We materialize and Bones is already there waiting for us, shoving me hard out of the way to get to the figure lying prone on the transporter platform. They crowd around him, rolling him gently onto his back. Shouting back and forth across him, Bones snapping testily at anyone moving too slow, at those not anticipating his every need. Now at a seriously bugging-out Captain who is asking him to report, silencing me with a brief but eloquent glare.
I watch over the backs of Bones' staff as he tugs the tricorder strap out of the way to administer a hypospray, checking vitals again. He leans over and closes his mouth over the nose and mouth of the figure lying passively between his knees and blows hard, a quick shot of air, again now, harshly demanding that one of his techs provides a verbal breakdown of vitals. All I can do is watch and wait, it's totally out of my control and even the doctor seems to be running out of options as they try to revive the body beneath them. Nothing's working. Nothing. Bones straddles the body in front of him, grabs fistfuls of the uniform shirt, shaking the man like a dog with a piece of rope.
“Come on, Spock! I know it's still you in there. Breathe, dammit.”
He lets go of the shirt with one hand and slaps the man across the face hard,
“Take a breath, there's nothing stopping you. You hear me, you stubborn sonofabitch? You are going to breathe. Wake up!”
Another hard slap, I can't help but wince. Another hypospray, another and, there, the man's eyelids flutter and he coughs once, twice. Gasps for breath, again, and the tech confirms that he's stabilizing. They start to move him, and I follow, barely noticing that I'm still clutching a part of what did this to him. What I did to him.
“I am not able to ascertain its designated purpose but the data I'm receiving suggest that the artefacts are technological in nature, on a microscopic level.”
“Can you hazard a guess?”
The minutest pause before he answers, “The tricorder has not yet accumulated sufficient data -”
and I cut him off, “Relax, Spock, I was just screwing with you. But you almost had it figured out that time, right?”
“Haven't you listened to a single goddamn word I've said? His entire genetic code has been completely rewritten! Even if it is Spock, it's not our Spock. The only way we can be completely sure that he, whoever the hell he is, has any connection to Spock will be when he's ready to tell us.”
“And that will be when?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Thanks, Bones. Helpful as ever.”
“I'm sorry, I must've been out sick the day they handed out crystal balls.”
We both look down at Spock lying on the biobed in front of us, cradled in the stillness of sedation and a low-level security field. It's every bit as unsettling as it was the first time I saw him, this un-Spock. He's human, utterly human and it makes him look strangely vulnerable even though his body's still the same tautly-muscular frame it always was. But the differences are startling, his skin a pale pink as if it's never seen the sun. Dark hair like Spock's and in the same style, but with a hint of brown now and with none of that shine or smoothness. This is human hair, ruffled and coarse, disordered. His ears are just regular human ears like mine and it's the oddest sensation looking at the one turned our way, my brain struggling to fill in the missing point.
But the biggest change is in the eyebrows, which are heavy and thick, none of that abrupt flick upward, all the elegance gone. They seem to dominate his face, almost shocking in the way they sit there, brutish in comparison with those they've replaced. The other features, the nose, the high cheekbones, the mouth all make him recognizably Spock but, still, it's not Spock, not in the slightest. This face is a crude replication, a study a student might complete in trying to copy a masterpiece.
“Any news from Engineering? You'll make me a happy man if you tell me we can just beam him on down there and reverse this.”
“No, nothing so far. Scotty's tried reconstructing it all, tried every power source they could come up with. I think he's running out of ideas. We need Spock on this one. I need him awake, Bones.”
“I know my job would get a lot simpler if I had a spare Vulcan around to try a mind meld and tell me what's going on in that head of his. Lord only knows what's running through his mind right now, his hypothalamus keeps lighting up like the fourth of July. I'm keeping him sedated until I can dig a bit deeper.”
“But you'll let me know the moment he's conscious?”
“No, Jim, I was planning to just let you go hang, just for the hell of it. Will you go get some sleep? You're of no use to anyone until you do and you're beginning to piss me off. Take this, it'll knock you out for a few hours, give us all a break.”
