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In the Shade

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

PROLOGUE: In the Sunlight

PART ONE:
CLOTHO: THE SPINNER OF THE THREADS OF LIFE
News Article: The Galactic News
News Article: The Enquiring Eye
Chapter One: Shared Space
Chapter Two: Sensor Readings
Chapter Three: Chaos
Chapter Four: Home
Chapter Five: Declarations of Intent
Chapter Six: Love, the Unsolved Mystery: Passion

PART TWO:
LACHESIS: THE DISPENSER OF LOTS
Chapter Seven: Suffering Servant
Chapter Eight: Teamwork
Chapter Nine: Insight
Chapter Ten: Handmaiden of Fate
Chapter Eleven: Coming to Terms
Chapter Twelve: Friends
Chapter Thirteen: The Chosen
Chapter Fourteen: Love, the Unsolved Mystery: Sorrow

PART THREE:
ATROPOS: THE INEXORABLE ONE
Chapter Fifteen: Trapped
Chapter Sixteen: Spring Rain
Chapter Seventeen: Unearthed
Chapter Eighteen: Underworld
Chapter Nineteen: “Remains Unchanged”
Chapter Twenty: Love, the Unsolved Mystery: Anger

PART FOUR:
FAHTIMA: THE ONE UNKNOWN
Chapter Twenty-One: Beneath the Trees
Chapter Twenty-Two: Rooted
Chapter Twenty-Three: Like Comets
Chapter Twenty-Four: Fated
Chapter Twenty-Five: Love, the Unsolved Mystery: Joy
EPILOGUE: In The Shade
ADDENDUM: Love and Fate

Love and Fate was never included in the printed version, but I always hoped it could be read as part of the entire novel experience.

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Because the Archive doesn't give options for things like Prologues and inserted non-chapter prose, this section actually contains:

Prologue: In The Sunlight
News Article: The Galactic News
News Article: The Enquiring Eye
Chapter One: Shared Space

 

_____________________________________________________

PROLOGUE: In the Sunlight

Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire
Would we not shatter it to bits -- and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

FitzGerald: Omar Khayyám, Rubaiyat

“They’re coming for you,” Hamza gasped as he fell to his knees. “Aunt Medina, Zubida and Neimat and that woman who drove here last night. Batunde the priest is with them too. You’ve got to run away! You know they’ll do it to you if you don’t.”

Fahtima ran her fingers across the stubble of millet on which she sat. Yes, she knew, as she had known ten minutes ago that gazelle-legged Hamza had begun to run to her, as she now felt his chest heave and the breath whistle in and out of his mouth.

“Tima? Did you hear me? You’ve got to run away!”

She pretended that she was not afraid. The goats innocently grazed in the field, ringed with the sensors she had erected yesterday, and the water flowed in the plastiment-walled irrigation channel. The old dried-up dragon tree, the only tree for kilometers around, stood mute sentinel over them. She watched her brown fingers dig into the hard-packed dirt.

Hamza, cousin-friend, dear Hamza was caught in his caring. His reasoning was not sound. Where would she run to?

When she had lain upon her pallet in the night and caught the stray, adult thoughts—knife and control and the old ways—she had desperately considered running away. After the first paralyzing fear had left her, after she had closed her eyes so tightly that her lids hurt, and after she had tried one more time to make the sizzling light go away so she would be left in darkness as everyone else was in darkness—oh please, gods of all, whoever is listening, cover me in cool shade and let me be normal—it was after the prayers had gone unanswered that she had thought of going to the village.

She wouldn’t be able to drive the aircar because her father kept the keys on a chain around his neck, but she could walk across the acacia-dotted landscape. A day’s walk wasn’t too far for a healthy twelve-year-old girl. She would need water, and she must wear her sandals because the road was hard and hot and once she was there.... Her relatives who lived there would bring her back.

She could have struggled as they put their hands on her, she could have screamed, “I’m changed! I’m different than I was! I am just like you now!” But she knew they would never believe her lie. Too many remembered how, before she realized she must hide, she had announced with child-like innocence whenever a flitter took off from the village’s airpad to visit their isolated agricultural compound. In the beginning they had laughed and talked about the little girl’s sharp ears. Later she had told that the long-awaited truck with the sonic drilling equipment for the new well would be there within the hour, and laughter became frowns as the roaring vehicle breached the desert horizon. When a mere six-year-old, a female, the least of her family in status, had said that Tuomi was bringing a new wife home from his visit to the city, and they had arrived the next day, the fear was born.

It didn’t matter that she no longer welcomed the knowledge in her mind, had warred against it and turned her mind’s eye away from it. For years she had kept her head down and folded her lips over her exploding soul. But even in the village, so far from the family compound, they remembered and feared, and she had heard with her own ears: witch.

She might have traveled further to escape, to the railhead that would take her to the city. In Khartoum there was a small spaceport, and a ship could take her off the Earth to where so many were different. Not human.

Her mouth had formed the words in the night, soundlessly, in defiance of the order of the Eternist priest. She did not shudder as she said them, nor did she gesture to ward off evil, because in her darkest soul she sometimes wondered if she belonged with them. She wondered if she were not-human. No one else in the family saw the light as she did, she was sure.

But leaving in a spaceship took credits. How to get them? Women at Khartoum, her mother had told her before she died, sold their bodies to the spacemen in the same way a wife lay with her husband, and Neimat had said any farmer with a good harvest could buy an hour to fill his needs. Fahtima could provide that. It would mean no man would marry her, but what did it matter when all men feared her anyway? Her father would not look at her without gesturing behind his back.

But if she reached Khartoum, if she spread her legs for many men and the credits were enough to lift her to the sky.... She would still be Fahtima Gabon. Nothing would be changed. She would still blink even on the darkest night because the light within her was so bright, and no river ever came to extinguish the burning. She would still cry within the crook of her elbow because she wanted the darkness that existed between the stars so much.... But as much as she had tried, the light always was there.

That was when Fahtima began to think of staying. One night she hugged her knees as she sat under the little window in her room, and somehow, she did not know how, opened herself to the brightness in a way she hadn’t for years. The adults were gathered in her uncle’s small pre-fabricated house across the track that divided the compound, and when their thoughts reached her, she gasped. She bit her lip and rocked back against the wall. So many presences.... How could they think she wanted this?

But she remembered how she had focused when she was young, and soon she caught blood and antibiotic and from her aunt we must have a sterile field and if we do this will she be cured?

Batunde the priest said it. Yes. The old ways are best, when we understood a human’s place in the galaxy, to be first, and is this not one of your oldest ways? Female circumcision was used so a woman could control her passions. In the decades of chaos after the Eugenics War, and then after the third great war, a woman needed the help to keep her pure and safe when the outlaw men would take any woman not protected. The scars are a badge of honor. Cut the female parts and it will teach Fahtima the ways of control.

There was so much under the words. Arrogance. The need to dominate not just one small girl but the whole circle of her family. Fear, of her strangeness, of losing his hold over the people. Certainty that by causing them to do this to her he would solidify his position. They would all be joined in a conspiracy of silence.

But above all, Batunde believed in what he said. He thought he could conquer the light.

Her aunt spoke again, thinking of a strange child she would not have to fear, because she would be less than the others, not more. Where could we find someone to do this? I don’t want her hurt. It’s been seventy years or more since—

One of our own, an Eternist. She is a doctor. She can come here from Cairo when there’s time in her schedule. She’ll do this if a priest tells her to, she is a woman. I will call her on the comm line.

Fahtima had pulled back to herself and sat, shivering, thinking of what the adults believed. A cure for what she was. Perhaps the blood she saw in their minds would wash her clean.

She also saw what she would give up when they cut off the clitoris between her legs. It was the source of sexual pleasure in women. She had touched herself there a few times, but she’d been frightened by the tingling sensation and stopped. It reminded her too much of when she was small and still so open to the light, when she’d been forced awake by the bursting of adult pleasure in her mind. Back then, she had always known when people were coupling. Intercourse was irrevocably linked with the light, and it was easy to reject both together.

