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* * ** * *Introduction* * *

I've been putting off writing this introduction for quite some time now, partly because I've been busy, but also, I think, because when I'm done with it, I'll truly be done with Demeter. I'm oddly reluctant to reach that stage, to put it to bed, to let it go. However, there comes a time when the most valuable thing for a writer to do is not to tinker more with a completed manuscript, but to submit it, with all its possible faults, to the judgement of readers. So here is Demeter.

At this point, I have to offer an apology to all those people who have been so flatteringly anxious to know when the sequel to Kista will be finished. Demeter is not, strictly speaking, the sequel to Kista, though it is a sequel. It's set on the Enterprise, about seven years after the end of Kista, but Demeter really does stand on its own. There are a few references to Kista in it, but they're mostly self-explanatory. No one needs to have read Kista to understand, and I hope enjoy, Demeter. The most important carried-over plot point, Christine and Spock's marriage, is fairly obvious!

The story of what happened immediately after Kista ended remains to be written, but I'll be working on it very soon. (As a matter of fact, it will be the next thing I write after this introduction.) When I finished Kista, I simply could not concentrate on the immediate sequel. When I tried, I came up blank, so I jumped ahead in time and tackled a question that had been bothering me.

Just how sexist is the Federation? Granted that Star Trek was unusually enlightened for the mid-sixties, there are elements of it which seem offensive in the eighties. And if we accept it as a depiction of the 23rd century, where does that leave us? (Yes, I know, it leaves us blaming NBC and Paramount, but putting that aside...)

Many authors deal with the problem by doing away with it, by simply eliminating the sexism in the show from their Trek writing. This is an excellent solution, and one that I may adopt at some other time. All writers alter and transform the basic Trek universe to some extent, choosing some things to emphasize and others to play down, filtering the characters and the concepts through their own perceptions. This is perfectly legitimate creative license.

But if sexism is still a fact of life several hundred years into our future, then why? And how do the women feel about it? How does it affect them, personally, professionally, politically, socially? I've tried to inject some of those questions into Demeter, without, I hope, stopping the story dead in its tracks. It's been an interesting, occasionally painful, exercise. There were times when I felt like disowning, without exception, the opinions of every single character in this book. (Don't blame me, this is what they said! I just wrote it down.)

One more thing - when I invented nirvana, I had barely even heard of crack, and knew virtually nothing about it. The parallels between the fictional drug and the real drug became more and more apparent as time went on, even down to some of the effects on the brain. I thought when I was writing that the dangers of nirvana were melodramatic fiction. It's sobering that they are so close to reality.

To all of the wonderful people who bought Kista, thank you. I don't know what I would have done with those big heavy boxes if no one had wanted to buy it. Maybe used them for end tables? My special gratitude to everyone who answered my plea for LoCs. Your praise helped enormously during some very difficult stages of working on Demeter, and I was grateful for your well-judged criticisms, too. (Luckily I didn't get any letters from anyone who absolutely hated the book!) I seem to have changed a few people's minds about the possibilities inherent in Christine's character, which is nice.

One person who I absolutely must thank separately is Florence Nygaard, the first person to buy Kista (I was ready to weep with gratitude), and its first booster. I become totally tongue-tied when confronted with a potential reader, so I have stood by blushing at New York cons while Florence enthusiastically told everyone passing, "It's wonderful, buy it!" In many cases, they did. Thank you, Florence.

Thanks also to Devra Langsam, who has taken Kista to cons all over the country, and who passed along the name of her printer for Demeter.

As for my family, what can I say? Without the patience and support of Stephen, Sarah and John, I couldn't write at all. And it takes very great patience for a four-year-old to understand a mommy who says "Later, I'm writing," when he wants her to put the arm back on his He-Man figure. My wonderful husband, Stephen, continues to be as enthusiastic as ever about my writing, in spite of the fact that I moaned and complained even more over Demeter than I did over Kista. He is feeling a little understandable trepidation over how I'll act when I'm writing the next one!

Kista was, at bottom, a love story. Demeter is, if anything, a novel of ideas. What do you think of it? Please let me know. The chance to exchange ideas with others is one of the best things about getting involved in fandom, and I think that as a group, Star Trek fans are the nicest people I have ever met! Live long and prosper.

* * *Chapter 1* * *

"Red alert. Red alert. The ship is on red alert." The voice of the computer spoke steadily, dispassionately, over the whooping of the siren. There is no good time for a red alert. This one sounded at 0213; the middle of the ship's night, a little over two hours into Gamma watch. Three-quarters of the crew of the Enterprise was in bed. The labs were dark, support functions on automatic, recreation areas empty of all but a few confirmed night owls. The bridge, engineering, and sickbay were the only areas fully staffed, and they hadn't been expecting trouble. Not on a milk run back to Starbase XI to pick up supplies and new orders...

