Epsilon Tauri Four was barely M-class. The atmosphere boasted a suitable mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, but the temperatures were almost outside the habitable zone. The planet rotated on a tilted axis, currently causing its southern hemisphere to be closer to Epsilon Tauri than the northern. The resulting summer in the southern hemisphere accounted for the liquid water in that region, though the ice had only broken in the center of the ocean. Besides, the landing party was on the northern hemisphere, where it was currently winter and no area—not even the landing site, quite close to the equator—could sustain liquid water.
Captain Kirk was nearly out of sight. To venture so far in such inhospitable climate was not wise, and though the captain had a habit of exploring new things with rather less precaution than protocol dictated, he was not often foolhardy. Spock opened his communicator.
“Spock to Captain Kirk.”
“I know,” Kirk said almost immediately. “I’m almost out of range. I just keep hearing it.”
“The voices you spoke of?” Spock said.
“Not quite voices. It’s almost . . . never mind.”
“Jim,” said Spock. “Perhaps if you describe what you are hearing in more detail, I will be able to assist you in determining the origin of the sound.”
“It’ll seem strange.” Kirk paused again, then laughed. Spock identified the vocalization as one Kirk used to dissemble. Though the captain rarely lied, he often sought to disarm or deflect, especially when confronting some weakness of his own. “The wind sounds like it’s talking,” Kirk said.
Spock listened to the wind, audible through the communicator though his ears were protected by thick covering. He could only hear that same hollow blowing—gusts of atmospheric gas dragging against rock and snow.
“You can tell me it’s illogical,” said Kirk. “I won’t object.”
“I do not hear the wind saying anything.”
Kirk laughed again, this time with what seems to be genuine amusement. “Thanks, Spock. I’m on my way back. Kirk out.”
Spock watched the small figure of the captain gradually become larger as it approached through the falling snow. Satisfied that the captain was once again within safe range, Spock resumed scanning the ruins of the ancient city that had brought the landing party to this particular location.
The recognizable structures were very large, including interior doorways and surviving pieces that were presumably furniture—a stone table, shelves carved in ice. An iron frame stood in a crumbling rock cavern that had almost certainly once been a hearth, the frame itself capable of holding the entire trunk of an average Earth spruce—though there were no indications of trees in the vicinity, or indeed, anywhere on the planet. The structures indicated a sentient species nearly twice the height of an average Vulcan, most likely humanoids, and—if still extant—able to withstand more extreme temperatures than most known bipeds.
Spock was grateful for his thermal suit.
“Anything?” Kirk said when he at last arrived.
“No signs of life,” Spock said.
Kirk nodded. “You think they were here before the star went giant?”
“That is my hypothesis.” Allowing his tricorder to return to his side, Spock glanced at Kirk. “Is your thermal regulator malfunctioning?”
“You are shivering.”
“It must be the thought of the cold, not so much the cold.”
“Allow me to examine it.”
“I checked it, Spock. It’s fine.”
The captain’s teeth were chattering. Picking up his tricorder again, Spock opened the thermal scanning application, his fingers quickly pressing in the buttons. The Starfleet-issue gloves were thin, allowing for dexterity, but the lining in the rest of the suit provided enough heat for extremities to remain a functional temperature.
Kirk huffed out his breath, causing a brief flurry of water molecules to condense and form a small cloud before dissipating. “Thirty-six point eight. I checked that too.”
“The ideal temperature for the human body is thirty-seven degrees Celsius.”
“Is that so?”
Spock looked up at the tone in Kirk’s voice, which Spock belatedly identified as gently teasing. Lifting a brow, Spock replied, “I cannot be certain. As Doctor McCoy is so fond of pointing out, Vulcans are cold-blooded.”
“No, they’re not.”
“Perhaps the doctor should be replaced by one who is more knowledgeable.” Spock glanced down at his tricorder, which showed Captain Kirk’s body temperature hovering at thirty-six point eight two four. Returning the tricorder to his side, Spock visually examined Kirk again. “You are still shivering,” he told the captain.
“Yes.” Kirk shook his head. “The wind is getting to me.”
“Is it still speaking?”
“The scanners don’t show anything.”
Usually when Kirk wanted to avoid answering a question he did so much more smoothly. “What does it say?” said Spock.
“Nothing intelligible.” Kirk shook his head again. “Probably just my imagination anyway.” Turning, he addressed the landing party. “Lieutenant Sulu, Lieutenant Uhura. There’s no life here. Let’s pack it up.”
When they arrived on the transporter pads back aboard the Enterprise, the thermal regulators in the suits automatically switched off. The suits themselves, however, were still lined with artificial fur, and Spock was instantly too warm. He, Lieutenant Sulu, and Lieutenant Uhura began shedding the suits right there on the pads, an action that was in accordance with protocol so as to prevent over-heating.
Captain Kirk, however, stepped off his pad and walked over to the control panel next to the door. Stripping his glove, he pressed the button for ship’s communication. “Captain Kirk to Doctor McCoy.”
“Done with the frost giants?” Doctor McCoy’s voice said over the comm.
“I’m going to need an examination,” Kirk said.
“What did you do this time?”
“Nothing a little chicken soup won’t cure. Meet us in the transporter bay.” Releasing the button, Kirk moved over to the transporter controls, where Lieutenant Riley was manning the station. “Decontamination field work okay?” Kirk asked.
“Everything was normal,” Riley answered. “You think you came back with something?”
“Probably nothing,” Kirk said, “but you’re going to have to set up the quarantine bubble anyway.” He turned to face the landing party.
Sulu and Uhura were still divesting themselves of their thermal suits, while Spock had finished a moment ago.
“Sorry, folks,” Kirk said. “We’re going to have to quarantine for a bit.”
“I thought there wasn’t anything down there,” Uhura said.
“There probably wasn’t, but I’m feeling just under the weather enough that we’d better check it out,” Kirk said.
“Captain.” Spock stepped off the transporter pad.
Before he could speak, Kirk cut him off. “I’m fine. Like I said, probably nothing. I’m just not going to put the crew in any danger.”
“Could’ve been sick before we transported down,” Sulu said.
Both lieutenants were still dealing with their suits, while Spock continued to visually examine the captain. Kirk’s words had not brooked further discussion on the subject of his health, and Kirk’s manner was often so decisive that even his even his casual comments sometimes held the weight of command.
But he was still shivering.
Spock decided to take a different tack. “You should remove your suit.”
“Your thermal suit,” Spock said. “You must remove it.”
“Oh.” Kirk frowned down at his attire. “I suppose I should.” He moved a hand to the clasp at the neck of the suit, but he was shivering too violently to firmly grasp the mechanism that would break the seal and allow him to unzip the suit. Laughing half-heartedly, he said, “Still a little cold.”
“Allow me,” Spock said, moving closer.
“No.” Kirk took a step back. “I’m fine. Really.” At last managing to pull the clasp, Kirk unsealed the suit and managed to unzip the top layer.
Spock returned to the transporter pad to retrieve his suit and tricorder. The suit he placed in the unit beside the transporter, concealed behind a wall panel. The unit would sterilize the suit and contain it until Doctor McCoy could assure them the captain had not been contaminated or until the contamination was identified and eliminated. Spock kept the tricorder, once again opening the thermal application. “What are your other symptoms?” he asked.
“Taking my temperature again?” Kirk seemed amused. “It’s just a chill.”
“You should not feel cold now that we have returned to standard ship temperatures.”
“Why do you think I called Bones?”
The captain’s body temperature was thirty-seven point oh-one degrees Celsius, three degrees warmer than a healthy Vulcan, and one hundredth of a degree warmer than the average human. Spock turned his tricorder to Sulu and Uhura.
“Do you recall the sound of the wind on the planet’s surface?” Spock asked the lieutenants.
“The sound of the wind?” said Uhura.
Sulu frowned. “No.”
“Well, it howled a lot,” said Uhura.
“Did it speak?” said Spock.
“Speak?” said Uhura.
Now Sulu frowned. “You mean words? I had my comm link in. My ears got cold.” He held up a pair of ear muffs. The link, similar to the earpiece Uhura used on the bridge, would allow him to listen to communicator messages while keeping his ears muffled from the wind. Spock, whose ears were sensitive, had been using a similar device.
“I was using the sonar.” Uhura held up the sonar scanner, which required a headset.
Both Sulu’s and Uhura’s body temperatures were as healthy as Kirk’s, but Kirk was the only one whose ears had been covered solely by the hood of his suit. Opening up other health-inspection applications, Spock turned back to Kirk, who raised his brows.
“So you think the wind was talking after all?”
“You may have contracted an illness that enters the body through the ear.”
“That’s a new one.” Kirk seemed amused. “Can’t be bacterial or viral; we scanned for those.”
“A spiritual illness?” Uhura suggested.
“There are certain mythologies that include wind spirits,” Sulu replied, “but I’m afraid there isn’t much evidence if they don’t have at least some physical form.”
“Maybe the evidence is building up,” Kirk said, still smiling. “Does a wind spirit make you cold?”
Uhura frowned. “I think the ones I’ve read about suck out your soul.”
“Well, I don’t think we need to worry about—” A violent shiver prevented the captain from finishing his sentence.
Letting his tricorder drop once more to his hip, Spock swiftly made his way to Kirk’s side, gripping his elbow. “Jim—”
“I leave you alone for two minutes,” Doctor McCoy said, stepping through the doors, “and already you’re in trouble.” The doors closed behind him, and Kirk pulled away from Spock’s grasp.
“Just a cold, Bones,” Kirk said, having regained control of the shivering.
“We’ll see about that,” said Doctor McCoy.
The quarantine only lasted an hour. Doctor McCoy agreed with Spock’s assessment that Kirk had somehow contracted his current condition through the exposure of his ears to the wind on the planet below. As the others had not been exposed in the same way, the doctor released them and Lieutenant Riley from the transporter bay, and personally escorted Captain Kirk to sickbay.
After an appropriate amount of time had passed—three hours, just after nineteen hundred hours ship’s time—Spock proceeded to Doctor McCoy’s office to check on Kirk. First Officer’s duties included occasionally monitoring the captain’s health, and so his behavior was perfectly within the realm of protocol.
Doctor McCoy smirked, nevertheless.
“He’s alright, Spock,” said the doctor. “Fit as a fiddle.”
“You performed a viral scan?”
“Scanned him up, down, sideways, inside and out.”
Spock thought for a moment. “In the incident on Psi 2000, star date 1704.2, the cause of infection turned out to be—”
“Water. Checked that out too. Even took a biopsy.”
“You’re awaiting results?”
“He’s fine, Spock. Took a chill is all. Been known to happen from time to time.”
“The captain was shivering uncontrollably.”
“Oh, he controlled it alright.”
“The shivering ceased?”
“Didn’t say that. You think once I told him there’s nothing physically wrong with him he’s gonna stick around and listen to reason?”
“The captain is very reasonable.”
Doctor McCoy rolled his eyes. “Thought Vulcans didn’t lie?”
Spock reflected. “In matters of his own health he can be somewhat . . .”
“I’ll say. Listen. Pig-headed as Jim can be about his well-being, there really is nothing physically wrong with him. Most likely scenario is he was in the cold just long enough for it to seep down into his bones.”
“Is that your medical opinion?”
“Don’t take that tone with me.”
“If something is wrong with the captain—”
“If something is wrong with him, and that’s a big fat if, it’s my medical opinion we ought to wait and see,” Doctor McCoy said, “because if there is something wrong, it’s most likely not physical.”
Spock’s head tilted as he contemplated the doctor’s implication. “You believe the infection to be mental?”
“Did I say that?” Turning away, Doctor McCoy scrubbed a hand over his face. “When it comes to Jim, he could be dying or have a hangnail.”
“I shall inquire as to his mental state.”
“No, you won’t.”
“My duty as first officer—”
“My duty as Chief Medical Officer is to get a sound diagnosis, and I won’t if you go mucking around getting him to put on a brave face.”
Spock attempted to formulate a reply in the ensuing five seconds. He did not “go mucking around,” but McCoy’s words regarding the captain “putting on a brave face” were—if overly colorful—soundly accurate. Especially when it came to Spock.
“I don’t know what you’ve done to him since Vulcan,” Doctor McCoy went on, “but he’s become damn near impenetrable.”
On Vulcan, Spock had almost killed his captain.
A wave of guilt began its familiar, slow roil through Spock’s conscience, but by now pushing it back had become habitual, if never easy. Guilt was illogical.
“I’ve done nothing,” Spock made himself say.
“Maybe that’s the problem.”
Doctor McCoy, with his usual stubborn opacity, only compounded the problem. “Explain.”
“To you?” said McCoy. “What would be the point? Look, whatever Jim’s got, we’ll just have to wait and see. If a good night’s rest doesn’t warm him up, we’ll know soon enough.”
Spock could not argue with this logic, no matter how badly he wanted to.
The next day, Captain Kirk arrived on the bridge in a timely fashion. Spock did not visually examine the captain for longer than normal, lest he be accused by the doctor of “mucking around,” but several necessary duties involved interaction with Kirk, allowing Spock covert opportunities for inspection. As the captain reviewed the duty roster, for instance, Spock noted that Kirk was holding himself more stiffly than was his wont, though he appeared otherwise physically fit.
The bridge crew spent the morning scanning the rest of the Epsilon Tauri system. A mysterious signal had brought them to the system, leading them to discover a satellite orbiting Epsilon Tauri Four. The satellite had provided no clue as to the meaning of the signal, and nor had Epsilon Tauri Four. Nowhere in the system appeared to be issuing a response transmission to the satellite or receiving telemetry from it. Most likely the satellite had been launched by the now dead civilization on the planet, but exploring the rest of system was necessary to eliminate other possibilities.
Kirk conducted the mission with his typical efficiency and attention to detail, though with rather less sanguinity than usual. For instance, Lieutenants Uhura and Sulu conducted a brief conversation across the bridge about Norse mythology, which had included a frozen world inhabited by Frost Giants. Though the conversation was interesting and somewhat amusing, Kirk did not participate.
At eleven hundred, Spock accessed the ship’s atmospheric controls, examining the current composition, temperature, gravity, and pressure of the bridge. Elevating the temperature would be against ship protocol, as the automatic setting was programmed to be an average comfortable to all species currently at work on the bridge. Spock merely wanted to ascertain that the current temperature was set as it should be: twenty-one degrees, a perfectly acceptable temperature for humans, and five degrees cooler than the usual room temperature for Vulcans.