And so she had decided to stay.

She attended school by satellite and strung sensors to keep the goats in the proper field and waited for the woman to come, the woman whom she saw in the light agreeing with Batunde about what must be done.

Fahtima lifted a handful of dust and watched it blow away towards the channel of water that sliced through the landscape, where some of the goats were bending their heads to drink. The grains settled on the rippling surface, little dots of the Earth. Is that, she wondered, what all the worlds of the galaxy looked like when you saw them from a spaceship? Insignificant specks of nothing, hiding all their promise? She would never know. She gazed into Hamza’s broad, coffee-colored face. “I’ll go to meet them.”

Hamza awkwardly unfolded his long adolescent legs and stood beside her. She shook out the ankle-length skirt that her aunt had insisted she begin to wear last year and pulled her scarf tightly over her black hair. No trace of hair should be showing, the priest had said. The old ways were the good ways. In the old days, no one had seen the light, and in the old days women with knives advanced on girls who needed to learn control.

Batunde and the women were almost there. They were not half a kilometer away across the water, easy to see in this flat and arid landscape.

She turned to the only light she had ever wanted to see. “I’d better go.”

“No,” Hamza said. He clenched his fists in youthful passion. “They can’t do this to you. I won’t let them. I’ll stop them.”

She took his hand. “Hamza. I know you would try. But we can’t. They think we’re just children.”

His square jaw, sign of the man he would become, jutted with stubbornness. “You’re not. You’ve never been a child.”

It had been one of her curses, that she had not spoken at all until she was four, and then had opened her mouth with adult phrases on her tongue. If only she had known what it would come to....

Fahtima squeezed his fingers. “It will be all right, you’ll see. I’m not afraid. I want this.”

“How could you? They’re going to hurt you!”

“They’re going to help me. Would you stay here and watch the goats? Don’t let them eat the sensor on the gate.”

She released his hand and walked towards the channel, and she knew he would remain behind, though he was a boy and almost a year older than she was. In this, his leadership gave way to mysteries yet beyond his awakening manhood. His muffled, heartbroken sob almost stopped her. Maybe she should try to explain to him how much she wanted to be cured. But even Hamza would never understand, so she kept walking

A bridge, built by her father and uncles years ago, spanned the channel. She could have taken it but instead she detoured over by the tree and snapped off an ancient, leafless twig in a sort of defiance. Fahtima skipped down the embankment, suddenly feeling light enough to take wing. Her arms went out for balance as if she were a bird, and she flew past the goats into the shallows of the water so that it washed the hem of her skirt. She kicked the water up as high up as she could, letting it soak her.

She splashed again and thought of the sizzle a match made when it went out, of a lamp extinguished by the once-a-year driving rains, of how she would feel when it was all over.

She climbed the bank and her heavy wet skirt slapped at her ankles. Aunt Medina smiled around her bad teeth and said, “Good girl,” and Fahtima smiled back at her.

“Remember that little procedure I said you were going to have? The doctor is ready for it now. It will help you now that you’re old enough for children. Come with us.”

Fahtima nodded eagerly, and with her honor guard behind her, she almost ran to the compound.

She didn’t need the press of their thoughts to tell her to lead them to the community room attached to the rear of her aunt’s house. The priest had argued the house should be replaced with a human-designed structure because it was the only one in the compound made in the Vulcan way, but so far Aunt Medina had resisted because it was energy efficient and comfortable.

In one corner of the room was a diagnostic table that could be converted to a birthing chair for the laboring or a comfort for the sick. Fahtima climbed up onto the table where she had been born. Someone had spread a plastic sheet on it, and as she pulled her skirt to her waist and looked up at the sun-washed ceiling, she defiantly expanded the pinhole that she had fought so hard to keep from enveloping her mind. One last time, and then she wouldn’t have to fight anymore.

She touched the doctor’s calm competence, saw the sonic scalpel through her eyes. Knew Zubida’s fear and Neimat’s thankfulness this was not being done to her, and their reluctance to spread and hold her legs as the doctor told them to do. She felt no embarrassment as even Batunde saw her most private parts, and she felt no pain as a hypo hissed against her there.

“This should just take a minute,” the doctor said, and when the scalpel hummed, there was no pain when the tissue fell with a flick of her wrist. Fahtima felt nothing at all, and she wrapped herself in the doctor’s thoughts to stare down at herself, bleeding around the sterile gauze the woman held against her brown flesh.

The woman glanced up from between Fahtima’s legs. “Should I do it all?”

The priest nodded. “Everything, as they did in the old days.”

“I might have to transfuse her. She’ll lose a lot of blood if I’m not careful when I remove the labia.”

“Two hundred years ago girls lay on the dirt without anesthetic or sterile fields and they survived. After the war there weren’t any supplies, and they used twine to sew them up. My grandfather said they used camel hair.”

Camel hair. Those big, bleating, obstinate beasts. Fahtima gave a little gurgle of amusement. Aunt Medina looked at her with an uncertain smile. She lifted Fahtima’s hand in her own and patted it.

“Almost done.”

Yes. Good-bye to the nights of endless light. Good-bye to the signs made behind her father’s back and the whispered words of fear. It would all be gone, just as soon as the doctor made the next few cuts....

Even Hamza’s light would be gone. It was the price the unspeaking gods asked her to pay.

“Good-bye,” she murmured, and the doctor leaned again to her task.

_________________________________________________________

PART ONE
Clotho: The Spinner of the Threads of Life

For in the days we know not of
Did fate begin
Weaving the web of days that wove
Your doom.

--A.C. Swinburne, Faustine

 

THE GALACTIC NEWS
October 12, 2271
Circulation: 50,000,248,020,963

News Item
Heading: Kirk to be Promoted
Stardate: 8742.3
Category: Starfleet
Date: October 12, 2271, 0820 hours
Author: Ralph Randolph
Field Information: Fahtima Gabon

Starfleet Command announced today that Captain James T. Kirk, formerly of the starship Enterprise, will be promoted to the rank of commodore. Kirk was the youngest man to hold the rank of captain of a starship when he attained command five years ago, and now, at age thirty-seven, he will be Starfleet’s youngest commodore.

The promotion will take place during the annual Federation Day ceremonies to be held October 25 in Paris, at the Federation complex to the north of the city. President Dubois is expected to attend, along with many representatives from the General Assembly.

“James T. Kirk is an exceptional officer,” said Starfleet’s Commander-in-Chief Admiral Heihachiro Nogura in a prepared statement. “His intelligence and bravery were amply proven during the recently concluded mission of the Enterprise. Starfleet is pleased to take advantage of his talents and loyalty by elevating him to the rank of commodore, where he will be able to make the greatest contribution to the expansion of the Federation and the protection of its people.”

However, the statement did not specify to which position Kirk would be appointed. According to the recently adopted Starfleet Deployment Guidelines, he is not eligible for a deep space assignment for two years except in the case of declared emergency or war.

One ‘Fleet official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “Kirk will go to Operations. He’s brilliant, tactically and strategically, and that’s where he belongs. With the Klingons hanging on our doorstep, he’s needed. Nkapa could use the help.”

Rear Admiral Kwame Nkapa, Chief of Operations for the past fifteen years, had no comment when contacted.

The Enterprise’s final mission took place when Kirk ordered the investigation of the unusual phenomenon known as a Graves Gravitational Mass (GGM.) Kirk and his first officer, Commander Spock, were able to remove the ship from the object’s influence only after all other members of the crew were rendered unconscious and the Enterprise was close to disintegration. The few mapped GGMs in Federation space have now been marked with buoys to prevent accidental incursion into their dangerous sphere of influence.