* * *

Jim Kirk was awake and reaching for the intercom switch almost before the first whoop of the klaxon had died away. Just as his finger made contact the ship bucked and shuddered, dumping him bodily out of bed onto the floor. He stabbed again at the 'audio only' button, and listened grimly to the report relayed by Uhura from the bridge. "On my way," he said, reaching for his pants as the ship shook again.

* * *

Uhura blessed the redesigned seats which let her tend to communications without having to use one hand to hold on. She'd spent too much of the original five year mission trying to brace herself by winding her legs around the base of her chair. Now she could continue sending messages ship-to-ship while dealing with internal communications with her other hand. As soon as she had shut down the channel to the captain, she received a furious signal from sickbay.

"What the hell's going on up there?"

She knew that McCoy didn't really expect an answer, just some idea of what was coming. "Suggest you prepare for casualties, Doctor," she answered.

She heard a muttered "No shit" in reply as the ship tilted.

"Damage reports coming in from engineering and decks nine and ten," she warned.

* * *

Leonard McCoy shut down the intercom, and swallowed, realizing that his mouth was dry. He hated that damned siren. He knew what it meant to him; they would be getting wounded in sickbay any minute now. He wasn't usually on duty Gamma watch, but there were two newly assigned med-techs on this shift. He'd wanted to ease them into the routine, get to know them... Hell of a way to start, he thought, as the first call came through. "Medics to engi-neering - emergency - coolant poisoning."

"Ozawa, Herija, Thelit," he said to the two Terran men and the graceful Andorian woman. "Get down there." Thelit was one of the new techs. He spared a compassionate thought for her before turning to his remaining staff. "Don't stand there gaping! Get the o.r.s ready for surgery. Check our blood and plasma supplies." With any luck Chris and the rest of the off-duty personnel would be here a few steps ahead of the first casualties.

* * *

Christine Chapel was moving automatically as she pulled on her uniform. Her body had responded reflexively to the alert signal, but her physiological reactions were at least 30 seconds ahead of her mental processes. It had been a rude awakening; the violent lurching of the ship had rolled her straight out of bed onto the floor. Unfortunately it had done the same to her husband, and her first concrete sensation had been of 73 kilos of solid Vulcan landing on her diaphragm. Spock had recovered faster than she had. Well he was on top, she thought ruefully. And when he woke, he did it completely and all at once, not in stages. She gathered her scattered wits. "A storm?" she asked hopefully, not really believing it.

"Negative. The impacts are too definite and spaced out to be natural occurrences. Phaser fire."

"I was afraid of that." The floor of their cabin tilted just as Christine pulled on one of her boots, and she stumbled helplessly across the room to tangle with Spock in the bathroom doorway. When the stabilizers took over to right the ship, she hastily twisted up her hair without bothering to brush it. The hairpins slipped out of her fingers and skittered maddeningly across the floor. Spock picked them up and inserted them firmly as they headed out the door, the alarm still sounding.

A red alert required all stations to be double and triple covered, so the corridors and turbolifts were jammed. Christine shared a down lift for a couple of levels with Scotty, who had fallen asleep over a bottle of scotch and an engineering journal, and knew little more than she did about what was happening. When the lift stopped to let her off at sickbay, three techs with a trolley and portable respirators came crowding on. One of them was Herija, who she'd known for years. The other two were unfamiliar, one of them a waif-like Andorian who didn't even reach her shoulder. "Juan?" she asked, stopping Herija.

"Coolant leak in engineering," he said tersely. "Don't know how bad." Scotty looked horrified. Christine peered down the corridor and made a split-second decision. She could see McCoy in the door, beckoning impatiently. She shook her head and pointed to herself and to the techs. Coolant poisoning was tricky to deal with, and two of the three techs probably had no experience with it. If she wasn't needed, she could come back up. McCoy hesitated for a second, and then nodded, waving her back into the lift.

* * *

Sulu massaged his neck gingerly, and avoided Spock's curious gaze as they stood in the ascending bridge turbolift. He had been working out in the gym when the alert sounded. He was on Beta watch these days, and he usually found that exercise afterward helped him to sleep better. If he kept it up, he might even manage to beat Keiko one of these days. He hadn't believed it when he'd heard that Keiko Ichigawa from Security was the Starfleet Security martial arts championship runner-up. Now, rubbing his aching shoulder, he believed it. He'd been working out with her for three weeks, and she still threw him around the gym with insulting ease, despite being only two-thirds of his size. Tonight she had capped the lesson by tossing him in the pool with all his clothes on just as the alert sounded. Which was why he was leaving a large puddle behind him as he and Spock stepped onto the bridge.