The current temperature was twenty-one point three-two. Spock closed the controls and walked over to the captain’s chair.
Kirk glanced up. “There a problem, Mister Spock?”
“You accessed the atmospheric controls twenty minutes ago.”
Spock locked his hands behind his back.
“I didn’t change them,” Kirk said, apparently deciding Spock’s response indicated disapproval. “That’s not against regulation.”
“I am merely curious as to why you accessed them.”
“I was just looking.”
“Jim.” Spock pitched his voice low.
Kirk stood suddenly, causing Spock to straighten. He had not been aware he had leant in so far. “I’m fine,” Kirk said.
Spock lifted a brow.
“McCoy said everything was okay,” Kirk said.
“You are pale. Vasodilation restricts blood flow to the skin and is a response of the sympathetic nervous system to cold.”
Kirk’s brows went up. “If you saw I accessed the atmospheric controls, then you saw it’s perfectly warm in here.”
“Alright. I’m sorry.” Kirk pressed his hands together, as though to chafe them against each other, then seemed to think better of it. “If it gets worse, I’ll see Doctor McCoy again.”
Spock pulled his gaze away from Kirk’s hands. “I would advise you to go see him now,” Spock said.
“He doesn’t know what it is.”
Kirk’s hands twitched again. Rubbing hands together was a rational response to cold; friction would convert the kinetic energy into thermal. Kirk had likely rejected the behavior because logically, he was aware that he did not require further thermal energy, as both the room temperature and the temperature of his own body were well within an acceptable range.
Another method of increasing thermal energy was the sharing of body heat.
When Kirk spoke again, Spock realized he had been silent a full fourteen and a half seconds. “I’ll go see him when the shift is done,” Kirk said.
Spock could not construct a response that seemed likely to incite Kirk to consult the doctor immediately. After all, the captain was correct—Doctor McCoy did not know what was wrong.
Doctor McCoy claimed the captain had been different since Vulcan.
“I shall accompany you,” was all Spock could think of to say.
“Thanks, Spock.” Kirk smiled, seating himself, and Spock returned to his station.
After the mid-shift rotation, at approximately fourteen hundred hours, Spock returned to the captain’s chair once more. Kirk was not in it—rather, he was standing behind it, his hand gripping the back of it.
“Jim,” said Spock.
“Spock?” The captain tilted his head toward Spock, who glanced down at Kirk’s hand.
“You are suffering from a piloerectile reflex.”
Kirk laughed incredulously. “What?”
“The hairs on the back of your hand are erect.”
Looking down at his own hand, Kirk murmured, “Goosebumps.” He looked back at Spock with an expression that could only be identified as guilty. “I didn’t notice.”
“Then for what reason are you gripping your chair with such forcefulness that natural blood flow through your knuckles has ceased?”
Smiling a strained smile, Kirk released the chair. “Alright, Spock. Because I’m cold.”
Another method of increasing body temperature was thick, heavy clothing. Spock had a sweater in his quarters his mother had knitted him for such a purpose.
Another method of increasing body temperature was to consume hot food or a heated beverage. Spock happened to know that Kirk had an affinity for coffee, particularly an Earth Kenyan blend served at eighty degrees Celsius.
Another method of increasing body temperature was warm water. The showers aboard the Enterprise defaulted to sonic, but water could be programmed. Spock knew how to do it. And the captain enjoyed showers, and swimming when occasions allowed it on shore leave.
Another method was physical activity. The captain also enjoyed sparring, and long before the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, Spock had been teaching him the basics of Suus Mahna.
Another method was a blanket. Spock had one of those too, and if Jim needed—
“Please accompany me to see Doctor McCoy.” Spock’s voice was lower and more urgent than he had intended.
Kirk’s surprise had merit. The intensity of Spock’s reaction to the current predicament was not logical, and for nine seconds he was unable to explain it. “I am at least partially responsible for ensuring your health,” he said at last.
Kirk seemed amused once again. “I’ve got the shivers. It doesn’t mean I’m going to keel over dead right here.”
“Furthermore,” Spock added quickly, “remaining on the bridge exposes others to potential contamination. If your condition is a result of the wind on the planet, you should be quarantined.”
“You know what I want?” Kirk didn’t wait for an answer. “Hot chocolate. With marshmallows. Ever had that?”
Spock locked his hands behind his back. “Vulcans do not respond favorably to chocolate.”
“So I’ve heard.” Kirk’s smile deepened. “Hot chocolate, a warm blanket, big fire place, good book. What do you say, Spock? Think I could get a quarantine like that?”
Spock lifted a brow. “If my acquiescence is a prerequisite to your agreement to report to Doctor McCoy, you have it.”
Kirk grinned. Forgetting himself, he began to rub his hands together. “Really? Which book?”
“The Complete Principles of Surak. I prefer the T’Rek edition.” Spock watched Kirk rub his hands together. “Sir.”
Kirk’s amused expression faltered. “What?”
“You are still shivering.”
Kirk’s smile faded completely. “Alright,” he said. “It didn’t seem that serious, but if it’s enough to distract you, it obviously is. I’ll go to sickbay. You have the—”
“Allow me to accompany you,” Spock said quickly. “I ascertained the origin of your condition initially; I may be able to assist Doctor McCoy.”
“Spock.” Kirk seemed about to say something, then changed his mind. “Alright. Sulu,” he called. “You have the con.”
In sickbay Doctor McCoy ran the same battery of tests he had run the day before, after their return from the planet. Each result was negative, abetting the conclusion that nothing was physically wrong with the captain.
Spock stayed for the duration, though he was uncertain as to whether his presence was any service to Kirk. The captain had ceased maintaining the careless, amused tone he had been previously cultivating. This seemed less because he was taking the situation seriously and rather more for Spock’s benefit, the captain apparently having ascertained that Spock was the opposite of amused by anything that threatened the captain’s health.
That Kirk capitulated to Spock’s perceived lack of humor rather than the very real danger at hand irked Spock considerably, for Spock’s concerns were not unfounded. Ever since Vulcan, however, Kirk had seemed to accommodate Spock’s imagined needs more rapidly than before and with greater seriousness, as though Kirk had inflicted some injury he now sought to rectify. This perception was bothersome in and of itself—Kirk was not the one who had inflicted injury.
Throughout the procedures, Kirk’s shivering grew more violent.
Tension crawled down Spock’s spine like a slowly constricting snake.
“Nothing,” said Doctor McCoy, after the final test. “Nada. Zilch.”
Inexplicably, Kirk looked at Spock. “We tried everything,” he said, as though all of the proceedings had been entirely for Spock’s benefit.
“You still feel cold,” Spock said.
“But that’s all. I’m not in pain, Spock.” Kirk smiled through chattering teeth. “I don’t feel nauseous or feverish. Not drowsy or disoriented or delusional. Just cold.”
Spock pressed his lips together.
“I’ll wear a hat and mittens. Will that make you feel any better?”
“I am not the one who is unwell.”
“With these negative test results, I’m going to have to conclude it’s all in your head,” Doctor McCoy told Kirk. “You know what that means.”
Kirk turned to him. “Et tu, Brute?”
“Jim,” said McCoy.
“Okay,” said Kirk. “I know you’ve always wanted to show me to all of your friends.”
“You?” McCoy snorted.
Kirk turned to Spock with an expression he used for diplomats and situations he did not enjoy—cheerful, polite, and extremely blank. “You can look at it too, if you want.”
“I thought you said friends,” said McCoy.
“Plug me in,” said Kirk.
As McCoy prepared the equipment, Spock deduced that the doctor would be scanning Kirk’s brain. These were not the same as the medical scans McCoy had conducted earlier, which would have allowed the doctor to discover any foreign genetic material, such as would be present in a virus or bacterium. McCoy had also diligently searched for abnormalities such as growths or tumors, as well as inorganic substances such as nanoprobes or chemically altering substances.
These scans, instead of highlighting problems, would merely chart current brain processes, allowing analysis of which neurons were firing when and how often. An expert looking at such data would not be able to read Kirk’s mind, but they would be closer to it than any species without psychic abilities could achieve. While each brain’s unique structure prevented comprehensive brain-mapping that could account for the function of every cell, neuroscience had advanced enough in the last two hundred years to accomplish more than once thought possible without telepathy.
This particular brand of neuroscience, however, was not Doctor McCoy’s specialty. The “friends” to whom Kirk had referred were the experts in the field, and Kirk was proposing that said experts review a live feed of his brain.
This was why Doctor McCoy had sent Spock away the night before. Both McCoy and Kirk had been aware that this was the only option, and McCoy had given Kirk twenty-four hours to submit to the idea.
“Come on, Spock,” Kirk said, once Doctor McCoy had situated the scanners, monitors, and various cords. “This will be fun.”
Kirk did not appear particularly upset, and yet Spock was aware of how frequently the captain feigned cheerfulness—at times, so skillfully that Spock could not be certain what Kirk truly felt. At other times, the veneer was only as thick as politeness dictated. The captain valued certain kinds of privacy, and now a cohort of unknown scientists were going to view a live feed of his brain.
And he was still shivering.
Surely a simple blanket would make the captain feel at least a modicum of comfort.
Kirk had not asked for a blanket. McCoy had not offered one. A blanket was illogical, because Kirk’s body was not actually suffering a reduced temperature.
Resisting an urge to fetch one was making Spock’s limbs physically ache.
“Uhura to Doctor McCoy,” Uhura said over the comm. “I have three of the twelve scientists you hailed over the subspace beacon.
“Pipe them in to the feed I’m sending you,” said Doctor McCoy. “If you get any more responses, send them through to me and I’ll brief them.” McCoy released the button on the comm. “Ready to put on a show, Jim?”
“Don’t I get any time to rehearse?” Kirk smiled at McCoy, then put the headset on. “Ready.”
Spock thought about pulling up a chair. He had been told that what McCoy termed “looming” could make people quite uncomfortable, but at the same time, he knew that humans took comfort in proximity. The emotion was an evolutionary trait related to pack mentality that humanity had not rejected as Vulcans had. The warmth of a nearby body signified that help, relief, succor—each were within the realm of possibility; humans thrived on nearness during situations involving high stress, fear, or pain.
But Kirk had pointed out that he was not in pain. Nor was he afraid or particularly stressed, so Spock pressed himself against the wall and tried not to count the beats of the biobed.
Meanwhile, scans of Kirk’s brains began to appear on the monitors in full color, while McCoy sent briefings of other test results to the neurosciences participating in the feed over subspace.
At first, Spock focused his attention on the captain and not the monitors. Kirk, though constantly shivering now, otherwise held himself still and appeared calm. After six minutes and forty-two seconds, Spock could no longer resist the flickering at the corner of his eyes.
Kirk’s brain looked like a normal human brain. The scan showed anatomy that Spock had identified in early textbooks containing anatomy and physiology of all the founding species of the Federation. Doctor McCoy was sharpening portions of the scans as they watched, focusing the instruments to provide three-dimensional views and electron-maps of individual ion-channels in the brain. Synapses snapped like explosions, channels opening and shutting with mind-boggling swiftness—and yet none of it was particularly remarkable. In the end a brain was simply biology, on a deeper level chemistry, and in the end, like everything else, merely quantum physics.
But Kirk’s brain—Jim’s brain—
Spock could not stop looking at it, as though the scans could finally reveal the mystery of the being from which they propagated. The synapses weren’t faster in Kirk’s brain than an average human, while there might be more or less neurons than another human’s there was not a remarkable difference, the gyri and sulci were all of similar depth to any other human’s; it was not remarkable—
And yet it was Jim’s.
And Jim could not get warm.
After approximately eighteen minutes and twenty seconds, Doctor McCoy told Kirk, “Your hypothalamus is hyperactive. I’d already guessed that. Your brain thinks your body’s cold; that region regulates temperature. It’s activating the sympathetic nervous system—blood constriction, goose pimples, shivering.”
“The sensory inputs are not cold,” Spock said, his voice strangely hoarse.
“Right,” said McCoy. “Hypothalamus gets data from skin, mucous membranes, and internal structures—but none of those show any change in temperature.”
“Tell that to the output,” Kirk joked.
“That’s the thing,” said McCoy. “Your hypothalic thermostat works with a bunch of other systems to keep temperature regulated, once it knows you need to heat up or cool down. Some of those systems are autonomic, some of neurohormonal.”
“But some are semi-voluntary,” said Spock.
“Or just voluntary,” said Kirk.
“Only to you,” McCoy said darkly.
Kirk glanced back at him through the cords and wires. “You can choose not to shiver.”
“Not actually,” said McCoy. “The hypothalamus activates motor centers in the brain stem. The voluntary human responses are normal things, like huddling or pacing.”
“Or wearing sweaters,” said Spock.
Kirk glanced back through the wires to look at Spock, that time.
“The wearing of sweaters is a frequent human response,” said Spock, seeking to mitigate Kirk’s surprised expression, “and it is voluntary. I have witnessed it often.”
Kirk laughed. “I didn’t know you liked sweaters, Spock.”
“I neither like them nor dislike them. Sweaters are logical.”
“Logical or not,” said McCoy, “the problem is the connections are working backward. The hypothalamus isn’t figuring out it’s cold and telling the cerebral cortex to warm up, the cortex is telling the hypothalamus, ‘baby, it’s cold outside’ and the hypothalamus is responding. What I don’t get is why.”
“Your friends don’t know either?” Kirk asked.
“We’ll find out.”
“I have every confidence,” Kirk said. “How long do I have to stay hooked up?”
“Sorry, Jim,” said McCoy.
Kirk winced, but his voice was amused. “I don’t really like it when you say sorry before you even tell me.”
“A couple hours. At least.”
Kirk sighed. “You better head back to the bridge, Spock. I hear there’s a whole system to chart.”
“I shall return,” Spock said, pushing himself off the wall.
“Spock,” said Kirk, and Spock paused. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Of course, Captain.”
Thirty-seven minutes later, Spock returned to sickbay with a PADD and a data card. The card he placed into the synthesizer, which after one point six seconds produced a steaming mug. The mug he delivered to Captain Kirk, who had wrapped his arms around himself but who had otherwise made no concession to his own shivering. When the mug appeared in front of his face, he looked up in surprise.