“The purpose of our five-year mission,” Kirk said in an interview with The Galactic News (Stardate 8679.1), “was not only to explore and defend, but also to ensure the safety of Federation citizens. It was appropriate that our very last undertaking should identify this exceptionally hazardous phenomenon. All credit must go to Commander Spock. He was virtually alone on the ship; I was conscious for only short periods of time and no one else was conscious at all. Commander Spock’s technical expertise in single-handedly devising automatic subroutines saved us all.”

Kirk was born in Riverside, Iowa of the North American Protectorate and entered Starfleet Academy on full scholarship at age 16. His first service was on board the light cruiser Farragut. Before he took command of the Enterprise in 2266, he captained the Hotspur during unspecified diplomatic missions for the Federation.

Kirk is unmarried with no dependents.

 

*****

 

THE ENQUIRING EYE
The cyberpaper for the discerning human

IT’S OUR OPINION!
An Editorial by William Henry Thompson

October 12, 2271
Circulation: 10,000,346
Eternist Earth Headquarters

The recent return of the USS Enterprise from the outer reaches of the Federation has been a cause for much celebration among the masses in the past few weeks. Listen closely. Can you hear the shouts ring across the land?

Hail our intrepid, multi-species heroes! Hail the fine and upstanding Captain Kirk and his stalwart, many-antennaed crew! See how wonderful the easy teamwork and friendship between captain and first officer, so different, mythology in the making. Look at the Enterprise’s quilt of human, Vulcan, Andorian, Rigellian and Tellarite. As the author said many centuries ago, one for all, all for one.

Oh, yes, Starfleet has engineered the publicity with such a fine, unobtrusive hand, one could almost enjoy being manipulated. It does make a glorious story, this five year journey into the unknown.

Twaddle.

Don’t be blinded by what is nothing more than a publicity ploy touting an experiment in Starfleet staffing. There were 430 beings on the Enterprise, and 380 of them trace their ancestry to what planet? You guessed it—Earth.

The recent emphasis on Captain Kirk and his multi-species crew is nothing more than a smokescreen. Starfleet works hand in glove with the alien contingent on the Federation Council. Starfleet wants you to forget that a proposal has just been introduced before the council that would drastically reduce the voice of the human, outer-colony planets in the General Assembly. Or at the least, they want you to believe that’s just fine.

These humans of the outer worlds, so many thousands of light years away, have taken on a far less glamorous role than Captain Kirk and his mongrel human/Vulcan first officer, that of colonizing and making habitable planets that are far from the comforts of Mother Earth. But their voices will be reduced to a mere whisper in the conclave that forms the basis for our government if this proposal becomes law. Instead you will hear the languages from Andoria, Vega, Rigel, Sirius. Is this the life-blood of the Federation? What has made her great?

Is it Vulcan you wish to hear? Captain Kirk undoubtedly heard Vulcan while on the Enterprise, as Starfleet has made obvious the past weeks. “The Enterprise with its racially diverse crew,” they expound in the most recent promo-vid, “was led by Kirk and his right hand adviser, Commander Spock of Vulcan, who together rescued Federation planets from certain destruction when they bravely confronted a machine of immense destructive power....” Blah, blah, blah. Next they’ll be telling us that a Tellarite has come up with a cure for head lice and the common cold.

Stop cheering for the Enterprise and turn your attention to what’s really important, the defeat of the Utarf-Pren’felit proposal in the General Assembly.

Who developed the technology that has allowed the Federation to grow, our markets to reach more consumers? The humans.

Whose sense of adventure and quest for the unknown has propelled them from Earth into the darkest void? The humans.

Who made this Federation great and will keep it great? The humans.

Captain Kirk’s first officer is the son of Sarek of Vulcan, wealthy ambassador from that planet. But of course Commander Spock earned his position on the Enterprise, didn’t he?

First officers are not captains. The captain is human.

The Utarf-Pren’felit reapportionment draft, with its one planet, one vote proposal, should be jettisoned with the waste from old engine pods. It’s dangerous. Under Utarf-Pren’felit, humans will lose our influence and our ability to contribute as we have the past many years as we built the Federation from nothing to the mighty force it is today. John Clark’s (Eternist—Centaurus) proposal of one representative for every two billion beings is an equitable solution instead.

What was it that the human, Dumas, wrote so long ago? One human for all. All humans for each other.

 

 

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CHAPTER ONE: Shared Space

The healers had kept them waiting for more than twenty minutes. Every once in a while the low murmur of voices came from the rooms that Kirk knew existed on the other side of the wall behind his back; that was the only reason he had to believe that Sluman and T’Braggia were actually present this morning in their consulting suite on a quiet, tree-lined side street in San Francisco. Vulcans didn’t countenance illogical delays. It was assumed that patients would arrive punctually, and then they would speak with a healer. He and Spock had already done that twice since the Enterprise had eased into orbit over Earth, and Kirk had approved the logic in well-timed appointments. What could be delaying them now? This visit was at their unexpected request.

Next to Kirk, Spock’s head was tilted as he examined the abstract painting that graced the opposite wall. He didn’t seem to be infected with Kirk’s own impatience. After forty years of practicing the ways of control, he didn’t allow his anxieties to show.

The rain pelted against the window as the wind gusted outside, and the energy of the elements pushed Kirk into action, too. He abandoned his pretense at contentment, jerked up off the couch and stalked across the room.

He forced himself to focus on the view outside: past the weeping, rain-streaked windowpane, to the two trees with a few leaves clinging to their branches, to a hurrying pedestrian. But the static visages of three-story brownstone houses with their attendant shops at street level could not capture his attention for long, and eventually he saw something else, a distorted reflection in the glass: his Vulcan, lean and dark and handsome in his blue and black dress uniform, sitting in silence and pretending to examine a third-rate work of art to which he wouldn’t have given a second glance at any other time.

Kirk watched as a raindrop streaked down the window, splitting his former first officer’s image into blurry halves. He frowned at the overt symbolism. It didn’t mean a thing. He’d learned long ago that worrying didn’t contribute to the solution of a problem. Or to put it another way, a different way from his but no less valuable: It is illogical to speculate. What is, is. Cor yhr mahr.

Better to focus his attention on the positive. Debriefing and separation were almost over. Another week, maybe two, then the Prime Directive Committee would release its official report, and he and Spock would be free to start new assignments and new lives, the bridges they both had to cross before time found them again together on a refitted Enterprise. Thirty-two months at least she’d be in drydock, with the possibility of the new transwarp engines at the end, and when she left on a new mission Kirk intended to be in the command seat with Spock by his side again. Why not? Nogura and the gray-haired officers on the Assignment Board would come to see the logic in it.

His thoughts were interrupted by the chirp of his communicator.

“Kirk here.”

“Andersen here, Kirk. No thanks to you, I’ve managed to rearrange some of those interviews you canceled on me. Li from The Shanghai Express at 1745, then Randolph from The Galactic News at eighteen hundred Paris time. Two short exclusives. I’ll have one of my people meet you when you beam over. You will be here, right? No more changes?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good. Andersen out.”

He slapped the communicator back on his belt with unnecessary force. PR gave him a headache. He rotated his neck and reached up to massage the tight muscles there.

It was a relief when Spock spoke, his words pulling Kirk away from his contemplations.

“I am concerned that our choice to schedule this consultation today was a mistake, especially if the healers do not see us soon. You have but a few hours before the promotion ceremony, and it may have been wiser—”

Kirk stopped him with a fierce look. “Spock.”

“Yes, Jim?”

“Don’t be stupid. It doesn’t become you.”

A light appeared in his Vulcan’s eyes, and Kirk returned the smile with a small one of his own. The top layer of his anxiety, the part that had kept him silent, evaporated.

“You know,” he said conversationally, leaning against the windowsill and gripping it lightly from behind, “I think my mother was impressed by you. It helps that I’ve been telling her lies all these years, that you’re the best thing since the Guttenberg press.”

“It is difficult to understand how you can gauge her opinion from the short lunch the three of us shared weeks ago. And considering your mother’s background in journalism, I fear that she will become disappointed upon closer acquaintance.”

