Feedback: All kinds welcome
Archive: Any, drop me a line. Spock42@yahoo.com
Warning: This story contains implied homosexual desire. If you have a problem with this, don't read farther. Farfalla's note: And phooey on you! :-P j/k
Disclaimer: These characters are owned by Paramount, Viacom, and who knows maybe Desilu Studios as well. This is an amateur work. I make no money from this. It is not intended to provoke the dark forces of the copyright lawyers.
Spock shook his head to clear it. The last thing he remembered was speaking with the town elders in a meeting house. Perhaps the food had been drugged. Spock's temples throbbed from whatever had rendered him unconscious.
He used the netting to pull himself further upright and froze when he saw his captain laid out a stone slab padded with a wide, native, grass mattress. Sensors encircled Kirk's wrists and ankles and some of his fingertips.
"What are you doing?" Spock demanded hoarsely.
The Remni ignored him. Spock tested the netting with a hard tug. It was hooked into the ceiling and the base of the platform he was on. It held firm. He examined the netting closely; it was made of some kind of mollusk beard, tough as wire. He tried to pick it apart with his fingernail and his teeth, but a resin had been applied to the tight weave, leaving no gaps to pull on.
"Captain," Spock called several times, but Kirk remained still. Glimpsed through equipment stands and cables, Spock could see his captain's chest rising and falling slowly.
The two natives pulled some kind of apparatus around. When they bent over their exoskeleton stood out prominently from their backs. They had a primitive endoskeleton as well in their limbs which moved delicately over the controls.
Some kind of power source came online and a hum filled the room before quieting. A diamond of layered film mounted around a frame in front of the Remni lit up. Spock squinted at the device. Movement appeared on the screen in a strangely colored series of layers. Spock had to concentrate hard to make sense of the display. It seemed to be the Enterprise bridge, he finally decided, seen through a totally alien vision system. The Remni were of course using a display to match their vision capability, which apparently broke down parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum that Spock was not accustomed to seeing.
The Remni seemed to be debating about visual angle. Spock saw the bridge from Kirk's command chair then from a point high in the air at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. Were they tapping into the Enterprise's internal sensors? Spock wondered. Remni technology had been listed as a threat level of .2 which was essentially non-existent. Their technology level overall barely qualified them to be outside the Prime Directive.
Spock again tried to get their attention to no avail.
The scene on the display was shaking now and flashing. Spock realized it was a red alert and that there was a faint soundtrack to the scene. One of the Remni tweaked the controls and the sound came up louder, though it sounded flattened as though Remni ears had no need for the higher frequencies. The Enterprise was in trouble. Spock concentrated hard on the display to discern what was going on. Kirk was in the scene, it must be an old tape of the bridge, Spock thought, though not from any angle that the Enterprise had a recorder.
Spock puzzled this over as the scene became more harried. Kirk shouted orders to Sulu at navigation. More evasive than offense, Spock thought as the ship was obviously hit. The display darkened as the bridge lost power momentarily. Spock could match no memory of his to these precise events.
The scene scanned suddenly fast forward before slowing again. He himself was in the scene, advising calmly on the situation. Kirk stood beside the command chair. The air on the bridge was growing smokey indicating that life-support was down. Spock felt an odd emotion as he saw Kirk and himself on the screen lock eyes in understanding of their situation.
Spock's brow furrowed. In the scene they were fighting the Klingons, but no battle had played out this way. Torpedoes again rocked the ship, causing the artificial gravity to weaken and tilt. An explosion took out the rear consoles, tossing Uhura and himself halfway across the bridge. Kirk ducked the debris and gave orders to Sulu and Chekov as he bent to check on Spock. The image of Kirk froze in a kind of horror over Spock's form as he put his hand on the other's chest.
Kirk's actual figure on the slab moaned and clenched his hand.
Spock stood fully and leaned hard against the netting. "Why are you doing this?" he demanded. "Stop this." He lost his feet when a jolt of electrical current ran through him from the pedestal beneath him. So at least his captors could understand him, Spock thought as he tangled his hand in the netting to pull himself upward again.
On the display Kirk was turning away from Spock's body on the deck and answering a hail from engineering. The words "warp core" floated out over the static. Like an automaton, Kirk thumbed for the shipwide comm and announced an evacuation to the planet. Sulu and Chekov turned to him with sad, defeated expressions.
Again the scene raced ahead, then back a little. The bridge was emptying. Kirk urged the junior officers off of the bridge. Sulu and Chekov gingerly carried an unconscious Uhura off with them. Kirk's gaze fell on his fallen first officer and he went over to him and crouched beside him. He put a hand on one blue-clad shoulder and squeezed in distress.
Scotty's voice interrupted. "You've just got time to git down here Captain. I'm waitin' on ye' in the transporter room."
Pausing only half a second, Kirk dashed for the access tube. Before his head went out of sight he stopped to say, "I'm sorry, Spock," to the body on the deck.
From inside the access tube, Kirk slid down large sections of rungs. The ship shuddered and creaked ominously. He took his communicator off his belt and yelled into it. "Go Scotty, go! Don't wait for me, please!" He ran down the corridor. The door to the transporter room was propped open, the dials set. Kirk hit them and jumped onto the platform. He dissolved and rearranged. Just as he was completing rematerialization, Kirk's body jerked as the ship exploded. He fell to his knees on the rocky ground, gasping, seeming to will his molecules to stay together.