“Spock!” The surprised exclamation was followed by a grateful smile. “Hot chocolate?” Kirk asked, taking the mug.
“Watch out,” McCoy said, poking his head out from behind his array of monitors. “Bedside manner like that makes you seem almost human.”
“A warm beverage in such a situation is logical,” said Spock. “It does no harm and may temporarily allow the captain’s mind respite from the sensation of cold.”
“Spock’s right,” said Kirk. “Hot chocolate is extremely logical.” He took a sip, closing his eyes to do so, then looked up again. “It’s good. Thank you.”
“The data card took thirteen minutes and eleven seconds to locate,” was all Spock could think of to say.
“Besides, Bones shouldn’t get to talk about bedside manner,” said Kirk. “He always thinks I should be eating salad.” Wrapping both hands around the mug, Kirk closed his eyes and took another sip.
Spock was momentarily mesmerized.
“I do not possess paper books as you prefer,” said Spock. “However, this is programmed with classic Vulcan literature as well as human.” He handed Kirk his personal PADD.
Kirk brightened, a term of description that was imprecise and furthermore inadequate. The room felt suddenly too warm.
“Do that again.” Doctor McCoy poked his head out from behind the array again.
Kirk had been reaching out for the PADD. “What?” he said, looking over his shoulder through the wires.
“Whatever you just did,” said McCoy.
Kirk looked incredulously back at Spock. “Drink hot chocolate?”
“Whatever it was,” said McCoy.
Looking doubtful, Kirk took another sip of the chocolate.
“Marginal,” said McCoy.
“What’s this about?” Kirk asked, turning to McCoy again.
“The chocolate’s warming you up,” said McCoy, “but obviously, your physical body doesn’t need warmth. It’s a perception thing.”
“A perception thing,” said Kirk.
“When you sipped the chocolate, or whatever else you did, you perceive yourself as warmer.”
Kirk glanced at Spock, then turned back to McCoy. “You mean, if I can convince myself I’m warm, my inner thermostat tones it down.”
“Yeah,” said the doctor. “Think warm thoughts.”
Inexplicably, Kirk looked at Spock again. “Well,” he said, and his smile was one that belonged exclusively to the captain—teasing, slightly rueful, utterly sincere. “Warm thoughts.” Kirk’s voice was a murmur.
“That,” said Doctor McCoy. “That right there. Keep it up.”
Spock cast his gaze to the floor. In certain instances Spock did not regard himself equal to the task of maintaining an emotional equilibrium if eye contact were maintained.
Eleven point eight seconds passed; then Kirk turned back to McCoy. “I can’t think warm thoughts forever. I’ve tried.”
“I can’t help it if some people are frigid.”
Though the comment was muttered in an undertone, the doctor was aware of Vulcan hearing ability, and had not pitched his words so low as to escape Spock.
“What’s that, Bones?” Kirk asked.
Without looking back up at the captain, Spock turned and left the room. He did not go far, merely making his way to the medical storage unit, still able to distinguish Kirk and McCoy speaking in the other room.
“Nothing,” said McCoy.
“I’ve imagined myself in a sauna,” said Kirk. “Or on Alrai Two—remember how hot that was? Summer in Iowa, campfires, Rigel beaches, the whole nine yards. It only works for a little while at a time when you’re this cold.”
“Just keep it up for a few more minutes,” said McCoy. “We’ll take some readings, chart the difference between when you’re able to convince yourself you’re a normal temperature and when you’re convinced you’re cold.”
“Running out of ideas here,” said Kirk.
“Try fighting the Gorn, running two miles, breaking a sweat,” said McCoy. “Remember how close we came to that supernova? Think of another hot planet. Try . . .”
Vulcan was nearly as hot as Alrai Two.
“Adhara Six,” McCoy said.
Spock returned to the room with a Starfleet issue med-blanket.
When Spock handed it to Kirk, he seemed nonplussed.
“Or that,” said McCoy. “That works too.”
The surprised gratitude in Kirk’s expression seemed to indicate that he had not deciphered the logic of Spock’s actions.
Spock explained, “You mentioned a scenario that contained these elements—chocolate, a blanket, and a book. While I am unable to produce a fireplace, perhaps these objects will better allow you to conceptualize that scenario.”
“Thanks, Spock.” Kirk smiled.
Although this was another situation in which eye contact seemed to threaten rational behavior, Spock could not find it in himself to look away.
McCoy made a sound typically described as a harrumph. “Yeah,” said the doctor. “That’ll do just fine.”
After two hours of the brain scans, Doctor McCoy had claimed he had enough data for Kirk to retire for the evening. Although the captain had wanted to return to the bridge with Spock, Doctor McCoy had prescribed bed rest. Kirk had not been inclined to listen, but when the doctor pointed out that Kirk was shivering so violently by that point that he couldn’t even work the controls on the captain’s chair adequately, Kirk had submitted. Doctor McCoy had said his colleagues would analyze the data, while McCoy himself continued to contact the neurospecialists who had not yet responded to his beacon.
Spock remained in sickbay for the duration of the scans, but afterward on the captain’s admonition, returned to the bridge to oversee the latest surveys of the Epsilon Tauri system. None of the results indicated life on any of the terrestrial bodies, corroborating the evidence that the satellite had originated from the now-dead civilization on Epsilon Tauri Four—a planet Sulu and Uhura had dubbed “Jotunheim,” after a Norse myth.
While Epsilon Tauri Four had appeared to be a dead planet, both the captain’s condition and their fruitless surveys of the other planets suggested the possibility that there was more on that planet to be explored. If the captain did not improve by the next day, they would send another landing team with appropriate protective ear covering and collect some of the atmospheric gas, later to be examined in a lab.
When Alpha shift was over, Spock did not retire to his quarters. Instead he went to the captain’s.
“Come in,” said Kirk.
When Spock stepped in the doors Kirk looked surprised again, yet pleased. “You already brought me hot chocolate. You don’t need to take care of me.”
Spock knew for a fact that the captain abhorred pity, but his tone was neither defensive nor affronted. Still, Spock could not help but suspect that the captain’s words contained a note of warning. “I have no intention of taking care of you.”
The captain’s brows went up. “Did you want to review the results of the system survey?”
Spock put his hands behind his back. “I do not doubt you have already received the report and reviewed it in detail.”
“You mean to tell me I’m supposed to be in bed.” Annoyance flickering over his face, Kirk turned away, walking to the food synthesizer. “Want anything to drink?”
Kirk put the card in the slot and ordered two cups of tea, bringing one of them over to Spock, then gesturing for him to sit. Although the captain behaved normally, he was still pale, and faint tremors throughout his body were noticeable once he seated himself on the couch across from Spock’s chair.
“You do not like Vulcan tea,” Spock pointed out, for lack of any other observation that did not draw direct attention to Kirk’s condition.
Kirk shrugged. “Every other hot drink I know of will either keep me awake or make me groggy.”
Spock thought for a moment. “Perhaps Mister Scott could recommend something. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding beverages.”
Kirk laughed. “Come on, Spock. What are your other suggestions for my health and well-being? Do they involve sweaters?”
“No. A mind-meld.”
Surprised vulnerability filled Kirk’s eyes for a moment, then was gone, the expression replaced by a forced smile. “What?”
“I heard you tell Doctor McCoy you were running out of imagined scenarios you might employ to focus your conscious mind on warmth. It occurred to me that I might supply further scenarios.”
Spock set his tea on the table. “Certain techniques of Vulcan meditation include imagining one’s self in a particular setting, including details of sensory data such as temperature. And I have memories of warmth.”
Tenderness settled over the captain’s face, softening his mouth, making his eyes appear liquid. Although the expression frequently lurked behind Kirk’s smile and his conversation—especially in moments like these, alone, off the bridge—rarely did it appear so nakedly. “You would share that?” the captain asked.
Spock looked away. “Yes.”
Kirk put his own tea on the table. “Alright.”
“I would not endeavor to see inside your mind,” Spock said quickly. “I would only transmit certain thoughts or images that may be beneficial to establishing your comfort.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you saw my mind,” Kirk said quietly.
Spock still could not look at him. “I would not do so. It would be . . . an invasion of privacy.”
“Alright,” Kirk said again.
Spock could hear the smile in his voice. “Mind melds are not to be taken lightly.”
“I know that.”
Spock had meant his statement as a purely logical reminder, but it had come out sounding peevish. Kirk’s response, however, was as understanding as ever, if still slightly amused. Spock forced himself to look up.
“Come over here,” Kirk said. His voice was soft, but there was always something about the way Kirk voiced such requests that made them sound like suggestions but feel like commands. When Spock did not move, Kirk raised his brows. “Or can you do it from there?”
Unfolding himself from his chair, Spock came over to the couch. Kirk shifted, pulling one knee up onto the cushions so that he could turn his body to face where Spock obviously planned to sit. When Spock hesitated, Kirk glanced up at him. The slight uncertainty in his expression—so rare in the captain—forced Spock to sit rather abruptly.
“We don’t have to do this,” Kirk said.
“I am aware of that,” Spock snapped, regretting it instantly.
“Spock.” Then Kirk’s hand covered Spock’s, and heat filled Spock’s hand and proceeded up his arm like wildfire. “You’re not going to hurt me,” Kirk said, and pulled Spock’s hand toward him.
Kirk’s words were nonsensical. While mind melds could be used to injure, Spock was in control, therefore the idea that Spock feared hurting Kirk was illogical.
This was nothing like Vulcan, where Spock had killed him.
Kirk pulled Spock’s hand to his face, where he placed it over his cheek, his fingers spreading over Spock’s, encouraging Spock’s to spread as well and settle against the psi points of Kirk’s face. The captain’s memory of where they were was almost entirely accurate; only slight adjustment was necessary to touch the necessary locations on Kirk’s face—beside the nose, under the eye, the temple, the corner of the jaw.
The captain had no psychic ability—less than even some humans. And yet he knew the meld points. He knew Spock. He wanted Spock’s mind inside of his; he was inviting him, and Kirk was fearless. He had always been fearless and so open, ready to accept everything the world held for him.
“Like this?” Kirk’s voice was slightly breathy, his hand loosely wrapped around Spock’s wrist.
“Yes,” Spock croaked.
“It’s okay. I’m ready.” Kirk closed his eyes.
Spock already wanted to pull away, but Kirk’s hand was covered in goosebumps, and he was leaning toward Spock as though he could already feel the heat coursing through Spock’s veins. Spock’s voice was shaking when he began the chant, “My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts . . .”
He had not prepared a specific scenario or memory to transmit to Kirk, but in those initial moments when Kirk’s mind opened to him, every thought Spock had was of heat. Later, if Kirk asked, Spock would be able to claim he had done so purposefully.
Spock was thinking of fire, flames licking up over him, being consumed from the inside out. He thought of warmth opening around him, wrapping around him with a texture that was soft but still firm, unyielding. Through that image ran the perception of blood, hot and pumping hard, insistent. Human blood, red. A hand covering his own—heated, heavy, touching him—
Tearing his thoughts from that image, Spock grappled his mind into order. Calm. A Vulcan meditation technique:
The Vulcan sun, hot in the clear, hard sky.
Vulcan sand, red with oxidation and absorbing the sun’s heat, too hot for bare skin.
The white robe of meditation, too heavy for such climate and yet necessary for protection against the sun’s more virulent wavelengths, scratchy because small creature comforts were deemed illogical.
The still, scorching quality of the air.
The measured footfalls of Vulcan priests, in time to the steady pulse of Vulcan blood—cooler than human temperatures, but still hot.
Human blood, steaming in a Vulcan summer sky.
A human pulse, rabbit-fast, a gasp for breath.
A battle on parched sands, a human sweating and raw and fighting for his very life against someone who should have been his friend—
The Vulcan arena.
The broken stones.
Jim Kirk grunting and sweating under him and Spock’s leg between his captain’s and Spock’s hands around his neck, feeling the life’s blood racing through it and wanting it wanting it wanting it—
Spock yanked himself out of the meld. Beside him Kirk gasped, guttering for breath.
“I apologize,” Spock said, standing swiftly.
“Spock—” Kirk sounded choked, exactly as he had on Vulcan.
Spock turned around, heading for the doors.
“Spock, wait.” Kirk stood up behind him, catching up to him, reaching out for him—
Spock jerked himself from Kirk’s grasp.
“Can’t we at least talk about it?” said Kirk. “It’s been six months since Vulcan.”
“There is nothing to say.”
“My behavior toward you was inexcusable just now,” said Spock. “As it was toward you then.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Kirk reached out for him again, but Spock neatly stepped away.
“I must meditate.”
“You must run away. That’s what you really mean.”
“Goodnight, Captain,” Spock said, turning to leave once more.
“You want me to pull rank?”
Spock paused, inclining his head back toward the captain. “I cannot prevent you from doing so.”
“Would it make a difference?”
“My orders are to obey.”
“Spock.” Kirk sounded defeated.
Spock waited, but Kirk issued no command.
“Goodnight,” Spock said, and exited the captain’s quarters.
The next morning, Spock checked in once again with Doctor McCoy, who said that no headway had been made on determining a cure or even identifying Captain Kirk’s malady. The doctor had every confidence, however, that a cure would be found through continued examination of Kirk’s brain scans by himself and the experts with whom he was working.
On the bridge, Captain Kirk had appeared before the switch to alpha shift, as he normally did. As usual, he reviewed the duty roster with Spock. While he made a pointed effort to provide Spock opportunities to communicate, he did not mention what had happened the night before, nor did he press Spock to extend their conversations. At this time the captain appeared in good health, his jaw only a fraction stiffer than usual.
After ensuring that the alpha shift was running smoothly, Spock supervised the landing party to Epsilon Tauri Four. While Spock himself did not return to the planet surface, he saw that they all wore ear protection and were immediately quarantined upon return to the Enterprise.
The party was released after the doctor assessed that no one seemed to be suffering from Captain Kirk’s symptoms. Their lack of infection corroborated the hypothesis that Kirk’s condition bore some connection to the sound of the wind, evidence which encouraged immediate study of the gas the party had collected. The pressured tubes containing the planet’s air were delivered to the gas lab, where Spock had designed a battery of tests to be performed on various samples. While initial results were inconclusive, the experiments were running smoothly.