The human’s eyes softened. “Not a chance.”

A gust of wind drove rain against the glass, in the same way that small asteroids had once pelted the shields of their ship. Spock spoke over the rising weather.

“Your mother will be able to join us after the ceremony tonight for a late dinner?”

“Uh-huh. She’s over in Prague at some media conference anyway, so it’s a short trip for her to Paris and then back. I’ve got reservations for midnight at a restaurant I’ve been to before. Small and quiet, on the Seine, where I hope the reporters will leave us in peace.”

“And you still plan to speak to her concerning our relationship tonight?”

“I think it’s only right, don’t you? Before we move in together.”

“I concur. However, I cannot help but speculate that your mother’s reaction might not be as positive as you anticipate.”

“Don’t worry about her. Her life is Kirk Communications, her small group of newspapers, and she hasn’t meddled in my life in years. She’ll ask if I’m happy, say congratulations, and then it’ll be back to work for her. Mom’s a workaholic.”

“Like her son?”

Kirk laughed quietly. “Not exactly. Wait until you get to know her better, you’ll see. I think I know how to relax. If I ever get the chance.”

A short silence. Kirk listened to the raindrops, turned around to watch the rain again, and thought of how long it had been since he and Spock had managed to relax together.

Starfleet Command separated captains and first officers to grill them over the five years they’d spent together in space—to ensure an honest appraisal of all mission assignments—so he and Spock had rarely been in the same room or even the same building when they faced questions from boards of sober-faced commodores and admirals. Fortunately, Starfleet PR, as directed from the CinC’s office, saw things differently. At least some of Kirk’s media interviews and public appearances had been in Spock’s company, especially in the past month. “Part of the spin for this campaign is to push you two as a team,” Commodore Andersen had told them shamelessly. “It’s effective ammunition against the arguments of the Eternists. The different races of the Federation working together on a starship—that’s what we want to present.” And though Kirk had grown sick of the sight of his own face on the holovids, he had to acknowledge the public seemed to be lapping it up. The previous day he’d been told that Starfleet approval ratings were on the rise, and if that meant the anti-alien, secessionist movements of the Eternists could be checked, then he’d smile at even more cameras.

But not right now. He looked again at the reflection in the window, his gaze resting hungrily on the strong profile of his lover. Exactly how his ideal sex partner had changed from petite, intelligent and blonde to tall, intelligent and strong, he wasn’t quite sure. From female to male. How could it be? But now it felt right, it was settled in his mind, in the memories that his body carried. The warmth of a woman’s breast against his tongue, the heft of it in his palm, those experiences seemed very long ago. The last two years on the ship, with Spock by his side on the bridge, on landing parties, and next to him in bed—they’d been good. Even with all that had happened to them, still very good, and so much better than `being alone or not sharing in Spock’s intimate life. Go back to being friends only? Never.

But that’s how the last three months had felt. He’d been pursuing his relationship with Spock in front of holocameras, for God’s sake, and he was sick of it. He needed something more. It wasn’t just the sex. They’d managed to find time and privacy a few times away from Starfleet’s and the public’s demands. Twice in New York, once in Salzburg, again in New Delhi, and they’d been hot and sweaty and erotic encounters, memorable enough for comfort during the lonely nights in between, but though his physical tension had been temporarily eased, he needed more.

Better not to think about it. Only a few more weeks, things were starting to fall into place, they’d have their new assignments confirmed soon, maybe tonight when Nogura—

Spock spoke again. “I have been considering the question of our joint accommodation after debriefing.”

That brought Kirk around again. “Good, me too. Did you see the realtor’s simulations?”

“Last night after I arrived back from Singapore.”

“I liked the condo on Duke Street, or the townhouse in this neighborhood, though it’s more than we really need.”

“I prefer the townhouse. We could walk to the transporter station, and there is ground transportation nearby as well. I also prefer three bedrooms over two.”

“And the two story arrangement, so we won’t get into each other’s way.”

“Are you already concerned about excessive proximity?”

“Not likely. But call me realistic. We’ll both need some space of our own. We could have one of the bedrooms for us, one for guests, and turn the other into an office. I thought it was big enough for that, didn’t you?”

Spock nodded. “More than adequate. You would be able to use the back room on the lower floor for your own office needs, and I will take the second floor location. I am, however, concerned that the house may not still be available.”

Kirk snorted. “At that price? It’ll be there.”

“Let us presume so. However....”

“What?”

“I wish to be certain that you have not reconsidered this course of action. It is not strictly necessary for us to cohabitate—”

Another fierce look. “Spock.”

The amusement sprang more easily to the dark eyes this time. “Yes, Jim.”

“It still doesn’t become you. Besides, we agreed on this back on the ship. Are you getting cold feet?”

Pointedly Spock stretched his long legs out before him, considering his shining boots with a curious air, and Kirk laughed.

“I guess that means ‘No,’ right?”

“I have observed,” Spock said, tucking his feet back where they belonged, “that Standard can be most imprecise at times. Allow me to clarify. My desire to share a dwelling with you while we are posted on Earth has not changed. It has increased in direct proportion to the time that we have been housed in separate quarters during debriefing. Has your opinion changed?”

“Hell, no. You know I’ve missed you, too.”

“Then let us speak to the realtor at the earliest opportunity. I am required in London for the next three days, but there is some flexibility in my hours. What would your schedule allow?”

Kirk spread his hands with frustration. “I don’t know, I’m so booked up they’ve got an ensign at my elbow to get me from one debriefing to the next interview to the next meeting with one ’fleet board or another. Not tomorrow. Or the next day. Maybe the day after that? In the evening. I think I’m available after 1900 hours. If the powers that be don’t want me someplace else. Would that work for you?”

But before Spock could reply, the door to the interior of the suite opened, and a very short, elderly Vulcan wearing black pants and a long-sleeved black tunic stepped forward. He bowed his head and the tip of his gray beard disappeared into his chest.

“Captain Kirk? Commander Spock? I regret the necessity of delaying our consultation.”

Spock stood and raised his hand in the taal. “Peace and long life, Sluman.” Kirk straightened and nodded.

“Yes,” Sluman said. “Peace is what we all seek, what we seek for you in particular.” He turned and walked along a hallway, and after a moment of silence Kirk gestured for Spock to follow him first.

From their previous visits Kirk had discovered that the suite didn’t appear to be a conventional medical facility, although Vulcans were as capable of treating ills of the body through invasive surgical procedures as any other species. Many healers were skilled surgeons.

They passed the two innocuous examining rooms he and Spock had been in before, passed a room filled with computer and other equipment, walked by a bathroom and a storage closet. Finally, at the end of the hallway, Sluman led them to a cramped, white-walled room where four chairs faced each other and took up most of the space. A window set high in the opposite wall revealed the ragged branches of an oak tree, dripping with the autumn downpour. T’Braggia, the slight, stooped-shouldered bondmate of Sluman and also a healer, stood just inside the room. She bowed as they entered, then silently left. Under the window, turning to look at them, was another, unfamiliar, Vulcan.

Sluman spoke. “This is Versin Z’mastlxpz, master healer from the facility at Golgotharen. He is the possibility of which I spoke during our last communication. You are fortunate that he has come to Earth to consult with the physicians at Johns Hopkins University on a rare visit. He has abilities I lack. At my request and with your permission, he has consented to participate in Spock’s treatment.”

Here was another male Vulcan whose name did not start with the ubiquitous “S,” only the second one whom Kirk had ever met. Kirk examined him, inclined to favor anyone who could offer them help. He was a contrast to the older healer: in all-white tunic and pants, taller than Spock by several centimeters, very thin where Sluman’s torso had slumped into the fleshiness of advanced age. Sluman’s hair was thinning, but Versin’s was black and bushy and hid the tips of his pointed ears. The two healers could not have been less alike.

Versin raised his hand and managed to make it look like an energetic gesture. “Peace and long life, Spock.” He spoke Standard quickly and with no discernible accent.

