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CarolMel Ambassador


"Jim, I realize that you’ve just returned from a deep space patrol, but Conner was a good friend of yours, and I thought you would be interested in learning of his disappearance."

Captain James T. Kirk sat in the privacy of his quarters on the new U.S.S. Enterprise watching the wallscreen on which he was receiving a high priority message from Starbase 6. The captain showed signs of a long and active life, yet still retained a firm vibrancy, but the years hadn’t been as kind to the old acquaintance whose image was on the screen. The three of them—Jim Kirk, Tony Begetta and the now-missing Paul Conner—had met and become friends in their Academy days. They had maintained their friendship, though pursuing careers in different branches of the service, but it had been years since Kirk had seen the missing man.

Kirk nodded, his face serious. "I’m aware that Paul was involved with some delicate work for Federation Security. Was he on a mission?"

The admiral paused before answering reluctantly. "Federation Security recently became aware of an organization involved with the sale of valued Humans and other sentient beings. We’ve noted half a dozen disappearances of VIPs visiting the planet Betazed."

Kirk frowned. "That’s a major trade center for the entire sector."

"Yes. It’s in a prized location and possesses an ideal climate, making it very popular. Federation Security suspects several business conglomerates of being involved with the disappearances. The chief suspect, Kadswell Mining Operations, is the possible key operation."

"So what do you want me to do?"

Admiral Begetta smiled. Kirk had known what he was leading up to all along. "We want you to investigate the situation, under the guise of a business tycoon who is inquiring about new investment opportunities."

"I won’t endanger any of my crew." Kirk established his terms emphatically. "I’ll work alone if I accept the assignment."

Begetta nodded in agreement. "I suspected as much, Jim. This conversation is private; only you and I will know what we discussed. My request isn’t even official." He met Kirk’s eyes levelly. "We wouldn’t want an unknown ‘mole’ to get wind of your plans." The admiral paused. "Am I correct then, in assuming that you’re interested in accepting the assignment? I do realize that you have responsibilities as Captain—"

"Friendship aside," Kirk interrupted, "it’s still important to investigate the matter as a growing threat to the Federation, especially one this close to the heart of it."

Begetta nodded. "Keep me informed of your progress. Your ability to work yourself out of complex situations is one of the major reasons we’re asking for your help."

"Not to mention the need to find Paul," Kirk stated, clarifying his own personal motivation in accepting the assignment.

"Yes, I’m aware how important your friends are to you, Jim."

At the other’s observation, Kirk could not but for a moment recall the image of his Vulcan friend, standing on the stones of Mount Seleya, speaking with bold declaration, "Your name is Jim." The memory brought a small smile to the captain’s face.

Kirk nodded, his thoughts returning to the present. Through the years, Paul Conner and Jim Kirk had had opportunity to become closer friends than he and Tony Begetta. Noting the strange tone in the other’s voice, Kirk suspected that it was a point of regret from the admiral’s point of view. Begetta had just never seemed to fit in as well as had Conner.

"I’ll set course for Betazed. A couple of hours’ out, I’ll transfer to a shuttle to avoid implicating my ship and crew. We should make planetfall in about nine hours. I’ll keep you informed of whatever I learn."

"Thank you, Jim, and good luck. I urge you to take all security precautions possible. We wouldn’t want to lose you as well."

Kirk smiled. "It’s good to know I’m not expendable."

"You are highly valued."

After they signed off, Kirk leaned back against his chair, drumming his fingers against the smooth surface of his desk. This could prove to be a delicate operation. Who knew how far reaching the effects could be of missing personnel being associated with the world of Betazed. With its strategic location it was a vital trade center for an entire sector. Neither the planet nor the rest of that entire area of the galaxy could afford for Betazed to be labeled "unsafe." If there was mischief involved, it would be important for the Federation to attend to it.


"You know, sometimes I get the distinct impression you enjoy playing nursemaid," Kirk announced to his Vulcan companion as the two of them stepped out of the unmarked shuttle. The Enterprise had been on a mission to Tellus for more than six weeks, and while en route back to Earth to complete some needed repairs on the new Enterprise, Kirk announced that he would be taking a shuttlecraft to Betazed to visit an old friend while the Enterprise would divert briefly to the nearby Starbase 6 for a transfer of personnel that he had arranged. The shuttlecraft would later rendezvous with the Enterprise in orbit above Betazed.

The captain had had Captain Scott repaint the craft and replace its transponder with one of a private Federation company. Only the captain of engineering was aware of the modifications, or so Kirk had thought. Spock had discovered the refinished shuttlecraft and deduced that Kirk was on a clandestine mission, but other than Captain Scott, no one else on board suspected anything. When Spock had became strangely insistent about accompanying his captain to the planet, Kirk had reluctantly told his first officer his true reasons for visiting Betazed, confirming the Vulcan’s suspicions.

The landing field upon which the shuttlecraft had set down was a few kilometers distant from the main entertainment facility of Kadswell, Inc. The facility had been built years earlier, amidst some of the most beautiful countryside of the planet, in the style of a large antebellum mansion with an attending plantation, encircled by a thick forest. It was a three-story building with four tall, glistening pillars across the front. Nearby, there was a sound of water flowing down some river or stream, echoing amongst the noise of accompanying birds. The sun shone bright and sunny above them.

Spock looked over at Kirk, expression firm, tilting his head slightly. The captain of the Enterprise could almost detect a hint of a smile surface on his first officer’s face, yet he remained serious. "A nursemaid?"

Without explaining his remark, Kirk chuckled low as he led them up the path to the resort. "What did the computer records have to report on this place, Spock?" Kirk asked as the two of them stepped through the inner grounds of the resort, casually walking up the final long walk to the mansion.

"This estate has been a favored ‘private resort’ for many accomplished Federation citizens who have had business transactions with Kadswell Incorporated. It claimed the title ‘The Kadswell Estate’ through its first owner. Though this resort is not identified directly with any illegal actions, previous owners have been noted for suspicious behavior. The Kadswell Estate also features a number of outdoor activities, such as hunting, riding, hiking, rafting, swimming..."

"Rafting?" Kirk hadn’t been rafting since he was a teenager on Tarsus IV. It was one of the few happy moments he had experienced on that nightmare of a world before the supply ships had failed to arrive and Governor Kodos had declared that half the population would have to be put to death. Strange, Kirk thought, how those few pleasant hours, rafting with his friend Tom Leighton had been one of his happiest childhood memories.

The young Jim Kirk had elected to visit for a summer on Tarsus IV with his family’s friends, the Leightons, when the catastrophe had hit, and no help had seemed available. Four thousand people had been executed to save the remaining four thousand from starvation. It had been debated over the years since that had not help arrived, Governor Kodos may have been considered a hero. But the Federation had diverted more than enough supplies to save the colony from the agricultural plague, and history had marked Kodos a murderer instead. Tom Leighton’s parents had been executed, along with four thousand other unfortunate ‘inferior’ souls. Tom himself had been tossed into the disintegration chamber Kodos had devised when Starfleet forces, learning what was happening, stormed the governor’s mansion and cut the power to dreadful device. Tom had come out horribly scarred—mentally as well as physically—for life, but alive. Kirk’s own father had saved the boy, having Tom beamed up to the Federation patrol ship Thunderbolt for immediate medical treatment.

Kirk had tried to cling to the few pleasant moments on that world to combat the almost overwhelmingly bitter ones.

Spock must have noticed his companion’s sudden solemn manner. His captain was obviously remembering something disturbing. "Could you tell me about rafting, Jim?" Spock asked. "I am unfamiliar with it."

Kirk looked up, smiling an apology to his friend. "Rafting is great, Spock. It’s still a popular recreational hobby, on Earth especially. Individuals or groups of people ride rafts down the rapids of a river." Kirk paused, causing his companion to stop as well.

"Isn’t that dangerous?" the Vulcan asked, amazed.

Kirk’s grin surfaced, a mischievous glint touching his expression. "It can be," he returned, enjoying the relaxing moment away from the ship and with his friend. Their friendship had taken years in its development, yet after the times of shared experience and sacrifice, Kirk had still found Spock to be a very inquisitive and intelligent man with a large repertoire of knowledge and skills, as well as having come to trust him as his closest friend.

he Vulcan tilted his head in slight wonderment. "What can rafting really accomplish?"

Kirk paused, and the Vulcan looked at him attentively. "Some have found rafting to be a means of illustrating their inner strength, Spock. Man combating the elements of nature and winning is a task that is not always easily accomplished." Seeing that the other was looking at him curiously, Kirk continued up the path, stepping up onto the marble steps of the building. Spock remained beside him.

"Have you gone rafting often?" Spock asked as his companion pulled the cord that hung by the door. The Human looked over at him and smiled. He was interrupted by the opening door before he could answer.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen." A servant stepped back, opening the door wider to grant them admittance. Glancing past them, he saw no one else and returned his attention to the visitors.

"Good afternoon, we represent Enprint, a new corporation operating in this sector. Pardon the lack of formality, but we would like to meet with the president of Kadswell to discuss some business matters," Kirk announced, attention centered solely on the servant. Spock had also become totally serious, standing by patiently.

The servant nodded to the declaration. "Your names, sirs?"

"My name is Tiberius Kearne, and this is my chief accountant, Seton. Forgive us for not scheduling an appointment, but a business associate recommended your organization for specialized work with...unusual commodities."

The attendant nodded, noting the two men before him. The one calling himself Kearne was dressed in a thick cotton shirt and dark corduroy pants and vest. The front of the vest was open except for three lines of chains that linked one side to another. He had the appearance of an accomplished businessman. A cloak strung loosely about his shoulders was intricately embroidered in a multiple of colors. Tiberius Kearne’s confidant, straightforward approach labeled him to be a man of action and aggression, characteristics that were necessary for a successful businessmen. Kearne’s tone, slightly boisterous, identified him to be a man used to being recognized for his apparent business success.