Meanwhile, Captain Kirk supervised recovery of the satellite that had transmitted the signal that brought them there. As they could find no life forms transmitting to or receiving from the satellite, dismantling the instrument might provide their only insight as to its origins. Once the landing party returned Spock spent most of his time in the lab, but hourly he returned to the bridge—ostensibly to deliver reports to the captain and assess progress on the satellite, but in reality he was monitoring the captain’s condition.
Kirk had visibly worsened. In the fourth hour he began to pace; in the fifth he began to rub his hands together, and in the sixth his usually upright posture curved in on itself in something akin to a huddle. Sixteen minutes before the end of the seventh hour, he notified Spock that he had turned the con over to Sulu so that he could retire.
Two possibilities presented themselves as explanation for Kirk’s deterioration. The first was that condition itself was progressing—if it was a virus, it would be described as spreading. The second was that Kirk had been unable to maintain focus on warmth as the day progressed.
At the beginning of the day, one felt refreshed; Kirk would have been able to conjure memories or scenes that would convince his body that he was warm. As time passed, however, these thoughts would grow thin; every detail having been considered, they no longer held attention. Slowly other thoughts crept in, ideas one did not intend and yet consuming enough that by the end of seven hours, one’s attempts to prevent them felt like flimsy distractions.
Spock understood this second possibility well enough because he was experiencing it in reverse: he had managed to start the day with the calm, cool collection of ice, but by the end of the shift his thoughts had melted into a tumult of chaos and fire. All that he could focus on was that the captain was suffering, and it was his fault.
After the end of his shift, Spock checked on the experiments in the lab. Scientists and techs had set up some of the longer tests and scans to run over ship’s night, and no new results had been produced. Having assessed that nothing could be done on that score, Spock proceeded to sickbay for an update on McCoy’s progress with the scans of Kirk’s brains.
“If you want answers, come back tomorrow,” said Doctor McCoy.
Spock lifted his brow. “Will you have answers tomorrow?”
“No,” said McCoy, “but I don’t have them today.”
“I would settle for an elucidation of the question.”
Sighing, Doctor McCoy pressed some buttons on his terminal, then turned one of his monitors so that Spock could see it. The image was familiar by now—a cross-section of a part of Kirk’s brain. “See that series of synapses there?” McCoy asked.
The image was no longer real-time, but rather a recording from when the scans had been taken. “There are many synapses,” Spock said.
“No, that one.” McCoy jabbed a finger at the screen, then pressed another button. The image zoomed in. “That signal right there.”
At this scale, the particular sequence of synapses to which McCoy referred became apparent. “You think it relevant?” Spock turned to Doctor McCoy.
“It doesn’t belong there,” said Doctor McCoy. “It’s not coming from anywhere.”
“Thoughts often seem random,” Spock remarked.
“Right, but they’re not,” said Doctor McCoy. “My colleagues and I have been able to map most of Jim’s other thoughts. We’ve identified triggers between memories he experienced during the time this was recorded, the sensory inputs that caused different synapses to fire. We might not know what he was thinking, but we know why he was thinking it—everything is connected to each other, provoked either by something around him or one thought sparking another. Except for this sequence right here.”
“What about the captain’s subconscious?”
“Even that has a pathway,” said Doctor McCoy. “This doesn’t. It’s almost like he’s hearing a message—a constant message from the nerves in the ear, except there’s no external auditory stimuli.”
“He said he felt the wind was speaking to him,” Spock said.
“Right. What if it was giving him a message?”
Spock looked at the synaptic sequence on the scan. At this level of magnification, it looked like a stream of lightning snapping from one neuron to another. At a deeper level, he would have been able to see neurotransmitters reacting across ion channels, delivering electricity through a change of charge. “If the message is telling him he’s cold, then the signal should be stopped.”
“Yes. How? That’s the question.” McCoy turned the screen back toward him. “Is that enough elucidation for you?”
Spock watched McCoy press buttons, changing the image on the monitor back to text—presumably medical information or perhaps a conversation with his colleagues about Kirk’s brain. “Is the captain’s condition worsening?” Spock asked.
“Not that I know of. What have you seen?”
Spock hesitated. “Before he retired from the bridge, he was chafing his hands and pacing.”
McCoy shook his head. “Probably just ran out of warm thoughts. You know . . .” He looked up at Spock, frowning. “That Vulcan brain of yours is supposed to be top-notch, but last I heard, neuroscience wasn’t your field. If you really want to help him out, you’d think you’d have figured out you could be more help to him bringing him hot chocolate than hanging around here.”
“Hot chocolate is only a temporary solution,” said Spock.
“So? Make him eat some of that Plomeek soup.”
Spock took four breaths, forcing himself to keep them even. The janitorial staff had managed to wash away most of the evidence of the soup Spock had thrown. He was not even sure Doctor McCoy was thinking of the incident when he referenced it. “Soup would not address the problem either,” he said at last.
“I don’t care if you sit there and read him Vulcan poetry,” said McCoy. “The point is, the captain needs to feel warm.”
“Hearing Vulcan poetry does not increase one’s temperature.”
“Fine, Orion poetry. I don’t give a damn.”
“I fail to see how the culture from which the poetry originates factors into the equation.”
McCoy snorted. “Right. Forgot who I was talking to. You probably feel the same about poetry as you do about reading an astrophysics textbook.”
“I do not,” said Spock. “However, I fail to see how either one would improve the captain’s health.”
“You know what, you could read him an astrophysics textbook. You could probably sit there and review the maintenance reports, and it’d probably work. Don’t you get it? Jim needs something else to focus on—something that will warm him up. Might as well be you.”
“My body temperature is markedly lower than his.”
“Tell that to Jim.”
“The captain is aware of it.”
Pretending he didn’t understand human insinuations in conversation often forced humans either to clarify their speech or to cease implying things they were unwilling to say. Doctor McCoy, however, either did not care whether Spock understood, or was—as a human would say—“onto him,” for whenever Spock prevaricated in this way, McCoy frequently ignored him.
Spock knew exactly what the doctor meant when he implied that Kirk was warmed by Spock’s presence, and furthermore, Spock thought that McCoy was probably correct. What had happened last night, however, made him hesitant to return to the captain’s side in the privacy of his quarters. The best way to help Kirk be comfortable right now would be another mind meld, and yet Spock still did not trust himself. Thus, after bidding the doctor to inform him of any progress, Spock retired to his quarters to meditate.
Before Vulcan, Spock had been ashamed of his feelings of friendship for the captain, but he had been able to contain both those feelings and that shame through the strict techniques of meditation. Friendship itself was not illogical; it was, in fact, important to Vulcan culture. Only Spock’s responses to that friendship were irrational—his longing for the captain’s company, the warmth he felt in the captain’s presence, the nonsensical need to be noticed by him. The joy he felt in the captain’s smile, the jealousy he sometimes experienced when Kirk’s private gaze was cast upon someone else.
Then the koon-ut-kal-if-fee had happened, and Spock had felt desire open up inside him so profound that he could no longer deny the fact that it had always been there, would always be there. Pon farr had made him passionate and violent, but Spock’s hatred of his own desire—and furthermore his hatred of that hatred, for hatred was an emotion as well—was truly what had driven him to kill his captain.
Once those truths had been laid bare, meditation felt akin to a weak and feeble net with which he attempted to corral feelings too strong and too human for the turbulence of his thoughts. Since pon farr, there had been more than several instances in which Spock had found it necessary to withdraw so far inside himself to regain equilibrium that he barely even looked at Kirk for weeks.
Now felt like such a time.
Kirk usually responded with confusion at first to Spock’s withdrawal, though he rarely questioned it aloud. Their easy comradery lacked a verbal definition beyond that of friendship, and Spock knew that Kirk was both too mature and too confident to think that said friendship was in jeopardy when Spock grew reticent. “Are you alright?” was the only question Kirk usually asked.
In the beginning, in the weeks directly following the affair on Vulcan, Kirk had attempted to visit Spock’s quarters in the evening after alpha shift. Spock had turned him away, claiming to be busy. He had been busy, requiring meditation to put his chaotic feelings in order.
Visiting each other after hours had become a habit with them after their first six months serving together—at first on the pretense of reviewing duty rosters and ships business, later on the pretense of unfinished games of chess or sparring matches. In the months before Vulcan, however, neither of them had attempted pretense at all—Kirk had arrived at Spock’s quarters in the evening without an excuse, and every time, Spock had admitted him without question.
Now, Kirk never even tried to visit.
Kirk’s confusion would eventually give way to hurt, and these were the most difficult times. Spock could not stand to see the captain looking wounded, because the captain so rarely did so. Only in brief moments could Spock detect the flash of nakedness in Kirk’s face, and it was always quickly covered with a mask of affable command.
The hurt would subsequently give way to anger—usually only subtly expressed, bitter little digs that were exactly what Spock deserved, when Spock treated every smile and friendly conversational sally from the captain with abrupt coldness. Only when the captain’s attitude dissolved into blankness after the anger did Spock feel he could relax again. This meant Kirk had resolved not to care one way or another, had finally determined that the banter and warmth and special moments they shared were gone for good and he would not try to retrieve them. Then Spock was finally out of danger. It meant that he had managed to resist the urge to comfort the captain.
This was why Kirk had treated Spock with kid gloves ever since Vulcan: he didn’t like to argue. Kirk wanted things to go back to the way they were, when Spock could still contain his own emotions and thus withstand the brilliance of Kirk’s mind, the warmth of his compassion, the thrill of his presence. But Spock could not go back, and here they were.
Given his behavior on the bridge today, Kirk might have already decided to forget what had happened the night before, resolving not to give Spock’s fickleness any chance to injure him. Kirk would be correct to do so, for Spock was aware his treatment of the captain was unfair.
Or Kirk might be suffering even more—chilled by the cold in his own mind and, furthermore, deserted by his friend.
Spock’s mind repeatedly scraped against these raw thoughts in his current attempt to meditate: the captain’s obvious longing for their old friendship, his futile attempts to contain his shivering, the surprised warmth in his eyes when Spock had brought him the chocolate, the sudden vulnerability when Spock had proposed the meld.
At the end of the fourth hour of meditation, Spock at last managed the first stages of trance, but his control was tenuous at best. To see his captain when he was in such a state was ill-advised at best.
At the end of the sixth hour, Spock left his quarters.
“Come in,” said Kirk, after Spock pressed the button outside Kirk’s cabin.
The doors opened and Spock stepped inside. The front room was dimly lit, and Kirk was only just stepping into it from the room beyond—his bedroom.
To visit at all may have been ill-advised; to visit at this hour had been inane. The time was twenty-three hundred hours, Spock realized. Kirk must have been in bed, if his attire was any indication.
“Bundled up” was, idiomatically, a human term, but in this instance seemed accurate. The captain was wearing Starfleet-issue thermals—garments usually reserved for wearing underneath dress uniforms in diplomatic missions on cold planets. Only their brief visit to New York City in Earth’s past allowed Spock to identify the garments Kirk wore over the thermals: plaid-printed flannel, an Earth fashion. From the cut, Spock supposed they were pajamas. He also wore thick socks.
“Spock?” Kirk said, coming farther into the room.
Spock jerked his eyes up to Kirk’s face. “I wished to apologize for last night.”
Kirk’s jaw tightened. “You don’t have to apologize.”
“I did not properly center myself before the meld,” said Spock.
“Alright. Apology accepted.” Kirk put his hands on his hips. “Did you need anything else?”
Anger, then. Kirk was not visibly wounded, which made the situation easier to handle. Still, Spock had difficulty formulating a reply.
After approximately fourteen and a half seconds, Kirk’s hand slid off his hips. His expression gradually softened. “Spock—”
“I wish to propose another mind meld.”
Kirk frowned. “Unnecessary.”
“You are still experiencing the effects of your condition.”
“My life isn’t at risk.”
Spock forced himself to speak. “Your comfort is.”
“My comfort. You care about my comfort now.”
Spock looked away, and Kirk moved toward him.
“I’m sorry,” said Kirk. “That was uncalled for. You just . . . we could talk about it, you know.”
“I do not wish to discuss the incident on Vulcan.”
Another pause followed, this one almost twenty seconds long. “Alright,” Kirk said softly. “Whatever you want, Spock.”
Spock looked up to see the captain turn away.
“I’ll always do anything you want,” Kirk muttered, wrapping his arms around himself.
Spock swallowed hard, tasting bile. “I want another mind meld,” he said.
“Okay.” Still not looking at him, Kirk turned back to his bedroom. “I’m going to get dressed.”
While Kirk changed his clothing, Spock collected his thoughts, focusing on the memory he had prepared during his last two hours of meditation. When Kirk returned, Spock had settled himself cross-legged on the floor.
“Want me to sit down here?” Kirk asked, already seating himself across from Spock.
“We often sit on stone on Vulcan,” said Spock. “It helps center the mind.”
“Okay.” Kirk sat cross-legged in front of Spock, wearing Starfleet slacks and his green shirt, which Spock had deduced Kirk found more comfortable than the command gold. Kirk’s feet were still clad in socks.
Spock pulled his eyes away from them when he realized he’d been staring.
“Do I need to do anything?” Kirk said. “I interfered last time.”
Spock’s hold over the memory he had planned to impart to the captain faltered. His concentration already felt bruised—it had not occurred to him, although it should have, that Kirk would blame himself for what had happened during the meld last night.
“You did not interfere,” Spock said, keeping his voice steady. “The fault was my own.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” Annoyance flickered in Kirk’s voice again.
Spock held his eyes for approximately three seconds, then cast his gaze down. “I will need a minute to concentrate.”
Spock glanced back up. Kirk’s annoyance had apparently gentled into amusement. “Eighty-two seconds,” Spock said, and looked away again at Kirk’s resulting smile.
Unlike some humans, the captain was able to maintain a silence. When Kirk had first assumed his position aboard the Enterprise, Spock had thought him too loud. He was jovial and familiar with the crew whereas Captain Pike had been formal and somewhat reticent, and Spock believed in professional distance between authority figures and their subordinates.