* * *

As the lift doors opened, Spock ceased to concern himself with Sulu's odd condition, and turned his mind to the two small vessels visible on the main viewscreen. Kirk was already in the center seat, and Spock took over the sensors from Lt. Aboudjian, who surrendered them with evident relief. Another burst of fire hit the Enterprise, but she rocked more gently now, her shields on maximum and holding. Without waiting to be asked, Spock relayed the information he was picking up. "Attacking vessels are standard short range freighters. Their registration marks have been obscured, and they are not broadcasting identification beams..." He glanced at Uhura.

"No signal of any sort from either vessel, despite our attempts to contact them," she confirmed.

"Standard freighters, Spock?" asked Kirk sharply.

"In most ways, Captain. Their engines and hulls appear to be ordinary. What are not ordinary, obviously, are their armaments and their shielding." The Enterprise shook. "A hit on number three shield."

The intercom sounded. "Engineering to bridge." Scotty's voice was distorted by a respirator, but his urgency was clear. "We're coping with a coolant leak down here. I canna keep up full power to the shields. Ye've still got phaser power, but I'm not sure for how long."

"Still no reply?" Kirk asked Uhura. She shook her head. "No, sir."

"Energize phasers." He glanced at Spock, and Spock nodded in reluctant assent. "Bring her around to 135 mark 18, Mr. Sulu."

* * *

Christine couldn't hear Scotty's words, but from his tone she imagined that it wasn't good news. She pressed the spray hypo into her patient's neck as his body heaved and twisted. He was coughing blood; her white uniform was speckled with red. The pain of trying to breathe with his burned lungs was convulsing him. The coolant was a corrosive poison, but as necessary in its way to the operation of the ship as the dilithium crystals. She couldn't get the respirator on him until the painkiller started to take effect. He gradually relaxed and she worked the tube into his trachea, adjusting the intake so that he was breathing in an antiseptic antibiotic along with the air. There was no more she could do for him here, and little more even in sickbay. If he didn't go into irreversible shock, and if his lungs didn't fill up with fluid, and if not too much of their surface had been destroyed, and if they didn't collapse, and if he survived the days in which every breath would be agony, then he would live. Maybe a 65% chance. Damn, she was even starting to think like Spock.

"Poor lad," said Scotty, stopping briefly beside her.

She stood. "He's got a decent chance, Scotty." She couldn't promise more, and he understood.

He nodded and sighed. "We've located the leak. The ventilators should have this muck cleared out in about twenty minutes." There was a thick yellow haze in the air, and everyone present was wearing respirator masks.

The ship took another hit, and Scotty left with a muffled curse. Christine peered through the murk, trying to locate the other casualties. She saw a flash of blue and white - the Andorian... Thelit, that was her name. She was disappearing around a bulkhead into a room which held some minor bypass circuits. Christine started to go after her, then stopped as Herija came over. "Have we got all of them on respirators?" she asked.

"All except Ensign Chandra. She didn't make it."

"Damn. Get the rest of them on gurneys, Juan. I don't think we can do any more here. I'll take a last..."

"Dr. Chapel..." The soft, lisping accent was enough to identify the speaker. "Over here, quickly." Thelit was beckoning from behind the dented bulkhead.

Christine left the evacuation of the casualties to the capable Herija. What she found when she joined Thelit made coolant poisoning seem simple. She took a horrified breath. "Shit! What was he doing down here? Damn his curiosity! It must run in the family."

Thelit didn't try to answer. She was passing a scanner over what could be seen of the young Vulcan. Sarel must have been sitting at one of the consoles when the engineering hull was first hit. The jolt had sent him backwards, and torn the heavy console loose from the bulkhead. It had landed squarely on him from knees to ribcage.

"He is alive," said Thelit. She didn't need to add "barely." "His back is broken."

Christine was conducting her own examination, heedlessly kneeling in the sticky patch of green blood staining the floor. "Broken back, broken pelvis, crushed legs - nearly severed. Broken ribs, ruptured liver..." She didn't go on. Even for a Vulcan... One thing at a time, she reminded herself. "Get this console off him. I've got to control the bleeding and immobilize the spinal column before we can even think of moving him."

Thelit pushed at one corner of the console. "I was taught that Vulcans can control their own bleeding."

Christine strained at the other corner. "Not with a broken back. The nerve impulses can't get through."

"I see." The twisted metal mass lifted a little, and then stuck. "We need help here," she called out as Christine continued to brace the console with her shoulder and hip.

Ozawa and two engineering crewmen responded in a few seconds, and Christine backed away. The console trembled and rose, sparks spitting from a few exposed wires. "There's no room to set it down," grunted one of the engineers. "Can't you just slide him out?"

"If I do, he won't come in one piece," said Christine bluntly. The crewman looked sick. What was left of Sarel from knees to ribs was hardly recognizable. "Brace the console against the wall. I'll get under it."

"Careful," gasped Ozawa.

"I will get under on his other side," volunteered Thelit.