His Vulcan companion was wearing black pants, blue shirt and a thick black jacket. He bore a silver sash around his midsection. He, too, looked like a man of success. Their stature presented them as men of power and position seeking recreation and business opportunity. They were already dressed for the occasion.

"It is a pleasure to welcome you, gentlemen. Please wait here while I inform my employer of your arrival."

With the luxurious reception room left to themselves, Spock turned to his companion. "It could be beneficial for the executive board to come here. This would be something that Humans value, time out on the countryside?"

Kirk nodded. His first officer was very good at maintaining the facade by continuing the leisurely conversation on the possibility the reception room was being monitored. "No matter how many years living on a space station, Seton, it’s always nice to get your feet on firm ground from time to time."

As the two of them waited for the master of the estate, they took in the elegant beauty of the room, the luscious wood furniture and plump cushions. The style of the furniture and paintings appeared not to originate exclusively from Earth, but was more like a combination of cultures. The room’s contents represented many of the known worlds of the Federation, thus giving them the sense of the exotic. They seemed to represent the best selection of those societies, Andorian, Human, Tellarite, Orion, Vulcan and others. Fresh fruits and flowers were also distributed attractively in bowls and plates at different points of the chamber. There was even an old beautiful Romulan vase on one table. Spock silently approached the artifact for a closer inspection.

Their host entered the room. He was a large man, almost the same height and build as Kirk, save for a more generous girth due to obvious and constant "high living." The man walked with effort, having been aroused from relaxing in the backyard near a pool. The thin robe he wore fit tightly around his stout frame. He hesitated, taking in the appearance of the two men before him, before happily approaching them with an eager hand.

"Welcome to Betazed," he announced eagerly, pumping Kirk’s and Spock’s hands. "Mars told me I had guests. I don’t usually expect visitors so soon in the season." His handshake to both of them was firm and confident though slightly moist. "I’m Michael Kadswell."

"Tiberius Kearne. This is my associate, Seton." Kirk smiled, accepting the handshake. "I hope Kadswell Incorporated won’t mind my use of your private landing field for a surprise visit."

Kadswell shook his head. "No problem. Mars mentioned you are interested in arranging a business transaction with Kadswell. Perhaps while we discuss specifics, you could stay a few days in holiday."

"Yes, we are very interested," Kirk returned, his tone a lot more firm and expectant then it had been when addressing the servant. Spock nodded.

After the years of association, the Vulcan had come to realize that his companion certainly knew how to handle people of all classes. It was no surprise that Kirk had become such an accomplished captain and admiral with his ability to communicate with various life forms and not just Humans. He seemed to easily understand nearly all of them. And Kirk seemed to find it a simple matter to determine how to approach individuals on their own levels. Such characteristics were essential for the smooth running of a starship. And yet, along with the Human talents, Kirk still retained a great deal of hidden complexity—strangely unique from other Humans the Vulcan had associated with. Perhaps that was part of the basis of the camaraderie that had developed between them—each noting and appreciating the uniqueness of the other. It kept Spock intrigued with Kirk.

The seven missing persons on this planet had been Federation heroes. Certainly, it could tempt dishonorable people to lay claim on a famed renegade starship captain—if they learned Kirk’s true identity. Spock had every intention of preventing that from happening. Kirk had not considered any danger to himself when he accepted the mission, and the Vulcan thought it strange—if not improbable—that the Federation would choose to send Kirk on such a mission alone.

And though Kirk had not seemed concerned about the oath of Klingon ambassador Kamarag back on Earth—that the Klingons would eventually have Kirk’s head—Spock had every intention of ensuring his captain’s safety.

"Please permit me to present you with a tour of the premises," Kadswell said. "I will have one of my assistants give you a tour around the grounds and facilities, while I instruct my staff to prepare a dinner in your honor. Afterwards, you and your associate and I can discuss the...commodities in which you wish to deal."

"Dinner..." Kirk looked pensive.

Kadswell looked expectantly at Kirk. "You will stay, won’t you? After all, we weren’t expecting you, and I will need time to contact my own associates to set up a meeting."

"I guess that would be fine." Kirk noted, as did Spock, the man’s obvious impatience. Kadswell spoke in a rush as if something disturbed or excited him—Kirk could not tell which. Yet, they were unable to make any further observations as their host pulled a cord near a large fireplace. The same servant that had met them at the door answered the page.

"Mars, take these gentlemen to the private library. Summon Nlairan to give them the special tour. Tell the cooks we will be having two guests for dinner."

"Sirs," Mars turned to his guests, "if you will please come this way."

Kirk and Spock followed their guide out, each sparing a questioning glance at their host. Yet Michael Kadswell was already leaving the room by another door, hardly giving them a departing farewell.

"Something is wrong," Spock murmured, wishing for more information about this resort.

"We’re not certain of that yet," Kirk said in a whisper, "but he is acting strangely." The captain’s own tone indicated his growing suspicion. The Vulcan noted the other’s keen attention to all around him.

They followed Mars at a discreet distance, their eyes taking in everything as they were led down a long corridor to the library.

In the library, the servant addressed the guests. "Please wait here, gentlemen, while I summon Master Nlairan." With that Mars exited the library, the door quietly closing behind him.

The room was huge, with thousands of books lining the three high walls. The room was two floors high. There were shelves behind shelves, causing a small maze of corridors throughout the huge room. The fourth wall sloped diagonally from the high ceiling of the second floor until it reached the top of the first floor. It then turned sharply horizontal for a foot. The remaining first level wall, strictly vertical, was comprised of a large domed window. It was part of a balcony overlooking the countryside beyond. Outside, they noted a river down the hill, trees lining its banks.

The two briefly took in the beauty of the assortment of tomes in silent appreciation. Three large lounge chairs rested attractively before the window.

Once certain that they were alone in the room, the two of them separated, making an apparently casual inspection of the room. After a moment, a startled exclamation from Kirk drew the Vulcan quickly to the Human’s side.

The Enterprise’s captain stood braced before a small trophy case mounted on a wall. It was strangely void of plaques or medals. Instead, there were various personal items on the velvet backdrop. The items appeared to have been collected by various persona: one was a pin, another an identity disk, another an old-style laser pistol, and so forth. They were enclosed behind a shallow wall of glass.

The Vulcan took in his companion’s suddenly taut features. "What is it, Tiberius?" The Vulcan’s voice was low.

Kirk silently pointed to a small pin, which was shaped in the image of a Federation flag. Inscribed on the silvery surfaces were the letters J.C. "That pin was Paul Conner’s. Janet Conner was his wife. She died seven years ago. That pin was very important to him."

"Conner was here then."

Kirk nodded, anger igniting his eyes. His voice was low, not solely from fear of being overheard. "He would never have voluntarily given it up."

"Then we are on the right track."

"Yes," was Kirk’s only response. He led them back to the center of the room. His expression was more controlled now, as he recovered from the initial shock of identifying his friend’s possession.

His apprehension growing, Kirk brought out his communicator from the confines of his cloak. However, any attempted communication with the ship only resulted in static.

"Jammed. We’ve been set up!" Kirk’s tone was hard and threatening as the two of them hurried to the door Mars had closed. It was locked.

Spock was in the act of bringing his own communicator to his lips to call for transport when Michael Kadswell’s voice boomed through the room’s audio system. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, gentlemen, but I am so glad you could join us. I have a contract for you, Captain Kirk. We have been expecting you. I have some buyers that are keenly interested in purchasing you in spite of your advanced years. And Captain Spock is certainly an added asset."

Kadswell paused, then chuckled. "Imagine the publicity if anyone knew that Captain James T. Kirk and his first officer, Captain Spock, of the famed U.S.S. Enterprise were here on the premises. Unfortunately, the only people we’ve seen today were Tiberius Kearne and Seton, two gangsters of some sort." He laughed aloud, heartily at the situation. "Our clients should be here within the hour. They’ve promised a double reward for such a fine catch."

Again, Kadswell laughed. "Oh, and the library is escape-proof. Please don’t damage yourselves in any vain attempt to leave before my clients arrive." Then the room was silent.

"Damn," Kirk growled. "Slavers."

"I’m not certain that that would be the correct term for our kidnappers, Captain. I doubt that we will be employed as manual labor. No doubt they will want information from us. Perhaps a better term would be—"

The look on Jim Kirk’s face stopped Spock’s lengthy analysis.

"Slavers, then," Spock conceded. "I should point out that they expected or became aware of our arrival. There appears to be a definite leak at Federation Security. It is possible you were manipulated into coming here, not to investigate your friend’s disappearance, but to rather provide the next sale for the...slavers."

Kirk began a quick scrutiny of the walls and corridors of the room while Spock hurried to the window to check its construction.

The window appeared to be thick and strong. The Vulcan lifted his hand toward the smooth surface and felt the hard repulsing force of a deflector shield about three inches away from the window. It was as transparent as the window. Looking beyond it to the outside, the first officer could see a six foot drop to the ground below.

Kirk made quick surveillance of the room looking for anything that could help them in their escape. If they could get out, maybe they could circle back to the shuttle at the landing field, or, if that was guarded, they could possibly get lost in the woods. Outside they could also hopefully get away from what was jamming their communicators provided they could get out of range. It would depend on whether the jamming device was limited to the building of the resort or to the grounds as well.

They searched desperately for all possible exits. They needed to investigate the resort fully, but first they had to escape, and then return with larger numbers.

In his search of the library, Kirk noticed several surveillance monitors housed within the room. Their conversations and their very actions could be watched if they were not eliminated. It only required a few short acts of sabotage to deactivate them. Kirk then returned to the window to watch the Vulcan testing the defense shield for weaknesses.