As they had grown used to one another, however, Spock had learned that Kirk’s easy-going attitude with the crew increased efficiency from exceptional to superlative. Kirk’s familiarity did not prevent him from exerting his authority when necessary and furthermore, his amiability did not translate to friendship. Kirk had still spent most of his recreational time alone, until he gradually sought out Spock’s company more and more—a habit that formed only after Spock had begun to seek out his.
Six months had passed with Kirk as captain of the Enterprise before Spock had realized that the captain fell into that category to which, heretofore, only his mother had belonged: that of humans so extraordinary they surpassed not only their own species but most examples of Vulcans as well. So clear did this assessment become over the following year that Spock was at a loss to explain how he had not understood it to be the case immediately.
“I am ready,” said Spock.
Kirk tilted his head and the gesture almost undid all the hard work Spock had done to exorcise everything from his consciousness that would interfere with the meld. Something about Kirk offering his face in the way—subtly leaning in, a request for Spock to touch him, surrendering his mind—was difficult to bear.
After twelve seconds, of leaning forward with that slight tilt, Kirk began to withdraw. Spock extended his hand, settling his finger-tips over the meld points. “My mind to your mind,” he said. “My thoughts to your thoughts.”
The connection unfolded and this time Spock was able to control his thoughts, feeling the bloom of Kirk’s mind against his own without throwing himself into it. That the link be established was important for the stability of the meld, but this could be achieved without entering the captain’s thoughts. A meld was like an open door—he might enter, or summon something to exit, but in these moments these were all mere possibilities, and the doorway itself admitted nothing but open air.
Of course, the presence of Kirk’s mind was not air, but it was indubitably evident yet intangible in the same way. To Spock that presence felt heavy but bright. Thoughts curled just beyond the link, active. Liberating. Infinitely tender. The closest metaphor was a nest of whispers just beyond the range of hearing.
Carefully, Spock pushed the whispers away and concentrated on his own thoughts, completing the details of the memory in his mind. Then he pushed the memory along an imagined stream—a small paper boat floating through the door.
The memory was Spock’s mother. They were sitting in a brightly lit room—not on Vulcan. Father had been ambassador to Tellar Prime, and they had been situated at the embassy in Damant, a Tellarite capital city. The accommodation had been spacious and elegant, featuring high ceilings and large windows that let the Tellarite sun come streaming in, catching within its beams motes of dust that seemed to suspend themselves in the air. Spock, twelve years old at the time, had found the buildings of the embassy very beautiful, if—at Tellarite temperatures—exceedingly warm.
On a day he remembered in particular, Mother had been knitting while reviewing the programming of one of the new universal translator patches. Spock had been reading out loud to her the essay he had written for his course on Tellarite history. Although his memory was eidetic, it was not permanent, and he could recall neither the essay nor the conversation word for word. He had recreated a semblance of the latter for Kirk’s benefit.
“You sound like you don’t like them,” his mother had said. “The Tellarites.”
“I neither like them nor dislike them,” Spock had said.
Amanda had smiled faintly. “But they are not logical.”
“Violent debate is irrational.”
“Running people through with swords is irrational,” said Amanda. “Tellarites mostly just talk.”
“And you don’t like yelling. Sub-classify that last sequence,” she told the computer, “and add a bracket after the third command in the algorithm.”
“Raising one’s voice is unnecessary unless it is required to be heard,” said Spock.
“Have you ever thought,” said Amanda, looping the yarn, “that subsuming emotion to logic is merely one way of dealing with emotion, and yelling another? If yelling is culturally acceptable to all Tellarites and isn’t hurting anyone, can’t it be a logical outlet?”
“But it’s not logical,” said Spock.
“Maybe to you,” said Amanda.
“Logic is not subjective.”
“Tell that to a Tellarite.”
Spock remembered having watched her for at least a minute after that. In some ways he saw himself as more intelligent than his mother, for she was not logical and did many nonsensical things. And yet she was as calm as any Vulcan most of the time, more collected than many, and kinder than most. And kindness, Spock had realized early on, was exceedingly logical.
Not all beings always behaved according to the dictates of logic, but they always responded to kindness. To respect all different life forms in their infinite diversity sometimes demanded sympathy above reason, which placed compassion as one of the highest forms of logic.
Spock had been thinking this, looking at his mother. She had looked so calm and cool and collected, sitting there knitting, and Spock had felt sweat trickling down his back. Vulcans did not have sweat glands, but he had inherited partial glands from his mother.
“Why are you not warm?” he had asked finally, abandoning the subject of Tellarites with typical twelve-year-old sensibility.
“I am,” Amanda had said. “Remove the second condition in that sequence,” she told the computer, “and add a formatting cue for the next person to review this patch.”
“Why don’t you look it?” Spock had asked her.
Amanda just laughed. “I’ve spent fifteen years on and off Vulcan. I think I can stand a little heat.”
There had been nothing particularly singular about that day or their conversations, but in the moment following, the sensation had struck Spock that he would never live in this moment again. Even if they sat in this room the next day, Amanda would not be working on the same patch. She might still be working on the same sweater, but Spock would have already turned in his essay. The dust motes in the air would not be the same, the temperature would not be the same, his sweat would not contain the same water and sodium molecules. Even if the rest could be recreated, time would never turn back, and something in Spock felt sorrow at the lapsing of this moment into the next.
The feeling had been illogical, for time was in some ways merely a material construction. For a photon, all of history was always happening all at once.
But for Spock, that moment would never happen again.
Then the memory of his mother returned like a tug at the corner of his mind, and Spock knew the thought to be Kirk’s. Spock deepened the link—like opening the door wider—and pulled on the thread of Kirk had extended to him.
The thought was a query, not so distinct as words, but decipherable nevertheless: what are your thoughts on her, do you miss her, do you think of her often?
Kirk’s thoughts were in some ways like his physical presence: commanding yet kind, gentle yet compelling an answer; he made you want to share yourself, to give because he made you feel like he was giving, because he was warm and open and so competent with other people’s feelings.
Without thinking to control his response, Spock thought of his mother: her narrow frame, the soft sweep of her hair. The way her thin arms felt, wrapped around him; her voice, lyrical and sweet. Her subdued humor, her fingers against his father’s, her lips against Spock’s cheek, the smell of human food.
Each of these wisps of memory floated down the stream through the door with very little volition on Spock’s part, but he could feel the response from Kirk: open, receptive—and occasionally, shivering with cold. Deepening the link, Spock felt along the line of it, venturing closer to the door but not quite pushing into Kirk’s mind.
Thoughts of welcome opened up inside of Spock—thoughts like the doors of Kirk’s quarters opening, the memory of the sound they made, the feeling of a smile. A thought solidified into language,
you can come inside Spock
But inside Kirk’s mind was ice and snow, a lonely mountain peak surrounded by a battering, brutal wind.
sorry it’s cold, Kirk mentally communicated, and Spock remembered why he was here.
He thought again of Amanda Grayson—this time the warmest thoughts that he could muster. Amanda beside a fire; it was Christmas; they were drinking a hot spiced drink. Amanda in the sun on Vulcan, holding his hand as they climbed a mountain. She had held him close sometimes; sometimes he had been crying and doing so had made him feel hot—his blood too close to his skin, human tears scorching in his eyes, the mucous burning his throat and the feeling of mortification flaming through his body—
why? came Kirk’s thought, and his mind was cold but the question was like a warm hand, curving around the memory; Kirk sitting across from his mother with a six-year-old Spock in between them shielding him somehow, preventing the pain of that memory.
Vulcan children with their cruel jests, their knowing glances.
Spock with his incandescent rage; it felt like the fire, like the sun, and the only thing that burned deeper was the tormented knowledge that feeling this way was illogical; a Vulcan wouldn’t feel this way—
Kirk sent a flow of things down the river, through the door—less like individual thoughts and more like a stream of feelings, less a series of paper boats on a river and more like the river itself, golden and strong. Everything in that river was the opposite of shame: confidence, trust, affection, protection, understanding, a sense of wonder, of gratitude, happy you exist and proud you are my friend
And then a feeling that felt just like a touch—the thought of hands brushing, lips against his cheek, a hand sliding down to a hip.
Spock, not knowing whether the thoughts were his own or Kirk’s, broke the link.
In the dim light of his quarters, Kirk looked dazed.
“I apologize,” Spock said, standing quickly.
“Spock?” Kirk got to his feet as well, the movement less fluid than usual.
“I must return to my quarters.” Spock turned to leave, but a heavy hand on his elbow stopped him.
“You’re not going to run away again.” Kirk’s voice was thick.
Spock glanced down at the hand on his elbow, which Kirk did not remove. Kirk’s grip was tighter than what could be considered casual, almost bruising. “I am not running,” Spock said, keeping his voice light. “Melding requires a lowering of barriers. These barriers must be restored in order to maintain mental equilibrium.”
“Spock, I—” Kirk cut himself off, then looked down at Spock’s elbow. “Sorry,” he said, releasing it.
Spock thought that he could safely exit now. Instead, he lingered. “You did nothing wrong.”
“Thank you,” said Kirk. “For your thoughts.”
Spock visually assessed the captain, who was not shivering. Nor did he show any other signs of cold. Spock lifted a brow. “Your symptoms appear diminished.”
“Not just that,” said Kirk. “Thank you for . . . showing me your mother. I know she means a lot to you.”
Spock inclined his head.
“I just wanted to give you something in return,” said Kirk.
“I do not require compensation.”
“I know.” Inexplicably, Kirk appeared unhappy. “Sometimes I wish you did.”
Spock wished that he could feign lack of comprehension, but he remembered what had occurred just before he had broken the mind link—hands touching, lips, the feel of skin to skin. Spock understood all too well, and yet to say so would require explaining that he could not act on such emotion without enslaving himself to it. To venture into such a relationship with the captain would risk reenacting his pon farr all over again, and there was nothing in the conceivable universe Spock less wanted to do than hurt his captain.
“It’s alright,” Kirk said, after the silence had stretched without Spock counting the seconds. “You only have to take what you want.”
Spock turned away. “I shall retire now.”
“Yes.” Kirk followed him to the door, but stopped him when they opened. “Thank you, Spock. I’m grateful. Sometimes I don’t act like it—but I am grateful.”
“I know,” said Spock, because at times gratitude was the only emotion Spock felt like he could accept. Even then it was overwhelming, because he did not deserve it. “Goodnight, Jim.”
Spock stepped out of the captain’s quarters, the doors closing behind him.
Doctor McCoy, believing he had isolated the neural signal that was causing Kirk’s condition, wanted to verify his hypothesis by checking it against new data. Therefore, the captain spent the next morning in sickbay for more scans, and Spock only saw him briefly.
Kirk was already violently shivering and McCoy was no closer to determining how to shut the synaptic sequence in Kirk’s brain down, if that signal was indeed the problem. Spock himself theorized and rejected a number of solutions. Thought brain surgery was highly precise, all that could be achieved was removal of the neurons in question, which was not necessary—they merely needed to stop firing in this particular sequence. Certain peptides could be optimized to target the specific channel, but developing them would take months of experimentation and research, not to mention test subjects they did not have.
For now, the best solution to the problem was to continue to research the cause of it. As a result, Spock spent most of the day in the lab with the tests on the atmospheric gas. By eleven hundred they had finally made some headway in the research: one of the canisters of gas contained nanomachines.
“Machine” was only an appropriate term for it in that the structures had obviously been manufactured. In many ways they appeared similar to proteins, except that they lacked the usual elements associated with organic life, thus allowing them to escape the tests both the landing party and scientists had run in their search for life on the planet and within the lab. The air from the planet, while consisting mostly of oxygen and nitrogen, had contained other gases as well as plenty of particulates from the planet itself, including the veritable dust of the extinct civilization on the ground.
As Spock and the other scientists continued to research, they found that aside from these factors that had made the nanomachines heretofore undetectable, their structure also became highly unstable when exposed to certain elements. Indeed, this appeared to be partially the purpose of the nanomachines. Interaction with the nanomachine caused it to fall apart, dispersing its various components into whatever medium had caused its dissolution. This made the nanomachines difficult to test. Most of them had already been unknowingly destroyed by previous testing of the atmospheric gas and only several dozen remained, thus limiting their ability to study the machines.
At noon the doctor released the captain, who proceeded to the shuttle bay to supervise the dismantling of the satellite that had orbited Epsilon Tauri Four. Once Spock had arranged for several careful studies of the nanomachines to continue without him, he joined the captain in order to review the progress with the satellite and further assess Kirk’s condition.
By fourteen hundred the transmission device from the satellite had been removed. The signal the satellite had been emitting still could not be deciphered, and the computer directing the signal was similarly incomprehensible. The language of the programming could not be translated by the Universal Translator, so Kirk assigned a team of linguists and programmers to Uhura to see if they could rework the UT to accommodate the new data.
“Maybe we should get your mom,” Kirk said in a moment of privacy, after they had checked on the team. He tried to smile, but his teeth were chattering.
“Lieutenant Uhura is more than adequate to the task.”
“She is, isn’t she?” Not seeming to realize he was doing it, Kirk blew on his hands for warmth. “I feel like Uhura and your mom would get along.”
Spock was thinking of neither Uhura nor his mom. “Jim.”
“I still have to do my job, Spock,” Kirk said, somewhat sharply.
But you do not have to suffer, Spock wanted to say, but didn’t. Currently he was unaware of how he might alleviate the captain’s suffering—a mind meld right now would not be prudent. Spock had a job to do also, and sharing minds with the captain was . . . distracting.
“I was merely going to observe that your condition appeared to be worsening,” Spock said. The words were not strictly untrue.
“It’s not worse.” Crossing his arms, Kirk tucked his hands under the flesh of his upper arms, then realized he was doing it an uncrossed his arms again. “I’m just having trouble keeping warm things in my head.”
Spock’s hand twitched by his side. “Lieutenant Uhura and my mother would be compatible for friendship,” he said.
Kirk huffed a laugh. “What?”
“You observed they would ‘get along.’ I concur. They have similar interests.”
“Beyond their interest in communications technology and linguistics, they both have a strong appreciation of lyrical and rhythmic music.”
Kirk laughed again. “You mean unlike me.”
“You have assured me that you do appreciate music.”
“Come on, Spock. I have broad tastes.”
“I had not observed previously that ‘broad’ implied ‘indiscriminate.’”