I shake my head, “I'll try it the natural way. Thanks, Bones. Keep him safe.”
“Jim - nobody blames you. Accidents happen, Starfleet wouldn't give me this pretty blue shirt if they didn't.”
I shake my head. “Not on my watch, not to my crew. Not to him. I'll check in later.”
“And get some sleep before you start hallucinating!”
“It looks old.” My thumb finds a smooth nub almost hidden within the whorls of raised metalworking. I hardly even trace over it before I detect a barely perceptible huff of interest from my first officer. It's practically an excitable yelp on the Vulcan scale of spontaneous expression.
“Intriguing. Captain, a local power source appears to have been activated.”
I luck out, Bones is off duty so I don't have to dodge his hovering hypospray or undoubtedly belligerent opinion on how poorly I'm looking after myself at the moment. He'd be correct, my body's running on low level panic more than anything else but I can't make myself relax, not while Spock's here like this. I nod at the nurse, make my way over to his bed, get the surprise of my life when his eyes pop open and he turns his head to look in my direction.
His face contorts as if he's in pain, his back arching off the bed as he reaches out and clutches at my arm. His mouth opens with a croak and now he's babbling, it's nonsensical and I cover his hand on my arm with mine, lean across him to hold both of his arms.
“Spock, it's me. It's Jim. Do you recognize me? Spock?”
His head begins to thrash back and forth, his fingers tightening on my arm almost painfully, the displays above the biobed going nuts with all sorts of urgent-sounding beeping and chiming and flashing red lights. I can hear the nurse hailing McCoy from her station before she strides in to give me a seriously dirty look and administer a shot to Spock, which calms him in an instant, the frantic, thrashing body relaxing back to the bed. I make myself scarce before Bones gets anywhere near, dimly aware in the back of my mind that I'm now probably persona non grata in two of my own ship's departments, which is pretty nice going.
“Spock! Get out of there!”
His eyes open wide and he reaches out to me -
I wake in a cold sweat, heart pounding against my rib cage. Check the time, it's been under an hour and, for the third night in a row, I shove myself out of bed, knowing that it's no use. I'm not going to get any sleep while I have that replaying in my mind over and over again, nothing's going to help until I can start to unravel this mess. I check in with Bones who has nothing to give me other than a few pithy phrases over my lack of sleep, threatening to hunt me down with a tranquillizer if I don't sack out for the rest of the night. I cut him short, make to call on Scotty instead but think better of it. Get dressed, make my way to engineering myself. There's got to be something we're all missing. There has to be.
Purse my lips. Try again for the fifth time.
“Spock, this is the Captain.” I drum my fingers on the arm of my chair. “I give up. This is ridiculous.” I get to my feet. “Spock's still in his room?”
He's not answering his door chime either so I order a security override, murmur Mohammed, get ready to meet the mountain under my breath. There's a furnace blast of hot air as the door opens and I step inside the darkened room, immediately aware of my forehead prickling with sweat.
“Spock? Can we turn down the heat? It's hotter than a Taurasian jiggy bar in here.” I pluck at my uniform where it's already beginning to cling to me, scanning the room for him but I'm distracted by the, well, chaos is the only word for it. Furniture upended, fabric torn from the walls to join the fragments of broken artefacts and Vulcan objets d'art littering the floor. I pick my way through his quarters, stepping over food trays that appear to have been carelessly thrown down to join piles of discarded clothing. I finally discover him shivering in his bed, curled up on his side in the foetal position, covered to the tip of his nose in several blankets.
“Spock? Why haven't you been answering your hails?” The only answer I get is a slight movement, his body further tightening in on itself. “I need you to report on your condition, Bones already told me all everything he can. I know you're awake, come on. Sit up.”
I start to pull the blankets back a little and he clutches at them, eyes open now, those heavy eyebrows drawn together in consternation.
“Captain, give me – one moment.”