He looked up into the sunny sky but didn't see any sign of the ship entering atmosphere. He took stock around himself and started walking due west--the direction the rest of the crew would have materialized in as the planet rotated out from under the ship in an unpowered orbit.
Spock hung against the netting, stunned. He couldn't understand what he was seeing. Was this some kind of torture? He gazed in concern at what he could see of Kirk, lying tense and surrounded by strange equipment.
The display showed an accelerated scene again. Spock began to suspect that the real-time scenes were being buffered and slowed and that Kirk was experiencing it all at this breakneck pace.
Kirk walked and walked. The scrubland offered no fresh water. He began squeezing roots out for moisture. He pace slowed as he grew weary in the afternoon sun. Finally, he found a tall rock for shade and sat heavily beneath it. He pulled his knees up against his chest and wrapped his arms around his shins and rested his head on his knees. The scene slowed to real-time and Spock watched as a breeze ruffled Kirk's hair. Kirk lifted his head and stared out across from himself with a disturbingly empty expression. To Spock's eye, he looked on the verge of tears.
Kirk tilted his head back against the smooth rock and moaned Spock's name despairingly.
Spock stopped breathing. The loss of his ship, untold crew and Kirk was lamenting his own absence. Spock swallowed hard and took an unconsciously deep breath.
Kirk appeared to sleep and the scene flew by to make up time. Eventually, in the late evening, Kirk started out again. As it grew dark he looked for stars to use for night-time navigation. It finally grew too dark on the moonless landscape to see the rough ground. Kirk found another stone shelter from the wind and again resumed his self-comforting position.
Within a half-hour, real-time, morning arrived for Kirk. During his morning hike he began to look around the landscape periodically for other crew. Kirk walked again until the heat of the afternoon made him stop. He started to watch for something edible. He had no tricorder or supplies whatsoever. He appeared to hold off on actually tasting anything until it became absolutely necessary.
By evening green hills appeared far in the distance. Kirk spent five more days walking toward them. They were the edge of a small river valley. He bathed and washed his clothes, constantly on the lookout for crew. Occasionally he even called aloud. He spent two days in this idyllic spot, recovering from his injuries. It was a good spot for others to gather at; Kirk must have assumed others would be drawn to its greenery. He spent long hours on top of a high boulder looking for any signs of life, coming down only for water.
The scene slowed as he appeared to decide to continue on across more scrubland to a distant mountain range. Hunger was becoming a problem, and Kirk was actually looking leaner on the display. He wrapped some hard fruit that he hadn't tried in a large leaf threaded closed with . He set these aside and stripped to wash his uniform one last time. He bent over the river edge, repeatedly ringing out his tunic. He then rang it out over the air and spread it out on a large boulder to dry. The sight of the uniform laid out like that broke something inside of Kirk, he bent over, pressing his face against his arm. "I'm sorry, Spock. I'm sorry," he said in a breaking voice.
"Please don't do this to him," Spock pleaded and almost braced himself in time before the painful current coursed through him again, making him clench the net spasmodically.
Twelve hours and seventeen minutes into their activity with Kirk, the Remni took a break. Spock watched carefully as they powered down the equipment. Kirk's unconscious body's needs were attended to with rough care. Spock winced to observe what he could of it. The Remni then brought him a portable facility and water, turning the voltage on high enough to paralyze him while they unhooked the netting. Spock ignored both.
The break was only an hour and the equipment was powered up again. Kirk continued his hungry march across the alien planet's surface. The fact that he hadn't encountered anyone apparently had worn on him enough. He bent down with a stick and made some quick calculations in the dirt with the planet's diameter, rotational speed, and the Enterprise's last orbital vector. Kirk rechecked his calculation and dropped the stick. He should have met at least eight crewmembers, unless they were making very good time westward--the direction the second half of the beamdown crew was instructed to head.
Kirk gazed around himself from a high point for a very long time before starting out again. He ate his fruit that evening, to his visible disgust. The fruit made him wretch bile a few hours later as though his stomach had accepted its contents but still wanted to make a point. He shivered as he tried to sleep without shelter.
The scene fast-forwarded again for several days. Kirk reached the bottom of a cliff. He walked along it for much of the day, looking for a good pathway up. He found a crevice that would work and stared at it and then at his hands, shaking with hunger. Kirk's body on the slab jerked suddenly. Spock realized with dread that he was going to fall when he attempted to climb, but the display had not yet reached that point.
Indeed, his first and second attempts resulted in painful slides down the rock face, with Kirk sacrificing his hands in a vain attempt to slow his fall. He gave up at that point and walked back a few hours to a cluster of trees he had passed earlier. They were nut bearing and Kirk grimly shook some down and smashed a handful of them open between two rocks. He ate them without hesitating and waited. He found a comfortable place to sleep which he lined with leaves. He slept soundly as the display zipped past.
The nuts produced no ill effects, so Kirk ate a small pile of them and crushed many more and wrapped them in the large leaves he had used to carry the fruit. Feeling stronger later in the day he returned to the crevice and climbed it with determination.