“Live long and prosper,” Spock responded.

Versin jerked his head up and to the right, a Vulcan mannerism that conveyed cursory acknowledgment and sometimes dismissal. Back in the days when he had been absorbing Vulcan language and customs through melds, Kirk had learned such things. He was not sure that he liked to see such a gesture directed towards Spock.

But Versin’s penetrating gaze immediately focused on him. “You are the human.”

How many times had Kirk’s mother briskly said It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it? It was the way this Vulcan said human that put the frown on Kirk’s face and made the back of his neck tingle. But maybe the healer wasn’t as aware of the emotional consequences of his inflection as a native-speaker would be.

Kirk nodded. “Yes. James Kirk.” He didn’t bother with the gesture of greeting.

Sluman put in, “Perhaps you have seen Captain Kirk on the video presentations. He has been much interviewed by the news media since the arrival of his ship, the Enterprise. Spock as well.”

Versin seemed not to have heard and addressed Kirk again. “You are the one who is conducting a sexual liaison with Spock in the human fashion, using only the body and with no ties of commitment to bind you?”

Kirk decided that he definitely did not like this healer. What did this being, whoever he might be, whatever powers he might possess, know about what he and Spock shared, what bound them one to the other?

Spock responded before Kirk could. “In its most elementary aspects, it is correct to say that Captain Kirk and I share a sexual relationship. There is an emotional component as well.”

The healer cut one hand through the air. “Of that I have no interest. It is against Vulcan and to be avoided. However, your case is an interesting one, and examining it would add to the database I am attempting to compile. Regardless of my judgment that the path you have chosen is illogical, and your alliance with the human especially so, I choose to participate in your attempted rehabilitation. Be seated. I will explain further.”

They sat, the two healers with little wasted motion, the two lovers slowly, exchanging looks as they took chairs next to one another. The quarters were so close that Kirk had to sit very straight to prevent clashing with Versin’s knees.

“Golgotharen is an orbital facility specializing in the treatment of diseases of the mind among Vulcans,” Versin began. “I have been master healer there for seven Vulcan years. That is six point six one years in human terms, Captain Kirk.”

There was a pause that Versin obviously expected him to fill. “Yes, I know,” Kirk said.

“I have never treated a being with a disability such as Spock’s; it is most unusual. However, I have considerable experience with other mental dysfunctions suffered by Vulcans. I have examined the file. Spock, you lost all psychic abilities when you were attacked?”

“Yes,” Spock said evenly, as if his equanimity now could deny the turbulent emotion and the pain of the past year. His hands rested quietly in his lap. “I have been unable to initiate or sustain melds, have not been able to exercise specific control over my body, have not been able to heal myself, have had to compensate for sensory perceptions in a way that is less than optimum. However, I did regain my time sense nine weeks and two days after the initial dysfunction.”

“No improvement since that time?”

“Correct.”

“Sluman told me that despite your apparent mind blindness, you experienced contact shortly after the attack.”

“Affirmative. One of the members of a group-mind, a leader named Gri-Ta, was able to communicate with me non-verbally three times. The third time she pulled two humans, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy, into a shared mental experience.”

“Yet no other healer has duplicated the contact.”

Kirk offered, “We’ve been to an Andorian exchanger, a human neurologist, and another Vulcan healer besides Sluman. Nobody’s been able to touch his mind.”

Versin’s glance flicked off the surface of Kirk’s dress uniform. It clearly said: unimportant. He returned his quicksilver gaze to Spock and arrowed another question at him.

“Theorize. What made the union with this Gri-Ta possible?”

Spock spoke slowly but steadily. “I was sensitized by the needs of the body. The first contact was immediately before an out-of-season pon farr, the second,” a perceptible pause, “during the mating experience, the third immediately after.”

Silence, broken only by the passing of a ground car on the wet street outside. Kirk stared down at the gray squares of the tiled floor.

The mating experience. Three words to describe the glory of finding his lover in the desert of the mind, barely alive yet waiting for the nourishment that only their mental joining could give. It was profanity to speak of that most private experience to others, and Kirk hated doing so as much as Spock must hate it. But to give back to his lover his unique Vulcan life, he would talk about anything, encourage Spock to talk about even this.

The strained silence must have lasted a full ten seconds—forty-four Vulcan dranaths, Kirk translated defiantly—when Versin said in a harsh voice, “You must not speak of it before this outworlder—”

Spock squared his shoulders. “Versin, you must be aware that I joined with Captain Kirk in my Time. He is already fully cognizant of the ravages of the pon farr, for I inflicted them upon him. There is nothing to hide for he knows it all. To pretend a discretion that is not needed would be illogical.”

“Do not lecture me of logic, Spock. You have turned from many of the disciplines, and I— “
The patient did not give the healer a chance to finish. “Do you wish to treat me, Versin?”

Versin allowed signs of his annoyance to be expressed: a tightening of the muscles of his jaw and between his eyes, a shifting of his lanky frame. “I have said it. Data provided from your case may be useful.”

Not: you are a sentient being whom I wish to help. Not: you suffer and I can alleviate your suffering. Instead: useful data. No other doctor had been so cold, not even the other healer and certainly not Sluman. Kirk wished he knew the bio-feedback mechanisms to regulate his blood pressure, and thought of McCoy instead. Bones would have had a fit during this interview.

“I wish to contribute that data,” Spock said. “However, Captain Kirk is my chosen partner, and that must be accepted by all. Let us move to other subjects.”

Versin nodded. “Speak to me of this Gri-Ta. She appears to have considerable psychic gifts.”

“Yes. However, her orientation as an individual being was quite different from our own. She is primarily of the group mind.”

“She was unable to help you further? Did she make the attempt?”

“Yes, she tried but was unsuccessful. However, she believed that it was possible that all my psychic abilities or some part of them would eventually return, spontaneously, although it was equally likely that they would not. She based her belief on the bond that had begun to grow between the captain and myself. Some part of it must still exist, or I would not have been drawn to him during the time of my need.”

“The bond. You are certain it existed, that a spontaneous bond came into existence between you and this psi-null being?”

“Affirmative. It was rudimentary in nature when it was destroyed, but it did exist.”

“If such is the case, I agree with Gri-Ta’s hypothesis. If a beginning bond functioned during the extremities of your Time, then other aspects of your psychic abilities may also be present, although hidden.”

Sluman spoke. “I concur. I searched for evidence during my initial attempts at joining with the patient, but I was unable to confirm my theory. There was no true contact. Spock’s mind is impermeable; primarily, the psychic indexing centers of the hippocampus appeared to be non-functioning. I considered recommending that he go to Vulcan for further examination when I learned that you would be on Earth. You are far more suited to examine him than I.”

“Agreed,” Versin said, acknowledging what was only logical. “However, my reflection on the problem does not initially lead me to wish to examine Spock as you did. You and others have done so and discovered only residual energy. I consider a different approach.” The bushy-haired Vulcan looked directly at Kirk. “I will meld with you, Captain Kirk.”

Surprise swept up Kirk’s spine, pulling him straight. “Me?”

“Yes. The roots of this so-called bond, or perhaps merely a link, may be present within you. If it does indeed exist in some form, I may be able to uncover and stimulate it. Sluman will then attempt to draw Spock into a joint experience as was done before, with my link with you as an inducement towards the autonomic functions of the bond. The link may thus be re-established. Or perhaps not. Spock’s condition is unique and therefore calls for experimental measures. Do you consent?”

“Yes,” Kirk said.

“No,” Spock said just as quickly. “It may be harmful to the captain. I cannot allow such an intrusion. At the least we should delay until we encounter a healer familiar with humans.”

Kirk turned halfway in his seat to face his lover. “I’ll be all right. You know I’ve never had a problem with mental contact.”

“Except that you became overly fatigued during our deepest melds. Do you not remember? We were not able to join as frequently as we wished because of your problems.”