Christine hesitated, and then nodded. This girl was steady in a crisis. "Seal off the bleeders on that side. I'll do this side, and then we'll get a body wrap on him to stabilize his spine." In the back of her mind, a voice said pessimistically that Sarel's body was broken beyond any hope of repair. She ignored it, and slid on her side through a tangle of wires. A sharp shard of broken metal scraped her arm, but she managed to pull out the laser suture and began to look for severed blood vessels.

* * *

"164 mark 8, Mr. Sulu." The Enterprise dipped sharply, turning momentarily away from the two freighters. They turned too, but more slowly, clumsily, as they tried to pursue. The shots they loosed as they turned went wide. Kirk considered them. He was beginning to grasp their weaknesses.

"Our shields are holding, but only at 52% power now," reported Spock. "Another direct hit on any of them will cause the affected shield to collapse."

"Understood. Still no response on communications?" He knew the answer, but he wanted to give one last try.

"No, sir," said Uhura quietly.

"Captain, I am reading a power loss on the attacking vessel's shields as well. They appear to be pursuing parallel courses." Spock raised an eyebrow.

"Keeping their weakened shields toward each other," agreed Kirk. "Mr. Chekov, prepare to target port and starboard phasers. Mr. Sulu, warp .8"

".8, sir?"


"Aye, sir." The Enterprise shuddered as she dropped abruptly into sublight speed. The two freighters were a hundred thousand kilometers past her before they could brake and turn. Kirk hit the intercom for engineering. "Hang on down there, Scotty. I'm about to ask you for warp 9."

"But sir..." A long pause. "Aye, sir."

"Execute, Mr. Sulu. Course 146 mark 20."

The Enterprise exploded forward, shooting into the narrow slot between the two freighters just as they completed their clumsy turning maneuver.

"Fire phasers, port and starboard." The freighters fired an instant later, but they could not turn quickly enough to target properly. Both ships took direct hits on the weakened shields that they had been trying to protect. The Enterprise rocked as the viewscreen exploded with light.

"One ship destroyed, the other disabled," Spock reported tonelessly. Kirk knew that expressionless voice masked his profound distaste for the destruction of life, even when necessary. And Spock wasn't the only one. There was acceptance on the bridge, but little elation.

"Ms. Uhura, send to the disabled vessel. Prepare to abandon ship." Uhura began to relay the message, but before she could complete it, the second freighter was a disintegrating fireball. The Enterprise bucked like a living creature as debris and radiation hit her screens.

* * *

An explosion sent wires and bits of metal showering over Christine's shoulders and into Sarel's torn abdomen. "Oh, shit," she whispered, blinking the dust from her eyes. She couldn't spare a hand to rub them. Sarel's life signs were almost nonexistent.

"Get out of there!" said someone above her. "We can't brace this much longer! If we get hit again..."

"Done on this side, for what good it will do," said Thelit. If Christine lifted her head, she could just see one of the Andorian's white antennae over Sarel's body.

"Go, Thelit. Good job. I can get the body wrap on myself." Thelit wiggled out as Christine eased the body wrap around Sarel. Getting it under him would be the tricky part... There. He had hung on this long. Typical Vulcan stubbornness. Now if they could get him into surgery, he might have a chance. Suddenly the ship shook and tilted wildly, sending Sarel's body sliding down on top of her.

"It's slipping! Get out!" The slant changed, and she tried to move backward, but she was caught on something, tangled with Sarel, and the floor was slippery with blood. Someone grabbed her feet and pulled. She managed to clutch Sarel and drag him with her, and they both rolled out just as two thousand kilos of broken metal smashed into the place where they had been lying.

Christine turned, and realized that it had been Thelit, of all people, who had yanked them free. "Thank you," she gasped. "I didn't think..." She stopped.

"That I had it in me?" There was matter-of-fact pride in the soft voice. "No one ever does."

"Sorry." Christine made a mental note not to underestimate this girl. "Let's get Sarel to the o.r."

* * *

Kirk allowed himself to slump back in his chair. "Any other ships in the vicinity?" he asked as the Enterprise stabilized.

"Negative, Captain. All scanners read clear."

"Cancel alert. Secure from general quarters." He looked at the chronometer. 0304. Less than an hour since the alert had woken him. It seemed longer. He rubbed his scratchy eyes and stared at the clear star pattern on the viewscreen. "Who the hell were they?" he asked softly. "And what were they up to that was so important that they blew themselves up to avoid surrendering?"

After a moment Spock said, "It is difficult to form a theory with so little data." He sounded aggrieved at his inability to provide an immediate answer.

Kirk's mouth twitched. "All right," he said. "I want to see all of you in the main briefing room at 0800. We'll go over the incident in detail and see if anything shows up."

"Damage and casualty reports coming in," said Uhura.