The cliff led to a wide mesa. On the far side fair-weather cumulus hovered, promising water and plant life. Kirk headed out for it. The display zipped through the rest of the day and much of the next before Kirk stopped and the display slowed. Kirk stared at the distant mesa edge then looked behind him, gauging the distance he had traveled since reaching the top.
Spock clenched the netting in anger. The Remni were making the mesa edge and clouds remain at the same distance, no matter how far Kirk walked. Indeed, Kirk was rubbing his eyes and regauging the two distances. He started out again, eventually, continuing west.
After another break, they tormented Kirk for another two days of virtual time. Kirk had actually reached the point where he simply sat down on the uneven rock and didn't move for almost an hour.
Anger welled up in Spock at the scene. The Remni were going to continue until they broke his captain. Primitive violence surged through Spock, his vision tinted green and he let it flow into him. He clutched the netting and pulled as he came to his feet, and felt it give a little. He looked down and saw that four strips had pulled out of the pedestal. His eyes darted up to the backs of the Remni and their humming equipment. They took no notice of their caged captive.
Spock shifted his grip to put the maximum force on the next strands and pulled again. Another one broke free. With a surge of all of his strength, Spock broke the whole side loose and leapt under the edge. He went straight for the Remni, finding a nerve spot on the closer one on the second try. The other backed away from him, soft front appendages up in defense to no avail.
Replaying from memory the sequence to shut down the system, Spock powered the devices down. As he moved around to Kirk's unconscious form, he heard one of the neck-pinched Remni hiss and move around. Spock lifted Kirk into his arms and as he went past, kicked over the power generator. The Remni had risen and leveled some kind of weapon at Spock as he retreated toward what he hoped was the door. His captor spoke in Remni and Spock ignored it and departed. He ran to the end of the corridor and had to rest Kirk on the floor as he worked the door. He could hear the shuffling footsteps of their captors grow closer, so Spock ripped the last two locks out of the mud plaster with his fingers and lifted Kirk and ran out into the dusky world outside.
Wind and sand struck Spock and his burden immediately. He ducked his head and pressed on as fast as possible down the street. No one else was out. He reached the edge of town and squinted at the flat desolation beyond. He turned and saw no pursuers. He had to find shelter from the wind--one of the huts along the street would have to do. Spock carried Kirk around the side of a smaller one and crouched down in the crux of a stone wall and the curved side of the hut.
Spock leaned back against the wall and pulled Kirk against himself. The wind had only increased, deafening Spock. In the fading light he could just make out Kirk's closed eyes. Using his hands, Spock examined Kirk, pulling off the remaining leads and checking his pulse and respiration.
It grew colder as it grew darker. Spock held his captain in a position where the human could breath in the warm air from against Spock's chest. Several times as the temperature plummeted, Spock imagined that he himself had been hooked to the simulation machine and was now being tormented.
Light fell across Spock's closed eyelids. He squinted up into the blowing sand and jerked when he saw a Remni standing before him. The Remni beckoned him into the next hut. The cold had grown critical for both himself and Kirk, Spock had no choice but to follow. The Remni led him down into the subearthen dirt floor area in the center of the hut. A small fire burned in a ceramic fireplace. Spock knelt near it, testing the temperature for his unconscious captain.
Their Remni host brought over one of their standard mattresses of tied grass and Spock lowered Kirk onto it. Violet eyes considered Spock for a while before fetching two of the tapestries down from the wall and handing them to him. Spock wrapped one around himself and covered Kirk with the other. They were stiff but warm from the radiant heat of the ceramic chimney behind them. Spock considered that their purpose may have been to keep the hut a little cooler.
Spock fought his shivers and examined Kirk in the dim light. He wished fervently for a tricorder. Kirk must have been drugged with something powerful enough to keep him out during the simulation, but still aware at some subconscious level.
"Jim," Spock called to him. Kirk twitched. Spock coaxed him awake, calling his name and patting his shoulder.
Kirk's eyes snapped open and he gasped. He looked at Spock in near horror. His mouth formed his name, but couldn't seem to vocalize for a moment. "Spock!" Kirk said in confusion and tried to sit up.
"Lie down, Captain." Spock pressed him back. Kirk looked around himself with a disconcerted expression while reaching out and grasping Spock's arms.
"You're real," he said in joy.
"Yes, Captain," Spock stated in his that-is-quite-obvious voice
Kirk's hand squeezed harder and his mouth worked silently again. "You're actually here?"
Spock bent over him and touched his face. "Yes, Jim." He was rewarded with a tear falling swiftly from the corner of Kirk's eye.
"Jim," Spock said soothingly, "everything is all right."
Kirk dried his eye with a quick brush of his hand and looked around himself again. "Where are we?"
"We are on Searnus One. We were instructed to make the inhabitants an offer of Federation Pre-Membership. Something went wrong and the natives seem to have decided to run some kind of simulation personality test on you. That is why you are confused about events."
"Searnus One?" Kirk's brow furrowed in confusion. He relaxed against the mattress and gazed at Spock's face, lit demonically from below by the fire. "I could just be dreaming you," he said sadly.
Spock grasped Kirk's cool hand and squeezed hard enough to cause Kirk discomfort. "I am here Jim. The Enterprise is waiting for us to call--if we can locate the communicators."
"The Enterprise," Kirk whispered and closed his eyes.