“Of course I remember,” Kirk said sharply. “Do you think I’ve forgotten anything? Anything at all?” He tried to catch his sudden indignation. It wasn’t Spock with whom he was angry. “I remember,” he said softly. “And I know that problem was early in our relationship. You adapted and so did I. It got better. With only one meld with Versin, I shouldn’t have a problem.”

“The human will not come to harm.”

“Captain Kirk is due to participate in the Federation Day ceremonies in fewer than three point two hours,” Spock said. “It is inappropriate for us to jeopardize such an important—”

Kirk touched the sleeve of the blue tunic, enough to stop the flow of words. “Spock,” he said, and for a moment he simply lived within the mystery of the dark gaze. There had been a time when he had shared the secrets there, when he had trod the inner landscape of this most extraordinary being’s life.

“I’ll be all right.” He wished they were alone so they could talk about this privately, but they weren’t and the healers were probably not even aware of the emotional necessity. “No one has tried this approach before, at least not since Gri-Ta did. It’s an opportunity we can’t pass up. I’m going to meld with Versin, and it isn’t logical to put this off. You’ve waited long enough, haven’t you? More than a year we’ve waited. Now, maybe, there’s a new chance....” He turned back to the healer. “When? Now?”

“There is no logic in waiting.” Versin’s hand rose towards Kirk’s face, but Spock was there, capturing the healer’s fingers before they made contact.

“There is at least logic in caution,” Spock said, then he released the healer. “Have you ever joined with a human before?”

“You overstep your authority, Spock,” Sluman said. “Versin has great skill. You need not fear for your partner.”

“And I have experience in melding with humans. I have done so with many individuals, and it is only appropriate that I present my accumulated information.”

Versin’s face froze, a Vulcan’s substitute for frowning. Slowly, the healer’s hand returned to his lap. “This is logical. Proceed.”

“I warn you, Versin, to avoid confrontation with the ego center. Humans do not react well to it. A gradual approach is best during the period of stabilization, although later full functional integration should be possible. Above all, project using concrete images or the captain will supply them for the experience instead.”

Both healers blinked in understated, astonished unison. Sluman spoke. “That is unlikely with a psi-null being.”

“That is the perceived wisdom, yet I have found it violated on several occasions. The captain is perfectly capable of attempting to control the meld, even if inadvertently, simply through his mind’s need to translate images into familiar constructs.”

“I understand,” Versin said. “You reveal a possible avenue of approach. We should proceed now.”

“Fine,” Kirk replied, jumping in before Spock could come up with another reason for delay. He wanted to do this. “I don’t think I’ll have a problem.”

“Your experience with one to whom you were never properly bonded holds no relevance. This will be different. I suspect the pathways the two of you forged in your lust will be so warped that I will have great difficulty following them. I must not be distracted; therefore, you must be controlled. Will you cooperate?”

Tightening jaw muscles were the only manifestation of his anger that Kirk allowed. Versin with his narrow shoulders, narrow features and even narrower soul was Spock’s last realistic chance. Their last chance. No one had said it, but everyone in this little room knew it. Where else could they go after Versin?

“I’ll cooperate.”

“Very well. We will begin.”

“A moment.” It was Sluman, rising from his seat and inching his way around the chairs towards the door. “If we are successful, then I will need to act as a bridge to Spock as well. This would be better accomplished if I enlist the services of T’Braggia and our fla’arsun. Our apprentice,” he explained to Kirk. “They will act as stabilizers and focal points if we are successful. Wait while I call them.”

A minute later two Vulcan women entered behind the elderly healer. T’Braggia Kirk knew from before. She was as emaciated as Sluman was fleshy, with the bones of her elbows looking sharp enough to pierce her fragile, paper-like skin, but she had the same calm demeanor as her bondmate. She also had that certain spark in her eye that Kirk had found in other beings who were not human but who nevertheless understood the universe in the same ways that he did. It was a similar spark that had arced and sizzled between a determined captain and his focused first officer on the Enterprise five years before.

She too had tried to join with Spock during their second visit, and Kirk liked her because she had been dismayed when her attempt had been unsuccessful. She had actually said I grieve with thee to both of them as her fingers slid from Spock’s face. Perhaps because he liked T’Braggia, he also liked Sluman, and he thought that within the intimacy of their own bonding, which surely had lasted at least two centuries, they must understand the loss he suffered with Spock. The severing of their mental contact reduced them, it left them unlinked except in the human way of love and desire, and he had learned that it was not enough.

Behind T’Braggia was a young Vulcan woman, so young in comparison to the ancient healers that she seemed like a child with her unlined skin taut over pale cheekbones. She bowed in the doorway, her eyes taking in Versin, Sluman, Kirk and then….

When her gaze reached Spock, a small gasp escaped her prim lips. Immediately, she folded her hands within her robe and lowered her head as if in shame.

“T’Genia.” The name was a rebuke from Sluman, who radiated disapproval.

“I beg forgiveness. I should have anticipated the absence of an aura.”

“Indeed, your reaction reveals a lack of forethought, as well as inadequate control before one who requires your assistance. We will discuss this later. For now, you are required as I explained. Take your place.”

T’Genia stood next to T’Braggia, each of them behind Sluman’s chair, and Kirk gave Versin his attention.

Versin’s fingers weren’t long and beautiful as Spock’s were, they were sticks, but they settled just as warmly on the meld points that hadn’t been touched for months. Kirk looked at his—partner, Sluman had called him—at his partner, his life’s partner, and he allowed himself to feel hope that this would work, that when it was over Spock would be himself again. But he didn’t let his hope show, hope had a way of hurting sometimes, so he closed his eyes and gave himself up to the pressure on his temples and cheeks. The healer said loudly, so unlike any mantra Spock had ever used, “My mind to your mind, Kirk. Open to me....”

And suddenly no one else was there. The one named Kirk was—

—a k’tekerel,

—no, nothing at all in deepest darkness,

—no, he was small, so small, like a—

—a minute particle of sand in an endless desert. He was a grain of sand, and he was buried deep beneath the surface. He felt the weight of all the other grains pushing him down. So heavy. Too heavy to breathe. How could a body breathe with so much weight on his chest? How could a heart beat? Out! There was no way to live in this darkness/desert /k’tekerel get out—

A twist of his body, a flash of light towards which he kicked, squirmed, angled, and the sand parted and he surged up, and up, and something pulled on his legs (sand with legs and chest? Discontinuity—) and from far away he heard a voice he knew Terminate the meld Let him go I insist and faintly from where the hands gripped him a new mantra from the autonomic to the subconscious to the conscious....

…and then he breasted the surface of the ocean of sand and there wasn’t any pressure and he was James T. Kirk in a meld with Versin from Golgotharen.

A desiccated touch, ethereal and yet oh so definite. Not words—Vulcans were telepaths too, but melding was another gift, telepathy turned on its side, twisted and forced into the service of a unique sexuality. Kirk had never found the words to describe it. Contact that was not physical, an understanding, a projection of self and intention…. There was nothing similar in the physical world.

But he remembered what he’d shared with Spock, the press of flesh upon his face, so often they’d started with a kiss, tongue in mouth, so hot, the so-sexual way Spock’s mind had eased into his, their mutual hunger for the sliding of their thoughts together, the joy they shared with each perception, one being in all its being overlaid upon another—and he knew even as he shuttered those images that Versin had seen them. No matter, this was the truth, the way it was. But not what Versin wanted, he knew.

//This isn’t a true meld, is it? You’re minimizing your input. I can’t read you….//

Perhaps, a flicker of surprise. //There is no need for you to perceive me. All that is necessary is for me to perceive you.//

Rebellion, quickly suppressed. Arrogance had always grated against him.

