?"

"Minister Arant, it is precisely these kinds of risks that Starfleet exists to take," Kirk said. He stood and began to pace. "We swear an oath to give our lives, if necessary, in performance of our duties as members of Starfleet, but our primary mission is one of peace. We abhor violence as much as you, perhaps more, since we face its consequences directly and far too often."

Kirk was now standing face to face with Arant. He kept his voice controlled, but there was a hard edge to it. "When we found out the Romulans were responsible for destroying our shuttlecraft and injuring my first officer, we could have come in and wiped them off the face of Colony. But we didn’t. Instead, we tried to find evidence to support our claims, evidence which you now have before you."

"Evidence, I must admit, that is damning to the Romulans, but about our Federation membership?"

"Off the record, I would guess your membership in the Federation is still open. It’s your decision."

Arant smiled a little. "I believe our decision will be to resume our friendship, Captain...this time, without the restrictions on Starfleet. I said earlier that you had suffered all the losses. Perhaps we have lost something as well: our ignorance."

Carlysle stepped in. "Not ignorance, Minister Arant, so much as innocence. It’s time to see what a real alliance with the Federation can accomplish."

They were interrupted by Gnutson’s excited cry. "Captain, I have found the carrier. It’s just moving into sensor range,"

"Get a fix on it, Lieutenant. Commander Uhura, try to raise them. Mister Hennessy, distance to transporter range?"

"Still several megameters out, sir. At least ten minutes more."

"Kyptin, long range sensors indicate two life-forms aboard...one Human, one Vulcan."

"Can you raise them, Commander?" Kirk asked Uhura anxiously.

"I’m trying the frequencies given for the cargo-carriers, Captain. No response."

Kirk got up and began to pace again. Why don’t they answer? Chekov was registering two life-forms...two live forms. Maybe the Romulans disabled the communications system.

"Captain! Energy utilization increase now registering in the carrier’s engines!"

Kirk rushed to the science station and checked the scanners. "Destruction countdown! Raise shields, go to Red Alert!" he ordered. "Mister Chekov, how long do we have?"

The Russian security chief read the comparisons. "Fifteen minutes, sir."

"Hennessy, get us into transporter range on the double!" Kirk hit his intercom switch. "Captain Scott, get to the transporter room. We should be in range of the carrier in less than ten minutes. Shields are up. As soon as we enter transporter range, we’ll drop them long enough for you to beam them aboard."

"Then you’ve found them!" came Scotty’s excited voice.

"We’ve found them. We don’t know what kind of shape they’re in, they’re not answering our call...I’m going to have medics stand by with you in the transporter room."

"Aye, sair."

Kirk watched the power curve increase on Chekov’s screen. If this destruct sequence wasn’t the same as the phantom atacker, the Enterprise could be flying into her own destruction. Even the shields couldn’t protect them from that kind of antimatter maelstrom. There was also the tractor field to be considered...if the carrier was equipped to lock onto the Enterprise, would the starship have enough power to break free?

These questions raced through Kirk’s mind as the destruct sequence continued its fateful buildup, and the Enterprise raced into range.

-16-

"Spock, the second screen from the left has changed." They had been systematically running every possible combination of commands Spock could think of, trying to wrest control away from the automated program. McCoy was drained, and beginning to feel nauseous. He almost missed the screen display change.

"What do you see, Doctor?" Spock asked.

McCoy described the graph now forming, a bar graph with segmented, decreasing levels at regular intervals. "It looks like it’s keeping track of something," he said.

When Spock responded, McCoy could almost feel the weariness in his voice. "The build-up to detonation has begun."

"How long?" McCoy did not have to finish the question.

"Less than fifteen minutes," Spock said. "Enter the next command, Doctor." They continued to key in, and discard, commands as the minutes ticked by. Five minutes to go.

"No good, Spock," said McCoy. "Give me the next entry." The doctor was running on autopilot himself. He could barely keep his eyes open, and his head felt ready to explode. "The next sequence," he repeated, shifting his gaze from the screen to Spock.

"Spock!" The Vulcan was doubled over, his arms wrapped tightly around his stomach, gasping for air. McCoy pried his arms away, forcing him up to open his air passages, supporting him as the spasm passed. Spock finally raised his head. McCoy slowly let go of him, and he sat up, trembling, his face ashen.

"Thank you, Doctor," Spock whispered.