Spock lifted Kirk's wrist and counted his pulse and respiration. "How do you feel, Jim?" he asked, laying the back of his hand against Kirk's forehead. The human seemed to have recovered from the cold.
"Tired. But I'll be all right," Kirk replied without opening his eyes.
Their host, reacting to their falling quiet, approached timidly. Short eyestalks bent and unbent as the Remni looked them over before moving away. It began taking things out of woven baskets and arranging food in a bowl. Lastly it poured water into a taller bowl and then brought both over. It set them on the hard-packed floor near them then backed away again and pantomimed an eating motion.
"Does that seem edible at all?" Kirk asked. "I am famished."
"It is a fermented grain paste and some pickled vegetables. It seems safe from my studies of the flora surveys."
Kirk leaned up on his elbow and accepted the bowl. "I haven't eaten much in. . . " Kirk trailed off.
"You haven't eaten anything since we were taken prisoner. Your memory at the moment is not trustworthy."
Kirk ate a few fingers' full before pausing to stare at the floor. "How long. . . have I been out of it?"
"Fifty-seven hours, twelve minutes."
Kirk shook his head and resumed eating. "Do you want some?"
"You may have it, Captain."
Kirk paused again. "I thought. . . " He sighed and then grimaced. "I keep thinking I must be dreaming this, you. I lost you weeks ago."
Spock put his hand on Kirk's shoulder and held it there releasing only when Kirk shifted to put the empty bowls aside. Kirk rested again on the mattress, using his arms as a pillow. Spock watched him fall into a light sleep.
The door opened to a blast of wind and another Remni entered and stared at them. The recent arrival said something in Spock's direction and then approached them. After the Remni had repeated the same phrase three times, Spock realized the native was speaking in heavily accented Standard.
"You healthy?" the Remni repeated again.
"I am unharmed--my captain is hurt," Spock replied, gesturing at Kirk on the mattress.
"I'm all right, Spock," Kirk said as if from deep in a dream.
The two Remni spoke rapidly together. The new arrival approached closer with care and looked them both over thoroughly before looking back at their host. Spock knew he and Kirk must seem as strange as the Remni looked to him. He had been trying to remain as unthreatening as possible.
"You safe," the Remni said.
Spock nodded. "We are grateful for that," he said. Frustration grated on him that with just their communicators he could take Kirk to real safety.
The Remni's finger-like appendages on its arms moved nervously as it considered what else to say. Eventually it slumped slightly. "No agreement," it finally said.
Spock lifted his chin. He didn't recognize this Remni from the small meeting with the town elders when they first arrived. Their mission had been to introduce the idea of Federation membership. Spock wasn't certain if this comment pertained to that proposal or to something else. At the silence, the Remni's digits moved faster.
Their other host said something and the closer Remni pulled out a small computer pad. It keyed on it a moment, then said, "You threat. Scientists no like."
"Yes," Spock said, understanding.
"No agreement," the Remni repeated. Then considered them. "You need?"
"Our communicators," Spock replied. At the blank stare he received Spock tried to describe the communicators using hand motions. The Remni finally handed him the computer pad. Spock spent a few minutes learning the interface, then pulled up a crude drawing program and sketching an isometric image of a communicator. He handed the pad back and explained the colors by pointing to objects in the hut.
The Remni peered at it and then put the pad away in a pouch strung on its waist. It then settled in beside the other near the wall of the hut, watching them.
"They are so stiff," Mrenw said to Hra Dre. "Yet soft--it is very disconcerting."
Hra Dre adjusted her computer pouch and settled back against the dirt wall. "Haka had no right to study them that way. They have spaceships that travel in subspace. They have weapons we cannot imagine and Haka thinks it is rational to strap them down to test them. They could destroy us in retaliation."
Mrenw looked at her with turned in eyestalks. "You think they will punish us all?" she asked in fear.
"Their laws say they cannot or what I have been able to read of them. We are light-years away from their administration. Anything could happen."
Mrenw gazed at the humanoids in fear. "I gave them food. Do you think they will remember that?"
"I do not mean to frighten you, Mrenwsha. I am merely complaining about Haka's stupidity."
They watched as the darker one straightened the tapestry over the lighter-colored sleeping one, then smooth the strange hair bundles on its head. They must cut it to make it so straight at the edge. The thought made Hra Dre squirm.
"They are litter sisters?"
"They are both male."
"Males that talk?" Mrenw asked in shock.
"Both of their genders are like this, according to the biology records they gave us."
Mrenw tried to imagine the squirming, scuttling little males in the central pen as walking, intelligent things and couldn't fathom it.
The lighter humanoid woke suddenly and required reassurance.
"Haka did this to her, him?" Mrenw asked. Hra Dre shook her ear cones in confirmation. "What if their clan come looking for them? They will think we have harmed them."
"Mrenw, please don't worry about that. I think these two will make sure there is no confusion. They seem calm and rational."
Silence fell between them. Hra Dre slept lightly, the Standard she had tried to teach herself over the last moon swirled in her dreams.
Daylight arrived with a calming of the wind. Hra Dre listened to the murmured conversation of the aliens but could only catch a word every few sentences.
"Welsey should have sent a rescue party by now," Kirk whispered.