He slowly begins to uncurl, tucking the blankets around himself tightly. I help him swing his legs over the edge of the bed into a sitting position and the shock of it hits me once more that this is not Spock, can't possibly be Spock as his shoulders are slumped, none of that upright bearing or ramrod spine. His hair is sticking up in all different directions, his beard growing in dark against that unnervingly pink skin. This Spock is hunched over, shivering violently, eyes red-rimmed and dull, barely looking in my direction.
“You're still feeling the cold?”
“I am . . . unsure.”
“What does that mean?”
He tugs the blankets even closer around himself, takes a moment before answering.
“The sensation is familiar, one that I would describe as experiencing 'coldness', but raising the ambient temperature or employing the use of these,” he indicates the covers with a twitch of his shoulders, “does not provide the desired effect.”
“And what does the good doctor say?”
“That my body temperature is within normal parameters for an adult Human male.”
“Well, that's good. Isn't it?”
His face crumples slightly, a twist of his lips. “I remain . . . uncomfortable. Dr. McCoy is adamant that there is nothing physically at fault with me except exhaustion. I am currently at a loss to know . . . what to . . . do.“
His voice trails off and a shudder runs through him, his eyes closing tightly. When he next speaks I have to lean forward to catch it all, muttered as it is under his breath, eyes still closed, his body turning away from mine.
“It is not the cold. It is the – I find myself unable to -”
“Come on, Spock. Out with it. You can tell me.” A deep breath, as if in preparation, a pause as he collects himself with effort.
“It must have occurred to you, Captain, what effect the turmoil of Human emotions would have on a Vulcan mind. Because my mind remains as it was, Vulcan, searching for a return to the c-control I once had. To logic.” He opens his eyes and I nod to confirm that, yes, I'd thought about it.
“But you've experienced emotion before. We're both well aware of that.”
But he's looking somewhere over my shoulder and a tear spills down one cheek. He ignores it, dismisses my point with a frustrated shake of his head.
“These Human thoughts, these feelings, they are intolerable. They are anathema.” He breathes slowly, deliberately, trying to calm himself but it's clearly not working.
“I cannot stop attempting to – wanting – I cannot stop . . .”
He shakes his head, wipes shaky fingertips across his cheekbone to brush away another stray tear. There's a tension in him now, a simmering anger in his voice that perhaps explains the chaotic mess all around us.
“I am unable to control my baser urges, Captain. I am unable to meditate and find myself consumed by momentary rage, disgust with myself, with this new body. It seems so extraordinarily pungent” with a curl of his lip, “I am unable to cleanse myself to a satisfactory standard. As a Vulcan my state of cleanliness was of no primary concern – If I was unclean, I bathed. It was simple. But nothing in you, in these bodies, can be simple. It is as if I am under a constant onslaught of the senses.”
“You are. We all are. Even Vulcans are.”
“Vulcans do not respond emotionally to physiological stimuli. This body, this,” He taps his head frustratedly with one finger, “Human brain, assigns emotional responses to every activity, every bodily function. I cannot escape from it, much as I have tried. I am unable to achieve any measure of peace. I am unable to function as I once did, as I have over the span of my life to date. All I can do, it seems, is feel, and evidently to try to express those feelings: I am spouting inanities at you now and it is as if am unable to stop. It is,” he bears his teeth, almost growls it, “the purest torture.”
“Well, sure, it's not your customary reticence but, Spock, you've been traumatized. It's healthy to get it out. You're familiar with the concept of Catharsis, right? You never know, it might help.”
But he's shaking his head again,
“No, all I desire is the ability to control this new self for long enough to investigate the incident and the Aurigian technology, and to reverse its effect. But, given that I am unable to control myself long enough to even clothe myself without submitting to uncontrollable fits of rage, I fear I will be of little use in terms of discovering a means of re-transmigration.”
I sit down next to him on the bed. “We're on it, you have to trust that. We'll leave no stone unturned to get you back to the old Spock we all know and. . . respect. You must give yourself more time. We have an entire childhood to get used how our bodies function but you're having to go through it instantly, without any preparation. That'd be tough on the best of us. Look at it this way, you're at least through the infant stage. Judging from the state of your quarters, you've got to be getting close to teenagerdom.”