//What happened at the beginning?//

//The entry proceeded more swiftly than I had anticipated.//

He awaited Versin’s next move, using what he could to replace the nothingness. For another few hours or so he was still a starship captain, and he faced the unknown. Shoulders back, hands with fingers uncurled by his side, weight balanced over his hips, ready to shift to the balls of his feet at the first sign—

//Ah, this is an example of that to which Spock referred. Interesting. Are you unable to go beyond this merely physical projection to participate in a full Vulcan mental experience? So Spock never—//

//That is between my bondmate and myself.//

//No bond partner for there is no bond, unless we discover some portion of it here. Put aside your manifestations of aggression. I am no danger to you, Kirk.//

//My apologies.// There was no regret in their shared space. //The urge to protect that which we love is instinctive in humans.//

//You love the bond that was? What you say is illogical—//

//I love Spock, who is. I’m not ashamed. Humans need love as part of their lives.//

//But not Vulcans. It is against the ways of Surak.//

//I don’t know about Vulcans. I know Spock.//

//Perhaps. Lead me to him. Think of him.//

Spock at their only joint debriefing, elegant hands folded before him….

//Negative. Proceed.// Versin deepened their contact. The distance between them thinned.

…Spock over the scanners on the bridge, deep voice warning “Incoming fire”….

//Possible. Proceed.//

…Spock glancing at him across the briefing room table, a nod of agreement, the merest hint of a smile….

//Interesting. An emotional reaction where there should be none.//

…Spock with a towel over his wet head after a joint shower, igniting desire all over again….

//Desire is surrender to insanity. But you are closer. Perhaps, emotional intensity. Again.//

…Spock in the sanity-draining intensity of pon farr, shivering with repressed need, hunched over himself as he denied, and denied, and denied, and Kirk’s soul ached each second that kept them apart until finally they were alone and Spock’s hot body slammed against his, pushing him down….

//Negative! Negative!// The healer abruptly retreated, leaving Kirk to experience alone the pain of rough penetration, to know the fear that physical contact was not enough, and to remember his desperate scramble as Spock heaved within him as he tried to find something, anything that would keep Spock alive…and then his call to Gri-Ta. Her unique powers brought him to a trickle of water in the desert where Spock waited for baptism. They embraced and rolled in the water, laughing. He felt the wet-hot hands on his shoulders, his hips, and the shocking joy as their minds slid together. Such joy. Always. Ecstasy better than any orgasm, that place the two of them inhabited, the most private place. They were meant to be together.

But not any more.

Kirk waited twenty Vulcan dranaths before projecting: //Too much emotional intensity? I lived through it. He did too. That was the last time the bond functioned. It should add to your database.//

Versin was a dark bulk with sharp edges, a decisive presence that loomed closer as he tightened his control with a sudden wrench. //Kirk, you have no right. You mock all of Vulcan.//

Kirk flowed with Versin’s strength, gave himself up to it willingly. //What is, is, right? This is what we are, Spock and me. I attempt to aid in your search for the bond. You implied emotional intensity would help. That’s what pon farr is all about. Did you find anything before you turned away?//

//Negative. You are a ruthless human and not a suitable partner for a Vulcan.//

//Damn right I’m ruthless. The man I love is hurt.//

//Love? You base this bastardized relationship on the ephemeral, that which followers of Surak must avoid.//

Bastardized. That hurt. Versin had said they had no ties of commitment. Untrue, for they were here in his heart. But no one saw them.

//The idea isn’t to avoid emotion but understand it, take what’s good in it and make it part of your life.//

//You speak of what you do not know.//

//I know this. The most important part of Spock’s life, of our life together, has been ripped away. Ask me what I’d do for him, to see him whole and happy again. Ask me!//

//There is no need. I see your conviction.//

//Anything, healer. Anything.//

//Generalizations can be dangerously illogical. Beware the promises you make, human.//

//I keep my promises.//

//This discussion is irrelevant and you are too emotional to aid me. We will not be successful. I will end this union now.//

//No! Wait!//

//For what purpose?//

//So you keep your promise as a healer. See me? I know you do, you control the meld. Look!//

//I perceive you.//

//Do you? Do you really? Or are you ignoring the emotions that you find so distasteful? I’m bleeding inside.//

//A fanciful human metaphor.//

//Effectively descriptive. I know you don’t care about me, but think about your fellow Vulcan. Your patient. If you could see inside him, you’d know what pain is, and courage and despair. Imagine what it must have been like, to have everything that made him a Vulcan ripped away.//

//Emotional empathy is a dangerous path for any healer.//

//You’re a healer. Heal us!//

//You step beyond yourself.//

//Heal us!//

//Then give me your mind. All of it.//

Less than one dranath. That was all it took for Versin to expand their joining to cruel, overwhelming brilliance that shattered any illusions Kirk had about asserting himself. Versin’s power was stark and hard-fingered—nothing like the life-sustaining light of his unions with Spock—and the healer chose to exert all of his might now. Electricity shot through him in a screaming line of fire, taking whatever it was that was Kirk in this exploding world and stretching him with it as it streaked away, so he was thinner, thinner still, until he was utterly transparent, he was a pane of polished glass, no, a sheet of ice, his heart frozen since he and Spock couldn’t touch anymore….

He struggled not to resist, to give all of himself for inspection as the essence of the one named Versin flowed inexorably over him: a flood tide of grating sand shrieked across the ice of his being. This was a surrender of that total other self, a different self usually hidden by the body, hidden even by thoughts, but revealed now. He couldn’t prevent it, he remembered in flashing but perfect detail how it had been with Spock, and oh God he wanted it again and Versin chose to walk on him with all his weight, there, to observe the memory and the surging emotion. One step, two, crunch and crackle, he shattered under the scrutiny, he was destroyed, and he fell with the ice shards cutting him….

//…From the conscious to the subconscious to the autonomic. You are free. There is no bond.//

He became aware that he was trembling. He clasped his hands between his black-clad knees, elbows on thighs, he bent over them while he breathed in great gulps of air. A murmur of voices washed over him, and then came a tentative touch at the base of his neck. Spock warmed him there, gently massaged, his hand a bridge back to equilibrium. But such exhibitionism was anathema to the measured way of Surak.

“No,” Kirk murmured and made a feeble attempt at shrugging his shoulders. He wasn’t going expose his partner to the healers’ ridicule. “It’s all right. I’m okay.”

Fingers squeezed and then fell away.

He felt as if he’d been turned inside out and then shaken. It was not cold in the consulting room despite the autumn rain pelting against the window, but Kirk shivered.

Spock went down on one knee, his arms forming a protective circle as they rested on the chair’s back and arm. “Jim. Are you well?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then look at me.”

He lifted his head and their gazes joined. What beautiful eyes Spock had. They were brown, deeply set and some might say ordinary, but from the day on the bridge so many years ago when he had caught within them a glimpse of the complex hidden man, Kirk had thought them extraordinary. Because Spock’s eyes spoke the truth to anyone who cared to look into them, he had realized they need not be separate and always different with a gulf of misunderstanding between them. They could be friends. They could be brothers. T’hy’la.

Beautiful eyes. He had seen them struggling with pain more than a year ago, when Spock had first been attacked and later as they slowly came to terms with all he had lost. He had seen them raging with anger against the capricious injustice of the universe. Now, they regarded him with calm strength.

He could not lie in the face of that courage. “He didn’t find anything.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I had hoped—”

“But I had not. I am resigned to my condition, you know that.”

“I know,” he said hopelessly.

“Now I am concerned about you.”

“Don’t be.”

“Always.”

“Spock….” He wanted to reach out and touch his lover’s cheek. Damn it! Not here. Never here, never now, never free. For too long they had lived apart, danced to the tune Starfleet played with Spock in bachelor officers’ quarters and Kirk thirty kilometers away in ’fleet’s prize penthouse. They had met and nodded, been efficient officers, suitable candidates to tout a starship’s success, allowed themselves to be paraded as friends, dedicated comrades-in-arms—but not what they truly were.