He’s bleeding internally, McCoy thought. "Hang on, Spock," he said out loud. "We’ll get help. We’ll get control." He put his hand on the Vulcan’s arm, keeping his touch light, but wanting Spock to feel the contact.

They were running out of time. Spock knew he was dying. The agony was constant now, along with a great weariness of body and spirit as his strength failed. He felt regret, that his death meant McCoy would likely not survive, either. He heard McCoy asking him for the next entry. The words seemed to come from far away.

In a voice that was barely audible, Spock said, "We have...run out...of possibilities..." Even summoning the breath to speak was almost too great an effort. Spock closed his eyes, taking a very un-Vulcan measure of comfort in the touch of McCoy’s hand. He did not want to die alone, and was grateful for the doctor’s presence.

McCoy recognized the sound of utter defeat in Spock’s words, and wanted to rage at that which had brought the two men to this point. What was the purpose? They had been trying to help a world that didn’t even want to know they existed. He thought of Devon Carlysle, and hoped the boy had gotten safely away...

"Spock! How would an Edami spell Devon?"

Spock fought to stay conscious. "I do not...understand..."

"How would Devon’s father have spelled the boy’s name?" McCoy insisted.

They had less than a minute left, yet Spock, weak as he was, felt the need to argue. Shaking his head, he managed to say, "The odds against that being the..."

"Don’t quote odds! I’m trying a possibility!" McCoy shouted, and was immediately sorry. The outburst had brought his headache to an almost intolerable level.

Spock gave him the spelling.

McCoy spun back to his console and carefully keyed it in. Almost at once, all screens went blank, with small cursors dancing in their corners. "It worked!" yelped McCoy. "Now you can quote me those odds, my Vulcan friend! Let’s get this ship headed...oh God. No..."

Spock was slumped over in his chair, motionless, his eyes closed. McCoy leapt to his side, feeling for a pulse, listening for a heartbeat, anything to tell him what he could not bear to know. "Spock..." he said brokenly. Suddenly, McCoy’s own injuries, his exhaustion, and grief, caught up with him, and the doctor crumpled to the deck as the darkness claimed him as well.

*****

"Sir, the carrier has just come to a complete stop," Gnutson announced. "She’s just drifting out there.

Chekov added, "Detonation build-up has stopped."

"Drop shields!" Kirk ordered. "Get us into range now!" He hit his intercom. "Scotty, stand ready to lock on and transport. Mister Hennessy, as soon as they’re on board, put a tow on that ship."

The Enterprise raced towards the inert carrier. "In range, sir." Hennessy reported.

"Get them, Scotty!" Kirk commanded as he ran from the bridge.

*****

"Ohhh... ah," McCoy moaned. His head felt like it weighed a ton. Opening his eyes was too much effort, too hard, but finally he did, expecting to see the ceiling of the carrier computer room. Instead, he saw the concerned face of Jim Kirk.

"Welcome home, Bones," the captain said, smiling.

"Jim...how...we were on the carrier..." McCoy tried to form the thought.

"Shhh, take it easy," Kirk soothed. "Don’t try to talk. That’s orders from your own staff."

McCoy didn’t have the strength to argue. He closed his eyes, trying to remember what had happened. Something about computers, he and Spock were trying to get control of the ship... Spock! Suddenly, McCoy’s eyes filled with tears, and despite the ache in his head he tried to turn away from Kirk’s gaze.

"Bones. What is it?" the captain asked, alarmed.

The doctor took a ragged breath that sounded very much like a sob. "Jim..." he said. "Jim, I’m sorry. I couldn’t...help him, he was so badly hurt. I’m a doctor...I should have been able to do...something..." He turned back to Kirk, allowing his tears to spill over, "Spock shouldn’t have died, Jim, he shouldn’t..."

Kirk was holding the doctor’s arm, saying something. "Bones, Bones, listen to me...he didn’t die. Spock isn’t dead. He’s next door right now, in a healing trance..."

McCoy searched the captain’s face as the words began to make sense. He wanted to believe him. "That’s impossible, Jim. He hasn’t been able to perform one since being blinded in that explosion."

Kirk nodded. "Doctor Dushayne said his metabolic system practically collapsed, and the collapse forced him into rytremk—the Vulcan healing trance. The intracranial pressure, all the physical injuries, they finally overwhelmed him, and he literally fell into the healing trance."

McCoy chuckled. "I guess he was unaware that he was fighting it the whole time."