He doesn't answer and it seems like he's focussing on the tips of his fingers, steepled shakily in front of him. I watch him for a moment, his whole body quivering as he fights for control over his mind. I get a sudden brain wave, an idea I'm sure Bones won't approve of but I think it's one of my better ones. I jump off the bed, clap my hands together, which makes him start.
“Come on. We've got to get you out of here and out of that head of yours for awhile. Get up, we're leaving.”
“Captain, I am unsure as to whether or not I am ready to interact with the ship's crew. I would not be able to predict my responses to them.” He looks around at his torn drapes, the destruction of his personal belongings. “I am concerned for myself, and others.”
“It's okay to be nervous, Spock.”
He looks almost horrified.
“I am merely attempting to assess a potential hazard and bring it to your attention.”
“Fine, fine, you're not nervous. We'll deal with whatever if and when it arises. Now, shall we?”
He looks down at his blankets in obvious dismay. It's almost childlike.
“I am inadequately clothed if I am to leave my quarters.”
That and a quick glance at one long thigh uncovered to his hip confirm that he's either naked or as good as beneath the blankets he's so been wrapping around himself since I've been in his room. I drop into reverse, almost tripping over the broken remains of the vessel that used to hold the acrid Vulcan incense he seemed to favor.
“Oh, sure, okay, I'll let you get dressed. I'll start to pick up a little out here.”
“Captain, I am unsure – I require your advice. What should I wear? I cannot wear my uniform while I remain off active duty and my Vulcan garments seem . . . inappropriate in these circumstances.” He sounds torn, desperate. I finally understand his dilemma, why the simple act of dressing might send him into a half-naked huddle.
“It's okay, Spock, you sit there and try to, I don't know, relax. I'll find something that'll do. After that we're getting out of here, you need a change of scenery.”
I pick up a little as I wait, not wanting to disturb the remains of his more personal items but I'm happy to recycle the food trays. I turn the heat in the room down a few clicks while I'm at it after noticing both my shirt and undershirt are pretty much drenched with sweat. Maybe he's right about us being pungent. I replicate replacements and am halfway through a long glass of water when he returns, hair brushed neatly forward in his customary style, although his human hair is refusing to co-operate and is beginning to flick upwards at the crown. More control lost, I wonder how much just that one insignificant detail cost him or how long he spent trying to get it to stay put.
“I believe that I am ready, Captain.”
“Jim. I'm off-duty as of five minutes ago.”
He inclines his head,
“Jim. You made a comparison between my current situation and childhood. I hope that you do not feel that you must spend your personal time 'baby sitting' me.”
I laugh, clap him on the back.
“Wouldn't miss this for the world, buddy. Let's go.”
He quirks an eyebrow at the touch, at the endearment and it's no doubt supposed to be imbued as usual with a touch of sarcastic condescension, but with that spare, elegant brush-stroke replaced with this bushy and all too human equivalent, it's just not the same, like trying to write calligraphy with a yard brush. My heart breaks for him a little, Spock's eyebrows were his own personal semaphore.
He hesitates almost imperceptibly at the door before stepping through it, walking perhaps a touch closer to me than he would usually but otherwise, he's managed to somehow regain a modicum of the old Spock. That tightly-controlled posture, eyes focussed ahead, hands tucked neatly into the small of his back.
“You don't want to know where we're going?”
“I admit to some curiosity, but I am confident it will soon become clear. The possibilities are, after all, finite.”
“You know, you still sound like a Vulcan.”
“It is a matter that I have found surprising, Captain.”
“Jim. I appear to have retained many personal attributes . . . forgive me, it remains difficult for me to order my thoughts verbally. I have not been able to identify any obvious gaps in my knowledge or abilities, beyond the necessity of familiarizing myself with the workings of the new body and its functional capacity. Doctor McCoy had me complete various final year Academy tests while I was still in sickbay and my scores were of a similar standard to those of my original results. Much of what I was, who I was remains unchanged. It is, simply put, astonishing.”