Minutes later, they stood together in the room’s center. There was no visible means of escape. Two heavy chairs lay broken near the window, silent witness to their attempts to penetrate the deflector shield—that effort, too, unsuccessful. Kirk stood with arms folded, body planted firmly between slightly parted feet, a set expression on his face. Spock’s hands were clasped behind his back. The Vulcan was obviously in deep contemplation as he merely stared at the window. It appeared to be the only obvious avenue for escape. Kirk stared at his companion, expelling his breath impatiently. "Any ideas, Spock?"

"The shield is one of standard manufacture. We would need to produce m-rays in order to weaken it. Because of the oblique angle, they would be most effective if aimed directly as the shield projector."

"That means determining the source of the emissions." But Kirk’s mind was racing through several subjects and could not help but remark, "These people seem to have no qualms about the ownership of others." His voice was sharp with irritation.

The Vulcan glanced at his companion only once before again approaching the window, but instead of giving it his full attention, Spock now took notice of the positioning of the walls and ceiling in conjunctions to the window. Also, as the science officer walked about the floor directly in front of it, he began leaning down looking at the ceiling from different angles. His expression intense, he made comparisons and seemed to determine the certain correlation point of where the deflector shield was being created to protect the window specifically without influencing any other part of the room.

After several long minutes, Kirk spoke, "Spock?"

The Vulcan finally came to a decision. "I have an idea, Captain."


"We would have better success in an escape once we interrupt the source of the deflector shield." The Vulcan walked confidently over to precisely four feet from the window and pointed an accusing finger to a small innocent looking tile in the ceiling where the first floor merged into the second. It looked identical to all the others. "I surmise that this is the location of where the shield is being powered."

Kirk shook his head. It must have taken quite an involved process to even set up a deflector field that only protected the window, having to undergo a complex series of calculations to consider the contours of the room, the size and width of the window and the strength of the shield, and above all allow free access throughout the room except for the window. One would have to be a genius to determine the—

Kirk could not help but smile. With a mixture of pride and anticipation he watched his first officer.

In support to his theory, the Vulcan lifted the palm of his hand up toward the tile where it would be positioned at a forty-five degree angle between the tile and the window. Instantly, Spock’s hand was thrust aside. Spock returned his hand to match its companion that rested serenely behind his back.

"Theory now a proven fact, I need to construct an m-ray transmitter to disrupt the deflector shield so as to no longer support the window or to see if we could make them irregular. Therefore, the force of the deflector itself could serve as a destructive force against the window."

Kirk’s attention perked up, a flicker of hope igniting his eyes. "What do you need?" The list was brief and detailed, and the two of them, now with a plan, worked together to search the room for the needed parts. Several carefully-lit abstract works of art located throughout the library—including a gorgeous, old-style, fiber optic piece—were cannibalized for some of the needed material. Two fully dissected surveillance monitors in conjunction with Spock’s own communicator, provided other essential ingredients. It required a few minutes of precious time of frantic concentration and effort before they created a crude from of transmitter. Finally, they dragged a heavy oak table to the center of the room, Spock gently rested the device on the smooth surface.

As Kirk was turning a table on its side and shoving two heavy chairs against it to bar the doors, Spock used an electrical outlet to activate the device. The Vulcan took several moments making the necessary adjustments and trial runs. The final hum encompassing the room was low and loud. There was a sound of a commotion outside the library doors.

Kirk looked expectantly at the defense field and window. "Nothing."

Spock increased the frequency. The window, the entire walls and shelves of the room began to shiver. The air in the room was still, yet Kirk began to feel a growing pressure against his body as if from a growing wind. The air was still, but the impression of a wind began to increase as Kirk felt an unseen current of pressure against him. The hum turned to a high-pitched whistle.

Kirk rose his hands to his ears, realizing that such an aggravating noise if uncomfortable to a Human would be pure agony for a Vulcan. But his first officer maintained a sure hand over the transmitter, his second hand resting near the first as an added support. The face of the communicator lay open exposing the components within. One of them was turning a bright red—obviously being hard-pressed to handle the unusual emissions for which it was not originally designed.

"You were complaining about dangerous sports," Kirk hollered over the increasing roar.

They were then rewarded by a room transformed into sudden chaos. A powerful unseen force literally shoved against them and blew past, throwing them both back. Kirk was shoved to the floor while Spock, still barely standing, forcibly maintained one loose hand on the transmitter. The Vulcan returned both hands to secure the device. Near one wall, an entire shelf of books tumbled to the floor as the shelf next to the wall overturned.

Kirk smiled as he watched a large crack finally appear in the window. It immediately branched out into an entire network of cracks throughout the glass.

Spock stumbled under the onslaught of whirling currents. His connection with the transmitter broke; its equilibrium interrupted, the device suddenly exploded in the Vulcan’s hands. The science officer jerked back as the transmitter burst into flame. Spock rested his hands at his side as Kirk jumped up from off the floor.

"We now have a chance," Kirk said.

But Spock hardly heard him; his own ears were still ringing.

As they took a moment to adjust to the now deafening silence, there was an alarm shrieking throughout the mansion. There was the definite whine of a low-powered phaser at the barred door.

"We’ve got to get out! We need to warn Starfleet about these people." Kirk started toward the window.

Spock stretched one hand toward the other’s arm. "Wait, Jim. We need to—" He turned to reactivate the transmitter but saw only blackened remains. There didn’t seem to be much left of his communicator; nevertheless, the Vulcan retrieved it.

Kirk took in the consequences with a glance. "There’s no time! It’s got to be good enough. Come on, Spock!" Not waiting for an answer, Kirk ran toward the window. Bending down, he grasped the last remaining unbroken chair. With all his strength, the Human whirled it against the now unprotected glass. The effort was answered with a rewarding crash.

Wasting no more time, Kirk called out Spock’s name once more before jumping toward the gaping hole. At the last moment, he twisted his back around so as to shove it against the window. It was stubborn, and Kirk hoped to force the hole wider to permit their escape. With his full weight behind him, Kirk shattered through the glass.

Spock was instantly behind him as the two of them fell through the window down to the hard earth below. Spock missed landing on his companion by mere inches, both having the air knocked out of them. The debris of the window came raining down upon them.

Dragging himself up, Spock favored his left arm as he limped over to the still inert Kirk. A few parts of the library chairs framed the captain’s still form. The Human was conscious, lying back against the ground, lips pressed tightly together. Sparing only a single glance at the window above, the Vulcan crouched down next to his friend.

"What is it, Captain?" he asked, seeing the pain clearly evident in Kirk’s eyes. Kirk was no longer a young man; the fall could have easily broken his back.

When the captain spoke, his words were accompanied with a gasp. Kirk paused a moment before answering, "My leg, I think it’s broken—maybe it’s my hip," he panted.

As if in support of the statement, Spock noticed blood on the ground. His captain’s pant leg was torn, and the Vulcan noted broken bone protruding out of the reddening material. It was mostly being absorbed by the Human’s cloak. "It’s your upper femur."

Spock heard voices above them belonging to at least three men entering the library. Their search would soon direct them to the window. It was essential for the two of them to get out of sight before their pursuers took aim at them.

"We’d better hurry," Kirk offered.

"Can you make it?" The science officer would not consider making an escape if he thought it would kill his friend. He had postponed escape before—for Kirk’s sake.

Kirk studied his friend intently. He didn’t answer the question directly. "I can be moved, Spock." He forced a smile. "You’ll have to carry me somewhere where we can hide, I’m afraid."

The slavers would expect them to return to the shuttle at the landing field. There would undoubtedly be a welcoming committee if they tried it. Instead, they would have to do the unexpected.

Spock scooped his captain up and lifted his captain up onto his shoulder, paying particular care of the broken leg. After adjusting the other’s weight, Spock took a moment and kicked loose dirt over the few spots of blood on the ground from the Human’s wounds. Spock’s ankle, his entire foot, throbbed with pain from the effort. The combined weight of both of them now rested predominately on the Vulcan’s right leg. Kirk’s weight, in addition to his newly sprained ankle, made for slow progress for the science officer as he finally reached the riverside. Spock hoped that his arm was only sore.

By the time their kidnappers had finally made it to the window, the Starfleet officers had reached a cluster of trees that lined the river without being spotted. With his enhanced hearing, Spock heard the order to search the house.

Kirk’s breathing was becoming raspy as Spock stood a moment against a tree, gathering strength.

The river rushed past them. As Spock started to turn down the river’s side, his charge sputtered, spotting something behind them. "S-Spock. There a raft behind you. Let’s take it. The river...may be our only chance."

The Vulcan leaned against one the trees that lined the river, looking at the river raft tied to a small pier. "Captain, I’ve never been on—"

Kirk continued, ignoring his friend’s rebuttal. "Neither of us is in condition to double back to the shuttle."

Spock hesitated.

"We’ve got to," Kirk encouraged before finally issuing the command: "That’s an order, Captain Spock."

Sighing with resignation, the Vulcan headed for the raft. His walk was erratic as he tried not to stumble against the weakness of his foot, but Vulcan discipline aided him in not crying out in pain. The decline of land into the water was sharp. Spock had to step into the river to reach the raft, which was tied to the pier, resting half-way in and out of the water.

Stumbling over the rubber sides of the boat, the science officer nearly dropped his wounded companion into the raft.

Kirk moaned as his blood-stained leg rubbed against the deck. He clenched his teeth shut to avoid any further utterance.

Spock busied himself untying the boat from the pier. He took special care to ensure that his back was positioned between the rope and the watching Kirk as much possible. The Vulcan knew Kirk would become worried if he saw his hands; though his hands were not bleeding, they were severely scorched, making movement difficult.

The Vulcan’s breathing was raspy, although they had traveled only a short distance. The ice-cold water of the river seemed to numb his ankle a bit, and Spock was able to wade back to the raft without stumbling.