“Bach. Beethoven. Beastie Boys. I’m very discriminating; I like music from every century.”
Earlier in the conversation, Kirk had been quietly stamping his feet, presumably for warmth. Now he had ceased that behavior, and his arms had loosened somewhat. He was only shivering a small amount. “My mother and Nyota also both share a fondness for creatures that are . . .” Spock hesitated before choosing a phrase, “endowed with soft hair.”
Kirk raised his brows, feigning a look of innocence. “Spock, is your hair really all that soft?”
The captain was teasing, but Spock’s method of reciprocation used to always be to feign ignorance in response. Having observed the effect the conversation was having on the captain, Spock employed that technique now. Raising his brow, he said, “It must be. Unless I share other qualities with felines.”
“They both like cats?”
“Huh.” Kirk looked thoughtful. “Well. Do you share other qualities with felines?”
Spock hesitated. “I have been informed that Vulcan tongues are somewhat rougher than human ones.”
A smile twitched the captain’s mouth, but his eyes went heavy and warm, as did his tone. “Are they?”
Kirk no longer appeared cold at all. The objective of this conversation had been achieved and therefore it need not continue. Since Vulcan, Spock had frequently managed to avoid frivolous interactions such as these—they were unnecessary, and furthermore provoking such an expression as the captain was making now made Spock doubt his own ability to act logically. He should have foreseen how the captain would react to such a comment—in fact, he had foreseen it. He had made that comment for this exact reason—to see this very expression on Kirk’s face.
A gross miscalculation.
“I must return to the lab,” Spock said, his voice carefully blank.
“Of course.” Kirk looked away.
He would become cold again, Spock knew. It was already happening right now—even as Kirk turned away, the shiver returned to his spine.
Spock ached to simply reach out and touch it, to run his finger down Kirk’s spine, flatten his hand in the small of Kirk’s back. Surely that would provoke warm thoughts, surely that would induce the captain to feel more comfortable. But in the end it was not a cure, and such behavior was highly impractical.
Spock still remembered how the pleasure of touching him—the pleasure of being on top of him, writhing in sand—had driven Spock to the anger that had killed his captain.
“Let me know if you get any results,” the captain said, his voice stronger now and firm, despite the shiver. Turning on his heel, he strode back to the communications team.
Spock went back to the lab.
Spock worked with the nanomachines until twenty-two hundred. Further study seemed to indicate that the machines could be responsible for Kirk’s condition—once blown into the ear, the machine would fall apart, its various components affecting nerve endings in the ear that sensed pitch. These nerves could stimulate the signal that resulted in the synaptic pathway Doctor McCoy had isolated, but this was all just theory.
There was no way to prove that the machines behaved this way without test subjects, and even if they did, no way to reverse the process suggested itself. Since the machine itself disintegrated upon contact with biological tissue they could not identify it, any more than they could distinguish one amino acid from another. The only way to make any progress was to learn more about how the machines worked to determine if they could reprogram them to undo what the first one had done to Kirk’s brain.
They were running dangerously low on nanomachines for results to be found, and after setting eighteen simulations to run for the next seven hours, Spock retired to his quarters to meditate.
The meld the night before had not been as disastrous as reliving killing him on Vulcan had been, but Spock had not meant to share memories that involved crying in his mother’s arms. It had provoked the sympathetic response from Kirk, and in the face of the captain’s tenderness Spock knew his mental barriers weakened. Either the captain would feel the warmth of his feeling returned, which would be detrimental because Spock could not act according to such feelings, or the captain would feel how ashamed Spock was of that emotion.
Neither of these sentiments would be comprehensible to Kirk, who did not understand how illogically Spock’s feelings had the potential to make him behave. Full Vulcans had the mental capacity to feel deeply and at the same time, regulate their actions with rational thought and reason. Vulcans did lose capacity for reason during pon farr, but a full Vulcan would never want to kill their friend because they felt too much for him.
Thoughts and memories of Vulcan must be avoided at all costs during the meld. That had become evident after the first one, but after the second, Spock had also become aware that he must avoid thoughts of his childhood. He had lacked control then; those deep feelings would only stir a response in Kirk that could make something dangerous happen. Spock needed to regulate himself to mentally communicating memories and thoughts that were warm but casual, unimportant.
Once Spock was ready, he made his way to the captain’s quarters.
“Spock!” Kirk sounded pleased and yet the chill was evident in his voice, giving his jaw a slight tremor.
“Captain,” said Spock, stepping inside. The doors closed behind him.
The captain moved farther back into the room, sorting through the food cards near the synthesizer. “How are your nanobots?”
“Self-destructive. I have written a multitude of programs that will simulate reprogramming them each according to a different set of algorithms.”
“Eighteen. Each program contains over three thousand ways to modulate the algorithms.”
“I wonder what the Frost Giants were doing with nanobots.”
“Doesn’t it seem odd? They’re the only surviving technology we found, besides the satellite.”
“Are you suggesting they are connected?”
“Well, it’s all about signals, isn’t it? The satellite’s signal that brought us here. The nanobot’s signal to my brain. The signal in my brain that tells me I’m cold.”
Kirk shifted his weight as he talked, unusual behavior for someone who positioned themselves as solidly as the captain. The action was similar to the stamping Spock had witnessed earlier, the movements no doubt an attempt to produce kinetic energy and convert it to thermal. Kirk didn’t seem to realize he was doing it.
Spock wished he could look at the scans of Kirk’s brain again. He wished to analyze how someone experiencing such extreme cold could also retain such mental agility. Kirk’s thinking was neither mathematical nor linear, but his intuitive leaps always left Spock feeling like his own brain was slow, ponderous. He would not have thought to draw a line between the satellite, the nanomachines, and the synaptic channel in the way Kirk had, and yet once the captain had laid it out it seemed overwhelmingly obvious.
Instead of commenting upon it, Spock took a few steps into the room as well. “You’ve adjusted the atmospheric controls.”
“I gave in. It’s not too hot for you?”
“No,” said Spock, but it was indeed warm. The captain had previously adjusted the controls long ago, such that when the internal room scanners registered a Vulcan presence, the temperature increased by three degrees. The temperature was slightly warm for a typical human and just slightly cool for a typical Vulcan. Kirk had claimed an average between the two was more comfortable for both. When Spock had pointed out that a temperature that was suited to neither of them was in fact uncomfortable for both of them, the captain had merely laughed. He’d also conveniently neglected to mention that Spock was not a typical Vulcan, and therefore the temperature was very nearly perfect for him.
Now the temperature was at least ten degrees warmer—warm even for Spock, though not hot.
“Want tea?” Kirk said, still going through the food cards.
“Water.” It was too warm for hot tea, but Spock was disinclined to point that out. Kirk was currently shivering so much that it provided an explanation for the length of time he had been going through the cards. “Allow me,” Spock said, coming closer.
Kirk laughed. “I’m not an invalid, Spock.”
The captain was not an invalid, but Spock was unable to completely quell his anxiety as Kirk at last found the card he wanted and shoved it into the slot. The synthesizer produced the water and then the tea. Kirk handed him the water and took the tea for himself, but did not move from the synthesizer. He did not want to appear clumsy, Spock surmised, for Kirk’s every movement was performed quite carefully.
“I would like to propose another meld,” said Spock.
Kirk looked at him over the rim of his mug. “Would you?”
“I am here.”
“I thought it was to keep me company.”
Once upon a time, Spock would have replied to Kirk’s comment with a similarly sly remark—denying that he understood that the captain was jesting while at the same time implying he enjoyed the banter. Kirk’s expression was warm and teasing, waiting for such a reply, but as Spock’s silence continued the smile began to fade.
“Are you sure you want a mind meld?” said Kirk. “You didn’t seem to like either of the other ones.”
“My enjoyment is inconsequential.”
“Not to me.”
Spock should have expected Kirk’s answer—and his frown. “Last night’s mind meld was successful,” Spock said, “and not unpleasant.”
“Not unpleasant. Is that how you’d characterize it?”
Kirk held Spock’s gaze for thirteen seconds before Spock dropped his eyes. “I do not know what you wish me to say.”
“I don’t know either.” Kirk paused. “I value your privacy, Spock.”
Spock looked up quickly. “You have not violated it.”
Kirk’s mouth twisted. “I just can’t promise not to be curious. When you’re sharing your thoughts—I can’t help but be interested.”
Kirk’s interest had been what provoked a flood of feelings last time—the memories of Spock’s mother, the memories of his childhood, of loneliness. That the captain would blame himself, however, was wrong in every conceivable way, and Spock would have rather expressed a whole tumult of emotion rather than allow the captain to continue to be guilty. “You did not see anything I did not willingly share.”
For another eight seconds, the captain remained silent. “Okay,” he said abruptly. “Let’s do it. You want to sit on the floor again?”
They sat down on the floor across from each other, Kirk setting his tea beside him and Spock resuming the mental preparation he had begun earlier that evening in meditation. “You said you didn’t want to invade my mind,” said Kirk, “but do you think it could be useful? Maybe you could try to figure out why I’m so convinced I’m freezing.”
“I do not think it would be prudent.”
Spock considered his reply. “The problem exists in the synaptic pathway between your cerebral cortex and hypothalamus, which is deep within the brain. If there is indeed a damaged connection and I were to interfere, I could compound the damage rather than rectify it.”
“Because of how deep it is?”
Spock nodded. “Furthermore, transmitting warm thoughts to you is different than an attempt to coerce specific synapses to stop firing. The former is a kind of sharing, whereas the latter . . .”
“Is mind control.”
“You wouldn’t convince me to do anything I don’t want to, Spock.”
Spock had thought he wouldn’t kill Kirk either, but it had happened. “Are you prepared for the meld?”
“Besides, whether it was the nanobots or something else, isn’t something already controlling my mind?”
Spock hesitated, looking at his hands in his lap. “Whatever is controlling you, if it can be called that, is an extremely precise and delicate instrument.”
“It accessed only a specific set of neurons and presumably none others,” Spock said. “While there are some Vulcan priests with finely tuned control, I do not think even they could specifically target a neuron and convince it to fire differently. Meanwhile, I . . .”
“Don’t have their training,” said Kirk.
“I am a blunt instrument,” Spock murmured.
Unexpectedly, Kirk’s hand came into view. Two of Kirk’s fingers touched Spock’s wrist, such a gentle touch that Spock would have barely felt it but for the heat of the captain’s skin. Since Vulcan Kirk had rarely touched him, though he had often done so before—even knowing that Vulcans were sensitive to touch. Kirk must also know what this gesture meant in Vulcan culture, and yet Spock felt himself instinctively react before pulling away. He twisted his hand, lightly circling Kirk’s wrist with his own fingers, and then Kirk was the one pulling away, his fingers sliding against Spock’s palm and then out of Spock’s grasp.
“I think you’re a great instrument,” said Kirk.
Spock took a swift breath. “Another Vulcan would be more suited to this task.”
“I don’t want another Vulcan.”
Spock’s breath was still too quick, too heavy. “Jim—”
“I thought we were going to mind meld,” said Kirk. “Do you need eighty-two seconds?”
“Yes.” Spock closed his eyes. “Yes.”
He had prepared a memory specifically for this encounter; he had meditated for three hours before coming here, and yet with two fingers it had almost all been undone. Another Vulcan would have been preferable. Another Vulcan would have remained in control; another Vulcan would be able to share simple images of heat without feeling himself burn.
Spock took another breath, recalling the memory he had planned to share, centering himself.
A full seven minutes and thirty-three seconds passed before Spock opened his eyes. Throughout that time, Kirk had not made a sound. When Spock raised his eyes to his captain, Kirk was pale and shaking with cold.
He would not be doing this if it were not necessary, Spock told himself. “I will proceed if you are ready,” he said.
“Yes.” Closing his eyes, Kirk leaned forward, tilted his head toward Spock.
The action still made Spock’s heart constrict, but he extended his hand once more to Kirk’s face and performed the meld.
The link opened as it had before—open and ready, waiting. Although Spock generally thought of Kirk as warm, he could feel cold through the link—an echoed memory of the winds on Epsilon Tauri Four. Spock thought of Kirk on the other side, shivering, and pushed out his prepared memory rather more quickly than he had intended. The memory was casual and not particularly special, but presumably it could keep the captain warm for at least a little while.
San Francisco was not particularly know for warm climate, but the day Spock had graduated had been quite hot and muggy. The graduating cadets were required to dress in uniform and stand outside, and while Spock knew he must feel a good deal cooler than the other cadets due to his body chemistry, he had still be aware of the heat.
Several different speakers had come to the podium to deliver addresses. Spock had memorized their speeches, and for the purpose of the meld, had married the words to the remembered heat. As Spock continued to remember, the link to Kirk’s mind felt as though it widened, warming. A sense of familiarity prevailed—whether because Kirk’s mind was familiar or because Kirk was familiar with the graduation ceremonies of the Academy, Spock was uncertain.
Academy, whispered an errant thought from the doorway to Kirk’s mind.
Yes, Spock mentally communicated, then returned to directing memorized bits of the speeches combined with the summer heat through the link.
Kirk’s presence was a tangle of whispers on the other end. Spock could easily reach out to pull on one, deciphering Kirk’s thoughts and entering his mind, but he refrained. Despite the mental distance, however, Spock could still feel the brush of cold returning, as though the memory of summer in San Francisco were simply not enough to make an impact.
Another thought from Kirk came through the link, this one obviously pushed out forcefully, as though Kirk was trying to communicate. The thought was an inquiry about the Academy, not so many words but containing the sense of: Did you like it, do you miss it, what were you like, I wish I could have known you then
Spock’s first instinct was to withdraw, to place a barrier between himself and Kirk’s inquiry. Yet a kind of desperate edge weighted the thought, the curiosity itself a thin trapping above a need to escape, and then Spock understood. Kirk still needed to focus on something other than the cold, and the memory of hollow speeches was not enough.
Maintaining mental distance from Kirk’s thought for a moment, Spock sorted through other Academy memories. These should be safe, and there must at least have been several times he remembered warmth.
A Christmas party at Captain Pike’s apartment. Spock had become an assistant instructor by that point, but the party contained a mix of students, instructors, and active Starfleet officers on holiday leave. The weather had been cold outside, but inside the heating system and presence of bodies made the air thick. Spock had worn a sweater, as he was perpetually cold in winter, even with heaters. That evening had been warm enough that he had contemplated taking it off, though he had not ultimately done so.