"We are just at the sixty hour limit, Captain, our crisis check-in deadline. Welsey wants to limit contact even though we are proposing Federation membership. He may decide to wait, if our lifesign signals remain strong on the sensors."
"Maybe you could make yours look weak and trigger a response," Kirk suggested.
"An interesting idea, Captain."
The door banged open and the council elder stepped in. "I should have known," she said upon seeing Hra Dre.
Hra Dre stood up. "They ran into the storm to escape Haka's lab, to give you some idea of their perceived danger there." She turned one eyestalk to watch the darker one stand between the newcomers and its companion.
"Haka says she has not harmed them."
"Haka does not know enough about them to make that determination." She said this even though Haka had entered. The fairer one had also stood but the darker one made sure it stayed back.
"You were required to report their location to us," Haka said in a high-pitched whine that indicated extreme anger.
"I agreed to nothing."
Elder Refd stepped between them. "An agreement of the council is an agreement of all."
Hra Dre's ear cones angled forward in sarcastic doubt.
"You may live elsewhere, though no one will vouch for you, Hra Dre," Refd said.
Hra Dre's ears shifted back to neutral. "With Federation membership anyone can live elsewhere, out of reach of your draconian socialist rules. Or is that the problem?"
"The council decided," Refd stated as if that were the end of the issue. She stepped aside and let Haka's student assistants, who were armed with snare bows, into the hut, which was getting crowded.
Spock crouched, alert. Behind him Kirk asked, "I take it we don't have the translator either?"
A snare bow fired and Spock lifted his arm to block it. He succeeded in keeping the weighted cords from tying him up completely. The barbed cords tore at his uniform and skin as he pushed it away from himself. Kirk charged the Remni with the remaining loaded bow. He hit it in the midsection and was felled by some kind of electrical grip the Remni had strapped to its tentacles.
Spock tossed the clinging snare aside and leaped forward to assist his captain. His head spun as he took a step and his last thought was that the barbs stung more than they should and that perhaps they were poison-tipped.
Spock returned to consciousness with effort. He was again inside the netted cage. With pain-dulled vision he took in the repairs to the netting, they looked firm. Again the Remni's simulation was running through the events on the bridge and the ship was being overwhelmed by the Klingons. Spock fought strong emotions of despair and anger. He started to pull himself to his feet and was stunned by a strong current back to the base of the pedestal. His vision tunneled down and he fell limp long before the current shut off.
The next time he regained awareness, Spock moved only subtly to study his surroundings without being noticed. On the display screen the Remni were up to simulating the the first days of Kirk's planetfall.
A twisted anger balled up in Spock's midsection before he could wrap it in a blanket of control. The netting was now tied tightly to a metal bar which was tied to the pedestal. Its strength Spock estimated to be two point one four times stronger than before.
As he watched Kirk's still form a disruption rolled through the lab. Several Remni swarmed into the room, pushing the scientists away from their controls with just their bodies. Spock risked raising his head. He recognized Hra Dre at the head of the group and called to her to not shut down the equipment indiscriminately.
She came over to him after pressing the scientists into submission. They spent precious moments opening the modified cage.
Spock dragged himself to the edge of the pedestal, intent on getting to Kirk. Hra Dre lifted him under the arm. Spock twisted to release her hold as her thoughts flooded into his own. "Forgive," he murmured, not certain she would understand. She grasped him harder and said something in Remni before letting go.
Spock stumbled to the equipment and powered it down with care. He examined Kirk quickly. He seemed calmly asleep, unharmed.
Spock realized that the room had fallen silent. The Remni stood around watching him as he bent over Kirk. Spock turned to Hra Dre in question.
"Erapik," she repeated. A few other Remni repeated this under their breath. No one moved.
The broken door to the lab swung open and the members of the council filed in. "Erapik, Erapik," a handful of Remni chanted.
"What is this?" Refd demanded.
Hra Dre intercepted them before they could reach the Starfleet officers. "He is Erapik," she said, tentacles moving earnestly.
"The dark one."
Spock turned to Kirk as he felt the human grip his arm. "Spock?" Kirk said in groggy confusion. Spock lifted Kirk to his feet and stood him unsteadily against the wall behind him. "Spock, where?" Kirk started in a pain-filled voice.
The Remni were hovering now, waiting for the council members to react. Spock turned urgently to Kirk who barely had the strength to stand against the wall. "Captain, I must take command of this mission. You must trust me."
Kirk's tired eyes looked at Spock then scanned the room, disoriented. Spock turned back to the Remni, one hand on Kirk behind him, shielding him bodily.
Refd stepped over to him and stared at him closely. She stated something in Remni. "I need the translator," Spock appealed to Hra Dre. An argument in Remni and a scuffle with Haka and the others ensued before the universal translator appeared. Refd insisted upon holding it. She finally found the power trigger.
"You did not inform us that you were Erapik. We did not know it existed outside of Remni."
Spock looked from Refd to Hra Dre. "That word is not translating. Explain 'Erapik'." Spock said.
"Judge, Reader, Projector," Refd said impatiently.
At Spock's continued confusion, Hra Dre added, "Of thoughts."
"I am a telepath," Spock admitted. The translator used 'Erapik' as it rendered into Remni.
"Prove it," Refd stated.