"Holly said we came close to losing you, too. You had a fractured skull, Bones, with a massive subdural hemotoma. I got to the transporter room, ready to read both you and Spock the riot act, and found you had already been taken to surgery. Your people have had their hands full."

"And I’m going to read you the riot act, Captain Kirk, if you don’t get out of here and let my patient rest... sir." Kirk turned to see Doctor Dushayne standing behind him, arms folded, a scowl on her face.

"Aye-aye, Doctor," Kirk saluted. He winked at McCoy, saying, "Get some sleep, Bones. I’ll visit later."

He left, Holly Dushayne calling after him, "You’ll visit tomorrow!"

Dushayne checked the monitor over McCoy’s bed, then turned to leave.

The doctor caught her arm. "Holly," he said anxiously, "how’s Spock? Really?"

She looked down at him. "It was touch and go. Once he entered the healing trance, I made the decision to transfuse two liters of blood before he stabilized enough for surgery. He was hemorrhaging so badly...I’ve never seen that much green blood in my life. I ended up grafting eight new ribs; they were just too shattered to heal, but Spock will make a complete recovery. If the Enterprise had been any longer getting to you two..."

She stopped, not willing to complete the thought. Then her face brightened, and she said excitedly, "But the best part is Marie Webb has been monitoring Spock while he’s been in the healing trance, and, Doctor McCoy, she’s getting indications of optic nerve response! I went over the results myself!"

McCoy could hardly believe it. "Holly, are you sure?’

She nodded emphatically. "I’m positive! I suspect now that the nerves were just not healing because of the intracranial pressure Spock was experiencing. When Spock’s system finally went into rytremk, the nerves began to heal. In the healing trance, they appear to be returning to normal. When he wakes, there’s a ninety-five percent probability that Captain Spock will be able to see!"

McCoy wanted to laugh. "I think even Spock would take a bet with those odds!" he cracked.

Dushayne smiled. "Now get some rest. Doctor’s orders," she smiled.

-17-

The Enterprise towed the cargo-carrier back to Colony. Edami programmers on the planet brought it down to the surface, and began going through the systems with a fine-toothed comb. What they found convinced First Minister Arant to recall the entire carrier fleet. Preparations were made to completely overhaul each vessel, ridding them of their Romulan "gifts."

Kirk contacted the Excalibur and Yorktown, extending First Minister Arant’s invitation to Colony to their captains. Arant had beamed back aboard the Enterprise in order to meet with Ambassador Kathryn Carlysle, and was on the bridge when the two starships glided into view on the mainviewer.

Conversation stopped as the Enterprise crew watched their sister ships drift past. Colony itself seemed dwarfed in the background.

Hennessy turned to Kirk, a question in his shining eyes. Kirk shifted his gaze from the screen long enough to give the helmsman a nod, and Hennessy activated the Enterprise running lights.

The Excalibur and Yorktown acknowledged the "all’s well" signal with a light show of their own, then the three vessels parted, establishing their independent orbits.

"It is difficult to believe that so beautiful a ship is a military war machine, Captain," Arant said, still awestruck by the sight.

"We are capable of war, First Minister," Kirk replied, "but we are also capable of a great deal more."

Arant nodded. "Yes, Captain. I think we’ve learned that, about your ships...and your crew. We are ready to learn quite a lot more."

The Starfleet ships maintained their orbit around Colony for the next week. Personnel from all three starships were sent to the planet to assist with the monumental task of grounding and assessing over two hundred carriers.

On the Enterprise, three rotating shifts to and from Colony kept the crew hopping, as most were anxious to visit the little planet that had been so much the focus of their attention lately. The only oasis from all the activity seemed to be Sickbay. Doctor McCoy was recovering nicely and had been released to his cabin after two days. Spock still lay in his healing trance. Kirk stopped by at every opportunity, and on the fifth day, during one of his frequent visits, he found McCoy sitting by the Vulcan’s bed.

"I thought Holly had confined you to your quarters, Bones," he teased.

McCoy snorted. "Signed myself out. Chief Medical Officer’s privilege." He checked the monitors over Spock’s head, and grew serious. "Spock will wake up from this trance soon, and I’m going to help him come out of it." He paused, then added, "I thought I should spare Holly from having to administer the rough stuff."

Kirk nodded. They sat silently, listening to the rhythmic beep of Spock’s life-support monitors. Suddenly, the heart monitor began to pulse faster. McCoy checked the readings. Sure enough, all the gauges were steadily climbing.