Another thought from Kirk came through the link: know people, did you like anyone, did you have fun, who did you go with, how was it. Although the captain was not practiced as mental communication, his thoughts were forceful and direct enough that the gist was clear.
Spock had come to the party alone. He did not know anyone so well at the Academy that he would attend a party with them, except perhaps Captain Pike himself. At the party, Spock had spoken to two of the students about course work, one of the other instructors about warp physics, and three Starfleet officers about their work on various starships.
“You can go home if you want,” Captain Pike had told him.
Spock had looked at him in surprise.
“I know you don’t like these things,” said Pike.
Spock had had six successful social interactions, and two of them had been very interesting. Without Pike’s input, he would have categorized the evening as acceptable. “I do not dislike them,” Spock said.
“Really,” said Pike. “How come you’re over here not talking to anyone?”
Again, Spock was nonplussed. Although humans interacted more frequently and verbosely on more nonsensical topics than Vulcans, he had noticed they still sometimes refrained from conversation for short periods of time, even in social settings. “I was observing,” Spock said carefully, aware that he had possibly miscalculated.
“Okay,” said Pike. “I just don’t want you to feel you have to do anything you don’t want to.”
Spock lifted a brow. “I am aware of this. You will note that I have refrained from eating the sprinkle cookies.”
Pike barked a laugh. “Well, except for those. Spock, you have to eat the sprinkle cookies.”
“Then perhaps I should depart after all,” Spock had said.
Pike laughed again. “No, stay. I’ll leave you alone to observe all our human antics.”
Seven successful social interactions.
Pike was nice, I’m glad you had a nice time, I want you to have had a nice time through all of it
The link opened wider and warmer again, and Kirk’s thought did not contain that desperate edge. There was even a bit of warmth in it, like the echo of the heat Spock had attempted to transmit to him.
everyone should be good to you, Kirk thought.
Spock recalled a day in his dormitory when the environmental controls had malfunctioned. He had been studying in his room, but despite the open window the air was still and sticky. He had eventually removed his cadet jacket, but sweat had still beaded at the small of his back. He did not typically sweat at his temples, like humans did.
The presence of the captain’s mind was warmer next to Spock’s mind.
Once in a flight exercise, liquid hydrogen had leaked from a tank during a warp coil malfunction. It had instantly vaporized, but one of the circuits next to the operation board had also broken, causing a spark. A fire had resulted, and Spock had gone in with an oxygen mask to repair the circuit while the ship environmental controls removed oxygen from the air to kill the fire. Spock had felt the heat as the fire died.
The door to the captain’s thoughts opened wider.
Another holiday party, this time in a dorm room. Even though the windows were open, the air was too hot. There were too many people, all of them sweating, red in the face, talking too loud. Moving too much. Spock had been annoyed.
Where Kirk’s thoughts had once been a tangle of whispers on the other side of the link, now there was a smooth, settled feeling, as though all of Kirk’s attention had pooled around one thing.
Outside, a physical fitness class. The instructor had read that Vulcans had three times the strength of ordinary men, so Spock had carried three times the necessary weight for their endurance tests. Spock hadn’t told her he was half human.
The door to Kirk’s thoughts felt closer now, as though his presence merged with Spock’s, open and receptive and liquid, warm.
A lecture hall with a Tellarite speaker, the atmospheric controls adjusted for his comfort. One of his classmates sat beside him and began speaking to him before the lecture started. He answered her questions logically and truthfully, but after she moved away realized he had offended her. He reviewed his words, but could not determine what would be considered rude by human standards.
Spock. Kirk’s mind had sent the message, but it did not feel like a word. It felt like a part of him, something hot and strong and tender, holding him.
In the mess hall, cadets laughing, knowing they were laughing at him.
Talking to his astronomy instructor and realizing she had no interest in outer space whatsoever.
Captain Pike reassuring him he needn’t attempt to be so human—never quite treating him like one.
I was not lonely, Spock thought savagely.
Kirk’s thought surged up in Spock’s mind, solid and strong—a hand on a shoulder. A screen clearing its display. A smile on a face. A bridge over a stream. The trail of matter between two stars slowly colliding. not what I meant and I don’t pity you
I wasn’t trying to make friends; I was perfectly content, Spock thought the words sharp and clear.
The hand sliding down to take another hand, the warmth of a star’s fusion, the Enterprise, the bridge. you have a friend now, so do I, never had one like you, best, favorite, only
Jim, Spock thought, startled, and abruptly began to pull away.
so tired of the cold
The link severed, and Spock pulled away.
Kirk, still leaning forward, swallowed hard.
Moving away, Spock stood up. Kirk remained sitting there, still in the same posture. After another eight seconds, he slumped.
“The fault is mine,” Spock said.
“What fault?” Kirk said, slowly drawing himself up, getting to his feet.
“I should not have removed myself from the meld so abruptly.”
“You mean you’re supposed to do it gently?”
Spock tried not to flinch.
“I’m sorry,” Kirk said immediately. “You’ve never hurt me.”
Spock inclined his head. “It should not happen. My mental focus is obviously not at its peak. I must retire to meditate.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed. “Must you?”
Spock did not think he truly desired a reply.
“Am I not even allowed to tell you that I like you?” Kirk’s voice was low. “Is that not allowed now? I lose track of what I can and can’t do with you.”
“There is not a list.”
“Maybe there should be,” said Kirk. “Spock. You won’t even let me come to your quarters.”
“You are not restricted,” Spock said. “You merely come at inconvenient times.”
“I know. I realize I’ve become terribly inconvenient to you somehow, but what I don’t get is why. What have I done? Tell you you’re my best friend? I should still be able to say that even if you don’t want the rest.”
What rest? was on the tip of Spock’s tongue, but he did not think prevarication to the captain would be particularly wise right now. Though the captain’s words were angry, the hurt and confusion under them was very nearly palpable.
“We don’t have to do this at all,” said Kirk. “I’m cold, not in pain. You don’t have to give me warm thoughts for my health—why are you doing this?”
Another prevarication would have been to state that his duty as first officer required that he look after the captain. It would have been true, but it would not have answer the question. “Because you are my friend,” Spock said, his own voice low.
“I know,” said Kirk. “Spock, I know.”
“You should feel free to express your feelings of friendship.”
“But you pull away,” said Kirk. “Every time I do, you pull away. And you know what’s not fair? You get to express it. You worry over my health and bring me hot chocolate and give me warm memories but the second I try to give you an inch of me you go running for the hills.”
“I do not currently require hot chocolate or warm memories.”
“Answer the damn question.”
Kirk hadn’t asked a question, but Spock refrained from pointing this out. He also refrained from mentioning that there were not any hills on the Enterprise. The truth was, Spock needed to remain in control. He could not seem to stop himself from caring about Kirk’s needs and comforts, but he could see that he attended to them logically. Concern for the captain’s health had been logical; the mind melds were logical. Even the hot chocolate had been logical, if one took into account that humans were comforted by simple and nonsensical things.
As long as Spock could justify the things he did for Kirk, he need not concern himself over behaving irrationally as a result of their friendship. As soon as Kirk sought to define that friendship, however, Spock would have to face the illogic of it. He himself would behave illogically—either with Kirk or against him.
It would end badly.
“I must meditate,” Spock said finally.
For eighteen seconds, Kirk said nothing. Then, quietly, “Okay, Spock.”
Spock flicked his gaze up at the quiet defeat in Kirk’s voice. He wanted to apologize, but to do so without an explanation for his actions seemed unjust. And yet, an explanation without saying the very things he had resolved not to say seemed impossible. “Are you still experiencing cold?” he said instead.
“I’m fine.” The captain’s voice was still quiet, but this time also final.
Spock lingered another five seconds.
“Goodnight,” said Kirk.
“Goodnight, Captain,” said Spock. The doors opened and he went out once more.
Spock did not return to his quarters. Instead he went to the communications center where Uhura’s team had been attempting to decipher the transmissions box from the satellite. Although the team had treated the box as a priority, neither Kirk, Spock, nor Uhura had assigned a beta or gamma shift to its translation. Spock had been considering the satellite as a part of their mission to the Epsilon Tauri system, but not as a piece of the puzzle of Kirk’s condition. The captain’s word about signals, however, had stirred his curiosity.
“You’re up late,” Uhura said, when the doors to the communication center opened.
Spock paused in the doorway. “I did not know anyone else would be here.”
“I wanted to work on this protocol.” Uhura turned back to her terminal. Spock hesitated in the doorway, but Uhura went on, “Captain Kirk mentioned something about the satellite signal and the nano robots you found.”
“Nanomachines.” Spock took a step forward. The doors closed behind him.
“Do you think they’re connected?” Uhura said without turning around.
“I am not aware of any connection.”
“Then why are you here in the middle of the night?”
Spock walked to another terminal and turned it on. “I will retrieve the current data on the machines,” he told Uhura. “Their structure and organization can perhaps provide some insight as to the language you are attempting to decipher.”
For the next three hours, Spock and Uhura worked independently at their terminals, Spock using the data from the transmission box and Uhura using the data from the nanomachines to assess their individual projects. Working through the linguistic and programming functions Uhura had put together was in some ways like meditation—it provided focus, an ordered progression of thought. Giving attention to the work made pushing the mind meld with Kirk to the back of his mind easier for Spock, and yet he was unable to forget it.
In the fourth hour, Uhura made a breakthrough. “It’s a weather satellite,” she said, breaking the silence and Spock’s concentration.
“Explain your logic,” said Spock.
Uhura gestured at the screen. “The satellite had a thermal scanner. Most satellites do; we thought it was for internal temperature regulation. We just assumed that the camera was the payload, that it was just an imaging satellite.”
“You’re positing that the camera was for cloud observation.”
“Right.” Uhura pressed a button at her terminal and gestured to her monitor again. “These algorithms here were obviously motor control, and these were obviously some form of telemetry, although we couldn’t decipher it. But these over here made no sense—not for an imagining satellite.”
Spock came to look over her shoulder. “It’s a computer weather model,” he observed, after having scanned the algorithms Uhura indicated.
“Yes,” said Uhura. “It was calculating weather predictions and transmitting them back to the surface. That’s all that brought us here—a weather broadcast.”
“What was receiving the broadcast?”
“A weather station, I assume? I don’t know. The nanobots suggest the Frost Giant civilization was fairly advanced—maybe they had subspace bands; I’m not sure.”
Spock returned to his station. He had already hypothesized that the nanomachines were responsible for the signal in Kirk’s brain, but it had not occurred to him until Kirk had mentioned it that they were capable of receiving signals. “I have another hypothesis,” he told Uhura.
Spock sent a communication to the gas lab, where a gamma shift of scientists was monitoring the simulations Spock had designed and running experiments of their own. Uhura awakened her own communications team, who worked with her translations to adjust the signal from the satellite. After about two hours, her team was able to rig the satellite to send a different signal than had been previously transmitted. This one would have communicated to anyone receiving it that the temperature was warm. Once the medication was complete, the nanomachines in the gas lab were exposed to the signal.
Every one of them abruptly changed structure.
“They used the nanobots to report the weather!” Uhura said, sounding surprised and at least ten percent delighted. “You didn’t have to tune in to the subspace band—the air around you would just tell you the weather.”
“Fascinating,” said Spock.
“It certainly seems convenient,” said Uhura.
Spock considered the logistics. “It would not be convenient to receive such a message persistently, especially if the message convinced the brain receiving it that the weather report was accurate when it was not.”
“You mean Captain Kirk,” said Uhura.
“Affirmative. My current hypothesis is that the inhabitants of this planets had cerebral cortexes significantly different than the captain’s.”
“You mean the weather report wouldn’t affect them in the same way.”
“Precisely,” said Spock, going over to the wall. “Spock to Doctor McCoy,” he said, pressing the button.
“Tell me you got something good, Spock,” McCoy said. The hour was only oh-six-hundred, but from the tone of McCoy’s voice, Spock suspected the doctor had been awake as long as he himself had. Whatever the doctor’s faults, he never shirked his duty—particularly when the health of one of his crew was at stake.
Spock pressed the button again. “I have something interesting.”
“Good enough,” said Doctor McCoy. “My place or yours?”
Spock glanced at Uhura. “Uhura’s,” he said. “The communications center.”
When the doctor arrived, Spock and Uhura explained their findings.
“A weather report?” the doctor exclaimed, with typical flamboyance.
“Spock thinks the Frost Giants were anatomically different enough that the subliminal signal would have affected them differently.”
“Sure,” said Doctor McCoy. “That could work. What happens if you just shut her down?” He gestured at the component parts of the satellite’s transmission box, which were currently transmitting the signal to the nanomachines that the weather was warm.
“The machines would automatically disassemble,” said Spock. “They cannot function without the signal.”
“Would it do the same to Jim?” asked McCoy.
Spock shook his head. “The machine that affected the captain has already disintegrated. It changed his neural pathway to communicate to his hypothalamus that it was cold. That communication will continue unless altered.”
“They were meant to be infinite,” Uhura explained. “As soon as the weather changed, you got a new bot; it would tell your body what to do. It didn’t matter if one bot convinced you you were cold when it was going to be cold—if the weather changed around you another bot would come in to tell you it was going to be warm.”
“Couldn’t they just listen to the damn subspace band?” McCoy said.
“If we had a better understanding of the inhabitants’ possible anatomy,” said Spock, “we would better be able to understand how the machines function.”
“You want me to reconstruct a dead species? With what, the mind-controlling robots that probably killed them?”
Uhura shook her head. “We don’t think the nanobots killed the Frost Giants. They most likely died when their star went giant. The bots are just . . . leftovers.”
“I’m a doctor, not a micro-mechanic!”
“The scale is nanometerical, not micrometrical,” said Spock.
McCoy made a loud sound, then proceeded to begin backwards brainwave reconstruction of the extinct species.
At ten-thirty ship’s time, McCoy was called back to sickbay.
“I’m busy, dammit,” McCoy told the wall comm. “Get M’Benga.”
“It’s the Captain,” said Nurse Chapel.
McCoy stopped what he was doing. “On my way.”
Spock was out of the doors before McCoy had stood up from his terminal.