Kirk sat up straight again, his muscles tensing. "Report."

"Minor damage to recreation areas and labs on decks nine and ten. A coolant leak, under control, and damage to bypass circuits in engineering."

"Estimated repair time?"

"Mr. Scott says twelve hours, sir."


"One dead," said Uhura sadly. "Ensign Chandra from engineering." She stopped and listened for a moment. "A dozen cases of coolant poisoning and one serious injury. Lt. Sarel is in surgery now. He was trapped under a falling console." She looked to her left, toward the science station.

Kirk sensed rather than saw Spock's reaction. The Vulcan's face didn't change, and his body only tensed fractionally before relaxing, but Kirk knew him well enough to see the shift from logical calm to rigid control. Sarel was Spock's cousin, and Vulcans took their family ties seriously. "I'll be in sickbay," he said. "Lt. Aboudjian, you have the conn. Spock, with me." He phrased it as a command, not a request, to forestall an objection. Spock undoubtedly wanted to go to sickbay, and equally certainly would resist the desire as illogical.

In the descending lift Kirk looked at his friend's expressionless profile and said, "I'm sorry, Spock. But they'll pull him through."

"Lt. Sarel is a capable young officer, and a promising scientist. His loss would be an unfortunate waste of potential."

"Yes." If Spock was talking like that, he must be extremely worried.

"Dr. Chapel has a reasonable knowledge of Vulcan physiology. I am sure that she and Dr. McCoy will do everything possible."

"Of course," said Kirk, faintly bemused. Spock and Christine had been married for almost ten years, and Kirk still hadn't gotten used to Spock's careful use of her title when on duty.

McCoy met them at the entrance to sickbay. "Sarel's still in surgery. I had Chris take it; she held him together 'til they could get him up here." Spock nodded gravely. "The coolant poisoning cases are all stabilized, Jim. You can say exactly two words to each of them, if you want."

Kirk turned toward the recovery ward. The medical benefits of a visit from the commanding officer were intangible, but very real. And, to be honest with himself, he needed them too.

* * *

"Scalpel." Christine held out her hand without looking up, and the instrument slid easily into it. Sarel's liver was destroyed. They would have to put in an artificial replacement until a donor could be found. She lifted the ruptured tissue away, careful not to get too near the exposed heart muscle. She frowned in concentration. At least that wasn't... The fountain of blood hit her face, spurting wildly, blinding her. The life indicators over the table jumped crazily, and alarms sounded frantically before the indicators went abruptly flat. Thelit had a clamp and sealer in Christine's hands before she asked, and someone else was wiping her face, but it was no use. The damaged liver tissue had been blocking off the gaping tears in the left ventricle and the aorta. It was a miracle that Sarel's heart had kept going as long as it had.

Five minutes later Christine stared up at the indicators and swore quietly but savagely. She stripped off her gloves, deactivated the sterile field, looked across the table at Thelit and shook her head. "I'm calling it. Time of death, 0336. Cause of death, hemorrhage and massive internal injuries."

"You did your best."

"Yeah, and my best wasn't good enough." She would have to tell Spock. "I should have asked Leonard to take over."

"What could he have done that you didn't do?"

"Probably nothing. It's just such a goddamn waste." She turned wearily away and started to wash. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Thelit cover Sarel's body and look down at it for a moment. Her face was drawn with fatigue and sorrow. Christine wondered how old she was. Right now she looked about twelve. Christine sighed. "Sarel was Spock's cousin. I'll have to tell him."

"The first officer? I didn't know that," Thelit said softly. "Were they close?"

"In their way." She was too tired to explain. She knew that Spock, though he would have denied it, had seen Sarel as a younger, less torn, version of himself. He had taken an understated but genuine pleasure in nurturing Sarel's talent for astrophysics, and in explaining to him how to cope with a ship full of illogical humans.

"That will be terrible for Commander Spock." A single tear slid down Thelit's azure cheek.

Christine dried her face, and hands, blinking back her own tears. "Thelit, before I go, I want to thank you. You've been great. This was a rotten way to start your tour of duty, and you handled it like a pro. Not to mention that you probably saved my life down in engineering." She put her hand on the girl's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Christine had to wipe her eyes and blow her nose as she walked out of the O.R. Spock was waiting in the anteroom. She cursed her overactive tear ducts, but as she met his eyes she knew that her expression spared her the necessity of putting the news into words. "I grieve with thee," she said formally.

Spock shut his eyes for an instant, and then bent his head in acknowledgment, his face remote. "Sarel was a credit to his family and to Starfleet. His death is a regrettable loss of potential." He paused. "He will be difficult to replace."

Christine saw McCoy turn from the the terminal in one corner and open his mouth. She shook her head fiercely at him and he subsided. Thelit, who had just followed Christine into the room, said warmly, impulsively, "Commander, we are so sorry. This must be very hard for you. If there's anything we can do to help..."