Centering his attention fully on their newly claimed vessel, the Vulcan shoved it out into the water, jumping into it as the outer current gradually began to catch it and slowly carry it along. The current hurried them down the river and away from the mansion and its surrounding grounds.

The science officer made a quick assessment of the raft’s contents. Two storage containers lined a part of the rim, and part of the floor in the center of the raft was raised up to provide seating for whoever was to man the oars. The rest of the deck was flat and pliable. In the center of the raft were two ten-foot oars connected to the raft on either side by rings.

Glancing over to a silent Kirk, Spock sat down in the raft’s center and gingerly dislodged both oars. Using his full weight, he began to stroke their way out further into the swift current, taking turns maneuvering each oar.

Spock’s stilted, jerky actions as he attempted to compensate for the swaying motions of the craft might have been amusing if Kirk hadn’t been worrying about their pursuers. Kirk tried to sit up, but had to clamp his mouth tight to stop himself from crying out. They’d need to make good their escape before any examination could be made to determine personal injury, compliments of their escape.

Although with luck their pursuers might not realize the raft was missing or that they had taken it, the slavers eventually would begin searching the river. Kirk turned his attention back to Spock. The boat was wobbling fiercely.

"You must use the oars simultaneously, Spock," Kirk announced as he watched his companion struggle with the wooden instruments. The Human’s concentration was just as intense as when he had first fallen out of the window. He watched the Vulcan’s every action, paying particular attention to his face. Kirk’s voice was unusually loud, in spite of their precarious circumstances for want of stealth.

Expression leery, Spock gingerly inserted both flat sides of the oars down into the water at the same time and began to stroke in a synchronized manner as the boat finally began to pick up pace, catching the full current, and the scene of the mansion, slivered between the trees, slowly began to move away from them.

"That gives us a little time," Kirk murmured, as unconsciousness finally claimed him.


Kirk awoke with a sharp outcry of pain, realizing it was his own as he felt his face pressed against a watery floor. His science officer was in the process of resetting his leg. An inch of water was pooled around Kirk’s face and chest. He had to move his head slightly to prevent a small wave from getting into his face. The Vulcan had laid the Human face down on the raft and had torn away much of Kirk’s pant leg to expose his broken leg. The captain couldn’t tell how long he had been unconscious, but from what he could see of the wild terrain around them, the manor was far behind them. The fast-paced current of the river had carried them further into the forest.

Kirk held his breath against the pain as Spock set the leg between two short tent poles, claimed from within one of the boxes of the raft. He bound the leg with some of the rope from the same tent. Bandaging the leg as much as possible, the Vulcan then added some disinfectant to the wounds. From the same discovered medikit, Spock made quick work of doctoring Kirk’s wounds. As a final step, the Vulcan removed the tassel from around his waist to wrap it securely around Kirk’s leg, hoping to keep it warm and dry as much as possible. Once he was finished, he gently helped Kirk to lie face up in the raft. With a little added effort, he was sitting firmly against the side of the raft.

"Welcome back, Jim," the Vulcan announced with forced cheerfulness, leaning back from his labor to acknowledge his friend’s sweating brow.

Spock was answered only by silence. The Vulcan turned sharply to face his captain. Realization dawned. "You cannot hear." It was not a question.

There was the briefest of pauses, then the reluctant admission, "I can’t hear you, Spock."

"How long?" Spock mouthed his words.

Kirk looked back at his friend. "I’m afraid that your m-ray projector did a little too effective of a job. I’ll appreciate Bones’ talents as soon as we return to the ship." Kirk hesitated. "Now that the truth’s out, what are we going to do to communicate?"

Spock considered the question, once more settling his eyes to match Kirk’s as they sat opposite each other in the raft. They were close enough so that Kirk could clearly see Spock’s mouth for communication—until the Vulcan was forced to turn around.

"Perhaps a mind-meld, Jim," he offered the suggestion casually.

Kirk didn’t seem to understand as he looked back at the Vulcan in confusion. In response, Spock gently raised one hand with fingers wide. Holding them in the way required for a Vulcan meld.

Kirk understood instantly. "Spock, I know how much of a personal issue it is. The offer in itself is—"

"An efficient means of communication is essential, Captain, if we hope to succeed against our pursuers. And although this is indeed a deeply personal thing, you are one that..." There was the briefest of pauses. "I would not mind a deeper communication with you, Jim." Again the pause, then in a lighter tone, he added, "I would even welcome it."

Kirk beamed his response. He hadn’t caught all Spock had said, but the intensity of the Vulcan’s expression signified the meaning. What other option was there? "Let’s do it."

In answer, the Vulcan gently rose a hand. With the lightest of touches, Spock rested his long fingers against Kirk’s temple and the side of his face. For a brief moment, the infiltration startled Kirk, and he pulled back out of the meld. It felt— "Spock," he chuckled a little self-mockingly. "I guess it’s been a few years. I’d forgotten how it...felt."

"The exposure of our inner selves is on both sides, Captain. However, I do not know of an alternative solution to fulfill our needs. Communication is essential; we need to consider viable alternatives to compensate for the lack of hearing. Under normal circumstances, I would take time to erect mental walls to protect the more personal areas of the mind, as I have in the past. These walls are present for all but life-mates. Unfortunately, given our current situation, there isn’t time to properly form them."

Kirk nodded, again responding more to the Vulcan’s intensity than his words. "I know it’s important, Spock." The Human bowed his head as he made an admission, shaking his head. "For the last few years, I’ve wanted to renew the experience. The need never seemed to surface." He chuckled self-derisively. "And now I balk at the opportunity."

Kirk looked at his friend, glad the Vulcan could hear him. "In our years of association, it was those rare times when we had the opportunity to share a mind-meld that I’ve come to treasure the most. During the melds, we seemed to really begin to know...and understand one another. I think...I think it helped in our friendship, Spock."

"I concur. And it may help again."

"So, now that you’re back from the dead and better, and the situation here is critical, well, I guess now’s as good a time as any." Kirk laughed outright, beckoning the Vulcan closer with a wave of the hand. He winced as a sharp stab of pain erupted up his back. Beads of perspiration dotted his temples and forehead.

Spock re-established contact, thoughts partly upon Kirk’s condition. He felt the Human’s pain, yet with it was a fierce determination to persevere. That fighting spirit was one of the key elements that had contributed to the Vulcan’s loyalty to this man.

How bad is it? Kirk asked, referring to his injuries.

It will be important that you avoid movement.

I feel like my back is being torn apart. The glass?

Yes. There is one particular piece...

Kirk winced. I think...I think I know precisely which one you’re talking about. Having no hearing certainly hasn’t stopped the nerves in my back.

Kirk knew that deafness caused by explosions could be temporary and that given a few hours, it often returned to normal. Now, when hearing was such a vital issue to their survival, he hoped that would be the case. He could hear nothing but a ringing in his ears. It seemed to have lessened a little since he had first noticed it. That might be a good sign. He hoped that observation was not just fond wishes.

It is very possible, Jim, that in a few hours your hearing could return. If not, then Doctor McCoy will know the best course to follow.

Kirk nodded to his friend’s encouragement. He glanced at the hand now held close to his face. It looked like it had been severely burned. Spock’s hands had obviously been damaged when the transmitter had exploded. Did that make a mind-meld more difficult?

I am fine, Jim. They will heal.

Kirk tried to shift his leg and winced in pain.

I highly recommend minimal movement. We will require Doctor McCoy’s expertise to conduct full repairs. The Vulcan made quick work of adding disinfectant to Kirk’s scraped face and arm as efficiently and gently as he could.

Kirk watched the Vulcan’s stilted movements. Spock had not escaped without injury either. The Vulcan favored his right leg and the movement of his hands were stiff. He wondered at the pain of having to use burned hands to manage wooden oars.


The other looked up, and Kirk extended his hand expectantly.

Understanding, the Vulcan gave his captain the disinfectant spray and several bandages allowing Kirk to conduct some first-aid of his own. When he was finished, Spock’s hands were wrapped in white bandages. Spock then returned the materials to the first box.

They shared a few moments of silence until Spock once more positioned his hand to Kirk’s face. The contact was a little more awkward due to the bandages, but they continued the mind-meld.

It looks like neither of us are in a position to walk, Kirk projected, letting the first officer know he realized the Vulcan’s condition as well as his own. So much for a chance to leave the raft and go across land.

The Vulcan nodded. While you were unconscious, the river branched out several times since leaving the estate. We passed through a large fen before entering the outlet. Most unusual, but typical of the waterways of Betazed. It will, therefore, present several possible paths that our pursuers would need to follow in order to find us. At this time, remaining on the raft does appear to be our only plausible option.

Then you won’t mind me giving you a few pointers on rafting then—that is until we get out of this? Kirk’s head turned to note the other’s concentrated expression.

Spock nodded his head, suddenly looking a little troubled. At the moment, Spock, seemed more capable in sensing Kirk’s emotions through the meld. Kirk hoped he, too, would be able to pick up more of his friend as he became reacquainted with the procedure.

What else? Kirk pressed.

The Vulcan obviously looked embarrassed about something and when Kirk moved to face him, Spock gently drew him upright, making sure his back was secure so as not to dislodge the remaining shard of glass. The hand was then quickly repositioned.

What is it, Spock? Kirk demanded more firmly.

Spock looked down at the raft. The admission was obviously difficult. When you were out, I was kneeling in the boat. I had taken out my communicator in an attempt to conduct some repairs... The rapids were approaching... The expression on his face made it clear that what had happened had not been a pleasant experience.

Lost in the river, Kirk surmised.

Yes, the other echoed. Spock turned to look at the passing country side.