Spock stirred, fighting his way back through the layers of the trance to consciousness. He clenched his fists, his body stiffening. McCoy pulled him upright on the bed, and proceeded to slap him. Again and again, the doctor struck the Vulcan.

Kirk averted his eyes; he didn’t want to watch.

Suddenly, Spock’s voice quavered, "That’s quite enough, Doctor."

"Spock?" Kirk said quietly. He turned to see McCoy helping Spock recline on the biobed.

The Vulcan blinked. He was awake, he thought, and he was...seeing...a form bending over him. Colors, fuzzy, wavering, crimson from Kirk’s jacket and white from McCoy’s...they were gone, now returned. He blinked again, trying to focus.

"Captain." It was all he could manage to say. He brought one hand up to his eyes, then let it fall weakly back to his side.

"Captain Spock," McCoy said softly, "can you see?"

The Vulcan lay silent, unmoving. He closed his eyes, took an experimental deep breath, then opened them again. "I cannot focus, Doctor, but I can... see."

"All right!" whooped McCoy, unable to contain his relief. "Don’t worry about focusing yet, Spock. That’ll come back!"

The Vulcan started to sit up, and found he could barely lift his head. "How long was I in the healing trance?" he asked, frowning slightly.

"Five days," Kirk answered. "We’re still in orbit around Colony, along with the Excalibur and Yorktown." At Spock’s look of surprise, Kirk chuckled. "I guess a lot has happened. I’ll fill you in later, but the bottom line is the Federation—and now Starfleet—have been welcomed back to the Edam system."

At the mention of Starfleet, Spock suddenly recalled his own status. He tried again to sit up, only to find McCoy easily halting his progress.

"Just what do you think you’re doing?" the doctor growled.

Spock gave up. "Captain," he said, squinting up at the soft-focus burgundy above him, "I must contact Starfleet Command. My discharge..."

"Never made it through."

Twin eyebrows shot up.

Kirk smiled. "McCoy co-signed it and sent it out, only he didn’t send it to Starfleet."

"Hey, I told you I don’t know anything about computers," McCoy protested. "I must’ve hit the wrong damned sequence...guess it all got deleted somehow."

"Doctor McCoy," Spock said seriously, "I have come to appreciate your computer skills. You have demonstrated a...unique talent."

"Don’t mention it. And now that you’re officially a member of this crew again, I’m ordering you to go back to sleep. That trance may work medical miracles, but it’s anything but restful, especially the way you have to come out of it. C’mon, Jim," he said, steering the captain away from Spock’s bed and towards the door.

"See you later, Spock," Kirk said.

Spock nodded and closed his eyes, only too willing to follow orders again.

*****

McCoy wouldn’t allow the Vulcan out of bed even long enough to say farewell to Kathryn and Devon, so the next day, as she was preparing to beam down to Colony, Carlysle stopped into Sickbay.

"I have come to take my leave of you, Spock," she said formally, using the same words they had spoken to each other so long ago on Vulcan.

Spock searched her face, waiting for his eyes to focus. When they finally did, he could see the good humor in hers. "You and Devon will stay on Colony?" he asked.

"Yes, for a while. I’ve resigned from the diplomatic service. I’m not sure they can tolerate my unique mode of operation anyway. Besides, Devon and I have new responsibilities. We’ve been asked to help prepare for the first Edami venture beyond the frontier. They want to start experiencing the worlds beyond their own. I think Chas would have wanted this. I owe it to him, and to Devon."

The former ambassador perched on the edge of Spock’s bed, smiling warmly at her friend. "I’m glad Devon got to know you, Spock. I think he’s more comfortable with who he is now. You know, I lost a husband...and a little boy, on Colony. But I gained a young man I am very proud to call my son."

"He deserves the pride of both his worlds, Kathryn," Spock said sincerely.

They both turned as Kirk, McCoy and Devon came into the room. Devon went to stand beside Spock’s bed. "How are you feeling, Captain?" the boy asked seriously.

"As Doctor McCoy would say, I am on the mend," Spock answered, equally seriously.

"He’ll be fit as a fiddle in no time, son," McCoy said, checking the monitors. "I’ve got him confined to this bed for the next two weeks just to be sure."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Why should I aim to recover as well as an ancient stringed instrument, Doctor?"