Spock ignored her. His eyes, holding Christine's, seemed to have darkened from their usual warm brown to an unreadable black. She wanted to hold out her arms to him, but that was for later. In public he couldn't display his pain, so she couldn't offer to comfort it. She had learned that hard lesson long ago.

"What were the precise nature of the lieutenant's injuries?" he asked. "His parents will wish to know."

Christine used the inquiry as an excuse to cross to him. As she explained she let her arm rest lightly, unobtrusively, against his. //Spock?//

He was shielding, but she could sense that he welcomed the contact. As she finished her explanation she felt a gentle touch in her mind. //Christine. My wife, there was nothing that you or anyone else could have done. Your guilt is unwarranted.// Aloud, he said, "I see. It is possible that the bolts securing that console were defective. I will recommend a general inspection to the captain. Lt. Sarel's body can be kept in stasis until we have the opportunity to return it to Vulcan."

He moved toward the door, with both McCoy and Thelit staring after him. "Is that all you have to say?" McCoy demanded.

Spock stopped and turned. "I have duties to perform. Lt. Sarel's work must be reassigned."

"And that's the best epitaph you can give your own cousin?" McCoy sounded disgusted.

Spock's voice took on an even more glacial calm. "Doctor, I do not see what purpose would be served by emotional outbursts on my part. Your own abilities in that regard are more than sufficient."

"You inhuman..."

"Precisely, Doctor. I am not human."

Thelit gave a gasp. Her antennae had curved sharply inward, a sign of anger in an Andorian, and her cheeks were flushed purple. "Well I'm not human either, and I don't understand you any more than Dr. McCoy does. You're not even sorry!" Her sibilant accent had thickened until it was nearly incomprehensible. She looked at Christine. "You said they were close! If this is how he shows it..."

"That's enough, Ensign Thelit! Leonard, you shut up, too!" Christine's blood pressure was rising. "I'm sick and tired of..."

Spock's quiet "Christine," cut across her words simultaneously with the opening of the door from the ward.

"What's going on here?" asked the captain sternly.

There was a long, awkward silence. Finally Spock said,' "I believe it could be termed a cultural misunderstanding, Jim." He paused. "Lt. Sarel is dead."

"I see," said Kirk, and Christine thought gratefully that he probably did. "I'm sorry, Spock. There are a couple of things I want to go over with you. Can I see you for a minute?"

"Certainly, Captain. I also have a few matters which require discussion."

Christine gave a sigh of relief as they went out. Jim was the best person to supply the kind of unobtrusive support which Spock needed now. She looked back at Thelit and McCoy. She was still angry with both of them, but her voice was back under control. "You two had no right," she said quietly. "What do you think, that Spock's a performing animal, required to put on a show for your benefit? He's a Vulcan. What he feels is his business."

"Chris..." McCoy interjected.

She glared him into silence. "Ensign Thelit, as I said before, you're a damn fine nurse - technically. But you'd better take the trouble to learn something about behavior as well as bodies. Yes, I said that Spock and Sarel were close - in their way. Their way might not be yours, but what right do you have to expect it to be? Not everyone on this ship is going fit in with your cultural prejudices! And at the very least you need a lesson in courtesy. You're new, and you've been under stress, so I won't put you on report for yelling at a superior officer. But don't try it again!"

Thelit drew herself up stiffly, her eyes enormous. "Yes, sir," she said with a fair amount of military discipline.

"And you!" She swung on McCoy. "Leonard, you've known Spock for nearly twenty years now. Haven't you learned to recognize how he acts when he's hurting? How stupid can you be? And you dare to call him inhuman and insensitive!" Her voice had risen again, and a part of her mind realized that she was doing exactly what she had warned Thelit about: yelling at a superior officer. How very illogical of her. She took a moment to calm down. Both Thelit and Leonard were eyeing her cautiously as if wondering what she would do next. She sighed and forced the tension out of her body. "All right," she said finally. "Now what's happening with the coolant poisoning cases?"

"They're stable. With care they should all pull through."

"I'll stay and help monitor them. I might as well; I have the report to do on Sarel." Her voice was shaky. She looked down and put her hands on the edge of a table to steady herself. After a moment, she felt a touch on her shoulder.

McCoy pulled her into a tight hug. "You'll do no such thing. Go to bed. You're back on duty in four hours."


"No buts." He released her. "And Chris... I'm sorry. Sometimes my mouth works faster than my brain. You can tell that Vulcan of yours so. 'Course he'll probably just say that he already knew it."

Christine managed a smile. "Probably. He wouldn't have found my behavior a model of rational control either. Are you sure you don't need me?"

"Go." He gave her a gentle push toward the door.