But Kirk couldn’t resist. He had to laugh. It would have been a hearty moment of mirth had not the Human’s wounds reminded him of their presence, but he couldn’t help smiling and chuckling at the other’s expense.

Spock knew Kirk wouldn’t let him live it down. The Vulcan’s mouth twitched, not quite a smile, trying to appreciate the humor, although the seriousness of their situation countered it. He hoped the Human would choose to remind him of the event only when they were alone on the ship—provided they lived that long.

Kirk rolled his eyes heavenward, yet the only thing he could think of was wishing he had seen Spock during his first meeting with the rapids. At least he now understood why there had been water in his face when he had awakened face down in the raft. And even after going through rapids already, with Spock’s inexperience, they were still afloat. That said something in credit to Spock’s intellect. The Vulcan would have to learn quickly if they wished to survive.

Moving slowly, carefully, Kirk lifted and searched within his cloak for his communicator. They only met static in their attempt to communicate with the Enterprise.

They must have an amplified transmitter to jam at this distance, Spock concluded. It would be logical, if the resort has the underground operation of kidnapping high ranking Federation officials for private buyers. They would require the necessary equipment to take security precautions. They would want to avoid any undesired monitoring by Federation authorities. They are fortunate that this continent of Betazed is sparsely populated. The Vulcan shifted as he knelt closer to his captain. I need to check our resources.

Spock began searching one of the two waterproof boxes in the raft. The containers each measured about a meter in length and a half meter in width. Obviously they had been equipped to service trips on the river.

"What are you hoping to find, Spock?" asked Kirk.

I am taking inventory of the supplies. I found the medikit and tent in the first box. Spock pointed to the already opened container to emphasize his meaning. A second box remained uninvestigated.

Kirk nodded, or tried to. He was at an uncomfortable angle but said nothing, not yet possessing the strength to move himself. After a moment, Kirk prompted, "Well?"

The Vulcan took a moment for a little more rummaging. There’s some food, pumps, ropes, a map, but no weapons. I will show you. Spock left his friend’s side long enough to claim a thin silicone plate from the inside of the second box. Engraved on its smooth surface appeared to be some geographical information. He brought it over to Kirk to permit him a look, tracing a path along one crooked line.

The mental communication became easier and easier with the passage of time. A map. Logically, this would indicate the river we’re on.

I agree. Kirk tried to shift, but the pain suddenly shooting up his side changed his mind. He concentrated on the map instead.

We should be able to determine our location, Spock said. While you were unconscious, we came upon a major junction. The river branched off into two paths, and then shortly after that another division leading to three separate rivers. So, if we are being followed, they now have five routes to follow. That may give us an advantage.

For a short time anyway. I suspect that their sensors are probably better than an average tricorder. Kirk studied the map more closely and tried to compare it with the terrain that now surrounded them. He looked up at the sun. Judging from its position when they had first transported down on Betazed, added to the time spent in the library, the captain suspected they may have been on the river for about two hours.

You indicated that we’ve already gone through one set of rapids. Kirk touched one point of the engraved map, pointing to a place where several small Xs had been placed along the river. It then showed two areas where the river had divided into separate routes. Then the parted paths of the river continued along on their own.

Before his friend needed to ask, the science officer answered the coming question. At each junction, I followed the river to the right.

Kirk nodded, glad for the Vulcan’s keen attention to the route they were taking. This would have been more difficult if they hadn’t known where they were.

That means we are probably here, Kirk surmised. His finger rested on a particular area of the map. The other nodded, Kirk then continued. We have been going straight since I awakened. We’re probably halfway to the next major bend. The point on the map showed that the river would eventually be curving around a tight bend, and was also accompanied by additional Xs— signifying more rapids."

You’ve done all this before? Spock asked.

Yes, in my younger, more energetic youth, my brother and friends, even my father used to go down rivers in Iowa. We never became experts, but I do know one or two of the do’s and don’t’s about rafting. He smiled at Spock, and the other could not help but be reminded of the accident with the communicator. The science officer merely nodded.

Kirk continued, Even though you met him a couple of occasions, I wish you could have spent a lot more time with my brother, Spock, and him you. When we were younger, Sam and I, our entire family used to go on camping trips. Let me show you what I remember. Kirk then began to review in his mind some of his most pleasant memories of his childhood: singing around the campfire, combating the currents of a river, the playful teasing among family members, and sleeping under the stars.

When Spock broke the mental link with Kirk, the Vulcan had a contented expression on his face. "Your brother and you were very close."


Spock could sense the warmth radiating from his friend. It was plain to Spock that Jim Kirk had been close to his family when he was younger.

Kirk had to visibly pull his attention back to the matter at hand. Apparently the scenery around them seemed to enhance the memories. Stay to the center of the river, Spock. Position the raft away from the rocks. Avoid the strainers—the sticks near the banks. Be careful of the current turning into itself. Also, it’s important that when we do cross the rocks, we go over by the length of the boat. Otherwise, we could tip over.

Is that all? Spock had a definite look of reservation.

No problem. Kirk’s smile was amused. In our condition, I wonder if we should pull over to the shore. He studied his friend’s hands. Using the oars to combat a river is certainly not helping your hands in the condition they’re in.

Usually I would agree, Captain. The condition of my hands and your injuries would normally be good reasons to leave the river. The Vulcan paused.

But we’re being pursued, Kirk finished for him. We need to cover as much distance as possible, if we hope to outdistance their transmitter and their pursuit forces. Otherwise, we are on our own without the Enterprise’s help. Again the smile, suggesting more bravado than Kirk really felt. There is a chance that our pursuers will count us as lost, and simply abandon coming after us. But the Human’s mind tone bore little encouragement to the apprehensive Vulcan.


In a gentler tone, Kirk continued, I suggest some rest for both of us for about two hours. We should have a straight stretch of river without interruption. My only fear is that they may come after us with hovercars that can outrun us.

Spock nodded. Fortunately, Betazed does not allow hovercars or small aircraft, the Vulcan pointed out. All personal transports are limited to surface craft.

Yeah, but I doubt that Betazed allows kidnapping either, Kirk pointed out. These people are operating outside the law.

Spock turned away to close the raft food unit, but first claimed two nutrition bars. The Vulcan silently handed his captain a strip of jerky, reserving a fruit bar for himself. He took the map and returned it to the storage unit. Closing the case, he slumped against it for support. Spock suddenly sat up, a look of concern on his face, looking at his companion.

"Captain, are you thirsty?" The Vulcan lifted an imaginary cup to his lips as if taking a drink.

Kirk shook his head. He had finally settled himself into a more comfortable position, and he had a more contented look on his face.

Spock reduced the link and returned to settling down for his own comfort. It soon became apparent to Kirk that his first officer still had something on his mind.

"What is it, Spock?"

The Human’s invitation seemed enough. Spock re-established the full link with ease. Kirk’s mind was now open and waiting. I appreciate your sharing some of the fond memories of your childhood. Spock’s mind voice pressed on. Sam was fortunate to have you as a brother.

Kirk smiled. He looked at his friend. It’s nice to know that I can find another brother to help replace the one I lost. The words were formed carefully, almost timidly, as Kirk permitted the warmth within him to transmit through the link.

Spock’s fingers fluttered a bit, but otherwise, he seemed to accept the emotion casually. Finally, he responded, Jim, if I may, I would like to share with you some of my most fond memories of my childhood.

Kirk paused, startled. He doubted either of them had planned to be so open on this trip as now. The mind-meld had become a necessity; now it was proving to be a bridge between past lives. Spock had come to remember much of his experiences prior to his death on the Enterprise and his later restoration on the Genesis planet. Kirk had wondered if that event would cause a permanent separation between them. And yet now Spock had volunteered to share a deeper part of himself. What greater gift of trust from a Vulcan, Kirk could not imagine.

I would be honored. Kirk’s mind tone embodied the awe and reverence he felt within.

In answer, the Human’s mind began to fill with images of a huge furry creature, of a small Vulcan child embracing the sehlat with clear unabated affection. How old could Spock be—four, five? Kirk could not yet guess. Kirk took in the fierce Vulcan landscape and the harsh beauty that represented Spock’s home. And from that vantage point, Kirk finally came to truly appreciate that world’s beauty.

It was with a sense of regret that the images finally faded away. Thank you, Spock.

Spock nodded silently. Nothing needed to be said. They had each shared a deeper part of themselves. Their pasts had helped them become the men they now were. Those events had helped the two of them become friends and to appreciate one another.

Spock returned to the opposite side of the raft to help maintain the balance.

The Vulcan looked unusually tired, Kirk noted, wondering how badly Spock had been hurt from the fall, though his first officer had admitted nothing. Although Kirk would have liked to have a drink, his thirst could wait. Just like the Vulcan to be concerned about his welfare when he himself was hurt and tired.

"Rest, Spock," Kirk encouraged him.

The Vulcan did so, but not until he had searched through the storage units further. He finally found an elastic bandage. He wrapped it firmly around his swollen ankle.

Kirk leaned back against the crate, watching the Vulcan in his silent ministrations, and looking around to take in the lush beauty of the countryside. The river, though swift, remained peaceful and smooth.

After a long moment, when Spock had concluded his self-doctoring he leaned back on the opposite side of the raft from Kirk.

Kirk said in a conversational tone, "You know, it’s sometimes just hard to get used to. The beauty of the worlds around us, each unique in its own way." He shook his head in wonderment, expression awed by the scene surrounding him.

Spock nodded. He refrained from answering. He had no real intention of sleeping, but if he gave that illusion to his captain in hopes that perhaps Kirk would rest as well, then the Vulcan could act as sentinel until their rescue.

Kirk, encouraged by his silent, yet attentive companion continued, "They give us such long tours out in space that we don’t always get the chance to enjoy visiting our homeworlds for a while."