In sickbay, Nurse Chapel had helped the captain onto a biobed. When Spock arrived, McCoy at his heels, she left to help their other patients while McCoy quickly reviewed the captain’s read-outs.
On the biobed Kirk was shivering violently. “It feels—a little—worse,” Kirk managed to say between chattering teeth.
“Jesus, Jim.” McCoy’s eyes were wide as he examined the readings. “Your body temperature’s actually dropping.”
“I thought it was—just—in my—mind,” said Kirk.
“The mind has a surprising amount of control over the body. Focus, Jim. Think warm thoughts.”
“Doesn’t make sense,” McCoy muttered, scanning through the readings. “Why would it be getting worse?”
“I have a hypothesis.” Spock looked from the readings down to Kirk. “Lieutenant Uhura spoke of infinite replenishment of the nanomachines. If the captain was meant to receive a new report, it is possible that the modifications the machines make are only sustainable if they are constantly changing.”
McCoy frowned. “You mean if he doesn’t get a new report, this will go on forever.”
“R-report?” stuttered Kirk.
Quickly, Spock explained their recent discoveries—Uhura’s translation of the satellite equipment to discover its function, Spock’s hypothesis that the nanomachines were the method of weather broadcast. McCoy explained that the inhabitants of Epsilon Tauri Four had probably reacted differently to the nanomachines’ modification of their synaptic pathways.
“You—had a—party—in communications—without me?” was all Kirk said.
Had he been in good health, the question would have been accompanied by a teasing smile. As it was, Kirk still attempted the expression, but his obvious cold turned the smile into a rictus.
“Christ,” McCoy said again. “Spock, do something.”
Spock put his hand on the captain’s face.
“You—don’t have to,” Kirk said.
Spock stood, moving around the biobed so that he stood at the head of it. He put his other hand on the other side of Kirk’s face. “My mind to your mind,” Spock said. “My thoughts to your thoughts.”
The link opened, and cold gusted in immediately from Kirk’s mind—swirls of snowy thought. That barren mountain peak, the wind howling around it. Frozen, icy plains, cold so sharp the breathing felt like slashes to the throat.
A weather report should not have been this violent, Spock thought.
tell me about it, thought Kirk’s mind, the thought pushed out forcefully through the link, separate from the swirling chaos of blustering wind.
Spock had not prepared a memory for the occasion. He had not centered his thoughts. The need had been too great.
sorry, respect you, don’t want to intrude, interfere, respect, I know your privacy, respect, sorry, I’ll do whatever you want, responded Kirk’s thoughts.
I never meant to mess things up with you
if I could take back what happened on Vulcan I would
Spock opened his mind wide, and thought of every warm thing he could: every warm scene, memory, thought, every scenario or circumstance without self-censorship, without withholding anything.
A hot day in a Vulcan desert with only his sehlat for company.
Talking to Jim, another holiday party—Jim had clasped his arm.
A furnace in Spock’s imagination, burning with his father before it.
Adhara Six, a hot, muggy planet full of bogs and mire.
Sitting in the Vulcan sand, six years old, I am in control of my emotions, I am in control of my emotions
Spock informing Jim that Vulcan tongues were rougher than human ones. Are they?
A cave in Spock’s imagination. He has to huddle close to Jim for warmth. Jim is as hot and soft as any blanket.
Alrai Two, another desert planet. Two suns—a red dwarf and an orange subgiant.
Outdoor exercises at his primary school on Vulcan. The other children had remarked disparagingly upon the dampness at his back, where his only sweat glands were.
Jim smiling at Spock as they watched a star form in the midst of its protoplanetary disk.
Stone heated by phasers, a mission gone wrong.
A roaring fire on a cold Vulcan night—the midwinter celebration.
Chili peppers in San Francisco.
Jim in 1930 in New York City. Their “flop” had often seemed too cold, except when he was in it.
Counting grains of sand in the yard on Vulcan, a meditation exercise. Spock couldn’t seem to concentrate.
I think you’re a great instrument, Jim had said, and Spock’s blood had burned.
An ancient sundial on Vulcan. A shadow upon it.
Jim’s voice in Spock’s ear, his breath searing on Spock’s skin.
A battle on parched sands.
The Vulcan arena.
The broken stones.
Spock could not control it. He remembered the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, Kirk’s pulse, rabbit fast, Spock’s own boiling blood. He had hated himself then for his loss of control—for fighting the captain, who was his friend. He had hated T’Pring, for choosing Kirk as her champion. Most of all, Spock had hated Kirk; with any other champion, he might have been able to retain some measure of rationality, but not with him.
Not with him, he had begged T’Pau.
Spock would have fought anyone, so deep had he been in the blood fever, but even then he had been all too aware of his feelings for Jim. Indeed, his feelings for Jim had been why Spock had sought to deny this. He had never wanted pon farr, but he had wanted it even less after he had begun to truly know Jim—knowing that he would be mated to T’Pring. Knowing that even without that sacred bond, he could never be mated to the captain. The human body would never be able to withstand the rigors of pon farr, and even if it could, the captain deserved someone who would at least be able to admit his own feelings—
yes it can
The thought was not Spock’s.
yes it can, came the thought again.
What? queried Spock.
withstand the rigors of pon farr, came the thought. the human body, yes it can
how would you know? Spock thought back savagely.
your mother responded Kirk. Besides, you did kill me, Kirk went on, more coherently than ever before, and I survived that.
Spock did kill him.
He’d killed him.
And Spock remembered that—his body over Jim. His legs between Jim’s. His hands around Jim’s throat, his hips against Jim’s hips, feeling Jim’s life under his very fingers—
come on, thought Jim.
The subsequent thought was not in words but images, ideas, a feeling: the image of hips rolling. The low, hot snap of desire, a flame of want—Jim moving against him.
Jim, Spock thought.
Jim sent another image: hands on a back—brief, pornographic. With it, Spock could feel the heat of skin on his, the innocent sensation of fingers on his spine, the not-so-innocent sensation of a hard body under his. Spock’s own corresponding desire, the need to touch—
The thought of his thigh pressed against Jim’s, the feeling of Jim’s throat under his fingers.
come on and do it, Jim thought.
The thought of lips—incoherent, slightly messy. Spock had never kissed like this before; he wasn’t sure—
But Jim’s thoughts completed his and Spock felt the idea of Jim’s mouth—hot, wet, moving against his. Jim rubbing his thigh slowly against Spock’s. Jim’s hand moving lower—
it’s okay, thought Jim.
Spock was torn between the wild heat of it and what had actually happened that day. I killed you, he thought.
it’s okay, Jim thought again. He thought of Spock’s temple, his cheek, his brow—points of heat in each of those places and the thought of lips. Jim was thinking of every place he wanted to kiss him.
I killed you, Spock thought again.
I know what you did, I know what you wanted, thought Jim. He rubbed his thigh against Spock’s again.
Spock hesitated, then slowly—with rather more care than he had heretofore exercised in this particular mind meld—thought about what he would have liked to have done.
He would have liked to grip the edge of Jim’s shirt—something he had always wanted, perhaps, but had never even considered until the edge of blood fever burned in his brain. He would have liked to have slid his fingers underneath, just touching the flesh of Jim’s abdomen—
Jim’s mind responded: the thought of an arching back, a thread of pleasure, white heat and something else low that felt filthy, like dirt or disaster or despair, and yet there was something good about it, something thick with want—
Yes, that’s good, it’s a good feeling, Jim thought.
Spock thought about flattening his hand over Jim’s abdomen and applying his tongue to Jim’s throat.
Pleasure flared up through the link even hotter than before, a flame trembling for a moment before steadying, then burning bright and hot but still low, like a candle in a pool of liquid wax. So low and twisted somehow, tangled with want and need and raw dark things that howled in the night—
still good, Jim thought, the idea ragged with heat. so good Spock you have no idea. It’s so good, please, please touch me
Spock thought about his hand slithering down between them. Down where their hips met, and Jim lay prone in the Vulcan sand.
this is the hottest I’ve been in my entire life, thought Jim.
Spock imagined kissing him, his tongue against Jim’s lips and his hand between Jim’s legs and Jim’s hand at the small of Spock’s back, feeling that small amount of sweat.
yes thought Jim.
I’m sorry I killed you, thought Spock.
just stop shutting me out, thought Jim. we’ll call it even
Jim, thought Spock, still imagining his hands on Jim’s body, the heat of the Vulcan sun bearing down on them.
A cold gust of wind blew over the sand.
“Spock,” said a voice.
don’t leave me, Jim thought desperately.
I won’t, thought Spock.
Snow began to fall.
don’t run away Jim’s thoughts were like wounds, open and full of worlds of hurt that had not been apparent until now—hurt that went deeper than the cold, heavier than the cold, so much more essential to Jim’s being. There were cracks inside of him he never let anyone see.
I won’t, thought Spock.
The sand turned to ice.
“Spock,” the voice said again.
I can’t stand losing you, thought Jim. The longing in the thought was almost sweet—so bright, almost hopeful, yet painful to consider. I feel like I lose myself
You won’t, thought Spock.
“Spock,” said Doctor McCoy. “Snap out of it. We got the cure.”
Spock broke the link. “Quickly,” said Spock. “He’s fading.”
“What the hell kind of mind meld was that?” asked the doctor.
“Now, Doctor,” Spock snapped.
“It’s already done.” Doctor McCoy held up a hypospray.
“What is it?” asked Spock.
“Well, once you know how a Frost Giant’s brain works, it was quite simple, really.”
Spock forced himself to move away from the captain so that he could examine the biobed readings.
“Temperature returning to normal,” said Doctor McCoy.
Spock examined the readings, scrolling back only to learn that he and Kirk had been engaged in the meld for over an hour. A safe meld usually did not exceed fifteen minutes. During the first fifteen minutes they had been linked, Kirk’s temperature had dropped almost fatally low, but after that it had slowly climbed, eventually plateauing. The plateau was not optimal temperature for a human, but out of the danger zone. The captain’s body temperature had remained there for most of the meld, only beginning to sink again toward the end.
Now it was steadily on the rise, almost back to a healthy human temperature.
“Did his temperature induce a coma?” Spock asked at last.
“You’re worried it was the mind meld,” said McCoy.
Looking at the captain, Spock did not answer. Kirk was pale, but slowly regaining color even as Spock watched. He was lying prone, but gradually his breathing changed—quickening, steadying. His eyes flickered under his lids.
“He’s sleeping,” said Doctor McCoy, unnecessarily. “That was quite an ordeal.”
Spock turned to him. “You reconstructed the cerebral cortex of the former inhabitants of Epsilon Tauri Four?”
“Something like that,” said Doctor McCoy. “Lieutenant Uhura helped. The trick was to feed him another of those little robots to report the weather subsequent to change depending on neural stimuli.”
“You programmed a nanomachine to reconfigure the synaptic channel such that it accepted sensory input.”
“Yep. Hopefully the wind is telling him, ‘hey! Listen to what your body tells you!’”
“Hey, a simple ‘thank you’ would work.”
Spock glanced again at the biobed read-out. “The captain is out of danger.”
“So what exactly did you put in that mind meld?” said Doctor McCoy. “Molten lava?”
Spock raised a brow. “I trust you have now been made aware that Vulcans are both endo- and homeothermic.”
McCoy rolled his eyes. “Homeothermic.”
Spock raised his other brow.
“Get out of here,” McCoy muttered. “I have a patient.”
Spock glanced back at Kirk. “Thank you for your assistance, Doctor.”
“Hey!” McCoy shouted, as Spock exited sickbay. “I did all the work.”
At sixteen hundred Kirk returned to the bridge. His posture was as erect as usual, but not stiff, and his normal color had returned. Kirk had always seemed to be gold all over.
When Spock advanced to hand him the duty roster, he noted that the hair on the back of the captain’s hand was lying flat, as it should. The captain’s smile exercised all the requisite muscles of his face more fully than it had for several days at least.
That particular smile would have been a thought Spock would have transmitted through a meld if he was still trying to communicate heat.
Dropping his gaze, Spock returned to his station.
The captain’s good humor, however, did not appear to dissipate. Sulu ventured a comment about the Norse gods’ preoccupation with weather—one of their central deities had been the god of thunder, after all.
“Was that Thor?” asked Kirk.
“I believe so,” said Sulu.
“But who reported the weather, Lieutenant Sulu? That’s what I really want to know.”
“I have no idea,” said Sulu.
“Scratch that,” said Kirk. “Who was the god of fire?”
“I think it was Loki,” said Sulu.
“Did he ever visit Jotunheim?” said Uhura.
“Oh, I think he did.”
Spock could hear the smile in Kirk’s voice.
Before the end of the shift, Spock accessed the atmospheric controls. They had not been adjusted or accessed by anyone but him for the duration of the shift.
That night, four minutes after nineteen hundred, the tone rang at Spock’s door.
Spock had been meditating. There was no need to visit Kirk’s quarters that night, no need to perform a mind meld. His thoughts still required order, but he had not experienced the desperate need to achieve trance by a given deadline in order to be of use to the captain.
But Spock had expected the tone at the door, and he had not yet had enough time. His thoughts were not as calm as he wanted them to be. Rising and going to the door, Spock pressed the button to open it.
“Is this an inconvenient time?”
Kirk’s question was polite, the tone slightly airy. The captain could hide nothing from Spock, however, for Spock could hear the strained thread of hope in it.
I feel like I lose myself, Jim had thought.
“Enter,” said Spock, his voice rougher than he meant to make it.
Solemnly, Kirk stepped inside. The doors shut behind him. Kirk looked around for a moment, as though cataloguing possible change. He had not entered this room since he had told Spock he would get him to Vulcan.
The atmospheric controls sensed Kirk’s presence and brought down the temperature of the room three degrees Celsius.
Kirk looked back at Spock. “How are you?”
Spock locked his hands behind his back. “I should be asking you that question.”
“I don’t really care who’s supposed to ask,” said Kirk. “How are you?”
Spock looked away. “My mental barriers are frayed.”
“You want to meditate.”
The disappointment in Kirk’s voice was so low and visceral that it made Spock physically ache. “Jim. No.”
Spock lifted his eyes. “I wish to talk about what happened on Vulcan.”
Kirk’s smile was warmer than the heat of Epsilon Tauri.