Sighing, Spock steepled his fingers a moment and then stepped closer to the Remni elder, reluctantly releasing his hold on his captain. "On you?" he asked. At her nod, he reached out for the soft tissue beside the two pieces of shell that made up the Remni head. He just barely touched their minds, projecting an image of the Enterprise bridge into her mind. She stepped back away from him suddenly, severing the meld.
"You are a very strong Erapik," she stated in shock.
Kirk began sliding down the wall behind him. Spock took a chance and turned to him, crouching before him. Spock grabbed the limp human by the shoulders. "Captain, stay with me a little longer."
Kirk shook his head. "I can't. I can't follow what is happening."
"He was not like this at the Elders' Panel," Refd stated.
Spock snapped around to look up at the Remni. Anger overwhelmed him and he stood up to her. "No, of course not. He was not tortured by your machine at that point." He controlled his breathing and bent to scoop Kirk off the floor, lifting him around the waist and holding him standing beside him with Kirk's arm around his own shoulders. "I must take him back to our ship."
Refd bowed and stepped backward. "Your word is law."
Spock stared at her before taking advantage of the moment to half carry Kirk out of the building. The sun was a pale pink in the cloudy sky as the Remni followed them out. "I need our communicators." Hra Dre came out with them. "Thank you," he said to her. She too bowed to him and stepped back, giving them plenty of space.
Welsey, Spock thought of the commodore waiting on the ship. "We will depart from outside of the village. Do not follow." The Remni all bowed and Spock helped Kirk trek down the main street towards a copse of thick brush beyond.
As they passed the last of the huts, Kirk looked fearfully behind them to make sure they were not followed. "We are on Searnus One?" Kirk asked uncertainly.
"Yes, Captain. I will explain in a moment, let us get to a stopping point."
Spock led him along the dirt track until they were in the brush. A clearing had been cut in the middle apparently for firewood. He led Kirk over and sat him down on the packed soil, dismayed when Kirk held fast to Spock's uniform tunic. Spock gently removed Kirk's hands and lay then in his captain's lap.
He crouched before Kirk. "Take a moment and orient yourself, Captain."
Kirk's eyes roamed over his officer. "You're hurt," Kirk said.
Spock glanced down at himself, at the micro-tears in his tunic tinged with green at the edges. "It is no matter." He put a hand on Kirk's shoulder. "Do you remember what happened?"
Kirk took a deep breath. "I remember a lot of things that don't make any sense," he whispered.
"I need to you hold together a little longer, until I can get you past Welsey."
"You're in charge," Kirk said with a weak attempt at humor.
Spock's communicator beeped and he answered it.
"Mr. Spock! We have been trying to contact you for over two days."
"We had our equipment taken away, Lieutenant. Prepare to beam us aboard. Spock out."
"Spock. . ." Kirk began weakly, panicked. "I need a little help."
Quickly, before the transporter could lock on. Spock simultaneously lifted Kirk to his feet and brushed his fingers over Kirk's temple. He didn't have much time so he merely calmed the storm of fear and desperation in the human's mind and gave him an anchor of Spock's own certainty to hold his panic fast to.
He stepped to the side and transporter engaged.
Kirk straightened and stepped down from the platform and seeing Commodore Welsey he forced a smile. He sensed Spock stepping up to his side, closer than necessary.
"You were very slow in checking in," Welsey pointed out. "Maybe you'd take some time to tell me about it.
Kirk tilted his head in an imitation of himself, indicating that these things happened. "Sure, in my quarters. Doctor?" Kirk's voice wavered but Spock didn't think anyone else would have noticed.
McCoy caught the hint that he was supposed to provide backup. "I'm with you. I hope you'll be breaking out that Saurian stuff I know you have stashed away."
The captain turned to Spock and with just a hint of forced calm said, "Spock, head up to the bridge and take us out of orbit."
Spock straightened and with a nod to the commodore, left the transporter room. As the lift carried him toward the bridge he hit the override handle and paused. Pressing the comm stud for sickbay. Nurse Chapel answered.
"Are you alone, Nurse?" he asked.
She looked around herself in confusion. "Just a moment, I can use Dr. McCoy's office." After a pause she said, "Go ahead."
"I was hoping that Dr. McCoy would check in on sickbay on his way from the transporter room."
"I haven't seen him," Chapel responded.
Spock frowned to himself in the empty turbolift. "Nurse. I need you to do something. The captain is with the commodore, but he is not himself. Doctor McCoy is not aware of this." Spock paused. "The captain has been tortured and his grasp of reality is not good."
Chapel stared in shock at the comm panel on McCoy's desk. Spock's voice continued, "I have to be on the bridge. If Dr. McCoy does not check-in in the next three minutes so that you can pass this on to him, go to the captain and stay with him until either Dr. McCoy can take over or I arrive."
"Mr. Spock?" she began.
"And I would recommend taking a hypo with a sedative with you."
After a second, she acknowledged, "Yes, Sir."
The comm light winked off indicating the connection had been cut. She stared at the desk blankly then started to move. She went into the next room and loaded a hypo as though on auto pilot. She hooked it to her belt and two minutes after her conversation with the first officer, called her relief to replace her.
Nurse Bracken arrived in just over a minute. "What's up?" she asked.
Chapel started to answer then said, "I'm not sure, actually. I'll explain later. Strange orders." But as she said it she found herself buzzing with excitement: They had let her into the inner sanctum of command secrets.