Would you wish to be planet bound? Spock asked over the link.

Kirk did not respond immediately, smiling at the answer both of them knew. "In all honesty, no. The stars beckon, and I must follow." Kirk sighed. "But there are times that I wonder...what my life would have been like with a wife and family. I guess I would have been a lonely man had I not had you, Bones and the others on the ship."

I suspect that the captaincy of a starship does not fulfill all the desires of your heart, Jim. There is an emptiness in your heart that has become even more profound.

David. Kirk looked unseeingly at the countryside. He was just a baby when Carol and I parted. We each had our own careers. When I last saw him, it was just before I accepted command of the Enterprise...

I mourn the death of your son, Jim.

Time seemed to pause for a moment, then Kirk merely nodded. I would have liked to have known him better before...before he transferred to Genesis. If only...

You could not foresee the arrival of the Klingons, Spock stated in a soft mental voice as he watched his captain lean his head against the rim of the raft. His eyes had become moist, and the Vulcan, in respect for the Human’s privacy, started to withdraw from their link.

Kirk’s next words stayed him. I can’t see me ever forgiving the Klingons for what they’ve done, Spock. The Human turned to the Vulcan, and Spock saw a rare fury dominate his captain’s eyes. Though the Human tried to contain the emotions in the link, some of the intensity still bled through. I’d die before I’d ever again act as if to befriend a Klingon.

Your feelings are strong in your hate against them. Emotionally, you are justified in your anger. You see them as responsible for the death of a loved one. Perhaps it would be fortunate for the Klingons and yourself if you were never to be required to interact with them further.

For all their boasts of honor, Spock, I see a race no more unworthy of honor than they.

Spock tilted his head. There was a time when you saw good in them, Jim. Even the Organians...

I pray that the Organian prophecy will not be fulfilled in my lifetime.

There was a lull in the conversation as the two friends took in the beautiful scenery around them. Spock finally resumed the conversation. If there were ever to be peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, I know one man who could be instrumental in the success of that eventual union. A man known for his compassion, ingenuity, courage, and skill. A man that the Klingons have come to respect. A man whom I, upon several occasions, have heard to be labeled as the first line ambassador to the stars.

Sarek? Kirk guessed.

The Vulcan shook his head. James T. Kirk.

The captain’s laughter was short and bitter. No, Spock. I think Hell would freeze over first before I’d be picked. Too much water has passed between us. Get the Klingons and me together into a room, and we’d probably start intergalactic war on the spot. I thought...I thought the day would never come that I’d say something like that.

Kirk pressed on. I’m no longer the man to offer the olive branch when it comes to the Klingons. And Ambassador Kamarag has stated outright where I stand with the Empire.

We each have our separate destinies, came the calm rebuttal.

And what about you, Spock? If we had peace in the universe, if by some strange miracle, the Klingons and I had become bosom buddies—what about you? Would you eventually return home to Vulcan for a wife and children? Following your father’s footsteps as Ambassador from Vulcan? Kirk asked casually, forcing a smile. Yet his casualness sounded fake to his ears.

In this area of the conversation, the meld seemed to waver. Kirk could see that he had come to one of Spock’s brick walls. There was still parts in each of their lives that remained ‘private’, even among the closest of friends.

Kirk returned the conversation to safer ground. It beats me what drives one to do what they do, Spock. I can’t believe I’ve been in space all these years. As a youth, I had worried that perhaps I would actually become bored in space. I’ve learned that I’ve hit only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeing all that the galaxy has to offer. And sometimes, I wonder if I’ll persevere yet again against the challenges that face us.

You have become a man of legend, Jim.

Kirk shook his head. In my own mind anyway.

The Vulcan continued, ignoring Kirk’s flippant remark. I have never known a man so capable of exemplifying the best of what the Federation represents, the Vulcan admitted seriously. You obviously enjoy being a starship captain. May I say that it suits you?

Thanks, Kirk returned, his smile now a little more sincere. His thoughts lingering over past missions, and past successes. My accomplishments, the success of the Enterprise are largely attributed to you, too, Spock. Before the Vulcan could deny him, the Human pressed on, mind voice subdued in his own confession. I value your counsel, my friend. His eyes bore into those of this first officer. I have always valued your wisdom. You know that.

Indeed, the Vulcan admitted.

The Human shifted, suddenly timid. We are getting back to what is was like before, Spock. I want you to understand me, what we were in our friendship before you died. I want to understand you but—after all that has happened: Khan, Genesis...the Klingons—I don’t want to make you feel...uneasy about our friendship.

Yes, I know. The Vulcan paused, looking away for a moment. The mood of their previous conversations had rarely been as serious or intimate between them as it was now. Gone were their roles of responsibility. Each of them was now talking man to man, friend to friend. In a quiet tone, Spock answered, It requires evaluation... recollection...and the acknowledgment of the required cost.

Cost of my friendship?

Spock hesitated. Vulcans do not give their loyalty easily, sir. The Vulcan looked out into the countryside, still talking mind to mind by hand to face. I obviously gave you my full allegiance before my memory loss. I have remembered many points of my life...

Yet your commitment to me is under new evaluation. Kirk sighed with reluctant acknowledgment. Trying to lighten the mood of intense seriousness, he added, I have always found you to be a highly efficient first officer, Mister Spock. You need only to support me as my first officer while on duty if you aren’t... He looked down.

I have made my evaluation, Captain, and determined the extent of my present loyalty. Kirk looked up, expression apprehensive. As before, I am committed to the man, as well as the captain.

Kirk was taken aback, shocked to silence. He was not certain what he had expected. But to have Spock’s declaration stated so boldly...

Spock continued, You want happiness so much, sir. You wish to give it to others as well. You have had to undergo a great deal of sacrifice in order to achieve your ambitions. Yet in certain respects, you have still retained a certain naivete about life and people.

The rest of the admission took a little more effort, but the first officer pressed on, his mind voice a little lower in the admission. You seem to need someone who is more familiar with...a different perspective of things.

A point of view you are willing to provide? Kirk asked. He looked unconvinced. You’re protecting me? From whom? I know that you’ve had to face some more difficult challenges then I, Spock, the return of your memory for one, death even...

I speak in part of your concern for people. You care a great deal for others’ sorrows. The Vulcan dropped his gaze to study the steady rhythm of the raft. You mentioned to me once, that Doctor Marcus holds you accountable for the death of your son.

She does, admitted Kirk, grimly.

Logic cannot make any influence upon changing her opinion. She, too, does not always see the facts as they are. Spock looked up again at his friend. You have sacrificed much for others, the needs of the many. It disturbs you when people close to you are hurt. You trust your crew, and in turn, they will fight against all odds to never disappoint you. I refer specifically to you the man, not the captain. As the man, James T. Kirk, I think you need, require someone...to whom you can give your full trust.

You, Spock?

In the maturity of your years, you have become more concerned about your ability to make commitments, of failing those you care about. Therefore, I believe you feel that by standing alone, you will not disappoint others. Spock straightened, grimacing at the corresponding stab of pain in his foot.

You think I don’t dare make the commitment in personal relationships? Kirk asked.

You will follow the dictates of your heart, Jim. Spock’s eyes bore into those of his captain. I have known you to be a man of strong integrity. As I have stated, my evaluation has reached the conclusion that you are a man that I would willing follow. I shall always remain beside you.

To keep me on the straight and narrow, no doubt. But Kirk’s warm smile removed any hint of anger. Would it be considered a concession to my independence to acknowledge that I have learned to trust you as I never trusted another? Kirk offered.

It would.

Kirk’s mental laughter filled both their minds, lightening the mood between them. Reluctantly, the meld was gently closed as Spock returned to his position on the other side of the raft, where he merely leaned back, closing his eyes.

The river carried them along gently.


It was late afternoon when they woke. The sun remained hot above them, and Kirk moaned as he rubbed the sore redness on his face—sunburn.

"Spock," he called out to his companion. He paused. He had heard his own voice. Kirk sighed with relief. As he had hoped, the deafness had only been temporary. Yet, just as quickly as had come the joy also came a sense of sadness. The loss of hearing had made it necessary for the mind melds. Thoughts, impressions, the deeper feelings of each were exposed to the other’s view. It had been a special time. Mere vocal communication put one at a disadvantage when it came to communicating heart to heart. It was with a sense of regret that Kirk called out to his Vulcan friend.

Spock drew himself up with a start. The Vulcan looked surprised at finding that he had fallen asleep, obviously more tired than he had anticipated.

"Spock, my hearing is back."

There seemed the briefest of pauses; perhaps his first officer also regretted having to revert to ‘normal’ conversation. But the Vulcan only remarked, "That is good."

Spock crawled over to give his friend a brief examination.

Kirk tolerated it silently, body rigid with pain. There was the distant roar of water before them. With just a short time of not being able to hear, it was wonderful to listen to the sounds of birds and the flow of water around them. The sounds of nature were doubly appreciated, now that hearing had been restored. Emotions aside, Kirk realized that mind-melding would have been difficult during the rapids, and they’d be at the next set soon. The terrain and rocks around them were gradually rising, as the river wound itself down into a small canyon. The sound of tumbling water echoed against the cliff walls, although it was still a little ways away.

The Vulcan seemed oblivious to the approaching danger, intent only upon his captain’s welfare.

"We’ll be reaching the rapids soon, Spock," Kirk rasped, his strained voice still sounding strange to his ears.

In answer, the Vulcan slowly kneeled and tried to hobble across the raft, but at that precise moment, their raft floated over a high rock in the river, and it rubbed a sharp rock against Spock’s weight, momentarily scraping against the Vulcan’s leg. Spock gasped as the boat jerked to one side, and he crumpled to the deck. He had been so concerned about Kirk that he had not wrapped his ankle as quickly as he should have. Yet, with determination supporting him, the first officer crawled the remainder of the way to where the two storage containers were. They were strapped firmly into place onto the raft.