Spock’s face was very close, he could see the short, spare eyelashes and the little endearing bump next to that prominent nose. His hard-fought control evaporated, and Kirk remembered, so clearly, the possessive press of Vulcan lips against his own, and what it meant to him to have Spock’s powerful body surrender within his arms. And he remembered the rhythm of the days they had lived together on the ship, and the way life had been right and good.

He spoke softly, just for Spock, though it was probable that the damn Vulcans could hear every word. It didn’t matter.

“Tomorrow,” he said very deliberately, “we are renting that house. I don’t care how much it costs and I don’t care what schedules we have to rearrange. All right?”

The ghost of a smile gained life for a moment. “On one condition.”

“And that is?”

“That we take possession of the dwelling the day after tomorrow.”

“You’re so precipitous,” Kirk murmured.

“Logical, considering the situation. Do you not agree?”

“You know I do. Not one more day apart.”

Spock gifted him with that smile again, then he stood and was a proper son of Vulcan. Beyond him Kirk could see both Versin and Sluman by the door. It was, predictably, Sluman who came towards them with a scanner in his hands.

“You show signs of stress for a human: elevated blood pressure, increased respiration, the release of specific hormones. However, I do not believe you have suffered any lasting ill effects beyond an understandable fatigue. Do you need to rest in another room?”

“I’ll be fine.” He stood carefully, flexing the stiffness from his knees and elbows, pulling on the hem of the rustling tunic, and then he faced the two full Vulcans squarely. Sluman’s words, at least, had been considerate ones, although there was nothing but aloof serenity in his countenance. “I appreciate your concern, but I care more about what Healer Versin saw. What was there? Anything that we could build on? What’s our next step?”

Versin moved forward, in the tiny room it brought them very close, and although there was nothing overtly emotional in his action, Kirk imagined the trace of a sneer on those finely logical features. He knew exactly what Versin thought of him, and he wouldn’t soon forget the fire and desiccation of the final meld that had been closer to an assault.

“There was nothing there, Kirk. Only the disordered patterns of an illogical, emotional being. I would doubt that there was any contact with a Vulcan mind, ever, let alone a rudimentary bonding, if I had not experienced your memory of it.”

Spock would not allow that challenge to go unanswered. “There was a bonding, Versin, do not doubt it.”

“It is illogical to speak thus, as I have said I saw it in this one’s memory. As to the next step. It is obvious that I must attempt to examine you, Spock, although I do not believe there is a great likelihood of a positive outcome. Nevertheless, there are several additional tests that may be of use; they have recently been developed by a most gifted protégé of mine and have proven to be enlightening in the treatment of other mentally-incapacitated patients brought to Golgotharen. They have not yet been administered to you. It will take but an hour, perhaps two because of the complexity of your case.”

“T’Braggia is preparing the equipment now,” Sluman contributed. “It is an interesting approach. We will be able to start in a few minutes.”

Spock stood as solidly as one of his planet’s rare ibatha trees, all serene black strength. “Perhaps another time. Captain Kirk is needed at Federation Headquarters in France.”

Again Versin jerked his head up and to the right, dismissing the statement. “My time on Earth is limited, son of Sarek, and my schedule confined. I have agreed to give you hours this morning. It is illogical to resist.”

Much as he hated to admit it, Kirk agreed. “Let’s stay. He can—”

“Negative. You have an obligation to Commodore Andersen, and I will not interfere with that.”

“The interviews aren’t essential. I’ll stay.”

“Jim, this is a most important day in your life.” Spock’s impassivity, displayed so easily for the other Vulcans, melted into earnest words. “You are being promoted to the position of commodore before the eyes of the Federation and will justly receive the congratulations of your peers and your superiors alike. Admiral Nogura will be present. Your mother will be at the reception beforehand, as well as many friends. You deserve to enjoy this day. I do not wish to dilute its impact by excessive attention to my problem. I have already interfered more than I wished.”

“What are you talking about? This ‘problem’ is us, Spock, right? What’s more important than this? I’m staying.”

“Then you will converse with the healers on your own, for I am not staying.”

They stared at one another fiercely until Versin’s grating voice broke through their stubbornness.

“You provide an excellent example of why you must terminate your relationship with this human.”

That was enough to interrupt their concentration on each other. Versin addressed Spock as if Kirk were not standing there next to him.

“You behave in an overtly emotional manner. This human encourages the emotion in you, and it lies on the surface like exposed rocks for any to see. Have you no perspective on your own behavior? He causes you to make illogical decisions. I offer you help that may not be repeated from another lacking my skill, and you reject it for what reason? For an excessive and shameful attachment to one not of your race, not of your beliefs, not one who is a suitable mental partner. He seduces you in the deceptive manner of humans, who disguise their faults as gifts.”

Each word was a stone thrown by the perfect accuser who felt he had no part in their sin. Kirk felt his anger rise not for himself but for Spock, standing stiffly and so far silently.

“I have seen this human’s mind now and the echo of his katra, and I know he is not capable of providing you with the full mental joining any Vulcan requires. How can you pursue this travesty of a bonding? He is not capable of it. It is not beneficial, it cannot ever be complete, it is not of Vulcan. You are being illogical.” He eyed them from a haughty, self-contained height. “Nevertheless, I have said I will participate in this search for your Vulcan psychic self, and I will. Perhaps, if you are ever rehabilitated, you will come to realize that what I speak is the truth, and you will reject him and seek a compatible Vulcan who can freely give of his or her mind to fill your needs. I allow you five of your human minutes—one thousand, three hundred and twenty dranaths, if you remember that much of the ways of your home planet—to join me in the examination room.”

He turned and walked with stately strides from the room and down the hall.

Sluman was the one who broke the silence. “I would not express myself in such a fashion. My examination of your situation does not lead me to the same conclusions as Versin. In the view of some, choosing a male, human companion goes against community and accentuates individual needs, but T’Braggia and I have lived in communities off-Vulcan. These experiences have led me to form attitudes different from Versin’s perspective. However, there is no fault in his logic if one accepts his basic premises.”

“We don’t accept them,” Kirk countered.

“Which is of no consequence,” Spock said almost wearily. “There is a logical solution to our difference of opinion. I—”

“You’ll stay here and let them examine you. Please, Spock. He’s right, we need to take advantage of him while he’s here. Better here and now than going off to Golgotharen. You stay and I’ll—”

“You can be assured, I will never go to Golgotharen. But you must go to Paris. Now. I am motivated by more than the desire to have you fully relish this day; you also have a duty to continue to represent Starfleet with the media. There is a task to be accomplished and no need for you to stay here.”

“All right.” Kirk lifted his face to the small window and addressed the dripping tree branch. “I know you’re right. You don’t need me here to hold your hand.”

Kirk could imagine Spock’s eyebrow rising as he assimilated yet another human idiom. “Indeed not. We have already scandalized Versin sufficiently for today, I believe.”

“Spock, I—” But Kirk was interrupted by his communicator.

“Yes?” He stabbed the word at the inoffensive unit in his hand. “What?”

“We’re waiting for you, Kirk,” Andersen’s voice growled. “Don’t let me down.”

The time spent with his mind in the healer’s must have been longer than he’d realized. His melds with Spock had always seemed to last forever, and yet in real time only seconds would have elapsed.

Good. His connection with Versin hadn’t allowed that effortless union.

“I’ll be on my way soon, Commodore.”

“How about right now? I’ve got a priority lock on your coordinates through Space Dock, we won’t have to waste any time going through a station and you can avoid the demonstration going on in the square. Come on, Kirk, what else could be so important? I’ve got a mighty testy press corps here. As it is there’s only an hour before the reception starts.”

He looked from the comm unit to Spock. “Dinner tonight at midnight Paris time, and then tomorrow, right?”

“Affirmative. Ten hundred hours? I will notify the realtor’s office.”

“Ten hundred hours sounds fine.”

“I will arrive in Paris in time for the ceremony, Jim. You can be certain of that.”

“I know you will.” Duty called again. “Andersen, permission given to energize.”

The disorientation of transporting took over for a moment, then he opened his eyes to Paris.