"I'll explain when I get back." At the door she turned back. "I don't know how long. . . "
Bracken waved her out with a long-suffering sigh.
Chapel practically bounded for the lift. "Deck Twelve," she barked to the controls.
As she stepped out onto the deck, she felt nearly joyful. But as she reached the captain's door she realized she was going to have to bluff. Well, hell, she thought and worried at her delay already, decided to wing-it.
The door slid open at her chiming. The captain, the commodore and Doctor McCoy sat around Kirk's desk sharing a bottle of something very blue and glowing faintly.
"Nurse Chapel," Kirk said. "Care to join us?"
Surprised, she sat down in the last chair near the door. McCoy noticed the hypo on the back of her belt and shot her a questioning look.
"Would you like some?" Kirk asked, holding up the bottle.
"No, Sir. I am on duty," she replied.
He reached down to his lower shelf. "Some Andorian dragon-berry juice?"
Her eyes widened. "Thank you, yes." Dragon-berry was very rare and expensive. And delicious, she discovered as she carefully sipped the thin liquid, rolling it over her tongue slowly.
Welsey continued where he had apparently left off on some involved story about the diplomatic mission to Orion. Chapel set down her glass and replayed Spock's words in her mind. Tortured. His grasp of reality is poor. She studied the captain: he looked mostly normal to her, tired but not more than that. He was hiding it well, but then again, he hid everything well when he wanted to.
This was a complicated dance of officers to protect the Captain. She swelled a bit again at the honor of being given a opportunity to contribute. The captain protected them all--it felt rewarding to be given a chance to return the favor.
McCoy interjected something into Welsey's story and Welsey turned to the Doctor. In that instant, Chapel saw Kirk's look flash to despair then slide into uncertainty. He closed his eyes a long moment before opening them to near normalcy.
She felt a giddiness overcome her. "Doctor," she interrupted and stood. "Don't you think the captain needs to rest after the mission."
Everyone looked at her.
"You tired, Jim?"
Kirk shrugged. "If you knew what kind of beds the Remni sleep on you wouldn't have to ask that. Mostly gravel with a little fresh cut grass."
McCoy seemed to read more into Kirk's eyes now, despite two and a half brandies. He stood also. "Yeah, Commodore. I have this lovely eighty-year-old scotch I won in a bet, if you would care to try it?" His invitation was not expected given that he was two ranks below the commodore, but he banked on Welsey's tippiness.
Welsey nodded and stood. "That bet wouldn't have been with your chief engineer, would it have?"
McCoy started for the door. "These lips tell no secrets. At least not without a few more drinks."
Welsey followed. "Goodnight Jim. We'll talk more tomorrow, I'm sure."
Kirk stood and gave him a casual salute.
"Coming, Chapel?" McCoy asked from the doorway.
"If I can beg a moment of the captain's time, there is something I wish to discuss with him."
Kirk waved her to sit back down, though she remained standing. The door slid shut and they were alone. After the footsteps receded down the corridor, Chapel asked, "Are you all right, Sir?"
Kirk gave her a measuring look that broke apart. He masked it by clearing the glasses and bottle away.
She tried again, "Mr. Spock sent me, Sir."
"Ah," Kirk said as he shut and cabinet and leaned back in his chair.
Fingering the scanner off her belt she said. "May I, Sir?" She held up the Feinberger.
Kirk gave another shrug. Chapel walked to the edge of the desk and leaned over to wave it in front of his chest. Thinking of McCoy's inebriation she said, "Though, I guess as the current ranking medical staff member I don't have to ask, do I?"
"No," Kirk agreed and studied her as she studied the readout.
"You are under extreme stress, Captain." She looked at the lines under his eyes, his posture that was slightly off. "What happened to you, Sir?"
Kirk looked at her with a strange affection, stood and stretched lightly. "Spock didn't tell you?"
"His communication was short. He said you had been tortured and. . . that your grasp of reality was poor."
"Succinct and not inaccurate," Kirk observed.
Suddenly Chapel didn't like this task so much anymore. The captain was supposed to be invincible, but at the moment he was weak and vulnerable. No one should see him this way.
"You are stretching the bounds of your position," the captain observed with a strange expression on his face.
She snapped instinctively to an approximation of attention. "Am I being reprimanded, Sir?"
Kirk smiled and shook his head, "No, Ensign, you aren't." He looked at her a long moment. "You have to understand that-" he paused and came around the desk to rest his backside against the edge and cross his arms. "The last three days of real time have been for me six weeks of. . . the worst I can imagine. And I know it is, because the Remni constructed the experience from my thoughts and memories." He gazed at her. "So every time you do something unexpected it reinforces that this truly is real." He waved his hand to indicated the room, the ship.
Chapel digested that. "Accelerated simulation is very draining, Sir, are you certain you do not wish to sleep?"
"I do wish to sleep," he said, but he remained where he was. "I was wondering what that look was that McCoy gave you when you sat down."
She decided that she wasn't surprised at his powers of observation, even under stress. "He saw this." She pulled the hypo off her belt and held it up for him to see.
"It is a sedative."
"McCoy can tell by the color?"
"He can tell this one by the color." She hooked it back on her belt. "Mr. Spock suggested I bring it."