McCoy rolled his eyes, and with his best expression of long suffering muttered, "Or maybe one week. Who knows with those amazing Vulcan recuperative powers. I’ll have to talk to Chapel...maybe confine Spock to quarters, post a guard outside his door..."

Carlysle laughed and stood up, putting her hands on her son’s shoulders. "Now that I have you all together, perhaps you gentlemen could help us with a small problem."

"Indeed?" Spock asked.

"Yes. Devon can’t decide if he wants to be a doctor, a scientist, or a starship captain when he grows up. What do you think?"

McCoy widened his eyes in mock fear. "I think we’d better watch our steps in the next few years, with this one gunnin’ for our jobs!"

"Starfleet couldn’t ask for a better candidate, Devon," Kirk said. "When the time comes, I’ll write you a personal recommendation."

Devon offered his hand to the captain. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I shall contact you at the appropriate time, once I have made my decision." Then, with just the hint of a smile towards Spock, he added, "Starfleet does seem the logical choice, however."

"Oh, no," groaned McCoy. "Spock, I don’t know what you’ve been feeding this boy..."

"Doctor," Spock said innocently, "Devon is merely expressing what he already knew, that there are always possibilities. Sometimes we need only be reminded."

McCoy noticed Spock’s slight emphasis on "we", and behind his scowl felt a quick tug of affection for the Vulcan. We, indeed!

Carlysle looked at the men around her. "I think Devon has set his sights, my friends. Thank you all." She put her hand up in the Vulcan salute. "Live long, and prosper, Spock."

Spock returned the gesture. "Peace and long life, Kathryn," he said, and added, "Good-bye, Devon." He watched as they left to prepare for beam-down to Colony, then settled back on his bed.

"I think the Edami are in good hands, gentlemen," Kirk said.

Spock and McCoy nodded in agreement, much to their captain’s delight.

*****

Personal Log, Stardate 8454.1

We are en route to Starbase Twelve. The Edami first minister has sent a general welcome to all Federation worlds, and Colony has been designated a primary stopover for all Starfleet vessels cruising this sector. The Romulans have returned to their side of the Neutral Zone. They have been informed that any further contact with the Edami will constitute a violation of the Neutral Zone Treaty.

Captain Spock continues to recover, although he is still confined to Sickbay. He and Doctor McCoy seem to have reached some kind of understanding during their mission to Colony. I can only assume they rediscovered things about each other which they thought they had lost.

As for myself, I am grateful to be heading toward our next mission with my ship, my crew, and my friends intact.


From the Author

"You've written a what?"

That was a question (comment?) I began getting as soon as I admitted to a few select folks that I'd written a Star Trek novella.

And (gasp!) it featured the original characters! From twenty years ago! As the shock wore off, some asked me why I did it. You might be wondering the same thing, so I'll try to answer as best I can!

Rule Number One: Nature Abhors a Vacuum. My nature was not satisfied with the six-times-a-year publication schedule of Classic Trek novels set by the commercial publisher. I filled that vacuum by toying with my own stories. Many of these ideas ended up stuffed in a drawer or trashbin, until I began Blindside. Once I started, this one seemed to write itself. I used every spare moment to continue writing--stealing fifteen minutes while waiting to go on assignment at work (I am a TV news photographer), writing by the light of the dome bulb in my car, late at night, early in the morning—and finally a stack of spiral bound notebooks held the completed first draft of Blindside.

Rule Number Two: Write the story you want to read! That's exactly what I did. At the time, it mattered not whether anyone else would want to read it (although I secretly harbored fantasies that they might). The important thing was that I had filled the vacuum sufficiently for myself. I tried to explore the friendship and loyalty that makes the Enterprise crew the most famous space-faring collection in history. I tried to stay true to the characters. I introduced new characters, and gave them some "history" in the context of Star Trek. But in the end, I simply wrote the story that I wanted to read.

Rule Number Three: Rule Number One applies to everything (and everyone)! I know if you're reading this, you too hunger for more Trek. I offer you Blindside, with the hope that I have written a story that you want to read, and that in some small way it fills your vacuum as well!

Carol R. Kummer

Blindside, 1995 by Carol Kummer for ORION PRESS. Edited by Marge Robles, Pat Whittaker and Randall Landers.


main.gif (14802 bytes)


Free counters provided by Andale.
banner.gif (2815 bytes)

Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES -- 2283-2284 Interludes.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website