After shoving the storage units apart as much as possible, the Vulcan returned to his captain.

Kirk looked up at him expectantly.

"I’m going to put you between the crates," Spock announced. "That should be the best supported spot on the raft. If you can remain wedged between them it should keep you from moving around much. The first batch of rocks we encountered were extremely unstable." Then, his actions complying with his words, the Vulcan slowly stood up, placing the majority of his weight on his good leg. He part carried and part dragged the Human’s limp frame across the deck to the new position.

Spock took off his cloak to provide a crude sort of cushion with which to protect Kirk’s back. The roar of the river was gradually getting closer.

Kirk spent the next few minutes repeating the instructions of river rafting, being more detailed on what to look for and what to avoid. Spock, keenly attentive to the instructions, nodded solemnly at their conclusion.

Then the rapids were upon them.

The numerous rocks gave the river the appearance of boiling water. Large waves sprayed across the raft’s flanks as Spock endeavored to keep a steady course. Following Kirk’s orders, the Vulcan fought with, and directed the oars in accordance with instruction. Water continued to gush upon them from all sides. They nearly toppled over when the small craft went over one particularly large rock at a sharp angle. Then immediately twisting around, they flew over another rock larger then the first. They took on this one backwards.

The water receded from the rock’s base as the current was sucked away. An oar was suddenly lodged between the raft and the stone. The weight of the water pressed against them on one side, while on the other it formed into a growing whirlpool. In an frantic effort to dislodge the oar, Spock heaved himself against the wooden instrument. The raft shifted, and the oar suddenly swung around, slamming into the Vulcan’s right abdomen, throwing him forcibly against the raft’s edge. The Vulcan cried out, suddenly clutching his side.

Kirk jumped up, instantly alarmed. Vulcan hearts were located in the abdomen— precisely where the oar had hit Spock. Kirk moved to help his friend as he watched the Vulcan try to move, attempting to maintain some sort of balance with his bad foot. A wall of water descended upon them. The Vulcan grabbed frantically for anything that could aid him as he felt himself going over the edge.

Despite his injuries, Kirk was immediately beside Spock, grabbing hold of one leg as the Vulcan fell into the heaving water, part way in and out of the boat. As the first officer desperately held on, the raft lunged forward, once more caught in the swift current, being propelled away from the whirlpool beneath the boulder. With the Human as a counter-weight, Spock tried to lean himself out of the water—coughing and sputtering. Despite their combined energies, Spock finally fell back into the water, exhausted.

"Spock, hang on! Come on!!" Kirk’s heart pounded fiercely as he considered the possibility that he might lose the Vulcan. The Human was wheezing for want of air, his energies depleted. Yet, with one more grand pull, Kirk grabbed the waist of Spock’s pants and yanked. With both their energies taxed to the limit, Kirk was finally able to assist his friend back into the raft. The water continued to tumble and turn around them, the two of them gasping and coughing.

Determined not to let the river rule him, and coughing the remaining water out of his lungs, the Vulcan tried to kneel and return to his position at the oar.

"Keep down, Spock!" Kirk yelled, pulling the other down beside him, using one of the oars in his own efforts to steer the boat. He could feel the bones of his leg shift, and he had to clench his teeth to fight against the urge to cry out. Kirk locked his jaws shut with determination. His act to save his friend had reopened the wound.

Spock returned to desperate paddling, his Vulcan strength lunging the boat forward. He body was bent, an obvious sign that the blow to his side had severely bruised him. It was sheer Vulcan will that forced him on. Fortunately, their craft was relatively small and thus more manageable, permitting them a little more control over the raft.

The raft heaved and turned, and they took the next batch of rocks backwards. Kirk noted a look of genuine concern in the other’s face, yet the Vulcan doggedly held on-face creased with a fighting determination. His stature was etched in agony as Kirk also noted the awkward manner the first officer had his sprained ankle positioned beneath him. He hadn’t taken the time to move it, thoughts solely concentrated on combating the river. They both felt the ragged rocks claw against the bottom of the raft as they plunged on down the river.

Flowing out of the inner current, Spock had to work desperately to avoid a nest of branches. One was too low, and a sharp tree limb dug a deep gouge into his arm. With clenched teeth, Spock continued paddling, his arm bleeding profusely. Finally, they had returned to the main current once more, picking up speed as the river rushed them down through the wilds.

It seemed like an eternity before the rapids finally began to thin out and the Vulcan was able to successfully steer the raft away from most of the rocks. Then the river eventually became smooth once more. The first officer seemed oblivious of the more congenial circumstances. His strokes continued to pound against the water, his strength of will the only thing sustaining his quickly depleting energy.

Kirk was the first to notice that the rapids were now behind them.

Spock’s subconscious seemed to note the smoother water, as he permitted himself to fall against the raft’s rim, breathing heavily. The moisture on his face couldn’t be solely attributed to the river water. He was beginning to hyperventilate, body rigid, pupils dilated, hand clutched to his side.

In a concerned voice he could not suppress, Kirk gently called out, "Spock?" His friend was raised on a desert world. Vulcan had little water, and he knew Spock had limited familiarity with it. "Spock. Are you all right?"

The question seemed enough to draw the other out of his thoughts. The Vulcan concentrated upon their immediate concerns, slowly beginning to breathe more calmly as he fully took in the calm water around them.

It was a long moment before the captain got an answer. When Spock did respond, the Vulcan’s voice was weak. "I think my skill with rafting is sub par."

Kirk laughed, more for the release of pent up tensions than at the statement. Spock had the strength to extend a slight accompanying smile, body drooped against one side of the boat. The oar hit had weakened him severely, and the first officer regretted not having the Vulcan strength that was usually accessible.

After another pause, Spock said, "I must respect any man that has the courage to do this for fun."

Kirk merely looked at him and smiled. "You should try mountain climbing a three thousand foot rock face."

"Perhaps." The Vulcan then changed the subject, trying to shift his leg as he spoke, "What was once sprained, I believe, is now broken."

"We’re now a matching pair. Rest a bit...then we’ll...rewrap your ankle." Kirk forced the words out, then didn’t say much more. He knew he dared not move again, his left side felt totally paralyzed. He could not feel the movement of his left foot. He had an overpowering sensation that he must not move. Kirk’s side was aflame with pain. He spoke in sentence fragments and did not exert himself, hoping not to aggravate the situation further. Kirk was not yet prepared for Spock to learn of the possible cost of his help in saving the Vulcan’s life. There was a great deal he was not yet prepared to confess to his companion. Their regained friendship was still under new development. It had deepened considerably by their shared experience here on the raft, but they were each relearning to open themselves up to one another.

After a moment to claim a second breath, the Vulcan crawled over to his friend, looking down at him as water streamed down both their faces. There was about six inches of water in their raft now. Spock’s cloak was soggy against Kirk’s back. The Vulcan seemed about to ask Kirk how he was doing but seemed to assess the situation on his own.

Kirk could almost detect a hint of the growing urgency on the other’s face.

But Spock said nothing; he merely opened up one of the crates, and after a moment withdrew the remaining rope for the tent. He did a further search of the box’s contents before sitting back, disappointed. In one hand, he held a cup. The Vulcan scooped it over the side of the boat and then handed the contents over to his captain for a drink. He took his own turn with the cup once Kirk had finished.

"I would think they would have had more advanced equipment on this boat," Spock observed.

"Sometimes the most simple of remedies is the best solution to a problem, Spock." Kirk straightened himself up carefully. His side had lessened slightly in its agony. The bandages Spock had put upon him were now beginning to itch. The Human was sure that if Spock hadn’t put on the splint and bandages, he would have bled to death. The wraps holding his leg into position were one of the key reasons why he had survived the turbulent ride of the river. He was sure the other reason for his continued survival had been his more secure position on the raft while going down the rapids.

Kirk silently watched as his companion carefully rewrapped his ankle with both bandages. The Vulcan’s foot was bent in an unnatural manner, and it had swelled up to large proportions. Oh, my friend, Kirk thought, damning himself that the first officer would care for him before attending to his own injuries, forcing Kirk to appreciate his friend all the more.

In silent expression of that feeling, the captain stretched one arm over to the left crate, back braced stiffly and opening the lid, claimed two food stuffs, both fruit concentrates this time. At the conclusion of the Vulcan’s self-doctoring he was rewarded with the food. They chewed on their meal in silence, once more taking in the beautiful landscape of the approaching hills and cliffs about them. The river began to widen, the water becoming more shallow.

Both felt the occasional scrape of rock and earth beneath the raft, but the vessel was never hampered enough to stop fully, so they permitted the raft to follow its own course. Passing into the mouth of the canyon, they heard birds in the trees framing the rising rock, and there was an occasional jump of fish disturbing the calm water.

Midway through their meal, while Kirk was still chewing on part of his concentrate, that he pulled the map out of the box. He studied it a moment before stating, "The ship’s probably in orbit by now. Scotty, McCoy and the others will be suspicious since we haven’t reported in. They’ll be on the alert. Try to raise them, will you, while I see what’s coming up." Kirk resumed studying the map.

The channel to the Enterprise did not have as much static as before, yet they still couldn’t get through. Spock’s expression showed his growing disdain at the event.

"Maybe another hour," the Human encouraged his friend. Pointing to the map, he added. "It looks like there’s a camp site ahead, probably another two hours—"

Kirk looked up at the sun. It was lower in the sky now, about three hand widths from the horizon. "It should be night time by then. We’ll stop, and pull to the side before we get there."

"Before the camp site? Why?"

Kirk looked up. "If we were to have a reception committee waiting for us—that would be the most likely spot." He paused for the other’s agreement.