“You didn't think a human brain could possibly retain the sum of your knowledge? You really don't think much of us, do you?”
“Perhaps Vulcans and Humans are not so dissimilar. You were already half-Human.”
“A fact of which I am aware, and for which I am grateful. If the impact of this has been so,” a slight pause and he tucks his chin into his chest a little, “difficult for me to process, think what the effect would have been had I not been accustomed to having to strive to retain my logic, my control. For one unused to such a struggle . . . I am still at a loss with how best to manage my current circumstances but at least emotion was, to a significantly lesser degree, known to me.”
It's the first time I've heard Spock, the younger Spock at least come close to acknowledging his emotional self since that day he beat the crap out of me, the first time he's been anything like as honest with me on a personal level. His habitual honesty was always startling, at times a little disturbing as I'm just not used to that level of directness. But if you asked him a direct question, especially concerning matters of emotion, he'd verbally scuttle off sideways like a crab, managing to hide behind the shield of his perfect logic and those ever-supercilious eyebrows. He's now unarmed, stripped of his usual protective armour so this is a strange, oddly-intimate exchange and we walk on in silence until we reach the turbolift. I start us off towards sickbay and he frowns as we drawn closer,
“Do we have a specific reason for visiting Sickbay? I do not feel I am in current need of Dr. McCoy's attention. I have spent a substantial amount of time in sickbay over the last eight days and he last visited my quarters eighteen hours ago.”
“You're not visiting him. I am.”
“I didn't think for a moment that you would. He's calmer now,” I nod towards Spock across the room where Nurse Chapel's checking him over, “but I'm not kidding. He's trashed the place, he couldn't even dress himself. You saw it. He needs a break, Bones.”
“Then I'll give him a sedative. Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a barkeep. You don't think Spock's been through enough recently without pouring a quart of bourbon down his throat on top of it all?”
“I seem to recall that's how you deal best with stress. Just hand it over.”
“Is that an order?”
“If it needs to be.”
“Here, I can only hope you choke on it. Speaking of which, it wouldn't be responsible of me as his doctor to allow him to get inebriated at this stage of his care without medical supervision.”
“Fine. I'll ask Christine to join us.”
“Like snooky, you will. I'll be there in twenty minutes.”
Bones and I crack up, leaning into each other laughing so hard I have tears running out of my eyes and I clutch at my stomach while Scotty grins and refreshes our glasses, and it happens, right then. We all stop, pause to witness the impossible. It begins with a sudden, surprised snort, continues in a low rumble that eventually relaxes into a proper belly laugh. He's laughing so hard now I can see all his back teeth.
Looks like Scotty won the impromptu Make Spock Laugh contest Bones and I started halfway through the bourbon. This is after finagling his way into my quarters with a bottle of 50-year old Islay malt, I swear that man can detect alcohol fumes like a shark with a drop of blood in the middle of an ocean. We all stop laughing, just look at Spock, I think my mouth's hanging open but I'm too drunk to tell anymore. Him laughing, really laughing is perhaps the most bizarre thing I've ever seen and I work in outer space, I've seen some pretty weird shit in my time. He even repeats a line to himself sotto voce,
Snorts again, wipes over his face with a hand and raises his glass of malt to Scotty in toast.
“Congratulations, Mr. Scott. An engineering joke, no less. To the victor the spoils.”
They clink glasses, drink.
“And a toast to the Captain; you were correct, Jim. This,” he waves his hands around vaguely, slopping his drink, eyes slightly crossed, “is pleasing. I am finding the sensation of, how did you put it, being drunk out of my mind very tollel – tollro – agreeable.”
“Then you admit it?”
He tries to focus on me, squinting slightly, I can see it's a struggle.
“That humor is not curious, or fascinating, or intriguing, or any of those other snotty things you used to say about it. That humor is potentially,” I have to gesticulate with a finger at this point, the emphasis of which is perhaps slightly ruined by me spilling half my drink down my shirt, “one of the most important things. In the entire universe. All of it.”