Kirk bent his head and chuckled. He straightened and said, "That is another one I wouldn't have imagined," he said with pleasure. He pushed away from the desk and went into the sleeping alcove. Chapel moved to lean against the wall where she could see both halves of the room.
Kirk considered her a moment. "I am going to get ready for bed," he said.
"Yes, Sir. I have been instructed to stay with you until relieved."
Kirk nodded that he understood and laid out a t-shirt and boxers before stripping and changing into them without ceremony. He then walked to the head and after a moment's hesitation, left the door open while he finished getting ready for sleep.
When he came out again, Chapel stood with her eyes lowered, still leaning against the wall. She met his gaze with what she hoped was a professional expression as he passed her to reach the bed. Kirk tossed back the covers and lowered himself gingerly. He shifted once and then lay still.
Chapel, tired of standing against the wall, pulled over a chair. She sat, watching the captain sleeping restlessly, considering that bridge duties could keep Spock busy for quite a while.
It was over two hours later when the door to the room swished open. She half-expected Dr. McCoy when Mr. Spock stepped into the room. He nodded at her and stepped over beside the bed. He observed Kirk for a long moment before turning to her. "Do you know where Dr. McCoy is?" he asked quietly.
She rose and stepped over beside him. "He was with the commodore last time I saw him." She watched Spock frown at that and tried to hide her surprise at his expression.
He turned back to the sleeping Kirk and placed his index and middle finger on Kirk's temple. Chapel's eyes went wide at this casual meld but she stayed silent. Spock's eyes closed for a long minute before he broke contact and turned to her.
"I will stay with him, now. If you can locate and sober up Dr. McCoy, send him here."
She nodded and with a last glance of the occupant of the bed, departed.
Spock pulled the chair over to sit close beside the bed. Kirk had calmed since the meld and now lay breathing evenly in deep sleep.
Spock was roused from meditation by a hand plucking at his sleeve. Kirk looked up at him with such a look of longing, it caused a strong emotional reaction in the Vulcan. Spock covered Kirk's hand with his own.
"Jim, it is all right," Spock assured him.
Kirk nodded and stared at the ceiling. After a few minutes, he said, "I couldn't find anyone. I thought I'd be left alone there forever." He fell silent.
"It was not real. This is real: this ship, my hand."
Kirk nodded again. "Thank you," he said simply, "for being here."
"I would be no where else, Captain."
Kirk let out a breath like the start of a laugh. "I don't know what I did to deserve you," he said, the end choked off unnaturally. His eyes watched something behind the bulkhead. Spock could imagine what it was.
The door chimed. Spock stood and let McCoy in. "I just shook Welsey. Boy that man can put it away." He walked into the sleeping alcove and took out his scanner. "Chapel said something about you gettin' tortured." He sat on the edge of the bed and waved it over Kirk's chest.
"You could describe it that way."
McCoy glanced at the end of the Feinberger then put it back on his belt. "You want to talk about it?"
"In the morning," Kirk pleaded.
McCoy looked him up and down. "All right. In the morning." He looked up at Spock, hovering close. "You stayin' with him?" At Spock's nod, McCoy stood up. "Unless you want us both to stay?"
"One. . . One is enough," Kirk managed.
"Call me if you need me. I'll be in my quarters."
The doors swished closed and Spock resumed his seat on the edge of the bed. At Kirk's sudden shifting under the covers, he put his hand on Kirk's chest.
"I'm in a constant state of panic," Kirk said. "I don't know how to shake it."
"Jim," Spock said calmingly.
"Do something unexpected," Kirk insisted suddenly.
Spock's eyebrows went into his bangs. "Captain, I. . ."
"Spock," Kirk chastised him. "It isn't that hard." Spock bent over him and reached for the meld points on Kirk's face. "That isn't very unexpected," Kirk pointed out. This close view of Spock was novel though, and Kirk relished it a long moment, watching one fine eyebrow angle upward as their minds brushed together. Kirk felt a hard shield come up between their minds and then Spock leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips. Kirk's mind rang like a gong in surprise at the warm, bitter mouth on his.
Spock pulled back, extricating their thoughts.
"That was unexpected." Kirk sat up on his elbows and studied his friend. He lifted his chin. "Do that again," he challenged.
Spock shot him a look, "You will be expecting it this time, I believe."
Kirk smiled slyly, looking much more like himself. "I promise I won't."
"You should sleep, Jim. Let your mind organize what has transpired through dreams."
"Oh, that will be pleasant."
"When you wake up, I will be here. Your ship will be here," Spock intoned with a calming certainty.
Kirk relented and rested back on the pillow. Spock lowered the lights to dim and adjusted the chair beside the bed.
"You are just going to sit there? All night?" Kirk asked.
"Indeed. I will meditate lightly while you sleep."
"It is a little strange having you here while I'm trying to sleep," Kirk commented. "I am feeling a little better," he added after a long silence. "Must have been that kiss." Another pause in the dimness. "Sure you don't want to try again?"
"Sleep, Captain," Spock said in his richest, deepest voice.
Mesmerized, Kirk asked groggily with a hint of hurt to his voice, "You were just teasing me?"
Kirk heard Spock sigh behind the darkness of his eyelids. Featherlight, the warm, silky lips touched his again. "No Jim, I was not."