"Logical, Captain." Spock admitted. "Perhaps we will be out of jamming range as well. Then we can call the ship."

"There’re always possibilities," Kirk stated with a return of his natural good humor.

Yes, Spock thought. With the single cup, he silently began scooping out water from the raft.


Kirk woke shivering, teeth chattering. Late afternoon was upon them, and the captain’s eyes slitted open to note Spock quietly looking over the edge of the raft. He had his shirt off, and it was draped, drying, over the side. Kirk observed the totally relaxed expression on the other’s face, with a look of genuine wonderment. Spock was obviously watching some movement in the river.

"What do you see?" Kirk rasped.

Spock, startled from his observations, looked up, the corners of his mouth curving up slightly. "The water is so clear here. There’s a school of fish just beneath us." Spock’s entire stature was relaxed. Obviously, he was thoroughly enjoying this time of temporary reprieve. The sun was hot around them although Kirk continued to shiver. The shadow of dusk was tinting the horizon.

The Vulcan, noting his captain’s discomfort, crawled over to investigate. "What is wrong?"

"C-c-cold." Kirk seethed inside, not appreciating his hampered speech.

As the Vulcan began to search around him, Kirk noted that the deck of the boat was dry. Glancing casually back at his first officer’s shirt, he noticed that it looked wrung out. Spock must have wiped the deck with it.

"Beneath you," the Vulcan observed, remembering his cloak. Gently lifting the Human up, Spock withdrew the sopping material, throwing the soggy cloth over to the center of the raft. "Is that any better?"

Kirk nodded, no longer feeling the concentrated dampness and the paralysis of his back seemed to be temporally absent. He sighed with relief. Spock then retrieved his own now dry shirt, and began wrapping it around his captain after he had removed Kirk’s bloodied one.

"No, Spock, what about you? Isn’t this weather cold to you?" He knew the Vulcan preferred the warmer climate of his homeworld.

"I am not shivering." Spock glanced down the river. "I see an adequate copse of trees where we could pull over. It should provide sufficient cover from any aerial searchers. We’ll make camp, and I’ll see if I can do anything with your communicator to boost the power. Movement on the boat is too unpredictable to conduct work on the river."

Not waiting for an answer, Spock gently laid the captain back down, careful to ensure his comfort. Kirk was no longer shivering. Spock still had the cup he had found in one of the storage boxes. He carefully scooped it into the river and brought it over to Kirk for a drink.

"Thanks," the Human announced after he was finished.

He was rewarded by a curt nod as Spock then turned away to grab both of the oars. He began steering the raft toward the shore.

Kirk gave a sigh of relief. This was the first real opportunity for them to have easy access to this amount of ground cover. Anything else they had passed would have meant moving across land before reaching any real tree cover.

They heard a distant sound of a sky transport just as Spock was steering the raft under the enclosure of trees. Jumping out of the craft, the Vulcan began dragging it partway onto the shore. He was breathing heavily from exhaustion, having to rely on only one leg, and the raft was surprisingly heavy. The Vulcan also suspected that the oar hit upon his abdomen may have bruised some organs. They had reached shore none too soon when they finally sighted a recreation transport slowly traveling up the river line. The trees secluded the Federation officers from the flying shuttle’s scrutiny.

Keeping Kirk on the raft, Spock claimed the remaining communicator. He tried one unsuccessful call to the ship. The line was nearly clear, but a persistent mild static continued, maybe weak enough to be overridden with some modification on the communicator. The Vulcan positioned himself in a spot where the sun shone through the trees. He began to work with his fingertips, a difficult proposition considering how raw they still were.

Kirk didn’t bother with any questions, merely enjoying the moment of watching his friend, and making sure the resort shuttle continued its course away from them. "Whatever is jamming our communications seems to be jamming their sensors. They don’t seem to be able to detect us any more than we can call in the cavalry."

This trip had given the Human and Vulcan an opportunity to restore their friendship as it had once been, each relying and appreciating the abilities of the other. Kirk had to admit that the Vulcan possessed a number of talents which he admired. He had to acknowledge to himself that his respect for the computer expert continued to grow in leaps and bounds. Spock’s readmission of friendship and voluntary respect was something that Kirk highly valued. And the Vulcan, too, had acknowledge his respect and friendship to Kirk.

The look of uncloaked joy on the Vulcan’s face as he pursued his work was easily detectable. The science officer had a passion for knowledge—just as Kirk did for adventure as a starship captain.

Only after so many years did Kirk finally realize how much alike the two of them were, yet in so many ways, they were so different. Their differences had provided such... Kirk turned away from his current flow of thought. They didn’t have time for his philosophical reminiscing.

The transport was now far up the river and out of sight, and the Human was able to pay full attention to the other hard at work. The sun was shifting, and the light would soon be inadequate for Spock to continue his repairs, even with his Vulcan vision. Dusk was approaching.

But soon Spock was finished and ready to test his handiwork. He lifted the communicator to his lips to state loudly, "Spock to Enterprise."

"Mister Spock!" It was Uhura. "Are you all right? Where are you? We’ve feared you’d been captured, but we couldn’t—"

"We are here, Commander. Please relay our coordinates to Captain Scott and Doctor McCoy. Captain Kirk is injured."

"Yes, sir," she paused. "Rescue party has been standing by. They’re beaming down now."

Within seconds, Leonard McCoy, two security guards and a nurse were standing near them in the grove of trees.

They had materialized so quickly that Kirk suspected they had been impatiently waiting at the transporter for the call. Neither he nor Spock could suppress a look of appreciation at their crewmates’ attentiveness.

McCoy went to Kirk, while the nurse attended Spock. The security guards took positions to act as sentinels.

"We were worried," McCoy admitted as he quickly examined Kirk with his instruments. Satisfied that Kirk would live, he glanced over at Spock. The nurse was conducting her own ministrations on Spock’s gashed arm and wrapped ankle.

Now that he no longer needed to combat the river, the Vulcan had permitted himself to favor the arm he had fallen on after going through the window back at the resort.

"Uhura said that only you had been hurt, Jim," McCoy announced reprovingly. He said it loud enough so that the Vulcan would know of his displeasure.

Spock looked up, inclining his head toward his captain. "The captain's femur is broken, and he has other injuries as well."

"And you?" the doctor pressed. "Sprained and fractured ankle, I believe."

The nurse was already talking back to the ship. The two security officers, ensuring that their charges were positioned in the most secure way possible, prepared themselves to return to the ship. McCoy looked expectantly at Kirk, awaiting his order.

The Human merely nodded acknowledgment.

"Beam us up, Scotty," McCoy bellowed through the communicator.

The transport beam engulfed the six of them, returning them back to the safety of the Enterprise.


Kirk woke to the comforting warmth and lights of Sickbay. McCoy was smiling broadly as he stood before him.

"How long did you put me out for, Bones?" There was a slight tone of reprimand in Kirk’s voice, although he knew that it would do him little good when it came to McCoy’s insistence on efficient doctoring.

"Six hours," McCoy announced triumphantly.

Kirk groaned. "I’m growing into an old man in your medical bay, Doctor."

McCoy forced a smile. "You’re doing that outside Sickbay, too, Jim, every bit as fast. You were in pretty bad shape when you got here; major blood loss from the fractured femur, a chunk of glass that came too close to severing some major nerves in your back, and a batch of fat emboli to your lungs from the fracture and the rough handling." The doctor shook his head. "You’re aging me before my time, Jim. Hell, I think you and Spock are probably responsible for ninety-five percent of my gray hair."

Kirk looked to the doctor’s side, noting that Spock was standing near by with hands clasped patiently behind his back. The Vulcan’s foot and torso were securely wrapped.

"Progress report on the kidnapping operation, Mister Spock."

"Even as we were being rescued, Captain, many of the key personnel of that organization were being apprehended, due to the research and evidence provided by the bridge crew and Doctor McCoy."

Kirk’s eyes widened, "Oh?" He smiled, turning to the silent doctor. "Tell me about it, Bones. How’d you find what was going on?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "It was Spock that set it up. We didn’t go to Starbase Six. Instead, we took a rather leisurely course that brought us into orbit about three hours after you arrived. While you two were down on Betazed, at Spock’s insistence, we investigated the history files of the admiral that gave you the assignment."

"Tony Begetta," Kirk inserted.

"I know he was a friend of yours," McCoy continued. "Sulu learned of his involvement of setting certain people up to visit Betazed, and Uhura’s surveillance of the communications on the planet gave us access to some other key information." The doctor looked at the silent Vulcan as an invitation for him to continue.

The first officer complied. "The local authorities are conducting a detailed search of all the premises and personnel in question. The previous victims have not yet been located, but there are several leads that are being investigated. The authorities have requested that we remain apart from further investigation. We could be too easily recognized.

"There was obviously a contract set out for you, Captain, and the authorities want to see if they can make their own progress." Spock hesitated. "The authorities have indicated that the possible buyers interested in you may have been Klingon or Orion."

"Both probably trying to settle an old vendetta," Kirk murmured.

"The authorities have some well established leads, sir," Spock reported.

"They have a good beginning," McCoy agreed.

"I would be interested in knowing their progress and their final results."

"I have informed them of such," the Vulcan said.

"How did you know who to suspect, Spock?" asked Kirk.

"Intuition perhaps," was McCoy’s quiet suggestion.

The first officer tilted his head slightly at the question and the doctor’s response. "I became concerned about the Federation’s willingness to permit you to go into such a dangerous situation alone. It was simply not logical."

Kirk met the eyes of the Vulcan. "I requested to go alone, Spock."

"Apparently Begetta suspected you would, Jim," McCoy stated, more serious. "In some ways, you can be pretty predictable." The doctor beamed happily as Spock merely nodded his head, solemnly.

"Then it’s good I have some valued friends to keep me in line," was Kirk’s smug reply.

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