“S'true.” Bones nodding sagely, hugging the bourbon bottle to his chest. “Imma doctor, I know, stuff. Very important. For health.”
Scotty starts laughing and Bones smacks his arm with the back of his hand, joins in himself with what can only be described as a chortle, which only serves to make Scotty laugh harder. Spock's shaking his head, about to disagree with me but Scotty jumps in,
“No, wait, Spock, wait a sec. I've got another one. Thissun'll have you wetting yourselves. A wee Glasgae woman goes into a butcher shop. The butcher has just came oot the freezer and is standing hands behind his back, his rear end aimed at an electric fire. The wee woman checks oot the display case then asks, 'Is that your Ayrshire bacon?'”
He waits to deliver the punchline with a grin,
“'Naw,' replies the butcher. 'It's jest ma hands'!”
I howl with laughter, collapsing against Bones again who has lost it, spluttering into his drink. It takes Spock a little longer to parse it but then he's laughing again, almost hiccuping with it, puts his face in his hands, shoulders shaking, Scotty beaming and red in the face.
It takes a few minutes for us to settle, I must be further gone than I'd noticed as it takes Scotty nudging my knee and pointing to Spock for me to realize something's up. He's still shielding his face with his hands but something's changed, his body hunched in on itself in a similar manner to how he'd been at first, since the change. We've obviously pushed him too hard and my heart sinks. Fuck. He was doing so well. I shift away from Bones, run my hand up Spock's back for a second before it's shrugged off with an agitated twitch.
“Hey. You okay?” He shakes his head, scrubs at his face with his hands. “Spock? What's the matter?”
His hands drop away and I see that he's not weeping or whatever else I may have imagined. He's angry, practically spitting with it, his body quivering.
“I am – I find this – this is insupportable. The sensation of intoxication had been quite pleasant but now I am - furious. I wish to, I want to strike something. Or someone. Repeatedly.”
We all shrink back a little, Scotty clearing his throat.
“Aye, the grain'll do that. Time to get someone to bed, lads.”
He doesn't complain, working his jaw but still almost meekly allowing Scotty and I to haul him up, swaying slightly where we're supporting him under the armpits while Bones goes on ahead to open his door. We wrestle him into bed, his eyes already closed, that weird hybrid face relaxing into sleep before Bones and Scotty have made it out the door, no doubt off to finish the rest of the Islay. I take a minute to replicate a glass of water and some crackers to leave next to his bed, something to take the edge off what no doubt's going to be a killer hangover before he can make it down to sickbay in the morning. It makes me wonder if he's even aware what a hangover is. I'm drunkenly considering leaving him a memo, the floor weaving beneath my feet when his hand comes out, clasping my lower arm, his eyes opening and fixing on mine with surprising steadiness.
“Jim. I hope I have not . . .”
I wait for a moment but there's nothing forthcoming,
“I am concerned I may have embarrassed you, and our companions this evening. I am still finding it difficult to control -”
“You didn't embarrass yourself. You just let it all hang out a little, that was the whole point.”
He soundlessly mouths the idiom in a worried fashion before understanding dawns and he smiles faintly.
“I believe I would find it distressing, to embarrass myself. In front of you.”
Then his hand slackens on my arm, his eyes rolling back in his head before they close and he comprehensively passes out. In front of me? Because I'm the Captain? Apparently he failed to notice that I'm almost as wasted as he is. I study his face, searching out the stuff that makes him Spock still, the broad, smooth forehead, that pugnacious nose, his curving upper lip over the cushiony swell of the lower.
The one sober part left in my brain points out that I'm standing over my incapacitated first officer and staring at his mouth. Scotty was right – time for bed. I only bump into two pieces of furniture on the way out and stub my toe hard on my own desk once I've kicked my boots off into random areas of the room. I fall flat face down into bed, which spins beneath me like the first day of anti-grav training for a second before blackness beckons and I join Spock in the bourbon's warm, embracing oblivion.