* * *

After the door had slid shut behind Christine, McCoy turned to find Ensign Thelit standing at something very close to attention in the center of the room. "At ease," he said with a grin, and she relaxed, a little warily.

"I'm sorry, Doctor," she said. "I offer no excuse for my behavior." Her eyes were still fixed on the middle distance.

"I didn't set you much of an example."

Thelit gradually assumed a more normal attitude. "Dr. Chapel was right. I didn't think... My people mourn very openly."

"So do mine," said McCoy, thinking of some of the Baptist funerals of his youth.

"She was more angry than I expected, considering that she was quite upset herself over the lieutenant's death."

"She's very protective when she senses that Spock's vulnerable. Some kind of instinct. The rest of us tend to assume that he's made of solid neutronium."

"Does she know him well? I wouldn't have thought that their duty areas overlapped much."

McCoy stared at her. "Oh, lord," he said at last. "She's his wife. You didn't know that?"

"No." Thelit's expressive eyes widened. "She's...? But they didn't act... I don't understand."

"Neither do I sometimes. And Chris has been my right arm for almost as long as you've been alive. But it seems to suit them. Now come give me a hand with the inhalant levels on the respirators."

* * *

"Efficiency during the alert was 95%..."

"95.8%, Captain," corrected Spock automatically.

"95.8," agreed Kirk. "That's not bad, but it could be a little better. We'll run some drills during the next week, to liven up those inspections for metal fatigue that you suggested."

"An excellent suggestion." Spock was looking out the viewing port in Kirk's cabin at the stars. Sarel's research on the origins of the Beta Upsilon cluster had been almost ready for publication. They had planned to go over the preliminary draft tonight. There was a painful emptiness in the thought that the discussion would not take place.

He became aware that Kirk was also studying the star pattern. Their conversation seemed to be over, but he felt no eagerness to move. He was grateful for Jim's presence, which offered support without intruding or demanding a specific reaction from him. After the emotional scene in sickbay, it was a relief to stand here with a friend who did not expect that Vulcans expressed their sorrow in some overt fashion. Christine understood that too, but her own grief and guilt would complicate her reaction.

He had been fortunate, he thought; more fortunate than he had once anticipated. He had deliberately chosen to spend his life among humans, while remaining essentially Vulcan. In the beginning it had seemed that a permanent loneliness would be the cost of his choice. He had been prepared to live with that. But instead he had found first a friend and then a bondmate; two beings who saw him clearly and accepted what they saw. Two whom he could call t'hy'la...

He turned his head and looked at Kirk with grave affection. If Jim had not taken the patient trouble to offer his friendship so many years ago, the person who was now Spock might not exist. Would he ever have been able to reach out to Christine if Jim had not taught him the value of human warmth? He might have no bondmate, no children, not even the rapport which he now shared with most of his colleagues.

Jim had cocked his head and was looking back at him with a questioning half-smile. "Spock?"

Spock came out of his reverie with a start. It would be appropriate to put some of his gratitude into words. "I was considering the value to me of our past - and present -association, Jim."

"Mutually beneficial, Spock."

"Indeed. It was..." He sighed and looked at the stars again. "The value of such a friendship is one of the things I hoped to demonstrate to Sarel. Despite his desire to work with non-Vulcans he still had a certain rigidity in his way of thinking."

"He was young."

"Yes." It was not easy to discuss Sarel yet, even with Jim. Spock changed the subject. "Captain, I still have no satisfactory working hypothesis for the behavior or identity of our attackers."

"There hasn't been much time." Kirk gave an unexpected yawn, and looked sheepish. "We'll hash it out at the briefing in - damn, it's less than four hours. We'd better go back to sleep with our thinking caps on."

"Captain, it has never been my practice to don headgear while sleeping." Spock knew a cue when he heard one. "Nor do I see why it would have a beneficial effect on one's mental processes. However, if you find it helpful, you are welcome to try it."

Jim was chuckling. "It's just an exp... And you know that as well as I do! Good night, Spock."

"Good night, Captain."

* * *

Spock was meditating when Christine got back to their quarters. She knew it as soon as the door opened; he had dimmed the lighting, leaving the rooms almost in darkness except for the soft red glow of the firepot. She stopped for a moment just inside the door, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dimness, and her body to the increase in temperature. It had been hard, once, to accustom herself to the heat, but she wanted there to be one place on the ship where Spock wasn't chilly. It had been even hotter when he had lived alone. Over time she had gotten used to it. Now it was almost pleasant. Like the scent of the firepot, it meant home. And Spock never raised any objection to her staying very lightly dressed... She grinned to herself, and then remembered Sarel with a stab of sorrow.

She went softly into the bathroom. She wanted to go to Spock, but he needed the time to examine his own grief before he had to deal with hers. Her body felt horribly sticky; she might as well shower. She chose water over sonics; she always did when she was upset. The hot spray was soothing. Under it, she could think of Sarel with affection as well as pain.

When she emerged, Spock hadn't moved. Christine resisted the desire to interrupt him. Meditation was more important than sleep to him right now. She climbed back into the rumpled bed, noting that it was 0438. One thing was certain, she wasn't going to try fitting in breakfast...

Her eyelids had drooped and she was almost asleep when Spock stood up. She blinked, glad that he was coming to bed, enjoying the flickering red light on his body as he hung up his robe. Predictably, he spotted hers where she had thrown it on a chair, and hung it tidily too. She sighed and closed her eyes as he slid in beside her. After a moment she snuggled close and waited.

When he realized that she wasn't asleep he turned on his side and pulled her into his arms. //Christine? Are you...?//

//I'm okay. I guess.// To her own surprise, she began to cry. //Damn... I thought I was okay. I liked him.//

//He liked you... though that is not the word he would have used.//

//I think I scared him at first.//

//You did. You also provided him with valuable lessons in human behavior.//

//And I tried to be so Vulcan around him!// She sniffed, and Spock handed her a tissue, keeping his other arm tightly around her. //What about you?//

//I am...// He let her see his pain. //I will deal with it, my wife.//

//Oh, Spock...// She held him closer. //I know you will. But I'm glad I'm here, my love.//

//As am I. Your presence is a comfort.// His hand moved against her back, and his mental patterns shifted, another reaction coexisting with the sorrow.

Christine lifted her head instinctively, and fitted her mouth to his as she felt the rush of desire in his mind. She was tired and sad, but not too much to respond to this. She had never quite gotten over the wonder of seeing herself as he saw her when he wanted her. He was surprised now by his own reactions, but she was not. //The need to reaffirm life when confronted with death is instinctive.//

She felt him consider that even as his mouth opened against hers. //The logic of nature?//


//Reasonable enough.// Her hands traced a familiar path down his body, and he shuddered pleasurably. //My wife...//

Christine smiled as his mouth found her breast and his hand slid between her thighs. It seemed to her that logic was often Spock's excuse for doing what he felt like doing. She shielded the thought lightly. If he sensed it, they would end up in a philosophical discussion... His hand moved, and she moaned softly. And a philosophical discussion was not what she wanted right now.

* * *

She loved the moments afterwards, almost as much as the lovemaking itself. She had never understood what was meant by post-coital depression. She thought about it. Maybe if you came down from the high of orgasm and realized that you didn't really like your lover... ?

She heard a flicker of mental laughter. //Not a factor in this case,// Spock told her with amused self-confidence.

//Sure of yourself, aren't you?// She grinned. //I love you, Spock.//

//I am aware of it, my wife.// She was enveloped in a vivid, warming burst of tenderness.

She sighed happily and turned her head, kissing his temple. He was still resting on her, warm and heavy and satisfied, and she was in no hurry for him to move. She rubbed her palm idly up and down the smooth skin of his back, exploring the angular shape of his shoulder blades and the narrow firmness of his buttocks. Nice, she thought languidly. A Vulcan male body, so different from hers and yet completing it so well.

Her finger traced the indentation of his spine and she stopped, remembering Sarel's broken back. Shit. Another bit of wasted potential that she doubted Spock had thought of - Sarel had certainly died a virgin. //There must be something I should have done differently.//

//Christine, there was not. Even a Vulcan body can sustain only so much damage before failing.//

//I know. I guess.// She was getting teary-eyed again.

//You cannot cure all the ills of the universe, my wife. It is illogical to feel guilt over it.//

//He shouldn't even have been there. In the lift, when we were bringing him up, one of the engineering techs told me that Sarel had wanted to study the operation of the bypass circuits. He thought they could be made more efficient. It wasn't even his field. He should have been asleep. You know what it is, don't you? He wants - wanted - to be like you.//

//Sarel had, perhaps, an exaggerated notion of my abilities.// He raised his head, looked down at her, and gently began to wipe the tears from her face with his fingers. //I grieve with thee, my wife.// He had slipped into Vulcan. //We will miss him.//

Turning on his back, he settled her with her head on his chest. Feeling the mixture of grief and tenderness coming from him, she thought of the scene in sickbay. It had always been easy to misinterpret Spock, but Leonard at least should have known better. //Leonard says he's sorry.//

//His reaction was not unexpected.// He examined her memory of the conversation after he had left with Jim.

//I don't mind telling Leonard off; we're used to each other; but was I too hard on Thelit?//

//Not necessarily, though your tone was rather blistering. Her behavior was inappropriate, but she does come from the excessively violent and emotional Andorian culture.//

//Which probably means that she understood my anger better than your calm. I'll talk to her about it.// She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, fatigue catching up with her.

Spock stroked her tangled hair. //Sleep. We are back on duty in 2.47 hours.//